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The Theory and Practice of communism. A series of 13 lectures taken from the 1967 Wisconsin Alumni seminar held at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The speaker Michael B Petrovich is a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin and a specialist in Russian and Balkan history. He received his doctorate from Columbia University in 1055. Professor Petrovitch was a research analyst for the Balkan section of the Office of Strategic Services from 1943 to forty six from forty six to forty eight. He was a fellow in Russian and Balkan studies of the Rockefeller Foundation. And in one thousand forty eight forty nine he held the area research training Fellowship of the Social Science Research Council. It joined the history faculty of the University of Wisconsin in 1950 and in 1953 was voted the Kiko for Memorial teaching award for outstanding teaching. He has been visiting professor at the University of
California and at Harvard the author of several books including The emergence of Russian pan slob ism 1856 278. Professor Petrovitch has published articles in the Political Science Quarterly the American Slavic and East European review the Journal of Central European affairs and many other professional journals. In this the first lecture on the theory and practice of communism Professor Petrovich discusses the nature and importance of Marxism. Professor Petrovitch. Marxism is first of all an idea. And I think we ought to recognize. The truth of what Karl Marx's said physical force must be overthrown by physical force he says but theory too becomes a physical force. So if we discuss the theory of Marxism it is not simply because I happen to be interested in abstract philosophy
but because I'm quite certain that there is some relevance between the theory of Marxism and what those who practice communism are up against. The problem is not at all a simple line as you will see. But communism as an idea. Has had enormous success in a relatively short time in grasping the minds of many men. In fact the French sociologist one there also has referred to communism as the 20th century Islam. It's interesting when we think of how Islam got started as a camel driver and camel merchant in the desert sands of the Arabia and yet within a few decades of the course. Muslim Arabs was felt throughout a good part of the world. Communism
has had this kind of spectacular drive and rapid drive in our own times and it would not have had if what underlay the whole thing was not an idea that gripped certain kinds of men and I hope that one of the things we shall investigate in the seminar is just what exactly is the attraction that this idea has for so many people. One of the problems we still have is in discussing the relationship between socialism and communism. It's a complicated problem I don't want to get into here now except to say that the definitions vary. I think of socialism as the more general term covering any kind of movement or idea that tends to
socialize men's energies to organize them in a social way in the sphere of economics as well as in politics and in other spheres so that communism then becomes a kind of socialism. But I do not think we are to confuse these two subjects. For why we should be speaking of dogmas of beliefs that are common to all socialists. And then we shall have to get very specific and talk about what it is that the communists themselves believe. Even if the Soviet Union or Communist China. Did not exist as world powers I think that Marxism would still be worth studying as a serious contribution to the modern intellectual development of Western society. One of the things we should understand is that in the in terms of intellectual history Marxism is a preeminently Western
idea. I had the temerity to say this once on the air to a class and the next day Preston Harrington got a letter from someone who called himself the secretary or treasurer of the homeowner's Protective Association of a city that I will not name in Wisconsin need urge the president to fire me because I had done so dishonorable a thing is to claim that Marxism was a Western idea. I tried to find out in the lecture that when we say that something is Western We are not automatically conferring an honor upon it. After all fascism is a Western idea. There are many ideas in the West that I am not particularly proud of but I can hardly think of anything more western than Marxism. When you realize that that theory emanates from a German Jewish background
Christi a Lutheran and a Westerner in every fiber of his being intellectually a man who put together his theory on the basis of German philosophy and French political experience of the French Revolution and economics that he learned from the English classical economists and he put all of this together after some 33 years of sitting in the room in the library of the British Museum literally in the shadow of the Mother of Parliaments. What could be more western than this. I mention this thought only because it brings into relief. I trust the problem that Marxism. Is a Western import. Into many countries in the world today. Perhaps that's why it sits so badly with him. I think Karl Marx must be twitching around in his grave at the idea that his theory which he
felt would reach fruition first in the technologically advanced countries of Western Europe. But this theory is in fact. Spreading physically in the underdeveloped and non-Western regions of the world. This is one of the great paradoxes of communist history that we shall want to go into. If I had to. Subsume this whole course under one word that word would be changed. That we cannot afford to look at Marxism either in theory or in practice as though nothing were changing. How does it go temper temper mood time to acknowledge that times change and we change with them. And communism both in theory and in practice does not escape. The change that is
