All Commentary
Tuesday, May 1, 1962

Communism Is Not The Wave Of The Future


Mr. Chamberlin is a skilled observer and re­porter of economic and political conditions at home and abroad. He has written a number of books, has lectured widely, and is a con­tributor to The Wall Street Journal and many nationally known magazines.

Communists, like the Nazis be­fore them, like to regard their movement as an irresistible wave of the future, destined to inundate the entire world. In the days when he was the Number Two man—after Stalin—among the Soviet rulers, Vyacheslav Molotov de­clared that “all roads lead to com­munism.”

The present Soviet dictator, Nikita Khrushchev, shouted when a group of Western diplomats walked out of a diplomatic recep­tion in Moscow because of an in­sult: “All the same, we shall bury you.” In his more benevolent mo­ments Khrushchev has predicted that the grandchildren of the present generation of Americans will live under communism, with or without assistance from the death-dealing missiles of which he likes to boast.

And it is not only communists who cherish this wave-of-the­-future theory. Devoted anticom­munists, discouraged by apathy and weakness in the free world, sometimes share this conviction. So the late Whittaker Chambers, who almost single-handed brought Alger Hiss to justice, said to his wife when he quit the communist underground in revulsion and disgust:

“I know that I am leaving the winning side for the losing side. But it is better to die on the losing side than to live under com­munism.”

It would certainly be folly to brush aside as insignificant the threat of Soviet and Chinese ex­pansionist communism or to un­derrate the assets which com­munism possesses: a creed that admits no doubt, for instance, an unrivaled apparatus for espion­age and subversion, an ability to concentrate economic resources on what seems to its leaders to be the most essential political and mili­tary tasks.

But excessive pessimism is also out of place. Time is by no means necessarily on the side of the Reds. Assuming that the free peoples keep their heads, remain united in purpose and action, firm and clear in resolution, there are no less than seven good reasons why communism will not be the wave of the future, why it may be expected to recede or even to col­lapse, rather than to advance to the conquest of Europe outside the Iron Curtain and then of America.

The Situation Is Different

First, the conditions do not exist in the Western world that made it possible for a small group of well-organized fanatics, exploit­ing chaotic conditions after unsuc­cessful war and resorting to ruth­less demagogy, to seize power first in the Soviet Union, later in Yugoslavia, finally in China. (The other Soviet satellite states are not considered, because in these communism was simply imposed by the military power of the Red Army.)

Czarist Russia, despite its im­posing size and powerful military and police build-up, was a colossus on feet of clay. There was a sense of sullen alienation between the poor, uneducated majority—most of the peasants and the industrial workers—and the well-to-do edu­cated aristocracy and middle class. There was resentment on the part of peoples who had been brought unwillingly under Russian power. Too few Russians had a sense of having a stake in the stability of the country’s economic order. Add the pressure of World War I, and the ingredients of violent revolu­tion are there. In this age of the affluent society there is no par­allel in Western Europe or Amer­ica for prerevolutionary Russian conditions.

This is perhaps even more true as regards China, where most of the people lived on a more pre­carious subsistence basis than the Russians. Eight years of Japanese invasion and occupation of all China‘s main cities had disorgan­ized the administration and econ­omy of the country. Poor and ignorant people furnish the most receptive audience for communist demagogy arid false promises. As they are, half-starved at back­breaking labor in communes, many Chinese doubtless feel that they made the biggest mistake of their lives in siding with the com­munists against the nationalists. But they are caught in a steel trap of military and police control and universal spying from which it is very hard to escape.

Again, there is no duplication in the Western world for the con­ditions which preceded the com­munist take-over in China. This is also true as regards Yugoslavia, a poor, economically retarded Balkan state which was torn to pieces by racial internal feuds during the German occupation.

Schismatic Tendencies

Second, international commu­nism is now displaying clear ten­dencies toward fission and schism. Much of the supposed strength of international communism was de­rived from its unity. But the old impression of a little group of men in Moscow able to dispose of the strength not only of the Soviet Union, but of every other com­munist-ruled nation no longer cor­responds with the facts.

Yugoslavia is still a communist country, although with some modi­fications, including the virtual abandonment of collective farm­ing. But dictator Tito’s breach with Moscow in 1948 is likely to rate more than a footnote in his­tory. For this was the first proof that a communist-ruled country could secede from Moscow‘s lead­ership. Much more potentially significant is the evident rift be­tween Moscow and Peiping. No one can say with assurance how far this will go. Relations between the two communist giants are like an iceberg, with much more sub­merged than showing. But the bit­ter, if veiled, polemics which have been flying back and forth be­tween the two big communist cen­ters for years make it clear that Peiping can no longer be rated as a Moscow satellite.

