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New and Improved: Personal and Political Reform in Socialist States

Posted on 08/05/2016

East and West, self-improvement is a human project in which the state has a vested interest. In the West, the idea of a liberal education resulting in conscientious, informed citizens has been the goal. In socialist states, the tendency has been to link the personal with the political taken collectively rather than individually.

Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-L0822-0026 / Gahlbeck, Friedrich / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-L0822-0026 / Gahlbeck, Friedrich / CC-BY-SA 3.0

In this month’s highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, we offer a selection of best practices drawn from countries in which the U.S. government had a healthy interest.

Residues of the Islamic Religion and Methods for Eliminating them

Voprosy Filosofii (Problems in Philosophy) No. 5, May 1961

The United States is just the latest nation where Islam has become a political issue. Communism has always had an argument with organized religion as leading to “false consciousness” and inhibiting adherence to proletarian goals and identity.

This report relates the proceedings of a conference in Dagestan wherein the rationale and methodology is laid-out for eliminating the Islamic religion from the Soviet population. And they don’t mince words:

...the execution of religious rites is accompanied in a number of cases by a violation of labor and state discipline, results in serious losses to the national economy and spiritually maims the people.

Resumption of Turkish Political Activity

Forum, 15 April 1961

As Turkey purges its military and academic dissidents, we offer this look back to yet another crisis in that country's struggle with democracy. Writing in favor of reform following the military coup d’état of 27 May 1960, the author states,

...politics began to be viewed as the maintenance in power of a particular group by means of pressure, violence and intrigue. It was as if politics, from top to bottom, was nothing but ugly and mean games.

Culture in the Life of Youth

[Brochure published by the All-Union Society for the Dissemination of Political and Scientific Knowledge, Znaniye Publishing House, Series 10 No. 6, Moscow, 1960]

Ah, the Komsomol wedding, the relationship goal of every budding communist. In case you've missed out on such festivities, this report counsels Soviet young adults on that and other topics such as music and art appreciation, personal hygiene, interior design, and yes, interpersonal relationships, all overlaid with explicit political rhetoric.

Physicians Unite Chinese and Western Medicinal Practices

Jen-min Jih-pao (People's Daily) 10 February 1961

Sweetness and light here as the Chinese assimilate Western medicine into their centuries-old traditional approach to the healing arts.

Metabolism during the Performance of Athletic Exercises and the Nutritional Requirements of Sportsmen

Voprosy Pitaniya (Problems in Nutrition) Vol. 20 No. 2, March-April 1961

With the Olympics about to begin in Rio de Janeiro—and Russian athletes under the microscope—this report considers the performance benefits to be had through simple, rigorous physical training enhanced only by a healthy diet.

Formation and Growth of the Socialist Intellectuals in North Korea

[unsigned booklet] 30 May 1960

Is it possible to be both a good communist and an intellectual? What would that look like, exactly? Self-improvement here is not for the faint of heart:

While we suppress the opposition of the people’s enemies, we must at the same time try to separate the intellectuals of bourgeois background from the influence of our enemies and make them faithful supporters of the Revolution.

Communism and the Overall Development of the Personality

[Book by E.V. Strukov] Series 11 No. 15, Moscow 1960

Not only did communist governments seek to control the actions of their citizens, in keeping with the materialist approach to personal development they sought to achieve a particular psychological outcome as well:

We can already say that the man of the communist society will [be] made handsome by the joy and meaning of life. His joy and the meaning he finds in life will consist in the fact that there will be no object or product which he cannot produce, and nothing he cannot accomplish, in the name of communism.

For more information about Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1994,or to request a trial for your institution, please contact

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