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      Thirty years ago, on the opening day of the World Series, that year between his beloved Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds, Adam Ulam published a satirical caprice on the likely Soviet doctrinal assessment of professional sports in the United States.



Adam B. Ulam
New York Times, Oct ll, 1975, pg 31
© 1975 The New York Times Company, reproduced by permission.

     As the superpowers of East and West (mid) begin competing for hegemony today in Boston, here is how the Soviet press might report the class significance of the World Series.

     Organized sport in the United States has ceased to be a mere popular pastime as well as the means through which the ruling class has for long distracted the attention of the masses from their ever-worsening economic and social conditions.

     As a matter of fact, the situation in American sports has come increasingly to mirror the growing contradictions of capitalism in the era of imperialism. Monopoly capitalism in its desperate effort to cling to its dwindling profit margin has both debased the quality of its products--practically every American will admit that baseball, football, etc., are not what they used to be--and has resorted to squeezing the last ounce of surplus value from its workers:

     The baseball season has been lengthened to 162 games, and similar sweatshop conditions have been imposed on toilers in such industries as basketball, football and hockey.

     But the athlete under capitalism who once patiently endured those conditions has of late become increasingly restive, and is no longer willing to work long hours under hazardous conditions and for a mere pittance.

     Along with such encouraging signs as the strike of football players (though for the time they are being ruthlessly suppressed by the bosses who have the machinery of state behind them), one may point to the recent developments in the one industry-sport that Wall Street had held immune to the class struggle: baseball.

     It is not an accident that the playoffs in both Major Leagues have been won by teams that carry "Red" in their name. As is well known, to the average American "Red" has for long been associated with the camp of socialism and progress, and the teaching of Marxism-Leninism.

     Trying to conceal the social significance of the victories of the Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds, the capitalist press has presented them as fortuitous results of purely apolitical factors: superior pitching, hitting, and fielding.

     But the actual circumstances of those victories offer a decisive refutation of such superficial analyses. The Cincinnati Reds scored their victory at the expense of the Pirates, the name evocative of the most unbridled and rapacious type of capitalism.

     In defeating the Oakland A's, the Red Sox dealt a shattering blow to one of the most reactionary capitalist enterprises in all American sports, one whose labor practices compelled its most progressive worker, Catfish Hunter, a household name to millions of toilers, to join for a while the ranks of the unemployed and who only after a considerable delay and turmoil managed to secure a living.

     And even the most reactionary sportswriters cannot conceal the fact that the victory of the Red Sox was largely secured through its most effective player receiving uplift from being shifted to left field.

      It is for these reasons that the victory of the two "Red" teams was received with profound satisfaction by the masses of sports workers and fans except for a small but noisy bunch of Maoists who in their left-sectarian way would abolish Major Leagues, playoffs, etc., altogether and compel everybody to play sandlot baseball.

      We for our part can only salute the success of progressive forces in American baseball, and remain confident that whichever "Red" team wins, the cause of détente will continue to gain in strength.

      It would be foolish, however, to close one's eyes to the fact that capitalism remains a force, and a powerful one, in American sports, and that our Soviet athletes as well as the rest of our countrymen must remain ever vigilant so that peaceful competition with the United States does not bring as its side effect ideological pollution and the contagion of commercialism that has brought poverty and degradation to countless sportsmen in the so-call "Free World,"


An Unpublished Article dated June, 1973:

University and Policy
by Adam B. Ulam
copyright © 2002 by the Estate of Adam B. Ulam

      I was leafing recently through a volume of Soviet samizdat. Now, samizdat corresponds to what in this country would be called "underground press," except its circulation and printing can and often does have unpleasant consequences for people caught doing it. Also, because I suppose Russia is less advanced industrially and in "consumerism" than the US, samizdat, unlike the underground press here, does not concentrate on only one area of human activity, does not carry playful advertisements, drawings, and photographs, and is by our current standards remarkably stodgy in its vocabulary. But it represents what in terms of the surrounding society is considered dissent, political protest; and it prints literary works which cannot be published because their political or artistic theme or what have you is not approved by the regime.

