The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
IN HIS book, "Civilization on Trial," Arnold Toynbee begins the chapter entitled "Russia's Byzantine Heritage" with the quotation from Horace: Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret. You may drive out Nature with a pitchfork, but she will always come back. For Professor Toynbee the saying exemplifies Russia's ineradicable Byzantine heritage. Indeed, in his still better known "Study of History," this distinguished British historian goes so far as to find in Europe two separate "civilizations"--the Western and the Russian Greek Orthodox--both of them descended from the Graeco-Roman but each an independent cultural unit, and presumably as distinct from one another as the Hindu, the Far Eastern, the Arabic or the Mayan civilizations are separate and distinct from them both.
One is tempted to believe that Professor Toynbee has drawn his classifications too neatly in this instance, as one is compelled to doubt the success of the present furious effort of the Soviet rulers to pull the Russian nation out of the European civilization of which it is so inextricably a part. What is a civilization? For Professor Toynbee it is "an intelligible field of study." He explains this definition by saying that the culture of a nation cannot be understood apart from the culture of the whole civilization to which the nation belongs. For him, in other words, a "civilization" is a self-sufficient cultural unit which can be understood by studying its own development (though Professor Toynbee would not exclude consideration of sporadic influences from other civilizations). By implication, therefore, a cultural entity may not be classified as a distinct civilization if one constantly has to refer to ideas from outside that field in order to understand it.
But which ideas belong within "an intelligible field of study?" Must the complex of all ideas of a given civilization be taken into consideration, or only some ideas? Professor Toynbee seems to give different answers to this question. In the study of all civilizations except the Western and the Russian Greek Orthodox he seems to consider that all the ideas of a civilization properly come within the field of study. But when he turns his attention to the relationship of the two European "civilizations," he deduces the existence of separate entities by applying political and religious criteria only. Moreover, religious ideas in this case mean not so much problems of dogma as, mainly, the relationship of the Church to the State. In short, for Professor Toynbee, "civilization" sometimes means the heritage of all ideas in all fields of human activity, while at other times it means the heritage of certain ideas.
Both civilizations -- the Byzantine (inherited by Russia almost at the beginning of her history) and the Western -- originated in the Graeco-Roman. Thus both are intelligible only by reference to the same source. No other civilization has a common denominator with the Western. This point is not overlooked by Professor Toynbee. Moreover, when Western Europe was beginning to emerge from the Dark Ages, it renewed its contact with the Graeco-Roman tradition (unadulterated by the barbarians) thanks to the cultural influence which Byzantium exercised at the time of the Crusades. Even when Western civilization had been fully developed, its Renaissance movement was stimulated by the Byzantine scholars and artists who had fled to the West after the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks. In short, though one may understand the Western civilization without references to the Hindu, Far Eastern or Mayan civilizations, one cannot comprehend it without frequent reference to the Byzantine, which shared the rich legacy of the Graeco-Roman world with the West.
Professor Toynbee says that the Russian conversion in 989 was the result of a deliberate choice, but if this means a choice between two civilizations, it seems to attribute to heathen Russian rulers a capacity of judgment concerning cultural values which was probably beyond their reach. When one examines the conversions of all the Slavonic nations, almost all of which occurred in the same century, one perceives that their choice was dictated by the geographical location of each nation and by opportunistic political reasons. The Slavs who were neighbors of nations belonging to the Western Church chose the latter in order to enter the western community on a footing of equality. The Poles, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Croats and the Slovenes accepted the western creed because their neighbors were Germans or Italians. Probably, at that time, they were not much interested either in the particular dogmas of the Western Church or its political tradition. The neighbors of Byzantium -- the Russians, the Serbs and the Bulgarians -- chose the Greek Orthodox Church for the same reason. Only after conversion were they able to understand all the implications of their decision.
Russia, located along the waterways leading from the Baltic to the Black Sea and constituting the natural highway for trade between Northern Europe and Byzantium, did not care very much about the West, but was vitally interested in her relations with the Eastern Empire. At the time of the Russian conversion, Byzantium was a great and brilliant center of civilization and the focus of a lively trade, while the West was hardly emerging from its Dark Ages. Russia had lived exclusively in the shadow of the Byzantine civilization until 1240, when Kiev was conquered by the Tartars. This was the time when the West itself was borrowing from Byzantium. Perhaps the Soviet scholars do not exaggerate too much when they claim that the culture of Russian cities of that time was not inferior to that of the western cities.
Then, in the middle of the thirteenth century -- the century which marked the brilliant developments of the West--Russia was conquered by barbarian Tartars who practically obliterated her civilization and shut her off from the outer world for more than two centuries. The Tartar conquest had far-reaching results. The Russians felt that they had contained the Tartar deluge and thus saved the West, and were resentful that the West not only did not attempt to rescue them, but that the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the eastern outpost of the western civilization, detached large territories from what had been Russia before the Tartar invasion. From the Polish point of view this was a missionary act to expand the frontiers of western civilization. To the Russians it was a piece of western perfidy, accomplished at a time when they were helpless.
