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Communist Czechoslovakia - Soviet Rule - Personal History

Updated on April 23, 2014
phdast7 profile image

Theresa Ast, PhD in Modern European History, has taught at Reinhardt University for 25 years. "Confronting the Holocaust" @ AMAZON Books.


Teaching Western Civilization

In fourteen year of teaching Western Civilization I have found very few first year students who can comprehend how a communist political system could possibly be a defensible, much less a beneficial, choice for any nation, people, or individual. Discussions of the democratic underpinnings of socialist theory or of the positive intentions of the early socialists are seldom persuasive.

Well crafted lectures which explain the appeal of socialism by characterizing its emergence as a reaction to the deplorable conditions which developed during the Industrial Revolution and to the inequitable monetary benefits of capitalism do not convince. Students may listen politely, but it makes little concrete sense to many of them.

After all, they have grown up in the most successful capitalist nation in the world and have been inundated with catchy sound bites extolling the virtues of the free market system. Although, as many of us know too well, our first-year students often know remarkably little about political or economic systems and they seem blissfully unaware that a completely unfettered, unregulated free market nation does not exist. Few students understand the appeal of socialism or the institutionalization of communism.

Traditional textbooks often fail to do an adequate job of increasing student comprehension of the dynamic interplay of politics and economics in the twentieth century. It is for precisely these reasons that I find Heda Kovaly’s autobiography, Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, effective at providing human faces for the participants - perpetrators, bystanders, and victims - of the cataclysmic changes which swept over mid-century Europe, and at elucidating some of the political complexities that often escape many of our freshmen.

Heda Kovaly makes a statement at the beginning of her autobiography that encapsulates these political developments. “Three forces carved the landscape of my life. Two of them crushed half the world…. The first force was Adolf Hitler; the second, Joseph Vissarionivich Stain. They made my life a microcosm in which the history of a small country in the heart of Europe was condensed.” (5) It is not only the history of Czechoslovakia, but the turbulent history of the European continent in the twentieth century, that students will better grasp, after reading and pondering Heda Kovaly’s autobiography.


Heda Margolius Kovaly - Under a Cruel Star

Under A Cruel Star is a core text of considerable significance, although it is seldom recognized as such, and is not widely used in college courses. Kovaly’s autobiography, in a particularly vivid and personal way, first introduces students to the National Socialist regime in its dying days, and then to the vicissitudes of life in a country in thrall to the Soviet Union. She begins with a description of the Litmannstadt ghetto, the Lodz concentration camp, and then in horrific detail the reader is introduced to the agony and suffering of thinly clad, malnourished, and sickly women forced to march toward Germany in the freezing winter of 1944-1945.

The instructor should have previously discussed the political spectrum, left/center/right, the characteristics of fascism, the development of National Socialism, and Hitler’s ascension to power. Students need to be able to clearly situate fascism and Nazism on the far right and understand that the Nazis came to power in collaboration with strong conservative elements of the German body politic on the right. They must also understand the geographic dimensions of Europe’s liberation in 1944 and 1945.

The Soviet army drove the German Wehrmacht back toward Germany, opened the extermination camps in Poland, and liberated Eastern Europe. The women who suffered and died on the Death Marches did so because the Nazis were fleeing from the Soviet army. Ideologically communism was situated on the left end of the political spectrum; it was intended to be inclusive, democratic and supportive of the common worker. Many people in Eastern Europe were casting about for an alternative to the conservative capitalist governments which had utterly failed them.

As Kovaly writes, many Czech citizens had high hopes for their future under communist rule. Socialist principles sounded quite good in the abstract, and after all, a conservatively inclined democratic government in Czechoslovakia had permitted the growth of fascist parties.(55, 57) Her husband, Rudolph, spoke passionately about the scientific and rational basis of communism, and the disciplined, mutually supportive ethos and behavior of the post-war communists was impressive.(58-59)

Czech communists were indoctrinated, taught to question themselves, to identify the flaws and failures of their comrades, but never to doubt the validity and worth of the communist system; after all, it was the antithesis of fascism and capitalism, with their great extremes in status, wealth, and power.(63, 65)


The Czechoslovakian Communist Party

The communist party insisted that Rudolph accept a position in the Ministry of Foreign Trade and as a party official’s wife, Heda, became the object of envy, suspicion, hate, even deference.(77-82) The utopian classless society quickly developed, promoted, and protected a particular class; the new bourgeoisie, all members of the communist party beaucracy possessed status and material benefits far beyond the reach of the majority of the Czech people.(83-85)

As Czechoslovakia moved through the Cold War years, the communist party became increasingly heavy handed and began to look for scapegoats for the government’s failures. Radio and newspapers were tightly controlled; very little information from the west passed through the Iron Curtain. Party dogma maintained that WW III was imminent and a bleak and threatening future required ever greater communist party vigilance and served as justification for increasingly controlling and punitive actions against the populace.(90-96)

Just as she persuasively explained the appeal of socialism for Eastern Europe, Kovaly convincingly describes the growing oppression of the communist regime. Her writing is direct, engaging and students easily grasp the consequences of political choices and systems, as they see them played out in her family’s life.

