The Pacifica Radio/UC Berkeley
Social Activism Sound Recording Project
Anti-Viet Nam War Protests,
Isaac Deutscher, UC Berkeley Teach-In, May 1965

Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends.

I think I have the peculiar privilege and honor of being the only non-American to take part in these teach-ins in Washington and here. I do not know to what merit I owe this honor, but it gives me an immense gratification to see you here, to see this immense crowd listening to speakers past midnight. I see in this a symptom of the awakening of the critical spirit in this country; of the awakening of the political and moral energy of a new American generation. And allow me, please, to greet in you America's future.


As you have been told, I am on a lecturing tour that took me to six countries...practically to the whole of Western Europe, with the exception, of course, of Spain and Portugal. May I tell you that coming from this tour, I feel that you are not alone and isolated. I could sense the same awakening of the critical spirit among the youngest generation of intellectuals and students all over Western Europe, although in each country this phenomenon assumes different forms peculiar to each nation and corresponding to the conditions in which the political climate of these countries changes. I think that the West at large is sick with the myths and legends and the distortions and the brainwashing of nearly two decades of Cold War.


I do not intend to speak on Vietnam. I think that the speakers that have preceded me have nearly exhausted the subject. Nor is it my task to give advice, even from the Left, to the American administration what it ought to do in Vietnam. I'm here as an outsider, and I'm not even criticizing American policy in general...American policy in particular. I am criticizing Western policy at large. I don't think that we Western Europeans can be proud of the records of our governments. After all, the Labor government of Great Britain under Mr. Wilson is endorsing the policy of your government in Vietnam. My task is to place this Vietnamese crisis in a longer historical perspective, in the whole context of the Cold War, for after all, this is only one stage in this Cold War. We have had Cuban crisis and crisis over Berlin, crisis breaking out ever-anew in various corners of the world. And even if this crisis is resolved, there will be other critical and dangerous situations, and goodness knows how many times we'll be pushed again to the brink of nuclear war. If the climate of opinion in our countries doesn't change so strongly, so radically that the Cold War should not go on, that the Cold War should find a solution and a close, a rational close. Therefor, I think that it is necessary to subject to a brief scrutiny the major assumptions and misassumption, conceptions and misconceptions, illusions and myths of the Cold War. Because, so, all these reappear in one form or another in the present Vietnamese crisis. You will, I hope, bear with me--it's past midnight. I allow myself a brief excursion into the history of the Cold War in order to lay bare these assumptions. I take a very high view of your endurance, my friends, and of your intellectual curiosity.



It is time to draw a balance of this long and terrible venture [the Cold War], to count the moral--political and moral--costs of the Cold War, and to assess soberly the present risks. Unfortunately, I cannot say that I'm setting my hopes very high for the immediate future. I do not see the approach of the great cease-fire that would end the Cold War. To some extent, this Cold War may have been unavoidable. The antagonisms and detentions (sic) between the powers cannot be conjured out of existence. The conflict between Capitalism and Socialism, all too often misrepresented as a conflict between Democracy and Communism, is not nearing a solution. The hostility between colonialism or neo-colonialism and the peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America will not soon blow over. But if these stark realities of these multiple conflicts must remain with us, it may yet be possible for all of the forces involved to behave more rationally, to shake off the hysteria and insanity of the Cold War, to dispel the fog of myths and false scares, and to reduce the suicidal intensity of the conflict. I still believe that class struggle is the motive force of history.


But in this last period, class struggle has all too often sunk into a bloody morass of power politics. On both sides of the great divide, a few ruthless and half-witted oligarchies--capitalist oligarchies here, bureaucratic oligarchies there--hold all the power and take all the decisions, obfuscate the minds and throttle the wills of the nations. They even usurp for themselves the roles of the chief protagonists and expounders of the great conflicting ideas of our time. The social struggles of our time have degenerated into the unscrupulous contests of the oligarchies. Official Washington speaks for the world's freedom, while official Moscow speaks for world socialism. All too long the peoples failed to contradict these false friends either of freedom or socialism. On both sides of the great divide, the peoples have been silent too long, and have thus willy-nilly identified themselves with the policies of their governments. The world has thus come very close, dangerously close, to a division between revolutionary and counter-revolutionary nations This to my mind has been the most alarming result of the Cold War. Fortunately, things have begun to change. The Russian people have been shaking off the old conformism and have been regaining a critical attitude towards their rulers. Things are also changing here in the United States, as I who was here fifteen years ago can see perhaps more clearly than you young people. They are changing, because the world, after all, is something like a system of interconnected vessels, where the level of freedom and critical thinking tends to even out. I am sure that without the Russian de-Stalinization there would not have been this amount of freedom and critical thinking that there is in America today. And I'm also sure that your continued exercise of freedom and continual voicing of criticism, and of critical political action will encourage the further of progress of freedom in the Communist part of the world. Freedom in the Soviet Union was supressed and stiffled during the rise of Naziism, mostly. This was the time of the great purges. Then it was stiffled again and trampled over again throughout the Cold War, or most of the Cold War. The more you exercise your freedom, the more will the Russians feel encouraged to speak up also critically against the mistakes and blunders of their government.

[recording ends shortly before end of speech]

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