More On: Igor Rostislavovich Shafarevich
Igor Rostislavovich Shafarevich was born on this day 100 years ago. He showed that socialism is inherently against the rights of the person.
Igor Rostislavovich Shafarevich is not a very well-known name, but the man deserves to be remembered, even though he was born 100 years ago and died six years ago. On June 3, 1923, he was born in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, which is about 100 miles west of Kyiv. He died in 2017 at the age of 93. He left behind important contributions to mathematics and, more importantly to me, a strong attack on socialism, which has been a problem for a long time.
Shafarevich is one of the most important scientists of the 20th century. His name is on a lot of first-of-their-kind theories and formulas that I can't even begin to understand, but which are considered brilliant by people who know a lot about numbers. In 1981, the Royal Society of London accepted him as a member because they thought he was one of the best scientists from outside the UK.
Shafarevich grew up in Ukraine under Soviet-imposed socialism. From a young age, he had doubts about the system. In his 30s, he started to get in trouble with it because he openly supported the Eastern Orthodox religion in a state that was supposed to be atheist. He finally became a full-fledged anti-Marxist dissident and a friend of Andrei Sakharov, the famous physicist who fought against the regime's attacks on human rights. Even though Shafarevich had math skills that were among the best in the world, he was fired from Moscow University because he worked with Sakharov.
When the great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave his famous speech at Harvard University in 1978, he mentioned a book by Igor Shafarevich that had come out three years earlier. In fact, Solzhenitsyn wrote the forward to the English version of the book.
It is Shafarevich's most important and memorable work outside of mathematics. It is called The Socialist Phenomenon, and it should be considered a classic among the many, definitive attacks of socialism. My copy, which I bought in 1981, is full of marks and notes where I wanted to remember important ideas.
The first 200 pages of the book talk about socialist ideas and experiments throughout history, from Plato and Greece to Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and the Inca culture in South America. The part of the book about the Incas can be read in a good way. The Incan country didn't last long because it couldn't defend itself against a few hundred Spanish. However, it may have been the most regimented and centralized society the world has ever seen.
Shafarevich talks about socialism in the last third of the book, which is about 100 pages. He makes a strong case that "at least three parts of the socialist ideal—the end of private property, the end of the family, and socialist equality—can be derived from a single principle: the suppression of individuality."
Socialism comes in many different forms, but in its purest form, it offers "the greatest possible equality." Shafarevich says this is the height of hypocrisy and delusion because socialism offers "a strict regimentation of all of life, which would be impossible without absolute control and an all-powerful bureaucracy that would create an incomparably greater inequality."
People take part in life as unique, thinking, acting people, not as parts of an unrecognizable collective blob. "Cultural creativity, particularly artistic creativity, is an example," says the author. The Last Supper was not painted by Italians during the Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci did. "And when socialist movements are growing, the call to destroy culture becomes louder and clearer," Shafarevich says.
Socialism is inherently against culture because it wants to replace individual effort with top-down rules that fit everyone. Its centralized, ordered plan is a death sentence in the end, because "people and animals cannot live if they are reduced to the level of cogs in a machine." Shafarevich says:
[A]ll the aspects of life that make it attractive and give it meaning are connected with manifestations of individuality. Therefore, a consistent implementation of the principles of socialism deprives human life of individuality and simultaneously deprives life of its meaning and attraction…it would lead to the physical extinction of the group in which these principles are in force, and if they should triumph through the world—to the extinction of mankind.
In the end, the unity that socialism promotes is a mirage. There is no "blob" that can think and act. No one else does. So the so-called "collective" comes down to some people having control over other people. So, socialism is cannibalism that is driven by theory. Shafarevich basically told the world this over 50 years ago, but people still don't get it.
At least, we should thank him for telling us on the 100th anniversary of his birth.