By 1951 a great fear and a great silence had descended upon party members in Czechoslovakia and the lower ranks of the party began to be purged. Heda and Rudolph are deeply distressed as they hear news that colleagues, even friends, have fallen out of favor with the party; she focuses on her work and on raising their son and Rudolph focuses on being a dedicated public servant in the midst of the growing terror that surrounded them.(98-103)

Rudolph was arrested with no warning and Heda’s home ransacked by the secret police; they confiscated her money, personal papers, camera, keys, diaries and letters; no explanation was given for their actions or Rudolph’s arrest. Her friends were watched, her phone calls to the Ministry of Justice refused, she lost her job, she and her young son were expelled from their apartment.(110-119)


Kovaly Speaks "Truth" to Corrupt Government OfficialsWorking with College Students

Homeless and destitute she was forced to rely on the mercy and generosity of friends who put themselves in danger by assisting her. Kovaly writes, “The people most astute and dependable in a crisis were those of simple ideology: love of life…[and although people have an] instinctive ability to protect themselves, they were often willing to help others without ulterior motives or any heroic posturing.”(131)

While Heda struggles to find work and take care of her son, her husband and 13 other party officials, also falsely accused, were put on trial for Anti-State Conspiracy; they were tortured, their families threatened, and they confessed to crimes they did not commit. After Rudolph is executed, Heda embarked on a years – long struggle against the communist bureaucracy to obtain a death certificate and the return of her possessions, and to hear them admit the truth, that Rudolph was innocent.(140-153)

Kovaly has much to say about speaking the truth to government and demanding the truth from government; she believes that in words, in language there is much power and that eventually, eventually, truth will prevail.

Providing students with a set of questions to guide their reading and their essays is necessary to insure that they understand the political and economic framework upon which the personal details of her life story are hung.

In their essays, I ask students to evaluate her autobiography and consider why socialism was appealing, how governments control their populations, the nature and uses of effective propaganda, why oppressive regimes find it necessary to closely control and limit information, to describe the ways in which the weak can oppose the strong, and to consider the role and importance of language for those engaged in resisting a government.

We spend a great deal of time talking about the importance of language and how it is used, both by individuals and by governments. Students are engaged to a degree seldom achieved when utilizing a traditional textbook. I remain convinced that grappling with Ms. Kovaly’s often harrowing autobiography makes some of the most pivotal events in European history real for students in a way that even the best textbook or classroom lecture cannot.

Kovaly, Heda Margolius. Under A Cruel Star: A Life in Prague.


Poland under Soviet Domination


Comments -- Czechoslovakia under Soviet Rule

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    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Good Evening MG Singh. Thank you. And I am in total agreement with you. I do not believe Marx is to blame. Marx would probably not even recognize what other selfish and power hungry leaders did with his ideas. Your point is very well taken. Blessings. Theresa

    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 

      5 years ago from Singapore

      Nice article giving insight into communist ruled state. But i feel its is not Marx to blame but the men who interpreted his idea.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you Cyber, for reading and for commenting. There is often quite a distance between theory and reality and I find all to often many people don't know enough social, economic, and political history to know how one becomes the other. I appreciate the votes. Have a great day. :)

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 

      6 years ago

      A brilliant, fascinating insight into what is great in theory and fails miserably in practice! Thank you. Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Audrey - I so agree...often the comments are as interesting and quite enlightening, too. Our family histories are so similar - my father and his family endured the Nazis and then the Soviets before they were able to scape to America.

      Most Americans do lump various ideologies and governments into one size fits all groups of political systems when nothing could be further from the truth. I think the Cold War encouraged this, I think there are some serious problems with our educational system, sometimes I think many Americans are intellectually lazy -- profits are more important to us that the specifics of politics and history. And I lay much blame at the feet of the politicians who simplify and distort issues so that everything is black or white, good or bad. They have done, and continue to do, the nation a grave disservice.

      You are very welcome and thank you for a trenchant, useful, and accurate analysis of our national situation. We must soldier on, I suppose. Take good care. ~~Theresa

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      The comments to your article are almost as interesting as the article itself. My parents and their family members escaped communism twice before they came to this country right after WW II. My father and grandmother lived in Nazi controlled eastern Europe during the war. Oppression under any regime is a terrible way to live. It leaves its mark for the remainder of a person's life. It did on my father. That being said, I am profoundly disturbed at the way Americans tend to lump ideology into camps, eliminating any possibility of truly understanding the costs and benefits of any and all political systems. It seems that we have stopped analyzing in the face of increased political zeal for our own system. We also fail to understand our own system well enough to fully understand matters of economic and foreign policy sufficiently to cast an informed vote.

      I do't say this is true of everyone, but it is true of many.

      I thank you for your informative hubs!

