- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 19 Feb 1931, p. 57-72
- Brickner, Rabbi Barnett R., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The attitude of the world toward Russia today, with illustration. Taking an objective view of the whole situation in order to understand Russia. How to explain the success of their present leader, Stalin. The present trends in Russia to the extreme left. A reflection of the Russian attitude in their movies. A substitution of Atheism for religion. Social service as religion. The Five Year Plan, with all phases and facets of Russian life interwoven into it; the outgrowth of the whole system of Russian thought. A description of the Plan. How it is working. Ways to test how it is or is not working. Reference to a recent book by Professor Counts, Columbia University on the Five Year Plan, also the "Economist" of London which published last November a 40,000 word report. Results as published in this report with regard to various aspects of Russian life including wages, cost of living, food and household supplies, trade unions, etc. The attitude of the average Russian. The revolution in agriculture. Changes in methods of farming. Consequences for the price of wheat from the United States and Canada if the agricultural plan in Russia works out. Some figures. How and why the Collectivization will work. A new and higher standard of life for the Russian farmer. The peasant as one of the most interesting factors in all Russia; the great mystery of the Revolution. The aim of Communism. This plan which is really a Twenty-Five Year Plan. How the people will react to the true length of the Plan. Speculation with regard to Communism growing to social democracy. The speaker's belief that Russia will never go back to capitalism as we know it in the Western world. Two points of view: economic boycott of Russia or trading with her. Russia as a great competitor. The speaker's belief that if Russia prospers industrially, and remakes herself as she is trying to do, and if we do not boycott, we will be compelled to form a United States of Europe and America for purposes of trade, competing with Russia for the markets of the world. The alternative that we ought not to boycott Russia, and why. Faith in the ability of capitalism to re-fashion itself. Modern capitalism undergoing the severest strain in all its history. The need to democratize industry, for a wider distribution of profits of industry to the people, so that they may become increasingly able consumers. The ability of re-shaped capitalism to compete with Russian Communists for mastery of the markets of the world.
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- 19 Feb 1931
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- THE FIVE YEAR PLAN-RUSSIA'S CHALLENGE TO CAPITALISM
AN ADDRESS BY RABBI BARNETT R. BRICKNER.
19th February, 1931
PRESIDENT STAPELLS introduced RABBI BRICKNER, who was received with loud applause and said: I wish to express my genuine pleasure in returning to the Empire Club, under whose auspices I made my first public address in Canada on December 9th, 1925-a date which I will never forget, because on my way to the hall I was handed a telegram announcing the birth of my first child. (Applause). I heartily appreciate the presence and applause of such a large gathering. Applause partakes of a religious character; that which is given to a speaker on rising is an indication of faith; as the speaker continues his remarks, applause might be an indication of hope (laughter); and when he finishes and sits down, applause is an indication of charity (laughter); and I wish to remind you that of all these cardinal virtues, charity is the greatest. (Renewed laughter).
The attitude of the world toward Russia today can best be illustrated by a story told in Warsaw when two of my people met there. The older one had left Russia when the Bolsheviki came in, while the other had just come out. The elder one asked what had been happening in Russia since he had left, and his friend illustrated by raising his left hand,, with open palm, saying that in Russia before the Bolsheviki arrived, the Czar occupied the place of the thumb, which was on top; then the fingers in turn represented the position of the Czar's corps, the military and the church, while the little finger, pointing down to the ground, showed the position of the people.
When the Bolsheviki came into power the hand was turned over, and at the top where the Czar had been, the people were at present; the thumb, pointing down, now showed where the Czar and his group were, down where the people used to be. The elder man looked puzzled for a few minutes at the awkwardly turned hand of his friend, and then said" "Tell me, my friend, how long do you think a fellow can keep his hand turned upside down like that?" (Great laughter). That question we are all asking-how long can it last? It has lasted some thirteen years, and from all indications it seems to be going very strong.
