thumbnail of The theory and practice of communism; Nature and Importance of Communism
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
And yet this of course this alliance did not stop the Germans from invading the Soviet Union in 1941 and all the dreadful things they'd been saying against capitalism did not stop them or us for a moment from having an alliance during which we defeated the fascist powers during world work too. And so it goes with despite the etiology despite the professed beliefs of the communists. They have shown flexibility to such a degree that some people have said that the Soviet leaders are simply unprincipled man that they are nothing but power politicians now that they have been cynical about their methods. I have no doubt in this. But the problem is not that the communist leaders of the USSR unprincipled but rather that they are led by principles which are so different from our own principles which we sometimes do not understand. Now they may be led
by these principles. In the long run rather than in what they do from day to day but nevertheless those principles are always there. They're there to such a degree that George Cannon has in our own time made the analogy between the nature of foreign policy in the world today since the advent of communism and what it was a hundred two hundred years ago. George Cannon has suggested in more than one work that what the communists have really introduced in the realm of foreign policy in the world is the quote unquote the religious factor. The Just as during the wars of religion in western Europe the time of the Protestant Reformation one could talk about countries that had a Catholic foreign policy and countries that had a Protestant foreign policy. So today idiology has intruded itself in foreign policy in that the communists do not seem to be making foreign policy just from the standpoint of
power politics as in the 19th century let's say the Russian did. But with the with idiology involved as well I had the good fortune once of studying under Professor Edward Hallett car of England who made I think a very interesting simile. So the Soviet foreign policy was like a chariot driven by two horses one red and one white. The White Horse big the familiar one of Russian national self-interest and the red horse being the chorus of communists worldwide idiology and one always had to know which horse was pulling faster and in which direction I should be speaking. In this seminar on the subject of communism as a secular religion I think there is much to be said for this point of view. There are people who see a problem in a contradiction to whether one regards the actions of the
Soviet Union as determined by their secular religion of communism or their idiology or whether it's simply national self interest. I'd like to point out that this is not a case of dealing either with opportunist power politicians or an illogical fanatics. It is not that extreme on either side and I regard both propositions as being true in varying degrees about the Soviet leaders. I'd say that the style has changed over the years. Under Stalin the method was to try to force reality to conform to the etiology as interpreted by the High Priest Stalin himself. He did this because he had absolute power over everything in his own country where he could not do it quite so successfully was in the field of foreign policy where he did not have all of that power but nevertheless Stalin is and has come to be synonymous with dogmatism and the emphasis on communist
ideology. Now in the days of the Stalin ization today one must not imagine that idiology has gone out of style but rather it is looked upon differently. To date the method seems to be not to abandon the idiology but to stretch it and strain it in order to fit the realities of the moment. And this is a very difficult thing to do as anyone knows who knows anything about the history of idiology in general. The answer then to the problem is not which side we are looking at. Both are true but still one has the right to insist on the question yes but which is the decisive element. The etiology or the opportunism the power politics and the only answer I think that is sensible is that it depends on each case whether a particular Soviet action is a part of a long term program or whether it
is a tactical expediency for the moment a moment being perhaps something more than a month or even a year but something less than several years on end. One can say that national self interest is the decisive element and still not be able to get away from the idea that what ever the Soviet leaders do they are forced to rationalize it in terms of their idiology. No Soviet leader is powerful enough to turn his back on the etiology and say Now this we don't believe anymore. We aren't going to talk about this any longer. Every Soviet leader no matter how powerful has had to justify everything he has done in terms of the idiology and sometimes the twisting of the straining has been very great indeed. The very fact that the idiology is then a kind of limitation on Soviet actions. That alone.