As has often happened with re­ligious movements, nationalism has cut across the dream of inter­national communist solidarity. Tito’s expulsion took place after he resented Stalin’s desire to butt in and run Yugoslavia over Tito’s head. Much of the Soviet-Chinese quarrel may be traced back to dif­ferences of national development and conflicts of national interest. This tendency of communism to break up into factions and schisms is one of the strongest reasons for doubting that a communist world state will ever emerge.

Soviet Imperialism

Third, is Soviet imperialism. The rule of one country over an­other is an increasing political and moral liability. And, while the his­toric empires of Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Bel­gium have been diminishing to the vanishing point, the Soviet Union has become the world’s leading im­perialist power, with approxi­mately one hundred million sub­jects in eastern and central Europe.

If the peoples of comparatively ignorant and backward Asian and African countries insist on throw­ing off their former European overlords, is it likely that proud peoples with long traditions of in­dependence, peoples like the Poles and Hungarians, can be held for­ever on a Moscow leash? Even more strain is involved in the maintenance of the quaintly mis­named “German Democratic Re­public” (which is neither German, nor democratic, nor a republic) in the Soviet Zone of Occupation, where the monstrous Berlin wall is necessary to keep a large part of the population from stamped­ing to political and economic free­dom in the German Federal Re­public across the line of demarca­tion. Germans, Poles, and Hun­garians may be cowed for the present. But the maintenance of Soviet imperialism will involve ever greater strains in the future and may end some day in a catas­trophic blow-up. At the least, schismatic tendencies are likely to appear in the leadership of these satellite countries.

Failure of Collective Farming

Fourth, there is the dismal proved incompetence of commu­nist direction in farming. Over the long pull a nation, like an army, marches on its stomach. Soviet collective farming has been more than a monstrous crime, commit­ted by the state against millions of peasants and members of their families who were driven from their homes, sent to forced labor, starved in a great famine in order to force the peasants to submit to this new form of serfdom. It has been one of the biggest productive failures in human history. For three years Soviet agriculture has stood stock-still, despite Khrush­chev’s constant dashes around the countryside, exhorting, denounc­ing, firing incompetent farm ad­ministrators and officials who lied about figures of output. The sys­tem of putting the peasants to work on big farms under the di­rection of managers who are chosen for commitment to the Communist Party rather than for knowledge of agriculture has not worked.

According to the latest figures, 38.3 million workers are employed on Soviet collective and state farms. (The difference between the two is that in theory collective farms are the property of their members, while state farms are out-and-out state enterprises, employing workers on a wage basis.) American agriculture now has 5.7 million workers. But with more than six times as many people em­ployed, Soviet agriculture turns out (for a people of bread-eaters) only two-thirds as much grain and less than half as much meat as comes off American farms. Com­parative figures for vegetables and fruits would be even more un­favorable to Soviet agriculture.

Perhaps the surest giveaway as to what is wrong with Soviet agri­culture is the practice in Soviet newspapers of publishing a spate of reports from “the agricultural front,” urging the collective farm­ers of Kazakhstan to get busy with the wheat harvest or prais­ing a collective farm in Ryazan Province for getting in its rye ahead of normal time. An individ­ual peasant who owned his own land and had a direct personal in­terest in raising as large a crop as possible would not need any such prodding. Both in Poland and in Yugoslavia the food situation eased considerably when the peas­ants were given the option of stay­ing in collective farms or getting out. Most of them chose to get out.

Khrushchev is caught on the horns of a dilemma. The method by which he could achieve a big upsurge in peasant output would be to restore private property in land. But this his communist dog­matism will not permit. In China the communes into which the peasants were dragooned have caused perhaps even more suffer­ing than the Soviet collective farms. The general testimony of refugees who escape to Hong Kong or Macao, at the risk of their lives, is that near-starvation conditions prevail in the communes, that the lowest menial jobs in Hong Kong or Macao pay far more in terms of rice and other foodstuffs than the peasants in the communes ever see.

The surest recipe for creating acute shortage, if not famine, in a naturally rich agricultural area is to introduce collective farming. Does this look like a “wave of the future,” especially when con­trasted with the farm produce which modern technology, com­bined with private land owner­ship, creates in noncommunist lands?

They Vote with Their Feet

Fifth, is what may be called the verdict of the feet. Lenin said that the Russian army in 1917 voted for peace with its feet, by running away. There is no free voting under communist rule. But people have been voting against it, with their feet, in impressive fashion. For an individual to quit permanently a noncommunist for a communist country is about as rare as the proverbial man biting a dog. Movement in the opposite direction, away from communist-ruled lands, is on a massive scale. More than three million Germans have testified to preferring free­dom and capitalism to dictatorship and communism by making tracks for the Federal Republic. The erection of the notorious wall, sealing off East from West Berlin is a memorial, erected by the com­munists themselves, to the peni­tentiary conditions under which the shrinking population of the Soviet Zone lives. Does this look like the wave of the future for Germany?

