This page was created by Theodore Warner.  The last update was by Vlad Beronja.

Glossy Communism: Polite Propaganda from the Eastern Bloc

Your Questions on Communism: An Americanized Communism in Soviet Life

In 1956 the governments of the USSR and the US agreed to trade magazines as a method of cultural diplomacy. Thus, the English-language magazine Soviet Life was circulated in the United States, and the Russian-language magazine Amerika was circulated in the Soviet Union.

Soviet Life provides American audiences a glimpse into just that. The magazine covers a wide array of topics, with sections titled “Economy and Science” to “Literature and the Arts” to the aptly titled “We Are Their Heirs”, a section devoted to a philosopher, poet or thinker of the past. (And always including the reminder from Vladimir Lenin: “No one can become a Communist unless his mind has been enriched with a knowledge of all the treasures mankind has created.”)

Soviet Life was a chance to argue the communist case directly to the United States. In order to “sell” communism to American audiences, Soviet Life attempted to connect communism, and all the success it had purportedly wrought, with the principles of political and personal freedom often associated with American democracy. Issues of Soviet Life from the year 1966 - just four years after the infamous Cuban Missile Crisis included numerous question-and-answer columns, in which readers submitted their inquiries and writers for Soviet Life addressed them.

The section “Queries from Readers” features short answers to relatively mundane questions. At times, this section incorporates questions regarding facets of the Soviet political system. One Fred Morgan from Washington asks: “Can one vote against at elections?” The answer: “Of course.” (As though there were any question!)

Another frequently appearing column “Your Questions on Communism” sought to elucidate perceived misconceptions of the communist system. In this column, questions posed by unnamed readers were answered often with long-winded philosophical essays. The mysterious inquirer tends to ask a pointed or loaded question, giving the initial impression that the answerer is on the defense. One question asks: “Why is the standard of living in the Soviet Union lower than in the Capitalist countries?” The unnamed respondent quips: “It seems to us that it was a bit hasty to put the question that way.”

The content of the answers depicts the rhetorical reconciliation between communist party doctrine and personal freedom. One inquirer asks why communism does not allow for peaceful coexistence of differing ideologies. The answer argues that communism does, indeed, allow for peaceful coexistence, however ultimately communism will prove to be the superior system. Curiously, the response goes on to incorporate the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson as espoused in the Declaration of Independence. It writes that each nation has a right “…to choose the form of government it finds most suitable.”

The abundance of personal freedom within Soviet society is also often referenced. A question posed in the July 1966 issue is as follows: “Is it true that communism is the ideology of godlessness?” The answer begins with a philosophical style debate on the historical nature of atheism and moral codes within society. Ultimately, though, it argues that within the Soviet system there is, indeed, freedom of religion, as well as “the freedom to speak and write against religion…” The response tows a line between communist party doctrine, which was decidedly atheist, and the broader political freedoms associated with a liberal society. Another inquirer asks where there is only one political party in the Soviet Union. The answer rejects the implication that only one party is allowed, and rather argues that this is the natural result of a well-developed system.

Soviet Life provides a look into the rhetorical tactics used to debate the ideological struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. However, it seems that the ultimate goal was not to “win” the ideological struggle. The response to the question on peaceful coexistence concludes that “…as sharp as that [ideological] clash may be, it need not lead to war…” Pointedly, it concludes: “This should be clear to any reasonable person.”


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