It would make it worth studying. Now the next thing I want to say to put this whole subject is if they like that I think useful is to point out what I regard as a lag in American public opinion as to what's going on in the communist world. This is why for me it is sometimes. Less challenging to talk to people under 30 than it is to people over 30 because all of us who are over 30 have certain memories of events and we have embedded in certain attitudes that have come about as the result of the experiences of earlier years experience that the young have not been encumbered with. I would say that. Most Americans over 30 today are clinging to attitudes which have been appropriate to the Cold War period after World War
Two. Under Stalin. But which I do not think are as appropriate today. Many of us have not changed in our attitudes towards the Soviet Union despite the many great changes which have taken place both in our country and in the Soviet Union and in the world at large. In the last 20 years I don't think that this is true of our State Department. But they cannot always direct foreign policy as they please. They are under the pressures of a democratic society where public opinion means votes and appropriations. So I think that in a democracy such as ours where the citizen is of such great importance its proper question to ask ourselves might not we be the prisoners of our own fixed attitudes. In talking to people about this. I find certain phrases recurring. By people who refuse to see that there's been much change. After all one says the leopard
doesn't change his spots. The aim of communism is still a communist world. We still have ringing in our ears many of us the phrase that Khrushchev threw at us. We will bury you. After all any sensible person knows that it is still a dictatorship of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. We realize that we are a subversive force that still support revolutions and local wars wherever they can under our very noses. In Cuba we are acutely aware of the fact that the Soviet Union is the chief military threat facing us etc. etc. are all of these things still true. Yes I think they are. Well then the natural question is why. Why should we go on reacting to the Soviet Union as we have been because other things have changed and are changing. We and the Soviet Union and the world at large is changing and new conditions require new responses and a new course
of action can change conditions. Indeed it is my firm conviction here that new courses of action can change even the idiology. The habits of twenty years must give way to fresh approaches. Not what I do not mean is that we should pretend that the Soviet Union is our friend. First of all I happen to belong to a hard headed School of Political Science that regards friendship in international affairs as being perfectly irrelevant. Oh it to you to tell this to you it's nice that there are friends in foreign policy but I have seen in 6000 years of history reading friends become un friends and enemies overnight when friendship conflicts with national self interest are many other things so that while I do not discount friendship and do not frown upon it and wish that it were so. I regard international friendship in foreign policy as a rather
irrelevant subject though on a person to person basis. It is far from irrelevant. I do not mean then that we should get swept up in some aura that we are now friends and anything goes. Nor do I mean that we should let down our defenses. I owe it to you to tell you my own conviction and I'm very sorry about it that I still regard military preparedness as the best guarantee against the possibility of another great World War. But it is simply not realistic to hang on to outdated attitudes. My thesis is that though there is still a conflict of interests between the United States and the U.S.'s our this is no longer the central factor in world politics today. Nor is the conflict one in which either side believes that it must be solved or can be solved by violent means. If by that one means another world war. Now what makes me say this. Let me
outline just a few of the great changes that I think you've taken place in the world in the last 10 15 years. First there is this matter of the military stalemate. Those of you who know your Bible even better than I know the behemoths the Leviathan Soviet Union and we seem to be matched in somewhat the same way. We had the two great superpowers so powerful that we can obliterate one and another simultaneously. And this is what keeps us from doing it if anything does. I remember so well a cartoon that I saw in a journal showing the torsos of two cowboys each is facing the other and each has a gun imbedded in the belly of the other and the caption underneath is dropped that gun. Now this is the kind of world we're living in. We have the atom bomb they have the atom bomb we have the hydrogen bomb they have the hydrogen bomb we have missiles they have missiles we have
anti missiles they have anti missiles we have anti anti missiles will go on with this and yet we're all here we're still here precariously self but still here. And the fact that another great World War is a physical impossibility I think has a great deal to do with foreign policy in the world today. Now when I say physical impossibility I don't mean by that that it won't happen. I mean to say that if it does happen nothing will matter anymore. That there's nothing left to talk about or even anyone to talk about it. And since both sides I think are aware of this. The military stalemate is a definite factor in assessing foreign policy in the world today. Another such factor is the end of bipolarity in world politics. People of my generation generation are so used to talking about we in they. In
foreign policy as though the whole world were divided up into communist and noncommunist and the like and it's all we and they. The simply no longer true if indeed it ever was true. First of all we all understand today better than ever before that there is one big third of the world that is neither we nor they but the emerging nations of other continents such as Africa and Asia. Anybody that's my age or older must be perfectly bewildered by the names of the new countries as each one enters the lists of the USA. There are countries I still I'm not quite sure exist in the world because I'm not that much up on things. But the one thing I am sure of is that OK what is it a hundred to 20 some countries now at the UN that many of these belong neither to us nor to them. But a third factor in the world and a very important one. Now there is
something else and that is that we are no longer the way we used to be. There was one time when the Western alliance of nations NATO was considered the bedrock of security on our side. And yet we find that today thank goodness countries such as Germany and Italy and France are no longer our poor clients no longer just waiting for handouts but in some cases spectacularly successful countries in their own economies and they are definitely back on their feet again. As for NATO we all know with some heartburn some of us how NATO was unceremoniously chased out of France by de Gaulle. This seems quite impossible. This would have seemed impossible 15 years ago. Not if our end of the world has been loosening up in these ways. So has their end of the world. It perhaps began with the Yugoslav split in 1948 about which I shall have much more to say later.
