I have undertaken this study for three compelling reasons.
The first is simply my interest in Russian history. Almost ten years ago, I wrote a work on Kievan Rus. Due to circumstances beyond my control, however, I was forced to interrupt my researches on the origin of the Imperial Russian State; now, as a historian, I hope to be compensated for that loss by being a witness to the end of that state.
Second, I have been able to observe closely the efforts to create an independent social movement in the Soviet Union a development that in itself is very interesting and deserves at least a preliminary assessment.
And third, I have been hearing and reading a great deal about the so-called "liberalization" of Soviet society. This idea may be formulated as follows The situation is better now than it was ten years ago; therefore ten years from now it will be better still. I will attempt to show here why I disagree with this notion. I must emphasize that my essay is based not on scholarly research but only on observation. From an academic point of view, it may appear to be only empty chatter. But for Western students of the Soviet Union, at any rate, this discussion should have the same interest that a fish would have for an ichthyologist if it suddenly began to talk.
It would appear that in the course of approximately five years, from 1952 to 1957, a kind of "revolution at the top took place in our country. This revolution passed through such moments of intense strain as the creation of the so-called enlarged Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the "Doctors' Plot," the mysterious death of Stalin, the abolition of the enlarged Presidium, the purge of the state security organs, the mass rehabilitation of political prisoners and the public condemnation of Stalin, and the Polish and Hungarian crises of 1956. It ended with the complete victory of Khrushchev.
Throughout this period the country passively awaited its fate. While struggle was going on continuously "at the top," not a single voice "from below" was heard challenging the orders which at any given moment were handed down "from above." In actual fact, underground groups with opposition programs had already begun to appear for example, the Krasnopevtsev group, which was arrested in 1956. But because they were illegal and received no publicity, each group's protest actions were known only to its handful of members.
But the "revolution at the top" apparently loosened up the monolithic system created by Stalin and thus made possible some movement in Soviet society. Before the period was over, a new force, independent of the government, began to take shape. It may roughly be called the "Cultural Opposition."
Certain writers who until then had swum only in official waters or simply remained silent began speaking with new voices, and some of their works began to be published or were circulated in manuscript. There appeared on the scene many young poets, musicians, artists and writers of satirical lyrics who sang their own songs. Typewritten magazines began to circulate, semilegal art expositions were held and troupes of young actors, singers and entertainers were organized.
This movement was directed not against the political regime as such but only against its culture, which the regime regarded as a component part of itself. Therefore the regime began to combat the Cultural Opposition, winning complete victory in case after case. Writers "repented," publishers of underground magazines were arrested, art exhibitions were closed and poets were dispersed.
Nevertheless, victory over the Cultural Opposition as a whole was not achieved. On the contrary, the opposition was to some extent gradually absorbed into official art, its own nature being modified in the process; but by modifying official art in turn, it was able to preserve some of its identity as a cultural phenomenon. At the same time, by reconciling itself to the existence of a Cultural Opposition and virtually ignoring it, the regime robbed it of the political impact it had acquired as a result of the official struggle against it.
At this time, however, a new force emerged from within the Cultural Opposition; a force that stood not only against official culture but against many aspects of the ideology and practice of the regime. It emerged as a result of the crossing of two opposing trends the striving of society to obtain greater social and political information and the efforts of the regime to control even more completely every aspect of information given to the public.
This new force came to be known as "samizdat." Novels, stories, plays, memoirs, articles, open letters, leaflets, shorthand records of official meetings and court hearings in dozens, hundreds and thousands of typewritten copies and photostats began to circulate throughout the country.
Gradually, over a period of perhaps five years, the emphasis of samizdat shifted from literary to documentary| works and acquired a steadily more pronounced social and political content. Naturally, the regime recognized . samizdat as potentially more dangerous than the Cultural Opposition, and therefore it fights it with even greater vigor.
