“There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it. It was too dark in these storage places to see well, but a man could run his hand over these piles of meat and sweep off handfuls of the dried dung of rats. These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then the rats, bread and meat would go into the hoppers together”.
From “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair (1906)
We've come a long way from the conditions that Upton Sinclair described in "The Jungle" in 1906, to pork luncheon meat with imbedded smiley faces. Obviously, things were not always this "good". You can't come away from Sinclair's book, or Orwell's "Road to Wigan Pier" without some sympathy for the socialist causes of the last century. Or can you?
"The Jungle" is still in print and widely read, although I'd guess that the sales are skewed by school reading lists. Sinclair's jungle was ruthless capitalism, where power metastasizes in the dark. His book led to the Pure Food and Drug Act with the help of Teddy Roosevelt. Sinclair went on to other causes, even one about corruption in journalism (The Brass Check) and "Oil" which was twisted into the recent film "There Will Be Blood". An energetic socialist all his life, by the end of it he was a Cold Warrior and supporter of the Vietnam War.
The charging, reformist spirit is usually more complicated than the ideologies that spring from it - but people like Sinclair have been incorporated into the liberal/progressive myth that the great ideas and movements of the 19th and 20th-centuries were driven by people like themselves.
Progressives not only analyze and "deconstruct" the problems of the present, they can predict the future under their management and predict the past, too, because people like themselves were there, and accomplished great things! In their minds, conservatives are descended from the meatpacker capitalists, when there's no rational way to calibrate the moral properties of minds long dead. But who said progressivism is "rational"?
Through the first half of the 20th-century, Sinclair's socialism came and went in hard and soft versions. But it failed to harden in America because Americans recognized that big arbitrary power (big business, etc.) isn't effectively replaced by another big arbitrary power called The State. Controlled, yes, regulated, yes, but hard socialism isn't necessary for "reform". The danger with radical big-state reform is its proximity to big and little tyrannies - the ones it abhors and the ones it tolerates - in its effort to eliminate the first it establishes the second.
Collectivism is NOT the answer to any question I know. If an individual is encouraged to work out his/her destiny apart from mankind's, it's the best preventative for the "consolidated government" that the Anti-Federalists feared in 1787. The paradox of trusting the jungle of gargantuan government to correct the wrongs of big business, leads to correcting the "wrongs" of Big Fox News, or Big Talk Radio, or Big Liberty or Big You.
Socialism needs to be reformed. It infiltrated the minds of the old reformers - and continues in the minds of their ridiculous duplicates today - because economic liberty produced injustices and evils that any modern society, under any regime, would have simply outlawed - but the total state seemed to be the only solution. Maybe it made sense at one time. But it's Old Socialism; reactionary and obsolete, and poison to a modern society.