Certainly many of us have still vivid memories of the uprisings in Hungary and in Poland in 1956. Many of us who were glued to our television sets during the Mideast crisis may remember or at least remember reading about the Albanian delegate to the UN who gets up as the voice of China and says that both the United States and the USSR ought to be ashamed of themselves aren't in cahoots with one another against all right thinking moral people in the world. Well now this too would have been unthinkable 10 15 years ago and yet it happened. Imagine that at the UN communist Rumania votes differently from the Soviet Union and the foreign minister of Romania visits President Johnson again something unthinkable just a few years ago. The fact then is that the we in that they have both loosened up and while this
may create certain concerns in each camp I for one is a citizen of the world now rather than a barrack and citizen specifically feel rather happy that there has been this loosening of tensions. I know that there are many many problems in the world that are more than annoyance but I'd rather have a lot of smaller problems than one big one that could end in that final blow up. Another factor that his change the whole quality of this discussion is the fact that it's done often Stalin are dead and that there has been something that we called the stolid ization in the Soviet Union since Stalin's death in 1953. The plain fact of the matter is that neither Khrushchev nor any of his successors could possibly be another Stalin. This is definitely a thing of the past. Not because of any special safeguards against this occurrence of the Soviet Union but the fact that the whole style of life has changed.
Another big factor in the world today. The changes this whole discussion has been the rise of communist China. China was never a satellite of the Soviet Union even in its first days as a communist power. It was far too big for this and today it is absolutely out of the question to talk about world communism. That phrase world communism as though it existed as a single monolithic entity. Thanks not only to the break up of communism in Eastern Europe at least the disarray of the satellite states. But thanks especially to the rift between communist China and the Soviet Union. If I might drive that point home by just one short paragraph from the Chinese newspaper the official newspaper of the Chinese Central Committee of the Communist Party which wrote the current bombing raids by U.S. imperialism on Hanoi and Haiphong are a product of the filthy political
deal concluded between the United States and the Soviet Union which are working hand in glove. Superficially the Soviet leaders deliberately make some pity anti United States gesture in order to throw dust in peoples eyes and gain political capital. In fact though they are engaged in be trivial on a grand scale and are energetically serving the United States imperialist policy of war blackmail end quote. Another factor that we should be discussing here is the effect of a modern world of science and technology on world relations. All of us are surely aware of the fact that the changes in science and technology have been more rapid in our lifetime than in perhaps the history of science and technology put together in the past. And that this rapid pace is continuing. In the mysteries and the potential of automation and of
cybernetics of computers of atomic energy. These mysteries and problems and opportunities confront both the communist world and the communist world. And offer dangers as well as opportunities. Now the Marxists themselves have been fond of pointing out how to changes in the means and techniques of production have changed both political and social systems as well. The favorite textbook example of this is see with the steam engine has done. That is the Industrial Revolution to the world. Well if the industrial revolution has brought great changes to the world of the last two three hundred years these changes are as nothing compared to the changes that will overtake the whole world in just the next 25 or 50 years as a result of science and technology. These are bound to have a great influence on our whole style of life and indeed our own and our own government and their government as well. The
question will always arise is what will be the best forms of social organisation to cope with and to further these great changes. Let me give you just one example of how this has been changing the style of life in the Soviet Union. I think we must all be aware of the fact that the Soviet economy is a great contradiction. On the one hand one can say with perfect fairness that the Soviet economy is an expanding one that the standard is rising that most citizens in the Soviet Union live better today than perhaps they did ever in their history. And yet the Soviet economy is in a state of crisis and much of the crisis comes from the fact that the Soviet Union has in just the last two generations had to traverse the path that so many countries are traverse and now of going from changing from one quality into another from an underdeveloped nation into a developed nation.