I am tempted to tell you another story of my people that I heard in Russia. There are more book shops there than food shops, because there is not enough food to go around, and the people compensate by reading all the propaganda, for there does not seem to be any pure literature or art; all is propaganda for the Government and the Communist Party. My people are in a very peculiar position in Russia-caught up between the upper and the nether millstone and they must be very circumspect about what they say and how they say it" for the most of them are regarded with suspicion. Up to very recently, when I was there, about half of my people were regarded as declasse and had no rights. While there are over 5,000,000 declasse people among a population of 146,000,000, and only 3,000,000 of my people, close to one and a half million of my people are declasse. One of my people went into a bookshop and wanted a picture of the heroes of the Revolution. They showed him many pictures that were not what he wanted. Finally they showed him a portrait of Lenin lying in the Catafalque in the Red Square in Moscow, and he said he would take this. The clerk asked him if there were any other pictures he would like of the heroes of the Revolution, and with a twinkle of his eye the customer said, "I would be glad if you could give me a composite picture of the heroes of the Revolution with Lenin holding out his hands with palms up, like this." (Illustrating). (Laughter). I think that sizes up the attitude of my people towards Bolshevism, although some favorable things can be said about the attitude of the Government towards them.
To understand Russia it is essential to take an objective view of the whole situation. Perhaps we ought to adopt the attitude of the artist who goes into a place to find out what is happening and what he sees, and then tries to represent it as accurately as he knows how. To go into Russia with a viewpoint and a prejudice is to be false to oneself, and certainly false to Russia. One must abandon the yardsticks by which we measure things in the western world, where one goes into this strange country. Everything that we believe in they deny; everything we affirm they refuse. Russia has completely broken with the past; she has no roots in the past; she is concerned only with the future. Another feature that bore strangely on me is this, that things are constantly changing there. When you come out of Russia for a while, you can rest assured that when you go in again the picture will have largely changed.
The Bolsheviki are determinists only in theory, in their ideaology, but when it comes to their methods and their practices they are opportunists. That is the only way to explain the success of their present leader, Stalin. They are pragmatists; their great question is, "Will it work?" And if it does not work, what will work? The present trends in Russia are not to the right, they are to the extreme left; from the western world to the eastern point of view. Western civilization rests on private property, religion, the stability and the maintenance of the individual and the family. Russia seeks to destroy private property, to uproot religion as we understand and practice it. Further, Russia seeks to re-shape family life. Why? Because those determinists who call themselves Communists believe that everything that curses mankindwar, hatred, religious prejudice, national bitterness-are due solely to private property; therefore it is their intention to bleed private property and capitalism whit, to knock it on the head, and bury it deep without a monument to mark its resting place, so that no one will ever find it again.
If you see the movies in Russia you have a reflection of their attitude. Everyone is accustomed to, the villains, but the villains in the Russian movies are three-the clergyman, the bootlegger and the capitalist. (Laughter). Russia is trying hard to make the country dry, but they have not introduced the Volstead Act as yet. (Laughter). They have watched the American experience, and they are afraid of it-I mean the experience in the United States; I beg your pardon, I should know better than to identify America with the United States. (Laughter and applause). The Bolsheviki object to anyone owning income-yielding private property, what the economists call functional property. They do not object to anyone having his own boots, or his own underwear, but nothing else of a functional income-yielding character. (Laughter). They are centering their attack on the businessman, and only recently the N.E.P.-the New Economic Policy introduced by Lenin-has been replaced by the R.E.P.-the Reconstructive Economic Policy. So if you are a capitalist, or were a capitalist, you are declasse.
I had an interesting experience with a Rabbi who was working with a Cartel or Cooperative, making boots. He said to me, "I have a boy of thirteen years, and for months he did not speak to me. Finally I managed to get a word out of him, and all he would say was-'Father, I am ashamed of you!"' The father said, "Why? I am a scholar. Have I ever done anything that should give you cause to be ashamed of your father?" The lad turned on his father and said, "Yes; you are an enemy of the Russian State; you are a counter-revolutionist; you are a hang-over from the old capitalistic regime; you don't produce anything." The father, wanting to keep the love and affection of his boy, abandoned the Rabbinate and went in a cartel to learn how to make shoes; he became a shoemaker so that his son might not be ashamed of him. You get something of the attitude in that, my friends.
I was much interested, of course" in what was happening there with regard to religion. The Russians have substituted Atheism for religion, but there is a religion in Russia, and that religion is social service, as they call it. Everybody has to engage in some form of service for his fellowman; atheism is taught to the students in schools, and the whole generation has grown up intolerant of every form of religion; yet the government is tolerant; if people want to worship, and want to maintain the church or the synagogue, they may, and there are synagogues, churches, and mosques still open in Russia although many of them have been converted into cinemas sand workmen's clubs. But religion is dying, and the church is dying, particularly in the rural sections" because with the Collectivistic farming system the farmer does not need God any more-at least so they say.
