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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25. No. 12. 1962

The Failure of World Communism

page 8

The Failure of World Communism

Post-war Soviet Policy Killed hope in Communism

The autumn and winter of 1948-49 was a moment of transition in the post-war history of American liberalism—a moment when the liberal community was engaged in the double task of redefining its altitude toward the phenomenon of communism and, partly in consequence, of reconstructing the bases of liberal political philosophy.

In the years since, the process of redefinition has been completed: I believe that all American liberals recognize today that liberalism has nothing in common with communism, either as to means or as to ends.

This article is taken from Arthur M. Schlesinger's book The Politics of Hope, to be published later this year by Houghton Mifflin Company.

It was printed in Saturday Evening Post.

This is copyright and may not be reproduced in whole or in part.

As for the process of reconstruction, this is by its nature continuous: If liberalism should ever harden into ideology, then, like all ideologies, it would be overwhelmed by the turbulence and unpredictability of history—especially in an age when science and technology have made the velocity of history so much greater than e before. The continuing enterprise on has consequently brought new phases of liberal thought to the forefront in the past 13 years.

So far as communism is concerned, in the confused years immediately after the end of the Second World War, and in spite of Stalin's notable record in the 1930's of internal terror and international betrayal, the Soviet Union retained for some people traces of the idealistic fervor of the Russian Revolution. By 1962 it seems safe to say that post-war Soviet policy has extinguished any remaining elements of idealism in the Communist appeal.

Not Inevitable

No one with any knowledge of history can believe in the Soviet Union on the supposition that Communist victory would usher in a generous and beneficent society. Where people believe in the Soviet Union today it is on quite other grounds: It is basically because they are persuaded that, whether they like it or not, communism is going to win, and that they had therefore better make their terms with a Communist world. The essence of contemporary Soviet policy is to enhance this impression of the inevitability of Communist triumph, to employ every resource of science and politics to identify communism with the future and to convince people everywhere that they must accept the necessity of communism or face the certainty of obliteration. They have addressed this policy especially to the southern half of the world, where the awakening of countries from centuries of oblivion is discharging; new and incalculable energies into human society.

The irony is that the very eagerness with which intellectuals in emergent nation often embrace communism itself suggests that communism is not the way of the future and is, if it is anything, a passing stage to which some may ten turn in the quest for modernity. Where Marx portrayed communism fulfilment modernization, history seems abundantly to show id avoids thermonuclear suicide the modernization process contrary to Marxist prophecy (will vindicate the mixed society and render communism obsolete.

The Marxist contention has been (a) that capitalism is the predestined casualty of the modernization process and (b) that communism is its predestined culmination. In these terms communism has boasted the certification of history. But history quite plainly refutes the communist case. It shows (a) that the mixed society, as it modernizes itself, can overcome the internal contradictions which in Marx's view doomed it to destruction and (b) that communism is historically a function of the prefatory rather than the concluding stages of the modernization process.

Marx's Case

Marx rested his case for the inevitability of communist triumph on the theory that capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. He argued that the capitalist economy generated inexorable inner tendencies — "contradictions" — which would infallibly bring about its downfall. One inexorable tendency was the increasing wealth of the rich and the increasing poverty of the poor. Another was the increasing frequency and severity of economic crises. Together these tendencies would infallibly carry society to a point of revolutionary "ripeness" when the proletariat would rise in its wrath, overthrow the possessing classes and install a classless society. Marx saw no way of denying this process, because that capitalist state could never be anything but the executive committee of the capitalist class.

This was Marx's fatal error. The capitalist state in developed societies, far from being the helpless instrument of the posssessing class, has become the means by which other groups in society have redressed the balance of social power against those whom Hamilton called the "rich and well-born". This has been true in the United States, for example, since the age of Jackson. The liberal democratic state has accomplished two things in particular. It has brought about a redistribution of wealth which has defeated Marx's prediction of progressive immiserization, and it has brought about an economic stabilization which has defeated Marx's prediction of ever-worsening economic crisis. What the democratic parties of the developed nations have done, in short, has been to use the state to force capitalism to do what both the capitalists and the classical Marxists declared was impossible: to control the business cycle and reapportion income in favour of those whom Jackson called the "humble members of society."


The champions of the affirmative state, in their determination to avert Marxist revolution, had to fight conservatism at every step along the way. Nonetheless, they persevered; and the twentieth century in the United States and Great Britain saw the rejection of "laissez-faire", the subjugation of the business cycle, the drowning of revolution in a torrent of consumer goods and the establishment of the "affluent society". The revolutionary fires within capitalism, lighted by the great industrialists in the nineteenth century, were put out in the twentieth by the triumphs industry—and by the liberal politicians, by Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt Such men ignored the either/or, and created the mixed society. Both classical socialism and classical capitalism were products of the nineteenth century, and their day is over. As a result, capitalism can no longer be relied upon to dig its own grave; and communism, if it ever comes to developed countries, will come, not as a consequence of social evolution, but only on the bayonets of the Red Army.

At the same time, history has thrown sharp light on the actual function of communism. Marx, regarding communism as the climax of the development process, prophesied that it would come first in the most-developed nations. On the contrary, it has come to nations in the early phases of development, like Russia and China; and it has appealed to activists in such nations precisely because they see it as the means of rapid and effective modernization. Instead of being the culmination of the modernization effort, communism would seem to be a form of social organization to which some countries aspiring to development have resorted in the hope of speeding the pace of modernization. We do not know what will happen to communism in a Communist state which achieves full development; but, if it should then survive in anything like its present form, it would be because of the efficiency, of its apparatus of control and terror, not because it is the natural organizational expression of the institutions of affluence.