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Dancing Waters -- Sorry for the delay in responding - family member quite ill and in the hospital. Thank you for going back to one of the first hubs I wrote. I do try to put a human face on history, otherwise I think most history goes right over our student's heads.

      "Students today are great test takers, but profoundly lack critical thinking: fertile ground for Fascism, I'm afraid." What a n incredibly accurate and entirely depressing assessment of the current state of affairs. I could not agree with you more, and yet so many Americans fear the "left when I wish they were more concerned about the "far right."

      Thank you for such a lucid, intelligent, and thoughtful response. It is greatly appreciated. Looking forward to more exchnages in the future. :) ~~ Theresa

    • Dancing Water profile image

      Dancing Water 

      6 years ago

      Kudos to you for putting a human face to history (which many instructors seem to forget that history concerns itself with humans__not merely faceless masses,) and that makes your content come alive. Even with the narcissism that may cloud many a college student's perspective, if they can empathize with the protagonist in a biography, then perhaps they can view the world and political systems with a more open mind__and heart.

      Unfortunately, as one of your fellow hubbers pointed out, the demonizing of anything-but-democracy has invaded the minds of far too many Americans, and thus, stunted their intellects from considering ideology that differs from their own.

      Students today are great test takers, but profoundly lack critical thinking: fertile ground for Fascism, I'm afraid.

      I commend you for teaching in the way that you do, and I imagine you awaken many students' minds to the endless possibilities that exist merely within the realms of their intellectual imaginations.

      Another issue that I think may exist in obstructing people from being willing and able to see that Socialism, for example, has and does serve its purpose in some circumstances, is that so many young Americans today lack the empathy and/or the imagination to entertain the possibility that some situations demand other political approaches other than good ol' American "democracy."

      Bravo to you for tackling the issues of clamped down minds, and prying them open with your intellect, creativity, iron will to educate! Your students are blessed!

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      tillson -- You are right, so often we need to go beyond the textbooks. They are a good starting place for learning, but should not be our ending point. It has been a useful way to introduce students to a number of important concepts as well as some very good writing. Thank you for your generous and encouraging comments. Take care. :)

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      We need to come out of the dark ages of education and it appears you are! Textbooks can offer basics and some knowledge but real life experience equates to something we can truly understand.

      Just by reading your writing here I have a better understanding than I did before. So much to learn that any aides we can provide to students only serves to make their education better.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you Suzette. It is also one of, if not the earliest hub I wrote. It has amazed e over the years how little students understand about types of government. It really is an excellent biography, because there are so many ways to use it when teaching. And they need to understand both the good qualities and the "terrible corruption" that are a part of our government and society. Thank you for your warm and encouraging words. Take care. ~~ Theresa

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      6 years ago from Taos, NM

      This is a very interesting and informative article. I will have to read this book and it is going on my "to read" list. This is a heartbreaking story. Any government type whether socialism, communism or democracy is a sham when there is so much corruption. We are suppose to have the "best" government type in the world, yet our democracy is so corrupt. It is just so sad when this happens. I admire you for having this book as a source and a textbook for your course. Students need to read and hear this type of story and to be able to discuss the different types of governments with intelligence. Great article here!

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you Thomas. Sometimes backing away is the only thing to do, at least for awhile. Like you, I am very frustrated and concerned when I see people placing Hitler and the Nazis on the left.

      To conflate the two political extremes only creates confusion and renders us (especially younger generations who know comparatively little about the Nazi and Stalinist regimes) unable to correctly assess the real political dangers which arise on the right and the left. To be ignorant of or blind to either side is a monumental mistake with serious consequences.

      You are hardly a bad friend, although I appreciate the sentiment, and I trust you will at some point make startlingly brilliant and ingenious comments as an amends. :) Have a great weekend. Theresa

      PS Don't get into another wrestling match with Jamie, (lol) who just read and commented on one of my poems...remember, I do occasionally write a poem. :)

    • ThoughtSandwiches profile image


      6 years ago from Reno, Nevada


      I have to admit that I had to back away from the discussion between you and James in that other hub. (I vowed to go back to it after I calmed down a bit...yeah...) As the nature of the hub was calm/polite discussion...I found myself unable to be either of those things.

      The notion that Hitler should be placed on the left because it offended right-wing sensibilities made me somewhat ill. A twisting and warping of history to accommodate a political position defies logic and I find it insulting...that said...I'm a bad friend :(. It was my intention to go back and support your noble fight with at least a comment! I SHALL make amends and go back though!


    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Morning Thomas - You are right of course. They are sadly very poorly equipped/ To many of them Stalin and Hitler are politically identical. I spend a lot of time going over a left to right political spectrum with them. You have stated it very well.

      Moderate democratic socialism on the left/west of the Iron Curtain cannot be and should not be confused with hard-line/dictatorial Stalinist communism which developed to the right/east of the Iron Curtain. We do not like gray as you said, or nuances; Americans by and large want their politics simple and easy to understand. They resist the messy and overlapping categories that exist everywhere in the real world.