      Well, the story I will take up is one of Valeria Mikhailovna Gerlin, a teacher of literature in a Moscow high school. This woman, at the time of the incident, was forty years old and had something of a past. In the thirties, her father was shot on political charges but after Stalin's death was, like many others, rehabilitated. Her mother was sent to a camp for eight years, which was the normal penalty law prescribed for wives of "enemies of the people." And not surprisingly, the daughter upon reaching her maturity was also sent to a camp and released only after 1953. But in 1968, Valeria Mikhailovna, rather than bask in her freedom and obscurity, chose to join a political protest, to be sure, not a very drastic one. She and a number of other individuals signed a letter to Premier Kosygin and the Attorney General of the USSR protesting the circumstances of the trial of two literary dissidents, Sinyavsky and Daniel. They withheld any judgments on the two writers' guilt or innocence. All they protested was the fact that in violation of the Constitution of the Soviet Union the trial was not a public one. That is all. But, of course, there were consequences. V. M. Gerlin was fired from her job.

      No, this was not done through an administrative fiat. Gerlin's case was brought before her branch of the Teachers' Union. Here several speakers berated her for her scandalous anti-Soviet act; and finally the assembly of her colleagues and co-workers, by a vote of 37 to 5, excluded Gerlin from the Union, which, of course, meant the loss of her position and her future ability to practice her profession. The main theme of the accusatory speeches was her interceding on behalf of convicted criminals. Thus one lady teacher exclaimed: "How can you observe the law when dealing with [anti-Soviet] criminals; one would have to acquit them all!" -- a remark which recalls certain aspects of a rather recent American trial.

      But I want to dwell on another feature of this debate-inquisition, for it brings us closer to my announced topic. Not even her worst assailants could find any evidence that Gerlin propagandized her students or imparted to them any criticism of the regime. She was, they all admitted, a very devoted teacher whose approach to her subject was thoroughly apolitical. Ah, but there indeed was precisely the rub. Her devotion to and her skill in unfolding the beauties of Russian literature to her pupils was so great that, entranced by them, the students tended to become oblivious to the political and social problems of the day. Thus one of Gerlin's accusers bewailed that before, no one in the school had heard or talked about authors like Akhmatova, Yesenin or Gumilev. But now, obviously under the baneful influence of Gerlin, students would eagerly read their decadent poetry. And since the state publishing houses would very wisely print but limited editions of their works, the students resorted to copying poems themselves, sometimes even, if you please, on school typewriters. In their intoxication with poetry, young people were ignoring the great contemporary issues. On the fiftieth anniversary of the Revolution [1967], the school newspaper mentioned the momentous occasion only in an editorial while the rest of the paper was filled out with poetry, all of it of the "art for art's sake type." But at the time there was a meeting of the Moscow Party Committee -- and not a word about it in the paper. When the loyal pedagogues asked the student editors how they could bypass such an important event without a word, they replied wearily that one read enough about it in Pravda.

      And so in addition to her anti-Soviet act in signing a letter on behalf of legality, Mrs. Gerlin was now unmasked as a person who believed that the teacher's sole function is to promote learning, in her case, to teach the great literature of Russia, and that without any regard for its social and political consequences. Obviously she was not a fit person to be entrusted with the upbringing of Soviet children.

      Now what makes the case of special interest to us is the fact that Mrs. Gerlin drew a very sharp line between her duty as a citizen and her duty as a teacher. You might retort that the mere fact of teaching the kind of literature which, while not banned, is frowned upon by the authorities, was a covert political protest. Perhaps. But I prefer to think along with one of the discussants-accusers, and in his mouth it was far from being meant as a compliment, that Valeria Mikhailovna "was in many respects apolitical." She stood for culture and learning, for the proposition that the world of poetry, the realm of education was separate from the world of politics. Not more important, mind you, but separate. As a citizen, you sign a protest and lay your job on the line, and indeed, your freedom. As a teacher and student, you become engrossed in Akhmatova and Andrey Byelyi. Everything in its proper place.

