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The Theory and Practice of communism a series of lectures drawn 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 the author of several books and articles. He is a specialist in Russian and Balkan history. In today's lecture he discusses Stalinism and after. And now Professor Petrovitch faced by the real problem of actually establishing that classless society with Russia. Stalin needed all of the power that a modern centralized state could give him. And so instead of any gradual withering away the Soviet state became more and more powerful under Stalin this anomaly produced a lot of conflict in communist minds. At the 16th party congress in one thousand thirty Stalin was asked to speak about this. And he felt obliged to make the following explanation. I now quote Stalin at that
Congress in 1900. We are for the withering away of the state he said. And yet we also believe in the proletarian dictatorship which represents the strongest and the mightiest form of state power which has existed up to now. To keep on developing state power in order to prepare for the conditions for the withering away of state power. That is the Marxist formula. Is it contradictory. Yes contradictory but contradiction is vital and wholly represents the Marxist dialectic. Whoever has not understood this feature of the contradictions belongs to our transitional time. Whoever has not understood this dialectic of historical processes. That person is dead to Marxism. End of quote. Of course from a theoretical standpoint what Karl Marx meant this is worse than utter nonsense. It is sheer hypocrisy.
But again you see here you have the problem of a man who needs the power and he just can't say all right everybody shut up. I've got all the power and I'll put you in jail or kill you if you ask embarrassing questions like this. He could have done that the Trayvon the durable did but he can't because there is something more powerful than Stalin. And that's Marxist philosophy. The theory the religion if you like. Whatever he even Stalin did he had to justify in terms of the idiology and so he devised all cranes of explanation. For example he says problems with drink away mean and there are even diagrams to show that some people think that those with great power at the time of revolution starts way up where we've become dictators we've taken over the situation the stake is all ours. Then once we come into power and achieve the classless society bit by bit we will need less and need the
state less and less because the state is by Marxist definition an instrument of social control over the class enemy no class enemy no social control. So some people think naively that the government is just going to wither away like this. But no it is the dialectic. Here we are. The daily call of power. We keep this power because of enemies outside and inside. And then when we no longer have the exam then we'll test to play with the state and he never did say exactly when that would happen. Certainly not in his own lifetime. And that this explanation failed to satisfy Communists was apparent at the 17th party congress in 1034 when Stalin admin and I quote him that the point is giving rise to not a little confusion among the section of the party members. And he condemned those who persisted in the idea that the state could gradually wither away as it is
achieved its goals. But the 18th party congress in 1939 he had to devote a whole section of his report to show why the state was not withering away in the USSR and rather than admit internal difficulties which made government coercion necessary. Stalin laid most of the blame on to use his famous phrase the capitalist and circumvent that is the danger of foreign military attacks. This idea has persisted in the U.S.'s are. It surprises many Westerners many Americans in particular who have been afraid of an attack from the USSR. How much fear there is in the USSR of an attack from us from the west. Crusade in Europe. I know the first time I visited the Soviet Union I had an elderly woman come up to me in the street and she said to me Do you understand Russian I said yes. So you're American aren't you I said. Yes she said when you get home please tell your people don't make war on
us. She had tears in her eyes. And I have met other people in the Soviet Union just plain people who've been terribly frightened over the prospect of the West attacking the Soviet Union. Now some of this is got to be understood in terms of Soviet history. West in Russian history long before communism took over. Very frequently it meant the foreign attack. Prince Alexander Nevsky got his name from a battle that he did with the Swedes on the New River. Swedes who tried to invade Russia in the 13th century the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century one could go down the line and. Give you a resume of all the times Russia has been attacked from the west and very frequently in the name of some sort of religious crusade or
crusade for democracy or Revolution for example the one that the Swedish attack again under Charles the twelfth against Peters rush in the 18th century Napoleon the stream its attack in 1012 France and England in the Crimean War in the middle of the 19th century the German attack in 1914 the German attack in 1941 even though they had an alliance and so on so that one cannot say that people and Russians are citizens of the Soviet Union are just being fantastic when they worry about being attacked. Let us put our minds back to a time not so long ago when any good American politician that wanted to be sure of getting elected or a big thought a good Joe. Proposed crusade in Europe and let's beat the communist now and this some very distinguished American politicians kept saying this. Whether rightly or wrongly is not my point here. My point is that every one