      It should be pretty easy to find a used copy of the book. And even though it deals with very important events and uissues, it is a fairly easy and quick read. As always, that you for your intelligent and detailed comments. And thanks for Sharing. Theresa

      P.S. Did you read the hub which is a discussion between James Watkins and me - addresses some of the same issues and it all started with the Czeckoslovakia hub.

    • ThoughtSandwiches profile image


      6 years ago from Reno, Nevada


      I have to believe that most first year college students would be very ill-equipt to understand the notion that political philosophies of the left could have any benefits to a society based on the standard reading list of a K-12 curriculum.

      Of course lip service is given to the inequality of the Haymarket riot, the Red scare, and McCarthyism...but the boogy man on the left has made a lasting impression on the American psyche which, in turn, has led to a largely unsophisticated understanding of the topic by most Americans.

      That said...There most certainly was a dark side to the east of the Iron Curtain that needs to be understood, not only in its own right, but as it differed from socialism as it was practiced to the west of that curtain.

      Most folks (Americans) don't understand that difference. One thing about us as a nation...we like to lump (cowboys/Indians, cops/robbers, us/them) in such a way as to remove any grey from the picture. I think you need to understand the grey to better know the meaning of the black and the white.

      I'd not heard of 'Under a Cruel Star' but look forward to getting it in my hands for a read.

      Great job (as always) my friend!


      PS...Up and sharing.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Kathleen- Thank you. I was getting tired of looking at the other one and decided to use this one for awhile. I thought observant people might notice the young man in the black gown and gold honor cords and figure out it was a graduation. :)

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      It is interesting to hear that other professors are using Kovaly's book, but rather surprising to me that they apparently approach it very differently. Thank you for the feedback and the encouraging comments. Theresa

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Love the new profile pix!

    • rlbert00 profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      I have had the fortune to have read this book twice, once during my History of Europe since 1945 and again in my History of Russia and the Soviet Union class. At neither time was it presented in the manner in which you present it here; that's unfortunate. I enjoyed this read very much. Nicely done.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Hi Michael-

      Your personal life history and work experiences explain so perfectly (as did the Kovaly's life and experiences) why someone would be impressed by Marx and his basic ideas (and as you and I know that does not mean one accepts or approves of Stalin or other Soviet terrors).

      And it makes sense of a person;s commitment to the Labour Party. I don't think most Americans have any idea that socialist concepts and rebuilt Britain after the war. In the US one of the effects of the long Cold War seems to be that we seldom make any distinction between useful and necessary socialist principles and programs and the perversion of communism that ended up dominating Russia and Eastern Europe.

      Never heard Tony Blair called a "champagne socialist." Interesting phrase. You have lived through a lot of changes and to see all the hard work being undone now must be very discouraging and even a little frightening. And no both there and here, the younger generation does not seem to understand the significance of the political and economic changes they are living through.

      Thank you for re-visiting this Hub. Reading Kovaly's book and connecting it with what I understood about history and politics helped me a great deal. Excellent quote. Theresa

    • molometer profile image


      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      I was thinking about this again.

      I found myself considering the teachings of Karl Marx.

      I remember when I left school with no qualifications and began working in factories.

      Even though things had improved considerable by the 1970's. The work was mind numbingly dull.

      After several years in these types of occupations.

      I decided to return to study and was given a copy of Das Capital.

      Reading that book was like reading my own life experiences.

      The concept of socialism was so powerful, that I actually became politicized, and joined the Labour Party.

      The ideas of socialism, is in fact what rebuilt Britain after the war.

      The National Health Service, Free Education For All, and social security, so that no-one would ever be reduced to poverty.

      All were introduced by the UK Labour Party.

      By the time I joined, the rot had already set in.

      Labour began to lose voters from the mid 1950's.

      They were infiltrated by a new petite bourgeoisie.

      The so called champagne socialists culminating in Tony Blair.

      Capitalism it seems always undermines socialism?

      Today in Britain the government are systematically dismantling the 'welfare state'.

      Younger people seem to have no clue, what is being eroded before their eyes.

      How hard people struggled, to get these things in the first place.

      This excellent hub should be seen as a warning of things to come.

      To quote Santayana.

      'Those who for forget their history are condemned to relive it.'

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you for your encouraging comments. The topics can be tough, so I veered off into Greek architecture and ruins and some family recipes which bring back good helps. :) I do hope the Kovaly story becomes more well known and that all of us will take care to speak up when we see our government or society heading in the wrong direction. Thank you for stopping by again.

    • RTalloni profile image


      6 years ago from the short journey

      Am continuing to enjoy your work very much. The topics are tough, but your work is excellent, easy to read, and important. Glad to see the Kovaly's story highlighted here and hope that your hub inspires more people with experience to speak up to Americans, including university students.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Interesting analysis. We do approach things from differing perspectives and will continue discussing those perspectives.

      It is correct that I plot different "political doctrines on a scale based on their fundamental theories" and the way they structure their economies and government.