Examples of this struggle include the sentencing of Siniavsky and Daniel to seven and five years, respectively, of imprisonment in strict regime" labor camps for having published their books abroad (1965), the sentencing of Viacheslav Chornovil to three years for compiling an account of political trials in the Ukraine (1967), the sentencing of Yuri Galanskov to seven yuears for compiling the anthology Phoenix, the sentencing of Alexander Ginzberg to five years for compiling a collection of documents on the trial of Siniavsky and Daniel (l968), and the sentencing of Anatoly Marchenko to one year after he wrote his book on the prison camps of the post-Stalin era (1968). Nevertheless, samizdat, like the Cultural Opposition, gradually gave birth to a new, independent force which can already be regarded as a real political opposition to the regime or, at least, as a political opposition in embryo. This has turned into a social movement that calls itself the Democratic Movement. It can be regarded as a new phase in the opposition to the regime, and as a political opposition, for the following reasons
First, although it has not adopted a definite organizational form, it regards itself as a movement and calls itself such, it has leaders and activists, and it relies on a considerable number of sympathizers. Second, it consciously1 sets itself specific aims and chooses particular tactics, although these are still diffuse. Third, it desires legal status and publicity for its activities, and works hard for such publicity. In this it differs from the small or even the large underground groups.
BEFORE EXAMINING to what extent the Democratic Movement is a mass movement and how well defined and attainable its aims are that is, whether it is really a movement and whether it has any chances of success it is worth examining the ideological foundations on which any opposition in the Soviet Union can be based.
Of course, as the author himself clearly remembers, even in 1952-56 there were a great number of people who were dissatisfied with the regime and opposed to it. But not only was this discontent of a drawing-room character, the regime question of what was desirable was generally not asked
It is a very interesting question, and my view of it may be mistaken since I do not know the full facts For very obvious reasons it is simply impossible to know them. They will become known only with the publication of the postwar archives of the KGB. I do not intend to suggest that there were no individuals, or even small groups, who had defimte and positive ideologies. However, there prevailed at the time such extreme spiritual isolation, such a total absence of publicity and of the faintest hope for the possibility of change, that the chance of any positive ideology is developing was virtually destroyed at the start.
It can be said that over the course of the last fifteen years at least three ideological viewpoints on which opposition is founded have begun to crystallize. They are "genuine Marxism-Leninism," "Christian ideology," and "liberal ideology."
"Genuine Marxism-Leninism" contends that the regime, having perverted Marxist-Leninist ideology for its own purposes, does not practice real Marxism-Leninism, and that in order to cure the ills of our society it is essential I to return to the true principles of that doctrine.
Supporters of "Christian ideology" maintain that the life of society must return to Christian moral principles,1 which are interpreted in a somewhat Slavophile spirit, with a claim for a special role for Russia..
Finally, believers in "liberal ideology" ultimately envisage a transition to a Western kind of democratic society, which would, however, retain the principle of public or governmental ownership of the means of production. '
Representatives of "Marxist-Leninist ideology" include Alexei Kosterin, who died in 1968, Peter Grigorenko, and Ivan Yakhimovich. "Christian ideology" was the inspiration behind the All-Russian Social Christian Union, whose most notable figure was I. Ogurtsov. Finally, Pavel Litinov and, with some reservations, Academician Andrei Sakharov, can be considered representatives of "liberal ideology." It is an interesting fact that all these ideologies have, in modified form, also penetrated circles close to the regime.
These ideologies are, however, largely amorphous. No one has yet defined them with sufficient completeness and persuasiveness. Very often they are merely taken for granted by their adherents. The followers of each doctrine assume that they all believe in something held in common, but what that is exactly no one knows. Moreover, these doctrines have no clear limits and often overlap each other. And even in their amorphous forms, they are believed in by only a small group of people. Yet there are many signs that among the broad masses, especially among the working class, the need is felt for an ideology that can serve as a base for a negative attitude toward the regime and its official doctrine.
The Democratic Movement, so far as I am aware, includes representatives of all three of the ideologies that I have described. Its own ideology, therefore, may either be an eclectic fusion of "genuine Marxism-Leninism," Russian Christianity and liberalism, or it may base itself on the common elements in these ideologies (as they are interpreted in the U.S.S.R. today). Evidently the latter is what is happening. Although the Democratic Movement is in its formative period and has no clearly defined program, all its supporters assume at least one common aim I the rule of law, founded on respect for the basic rights of man.
THE NUMBER OF supporters of the movement is almost as indeterminable as its aim. They amount to several dozen active participants and several hundred who sympathize with the movement and give it their support. It would be impossible to give an exact number, not only because it is unknown but also because it is constantly, . . changing. Now, when the regime is "escalating repression," the movement will probably go into decline some| of its members will go to prison and others will sever their connections with it. However, as soon as the pressure subsides, the number of members will probably rise rapidly.