incumbent upon every living organism. I've been to the Soviet Union three times in 1957 in 1959 in 1962. Even in such short intervals. I've been amazed at the amount of change that takes place and amazement that perhaps equals and surpasses the amazement of the alumnus when he comes back to this campus after five or 10 or 15 years and discovers what a different place it is in many ways not only physically but in other ways as well. If I might speak about change in the Soviet Union in the most dramatic way that I can. When I went there in 1957 I made it. A point to visit the mycelium and Red Square to see the bodies of Lenin and Stalin both of them were on view in 1957. When I got
out of the mines a Liam a Soviet acquaintance of mine asked me. How did they look. And I said Well Lenin looked very much like a wax mummy. But Stalin looked so alive that I thought he would jump up at any moment. At which point my Soviet acquaintance a good communist atheist crossed himself and said second you God for beer. When I went to the Soviet Union the next time in 1059 two years later Stalin's body was no longer in the muzzling him but had been taken out and put in a lonely grave among a dozen others in back of the mausoleum and at the time there was not even a marker on the grave. In 1962 I went and this time there was a marker but not yet as the statue of the bust that one found on the other 11 or 12
graves to each side of him. I suggested that this is symbolic of a great change that took place in just those very few years. If I might go from a morbid subject to one closer to the hearts of at least a part of this audience women styles. One was accustomed to the fact in the Soviet Union that there were no changes in style for women or anyone else. In fact there was no style event. It was thought to be bourgeois and capitalist to worry about such things. And yet in just the very last few years one sees a tremendous difference in this. In 1957 when I went women seemed generally indifferent to fashion in the Soviet Union. Yet in 1915 now I talk to a rather pretty young miss in the American embassy. The best type of American secretary
who said that she was constantly annoyed when she would go out for lunch every day because people were following her and not men who well might have followed such a pretty young thing. But she was constantly being followed by Soviet women who were staring at her dress in her shoes to see what women from the outside world were wearing. Well just three years after that in 1962 they didn't have to follow American embassy secretaries. They had style shows of their own. And the new profession of mannequins. When I came born in the Soviet Union and the Kotel such as the hotel my school I had as a regular feature style shows featuring What was the latest in Paris. To give you another change that's very important to them. In 1057
I visited a family. A grandfather and grandmother of friends of mine in the United States. These two people were living literally on the edge of starvation. He was a former railway retired railroad engineer and how these people lived. I will never know. I won't go into detail describing their quarter is a very shabby quarters in one room. And I was their honored guest and I remember at one point in the conversation they put before me a bowl of lovely strawberries and a bowl of sugar. And before I had realised what the situation was I dug into the sugar put two tablespoons on the strawberries and began eating some of the best strawberries I've ever had in my life. And it was only after I was half done that I realised that nobody in the room was having any with me. I was the only one and
I realised often what I had done to their sugar supply which is so very scarce for them. Just one year later these same people could say that their pensions were doubled. The Soviet government had issued a decree doubling the pension of pensions of all people in just one year. It was a great change for many many people. In the realm of literature. We speak of the thaw after Stalin. This word the thought comes from a novel of the Ehrenberg in Russian or chip in. There is a historical echo to this term the thaw because one also referred to the spring of the vs not after the notorious star Nicolas the first died during the Crimean War. In the middle of the 19th century. And so now the thought was the term used to denote a similar period of relief from a
despot that is after Stalin's death and Soviet literature once more became as exciting as it had been in the early twenties before it style and came to power. Any American can now read in English translation some of the books that have emerged from this thought since one day in the life of the fundin isa Beach for example. Not true. The thought has not melted the ice entirely. There is still the Pasternak case and the fact that one can reach that Doctor Zhivago in the United States in both English and in Russian. The University of Michigan has put out the original Russian version but one cannot read Dr Zhivago in the Soviet Union. As far as I know we all remember that when Custer knock was offered the Nobel Prize in literature that he was in fact told that if he accepted the prize that he could not come back to the Soviet Union.
And yet I have before me an editorial from The Chicago Daily News made twenty fifty one thousand sixty seven. Which begins Pasternak is back in the good graces of the Union of Soviet writers at its first national congress in Moscow since 1959 and the union paid tribute to 20 Soviet writers and Pasternak was one. It's a little late of course for a pastor Naki died in 1960 and it's also a bit surprising for it was this very union of writers that expelled Pasternak in 1958 after he wrote Dr. Zhivago the novel that was acclaimed in the Western world but banned in Russia. Posthumous rehabilitation is a device frequently used in the communist countries. Many a national figure hounded to his grave or executed as a traitor has later reappeared on the list of heroes. While even such a demigod as Stalin got the reverse treatment and the bums rush out of the tomb.