A dear friend of mine, who is a great authority on Russia-Maurice Hindus-tells a story in his book, "Humanity Uprooted". He went among a crowd of peasants at a mass meeting and asked them, "How many of you have Bibles?"-and not a single hand went up. He asked, "How many of you had Bibles?"-and quite a number of hands went up. He asked, "What happened to your Bibles?" They replied that during the civil war they could not get any cigarette paper, so they used the leaves of the Bible for wrapping cigarettes. Religion meant nothing to those people, or they would have respected their Bibles. If you want to know why religion is dying in Russia you have to understand the Greek Orthodox Church. It was never a teaching church; it was a ritualistic mummified religion that meant nothing in the experience of the people, excepting that it bled them white. But the people have faith in religion. There is nothing inconsistent between revolution and religion. All the great religious prophets have always been great revolutionists. The Hebrew prophets were great revolutionary teachers. There is something in the spirit of revolution that makes for religious sentiment, and I believe that the time is coming when, out of this welter in Russia, a new religion will emerge, because nobody can live with historic materialism; nobody can find comfort in economic determinism, which is the basis of the doctrine of Communism. We must be patient, and I am prepared to be patient with religion in Russia. Touching the life of the family, despite the fact that the Russian Government has tried to do everything to break up the individualist family, especially among the Collectivists on the farms, I have faith in the family because I believe, with Havelock Ellis, that family life, as we know it, has a strength ingrained in the biology and in the psychology of man. Despite the free-love and companionate-marriage which is practised in Russia, they love children. See their attitude towards the waifs, who look like little hungry wolves around the railway stations and through the streets of Russia. I wish I could tell you about them; all over Russia you find a passionate love for children. I have faith in the family because I know that Russian women take romance and love too seriously to philander with it; I have a feeling that, despite the activities of the government, morality and the family life will remain. It may change, but it is changing all over the world, under the stress of mechanization and urbanization of our life.
I want to address myself more specifically to the Five Year Plan. All phases and all facets of Russia's life are interwoven with the Five Year Plan. It is the outgrowth of the whole system of Russian thought. What is the Five Year Plan? Briefly, it is an attempt to industrialize the country, in the sense that Russia should be re-made, like the city of Detroit. That is the ambition of the leaders of the Plan. I discovered that, next to Lenin, the greatest hero whom the Russians worship is Henry Ford, not because of his intelligence, but because of what he represents. The Plan has gone a little more than two years; in many of its branches it seems to have succeeded from the best reports and observations; they are trying to make of it a sort of Four Year Plan, purely for speeding-up purposes, for the Plan cannot be reduced to a Four Year Plan. In fact" it is not a Five Year Plan at all; it is the first installment of the Twenty-Five Year Plan. What are the basic objectives of the Plan? There are several. To more than double the basic capital of the country; to double the industrial output, the agricultural output, the national income; to produce coal, oil wheat, iron-ore, in the greatest quantities possible. The plan seeks to improve the standard of living, to reduce the cost of living, and to make power and food available for the masses of the people. There is in Russia a Central Planning Agency. Every major aspect is dominated by a trust, all of which is centralized by the state. Russia is the only country in the world today that regulates its economic life on a national basis; it is a sort of super-corporation,-the largest single business concern in the world today. It is calculated that the population shall have increased about twelve per cent. during this time, and the members of the wage-earning class about nineteen per cent. Russia does not fear increase of population" and birth control is prohibited, though abortion is legalized for social reasons. Russia believes that there is enough in the world for all who will work.
How is the Plan working out? There are many ways of testing that. I refer you to a recent book by Professor Counts, Columbia University, on the Five Year Plan. I refer you further to the "Economist," of London, published last November, which contains a 40,000-word report which I think is purposely impartial. What are some of the results? Unemployment has been completely eliminated in the face of widespread and growing unemployment all over the world; there is a terrific shortage of skilled labor; there is what we call a compulsory labor movement-what they call a volunteer labor movement in the mines, the oil wells and lumber camps, where convict labor is used. But there is also what is called the volunteer movement; the need of labor is so keen and the migration from place to place and from industry to industry is so great that an attempt is made to alleviate the situation in this way; the union leader appeals to the workers of the union to go into the heavy mining and oil-well work, for the sake of the state; he calls for volunteers. Not to be a volunteer means to be pegged down in the list; to be a volunteer means patriotism, and the result is that we have a great draft movement into what they call heavy industries, directed by the Russian State under the pseudo-name of a volunteer movement.