      However, I would alter the last part of your statement. "... without assigning a value to them." I do assign value to them (just hadn't gotten that far in the discussion yet), I evaluate the extremes of the left and the right as being fundamentally flawed, cruel, and evil.

      In saying that I do not mean that I think Anarchy is evil, but I do not put it on the governmental/political party spectrum. Anarchy by definition is a personal philosophy and no political party or government can be formed on its basis.

      The spectrum I try to examine contains those philosophies or movements which result in actual political parties or national governments. Thanks again for your perceptive comments.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I hate to intrude on this Mutual Admiration Society, but may I offer a suggestion? I love the idea of two hubbers submitting a Pro and Con type hub as a collaboration. But I don't think your differences are so much a matter of who more accurate than the other, as much as a matter of perspective.

      Seems James is basing his comments on a value system, putting all the evil on one end of the spectrum and the good on the other. Phdast7 seems to be plotting different political doctrines on a scale based on their fundamental theories without assigning a value to them.

      Whatever - it's facinating to watch your minds at work!

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you James for your willingness to be part of a Hub. I think it will be a useful Hub and hopefully stimulate thinking about these issues.

      I will respond to the rest of your original comment - about political distinctions and explain my thinking on the subject, hopefully later this week. Have a great week. :)

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      6 years ago from Chicago

      I appreciate your astute rejoinder. Well said. I would be honored to play any role in one of your erudite Hubs. I will look for it. Thank you. :D

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      James – I am going to have to answer your comments and questions in several parts. Every time I write a sentence, I find myself backing up to provide background for what I wrote or to explain my personal experience.

      We agree on many things, but we see some things differently. This is a sensitive subject, but because I believe we both have nothing but good will for, and positive intentions toward each other, I will try to dissect and explain WHY I think we view these movements or governmental styles so differently. I do appreciate your taking the time to fully explicate your concerns. It is an important subject.

      James -- "I submit that placing Fascist German on the right of the political spectrum is very successful propaganda promulgated by American and European university professors who were and are 90 percent Leftists themselves."

      You are not the first person to offer such a “sweeping, negative, and mistaken” statement about American university professors (I cannot speak for European Universities, as I know nothing about them.) I have spent the last 25 years inside of American universities – 10 years as a student and 15 years as a professor.

      I spent a great deal of time at 7 different universities in Georgia. I have also attended 30-35 History conferences all over the US, listened to well over 100 history paper presentations on the Twentieth Century, and met several hundred History professors from all over the US.

      I know both personally and professionally close to 100 historians, and about 400 professors of English, religion, sociology, political science, communications, psychology, mathematics, astronomy, economics, etc.

      Based on my 25 years of experience with American Universities, here is what I know. Most universities are full of people who vote democrat or republican, 90-95% are moderates, somewhere in the center. Very few on are on the far right or the far left; there is sociological proof that as professors age (people in general actually) they move toward the political center, which I find very interesting.

      Most of them are married (a higher percentage of professors die married to their first and only spouse than is true of the general American population –comparatively low divorce rate, most have children, most attend some sort of mainstream church, most are involved in some local community charity, foundation, or activity.

      Are there any radical leftists on university faculties? Sure, there might be one or two at a college that employs 75 to 100 faculty; there might be five or six at a university that employs 200 to 300 faculty. You might also find an occasional black radical or a reactionary on the extreme right or an Islamic fundamentalist, but they are few and far between at most universities. And they are usually hired as temporary lecturers or instructors; very few presidents or faculty (there are a few and they are always in the news – what a surprise) wants to permanently hire someone who will constantly agitate, cause trouble, and make the work environment difficult.

      James -- "Why? With the huge stack of Leftist regimes that committed murderous rampages on their own people in the 20th Century, putting the Nazis on the Right is a way to assuage the collective guilt of Leftists"

      I do not find that most convinced leftists feel very guilty, even if they should; I find them often to be arrogant, single-minded hard–liners who waste no time or energy on guilt.

      I also cannot give much credence to your statement above, because I believe you are mistaken (perhaps misled) about the political tendencies of American university professors. They are not hard leftist-communists; in fact very few of them are soft leftist – socialists. The professoriate in Europe may indeed be quite different, I can’t speak to that.

      California in general, and a few other universities do seems to have more than their share of professors who “rant and write.” I ignore them and so do most Americans, because if they were really “believers” they wouldn’t be living comfortably and safely in America.

      But assuming my experience with professors is an accurate reflection, how can we explain the divergence in your convictions about them and my personal experience?

      Remember the old proverb, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Or consider what is “newsworthy in America today.” Do our media outlets tell us about the normal, average, healthy, moderate, everyday, perfectly reasonable, speeches, activities, choices, attitudes, political inclinations of “most people” much less, “most professors?”

      No, they do not. Their profits are based on the extreme, the inflammatory, the abnormal, the hyper hysterical exaggerated version of almost everything. About 80% of what is selected and promoted as news-worthy does not remotely represent reality. They latch onto and promote the exceptional, the unusual, the non-typical.