Considering the twists taken by communist ideology over the years it's no wonder that those who become leaders often fall off on the terms. So even in this case we find that there has been a change. When I was a graduate student at Columbia University about two decades ago it was considered virtually impossible for an American student to study in the Soviet Union. This is one reason why in our language courses at the time we emphasized the reading ability rather than speaking ability. Today in my field in Soviet studies it is considered normal for an American Ph.D. candidate to go to the Soviet Union for a semester or even for a year. And we have had a thriving exchange program between the Soviet Union and ourselves several hundreds of students have gone
by now on that exchange and our own campus has been host to several Soviet students over the last few years. Now adays a graduate student in my field has to be fluent in Russian and if he is going to be accepted on the exchange he must go through an examination in language that is very interesting. What happens is that a gentleman well-versed in the Russian language calls up. The candidate long distance and talks to him in Russian on the farm. And the student stands or falls on that telephone conversation. And yet when I was a graduate student I remember my own Professor Roberts and meeting me in the halls where you going he said I'm going to my Russian class. What do you do studying Russian for you know enough Russian to read it. He says but I answered Do you realize that if I go to Moscow I wouldn't even be able to order ham and eggs and he retorted started contemptuously. Who says you're ever going to Moscow. And
indeed I had to write my doctoral dissertation without the benefit of Soviet archives. This is no longer the case. We do have an exchange. Not everything goes well on the exchange. I hope that I am not speaking out of turn when I say to you that just now. We have an acute disappointment. Two of my students were accepted for the exchange this year. One of them received final acceptance from the Soviet Union the other day. The other one a young lady was rejected last minute even though she had gone through every stage up to that. Four of our students from the United States out of some 30 were rejected this year for reasons that are still a mystery to anyone in the program. Apart from the fact that all four students were studying subjects that had to do with Russian Foreign Relations. But in the case of my student this was a Russian Polish relations in the first part of the 19th century. So one would hardly
consider that a sensitive subject. There have been difficulties. Nevertheless the very fact that we have exchanges is an interesting departure from what it was like 15 20 years ago. We don't exchange only scholars. We exchange an orchestra's. We have had the Moscow Chamber Orchestra here on this campus not so long ago. I was in the Soviet Union in Tbilisi in Georgia when Benny Goodman had just plowed them the night before and police. And that morning I had breakfast with Benny Goodman's manager and the poor fellow was terribly upset. Last of all what happened was in that a good concert although he said it was all right good. But it took a while to warm them up he said I don't know what happened we played the same Russian song for them in Tbilisi that we played in Moscow and in Moscow everybody got up and Ruardean applauded and over here they sat on their hands and I said well what do you doing playing Russian music in Georgia. This is
Russia isn't it Imad to explain to him that it wasn't Russia that it was the Soviet Union and that the Soviet Union and Russia got the same thing. General de Gaulle discovered that a year or so ago when he went to the Soviet Union and. In Moscow he shouted after every speech. Long live the Russians and then he went to Kiev and shouted the same thing and I think it happened. The poor man thought he was still living Russia when he should have known that he was in the Ukraine. This makes a lot of difference you know. About one half of the people that live in the Soviet Union are not Russian and 14 of the 15 republics of the Soviet Union are not Russian even though they're a majority of the people are. One has to be careful about such things. But even so to get back to the subject of exchanges we've had a lot for a game best of been there the New York Philharmonic Leonard Bernstein has been there the Yale clique of Russian Well you know Russian glee
club has been there. I got to know these fellows a few years back it's a group of just good Yalies who got together to sing Russian songs they sang and with a great deal of flavor and authenticity and they decided to go to the Soviet Union they weren't invited by anybody. But just to go and sing literally on street corners they went in front of the Kremlin and Red Square in SAG and then they moved up three blocks on Gorky street and sang there and then between numbers people would come and talk to them and this was their way of having a good time and getting acquainted people to people. Nobody stopped them from doing this. It was a fine thing. Another little straw in the wind. The first time I went to the Soviet Union had a very fine guy Duley a plug out of an intelligent well trained woman well educated so there were two things about her education. But for a Westerner seemed like clear lapses on one occasion I noticed a rather modern looking building. And these are very noticeable in the Soviet
