Eerie Parallel Communist Worlds

While in France, I bought a copy of La Mythologie Scientifique du Communisme, by Romanian history professor Lucian Boia.  As its title suggests, it treats Communism as a sort of mythology, and explores the similarities Communism has with other mythologies.  I’m about halfway through it now (goes a little slow, since it’s French), I’ll be sure to post something when I’m done.

I the parallel world Communist countries created fascinating.  In the most advanced and isolated ones (such as East Germany or the Soviet Union), the authorities worked hard to create versions of everything the West had.  Televisions shows, highways, car brands, Westerns, instant coffee, dance crazes, rock bands, psychotherapists, office buildings, package vacations — there was a socialist version of them all.  I always imagine that, for someone from a non-socialist country, visiting East Germany would be like some sort of Star Trek episode.  You visit a remote planet, walk through a shimmering portal, and end up in a world very much like your own — but with eerie differences (everyone’s driving the same brand of car!).

And it goes deeper.  The most doctrinaire socialist countries also created parallel thought-worlds.  Between them, Marx and Engels wrote something about just about every single aspect of human history and society, and even the most casual remark from one of their works (plus, of course, the underlying ‘dialectical’ structure of Marxist ideology) could end up having decisive influence on some branch of the sciences or liberal arts.

Here’s an example: while in Berlin a while ago, I bought a book called Intimverhalten, Sexualstörungen, Persönlichkeit ("Intimate Behavior, Sexual Difficulties, and Personality"), by Dr. Siegfried Schnabl, who was a popular East German relationship counselor and sex therapist.  The book is mainly a report of a study of 3,500 East German citizens about their sexual behavior.  It’s full of fascinating tidbits.  Did you know that in East Germany, the more educated you were, the more likely you were to masturbate?  Among university graudates, fully 60% of the women, and 92% of the men reported engaging in self-satisfaction (p. 180).

To be fair to Dr. Schnabl, the book is a thorough and respectable study with lots of information of general interest.  It does, however, bear a quotation from Marx as its inscription.  Plus, the dust-jacket blurb promises us that the book will show that "only socialist life-conditions offer the best conditions for a happy intimate life."   On page 381,here, we learn the differences between Marxist and "bourgeois" theories of personality:

"Because they are based on an idealistic philosophical point of departure, bourgeois theories of personality offer no real opportunity for further development or transformation into a dialectic-materialist doctrine of personality (Schmidt 1970).  Of course, Marxism-Leninism does not offer any specific philosophical anthropology.  However, "the Marxist philosophy contains statements about the human personality which reflect that it proceeds from the assumption that one of the basic tasks of philosophy is to assist humans in understanding themselves and their tasks in the social life-process. (Thom 1968)."

We then encounter a long list of citations, mainly to Soviet professors, that establish, according to Marxist doctrine, that the "being" of a person is not determined by their own consciousness, but rather that the human personality is actually "determined" by "societal and social" relationships.

We’re all pretty familiar with the rough time many people in formerly Communist societies have had adjusting to new conditions.  Factory workers, secret service agents, etc. 

What you don’t often hear about, though, is what happened to the professors.  East Germany, for instance, adopted the law of West Germany more-or-less wholesale in the early 1990s.  What happened to the professors who’d been teaching Socialist law for 30 years?  What must it be like to realize that large sections of the books you wrote (the sections that contained detailed descriptions of the "dialectical-materialist" approach to sex therapy or law or geology) have  become embarrassing relics in matter of months?

This would be interesting to look into.  Can anyone help me?

One thought on “Eerie Parallel Communist Worlds

  1. I guess most of them were send to early retirement. On my university the majority were professors from West Germany. Communism influenced almost every aspect of science, arts and education. Knowledge in “hard sciences” like physics, mathematics or engineering is certainly useful now as it was then. But social sciences, philosophy, law, economics? We had almost no one from East Germany. Except one professor. He had a class about South America and it was kind of a socialist class. But they gave him a terrible time for his class (in the evening) so that no one would attend. But he had a small but steady base of students. I am not sure if he is still there…it’s been a few years.

    I always wonder about the people who studied socialist economics. Like an MBA today but for communism. I know a few and many of them survived reunification and adapted quite easily to “market economics”. Maybe the detailed analysis of the flaws and failure of capitalism in their studies has prepared them for the actual capitalist work.

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