The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt


KITCHENER, Ontario—With Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev insisting that United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold does not treat the socialist nations fairly and is, therefore, the tool of the imperialist nations, the U.N. is experiencing one of the most difficult periods in its history. And while his speech on Monday was far calmer than anything he has uttered in recent weeks, it was certainly phrased in firm and unmistakably antagonistic language.

It looks to me as though there could be no real peace in the U.N. until certain fundamentals could be agreed upon.

There is complete incompatibility in the Soviet assertion that the world must inevitably become a Communist world and its insistence that it is possible for different beliefs to live in the world together.

One cannot believe in both things.

Secondly, if the leader of the Soviet group in the U.N. insists on considering that it is the two different types of economy that create the real difficulty between Communist and non-Communist countries, then we have a second complete misunderstanding.

It is not a question of whether the West has a capitalist economy and the East a socialist economy that is the basic quarrel between the two. The difficulty really lies in the different concept of the meaning of individual freedom, of individual participation and responsibility in government.

Let us take just one example. If one finds churches open in a Communist country, it is a matter for comment. The fact that some people are given the freedom to practice their religion is considered a really remarkable thing. The fact that these relatively few do not accept the government doctrine that there is no God and that the state is all-supreme is considered not normal. Yet, in the West of today we know that adverse comment arises immediately against any country that does not permit all of its people to worship as they choose.

The differences between communism and democracy are not merely the differences of an economic system. They are concerned with the basic freedoms of human beings, and that is why the differences in the types of government are so outstanding.

The Soviet government is not a parliamentary system and it is quite easy to see in watching Mr. Khrushchev's behavior that he is not accustomed to listening to opposing points of view and giving them due respect. His system is a one-party system in which everybody agrees, with only minor discussions on methods of achieving certain aims—and these aims are largely material aims.

I remember well in the Human Rights Commission the contention that in the modern world the only rights that really mattered for the well-being of people were economic and social rights. Civil and political rights were considered immaterial. They would be under the Soviet system, but they are not under the system that prevails in a parliamentary democracy.

The Soviet revolution in Russia was successful because the type of government then existent was oppressive, lacking in vision and giving no scope for the aspirations of people to attain a happier life.

This, of course, is not so in most of the Western countries today. And with all due respect to the Soviet leader, I think he will not succeed unless he revises some of his concepts and discovers that there are great differences in capitalism—and that capitalism is not the really basic difference that forces people to oppose the thesis that the whole world must become a Communist world.

It is quite evident, of course, that there is a difference even between Mr. Khrushchev and his Chinese Communist allies, and this may be one of the reasons why he feels it essential to gather to his particular doctrine as many of the new countries as possible at the present time. I'm afraid what he does not count on is that there are few new countries—countries just gaining their freedom and having a strong nationalist urge—that will agree to a new domination such as a Communist world would entail.

It is dangerous for Mr. Khrushchev to be attacking the U.N. in the way he has, for this is the only machinery we have for world meeting and discussion. The insistence on his part that the Secretary General has lost his confidence and is unfair to the socialist nations is extremely unfair and unwise. At this moment we need the strength of the present Secretary General who has a real interest in the rights of all nations. And all the big nations need to uphold his hand, rather than tear him down.

The U.N. has served to keep the peace in several difficult times, and I feel it will come through the present attack. But such accusations as have been made leave scars and they do not make for a better atmosphere in which to discuss even the first steps of disarmament.


(Copyright, 1960, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Kitchener (Ont., Canada) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 5, 1960

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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