      I have given many presentations, colloquiums, public speeches, etc., on all sorts of historical topics, but not once has the press shown up. However, if a Visiting Professor came to a university in Atlanta to speak on the Kindness of Stalin, the Virtues of Mussolini, the Moderate Politics of Fidel Castro, or the Four Wives of Politician ABC….you and I both know the reporters would be there and it would hit the newspapers, radio stations, local television networks and maybe even some national media outlets. That speech, that professor would still be the exception and not the rule.

      Now there are a few media productions, whose audience is small and they are not as dependent on profits…sometimes we can get the balanced, non–inflammatory, less hysterical story or explanation there, but not very often.

      The balanced opinion, as you yourself as a scholar know, is to be found by reading a variety of articles and books produced by outlets where there is very little expectation of profit.

      Remove the profit motive and journalists, researchers, scholars, and historians are much more likely to produce sensible, balanced works based on extended research, not based on the key interest, anxiety, and hysteria-producing buzz words used by so much of the media.

      I truly do believe media distortion, making the "EXCEPTION SEEM LIKE THE RULE OR THE NORM" accounts for 904 of the difference of your view of university professors and my view of university professors.

      [James - I am about to start another week of classes, but I will keep working on respnding to your comments. As this will prove to be a lengthy discussion, I would like to convert it to a free standing Hub..."A conversation on the Political Left and Right: James Watkins and Theresa Ast."

      If you are not comfortable with that, I can remove your name and simply say a "follower" made these comments and here are my responses. Either way, with your name or without, I would be scrupulously careful to include everything you wrote. Please let me know what you think.

      Thank you for the opportunity to have such an important conversation and conduct it in a civil manner. phdast7 - Theresa

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      6 years ago from Chicago

      I love your article. It was wonderfully written and delivers a needful and marvelous missive. And you may know that I like you, and I have enjoyed all of your Hubs. But I respectfully ask you consider another point of view about one section in your article.

      "The instructor should have previously discussed the political spectrum, left/center/right, the characteristics of fascism, the development of National Socialism, and Hitler’s ascension to power. Students need to be able to clearly situate fascism and Nazism on the far right . . . the communist system; after all, it was the antithesis of fascism and capitalism, with their great extremes in status, wealth, and power."

      I submit that placing Fascist German on the right of the political spectrum is very successful propaganda promulgated by American and European university professors who were and are 90 percent Leftists themselves. Why? With the huge stack of Leftist regimes that committed murderous rampages on their own people in the 20th Century, putting the Nazis on the Right is a way to assuage the collective (a word Leftists love) guilt of Leftists, and balance the scales in the minds of the young. After all, if you buy this idea, there were murderers on the Right and on the Left.

      I submit that the farthest Right of the political spectrum is Anarchy—no government whatsoever, unlimited freedom for individuals. Moving toward the Left we would then find Libertarians—a bare minimum of government and barely restricted liberty. To the Left of Libertarians we would find Conservatives—for the smallest government possible and very high levels of individual freedom including Free Enterprise unhampered by government.

      I submit that the farthest Left of the political spectrum is indeed Totalitarian Communism—total government control and no individual freedom. And just to Right of it sits Socialism/Fascism/Authoritarianism—almost total government control and very little liberty. Next, to the Right of Authoritarians, we would find Progressive Social Liberals—Statists who want huge government bureaucracies to regulate the everyday life of people and business.

      To tie fascism and capitalism together is next to ridiculous, in my mind. The Nazis were genuine Socialists, as evidenced by their antagonism toward Capitalism. The Soviets and the Nazis both wanted to control every aspect of organized life and to impose iron discipline on all persons, through the use of secret police endowed with unrestricted powers, and by using law to advance the goals of the state not to protect the individual.

      It was a Fascist fight against the capitalistic order. It was entirely socialist in worldview. Fascism was the fusion of Socialism and Nationalism. A great influence on Hitler was the German Jewish (of all things) professor, Edgar Jaffe, who wrote in 1915, “Individualism must come to an end absolutely. A system of regulations must be set up, the object of which is not the greater happiness of the individual, but the strengthening of the organized unity of the state. We must eliminate profit to kill Capitalism.”

      The bylaws of the Nazi party feature a fierce hatred of Capitalism—profit seeking, free enterprise, banks, stock, retail stores, interest, and loans. The abolition of Capitalism was the program of the Nazis.

      If you wonder how people could treat each other so cruelly, remember that the Socialists were Atheists and Darwinists. People were expendable because people have no inherent worth under such a belief system. Existing humanity was debris, and killing off garbage was no matter of consequence to an enlightened Socialist.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Trsmd - Thanks for the visit and the comments. Czechoslovakia did become a popular tourist destination after the collapse of the USSR. Of course, they have since had their own problem and conflicts and are now the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

    • Trsmd profile image


      7 years ago from India

      In my opinion..Czech republic became popular, after it got separated fromUssr, you have posted here nice gallery. Thanks for SHARING:)

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Its a very short and easy read, an autobiography situated during some of the most momentous events of European history in the twentieth century.

