Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Socialist Experiment in Grand Rapids

I read with interest today a GR Press article on the opening of a new vegetarian restaurant that is attempting to create its own microcosm of a socialist workers' paradise. This restaurant, called Bartertown Diner, will be opening on June 4 in the former Discussions Coffee Shop location at 6 Jefferson SE. Bartertown made previous headlines when they unveiled a mural which includes communist revolutionary and murderous thug Che Guevara on the wall.

It seems as though the owners of Bartertown are serious about their commitment to socialist ideals. They intend to make the restaurant employee-owned and enforce "equal pay and equal say." The specifics of how they intend to do so aren't outlined in the article.

The owners will also force all employees to be members of the Industrial Workers of the World union, which advocates for the abolition of the wage system. IWW is a has-been union which declined dramatically in membership in the 1920s after an internal split. Once able to claim 100,000 members, it claims about 900 members today. IWW is far hard-left communist/socialist and way out of the mainstream of unions today.

I'm going to reserve judgment on this plan, but my instinct and understanding of both economics and human nature tell me it won't last very long. Equal pay and equal say may sound nice on the surface, but they are completely unsustainable concepts in the long term. In a business environment, there are at times competing interests. While employees naturally want higher wages and fewer work hours, owners/managers must ensure that such demands are kept within a framework of cash flow and profitability. Is it possible that collective decision-making can maintain a well-run business establishment? Well, maybe. I'm not going to discount it on a very small scale, such as in a restaurant, but my inclination is that it won't work long term.

With all of the talk of communist revolutionaries and international communist unions, we can see, at the local level, how communism and socialism really are tyrannical at their very roots. As mentioned, all employees of Bartertown will be forced to join one, pre-determined union. This is the nature of communism - the abolition of choice. Groups like IWW would impose such a restriction on all workers, if they could. I often hear people say "well, communism is a good idea on paper..." No, it's not. It necessitates subjugation of the individual to the will of the collective. This concept has almost universally evolved into a brutal dictatorship and oligarchy, enforced through violence, suppression, and at the point of a gun. Dissenting opinion is simply not allowed.

Will Bartertown become a brutal dictatorship? Of course not. But the historical narrative is that in order for the concept of a worker-owned, wage-free "paradise" to work, it must be enforced with force.

That's why Bartertown won't last.


  1. The author is correct, communism is fundamentally a dictatorship. What s/he fails to mention is that it is a dictatorship of the people over society, government, and the economy. It is irresponsible to look at one portion of the history of socialist/communist societies and judge the entire system as such. The most popular socialist societies is recent history did have brutal beginnings, however these beginnings may have been necessary as peaceful overthrow of individual owned capital is nearly impossible (i.e., how do you remove weapons from weapons dealers?). Violence and tyrannical rule were devices used to remove the profit motive from society and uplift people out of capitalistic system NOT characteristics of communism or socialism itself.

  2. Thank you for making my point. Communism/socialism are inherently violent philosophies because they require violence to both a) gain power, and b) retain power.

    You say that communism is a dictatorship over society, government, and the economy. You fail to mention that it is also a dictatorship over individuals. In order for communism to remain for any period of time, individuals must be subjected to the will of the majority with no interest in individual freedom or personal initiative. This dictatorship is everywhere and always violent, bloody, and an ultimate failure.

  3. "Bartertown won't last". December 13, 2012. I just ate there. Hmmm. Maybe they can serve you some humble pie.

    1. I did notice that they quickly relented and went from "cash only" to accepting evil multinational credit cards.