of these threats. I was played up in the Soviet press because one of the excuses for the rigors of dictatorship in the Soviet Union has always been if we don't hang together and rule ourselves like an armed camp we are going to be attacked and beaten up by the West. And so the capitalist encirclement was taken as Stalin's excuse for increasing rather than decreasing the power of the state. Even though theoretically they were supposed to be approaching communism of some sort and a classless society. A third result of Stalins policy deals with this concept concept of dictatorship of the proletariat. It was definitely under Stalin the dictatorship of proletariat actually was turned into dictatorship by the party. And despite the very
elaborate system of government machinery in the USSR under Stalin It should have been apparent to everybody but the pathologically naive that the center of power in the Soviet Union was not in the Soviet government but in the Communist Party. The government never governed in the Soviet Union it merely administered the policies which the communist party established. And this party represented but the barest minority of the people. A fourth result of Stalins policy was the ruthless collectivization of Soviet agriculture which he undertook in 1929. Both angles and Lenin had warned that the proletarian revolution was essentially the task of the industrial workers and that the peasantry could be won over only by a very gradual process in which there would be no coercion. Note that even today in Poland in Yugoslavia for example agriculture is not collectivized farmers own their own land. But Stalin was not faced by a
predominantly industrial western Europe as was Engels who was himself a manufacture. Stalin had on his hands an overwhelmingly agrarian country. Nor could Stalin continue Lennon's economic retreat euphemistically styled the new economic policy. If he was going to achieve socialism in one country and so reality drove Stalin to a campaign of collectivization in agriculture which resulted in countless executions exile expropriation of property involving millions of victims. Even Stalin who was by no means a sentimental list was appalled and frightened by the resistance of the peasantry and wrote a pious but tardy warning to his agents advising them against being as he put it. Dizzy with success. Today the Russian countryside is not only collectivized but the degree of collectivization has been increasing along lines which are generally contrary to Russian cooperative traditions.
A fifth result theoretically of Stalin's policy has been the relegation of the idea of the quality to Utopia. You remember when we first started out and I read from the Green Sheet the various definitions of communism and many people equated communism somehow with equal share of property. And I pointed out that this was not so in Marxist theory but with the Webster's dictionary still maintains quite correctly that even in Marx in socialism there is some approach to equal distribution. Neither Marx or Engels were really equalitarian So in this sense nor was Lenin. They all understood by a just social order not equality of income which some people still think is the goal of communism but the collectivisation of the means of production. The communist goal is to quote the famous phrase to each according to his needs.
Nevertheless the early tradition of the Russian revolution under Lenin held that nobody in Russia least of all communist party members should earn a higher salary than a qualified worker. Lenin himself lived very very humbly and said that kind of style of the Santa system for the Soviet leaders but under Stalin who needed to establish a industrialists of the various five year plans incentives were needed and they were provided for these incentives. Through ditching even the tradition the style of life quality. Today there is a result in the Soviet Union a managerial class from under Stalin a factory manager could easily earn 32 times the salary of a qualified worker in his factory. There's a greater disproportion here than there is in the managerial between a managerial salary and worker salary in an American factory. This doesn't
include such special privileges for the manager as a car with chauffeur vacations on the Black Sea special educational advantages for his children and so on. Under Stalin especially in to a large degree even today the difference between a Soviet managers standard of living and the worker standard of living is greater in the Soviet Union than in most capitalist countries. And Stalin defended himself by quoting Lenin that quote equality is an empty phrase unless by quality is meant the abolition of classes and of course. Well whatever may be the merit of Lenin statement The fact is that Stalin has abolished classes only to put in their place self-perpetuating castes who own the means of power. This is exactly what meal of my last means by the title of his book The New Class that this new class in these communist countries is based and on the concept the old concept of
ownership of the means of production because in fact the Communist Party members of the managerial class act as though they have full property rights over the whole country. The final result of Stalin this and that actual mention here has been the rise of Russian nationalism in contradistinction to internationalism. As late as the 17th party congress in 1034 Stalin condemned both local national and great Russian nationalism as a departure from Marxian Leninist internationalism. And yet under the impact of subsequent events the Soviet Union became one of the most nationalistic of modern states. Take for example the common Russian name for World War 2. They are natives and not the great Fatherland war. This is the official designation of World War 2. In all the Russian history books and