Now the minute you do that the minute any country does this it changes the whole style of life it changes the type of problems that one has to face in the Soviet Union what they've discovered is that these problems are so complex so great that they cannot be left up to any central managing planning committee. That no one said of men living in one place can possibly solve all of these problems. And so the Soviet Union and indeed every communist country in our day is now veering over from a planned economy into a market type economy under socialism in Yugoslavia they've gone so far in this direction they have something that I call at least less a fairer socialism sort of marriage of Adam Smith and Karl Marx in a very strange way. And what is of interest to us is that these communist countries are doing so under the pressure of necessity because they see that
their system works better one way than another. What they discovered in the Soviet Union in the last few years is the profit system. But every American child knows about they have actually reached a conclusion. That if the Soviet economy is going to be fish and then every Soviet factory every unit of production must show not only how much it produces and that it expands this production but that it actually sells what it produces something they never looked at much before. Why. Because in the kind of economy that used to have the poor Soviet citizen was glad to buy any old pair of shoes they threw at him. But these days Soviet citizens go and they shop. And they will not buy just anything but they want their shoes to be decent and cheap or else they won't buy them. And the Soviet managers and economists and planners have discovered
for the first time in Soviet history the goods were piling up because they were shoddy or too expensive Soviet consumers simply wouldn't take it. Now I consider this one of the great revolutions in the world in the last 10 years. It's a quiet revolution. You don't hear much about it but it is change the whole style of life in the Soviet Union to the point where the Soviet leaders now say that every factory that produces anything the Soviet Union must show a profit that is not only how much it can produce in terms of brute figures but that what it produces is also saleable and out of that of profit and no profit. You go out of business. And the controls that they have exerted for this are. Known to every capitalist economic system. The double bookkeeping of the interest rates and all the rest of it. Now if you are going to. Force upon the factories of the Soviet Union this kind of system then
you must also give Soviet factory managers the right to make choices they never had a right to make before. You must permit them to get whatever raw materials they can at the lowest price from wherever they can get it. In other words the freest possible trade the freeze possible under a system of socialism. This is the situation in the Soviet Union. This is the trend in all of the communist countries. Now I suggest to you this is not of interest only to economists. I'm sure many of us understand that a great deal of Western democracy. Emanates from the relationship of people who are free to make economic choices to people who are free to make political choices. It's a truism that money talks and it the rise of the middle class. The rise of the merchants and of the farmers as distinct from pests and the rise of bankers and shipowners and all of the rest of
manufactures of all kind of this rise has had a great deal to do with the rise of political democracy in the West because Western economics cannot exist except where people are free to make of them the maximum number of choices. In the Soviet Union I suggest to you that the same factory manager that has more of a right to make choices than ever before and the responsibilities that go with it will also want to make choices in other fields as well as what Look how much leather his shoe factory should buy. I believe that what we have heard is the rise of a kind of state middle class in the Soviet Union with increasing powers. Another example of this sort to be modern in the world of science technology. You need scientists. This is obvious but you cannot have science and scientists in the kind of Soviet Union that existed under Stalin where he made it a part of communist ideology that Lysenko is
genetics where the only genetics and nothing else counted. Even though this flies in the face of other scientific evidence. Now for a while you could pretend that Lysenko is genetics or the only genetics and everybody else is wrong. If it doesn't make much difference. But once it starts playing havoc with your whole current program in Kazakhstan or once the whole idea of an official it be a logical science keeps you behind in the race for space in a space program. All of this becomes tremendously immediately important to the Soviet leaders and they've come to understand that science is like the goose that lays the golden eggs. You want golden eggs you take care of the goose and let it lay and let it alone and don't force it into positions which are unproductive. And so scientists in the Soviet Union. Are in their fields a pretty free bunch of people these days much freer than they
certainly were under Stalin. And again I submit to you that men who are free this part of their lives will also have the taste of freedom in other ways. We find this going on in the world of artistic creation of the Soviet Union. They are still far from having a hands off policy on the arts but they are closer to having a freedom in Iraq to stick creation than they have been in many many decades. This then is the whole trade communism in every communist country not just the Soviet Union is undergoing tremendous changes under the impress of this kind of the new demands of a new kind of modern life and what changes have been brought about in the theory is something we should discuss here in the course of the week. But first we have to know what it is that's being changed. And that's why the next time we should begin with the
The theory and practice of communism
Nature and Importance of Communism
Producing Organization
University of Wisconsin
WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-bg2hbz81).
Other Description
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
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producing Organization: University of Wisconsin
Producing Organization: WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-18-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:30:04
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
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 25, 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 25, 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