Union and I said My head looks almost like the United Nations said that the United Nations. And I thought she meant that she had because she had never been to the United States but it turned out she had never seen a picture of the United Nations building. And yet as I say she was one of the best educated people I met there. On another occasion we went through the M.E. Taj Museum and in the Rembrandt room they have some of the most glorious Rembrandts there. In addition to some of the most glorious examples of French Impressionism. And I could see that the subjects of the pictures of the painted paintings meant nothing to her. And she said there's a picture by Abram brushes I came and killed and lame and just as she looked I said that Susannah and the elders. Oh she said you must know a great deal about art. And I said No just that I know something about the Bible. And down the line. And she said well you know we have separation of church and state in the Soviet Union so we
don't learn about these things. And I said My dear young lady you do not have half of the separation of church and state that we have in the state of Wisconsin. I said you at least pay Social Security for the clergy of various faiths in the Soviet Union and your government spends money to put gold on top of church groups that they consider historical monuments in the Soviet Union. This would be impossible in the state of Wisconsin. But I said we do have a course at our university on the Bible as literature. Oh she said that's a very good idea. I hope we adopted too. Well that was as I say over 10 years ago. Two weeks in the New York Times came this little article the Soviet Union plans to put out a children's book of biblical stories retold from a non-religious point of view a publishing house spokesman said today. The book to be called the Tower of Babel has been prepared by a group of young writers under the editorship of ski and 85 year old author and literary
critic Mr. Skee said recently that Soviet children often came across references to biblical events in their reading and ought to be able to familiarize themselves with the stories and so forth and so on. I might say the Soviets picked this up from a best seller in Poland in communist Poland today. And the book has a title such as Bible stories for children. Now granted that what I've been talking about the last few minutes are just straws in the wind. They are superficial indications to what I think is something far deeper and that is the rapid change that is going on in the Soviet Union in ways that are apparent even to the casual tourist. Little long to one who makes it his business to make a deeper study of the Soviet Union. From everything that I can see about these changes I would conclude that the Soviet Union is looking less and less like
Orwell's 1984 and with each year. This change must also affect Soviet foreign policy and the foreign policy of every communist country. One of the basic problems we should deal with here is the relationship between and idiology that is permanent. And a strategy that is frankly opportunist. And the question that we shall always have to tussle with is when Soviet leaders act when they act from a logical conviction. And when do they act from the. Opportunity of the moment. One of the things that we must understand is that Soviet leaders have always been accustomed to a great deal of flexibility in their actions. All Soviet leaders from Lenin to bridge have exhibited a
remarkable flexibility in combining fixed goals with flexible methods. Lenin called it zigzagging and the flexibility doesn't always come from wise forethought but is a necessary accommodation to a changing reality. There was a time when. I was a younger instructor than I am now and somewhat meaner and one of the questions I'd ask on the final examination. I asked I think largely more than what one could learn just contemplating the question rather than from trying to give answers. The question went something like this. From the time the Bolsheviks took power in one thousand seventeen down to the present there have been at least eight different Soviet foreign policies. What are they. Now. I should say that I'm not as mean as all that the students could anticipate. The question but for me the importance of the question lay in the fact that one know
that the Soviet Union has had at least eight different foreign policies and some of them diametrically opposed to the previous policy. It's important to understand this because if we set our eyes on just the never changing Marxist idiology we will come to thinking of these leaders of the Soviet Union as sort of the Mongol maniacs fanatics who won't budge on anything whereas if we look at not what they pretend to believe but as if we look at how they act they have exhibited extraordinary flexibility. I won't take the time to read these eight foreign policies to you except to remind some of you of one of the most dramatic opposites involved here. For example in from 1934 to thirty eight this was the period known as the period of the united front when the Soviet Union and the Communist International was urging communists all over the world to form a common front with all
The theory and practice of communism
Nature and Importance of Communism
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University of Wisconsin
WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Series of lectures by Michael Petrovich, prof. of history at the U. of Wisconsin at the University Alumni Seminar. This prog.: The Nature and Importance of Communism.
Politics and Government
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Producing Organization: University of Wisconsin
Producing Organization: WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
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Chicago: “The theory and practice of communism; Nature and Importance of Communism,” 1968-04-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 21, 2021,
MLA: “The theory and practice of communism; Nature and Importance of Communism.” 1968-04-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 21, 2021. <>.
APA: The theory and practice of communism; Nature and Importance of Communism. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from