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.
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.
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
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
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.