The wages in Russia run from $31.90 a month for unskilled labor to $41.95 for skilled labor. Wages are low; the cost of living is high; everything is rationed. When you meet a Russian in Moscow he wants to know whether you have scraps of anything to sell-socks, shirts, and so on-for he cannot buy much for his money; the stores are empty of goods, the lines are long, and only the patience of people such as the Russians could endure standing hour after hour, and then coming to the counter to find that the thing they are asking for is exhausted milk, bread, or meat. In fact there is no meat to speak of, and even bread is lacking. The only people that get food to eat, amounting to anything, are the skilled worker, whom Russia must have, and to whom it gives a fair food supply. The trade unions in Russia are the largest and strongest in the world over 12,000,000 members-embracing over 95 percent of the productive workers. Russia leads the world in social insurance and security for workers. In other words, it builds up its low-wages with other factors which would be included in wages in other parts of the world. The Russian worker is on a five-day week instead of a seven-day week. He gets one day in five off-six days a month, and he has from two to four weeks vacation.
At the end of the first year of the Plan the fixed capital of industry had been increased over 18 percent, and many new factories had been built. The progress was uneven. Some industries like oil, agriculture, machinery, electrical goods, copper and the non-ferrous metals turned out more than the specification called for by the Plan. In buildings, chemical trade;, sugar, and fertilizers, it fell behind, and there was a deterioration in the quality of the output, due to inferior material and lack of sufficient skilled workers. The second year saw the plan advancing; the government raised the goal of production from 21 percent to 31 percent, and came out on top. But the workers were pulling their belts one notch tighter every month. They were working terribly hard under this high-pressure system. They were restless, and they expressed themselves accordingly; however, they were told that they were walking in the rain now without umbrellas, but the time was coming when there would be no rain; soon they would be able to release their belts, and have everything. However, the irritation is noticeable" despite the great advances that have been made in the building of transport systems and the coal mining. The Russians wish to have a goat on which to lay the blame; so the managers blame it on shortage of raw material, capital, and fuel; and the Central Committee of Communists blame it on autocratic methods and the inability to mobilize the creativity of the worker. They are doing everything to speed up the process, by giving bonuses and social honors to the workers. Directors go from factory to factory to check up the standard; there
is a red and black chart in every factory, and unless a worker produces according to the standard he goes on the black chart; otherwise he goes on the red chart.
There is one word in Russia that is the great curse of all this industrialization,-the Russian word, "Nichevo", which means, "I should worry". It is not really a word, it is a shrug of the shoulders and an expression of the hand and face. The average Russian is dominated by this word "Nichevo". Recently an emissary for the railroads said that a dollar should be the fine every time a Russian used that word, because there had been an increase in the percentage of what they call "unfortunate incidents"-what we call railroad accidents. They do not seem to understand that it makes a difference whether a switch is shut or open" whether signals are red or green, whether a locomotive is travelling at one or another speed, or whether an automobile or truck has or has not been greased. The crucial test of the whole proposition is whether the Russian government will be able to teach the science of speed, of accuracy in handling of machinery, and the "feel" for machinery to that horde of Slavs and Mongols, and that conglomerate Russian element that has lived in the Middle Ages up to ten years ago. The Russians say it can be done; they say it will be done; they say that the only thing about a human being that you can re-make is his nature. In the western world we have said that you may or may not be able to re-make human nature. We tried for many hundreds of years to do something with human nature, and we feel that it is a slow process. The Russians are materialists and determinists; their psychology is that of Behaviorism; they believe they can remake the individual by shaping his environment.