      Now this is a lesson and a moral which we badly need in 1973 in America, especially in our colleges and schools. You might well feel that such warnings are as of now anachronistic. Haven't we done with the students' protests and seizures, with the teach-ins? Don't we now, as bewail some of my colleagues who used to orate before large crowds about the evils of American imperialism and now are constrained again to teach small groups about molecular biology and Melville, live in an era of student apathy? But precisely, apathy and the zeal for relevance are two sides of the same coin. The editors of the Moscow high school paper, who said that there is no point in writing about politics because one reads enough about them in national journals, expressed a great truth which ought to be absorbed by American apostles of relevance in education, be they radicals or conservatives, cunning administrators who put teenagers on boards of education, or proponents of socialism. The Chinese Cultural Revolution which began at the same time as ours also has come to an end. And it is my own provate suspicion as a non-expert on China that one of the reasons was that some of the Red Guards decided that the thoughts of Comrade Mao, while noble and elevating, were a bit on the platitudinous and dull side.

      But while you cannot with impunity bore all the people all of the time, you can still destroy the majority's enjoyment and discrimination when comes to culture; [you can still] impair that vital distinction between intellectual values and social imperatives which is a ncessary ingredient not only of every true civilization but also of a healthy democracy. The most frightening aspect of the Gerlin case is that most of her fellow educators felt, and I am afraid sincerely, that she did fail by being when in the classroom just a teacher. Yes, said a critic, she gives excellent lectures, she is a cultured and erudite person, but what was the net effect of her teaching on the political consciousness of her class? And on the other side of the barrier, some of Russia's dissenters would also be displeased with her behavior. Wasn't she, after all, co-opted by the system which had destroyed her father and mother? Why didn't she try to stir up her students politically if she was determined to be a martyr in any case? Of what food is poetry in a repressive dictatorial system?

      It will not be difficult for you to translate such arguments into the current American educational idiom. Nobody here, thank God, is being punished or ostracized for teaching poetry. But in many places deans and other potentates also share in the feeling that teaching of poetry or any other of the "traditional" subjects in a "traditional" way is not enough. Shouldn't the teacher be also an "innovationist," a "communicator," would it not be prudent to have people on the faculty who while not top rate on poetry or biology, are strong on "relevance" and thus persuade the student body that their institution is not a mere branch of the Establishment but fights courageously for social change?

      The educational, or what I prefer to call the cultural, crisis in this country thus continues, because its main cause has been not any rebellion of the young, but the befuddlement of the middle-aged. The main danger to our universities has come not from the so-called student disorders but from the American university's moving away from its original and basic purposes; and the beginning of this shift antedates these disorders . Until some fifteen years ago those who ran our education felt no need to question or to apologise for the assumption that the university can best promote democracy and combat inequality and intolerance by diffusing knowledge, that it advances general welfare by training competent specialists, that it contributes to desirable social change by the very process of enlarging its students' horizons and furnishing their minds with information about their country and the world; in other words, by being an institution of learning, by teaching and not indoctrinating, by producing enlightenment and reflection, and not policies or agitation. It is instructive to recall that, if this concept of the university came under attack, it was mostly from the conservatives who objected to our schools being neutral on social and political issues, and from the reactionaries who felt the mere propagation of knowledge to be unimportant in comparison with what should be the main function of the college, namely the moral and religious upbringing of its students. Conversely, it was the liberals who demanded that the school be free not only of the government, but of the religious and political passions of the day, not because it is or ought to be more virtuous than the surrounding community or immune to its laws, but because otherwise it could not do its proper job.

      I think you will agree that this picture has drastically changed. Almost everybody believes, or what is worse, pretends to believe, that our universities and schools in general should do more than just teach and advance learning. To be sure, as to what that "more" should be, there is a considerable disagreement. Should the school teach its charges about life? If so, how? Should education be a tool of social change? But then of what kind: "constructive" or "radical"? As usual, when we don't know the answers, or more properly, where there can be no answers to meaningless questions, we form committees and hire additional administrators. The present era in American education may well pass into history as the time of committees. Here they are all over the land restructuring and redefining purposes, drafting questionnaires and memoranda, negotiating with each other, investigating investments and administrative practices, and being in turn investigated by the HEW [U. S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare]. A naive person might have supposed that with the virtual disappearance of regulations concerning student life, etc., our schools would need fewer administrators and thus the badly needed additional money would flow for such purposes as scholarships, salaries, and books. But I don't have to tell you what in fact has been happening.