The difference of religions has exacerbated this Russian distrust and hostility toward the West. The Russians inherited from Byzantium the conviction that only the Greek Orthodox version of Christianity is true, and that Catholics and Protestants are heretics. Moreover, because the West had developed a brilliant civilization when Russia was devastated, Russia emerged from the period of her servitude with a feeling of inferiority. Then in her foreign relations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries she was involved in conflicts with Poland and other states representing in her eyes the western civilization. The result of all these factors was a deep distrust of the West and a cultural isolation of Russia which was prolonged in many respects until the eighteenth century. This meant cultural stagnation for her, since Constantinople was in the hands of the infidels and she could reconstruct her own culture only through western contacts.
For the West, Russia was a half-barbarian nation. Toynbee says: "Down to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, this Russian 'mark of the beast' was the Byzantine civilization of Eastern Orthodox Christendom." Whether the "mark of the beast" was really religious in character may be doubted, especially after the Reformation, since Protestants usually consider themselves nearer to members of the Greek Orthodox Church than to Catholics, because of Greek Orthodox refusal to recognize the authority of the Pope; and Catholics consider communicants of the Greek Orthodox Church nearer to them in dogma than are any Protestants--schismatics in contradistinction to heretics. But the cultural levels of Western Europe and Russia were so unequal even at the close of Peter the Great's reign that the great Russian historian, V. O. Klyuchevsky, did not hesitate to refer to the former as "advanced" and the latter as "backward."
Yet one should remember that modern Russian culture was built and developed in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries through contacts which had been established with Europe. In these three centuries Russia is not an intelligible field of study unless constant references are made to western ideas. Peter the Great had had in mind the same objective as the Japanese leaders of the Meiji period -- to snatch from the West its technology (including the art of administering a state) without bothering very much about other western ideas. After all, in England he studied the art of shipbuilding, but not the Bill of Rights. Yet technological contacts with the West necessarily led to others. Russia was not in the position of Japan, which could oppose to western civilization a fully developed civilization of her own. Modern Russia borrowed heavily from the West in science, economy, technology, philosophy, literature, the arts and various other fields. If the term "civilization" implies the complex of all ideas, then it seems hard to deny the western nature of modern Russian culture. Of course, the Russian branch of western civilization has its own national peculiarities. But so has the British, the German, the Italian and all others; they are so many variations on the same main theme.
One cannot understand a Russian philosophical, social, political, juristic or scientific book printed in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries if one does not know books in the same field published in the West. Even Marxism, the official doctrine of the Soviet Union, is a western theory, though deformed by Soviet practice. And at the same time, Russian contributions to western civilization are manifold in the modern era. An educated westerner needs no special training to understand a Russian philosophical book; but he would need special preparation to understand a work of Hindu or Chinese philosophy. When a westerner looks at a Chinese painting or listens to Hindu music he usually feels in contact with something foreign. This sense of something alien is not present when one looks at the paintings of Repin or Ayvazovski, or listens to compositions of Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov. There is nothing "Byzantine" about Russian music, which westerners include in the programs of their concerts as matter-of-factly as they include the works of German or French composers. A Russian would be as surprised as any westerner if he were transported back in time and could hear Byzantine music. Could one deny the influence of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven on the great nineteenth century Russian composers? Can one say that the contributions of Mendeleyev and Lobachevski in the field of science and mathematics are alien to European civilization? Russian national culture and the culture of the West are so intertwined that to label them "two civilizations" is to fit fact to philosophical convenience.
If the chosen criteria of civilization are mainly political, however, the conclusion is, of course, different. Western and Byzantine ideas of the relationship of the individual and the state are in sharp contrast, and the Byzantine tradition has always eventually triumphed in a contest between the two in Russia. The new concept of the power of the state, which developed in the West in the Middle Ages, was a product of the assertion of independence of the Western Church. The Church claimed autonomy in spiritual matters, and succeeded in making good its claims because of the decentralization of the secular power under the feudal system. Thus developed the distinctive western idea that state power has inherent limitations, an idea that was constantly reaffirmed and extended in the modern age for the benefit of the individual.
The Byzantine tradition is marked by the complete absorption of the individual by the community. Byzantium inherited the institutions of the Roman Empire, whose legacy of despotism was rendered still more powerful by Byzantine contacts with Asiatic absolutism. The Byzantine Emperor was an unlimited autocrat, whose power extended to spiritual as well as mundane affairs. As Professor Toynbee says, the Greek Orthodox Church was a department of the state. So it was in Russia, especially after Peter the Great, and so it is today. The affairs of the Russian Greek Orthodox Church are controlled by a special committee of the Council of Soviet Ministers, composed of bishops and of lay officials of the Soviet state. It is paradoxical indeed that the affairs of a church should be managed by a committee partly composed of atheists; but, true to its Byzantine tradition, the Russian Church accepts that situation.
The collectivist traditions of the Russians were in harmony with this heritage of Byzantine political absolutism. That an individual may assert himself in opposition to his social environment seems strange to a Russian. Russian peasants were for centuries accustomed to practise collective husbandry under the direction of the mir -- the village community. An individual who opposed the community was rebuked and brought to submission by the power of public opinion no less than by the arm of the government. Confessions of political sin are not a Bolshevik invention; in Imperial Russia great Russian intellectuals often humbly confessed their offenses against orthodoxy.
In the nineteenth century the battle between "Westerners" and "Slavophils" was joined in Russia, and Russian intellectuals were split in two factions. The westernizers wanted Russia integrated fully in western civilization, politically as in other ways; and in the second half of the century many political ideas were in fact borrowed from the West. The Slavophils opposed this fiercely. The Slavs in general, and the Russians in particular, they insisted, had a universal mission -- to bring to completion the last, full stage of the development of the human mind, in short, to replace western individualism and rationalism with Russian collectivist spirit and sensibility. Russian feelings of inferiority, the sense of old grievances, the often patronizing attitude of the West -- all these combined with the sense of possession of the one true faith to create a missionary zeal in many Russian hearts. At the beginning of the sixteenth century the Russian monk Theophilus of Pskov addressed the following words to Tsar Basil III: "The Church of Old Rome fell because of its heresy; the gates of the Second Rome, Constantinople, have been hewn down by the axes of the infidel Turks; but the Church of Moscow, the Church of the New Rome, shines brighter than the Sun in the whole universe . . . Two Romes have fallen, but the Third stands fast; a fourth there cannot be." It was Russia's historic mission to convert the West.
The spirit of the Slavophils was anti-individualist and passionately collectivist. Peter Kireyevsky wrote: "The truth cannot be found by anyone individually; it is the product of the collective life of a people in its entirety in space and time. In other words, it belongs essentially to the tradition of the whole people and does not exist otherwise . . ."[i] Another Slavophil, Yury Samarine, wrote: "The spirit of God resides continuously in the Church, i.e. in the entire body of its members but not in any of them in particular."[ii]
Politically, the Slavophils believed in the autocracy of the Tsars; this reflected the total lack of confidence of most Russian leaders in the judgment of their followers. The famous rulers of Russia -- Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great -- were sincere when they thought that they were striving for the welfare of the Russian nation, but the men and women who composed the nation were not supposed to express their preferences. "All for the people, but nothing by the people." When the Decembrists were planning a revolution in the last years of the reign of Alexander I, one of the most intelligent and active among them, Colonel Paul Pestel, advanced a program which included the destruction of the Imperial family, the proclamation of a republic, the replacement of all high officials, the suppression of class privileges, the emancipation of the serfs and the distribution of land among the peasants; but the program also advocated the establishment of a secret police and a preventive censorship. Colonel Pestel, who was hanged by Nicholas I, had no more confidence in the people of Russia than did the autocratic Tsar. If he had been born a hundred years later, he would have felt at ease in the Bolshevik Party.
This autocratic tradition is the aspect of Russia's civilization that has resisted integration in western civilization; and it is precisely this Byzantine heritage that quite naturally forms her distinctive article of export in her present missionary mood. "All the peoples of the Soviet Union recognize and appreciate the tremendous historical mission which the great Russian people is performing . . . . The Russian workers' movement has given the world Leninism, the Marxism of the epoch of imperialism and of proletarian revolutions; and the Bolshevik Party, a party of a new kind, the revolutionary party of the proletariat."[iii]
A modern Soviet Theophilus sums it up: "The capitalist West, its era over, is enveloped in the darkness of doom. But for the laboring people of all countries the dawn of liberty and happiness, filling the East, blazes with the bright light of hope. The light will triumph over darkness."[iv]
What is new in the postwar years is the effort of the leaders of the Soviet Union to extend this withdrawal from the West to every branch of culture -- as if, having read Professor Toynbee, they were determined with true Communist respect for theory to make nature follow art and to produce the separate civilization which he postulated. Russian rulers have always attempted to prevent the infiltration of outside political ideas, and after the Revolution the censorship was intensified to save the Soviet population from pollution by un-Marxist ideas which might weaken their faith. Yet though a Russian was bound, hand and foot, by the instructions of the Central Committee in all social matters, he was left some freedom of thought in other fields. Western science, art and music were not considered irremediably stained by western corruption. Now all cultural contacts with the western world are taboo.
The new policy was ushered in by a retrospective interpretation of wartime relations between Russia and the West which stressed the perfidy of Britain and the United States. Even while the fighting was on, the Soviet Government had observed an attitude at best of cool correctness toward the United States and Great Britain in its home propaganda. Today the wartime collaboration is treated with complete contempt. An article published in Pravda on May 9, 1949, by so distinguished a military expert as Marshal Sokolovsky provides a sample: "The second front was opened only when it had become evident that the Soviet Union was capable alone, without the help of the Allies, of defeating Fascist Germany and liberating the peoples of Europe from the Fascist-German aggressors. The Anglo-American troops landing on the European continent encountered trifling resistance from the Hitlerite army, since the chief German forces were concentrated on the Soviet-German front." And direct American aid to Russia is reinterpreted by the Soviet writer, Gennady Fish, in his book, "Soviet Fact and American Fiction," in these terms:
In vain do American Senators plume themselves on their Lend-Lease. When our people defended the whole world with their priceless blood, when they defended the world from the brown plague that threatened to overrun it, they, the Americans, likewise defended by the Red Army, sent us a bit of their harvest. Did their harvest not come from seeds carried from Russia? So they did not give us a loan; it would be more exact to say they paid their old, old debt, concerning which we in our modesty said nothing, and of which we did not remind them.
The new evil which must be expelled from the Russian soul is "cosmopolitanism." The leading philosophical review, Voprosy Filosofii (No. 2, 1948), defines it thus: "Cosmopolitanism is a reactionary ideology preaching renunciation of national traditions, disdain for the distinguishing features in the national development of each people, and renunciation of the feelings of national dignity and national pride. Cosmopolitanism preaches a nihilistic attitude of the individual toward his nationality -- toward its past, present and future. With lofty phrases about the community of interests of all mankind, about 'world culture' and the reciprocal influence and interpenetration of cultures, cosmopolitanism conceals either an imperialistic, Great-Power chauvinism toward other nations or a nihilistic attitude toward one's own nation, a betrayal of its national interests. The ideology of cosmopolitanism is hostile to, and radically contradicts, Soviet patriotism -- the basic feature which characterizes the world outlook of Soviet man."
The "new Soviet man," in other words, is twice blessed. He is the heir to the first true Socialist culture, and the heir also of the cultural achievements of the Russian nation during the centuries which preceded the Bolshevik Revolution. For Communism has now made them one -- and they have culminated in the Secretary-General of the Soviet Communist Party:
The Bolshevist Party has always fought national nihilism, it has always taught love for one's people, knowledge and respect for its traditions, its culture, its language; it teaches the Soviet people to be proud of their nationality. . . . All the peoples of the Soviet Union recognize and appreciate the tremendous historical mission which the great Russian people is performing, as the outstanding people of the Soviet fraternity of nations. The Russian people are the most numerous in the Soviet Union. But this is not the core of the matter by far, although this circumstance itself has significance. The Russian people has the richest history. In the course of this history it has created the richest culture, and all the other countries of the world have drawn upon it and continue to draw upon it to this day. . . .
The great and lasting treasures of Russian culture provided great material for the growth and formation of the greatest man of our time, Stalin.[v]
The battle against "cosmopolitanism" is necessary for two reasons. The first is that "reactionary American imperialism has made cosmopolitanism its ideological banner . . . . international reaction is trying with might and main to besmirch the historical past of the Russian people. It strives to disparage the magnificence of the culture created by the Russian people in the course of centuries of their history."[vi]
The second reason is that there seem to be an alarming number of "cosmopolitans" within Russia.[vii] "The necessity for active struggle against the ideology of cosmopolitanism and national nihilism," continues Voprosy Filosofii, "also stems from the fact that in the course of a number of years there have been errors in our press, along the line of understating the dignity and glory of Russian culture as well as of the cultures of other peoples of the Soviet Union. These errors occurred in historical literature, in the history of philosophy and social thought, works on biology, literature and art, works on the history of science and technology, and works on political economy."
For instance, the authors of the second edition of the "History of the U.S.S.R.," published in 1947, had ventured to analyze the ideas of the Russian thinker Radishchev in the light of influences of Leibnitz, Helvetius, Rousseau, Mably and other western writers. Voprosy Filosofii finds this to be "national nihilism, liquidationism in regard to our great historical inheritance, an open form of shameless deference to the West." Moreover, the indictment continues: "Formalism in music, at one time quite widespread among us, is also nourished to a great extent by the survivals of national nihilism and worship of the foreign. The formalists cultivated a nihilistic attitude toward the great heritage of the Russian folk song. In fact they orientated themselves on the decadent, corrupt culture of the modern bourgeois West. For many years the followers of cosmopolitanism propagated their rotten conceptions both in literary science and in the history of literature."
One may wonder how Soviet intellectuals could have committed this sin of cosmopolitanism so flagrantly, since no article or book can be printed without governmental approval. All printing presses are state-owned, directly or indirectly (through the Party, the Trade Unions, the Communist Youth League, etc.), and all periodicals are state-controlled.[viii] The answer, of course, is that before the war cosmopolitan views had not yet been declared by the Central Executive Committee of the Party to be "cosmopolitan." Unfortunately for Soviet intellectuals, who as "counterrevolutionary propagandists" can be punished with confinement to labor camps for not less than 10 years and not more than 25, the Central Committee which claims the right to control and direct the whole life of the Russian people must claim infallibility. Since it cannot admit past mistakes when it changes its policy, it must insist that it has been misinterpreted and demand confessions of error.
Immediately after the Revolution, Soviet historians had subjected the culture of feudal and capitalist periods of Russian development to very unflattering treatment. Alas, it is now plain that these historians were guilty of belittling Russia's past. The new yardstick for measuring a Tsar or a Tsarist general is not his social policy, but the contribution he made to the might of the Russian state. A good example of the new outlook is the change in the attitude toward the works of the historian Pokrovsky, who was a personal friend of Lenin. As late as 1931 his "Brief History of Russia" carried on its first page the inscription: "To Comrade M. N. Pokrovsky, I congratulate you very heartily on your success. I like your new book, 'Brief History of Russia,' immensely. The construction and the narrative are original. It reads with tremendous interest. It should, in my opinion, be translated into European languages . . . With Communist greetings, Yours -- Lenin." But something went wrong, because the same historian is now considered to have been anti-Marxist. Voprosy Istorii said in December 1948: "The past decade is marked by intensified study of the science of history. The primary prerequisite for this was the defeat of the so-called Pokrovsky 'school.' It was not possible to make progress in historical research without first overcoming views which would have liquidated history as a science. The anti-Marxist essence of the historical concept of M. N. Pokrovsky and his 'school' was exposed in comments made by Stalin, Zhdanov and Kirov . . ."[ix]
The rehabilitation of Russian history begins with the culture of the ancient Russia of Kiev, as it existed before the Tartar conquest. In April 1949 the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. awarded Stalin prizes for outstanding scientific and artistic works of 1948. Among others, an historian, B. A. Rybakov, received the prize for his book, "The Handicraft of Ancient Russia." Pravda (April 11, 1949) took the occasion to point out that the Russian people long ago won priority in many branches of knowledge, that their literature long ago took first place in the world, and that nowadays Soviet science, literature and art firmly assert their priority.
Great figures of Tsarist Russia have been replaced on the altars: Alexander Nevsky, victor in the thirteenth century over the Teutonic Knights; Ivan the Terrible, the ruthless ruler who consolidated the power of the Moscow Tsars; Peter the Great, who made Russia a Great Power; and such famous generals as Suvorov and Kutuzov. Novels have been written, films produced, history revised in their praise. It does not matter that Alexander Nevsky was an autocratic feudal prince, that Ivan the Terrible applied the cruelest of methods against his political adversaries and that serfdom became an established institution during his reign, that by the era of Peter the Great a fugitive serf could be recovered by the landlord without any time limitation, that General Suvorov led the Tsarist Armies in Italy and other parts of Europe against the France of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. By the standards of the twenties in Russia such men were reactionaries; by the present standards they are heroes.
General Suvorov, for instance, who served under Catherine the Great and Paul I, was instrumental in Russian victories over Turkey and the suppression of Polish independence. Later he was dispatched to Western Europe with a Russian expeditionary corps to help the monarchical coalition in its wars against revolutionary France. The Leningrad Pushkin Academic Theater of Drama recently presented a play based on his life, on which a critic in Pravda reported with great enthusiasm that Suvorov appeared in the play as a fiery patriot whose whole life lay in ardent service to the Motherland and that his spirit lives in every Russian soldier.
The Soviet Union has been celebrating the 150th anniversary of Pushkin's birth. No one would deny that he was one of the greatest poets Europe ever produced, but the particular aspect of his work which is singled out for praise by the Soviet press casts light on the present state of mind of the Soviet leaders. For contemporary Russians, Pushkin is presented as the poet who challenged the West, who was a Russian nationalist, who wanted to impose Russian leadership on other Slavs, who defended Tsarist policy against western criticism:
Pushkin was a most outstanding spokesman for love of the Motherland, for a feeling of national pride in the heroic history of his great country. He was proud of the great rôle of the Russian people in the destiny of mankind. . . . With profound satisfaction he recorded that 'the Russian Slav tongue is indisputably superior to all European tongues.' . . . The poet was proud of . . . Russian military glory, of the names of Suvorov and Kutuzov. . . . He rose up passionately against the forced approximation of all things Russian to things European . . . . Pushkin . . . despised aristocratic cosmopolitanism and fought with the 'unclean spirit' 'of the empty, servile, blind imitation' of all things foreign by the aristocratic society. . . . At the beginning of the 1830's, Pushkin set himself as one of his tasks struggle 'against the slanderers of Russia.' He regarded it as a most important task of advanced Russian writer-patriots to repulse the shameless and ignorant attacks of foreign newspapers . . . . Even then the poet linked the decline of bourgeois western literature with the cynical, more and more mercantile customs of bourgeois democracy. . . .[x]
But it is when it gets into the realm of science that the Soviet effort to obliterate the influence of western civilization from the minds of educated Russians really hits its stride.
The current revision of the history of science starts in at the eighteenth century, when Lomonosov, it is claimed, discovered the law of the conservation of matter and other laws of physics. Lomonosov influenced Lavoisier, according to some Soviet interpretations, or at the least anticipated him. Soviet doctrine denies the existence of any such thing as a "world science;" one would therefore expect that a Marxist critique would classify its branches according to the economic systems which produced them, i.e. a slave-owning, feudal, capitalist, Socialist science, etc. But in fact Soviet scientists are told by the Party to classify science along national lines. Russian science is the foremost. As Izvestia puts it, the cosmopolitan notion of an abstract world science, allegedly knowing no national or state frontiers, contributed to the trampling upon everything national and indigenous in the development of Russian science, and priority in many great Russian inventions and discoveries was obligingly conceded to foreign thieves of other people's inventions.[xi]
Izvestia claims that a Russian scientist, A. G. Stoletov, laid the foundations for modern development in the fields of television, phototelegraphy and sound films, that Popov invented the radio and a naval officer, Mozhaisky, the airplane. Elsewhere it has been announced that S. V. Lebedyev produced the first synthetic rubber in 1909 and that Russians invented the first armored cruisers, mine fields, mine-carrying torpedo boats, underwater mines, etc.
The summit of nationalistic frenzy, however, was reached by D. Zaslavsky, when he wrote in the 1949 New Year issue of the Literaturnaya Gazeta on the subject of the Russian language:
The succession of world languages runs through thousands of years of mankind's history. Latin was the language of the ancient world and the early Middle Ages. French was the language of the ruling class of the feudal epoch. It was preserved along with feudal traditions and ways, in the sphere of world diplomacy. English became the world language of capitalism. Looking ahead into the New Year, into the future, we see the Russian tongue as the world language of Socialism. . . .
Now no one can call himself a scholar in the full and genuine meaning of the word, if he does not know Russian, if he does not read the works of Russian thought in the original. Russians unquestionably occupy first place in the social sciences. All future advances in these sciences have been determined by the works of genius of Lenin and Stalin. . . . it is impossible to be a genuinely educated person without Russian. . . .
Western civilization is corrupt, senile and decadent, the indictment continues. Yu. Frantsev sets it forth at length. According to him, bourgeois philosophers and sociologists are making tremendous efforts to "prove," with the aid of various distortions and falsifications, that the victory of Socialism is not an historical necessity. They deny the laws of social development and the progress of history. Contemporary bourgeois science is flooded with philosophical idealistic theories. In the realm of physics the reactionaries deny causality, natural laws and the objectivity of space and time (Dirac, Bohr); the idealistic metaphysics of Weismann-Morganism reign in the sphere of biology, dooming it to degeneration in the capitalist countries. The reactionary John Dewey, according to Frantsev, is one of the most zealous supporters of pragmatism in contemporary America, since pragmatism is the reactionary idealistic trend in contemporary bourgeois philosophy which proclaims the profit of the capitalist as the only criterion of truth. The British bourgeois ideologists trail behind their American bosses. The Soviet authority concludes that one of the recognized leaders of contemporary reactionary British philosophy, the idealist Bertrand Russell, gladly admits the influence of James on the development of his philosophy.[xii]
Novy Mir (December 1948) has this to say of American films, music and literature: "There is murder on the screen, neverending murder. . . . There are scenes of decaying mentality, of the world beyond, pathological scenes of every kind." "The modern bourgeois school of painting in the U.S.A. also reflects a kind of mentality from which all normal human emotions, interests and concepts have become estranged. The broken lines, dismembered bodies, objects assuming entirely alien characteristics, monstrously meaningless compositions, are the symbols of typical schizophrenic hallucination. Contemporary American 'modernist' composers write a cacophonous, neurotic music aimed at the nervous system; it could be called instrumentalized hysteria or musical epilepsy."
"The predominance of decadence in modern American bourgeois literature is an obvious, easily proved fact," Novy Mir continues. Edgar Allan Poe "formulated many features of decadent 'nightmare' literature." William Faulkner is "flesh of the flesh of a decaying society, and therefore fully shares the sense of hopelessness so typical of his hideous heroes;" Steinbeck "creates putrid, sinister and anti-human works;" Eugene O'Neill is "a completely degenerated individual." "Modern reactionary decadent American literature is a mortal enemy of freedom, humanity, human dignity and the people."
Literaturnaya Gazeta (March 2, 1949) reveals that "The old traitor and libertine, André Gide, screened by cosmopolitan phraseology, is dragging Frenchmen under the American yoke. The decrepit Bertrand Russell is mumbling to the British that only from beyond the ocean can they expect salvation from all calamities and disasters." "In whatever clothes it is arrayed, whatever its pseudonym--whether the guise be pan-Americanism, Catholicism, Zionism, or any other name--cosmopolitanism actively serves the interests of imperialist reaction."
The ridiculous aspect of this effort to take the Russian people out of western civilization is that the Soviet leaders have succeeded, culturally, simply in taking them back to the Victorian age. The current Communist appeal is from the culture of the twentieth century to the culture of the nineteenth -- the era when Russian writers and artists were closest to the West.
In May 1948, the British Architectural Review published articles by three leading Soviet architects who illustrated the claims to a new, proletarian art in Russia by photographs of the Frunze Military Academy in Moscow, which looks like Louis Sullivan's buildings in Chicago; the Karamyshevo Dam, which is crowned by Italianate towers in the Renaissance style; and the State Opera in Novosibirsk, which has a giant classical portico and a vast rotunda. The latter looks like nothing so much as the "proletarian art" one sees exemplified by the post-office buildings in large American cities.
In its flight backward, the Politburo has reached the stage of "realism" in art. A Picasso in Russia today would be in great danger of a corrective term in a labor camp. A Delacroix or a Millet would presumably receive Stalin prizes. The story of the unhappy effort of Russian composers to restrict their talents to turning out the kind of tunes which fit the taste of the Central Executive Committee of the Party is too familiar to need repetition. The composer Prokofiev has sinned and repented and sinned and repented again, apparently not quite able to understand what is meant by the "bourgeois ideology in art" which the Secretary General of the Soviet Union of Composers, T. Khrennikov, says must be expunged from Soviet music.
The Victorian hero-without-blemish has reëmerged as the ideal of Soviet literature. Oktyabr explains the literary line. "Soviet literature cannot be apolitical. Consequently the value of a literary work is determined, in Soviet society, primarily by whether it assists the people to build Communism in a shorter period of time and whether it promotes the development of high æsthetic tastes. The most important task of Socialist art is creation of the image of a positive hero to whom people could look as to a pattern of behavior." The prototype of the good Soviet writer is thus said to be the novelist Alexander Fadeyev, who draws positive heroes with warmth and emotion, and in admirable fashion shows the enemy as a lower type, inwardly devoid of human thoughts, feelings and emotions.[xiii]
Even sports writers have been denounced for their deviations. For instance, one of them, G. Yasny, dared to say that a Soviet athlete, K. Koberidze, who had won victories at an international contest in Prague, was inspired to victories by reading a book by Jack London. Komsomolskaya Pravda explains that Yasny should have said that the athlete was inspired by his burning love for the Motherland. The same Yasny erred again when he ascribed the ambitions of another Soviet champion to seeing an American film, "World Champion." "The cosmopolitans in sports are deliberately picturing Soviet track and field athletes, wrestlers, acrobats, boxers, soccer players and tennis players as narrow people who covet petty fame. . . . It is time to smash the anti-patriots in sports literature . . . ."[xiv]
The final triumph of Soviet Victorianism, however, is (logically enough) registered in the field of family life. The ideas of the Russian educator, A. S. Makarenko, who died in 1939--he was also an official of the Ministry of the Interior (M.V.D.) -- have been accepted as stating the Party line in these matters. Makarenko held that "a teacher without authority is impossible. . . . the very meaning of authority consists in that it requires no proofs, that it is accepted as the unchallenged virtue of an older person; it is his power and worth as seen through the simple eyes of a child. The father and mother should have this authority in the eyes of the child." Could a Victorian schoolmaster sum up a philosophy of education more neatly? "The child's ignorance is not limited to sex alone. There is much he does not know about other life problems, and we need not burden him prematurely with knowledge beyond his understanding . . . . The proper time will come for such knowledge, and there is no danger involved in answering him: 'You're still a little tyke; when you grow up you'll find out.'"
The Institute of Law of the Soviet Academy of Sciences has summed up the philosophy of marriage with equal simplicity: "According to the Soviet law, marriage is a voluntary and free union of a man and a woman which has for its objective the upbringing of the family and is concluded in accordance with the conditions established by law." The divorce procedure is long, costly in view of the low standards of living, and uncertain. Mothers who are bringing up ten children or more receive the title "Mother-Heroine." Mothers of seven to nine children receive the medal of "Maternal Glory," while those having five to six children obtain the medal of "Motherhood." Bachelors, spinsters, married people who have only one or two children, have to pay a special tax. Mussolini said it, in the twenties, in almost identical terms.
How shall one interpret this performance? If nothing more were involved than an expression of the artistic taste of the members of the Politburo, one would feel pity for Russians of talent who must whistle the government's tune or be silent, regret at the cessation of the splendid contributions which this imaginative people has made to our common culture, and grim amusement at the spectacle of politicians making fools of themselves. But of course the development is significant precisely because it heralds a new era in Soviet politics, of which the cultural retrogression is only one aspect. To what degree shall we look for the explanation in a struggle for power within the ruling clique? Is there any connection between the intellectual purges and the political shifts in the leadership of the Soviet state? Plainly there have been differences among the Soviet leaders. The rather peculiar death of Zhdanov and the rise of Malenkov in the Politburo are signs of internal pressure. Another member of the Politburo, N. A. Voznesensky, was dismissed, at the beginning of 1949, without a word of explanation, from his posts as a Vice Chairman of the Federal Council of Ministers and Chairman of the State Planning Commission, and 18 Federal Ministers have been replaced. This is a 35 percent change in the composition of the federal government. Two Vice Chairmen of the Praesidium of the Supreme Soviet and one member of that high body have also been dismissed. In a democratic state this would indicate a major governmental crisis. On February 19, 1950, Pravda criticized A. A. Andreyev, another member of the Politburo, in severe terms, referring to ideas which he had expressed 11 years earlier. He was forced publicly and humbly to confess error. Moreover, there seems no sign that Stalin's grip on the Party machinery has been shaken or even endangered. Many of the changes in the composition of the highest organs of the Soviet Government occurred just before the March 1949 session of the Supreme Soviet, yet none of the deputies to the Supreme Soviet asked a question concerning these shifts, and the dismissals were approved by a unanimous vote.
Is it mainly a response to fear of contamination from abroad? The Soviet leaders are aware of the impact which the contacts with the West had on the minds of Russian soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars, when officers infected by French ideas came home with a burning desire to reform Russia. This was the origin of the "Decembrist" rising, which is hailed by the Soviet Union as the first Russian revolutionary movement. The Second World War brought Russian officers and soldiers in contact with countries of Eastern and Central Europe, and into close relations with soldiers of the Allied armies. One may be certain that more than one Russian soldier was impressed not only by evidence of western material comforts but by western ideas, heard for the first time undistorted by censorship and official interpretation. Stalin could hardly have forgotten the words of young Djugishvili in 1901: "Nothing could be more dangerous to tyrannical authority than the people's curiosity." All observers in the U.S.S.R. agreed that the Russian people came out of their ordeal with cordial feelings toward their Allies and toward Americans in particular, and apparently were inexpressibly delighted to believe that an era of isolation was ended and that henceforth Russia was to have powerful friends. Did Stalin and his associates deliberately counteract the mood of peace of 1945 and recreate the mood of war because they thought it necessary for the maintenance of their own power? Or, prisoners of their own doctrine, did they themselves desperately summon in practice the world-wide enmity which they had foreseen in theory? Who can say how such motives act and interact in men so reconciled to terror?
