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

Post-war Soviet Policy Killed hope in 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."