Lewis University Communism in Czechoslovakia Essay

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Lewis University Communism in Czechoslovakia Essay
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Unit 5 Friday Writing Assignment –

In Unit 6 we will be learning about the Russian Communist Revolution and the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe during the Cold War.The following reading describes how ordinary people in Czechoslovakia experienced life under a communist economic and political system.You are to write a 1.5 to 2 page typed-double-spaced essay analyzing how communists kept power without resorting to military force with short, clear examples from the reading.Consider the following questions:

  • Why would people go along with this system/
  • How might someone defend this system?
  • What does Havel propose to end this system?
  • What would Adam Smith have to say about communism as an economic system?

Be sure to use your own words if you summarize Havel.

Living in Truth

By

Vaclav Havel

Vaclav Havel was the Czech Republic’s first president when it was freed from the Soviet Union in 1993.Havel was born in Prague.Prior to the Cold War, his family had been well to do restaurant owners, but lost their property in 1948 when the Communist government assumed power.Because his parents had been in the upper class, Havel was subject to discrimination and struggled to get a good education.Yet he managed to become a prominent playwright and was a fierce critic of communist rule.In 1968 he participated in the Prague Spring, which was a rebellion against Soviet domination.It, however, was put down with a Soviet invasion.Subsequently, Havel’s plays were banned, his passport was taken away, and he was constantly harassed by communist police.From 1979-1983 he was imprisoned for signing a protest against communist repression.His out-spoken criticism of communism made him a renown dissident throughout the West.After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, the Czech people turned to him to lead their country to Western style freedom.His work, Living in Truth, provides insight into life in a communist society.

…The manager of a fruit and vegetable shop placed in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: ‘Workers of the world, unite!’Why does he do it?What is he trying to communicate to the world?Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world?Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals?Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?

I think it can safely be assumed that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in t heir windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions.That poster was delivered to our green grocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and carrots.He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be.If he were to refuse, there could be trouble.He could be reproached for not having the proper ‘decoration’ in his window; some might even accuse him of disloyalty.He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life.It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life ‘in harmony with society,’ as they say…

Let us take note: if they green grocer had been instructed to display the slogan, ‘I am afraid and therefore, unquestioningly obedient,’ he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth.The greengrocer would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation in the shop window, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity.To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction.It must allow the greengrocer to say, ‘What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?’ Thus the sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundation of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power…

Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself.He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce.He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings.And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support.In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie.He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game.He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity.He gives his freedom to concrete significance.His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth.

The bill is not long in coming.He will be relieved of his post as manager of the shop and transferred to the warehouse.His pay will be reduced.His hopes for a holiday in Bulgaria will evaporate.His children’s access to higher education will be threatened.His superiors will harass him and his fellow workers will wonder about him.Most of those who apply these sanctions, however, will not do so from any authentic inner conviction but simply under pressure from conditions, the same that once pressured the greengrocer to display the official slogans.They will persecute the greengrocer either because it is expected of them, or to demonstrate their loyalty, or simply as part of the general panorama, to which belongs an awareness that this is how situations of this sort are dealt with, that this, in fact, is how things are always done, particularly if one is not to become suspect oneself…The greengrocer has not committed a simple, individual offence, isolated in its own uniqueness, but something incomparably more serious.By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such.He has exposed it as a mere game.He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system.He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together.He has demonstrated that living a lies is living a lie.He has broken through the exalted façade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power.He has said that the emperor is naked.And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened:by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world.He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain.He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth.Living with the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal.The principle must embrace and permeate everything.There are no terms whatsoever on which it can coexist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety

In 1974, when I was employed in a brewery, my immediate supervisor was a certain S, a person well versed in the art of making beer.He was proud of his profession and he wanted our brewery to brew good beer.He spent almost all his time at work, continually thinking up improvements and he frequently made the rest of us feel uncomfortable because he assumed that we loved brewing as much as he did.In the midst of the slovenly indifference to work that socialism encourages, a more constructive worker would be difficult to imagine.

The brewery itself was managed by people who understood their work less and were less font of it, but who were politically more influential.They were bringing the brewery to ruin and not only did they fail to react to an of S’s suggestions, but they actually became increasingly hostile towards him and tried in every way to thwart his efforts to do a good job.Eventually the situation became so bad that S felt compelled to write a lengthy letter to the manager’s superior, in which he attempted to analyze the brewery’s difficulties.He explained why is was the worst in the district and pointed to those responsible.

His voice might have been heard.The manager, who was politically powerful but otherwise ignorant of beer, a man who loathed workers and was given to intrigue, might have been replaced and conditions in the brewery might have improved on the basis of S’s suggestions.He this happened, it would have been a perfect example of small-scale work in action.Unfortunately the precise opposite occurred: the manager of the brewery, who was a member of the Communist Party’s district committee, had friends in higher places and he saw to it that the situation was resolved in his favor.S;s analysis was described as a ‘defamatory document’ and S himself was labeled a ‘political saboteur.’He was thrown out of the brewery and shifted to another one where he was given a job requiring no skill.Here the notion of small-scale work had come up against the wall of the totalitarian system.By speaking the truth, S had stepped out, and he ended up as a sub-citizen, stigmatized as an enemy.He could now say anything he wanted, but he could never, as a matter of principle, expect to be heard.He had become the ‘dissident’ of the Eastern Bohemian Brewery.

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