      I do not want you to infer that I consider the period of 1945-1960 to have been some sort of a golden age of American higher education. No, too many schools still had not entirely shed that pattern of part trade school and part country club characteristic of the American college of the bygone era. There were still traces of racial and ethnic discrimination insofar as the composition of the factulty and the student body was concerned. But one could say with some confidencde that since World War II the American university had been moving in the right direction. Now we can no longer say that.

      What happened c. 1958 to 1960? Well, in the first place, I think the university became seduced by the great world beyond it. Suddenly it became unfashionable to think of a college as just a place where sutdents get a rounded education, where doctors and engineers are trained to serve society, and where scholars can go about their own business. Suddenly such pursuits appeared both to their practitioners and to the general public as unglamorous and selfish. The university was to reform society and help save the world. Its professors had a special mission to define what was social justice and how to achieve it, what should be our foreign policy and how to conduct it. Its students were assumed to be endowed with special virtues and idealism which their elders, because of their materialistic pursuits and their non-college contemporaries, [and] because of their lack of relevant education, could not emulate. Incidentally, I am not saying that academic experts should withhold their advice from society, nor that young people ought not to work for worthwhile causes. But such commendable activities ought to be pursued outside the confines of the university. Neither the war against poverty nor the struggle for a lasting peace can be won in a classroom or a seminar. Their function is to equip individuals for such tasks and not to rehearse the campaigns. And to be sure, once the catastrophe of Vietnam occurred, classrooms and seminars were themselves transformed into battlegrounds. To many, both on the left and the right, the university, a few years before, the embodiment of national virtue, now stood revealed as a bastion of the guilty Establishment, or contrariwise, as a hotbed of sedition and anarchy.

      Where do we go from here at this time when the sounds of battle are dying down but when the clicking of typewriters putting out those committee memoranda on restructuring, re-evaluation and meaningul education is still the loudest noise around the halls of academia? The plague of relevance has spread from universities to cover much of our cultural life. We have, for instance, lost the sight of that indubitable truth that pornography is usually harmless and at times entertaining, but only if it is not accompanied by socially redeeming values. But I think I can discern some hopeful signs. One is the rise of a somewhat iconoclastic attitude towards that rhetoric which has tyrannized our lives for the past decade. The "innovationist" educators, government and foundation officials, [and] some editorial writers still pay their homage to legitimacy, participation and communication, still decry alienation and the generation gap. But they do so with less self-assurance than a few years ago, at times almost [as] if they were afraid that someone in the audience might start tittering. Here, then, is a hopeful thing about democracy, even a battered and confused one such as ours. People have not entirely lost their sense of the preposterous. One of the most depressing and debilitating things about studying a totalitarian society is that whatever subject you approach, you must cut your way through a jungle of infuriatingly meaningless verbiage. Life has certainly become easier and freer in Russia than it was under Stalin, and in China since the Cultural Revolution. But in one very important and far-reaching aspect the average Russian and Chinese is still woefully oppressed. They are never let alone. Their rulers continue to harangue and admonish their subjects, call on them to abandon what they would like to do because history allegedly has set up loftier tasks for them, praise their idealism, [and] deplore their lack of vigilance: in other words, bore and pester them, especially young people, to an intolerable degree. There is a purpose to this boredom: for this continuous verbal din tends to destroy what there is of the spontaneous, varied and non-conformist in human nature and tends to promote dull uniformity and resignation. But here in this country we are not, as yet, helpless in the face of this would-be oppression through platitude. "When I hear the word 'culture' I undo the safety on my gun," says a hero of a Nazi drama, thus epitomizing the attitude of barbarians of all political shades toward the term which comprises the wonderful variety of unconstrained individual impulses and endeavors. Now I do not suggest that we shoot when we hear one of those words which have become code terms for intellectual enslavement, say, "relevance." It is enough if we laugh.