When I was young, I read no small amount of socialist literature. The upshot of my readings came down to these points:
1. Karl Marx was an inexplicable popinjay, a blowhard who blustered his way through economics and philosophy and yet got academics to treat him as Moses and Mohammad (if not the Messiah) all in one.
2. The anarchists turned out to be great prophets — the grandest example that I knew of was Bakunin. He saw through the dangers of state socialism in general and Marxism in particular.
3. A lot of talent poured through the ranks of the socialist left, but too often these geniuses micturated it all away on unworkable schemes (utopian communities; market socialism), politic compromises (social democracy; progressivism), or revolutionary dead ends (state socialism unadulterated; totalitarianism; genocide).
4. A sympathetic-turned-skeptical reading of News from Nowhere (1890), a utopian romance by medievalist poet and polymath (and putative Marxian) William Morris, convinced me that the basic idea of socialism was contra-indicated by human nature. It was impossible at base, and kind of dunderheaded at best. It turned out, in fine, the kind of nincompoopery that only a self-defined smart person would be a big enough mark to fall for. (As a self-defined smart person, I resisted the obvious temptation.)
5. I still received a lot of pleasure from my survey of communism from Plato to Marcuse, especially when I avoided the obvious malign presences (Marx and Marcuse, to name two) and stuck to those who could really write. This meant, mostly the French, especially Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose prose sparkled more than anyone else’s of his period, and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who brought a great deal of daring and flair to the emprise. Consider this passage from Proudhon:
This is fine writing. It all falls apart, upon close inspection, but it sure reads well, at least according to my taste. And it got me to give “political economy” careful study.
And thus, indirectly, had a huge impact upon my thinking.