      We definitely do not distinguish between the two, nor do we distinguish between theory and intention and reality. (I have often spoken to my students about the differences of the promises and the actions of the actual regimes - that you speak of).

      Some times ignorance and lack of understanding are unfortunate, but genuine; at other times politicians deliberately mislead the American populace, sowing confusion and discord to achieve political goals. This is abhorrent and unconscionable behavior.

      You had, in your parents, amazing teachers and exemplars or careful, nuanced, and moderate thinking. Your last sentence is terrific. My hope is to so teach my students and my childrem so that they could make the same assertion as you.

      I look forward to reading your work.

    • Ed Michaels profile image

      Ed Michaels 

      7 years ago from Texas, USA

      I hadn't heard of this book before, but I will certainly look into it. In America, we fail to distinguish between socialism and communism in our public discourse, creating a situation in which the address of certain economic and social inequities are open to only one sort of respectable criticism that maintains the moral authority of capitalism. We often fail to address the differences between the promise of communism--that in specific conditions it has an ethical appeal and promises ethical resolutions to seemingly insoluble problems--and the actions of regimes claiming to express communism. I was raised by an intellectual father and a hard-working socialist mother, so I had an early introduction to both ideals and their disappointment, the dreams of men and the perils of their realization and corruption when in power. It has made me willing to listen to and attempt to understand voices from the past with which I am, perhaps, initially out of sympathy, and has served me well in resisting an oversimplification of issues, people, and events that I think is far too prevalent in our discourse and our address of past and present political and social realities.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Hi John- Thanks for the positive comment. You, unlike so many Americans, know exactly what it means to live under a communist regime. Glad you ended up here in America (not that we are perfect by a long shot) and on HubPages. I will be watching for your Hubs. Have a great Christmas. :)

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi phdast7,

      Great article! - And yes, I fully understand, as I was born in a communist country myself (Cuba) parentheses of all things!... Well, I grew up in the USA and went to schools here - elementary-college. I agree with you about people needing to live in a communist regime in order to be able to fully comprehend what it's like....

      Take care and see you around in HP


    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      It is strange how incredibly "ignorant" most young people are about socialism and I am not sure why. My guess is that politicians in America have so distorted and demonized the word because it gives them traction and ammunition against other politicians.

      And of course, there was the Cold War...I am always amazed at how many students equate either libertarians or democrats with socialism and even communism. And almost none of them can distinguish between early communist theory and the monstrosity that Soviet communism became under Stalin.

      Seems like I spend so much time trying to undo their misconceptions before we can move on to the real accurate history. It is a problem. Thanks for the book recommendation; I was not familiar with it. Thanks for all your comments. I do appreciate them.

    • Will Apse profile image

      Will Apse 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for that insight into the teaching of history (as well as the recommendation of the book by Heda Kovaly) . I am surprised that so few younger people fail to understand the multitude of problems and pitfalls in running a capitalist economy.

      You certainly don't need to be a socialist to notice the great problems caused by inequality or the recent return of the dangers of plutocracy, for example.

      Perhaps you should point out to your students that one of communism's most persuasive and telling critics was George Orwell. He was a socialist.

      His socialism was of pretty a non-ideological kind. In fact, the word he most used when recommending change was 'decent'.

      He wanted people to be treated decently and with due respect as individuals. That did not happen under Soviet style communism or in pre-war capitalist countries- unless you were well to do.

      Capitalism has evolved to be decent enough in the West but only as a result of the dedication and struggle of many who were as appalled by laissez faire capitalism as Orwell was by Communism.

      So, it is a shame that so many people fail to appreciate how much ordinary people owe to the early socialist movements.

      Saying this does not make me a socialist (believe me I couldn't live in any form of socialist country) just someone who wants to live in a decent world and respects those who made a significant contribution.

      p.s. I am assuming you have come across 'Hope Against Hope' and 'Hope Abandoned' by Nadezhda Mandelstam. It certainly brought home to me how vicious (and petty), Soviet communism actually was.

      She and her husband were persecuted for the poetry that they dared to write. Ossip Mandelstam died in a transit camp.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you ibbarking!! Great suggestion. This was my very first Hub and I din;t know what I was doing. At first it had no pictures at all and I added them later -still not really knowing what I was doing.

      I finally settled on a "text on the left and images on the right" approach. But I will experiment with what you suggest. The long expanse of unbroken text can be rather daunting.

      I am so glad you think the content is good. It came pretty naturally because I do so value and appreciate Kovaly's book. Thanks again. :)

    • ibbarkingmad profile image

      Brian Middleton 

      7 years ago from Southern Utah

      Wonderful article! In fact, every article I've read is great. Thank you for your contributions. Just a small suggestion, space those great pictures you have in between the text. Use multiple text modules to allow for the pictures to break up things. Your content is awesome and I love the insight.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      It is a great book and a fairly quick and easy read, so it is very accessible for students. So far in 20 years of teaching I have used the Kovaly book at thee different public universities, a major private university, and a small private Liberal Arts college. No one in the administration or on the academic side of the house has ever questioned my choice, or actually tried in any way to emphasize my choice of books. I would be surprisedif they did. Adjuncts and first year hires get a little extra scrutiny from their dean, but once they have proven themselves, they are allowed to select their own texts and readings.