I want to say a word about the revolution in agriculture. I think it is the greatest revolution the world has ever known. In a population of 146,000,000 there are 120,000,000 peasants who are abysmally ignorant, peasants who are poor farmers. The Russian diet is a pickle and a piece of soggy black bread; the farmers have been eating that for hundreds of years; you would think that by this time they would have learned to grow cucumbers properly,, since they are the national diet; the samples of cucumbers I saw in Russia were the scrawniest I have ever seen. (Laughter). In 1917 there were only 200,000 land-owners. They owned over a quarter of the arable land, and yet because of their efficient methods they made Russia the great granary nation of the world. When the Bolsheviki came into power those great estates were divided up among the peasants on the old feudalistic plan. Every farmer got so many acres, but instead of laying out the land in squares it was laid out in an old-fashioned method, so that a man's farm was perhaps half a mile from end to end, and between the farms there were great ditches. The farmers grew their wheat on both sides of the ditch, but it grew over the ditch. The "Kulak" was the clever farmer who, when the division took place, had a few more livestock, a little machinery and a little grey matter in his head; after a while he said to the peasant on the other side of the ditch, "Let me lend you my livestock and tractor" and we will divide your produce." He became powerful and rich and was called a "Fist". Trotsky said, "What is happening is that we are building up a new capitalistic system in Russia; against three and a half million proletarians we have a hundred and twenty million farmers, peasants and landowners, and they will swamp us." He was exiled simply because he was two years ahead of his time. He said, "Let us have Collectivism," Stalin said, "No, it will starve Russia; if you drive the peasant to it he will kill his livestock." That is what happened last year; the farmer driven into Collectivism in a brutal and stupid way, killed his cattle rather than give it away, with the result that there are practically no fats and meats in Russia today.
If Russia is going to have grain to live on, the economics of the situation demand that they give up this primative method of farming, and do away with the ditches so that they can run tractors over the land and collectivize the farmers. They have gone about doing this, and all Russia is becoming collectivized. The old folks do not want it; they say it means standardization, crushing everything individualistic out of life. But among the young people, under the inspiration of the so-called Chautauqua lecturers who go about boasting that they are giving them community houses, nurses, clubs and schools, the plan is working out. If the Russian agricultural plan works out-and it is working outit seems to me that it means the end of dollar-a-bushel wheat for the United States and Canada. Before the war Russia exported 150,000,000 bushels a year. If the plan works out, Russia can export 300,000,000 bushels annually, because it produces some 800,,000,000 bushels. This year Russia grew as much wheat as the United States. Last year Russia exported 40,000,000 bushels and this year she will export 110,000,000. Last year you exported 175,000,000, and the United States 125,000,000.This year the Canadians are ready to export 250,000,000 bushels, and the United States 160,000,000. But see what happens. Recently the Farm Board in the United States negotiated for the sale of 75,000,000 bushels to Mussolini's government, at seventy-three cents a bushel, subsidizing it with their great Farm Fund. The Russians offered wheat at fifty-three cents a bushel, and offered to take payment in machinery. You see what a tremendous competitor Russia is against the rest of the world. Russia also expects to produce cotton, tobacco and flax up to the world's capacity to absorb it. How can the Russians do this? The Russian cost is simply in man-hours of labor; they have no rent, no interest; the standard of living is low; the workers are trained on farms; the means is there to establish credit with which to buy machinery and raw material. Compare that with the American farmer. The difference between seventy-five cents and dollar wheat is the difference to him between failure and prosperity; whereas to the Russians it simply means a difference in so much credit against which they can buy. This is something for us to be worried about.
The Collectivization will succeed, because it offers the farmer a new and higher standard of life. The Russian peasant hated the government; now he comes in contact with government agents who are doing everything to encourage Collectivization; they offer him all sorts of advantages, and he becomes governmentally-minded. What is more, he has discovered the need of organization, because collective farming cannot work without organization. If the peasants had been organized when the Bolsheviki came into power there would not have been any Bolsheviki revolution. The peasant is one of the most interesting factors in all Russia. He is the great mystery of the Revolution; he is a rising sturdy fellow, developing a new independence and understanding of social and political problems. The Russian government think that they can control the individualism of the agricultural worker, and coordinate the proletarian with the peasant. ,That is another great speculation and we are waiting to see whether they can do it. I want to ask a question and ask it of myself-"Is western capitalism helping, because of its greed for profits, to build up this Nemesis of capitalism?" There is no doubt in my mind, and I hope there is none in yours, that the aim of Communism is the spread of Communism all over the world" though they may retard that process for diplomatic purposes, and accelerate its speed when necessary; Communists do represent the antithesis of that for which the western world stands.
