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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 and the Speaker Michael B Petrovitch is a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin and a specialist in Russian and Balkan history. He's been a visiting professor at the University of California and at Harvard the author of numerous books and articles. Professor Petrovich in 1053 received the University of Wisconsin's Kiko for a memorial teaching award for outstanding teaching in this second lecture on the theory and practice of communism. He discusses the evolution of nine Marxian socialism part 1. Professor Petrovitch. This morning I would like to try to place the subject of communism. In the larger context of socialism. And naturally here we have all kinds of problems of definition. I'm not talking about something abstract here.
One of my most treasured possessions is a rather beat up copy of the green sheet of the Capital Times of February 26 1953. I see I shall have to photograph this copy photostat it if I'm going to use it any further. What. Occurred here was that the editor of The Capital Times assigned reporter John Hunter and staff photographer James Miller to interview and photograph 100 persons and to ask him the question on the street what is a communist. Now this is in 1953 and many of you will remember that the McCarthy era. The reason I mention this is because in order to get 100 answers these reporters had to ask two hundred and forty one persons to get any answer at talk. I thought you might like to
hear what some of the answers were to the question of what is a communist. I won't mention the names of the people involved but here is a laborer lives on Franklin Street. I don't know what a communist is. I am an American citizen. I never saw one definition to comes from a typist. I'd say it was people who want everything to belong to the government. In my opinion a Communist is a person who never had anything and doesn't want anyone else to have anything. Definition 3 comes from a housewife. I don't know much about it I really don't know what a communist is. I think they should throw them out of the White House. Definition for a communist is similar to an atheist and does not believe in God. I can't make a
real definition of a communist. Number five a housewife. I have heard the expression a lot of times but I really don't know what a communist is. Number six a restaurateur. I figure a Communist is a person who doesn't think for himself. They want to regime under the party to do their thinking for them. Let me skip around here. A university student from an Emory hall a Communist is a student of Marxism who believes in equal distribution of wealth. Now there we get a good university definition. The only trouble with that is that it's wrong. A communist does not believe in equal distribution of wealth. This is one of the myths that get across here and we'll discuss that a bit further. ORG number 12. Another student a communist is one who wants a government where there is no chance for competition and where everyone is on an equal basis. That too
seems to be prevalent and that too is not true. 13 another university student. A lot of people think a communist as any liberal thinker. I really don't know myself. Let me skip down to number twenty three university student. I don't think that any definition can cover the word communist. The term is so loosely applied I don't think the question is valid. A draftsman says a Communist is a very misled individual one who has no individual character. He is a pig without a mud puddle. Number 30 to an architect. In my opinion when a man says what's yours is mine and what's mine is yours. He is a communist. I wonder what a Christian would say to that. A stenographer says I think a communist is someone that might try to influence
people to his way of thinking even though he knows it is wrong. Another stenographer from Evansville a Communist is a person who believes in and practices the principles and methods of the Communist Party. I might say that's a very good. Defn it doesn't get you anywhere. But it's a can go so far a very good definition and then she continues. If a person didn't have a religion I would be tempted to believe he was a communist since they don't believe in religion. Now you see what the. The fallacy there is. Communists are atheists therefore atheists are communists. Well let's go on. Thirty nine a bookkeeper a person who believes in the socialist form of government. I'm not sure that I know what I'm talking about. I like that answer. And maybe inductee from Marcus. There is no real answer to that question. A communist is a person who believes what he
thinks is right. You will note that it is the exact opposite of the person who said that a communist is one who is teaching others what he knows to be wrong. High school students from Dalton Wisconsin I don't suppose I could classify Communist he's a crook. I suppose a great school pupil from Cambridge communis have these trials and they don't play fair. They don't believe in God or anything. They look like anybody else. Now I like the last part of that definition because communists do indeed look like anybody else and this has all kinds of connotations. Let me skip 267 a printer from Sun Prairie a communist is one who betrays his country. A fellow who gives away secrets to the enemy in war and peace. 71. A clerk from my own street.