Equally striking was the stam­pede for freedom from Hungary in 1956, after the hope of liberty had been extinguished; the tre­mendous flight from North Korea to South Korea; the sizable move­ment from North Vietnam to South Vietnam; the unprece­dented pressure of refugees from Red China.

If communism is really the wave of the future, bringing bet­ter living conditions for the aver­age man, it seems improbable that so many people would run away from it.

Revolt Among the Youth

Sixth, communism has failed to hold and mold the young people under its rule, even after years and sometimes decades of inten­sive indoctrination. It was teen­age boys and girls, products of communist education, who sparked the revolt against communism in Hungary. Even in the Soviet Union, where the process of prop­aganda and indoctrination has gone on much longer, there is abundant evidence in the con­trolled Soviet press and also in reports brought back by foreign visitors that the younger Soviet generation is very far from being a group of faceless robots who act and talk and think in line with official slogans.

Soviet newspapers are full of angry complaints about the doings of individuals who prefer the quick rubles of speculation to the limited rewards of regular toil at the factory bench. There are so many shortages of supply, so many loopholes in the clumsy sys­tem of state distribution, that handsome illicit profits can often be earned by individuals who, in one way or another, play the role of surreptitious middlemen and see that the desired goods reach eager and frustrated customers.

Soviet moralists like to repre­sent drunkenness and juvenile de­linquency as products of “bour­geois degeneracy.” But this ex­planation breaks down in the face of the prevalence of such trends among Soviet young people who have been brought up under com­munism. The true explanation seems to be the ghastly boredom of Soviet life, especially in the provinces, and a growing impa­tience among young people, espe­cially of the educated class, with stale clichés of official propaganda.

Almost all travelers in the Soviet Union bring back stories of intense interest among Soviet young people in everything West­ern, the cut of clothes, styles in automobiles, jazz records, new forms in music and art. The model Soviet boy and girl who seal their vows of love with pledges to outdo all production records in turning out pig iron and milking cows seem to exist mainly in the pages of Soviet hack novelists. It could be that, far from seeing America‘s grandchildren living under com­munism, the next Soviet genera­tion will demand big modifications in the present structure of com­munism. In any case, a system that clearly does not win the en­thusiastic confidence of its own youth is not likely to be a world-conquering force.

Capitalism Is Not Collapsing as Predicted

Seventh, but by no means least in importance, one of the big cards of Soviet agitation has been de­cisively trumped by the course of events. This is the dogmatic con­viction that the capitalist, or in­dividualist, economic system is foredoomed to collapse, leaving communism the only competitor in the field. Nothing of the kind is in reasonable prospect and all the resources of Soviet propaganda are increasingly ineffective in per­suading the Russian people that it will happen.

No doubt the individualist sys­tem would have functioned much better without the injection of large doses of socialistic drugs. But even as it functions today, there is a great difference in the enjoyment of individual liberty and in the scope allowed for profits and consumer choices as between America and Western Europe, on one side, and the Soviet Union on the other. Especially dishearten­ing to communist peddlers of gloom and doom has been the vigorous leap forward of the European economy in the last de­cade. Some European countries, notably Germany and Italy (where the long chronic unemployment has very much abated) have achieved annual industrial growth rates very close to those of the Soviet Union, and bringing far more real goods and satisfactions to their peoples. The Soviet con­sumer is starved for the upkeep of a big military machine and shortchanged by poor quality of housing and consumer goods.

Now that the rigid seclusion im­posed by Stalin on the Soviet Union has relaxed, now that for­eigners visit the Soviet Union and a limited number of Soviet citi­zens travel abroad, it becomes harder and harder to conceal from the Russian people the fact that the United States and Western Europe are far ahead of the Soviet Union in everything from personal freedom and variety of choice to availability of housing and automobiles. (The Soviet Union has 3 cars per 1,000 citi­zens, to Europe‘s 85 and America‘s 339.)

Perhaps a student of history, writing with the perspective of the year 2,000, will identify com­munism in retrospect as not the wave of the future, but the back­wash of a reactionary past, swept away by the increasing incompati­bility between its false and sterile dogmas and the natural instinct of human beings for a freer, more varied way of life.


  • William Henry Chamberlin (1897-1969) was an American historian and journalist. He was the author of several books about the Cold War, Communism, and US foreign policy, including The Russian Revolution 1917-1921 (1935) which was written in Russia between 1922-34 when he was the Moscow correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor.