Not Victories for Communism
APRIL 01, 1958 by WILLIAM HENRY CHAMBERLAIN
Mr. Chamberlin is author of the definitive two-volume history of the Russian Revolution and numerous other hooks and articles on world affairs.
The obvious military threat from the launching of the Soviet sputnik is not the projection of an earth satellite into space, but the likelihood that capacity to do this implies capacity to launch an extremely formidable military weapon, the intercontinental ballistic missile. Along with this obvious threat, which has been widely canvassed in Congress and in public discussion, there are two more subtle and indirect dangers which have received less attention.
First, there is the unmistakable trend to use the Soviet earth satellite as an excuse for indiscriminate spending, nonmilitary as well as military. Grabs at the taxpayer’s pocketbook are in prospect for everything, from federal aid to education to
Second, there is at least the beginning of an assumption that, because the Soviet government beat us to the gun in launching an earth satellite, there must be some superiority in the Soviet political and economic system. Such a line of thinking, if pursued far enough, might suggest that compulsion is superior to voluntarism as a motivating factor in economic production.
So it may be a good idea to take a close look at those fields where Soviet success has been most pronounced in order to see whether these successes were achieved by methods that have any relation to communist egalitarian philosophy. These fields are (1) military power, (2) educational training for science and technology, (3) quantity industrial production, (4) rapid catching up with the
A Lopsided Economy
There are many other fields in which Soviet standards of achievement are far behind those of the
The vast majority of the Soviet people subsist on a limited diet of coarse food, wear shoddy clothing, live in indecently crowded housing. The exceptions to this rule are to be found in the top layer of the ruling party and its managerial bureaucracy, at a liberal estimate not a higher proportion of the population than the recipients of an annual income of $20,000 or more would be of the American population.
Soviet per capita output of automobiles is negligible compared with the American and is far surpassed in
Approximately half of the Soviet population, employed in farming, tries, with indifferent success, to feed the nation. About one-eighth of the American population, engaged in agriculture, not only produces enough to give the whole American population a much higher standard of living than the Russian, but, in addition piles up unsalable and unmanageable surpluses — at least unsalable and unmanageable under our clumsy system of massive state intervention and artificial price support.
Soviet industries and stores are run by state appointed bureaucrats who are not in the least interested in consumer needs, who are, indeed, under specific instructions to give the "heavy" industries, most essential from a military standpoint, priority over the needs of the "light" industries which produce goods of everyday consumption. And the inflow of foreign consumer goods is negligible because the government strictly controls every item and gives preference to those which minister to strategic needs.
The American, the West European, is free to travel when and where he pleases. The chance of a Soviet citizen, unless he is tapped for a state mission, being able to see any part of the world outside the
Putting aside these and many other points in which the balance of comparison inclines heavily to the side of the West, how did the rulers of the
1. The Armed Forces
The Soviet regime came into power forty years ago on a tide of social upheaval in which one of the biggest elements was a gigantic mutiny of the Russian Army. For three years the predominantly peasant Russian army had been fighting an unequal war against German armies that were better armed and equipped and more capably officered and commanded.
Russian losses in killed, wounded, and imprisoned were prodigious. Then Czarism was overthrown in March 1917. Nicholas II abdicated. A well-meaning but weak and inexperienced provisional government, uncertain of its power and hesitant in the exercise of its authority, came into being. To the Russian peasant soldier the Czar, the only symbol of authority he knew and recognized, had disappeared. He felt instinctively that there was no longer a firm hand of government authority which would jail or shoot him if he disobeyed orders. Then, before long, agitators began to appear, telling him that he had no quarrel with the Germans, that the capitalists on both sides were responsible for the war, that he should go home and divide up the large estates with his fellow-peasants.
As this kind of propaganda appealed to the peasant’s own instincts, it met with increasing success. By the time the communists, or Bolsheviks, as they were then called, struck for power in November the armed forces were so completely disintegrated that the provisional government had no armed force on which it could rely.
"Land" and "Peace" were the magic slogans in the revolution led by Lenin and Trotsky. When the new Soviet regime began to create an army of its own to fight the counterrevolutionaries who opposed communism, their first idea was to make it as unlike the Czarist army as possible. Distinction between officers and privates was reduced to a minimum. The very word "officer," along with the titles of "Marshal," "General," and "Admiral" was abolished; fancy epaulettes were eliminated; the only title of respect in the new Red Army was "Comrade Commander."
Some modifications of this experiment took place in the thirties, including the restoration of the title of Marshal. But the whole idea of an egalitarian army, with officers and men very much on the same level, was scrapped under the severe test of World War II. Officers again acquired orderlies. Generals began to clank with medals. The difference in pay and rations between officers and men became greater than in the American army. The Soviet officer was even given the right of inflicting summary execution. The Soviet armed forces, as they were formed during World War II and as they exist today, are not unlike the old-fashioned Czarist army in general set-up and in exacting marks of respect and distinction for the officers. Nothing is left of the early revolutionary idea of an army of equals.
In other words, the Soviet success in building up a formidable military machine had nothing to do with the ideal of communism. Even the propaganda during the war was along Russian nationalist, rather than revolutionary lines.
The first communist idea about the schools was to turn the old order, one of strict discipline, upside down. The most extreme permissive methods were introduced; authority, so far as there was any, was vested in pupils’ councils. Marks, examinations, and formal instruction according to subjects all went down the drain. Maximum self-expression was encouraged; exact knowledge was treated with contempt.
The Soviet school children of this period acquired a kind of scrap heap and rag-bag knowledge, learning a few facts here and there, getting a plentiful dose of communist indoctrination but little systematic instruction. There was another characteristic of the Soviet universities and higher schools at this time: class favoritism on an upside down basis. While children of landowners, businessmen, and other members of what the Soviet leaders called the bourgeoisie, no matter how bright, could not gain admission except by stealth and deception, manual workers and children of workers, with little regard for scholastic qualification, were given preference in admission. Academic life in Russian universities was probably never on such a low intellectual level as at that time.
The Soviet educational system of that time, turning out half-baked products in the elementary schools and making admission to higher institutions depend on class origin and political reliability, not on merit, could never have produced the trained engineers and technicians needed for operating a modern industrial system, much less scientists of the quality essential for the mastery of nuclear physics and related subjects.
This perception must have come to Josef Stalin during the first Five Year Plan, which began in the latter part of 1928 and was pronounced finished at the end of 1932, for at this time the Soviet school was completely made over. Back came the authority of the teacher, marks, examinations, even uniforms. Pupils were taught to stand up when the teacher entered the room. Troublemakers were bounced out of the schools. Stiff compulsory courses, taught by subjects, replaced the wandering in the fields of experimentation.
There were equally important changes in higher education. Applicants were judged by ability, not by class origin. Scholarships were assigned to the brightest, not to the neediest. Driving hard work, closely graded and measured, became the characteristic of the Soviet educational system, from primary school to university or higher technical institute. For more than a quarter of a century Soviet scientists, engineers, technicians have been coming out of this kind of educational regime.
The Soviet education system has not produced independent minded citizens, familiar with a variety of political, social, and economic ideas. This was not its purpose. The design was to turn out specialists who would be serviceable to the
3. Industrial Production
The ideal of communism was once stated in the slogan: "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." Lenin summed up his forecast of life under communism in the following formula:
"All society will be one office and one factory, with equality of labor and equality of pay." And equality was one of the trump cards of communist propaganda in 1917. There were to be no more rich and poor; the peasants were to take over the land of the big estates and divide it equally among themselves. The workers were to take over the factories, mines, and railways "in their own horny hands," to recall a catchphrase of communist agitation.
There was a terrific downward leveling because all sources of private wealth disappeared. Land, houses, factories, stores were nationalized. No more interest was paid on public or private obligations. Savings became worthless because the ruble experienced a catastrophic inflation. A kind of equality of universal misery was characteristic of the first years of the Soviet regime.
But compulsory equality made no wheels turn and did not produce the food and clothing which the ruined country desperately needed. So Lenin ordered the economic retreat known as the New Economic Policy, which relieved the distress by restoring freedom of internal trade and small industry and substituted a system of taxation for the former requisitioning of the peasants’ surplus produce.
These specific concessions were temporary and were withdrawn when Stalin went over to a completely planned economy. But then more fundamental and permanent inequalities entered into the picture. The principle of unequal pay for work of unequal value began to prevail throughout the whole Soviet economy. The spread in the spendable income of various professions and groups is in many cases greater in the
In short, so long as communist theoretical principles were maintained, the Soviet economy was a shambles. It was when these principles were tossed overboard that big advances in quantity production began to be chalked up.
4. Nuclear Weapons and Guided Missiles
These observations also hold good for the treatment of the scientists, Russian and foreign, who have been responsible for the nuclear and missile projects. No expense is spared to give them most comfortable living conditions and the best scientific equipment. So the Soviet achievements here may fairly be reckoned as victories for Russian scientific and inventive genius, but not for the principles of communism.
Indeed it is an unvarying rule that the Soviet regime has been most successful where it has departed from communist theory and provided, so far as this is possible within the Soviet system, the incentives of superior rank for superior achievement, differential reward for work of unequal value, special rewards for those groups and classes which are most useful, from the standpoint of the regime: scientists, engineers, industrial managers, writers, artists, and musicians of some talent who toe the party line in ideological matters.
The conspicuous failures of the Soviet economy, the inadequate production of food, the wretched housing, the poor service to the consumer, could be cured quickly by one simple remedy: proclamation of the right of the Soviet citizen to own land and industrial enterprises. But it is most unlikely that the Soviet government will ever consent to this, for two reasons. It would remove the last bases of a communist economy, and it would stimulate the desire for political freedom by giving the Soviet people economic freedom.
As the Soviet Union was founded on a combination of very wrong and immoral ideas, dogmatic atheism, class war and class hate, wholesale spoliation, and denial of the right of private property, the United States was founded on right and moral principles : respect for a Divine Author of the universe, government of divided and limited powers, individual freedom safeguarded by many specific sanctions, equality of American citizens in rights and obligations before the law and in opportunity, but no compulsory leveling between those who make good use of their opportunities and those who do not.
Neither power has been absolutely consistent in adhering to its own original principles. Whereas the Soviet Union has gained in strength by scrapping or shelving some of its most unworkable dogmas, we have lost strength by diluting and in some cases gravely compromising the principles of the Founding Fathers, substituting welfare statism for individual responsibility and opportunity, softening our educational requirements to the lowest common denominator just when the Soviet Union was toughening its school requirements. Our best answer to the Soviet challenge is to get back to the basic principles of the Constitution as thoroughly and as fast as possible.