More interesting, perhaps, than the number of its supporters is the social composition of the movement. The following analysis is based on a representative sample: those who protested against the trial of Galanskov and Ginzburg.
In essence, the trial served as an occasion for public opinion to voice demands that the regime pay greater respect to the rule of law and to human rights. The majority of those who signed protests against the trial did not even know Galanskov or Ginzburg personally. Thus the vigorous and extensive public protests against the violations of legality at this trial can probably be considered the beginning of the movement.
It can be said therefore to have begun in 1968. But even earlier, at least from 1965, there had been attempts at mass action on behalf of legality. Such were the demonstration of December 5, 1965, in Pushkin Square in Moscow. which demanded a public trial for Siniavsky and Daniel (about one hundred persons participated, no arrests were made, but a group of students was expelled from Moscow University); collective letters to various government agencies in 1966 seeking clemency for Siniavsky and Daniel; a collective letter against efforts to rehabilitate Stalin and one protesting the new articles of the Criminal Code (190/1 and 190/3), both of which were signed by prominent representatives of the intelligentsia (their prominence was evidently what forestalled any significant repressive action against the signers); a demonstration on January 22, 1967, in Pushkin Square to demand the liberation of Yuri Galanskov, Alexei Dobrovolsky, Vera Lashkova and Peter Radzievsky, who had been arrested several days earlier (about thirty persons participated, five were arrested and four sentenced to terms of one to three years' imprisonment under the newly Approved Article 190/3 of the Criminal Code).
All told, 78 people signed their names to the various collective or individual letters of protest against the Ginzburg-Galanskov trial. . . .
If we accept this social composition of the signers of letters of test as typical, it is clear that the basic support of the movement comes from academic circles. Yet, because of the nature of their work, their position in our society and their way of thinking, scholars seem to me to be those least capable of purposeful action. They are very willing to "reflect" but extremely reluctant to act. It appears to me that scholarly work requires, in general, special exertion and total concentration. The privileged position of scholars in society militates against their taking risks, and the kind of thinking acquired through scholarly work has a more speculative than pragmatic character. Although at present workers represent a more conservative and passive group than scholars, I can easily imagine, some years from now, large-scale strikes in factories, but I cannot visualize a strike in any scientific research institute.
Further, it is clear that in broader terms the basic support for the movement comes from the intelligentsia. But since this word is too vague, defining not so much the position in society of a person, or a given social group, as the ability of members of this group to perform intellectual work, it would be better if I used the term middle class.
Actually, we know that in all countries persons of higher-than-average income who practice professions that call for considerable preparation require a certain measure of pragmatic and intellectual freedom for their activities. Furthermore, like any property-owning class, they can only function under the rule of law. They are, consequently, the basic stratum of any society on which a democratic regime bases itself. I believe that the gradual formation of such a class is taking place in our country. It can also be described as the "class of specialists."
In order to exist and carry out its activities, the regime was obliged throughout the postwar period to encourage the country's economy and scientific resources. Since the new scientific and technical personnel are taking on more and more of a mass character in contemporary society, it is they who have bred this sizable class.
Its members have gained for themselves and their families a standard of living that is relatively high by Soviet standards -- regular good food, attractive clothes, a nicely furnished cooperative apartment, sometimes even a car -- and, of course, available entertainment. They pursue professions that assure them a position of respect in society. They achieve a certain level of culture, for instance, opportunities to listen to serious music, to become interested in art or to go regularly to the theater. They possess the ability to assess more or less accurately their own position and the position of society as a whole.
This group includes people in liberal professions, such as writers or actors, those occupied in academic or academic-administrative work, the managerial group in the economic field and so on. They are, as I have said, a "class of specialists." Obviously, this class is beginning to become conscious of its unity and to make its presence felt.
This, too, becomes apparent from an analysis of the authors and signers of the various protests and petitions agamst the trial of Galanskov and Ginzurg. I do not suggest, of course, that the entire "middle class" rose to the defense of the two "renegades" but that some representatives of that class have already come to realize clearly the need for the rule of law and have begun, at personal risk, to demand it from the regime.
