All Commentary
Wednesday, January 1, 1992

Handwriting on the Wall

Paul anderson, the 1956 Olympic heavyweight weightlifting champion, is founder of the Paul Anderson Youth Home, a refuge for teenage boys, P.O. Box 525, Vidalia, GA 30474.

I don’t claim to be a spiritual, economic, or political prophet. On the other hand, I see many of the predictions I made about Communism more than 30 years ago coming true. My 1955 predictions, although a bit premature, have become realities.

At that time the Cold War was at its peak; it was a surprising gesture for the Russian Weightlifting Association to invite the American team to Moscow and Leningrad for team-to-team competition. I was strictly a novice in the heavyweight class, but I had trained quite hard. I gained world fame overnight by breaking several world records; the Russians called me “the strongest man who ever lived . . . a wonder of nature.”

When I visited the Soviet Union in 1955, I observed the people, their economic situation, and their living conditions. I found an attitude that seems to grow in a socialistic society when people begin to get their stomachs filled—their ambition accelerates along with their desire to be equal or better than others. A totalitarian government can remain in power only as long as its people are hungry and struggling for their everyday existence.

I returned home in 1955 saying that in 20 years the U.S.S.R. would begin to turn to a capitalistic system, and in doing so would come to us for technology.

One of the biggest eye-openers for me concerning the Russian people’s hunger for more and better things in everyday life came one night in Leningrad. We were at a theater watching a wonderful production of Swan Lake. It was quite a long program; the custom was to have an intermission when everyone vacated the main auditorium and went into a large empty room where they did what was called “promenading.” I wasn’t very enthusiastic about just walking around the room, so I took a seat in one corner and soon was surrounded by the Russian press, who all seemed to be Party members. They immediately began to make the same type of innuendo that had arisen in the preceding few days. They posed leading questions concerning capitalism and Communism, as they tried to elicit positive answers concerning their way of thinking.

While we were waiting for the ballet to proceed, one of the more zealous reporters said, “I’ll bet you’ve never seen anything like this before.” I had always loved Tchaikovsky’s music but had never heard the entire score performed in a theater as we were having the privilege of doing that night. By that time I was a little “hyped up” by what was developing into a mild argument, so I told them I had seen Swan Lake on television. The gentleman said it was a terrible shame that I had been deprived of such luxury and sophisticated living in my country. I inquired about what he meant by this, and he explained that there was no way that I could grasp the greatness of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece on TV. (Russian televisions were extremely small at that time; my first thought in seeing them was that you almost had to have one for each eye.)

      I took the offensive at that point and told the reporters that our television sets were exceptionally large; and in describing the size I exaggerated, probably describing the giant screens we now have rather than our 24-inch sets of the mid-1950s. They looked at each other in a puzzled manner, and the main interrogator asked why we had such large sets. I explained that in our free enterprise system one manufacturer would make a nice large television set, but another company would produce an even bigger, clearer set, and sell it at a lower price. In turn, additional manufacturers would make ever larger sets, and all the while the consumer was getting better equipment for less money,

By that time the reporter who was interested in why I hadn’t seen Swan Lake in person exclaimed, “That sounds like a wonderful system!” Needless to say, he received a grimacing look from his comrades, and I could see that he was relieved when we were soon beckoned back to the main auditorium for the continuation of the ballet. That night I saw the hunger of these people for something better, and their ambition to reach out beyond nuclear confrontation to more productive, rewarding lives.

No, I am not a prophet, and I was about 30 years away from the developments we are seeing in the Soviet Union today; but the handwriting on the wall was already beginning to make the future clear.

It was apparent even in 1955 that when people living under Communism or any other oppressive system develop a taste for something more, the system is doomed. Unfortunately, we see some Third World nations allowing their people to starve just to keep them under control. They need our prayers and our help, especially in reaching out to the people who are in desperate need and those who are dying of hunger.