It may be all right in the old country where they have nothing to divide but in the United States it wouldn't work. A lawyer is a true communist is an ideal. In other words the commune itself ideally would be where everyone shared everything equally. Such a thing could exist if all people were Jesus Christ. 75 an hour. And with this a contractor from Janesville a Communist is a man who is dissatisfied with the world and is trying to take it out on the rest of the people. Well I think you can see from this and there are many many definitions here that I have not read that there is a great deal of confusion about this subject. The green sheet of the Capital Times took the trouble to put in the car unearthed what Webster's Dictionary says or tries to say about communism. The first definition of Webster's is a system of social organisation
in which goods are held in common. The opposite of the system of private property. The second definition says that communism equals communism and I won't go into that that brings up another problem. The third definition comes even closer to what we should be talking about here. Any theory or system of social organization involving common ownership of the agents of production and some approach to equal distribution of the products of industry. I want to read that again because it has two elements in it that are more sophisticated than the definitions that I have read here. It's a system or theory of social organization involving common ownership of the agents of production. Another expression they might have used is the means of production. So when we're talking about common ownership under communism we are not talking about common ownership of property of personal possessions but common ownership
of the means or agents of production. And this is a crucial difference. This is why all those definitions that say that Communists believe that whatever is mine is yours and whatever is yours is mine. This is simply not true. Communists whether Markstein or non Marxian do not believe generally in the common ownership of all goods of all personal possessions but only means of production. And then note the second part of this definition and Webster some approach to equal distribution of wealth not actually equal distribution but some approach to equal distribution of the products of industry. The popular use of the word communism Websters continues conforms to the third of these definitions. The scientific usage sometimes conforms to the first alone and sometimes alternates between the first and second. Most modern writers use the term indiscriminately in these two meanings. Well I don't
want to trouble you further with that definitions of this kind any definition of something complex that has to fall short of the mark one way or another. And perhaps it's better to look at the thing itself than to try to define it. But here are some of the problems that we should be testing with throughout the rest of the week. Now let me go to socialism itself as a generic term covering all forms of theories. That deal with this type of social organization with common ownership of the means of production and some approach to equal distribution Marxian socialism are what we are apt to call communism today is only one form of socialism. And I think that it would behoove us to understand that Marx in socialism or present day
communism as preached and practiced in the Soviet Union is only a part of the general movement in history towards socialism. It always amazes me how many people think that Karl Marx was the originator of socialism and that there never was any socialism before Karl Marx. Again you might be amused by a true experience of mine when I visited the Soviet Union once I had an appointment with a professor at the University of Moscow and I arrived in early June when the University of Moscow was still. And in the throes of final examinations and this professor it was in a Ph.D. oral examination so I waited out in the halls for him and after a while he came out into the corridor wiping a sweaty brow. And he greeted me and I said What's the matter you look very perturbed to Bill produced two shots No shots no he said to me was terrible simply awful. If he had
just come out of an examination I said What's the matter. Well he said I asked the candidate if she could name any socialist before Karl Marx and she couldn't name one. I hope that no one will be in that situation here. Modern socialism or communism and communism really come about as a response to the challenges of the industrial revolution. But socialism itself as an idea may be traced all the way back into ancient history. It's basic motivation is perhaps very well described in Korea Hunt's book on the theory and practice of communism where he has in the beginning. Of his first chapter the following statement.
As soon as men are capable of serious reflection the inequalities of human life become apparent and are seen largely to derive from private property. For nearly 2000 years European civilization has rested upon a seeming contradiction between a philosophy and a religion which teach that all men are brothers and an economic system which organizes them as masters and servants in almost every century men sought to resolve this contradiction by demanding a readjustment of the social order. But such schemes as they put forward did not rest on any clear analysis of that order or upon it just appreciation of the part which man plays in creating it and so forth. The reason I read this is simply to point out that in the opinion of most writers on this subject the basic motivation for socialist thought is the quest for
social justice and we cannot escape the moral question when we are discussing socialism or communism. I know that very frequently as socialists in general and Communists in particular talk about their theories as though in in a scientific world they were meant to advance some more efficient way of human social organisation but in actual fact even the most scientific sounding theory of socialism including most of our Marx and socialist if you scratch it just a little bit under the surface you will find the wounded feeling of a man who cries out against social injustice. This feeling goes back a long way from the beginnings of private property I suppose. And one finds it. It's a very deep strain in religious thought as well. Permit me to quote a few of the
Old Testament Prophets this Isaiah for example. The spoil of the poor is in your houses. What mean ye that he beat my people to pieces and grind the faces of the poor. Said the Lord of hosts. Lo unto them that add house to house the joint field to field till there be no place they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth. Partake of what is for many the disturbing words of Jesus about the rich not being able to enter the kingdom of heaven. And we all know of the parable or the saying that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven. The other hand Jesus was not just thinking about the kingdom of heaven away from this earth.