Thus there exists an influential class, or stratum of society, on which the Democratic Movement could seemingly base itself. But there are at least three interrelated factors that militate strongly against such a development.
Two of these factors spring to mind immediately. First, the planned elimination from society of the most independent-minded and active of its members, which has been going on for decades, has left an imprint of grayness and mediocrity on all strata of society and this could not fail to be reflected in the "middle class" which is once again taking shape. This elimination, whether through emigration or exile from the country or through imprisonment or physical annihilation, affected all strata of our people.
Second, that section of the "middle class" which most clearly recognizes the need for democratic reform is alos the section that is most imbued with the defensive thought,| "Well, there's nothing I can do anyway" or "You can't break down the wall by beating your head against it." In reaction to the power of the regime, it practices a cult of its own impotence.
The third factor, although less obvious, is most interesting. As is well known, in any country the stratum of society least inclined toward change or any sort of independent action is that composed of state employees. This is natural, because every government worker considers himself too insignificant in comparison with the power apparatus of which he is only a small cog to demand of that apparatus any kind of change. At the same time, he has been relieved of all social responsibility, since his job is simply to carry out orders. Thus he always has the feeling of having performed his duty even though he has done things that he would not have done had he been given a choice.
(On the other hand, the person who issues the orders is equally freed from a sense of responsibility inasmuch as the officials on the level beneath him regard his orders as "good" because they come from above. This creates the illusion among the authorities that everything they do is good.),
For the government worker, the notion of work is narrowed to the notion of a "job." He is an automaton at his post and passive when he leaves it. The government worker's psychology is therefore the one that is most convenient both for the government and for himself.
In our country, since all of us work for the state, we all have the psychology of government workers. Writers who are members of the Union of Writers, scholars employed in government institutions, common laborers or collective farmers are creatures of this psychology just as much as are officials of the KGB or the Interior Ministry.
Therefore, much of the overt and covert protest in the Soviet Union has the character of the dissatisfaction of a junior clerk with the attitude of his superior. This can be seen clearly in the attitude of a number of writers whose names are used in the West as yardsticks of "Soviet liberalism." They are inclined to regard their rights and duties not so much as the rights and duties of a writer as those of an "official in the literary department," to use the expression of a character in Dostoevsky. '
For example, after Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote his famous letter about the situation of the Soviet writer, the Moscow correspondent of the Daily Telegraph of London, John Miller, asked a well-known Soviet poet in a private conversation whether he intended to join in Solzhenitsyn's protest. The poet said no. "You must understand," he said, "that this is our internal affair, a question of our relations with the state."
ln other words, he regarded the matter not as a question of the writer's conscience and his moral right and duty to write what he thinks, but as a question of internal relations within the Soviet "literary department." He may also protest, but in the manner of a petty clerk, not against the "department" as such but against his rather low salary or against his rude boss. Naturally, this is an "internal matter" and should be of no interest to those who do not belong to the "department."
This curious conversation took place in one of the shops in Moscow where those privileged to have foreign currency are allowed to buy goods not available on the Soviet market.
It goes without saying that the "middle class" is no exception in adopting this government-employee attitude; indeed, this psychology is particularly typical of it by virtue of its position in the middle of the social scale. Many members of this class are simply functionaries of the Communist Party or governmental apparatus. They regard the regime as a lesser evil than the painful process of changing it.
Consequently we are faced with an interesting phenomenon. Although there exists in our country a social class capable of comprehending the principles of personal freedom, rule of law and democratic government, a class that needs those principles and provides the emerging Democratic Movement with its basic contingent of supporters, the vast majority of this class is so mediocre, its ways of thinking are so much those of the government employee, and its intellectually most independent members are so passive that the success of a Democratic Movement based on it seems to me to be gravely in doubt.
IT MUST BE SAID however, that this paradox of the middle class" is connected in a curious way with a "paradox of the regime." We are aware that the regime underwent very dynamic internal changes in the five years before the war However, the subsequent regeneration of the bureaucratic elite was carried out by the retention of those who were most obedient and unquestioning. This bureaucratic method of "unnatural selection" of the most obedient members of the old bureaucracy, together with the elimination from the ruling caste of the boldest and most independent-minded, created over the years an increasingly weaker and more indecisive generation of elite. Accustomed to obey unconditionally and without thought in order to attain power, bureaucrats, once they have attained that power, are very good at holding onto it but have no idea how to use it. Not only are they incapable of conceiving new ideas; they regard any novel thought as an assault on their own prerogatives.
Evidently we have reached the sad point where the idea of power is no longer connected with either a doctrine, the personality of a leader or a tradition, but only with power itself. Every governmental institution and position is sustained by no other force than the realization that it is an essential part of the existing system.
Naturallv, self-preservation is bound to be the only aim of such a regime, at least in its domestic policy. This has come to mean the self-preservation of the bureaucratic elite. In order to remain in power, the regime must change and evolve, but in order to preserve itself, everything must remain unchanged. The contradiction can be noted particularly in the case of the "economic reform," which is being carried out so slowly and yet is so vital to the regime.
Self-preservation is clearly the dominant drive. The regime wants neither to "restore Stalinism" nor to "persecute the intelligentsia" nor to "render fraternal assistance" to those who have not asked for it, like Czechoslovakia. The only thing it wants is for everything to go on as before: authorities to be recognized, the intelligentsia to keep quiet, no rocking of the system by dangerous and unfamiliar reforms.
The regime is not on the attack but on the defense. Its motto is: "Don't touch us and we won't touch you." Its aim: Let everything be as it was. This is probably the most humane objective the regime has set for itself in the last half-century, but it is also the least appealing.
Thus we have a passive bureaucratic elite opposed to a passive "middle class." Moreover, however passive the elite is, it really does not need to make any changes, and in theory it could remain in power for a very long time, getting away with only the slightest concessions and minor measures of repression.
It is clear that a regime in such a quasi-stable condition requires a definite legal framework, based either on a tacit understanding by all members of society of what is required of them or on written law. In the days of Stalin and even of Khrushchev, there was a sense of direction emanating from above and felt by all, which guided every official unerringly to an awareness of what was currently required of him (reinforced, however, by special instructions) and enabled everyone else to sense what was expected of him At the same time there existed a "decor" of laws from which the authorities chose whatever they needed at any given moment. But gradually, both "from above" and "from below," a desire became noticeable for more stable "written" norms rather than this "tacit understanding." This desire created a rather uncertain situation.
The necessity of a modicum of the rule of law had made itself felt "at the top" earlier, during the period when the role of the state security organs was being curbed and mass rehabilitations were taking place. In the decade beginning in 1954, gradual, though very slow, progress was achieved in the fields both of formal legislation and of the practical implementation of the laws. This took the form of the signing of a number of international conventions and of an attempt to bring Soviet law into some kind of harmony with international legal norms. Furthermore, personnel changes were carried out among investigative and judicial authorities.
This very slow movement toward the rule of law was further retarded by the following factors: First, the authorities, for various reasons of current policy, issued decrees and regulations which directly contradicted the international conventions they had just signed as well as the approved principles of Soviet law. For example, the decree ordering five years of exile and forced labor for persons with no fixed employment, which was approved in 1961, was not made part of the Criminal Code. Then there was the decree which increased the penalty for illegal currency dealing to include death and which was given de facto retroactive force.
Second, the personnel changes were carried out on a very limited scale and with little consistency. They were hampered by a shortage of administrative officials who understood the concept of the rule of law.
Third, the professional egotism of the administrative officials led them to oppose anything that might lessen their influence or abolish their privileged position in society.
Fourth, the very idea of the rule of law had virtually no roots in Soviet society and was in blatant conflict with the officially proclaimed doctrines about the "class" approach.
While the movement toward the rule of law, which had begun "from the top," thus gradually bogged down in a bureaucratic swamp, suddenly voices demanding the observance of the law were heard "from below." And, indeed, the "middle class"--the only class in Soviet society to understand and to feel the need for the rule of law--had begun, albeit very timidly, to demand that it be treated not in accordance with the current requirements of the regime but on a "legal basis."
It now became evident that in Soviet law there exists, if I may use the term, a broad "gray belt" of activities that the law does not formally forbid but which are, in fact, forbidden in practice, for instance, contacts between Soviet citizens and foreigners; a concern over non-Marxist philosophies or art inconsistent with the notions of socia1ist realism; attempts to put out typewritten literary collections; spoken or written criticism not of the system as a whole, which is forbidden under Articles 70 and 190/l of the Criminal Code, but of particular institutions within the system.
Thus two trends are evident today: the efforts of the regime to "blacken" the gray belt by means of amendments to the Criminal Code, trials designed to serve as examples to others, and instructions to administrative officials on how to enforce existing regulations and an effort by the "middle class" to "whiten" the belt, simply by doing things that had earlier been considered impossible and constantly referring to their lawfulness.
All this places the regime in a rather awkward situation, particularly if one bears in mind that the idea of the rule of law will begin to take hold in other strata of society
On the one hand the regime, in the interests of stability, is constantly forced to observe its own laws, while on the other it is constantly forced to violate them so as to counteract the tendency toward democratization.
This has given rise to two interesting phenomena: mass persecution outside the judicial system and selective judicial persecution. Nonjudicial persecution is exemplified primarily by dismissals from work and expulsions from the party. In the course of one month, for instance, over 15 percent of all those who had signed petitions demanding observance of the law in connection with the trial of Galanskov and Ginzburg were dismissed from their jobs, and almost all those who were party members were expelled from the party.
Selective judicial persecution has the aim of frightening those who might be liable for trial on the same charges . Thus it may happen that persons who have committed a more serious crime from the regime's point of view may be allowed to go free, while persons who have committed a lesser infraction may be thrown into prison if this requires less expenditure of bureaucratic effort or the circumstances of the moment make it more desirable.
A typical example was the trial of the Moscow engineer, Irina Belgorodskaia, in January, 1969. She was accused of "attempting to circulate" what the court held to be an "anti-Soviet" appeal in defense of the political prisoner Anatoly Marchenko and was sentenced to one year's imprisonment. At the same time, the authors of the appeal, who publicly acknowledged that they had written and circulated it, were not even called as witnesses. Another contemptible repressive measure is becoming increasingly widespread--forcible commitment to psychiatric hospitals. This is done in the case both of persons who are completely sane and of those with slight mental disorders who do not need hospitalization or compulsory treatment.
As we can now see, the existence of a "Stalinism without violence," while calming the fears of the people which date from the previous era of violence, inevitably produces a new kind of violence: first, "selective persecution" of malcontents, then "lenient" mass persecution. And what next?
Still, looking back over the last fifteen years, we observe that the process of regularizing the legal system has advanced, slowly but rather steadily, and has gone so far that it will be difficult to reverse it by the customary bureaucratic methods. It is a moot point whether this process |represents part of the liberalization of the regime which is or at least was until recently supposed to be taking place in our country. After all, it is well known that the evolution of our state and society has gone forward not only in the field of law but also in the economy, in culture, in other areas.
In fact, not only does every Soviet citizen feel that he is living in greater security and enjoying more personal freedom than he did fifteen years ago, but the director of an industrial enterprise now has the right to decide for himself matters that previously were not his to decide, while the writer or theater director works within much wider limits than he did before. The same can be said about almost every area of life in our country. This has given rise to yet another ideology in our society, possibly the most widespread one; it can be called the "ideology of reformism."
It is based on the view that a certain "humanization of socialism" will take place and that the inert and oppressive system will be replaced by a dynamic and liberal one. This will be achieved through gradual changes and piecemeal reforms, as well as by replacing the old bureaucratic elite with a more intelligent and more reasonable group. In other words, this theory is based on the belief that "Reason will prevail" and that "Everything will be all right."
This is why it is so popular in academic circles and, in general, among those who are not badly off even now and who therefore hope that others will also come to accept the view that it is better to be well fed and free than to be hungry and enslaved. I think that all the American hopes about the Soviet Union are derived from this naive point of view. We know, however, that history, and Russian history in particular, has by no means been a continuous victory for reason and that the whole history of mankind has not followed an unbroken line of progress.
I would like to illustrate this with a small but typical, incident involving my friend Anatole Shub, the former Moscow correspondent of the Washington Post. At the end of March, 1969, he told me that in his opinion the situation of the regime was so complicated and difficult that in all likelihood there would be a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in April. At this meeting, even if no decisive changes were made in the party leadership, at least a new, more moderate and more reasonable policy course would be adopted.
Therefore, he intended to behave with maximum caution, before the meeting, so as to avoid being the last American correspondent to be expelled from Moscow before the liberal changes occurred. However, no changes were made in April if the changes in the leadership in Czechoslovakia are excluded and Anatole Shub was expelled from Moscow in May.
Of course, Anatole Shub is one of the Americans who best understand Soviet reality, and he may possibly have had some reason for believing that there would be a plenum| in April. However, he, too, held the exaggerated American belief in "reasonable changes," which are obviously possible only where life is based fundamentally, even if only partially, on reasonable foundations.
In addition to this faith in reason, Americans apparently also believe that the gradual improvement in the standard of living, as well as the spread of Western culture and ways of life, will gradually transform Soviet society that foreign tourists, jazz records and miniskirts will help to create a "humane socialism." It is possible that we will indeed have a "socialism" with bare knees someday, but not likely one with a human face.
In my view, the growth of material conveniences of everyday life and economic well-being does not in itself prevent or eliminate oppression. As an example, one may cite such a developed country as Nazi Germany. Oppression is always oppression, but in each country it has its own specific traits, and we can correctly understand the causes that brought it about and that can lead to its elimination| only in the historical context of that country.
In my opinion, the trouble lies not so much in the fact that the degree of freedom available to us is minimal as compared with that needed for a developed society, and that the process of liberalization, instead of being steadily accelerated, is at times palpably slowed down, perverted or turned back, as in the fact that the very nature of the process gives us grounds to doubt its ultimate success.
It would seem that liberalization presupposes some kind of purposeful plan, put into effect gradually "from above" through reforms and other measures, to adapt our system to contemporary conditions and lead it to a radical regeneration. As we know, there has been, and still is, no such plan, and no radical reforms have been, or are being carried out. There are only isolated and uncoordinated, attempts at emergency repairs by tinkering in various ways with the bureaucratic machine.
The so-called "economic reform," of which I have already spoken, is in essence a half-measure and is in practice being sabotaged by the party machine, because if such a reform were carried to its logical end, it would threaten the power of the machine.
Liberalization could, however, take a "spontaneous" form. It could come as the result of constant concessions on the part of the regime to the demands of a society that had its own plan for liberalization, and of constant efforts by the regime to adapt itself to the storm of changing conditions all over the world. In other words, the system would be self-regulating: difficulties in foreign and domestic policy, economic troubles, etc., would constantly forewarn the ruling elite of changing conditions.
We find, however, that even this is not the case. The regime considers itself the acme of perfection and therefore has no wish to change its ways either of its own free will, still less, by making concessions to anyone or anything.
The current process of "widening the area of freedom" could be more aptly described as the growing decrepitude of the regime. The regime is simply growing old and can no longer suppress everyone and everything with the same strength and vigor as before; the composition of the elite is changing, as we have mentioned; the contemporary world, in which the regime is already finding it very hard to keep its bearings, is becoming more complex; and the structure of society is changing.
We can visualize all this in the following allegory: A man is standing in a tense posture, his hands raised above his head. Another, in an equally strained pose, holds a Tommy gun to the first man's stomach. Naturally, they cannot stand like this for very long. The second man will get tired and loosen his grip on the gun, and the first will take advantage of this to lower his hands and relax a bit. In just this way, we are now witnessing a growing yearning for a quiet life and for comfort even a kind of "comfort cult" on all levels of our society, particularly at the top and in the middle.
If, however, one views the present "liberalization" as the growing decrepitude of the regime rather than its regeneration, then the logical result will be its death, which will be followed by anarchy.
IF, FURTHERMORE, one regards the evolution of the regime as analogous to the growth of entropy, then the Democratic Movement, which I analyzed at the beginning of this study, could be considered an antientropic phenomenon. One may, of course, hope and this will probably come true that the emerging movement will succeed, despite persecution, in becoming influential, will work out a sufficiently concrete program, will find the structure necessary to its goals and attract many followers. But at the same time, I think that its base in society the "middle class," or, more exactly, a part of the "middle class" is too weak and too beset by internal contradictions to allow the movement to engage in a real face-to-face struggle with the regime or, in the event of the regime's self-destruction or its collapse as a result of mass disorders, to become a force capable of reorganizing society in a new way. But will the Democratic Movement perhaps be able to find a broader base of support among the masses?