History thus shows plainly that communism is not the form of social organization toward which all societies are irresistibly evolving. Rather it is a phenomenon of the transition from stagnation to development, a "disease" of the modernization process. Democrat regulated capitalism — the mixed society will be far more capable of coping with the long-term consequences of modernization. "The wave of the future," Walter Lippmann has well said, "is not Communist domination of the world. The wave of the future is social reform and social revolution driving us toward the goal of national independence and equality of personal status."

Chinese Do not make Good Gommunist Farmers

"It is easier to make a Communist out of a New Zealand than a Chinese farmer!" This statement was made to Salient by Dr W. G. Goddard, who was for twenty years a professor of Chinese history.

"The New Zealand farm is run purely as a profit making Institution," he said. But the Chinese I farmer was bound to his farm, not only by his living, but by the LiChi philosophy. One of its chief points is that man comes from the soil and returns to it. As the family graves are all on the farm, to a Chinese his farm is closely bound up with his family and his religion.

Family Broken

The professor said that in order to establish the Communist government, the family had to be broken up. Children were sent to schools and universities far away from home, and no two members of the same family were permitted to work in the same trade. "However, the family still prevailed."

But hadn't this system brought economic progress? "In measuring Chinese economic progress one should ask oneself if these people are better off today than they were fifty years ago," he said. Speaking from his own experience, he felt that this was not so.

"Fifty years ago," he said, "the Chinese farmer paid a high rent for a small farm, and was poor. But he did have his personal freedom and access to his family. As long as he paid his tribute to the Emperor in Peking, there was no interference at all."

Today, under the Commune system, the men live in one set of barracks, the women in another. A man sees his wife for thirty minutes once a fortnight, and his children are in a State institution.

"He possesses nothing," said Dr Goddard, "not even the clothes on' his back. There was a time when he possessed the graves of his ancestors, but a State decree compelled him to send all their bones to the fertilizer plants."

Pure Communist

"it is because of this Commune system that Mao-Tse-Tung has labelled himself the only pure Communist," said the professor. Mao says that Marx and Krushchev are not pure, because they permit the family system, and some private property.

He spoke of the food problem in China. "Eighty per cent, of all agricultural produce is commandeered by the State, but it is not used to feed the people."

Mainland China had no foreign exchange, and thus had to use her produce for trade, and to pay foreign debts. "Two-thirds of the wheat, and three-quarters of the barley given by Australia, went to Russia and Albania for this purpose." At the same time, twenty million people in one province alone starved.

However, Professor Goddard felt that the greatness of countries could not be measured in terms of economics. "Communism is not a political or economic creed. It relates to the mind and the human spirit." A basic civilised demand 'was the freedom to think and express one's thoughts, he said.

These freedoms did not exist in China, but neither did the freedom of silence, and this was taken for assent. "So you haven't even got the freedom of keeping your mouth shut," he commented.

Professor Goddard feels that Mao's plan of building a new nation could be thwarted if the non Communists would put all the money they spend on armaments into producing cheap propaganda. Radio stations and public houses in Asia, he feels, could do this most effectively.

Festival Drama Lively

Interesting, lively and controversial drama marked the 1962 Drama Festival at Christchurch during Tournament. The adjudicator, Mr M. J. Glue was impressed with the originality and competence of the six productions. It was SRO in the Irish Society Hall on both Monday and Wednesday nights.

Auckland s Barnstable won the competition. The play, centred around a slightly dotty family in 8 crumbling English Stately Home which collapses around their ears towards the end of the play was only superficially a farce. The N. F. Simpson-type plot had plenty of satirical bite to it.

John Crawford was excellent as the sanctimonious vicar, and Ligita Maulics gave a virtuoso performance as the hysterical daughter. The producer was commended tided by the adjudicator as the best of the evening. The difficult staging and sound effects were handled skilfully.

Vic's production of Bruce Mason's Bonds of Love unfortunately had to follow two broad farces, and heavy meat of Mr Mason's exercise in New Zealand morals was received by a restless audience The adjudicator may have been a little unkind when he said that it sounded like "a kindergarten reading of The Miller's Tale" but at times the cast seemed unable to handle the forthright dialogue in a convincingly Idiomatic manner

Con O'Leary's Con Arts gig was Corso's In This Hung-Up Age. O'Leary really swung as Poetman. The rest of the cats just weren't hip on the beat semantics. It's a drag, but if you don't blow American, then it's like Dead City. The cats were straining at vowels and sometimes just straining.

Canterbury produced the only original play of the series—Jeremy Agar's existentialist potpourri The Bath, a rather obvious pastiche, as the programme admits, of the Big Three: Ionesco, Becket and Pinter. The plot revolves around two people (Habakkuk and Gomorrah) who have Climbed the Stairs up from the Dustbins and Reached the Bathroom. They get into the Bath. You read what you want into that.

Several other representatives of the human race appear to say Significant Things. The best scenes involved Mike Noonan as the English to off, who managed to be brilliant and completely non-significant.

Massey's Two Gentlemen of Soho A. P. parody of Shakespeare, was probably the comic hit of the. The Massey actors, In particular Glenda Farrell, who earned the unofficial award as best actress of the evening handled the ham well and with a good sense of timing, Otago did not have quite so much success with Michael de Ghelderode Three Actors and Their Drama and uneven acting somewhat spoiled the effect of the various twists the plot and changes in the personae of the charcters. Lincoln, last year's winners, staged Birds of a Feather J. O. Francis, which was rather too naive for a University audience, but was very competently produced and acted.

A Fresh Approach to Security

Free lecture—"Christian Science:

The Way of Progress and Protection"

  • Friday, September 28
  • 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Student Union Building.

by Georgina Tennant C.S.B. of London, a member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church. The First Church Scientist, in Boston, Mass.

Christian Science Organization, V.U.W.