Christianity was never just otherworldly and that perhaps the best proof of that is in the one prayer that all Christians have in common. The Lord's Prayer which says very definitely die Kingdom Come on earth as it is in heaven. If you go into the history of early Christianity there's an interesting source on this. The Acts of the Apostles Chapter 2 verse 44 and all that believed that is the early Christians and all that believed were together and had all things in common. There is all kinds of evidence that a common ownership of goods was one of the strains of early Christianity. The quest for a more perfect order on earth is a definite strain in western religious thought. One need only look at the
title of St Augustine's great book The City of God the Civitas day to see that the idea is to transform this earth into a of the most perfect place possible by Kingdom Come on earth as it is in heaven. In the history of the Catholic Church we have the figure for example of Savonarola the famous monk of Florence in the 15th century who was a Puritan before the Puritans of the Protestant Reformation and who decided to bring a new truly Christian life to the city of Florence by creating a kind of a religious if not socialism than at least a more just society in which the rich would at least not show off their wealth so that it became the height of propriety and very wealthy Florence for people to go around
dressed in black and not to wear their jewels and all the rest. Well stuff or not all I got so much on the nerves of everyone including Renaissance pope that he was as you know. Hang on. To go from religious thought in Western civilization back to ancient Greek thought. Many of you I'm sure are acquainted with Plato's Republic Plato lived from four 2:33 forty seven B.C. has given us a description of what he regarded as the best kind of human society in a book called the Republic. In this republic there would be no poor and no rich all the people would be divided into three classes the arches ans who did the work. The warriors who protected the city from its enemies and maintain order inside.
And what Plato calls the guardians that is the rulers and these guardians were to be given a very special education which was to include among other things music and athletics mathematics and philosophy it was to be what we now know is a liberal arts education. Now Plato does not insist on a socialist regime for everybody but particularly for the rulers the Guardians. These rulers were to have no private property for fear that they would use their power to gain wealth for themselves. And Plato believed that a ruler should be above this sort of thing. In fact it's interesting at a time when the Roman Catholic Church is worrying again over the whole problem of celibacy. Plato was worried about the same problem. Can a man who is in a position of some authority and social responsibility
do all of these things if he is too worried about his family life. And so Plato insisted that these guardians do not have families. But he did not insist on celibacy. Rather he insisted on. I don't know how to put it. The common ownership of wives in just this one class of rulers are guardians so that no man could say to any woman this is my wife or to any child. This is my child. There would be this kind of socialism within this group. And the reason for it was as you can surmise and Plato hardly immorality but rather to give the rulers the maximum possibility of ruling in the best way. Now in the Middle Ages there was a distinction made in Roman law between two different kinds of law. The use not to die away and the use gentium the
natural law or natural right and the laws of men. The law of man. It's an interesting distinction in the history of law that the there should be some difference made between what was considered God's law and what was considered man's law. I suppose this difference comes from the basic religious thought that men are imperfect. I realize that all not not all religious sects believe this. A friend of mine was a Christian scientist called me down rather vigorously once for proposing that all men were imperfect whereas Christian Science has a different view of this. But the most Christian religion regards men as being in some way innately imperfect. And if this is so. Then man's law must be less perfect than God's law.