It is very hard to answer this question, if only because no one , not even the bureaucratic elite, knows exactly what attitudes prevail among the wider sections of the population. The KGB, of course, supplies the bureaucratic elite with information, gathered by its special methods, about popular feelings in the country. This information obviously differs from the picture drawn daily in the newspapers. However, one can only guess how true to reality the KGB's information is. It is, incidentally, paradoxical that the regime should devote enormous effort to keep everyone from talking and then waste further effort to learn what people are talking about and what they want.
As I see it, popular views can best be described by the words "passive discontent." The discontent is directed not against the regime as such -- the majority do not think about it, or they feel that there is no alternative -- but rather against particular aspects of the regime, aspects which are, nevertheless, essential to its existence.
The workers, for example, are bitter over having no rights vis-a-vis the factory management. The collective farmers are resentful about their total dependence on the kolkhoz chairman, who, in turn, depends entirely on the district administration. Everybody is angered by the great inequalities in wealth, the low wages, the austere housing conditions, the lack of essential consumer goods, compulsory registration at their places of residence and work and so forth.
This discontent is now becoming louder, and some people are beginning to wonder who is actually to blame. The gradual though slow improvement in the standard of living, due largely to intensive housing construction, does not diminish the anger though it does somewhat neutralize it. It is clear, however, that a sharp slowdown, a halt or even a reversal in the improvement of the standard of living would arouse such explosions of anger, mixed with violence, as were never before thought possible.°
Inasmuch as the regime, because of its ossification, will find it increasingly more difficult to raise industrial output, it is obvious that the standard of living in many sectors of our society may be threatened. What forms will the people's discontent take then? Legitimate democratic resistance or an extreme form of individual or mass acts of violence?
As I see it, no idea can ever be put into practice if it is not understood by a majority of the people. Whether because of its historical traditions or for some other reason, the idea of self-government, of equality before the law and of personal freedom and the responsibility that goes with it are almost completely incomprehensible to the Russian people. Even in the idea of pragmatic freedom, a Russian tends to see not so much the possibility ot securing a good life for himself as the danger that some clever fellow will make good at his expense.
To the majority of the people the very word "freedom" is synonymous with "disorder" or the opportunity to indulge with impunity in some kind of antisocial or danger ous activity. As for respecting the rights of an individual: as such, the idea simply arouses bewilderment. One can respect strength, authority, even intellect or education,-- but it is preposterous to the popular mind that the human personality should represent any kind of value.
As a people, we have not benefited from Europe's humanist tradition. In Russian history man has always been a means and never in any sense an end. It is paradoxical that the term "period of the cult of the personality" by which the Stalin era is euphemistically designated came to mean for us a period of such humiliation and repression of the human personality as even our people had never previously experienced.
Moreover, official propaganda constantly makes the utmost effort to set the notion of the "communal" against the notion of the "personal," clearly underlining the insignificance of the latter and the grandeur of the former. Hence, any interest in the "personal," an interest that is natural and inevitable, has come to be regarded as unnatural and egotistical.
Does this mean that the masses have no positive ideas whatever, except the idea of "strong government"--a government that is right because it is strong and that therefore must on no account weaken? The Russian people, as can be seen from both their past and present history, have at any rate one idea that appears positive: the idea of justice. The government that thinks and acts in everything for us must be not only strong but also just. All must live justly and act justly.
It is worth being burnt at the stake for that idea, but not for the right to "do as you wish." For despite the apparent attractiveness of the idea of justice, if one examines it closely, one realizes that it represents the most destructive aspect of Russian psychology. In practice, "justice" involves the desire that "nobody should live better than I do" (but not a desire for the much-vaunted notion of equalizing wages, since the fact that many people live worse is willingly accepted).
This idea of justice is motivated by hatred of everything |that is outstanding, which we make no effort to imitate but, on the contrary, try to bring down to our level, by hatred of any sense of initiative, of any higher or more dynamic way of life than the life we live ourselves. This psychology is, of course, typical of the peasantry and least typical of the "middle class." However, peasants and those of peasant origin constitute the overwhelming majority in our country.
As I have observed myself, many peasants find someone else's success
more painful than their own failure. In general, when the average Russian
sees that he is living less well than his neighbor, he will concentrate
not on trying to do better for himself but rather on trying to bring
his neighbor down to his own level. My reasoning may seem naive to some
people, but I have been able to observe scores of examples in both
village and town, and I see in this one of the typical traits of the Russian