      If a book was really inappropriate or way out there, the students and/or their parents would start complaining to the Schoool Dean and then there would be an intervention and continuing supervision.

      You were fortunate to have such a good history professor and I am sure your husband's personal experiences influenced your thinking as well. Same here. My Polish grandparents emigrated to the US right after WW II, so they influenced me a great deal. Thanks for the comments. Theresa

    • WannaB Writer profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      7 years ago from Templeton, CA

      I can see this is a book I should get hold of. However, I would be surprised if it would be adopted as a text in many of our institutions of higher education today, who seem still to be teaching that we should be moving toward the system this book would appear to expose. I was fortunate in 1965 to have a professor of Russian history who was from Russia and told the true story of what happened there and the effect that the Communist system had on its society. Since then I have been able to detect propaganda more easily, which is why alarm bells started going off in my head as I looked at the Obama campaign. When we saw videos of children in public schools doing the Obama chants, I got very nervous. My husband, who lived through the German occupation and then the horror of Communism in his native Yugoslavia, told me the Obama campaign was using the same techniques the Communists used in their rise to power there. When I pointed this out to some of the Obama supported I knew, they just said those things can't happen here in America.

      I indeed hope more professors will see fit to use this book as a text, since this perspective is desperately needed today.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Interesting that your brother-in-law has such a (to us) strange perspective. I agree about the importance of social histories and exposing students to something beyond political "great leader" histories. There are multiple aspects of any society, nation, or historical event which should be considered - social, cultural, intellectual, religious, economic, technological - and of course, power politics and the role of the military.

      I am not familiar with Tresser's work, but I will get a copy and try to read it over the December break between semesters (translation - when I won't have a seemingly ever growing pile of papers and exams to grade). :)

      And you are right, the younger generation doesn't get it...erosion of retirement benefits and so forth. I guess those things only become real and meaningful for most people as they age. Tragic that the accomplishments of decades of hard work are being rolled back. I look forward to future exchanges.

    • molometer profile image


      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hello phdast7 and thanks for a very illuminating review of the work of. Heda Margolius Kovaly. Under A Cruel Star: A Life in Prague.

      It is virtually impossible for freshers to even consider that a socialist state actually may have been a good idea at one time.

      That is why social histories are crucial in getting them in touch with the life and times of these real people who lived through such inhumanity.

      My brother in law is from Montenegro in the former Yugoslavia and had no idea that his homeland was a soviet satellite state of the former USSR.

      He got quite upset when I pointed out that Gen Tito was keep in power by Russia.

      He was/is convinced (almost brainwashed) that he grew up in a democracy?

      He has lived in the UK for over 20 years and still doesn't get it.

      A great read for freshers or anyone wanting to understand how we got to where we are is of course Robert Tressel's seminal work

      "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist"

      In the UK at the moment decades of effort by socialist led workers are being eroded.

      The UK government has just raised the retirement age for women and men.

      The kids don't get it. Why are so many adults outraged at this change of policy?

      It's fine if you work in a profession where age is unimportant; but what about the millions of women and men working in minimum wage jobs that were looking forward to a few years of rest; before they join the choir eternal.

      Great article voted Up and interesting. Thanks for the follow I will reciprocate.

    • phdast7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      As you pointed out, the challenge with all students, but more particularly today's students, is to "share information in a meaningful way." And of course Kovaly's autobiography is a great help in this ongoing task. I find that far too often our education system and some of our teachers, rely far too heavily on multiple choice and fill in the blank tests, which as research has shown result in minimal retention and virtually no substantive comprehension. Thoughtful essays based on cogent and well-written literature expands the student's world and stretches their abilities, both of which are highly desirable outcomes. Thank you for responding and so eloquently.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      The challenge of sharing information with students in a meaningful way, so that knowledge becomes living wisdom, is the challenge faced by and other scholars who study and disseminate history. The work of Heda Margolius Kovaly, especially her autobiography, Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, is both a tool and a light to help steer teachers and students toward a richer and more grounded understanding of the political and social realities one encountered after World War II and during the Cold War.

      Autobiography can be tedious if forceably required as mere course work; or it can be a touchstone of humanity that gives invaluable insight into the conditions one endured, and how these conditions affected one's routine, relationships, and ultimately, one's sense of purpose during a specific moment in the human drama. Autobiography can inspire hope or underscore one's feelings of hopelessness; it has the ability to prepare a student for challenges she or he may face in their personal future, as well as the ability to illustrate, by the venerable and effective method of storytelling, how one may be crushed or survive.

      Many thanks to phdast7 for this important and useful review of Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague.


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