This plan is really a Twenty-Five Year Plan; when the people learn that they will not be out of the rain in 1933, that it will be pouring in 1933 and in 1938, will they stand for it? They have stood it for thirteen years; they expect something millennial to come in 1933; but it cannot come in 1933, as their best Russians know. If the government cannot control the people, something will happen. Can Russia train the technical personnel? They need this year over half a million trained technicians, but in their schools they are training only some 30,000. Where will they get the balance? The United States and Germany are sending a great many technicians. If the Five Year Plan does work and can produce at the end of the time enough for home demand, and if it gives the people more than they have today, then the spirit of acquisitiveness may grow; then some will have the good sense to save, and some will not. Some will have automobiles and silk stockings, and others will not. As long as no one has anything now, well and good; it is a sort of a consecration, a sublimation of mediocrity; but it will be a different story when there is enough for everybody, and some people begin to save for a rainy day. It is possible that Communism may grow to social democracy. It is my feeling it will never go back to capitalism, as we know it in the western world.
There are two points of view, as I see it. One is economic boycott;, let America and all the European nations under capitalism join to boycott Russia, do no business with it, ignore it, and stand up against it without war. If we did that, Russia would collapse in a short time, or get back to Middle Age husbandry. The other point of view says, let us trade with her, and compete with her; we have machinery and technique, and we are at least a hundred years ahead of her, no matter how she speeds up. Then it goes further and says, everything in Russia is rotten, and needs making over-her buildings, bridges, factories, machinery and railroads; everything inherited from the old regime is going to pieces, and needs to be replaced and rebuilt. Let Russia sell timber, grain,, manganese; the more Russia sells, the more she will have to buy. England, Germany, and Canada are the leading competitors of the United States, yet they are also her best customers.
For the next twenty-five years Russia unquestionably will be a great competitor. Can we afford, in times of appalling unemployment and depression, to forego, during the next twenty-five years, this tremendous trade opportunity? Sir Henry Deterling said that one of the great causes of the depression was the fact that the revolution had removed from the world 150,000,000 consumers. Last year the United States did a business with Russia totalling over $145,000,000; our exports to Russia were over six and a half times our imports from there; over 44 of the largest American companies are doing business with Russia on a long-term credit plan; Russians now owe these 44 large concerns over $170,000"000; our government does not recognize Russia, but our businessmen are investing their capital and doing business there; Colonel Cooper, who is helping to build the worlds largest hydro-electric plant, on the Dnieper River, said at the Senate Commission the other day that in five years Russia will buy from the United States a billion dollars worth of goods annually.
These are the two points of view; let us boycott, or let us compete, sell, and do business, having faith in ourselves. I believe it is inevitable that if Russia prospers industrially, and remakes herself as she is trying to do, in twenty-five years, the rest of the world, if we do not boycott, will be compelled to form a United States of Europe and America for purposes of trade, competing with Russia for the markets of the world. And so, divided by our tariff walls and our exclusive economic nationalisms, we fall prey to the mass production and the nonprofit motive of Moscow. There is an alternative; I believe, and I would say to you humbly, that we ought not to boycott Russia; we would be biting off our noses to spite our faces if we did so at this time. I have faith in the ability of capitalism to re-fashion itself; modern capitalism is undergoing the severest strain in all its history. Considering this great depression which has fallen heaviest on the shoulders of the masses, breaking down their morale, and the imminent war in Europe which, if it comes will be followed, I fear, by Communism in most countries of Europe" particularly Germany, I would say to you that capitalism needs to reestablish itself, to remake itself. There is a remarkable book by an English economist, Paul Hobson, entitled, "Unemployment and Rationalization" which I advocate that you read even if you do not agree with it; the leaders of business in our country across the line need to bestir themselves and re-think the whole economic situation. Industry has to be democratized. There will have to be a wider distribution of the profits of industries to the people, so that they may become increasingly able consumers. (Applause). But I believe that capitalism is re-shaping itself, and a re-shaped capitalism can compete with Russian Communists for mastery of the markets of the world, and the increased increments to human happiness. (Loud and continued applause).
On the suggestion of the President, the audience expressed its thanks by rising and cheering.