No, really! I was! I wasn't a card carrying member or anything like that, but I strongly believed (perhaps even in a religious sense) in the communist ideology.
I was introduced to Marx's (Karl's, not Groucho's) works in high school history class when I was sixteen years old. I found that communism was an amazingly powerful and appealing idea. To me, it was by far the most powerful and appealing idea that I've ever heard. It was intoxicating even. A brotherhood of mankind! To each according to their needs!
So I can strongly relate to all frustrated Leftists. They are seriously addicted to an idea. An idea that appeals to the entirety of their heart, their soul, and their entire being. Have you ever been addicted to anything or interacted with addicts? If you have, you probably know that rationality is way, way down on the list of priorities for an addict. It's really pointless to try and have a rational conversation with an addict about his or her addiction.
I'm obviously not much of a communist now (though I've been called one recently at Cafe Hayek, so maybe a few traits still linger). Sometime between 16 and 46 I changed my mind about collectivism in general and communism in particular.
So what changed my mind? There were several things, of course. One of the biggest was to observe how people actually lived under communist rule.
There were always troubling reports of people fleeing communist countries There were the boat people and the communist countries did, after all, seem to build fences to keep people in. Why? The answer I was given from my respected friends was that it wasn't true at all, it was just U.S. government propaganda. As further evidence, they pointed out that government propaganda regarding marijuana was clearly bogus (as determined by our careful research and personal observations of actual users). Therefore, that was proof that the government lies about everything, right?
In 1984, Hungary and Czechoslovakia began allowing western tourists to visit. I went so I could see for myself whether or not these places were worker's paradises. What I saw with my own lyin' eyes was shocking.
First, the comparison with Germany, the country on the other side of the border from Czechoslovakia was stark. The farm land in Germany was completely planted, the barns well maintained, the houses pretty and painted. Everything was well kept up. Just on the other side of the border in Czechoslovakia, fields lay fallow, barns were falling over, and the houses looked like they hadn't been painted in decades. There was no physical reason why anything should have been different on these adjacent tracts of farmland, yet the difference was like day and night.
Prague is a spectacularly beautiful city, but it was terribly dirty and sooty, the air was terrible (I could hardly breathe), there were bullet holes everywhere (from WWII? from the ending of the "Prague Spring"? who knows?), and it was dark and dreary like a scene from an old haunted movie (I kept expecting to run into a vampire or something). And I did run into zombies - the people were depressed and lifeless. They almost never smiled. In pubs there would be many people so drunk that they had passed out on the bar. They walked slowly and sullenly as if they'd forgotten where they were going or didn't care - just like zombies.
It was a real eye-opener. But alas, my eyes were the only ones ever opened from that trip. Because as I describe this and you read it, you're probably thinking one of two things. If you've never been enticed by Marxism, what I've just described probably isn't very surprising to you. On the other hand, if you're a Leftist, you're probably thinking, "Bret's either lying or severely exaggerating, it couldn't really be that bad." In either case, my words have convinced nobody of anything. To actually be convinced to change your opinion, you would have to travel somewhere and see something you didn't expect. Like me.
One of the responses I heard was, "Oh, well, the eastern Europeans are just like that - you know, drunk and depressed." However, years later, after the Berlin wall bit the dust, I visited Prague again. I was stunned at the change. What was dirty was now clean, the air was fresh, what was dark and dreary was now bright and cheerful (perhaps a little too bright and cheerful as they had stuccoed over some of the historic stone buildings with yellow stucco), and the people had changed most of all. There were smiling faces everywhere, and everyone was moving briskly and with purpose. They radiated happiness. The zombies had come back to life and in just a few years. So no, eastern Europeans aren't "just like that." Communism made them so, plain and simple. Fortunately, it was temporary.
The point is that there's nothing that comes close to experiencing something in person as far as influencing ones perspective. Anything else is easily written off as lies and propaganda. It's harder to write off what you see with your own eyes. Your eyes might be lyin', but they're still so much more believable than anything else.