this term great Fatherland war is an exact Eckel of the name given to the Russian repulsion of the French invasion in one thousand twelve which had the same name. In a speech during World War Two Stalin. Referred to the six great heroes of Russian history and this was especially interesting coming from him since he was not a Russian. He referred to Dmitri Dunn sky Alexander Nevsky both of whom were not only Russian medieval princes but saints in the Orthodox Church. Two generals Suvorov and doors of both of whom were Cyrus generals and so void of at least this famous not only for his military exploits but for putting down peasant rebellions with great gravity. And then stars Eve on the terrible and Peter the Great. And so much was made of the six men during World War Two in a propaganda campaign that one could not escape the
idea that that Russian nationalism was being put forward. Professor Barbash jocularly referred the other day to the International which was the national anthem of the Soviet Union. It's known by every commie or was known by every communist in the world. I rise to prisoners of starvation and it's got a wonderful tune. It's got stirring words. It's a wonderful March and it's International in tone and yet precisely because it was international in tone. They did away. They changed the Soviet national anthem and now they have a long dreary piece of music which tells you mostly about how Russia is that the Russian people are the big brothers of all the other people in the Soviet Union it's a purely nationalistic thing. After the war this nationalism persisted in Stalin's
Russia. And many people were made the victims of it. After all the intellectuals of Soviet society wanted to go beyond this kind of nationalism they wanted contacts with the world at large after all the Soviet Union had had an alliance with the countries of the West. Let's let's have more contact and learn from each other in peace as we help one another during the war. This was forbidden and under the dreadful name of cosmopolitanism this became the new sin in Stalin's Russia. After World War Two. And it is associated with a campaign under one of Stalin's most ferocious lieutenants. Andres domino who made certain that everybody understood that. But nationalism was the order of the day and not cosmopolitan as some people who are especially victimized by this new nationalism were the Jews. I
mention for example in Ehrenberg any Jew who is an intellectual life was by definition considered suspect under Stalin. They were to be sure other forms of anti-Semitism under Stalin than this. But Jews were considered to be suspect because they had intellectual and emotional ties with people and events outside of the Soviet Union. So cosmopolitanism was also associated with an anti Semitic strain. Now this kind of nationalism is definitely at odds with Marxism. But it is not at odds with communism as we know it today. Tito's brand is in fact known by some writers as national communism and there is hardly a communist country in the world today that even as a internationalism puts forward certain nationalist claims as to
the superiority of their own system. Well the stand are some of the legacies which Stalin has left to too. Marxian thought important for us because in some parts of the communist world today people are fighting against that legacy. In other parts of the world people communists are still for this legacy and asking to further it. I'd like to give you the quickest kind of summary of Soviet history since Stalin's death as many of us remember it was on March 5th 1953 at 9:50 p.m. Moscow time. The death came to your city. The setting on of each Dzhugashvili Stalin in the seventy third year of his remarkable life and rarely has any debts produced greater expectations. For the Soviet Union itself Stalin's death marked the end of a whole era and Soviet history. Three significant decades. About Stalin's name
there was spun a powerful myth of infallibility omniscience omnipotence and omnipresent and throughout Russian history the death of any despot has given rise to great hopes and the greater the despotism the greater the expectation of change. When Stalin died. Official reports describe the whole nation in deep mourning yet more authentic on the scene accounts told of the ill concealed rejoicing of men getting drunk of whole regiments Russian regiments celebrating in Germany of riots and concentration camps such as war of Kuta where concessions had to be made to the inmates even as their ringleaders were being executed. Disturbances broke out in the satellite states. Workers went on a strike in East Germany and Czechoslovakia and even opposed direction tanks and armed everywhere then in the Soviet orbit. Change was in the air. No sooner was Stalin dead than Molly's cough
took over the leadership seemingly without dispute. My Linkov had been groomed by Stalin as secretary of the Communist Party as a chief administrator over communist party personnel during Stalin's last years. And yet even before the Supreme Soviet could confirm him as premier the Central Committee of the Communist Party held a meeting at which Mali was forced to resign as party secretary. Instead there was instituted a compromise arrangement of the government known as collective leadership. Meanwhile the Stalin cult began to disappear. Just 10 days after the Great Leader's day the press failed to mention him at all. And writers and orators no longer felt it necessary to quote from his writings a promise was made to end the abuse of police power. The whole nasty affair of the doctor's plot with all of its overtones of anti-Semitism was dropped. Non political prisoners and especially those guilty of