But there is another distinction here and that is well perhaps best symbolized by the reference to the Garden of Eden in the Bible. That man originally lived under God's law and then for all sorts of reasons involving human imperfections they were cast out of the realm of just God's law and were forced to set up laws among themselves. Why. Well because men being imperfect have need to protect themselves from one another. This seems to be the basis for the law of man according to this theory that homo homing in lupus every man is a wolf to every other man. And because men are innately imperfect because they have these passions which they can use against each other some laws are needed not just to run things well but to keep
men from doing injury to one another. Well what kind of injury. Well for one thing theft. Though the first crime that we hear of of this kind in the Bible is murder Cain and Abel but that was a great French Socialist through the Young who was asked once Kiska secular procreating what's property. And he answered all property is theft. Let me take that back a little. In the world of God not of man but of God. To whom does the Earth belong. And the Bible gives a very simple answer to that. The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. If the earth is the Lord's what right does any single man have to own it. Well if you'll permit me to be personal about this the Petrovich family is firm in the conviction that it owns a property
described as 21:17 candle and you. This is what we used to live and then we went on to Chadron at you we own that property we have a bill of sale we can prove to you to any court that we own that property. How did we get that property. Well we bought it from somebody else. Now of course we don't really own that property the First National Bank of Madison does but that's another question and I don't want to get into that. We at least the potential owners of that property we bought it from the previous owners the previous owners bought it from the previous owners and the previous owners bought it from the previous owners and they're all good bills of sale recorded somewhere here to show it. But now who's the first owner. Well I spose if I might talk about our white man prejudices here we'd say that the first owner was the first white command who was able to establish himself on that property and get to a government office and say this is
mine I'm on it. Here's a dollar an acre or whatever it was this is mine. But what right did he have to it I said forgive me I don't know my Wisconsin history well enough having been brought up in Ohio but let's say the Menominee Indians had it. Somebody must have taken it from the Indians. Well you say well Indians have no real conception of property. Of course they don't want Indians or Christians they believe that the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. It never occurred to the Indians you know to put fences around anything there were a few of them and there was plenty of God's earth Pierre or Manitou or whatever word they use for God. There is plenty of Earth Eddy everywhere and it never occurred to them to fence anything around it. It remained for the hawk like acquisitive white man to come and put fences around things and say this isn't mine. This isn't yours it's mine and if you cross that fence I will kill you. Now I don't know if this is a fair appraisal of
how private property got started in Madison Wisconsin or not though every once in a while our newspapers are full of the pleas of various Indian tribes reminding us of how they had been cheated of their birthright. But this homey. And the example of my does take us all back I trust into the realms of political theory how did the first property anywhere get started. At what point in human history did one man have the nerve to say this is no longer ours it's mine. When the earth was originally the Lord's and the fullness thereof. Well not you know not even under our capitalist system where private property is considered such a sacred right. Have we come to believe that the property I call mine a 21 0 9 Chad Brown is really my dream we still recognize deep down and legally the difference
between natural right and the right of man. Let me give you an example which may come very close to home to some of you. If the state of Wisconsin decides that they have to build a road through 21 0 9 Chad Brown. The Petrovich is have no recourse whatever. They will have to give up their property under an old law that they in Western civilization is known as the right of eminent domain. That is that the state really owns all the land. The state being the agent of God in this case. And you're even natural right that not one of us owns his property outright. We are merely given the use of that property. But if any time God that is the state to put it in secular terms in our day needs that property for the sake of the state. That is the social community. It has the right to take that property away from you. Now
most Americans don't like to think about this in these terms because we trust that the state will be generous that it will give us a fair shake that it will give us the market value of our property and if it doesn't the state even permits us a note I say permits us it doesn't have to but it permits us to take the state to some court and adjudication to see what our property is really work. But in terms of actual law these are not our rights. These are simply the privileges given to us. Behind all of this is the idea that originally the earth was the Lord's and the fulness thereof and that man when he came to the Earth found something already there. And therefore should be given the use of what he himself is not created and not outright ownership of it.
The theory and practice of communism
Evolution of Non-Marxian Socialism
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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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For series info, see Item 3358. This prog.: The Evolution of Non-Marxian Socialism, part I.
Politics and Government
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Producing Organization: University of Wisconsin
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Chicago: “The theory and practice of communism; Evolution of Non-Marxian Socialism,” 1968-04-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 4, 2023,
MLA: “The theory and practice of communism; Evolution of Non-Marxian Socialism.” 1968-04-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <>.
APA: The theory and practice of communism; Evolution of Non-Marxian Socialism. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from