Excerpts from
Behind the Iron Curtain

An Interview with 
Aron Katsenelinboigen

by Michael Bressler


October 1997, Vol. LV No. 3

Dr. Aron J. Katsenelinboigen ... is a professor of Decision Sciences in the Wharton School, and ... was Head of the Department of Complex Systems at the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences.  

The Red and Blue: How long have you been in the United States and how did you get here?
Aron Katsenelinboigen: ....... I can offer only some views ...... of an immigrant to the USA who spent forty-six years of his life under the communist regime in Russia.  I emigrated to the United States in 1973 from the Soviet Union; 

R&B: Why did you leave Russia?
AK: ...... I emigrated from Russia ..... not because of the political system.  .......  The crucial point was the dominant culture of the country.  ........... the culture of the Russian people is incompatible with my beliefs as a Jew.  ........ 

R&B: What kind of life did you leave behind in the Soviet Union?  How is it different from here?
AK: It is enormously different.  ........  Russian culture is based on the subordination of the individual to the state.  You have to serve the state, you have to belong to the state, you have to sacrifice yourself for the state.  As a Jew, I feel absolutely different principles....  

R&B: What were your college experiences like in the Soviet Union, intellectually and socially?
AK:  ......... economics was completely occupied by Marxism.........we didn't know anything about what had gone on in the last 200 years   .... I was very lucky.... to study ...... under  L. Kantorovich ........

R&B: Was Soviet Rule a system corrupted by its leaders or was it inherently flawed and doomed from inception?
AK: ... the latter .... the idea behind communism is false. ..... 

R&B: How would you explain to the average Penn Student what life was like in the U.S.S.R?
AK: It was a country where you have one opinion that is allowed and you have to conform to that opinion and completely subordinate yourself to it:.......

R&B: On many college campuses, including Penn, leftists and communists are still very active in the student body and faculty.  In light of communism's obvious failure, what do you think of this?
AK: I think people will never give up on the idea of communism. It is a religion.  The belief that it is possible to build a paradise on earth is what brings a vitality to communism.  Some very nice people, with warm hearts, who really believe that it is possible to create a society where all needs will be satisfied, where all people will be brothers and sisters and there will be peace around earth is a dream that will not be exterminated because people want to believe, just as they do in religion.

R&B: How did you feel when Russia fell and did you think that it was a victory for freedom?
AK: No, ..... In Russia, people didn't believe in the final communist goal.  You know, the shortest joke in Russia was one word: communism. ..... What the people did believe in were communism's means, such basic things, as the exclusive role of the government, the role of guarantees.  These beliefs have a long tradition in Russian history.  That is why, when you take out the communist ideology, you will not take out the basic things. In fact, the West enormously exaggerated the importance of the communist ideology in Russia for domestic reasons and underestimated the role of the traditional Russian ideology.

R&B: If you could send a message to young communists and socialists, on this campus and around the world, what would it be?
AK: I would like, first of all, to strongly distinguish between communists and socialists.  They are very different. I am, of course, talking of Social Democrats, which are very different.  They accept a pluralistic, democratic society and only want to pay more attention to socialize things in the framework of a democratic mechanism.  However, I will say to things to the communists.  First of all, is it possible to create a society where all needs are satisfied? And, do you really believe it is possible to have a truly organized, hierarchically, society where everything is subordinated to the center?  It is a dream, an impossible dream.  It is against the nature of an indeterministic society. ........




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