managerial offenses were given amnesties a less hostile foreign policy was announced and there was a greater shift from the campaign against the capitalist west to something called peaceful coexistence an end was put to the party Secretariat Stalin's favorite position of power. And instead a collective party administration by committee was inaugurated in which Khrushchev ranked fourth or fifth for some time before he became first secretary. Above all Molly Cook made a dramatic announcement regarding the domestic economic crisis in which the USSR found itself in Stalin's debt an urgent task he declared is to raise sharply in the course of two to three years. The supply of food and industrial goods available to the population to raise considerably the supplies of consumer goods for the population and quote Here then was the basic problem both in the Soviet Union and in the satellite
states. Agriculture was lagging behind industrialization at the price of a lower standard of living and it is still a problem today. And there are only two possible solutions to such a problem. Either to grant concessions or to crack down. And Miley concert regime became associated with the policy of concessions to increase incentives for higher agricultural production. The government reduced quotas of grain which had to be sold to the government at lower than market prices. It raised prices on food to give peasants a higher return for their produce and instituted a more liberal policy of taxation. In industry while heavy industry continued stress was laid on like industry and consumer goods the government even showed willingness to expend gold reserves on imports to raise the standard of living more quickly and such a relatively liberal policy promise much so that it is little wonder that it was received in the Soviet Union with popular
rejoicings. During this time the policy of collective leadership lay at the basis of the Soviet government. This concept tacitly recognised that while the communist party ruled supreme in the Soviet Union there existed certain centers of power which the party had to keep in balance under its supervision. The centers of power included the following. The first the government bureaucracy. Then the managerial class both in agriculture and in industry. Then the army and the armed forces. And finally as a special set the police. It is now apparent that the one man whom all the other Soviet leaders feared most would destroy the balance of collective leadership was loving their low rent team Barry had been minister of interior and head of the police after Stalin's death. Barry had steadily increased his power by placing his men in key positions
and by taking credit for the new policy of ending abuse of power by the police. The New York Times correspondent. There are some solace Perry has reported that burial was on the verge of surrounding the government with his police forces and taking over when he hesitated. And this may have cost him his life because he was ousted on July 10th 1953 and subsequently liquidated. The Communist Party leaders then moved in Amman and coffee and just 19 months after Stalin's death Moloko fell from power. In November the various steps fell neatly into place in November 1953 Khrushchev as a party secretary fired I'm Dion of the key henchmen of Molly cooks from the important post of party secretary in Leningrad. Meanwhile a campaign glorifying Khrushchev was inaugurated and crew show combined with bull Gandhi and a political general who represented both party and army and this propaganda build up went
to such an extent. As I've mentioned before they even tampered with photographs and paintings and trickery was used to give added an added are to Khrushchev and Bill Gagnon. The memory of Saddam not one smiling club's rival was resurrected. The minister of state security of a quorum of the sentence and executed for framing Saddam's followers after his death. A systematic campaign was undertaken against the police. Not only in the USSR but in the satellite states notably in Hungary. Everywhere stress was laid on the need for subordinating the police to the Communist Party. Above all liberal agricultural policy and stress on light industry consumer goods was proving to be a failure. And this won't make it been the decisive recent for Molly Ball. Certainly it had much to do with whose jobs fall some 10 years later. Instead of raising grain production the policy encouraged farmers to
feed their grain to livestock in order to sell the meat and the stress on consumer goods meant neglect of armaments production and this too was crucial jobs trouble later. The army generals didn't like the cutbacks on armaments. Besides confusion ensued because modern cost plan did not replace any existing plan but was superimposed on it. The overall result was lower agricultural production and a little rise in standard of living. So the failure required to scapegoating that scapegoat was in Monaco. Eventually the succession of scapegoats was to include the dead Stalin himself.
The theory and practice of communism
Stalinism and After
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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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Producing Organization: University of Wisconsin
Producing Organization: WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-18-9 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Duration: 00:27:42
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Chicago: “The theory and practice of communism; Stalinism and After,” 1968-04-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 10, 2023,
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APA: The theory and practice of communism; Stalinism and After. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from