The effects of this development must for the moment be a matter of speculation. Will it lead to stagnation of Soviet thought? Already it is apparent that Soviet intellectuals are increasingly unwilling to publish the results of research. The Director of the Soviet Institute of Economics, K. V. Ostrovityanov, said in his report to the Institute: "In recent years many economist-teachers have defended their Candidate's and Doctor's dissertations. Nevertheless, very few of these dissertations have been published. Moreover, some candidates for degrees do not seek to have their dissertations published and do not willingly offer them to the 'gnawing mice of criticism.'"[xv] Pravda apparently assumes that Soviet culture has reached its full perfection: "Under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party and the great Stalin, the Soviet people have created the most advanced social and political system in the world and the most advanced culture -- Soviet culture, national in form, Socialist in content."[xvi] This is what would be expected. But the fitting comment would seem to be an earlier editorial from the same newspaper: "Full conformity of views can be achieved only at a cemetery." This was written in 1912. The author was Stalin. The Russian people are incredibly patient and enduring; but after all, the screws can be pressed too tight. Might there be a young Stalin somewhere today?
Whatever may be the internal repercussions, it is inconceivable that the present situation can be more than one act in the unfolding of the great drama of our time. Two elements at least, among the multitude involved, surely make equilibrium at this point impossible. The most obvious, of course, is the dynamic force of modern technology, which has shaken the peoples of the world together more in the past two generations than in all the preceding centuries of recorded history, has created a world opinion and has put in its hands power which, as any casual visitor to Lake Success can note for himself, even the absolute rulers of the huge Russian Empire treat with caution. The response of world opinion to the extremes of Soviet nationalism is just beginning to be felt. It hardly will diminish as those excesses mount.
And now the Russian Empire has moved halfway across Europe. Such satellite countries as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Eastern Germany and Hungary entered the fold of western civilization over a thousand years ago; their cultural development is a result of a profound participation in that civilization. Already the rulers of the Kremlin have shown that they dare not exempt these lands from the conformity which they demand of their own subjects. But a thousand years of history are not to be reversed by two or three "treason trials." After all, the idea of freedom is older even than the Byzantine heritage of political absolutism which the new Soviet man offers to Europe. The gate that the political commissars opened when they moved with the Russian armies across the Carpathians and the plains of Poland in 1945 will inexorably provide two-way traffic for ideas. Peter the Great is supposed to have said: "For a few score more years only shall we need Europe. Then we shall be able to turn our backs upon her." Like the sorcerer's apprentice, he had released forces that could never again be exorcised. Perhaps, looking at the Russian heritage of western ideas, we should close with the sentence with which we began: You may drive out Nature with a pitchfork, but she will always come back.
[i] As quoted in M. Gerchenson's "Notices Historiques," Berlin, 1923, p. 95.
[ii] As quoted in B. E. Nolde's "Youry Samarine et son temps," Paris, 1926, p. 25.
[iii] "Against the Bourgeois Ideology of Cosmopolitanism," Voprosy Filosofii, No. 2, 1948. This and the translations of other quotations from the Soviet press given in this article are taken, unless otherwise indicated, from the Current Digest of the Soviet Press (1219 Sixteenth Street, N.W., Washington, D. C.).
[iv] Mikhail Sholokhov in Pravda, May 24, 1949.
[v] "Against the Bourgeois Ideology of Cosmopolitanism," Voprosy Filosofii, No. 2, 1948.
[vii] It is highly interesting to note in this connection the reëstablishment on January 13, 1950, of capital punishment for treason, espionage and sabotage in the U.S.S.R. Knowing the extensive Soviet interpretation of those terms, one might well say that capital punishment has been reintroduced for political crimes and that common criminals are assured of a privileged treatment. In the Soviet Union the decree of May 26, 1947, was heralded as a symptom of a new era. The official textbook of Criminal Law published by the Soviet Ministry of Justice said that it was "the result of the great victory of the Soviet people over the enemy, which had proved not only the increased might of the Soviet State, the stability of the Soviet constitutional and social system, indestructible cohesion and complete moral and political unity of the peoples of the U.S.S.R., but, most of all, exceptional devotion of the Soviet people to its country and its government. . . . The abolition of the death penalty demonstrates tangibly the humaneness of the Soviet criminal law and the realization by the latter of the lofty ideals of justice peculiar to the Soviet socialistic régime." Apparently there is less devotion to the régime than was supposed.
[viii] A revealing episode, in this connection, was recently disclosed in Voprosy Ekonomiki, Nov. 8, 1949. The head of the Soviet Institute of Economics, K. V. Ostrovityanov, had had to defend himself and his Institute against attacks by one of his colleagues, a certain Mrs. Karnaukhova, a member of the Institute, who accused him of sabotaging certain fields of research. Ostrovityanov replied in this way: "Comrade Karnaukhova spoke as if she did not work at the Economics Institute, but had just arrived from Georgia or Kazakhstan, for instance. She knows quite well why we did not hold a conference on questions of the organization and payment of labor in the collective farms, she knows well that it did not depend upon us. Comrade Karnaukhova well knows why the anthology on political economy of Socialism collected dust at the State Political Publishing House for three years, and was then returned to us for revision, without a single comment."
[ix] "Against Objectivism in Historical Science," Voprosy Istorii, No. 12, December 1948.
[x] "Pushkin in the Struggle for Russian National Culture," by S. Petrov, Izvestia, May 13, 1949, p. 3.
[xi] "The Shining Lights of Russian Science," by V. Orlov, in Izvestia, March 20, 1949, p. 3.
[xii] "Contemporary Idealism in the Service of Imperialism," by Yu. Frantsev, in Pravda, March 7, 1949.
[xiii] "On Socialist Realism," by V. Ozerov, in Okytabr, No. 9, September 1948.
[xiv] Bourgeois Cosmopolitanism in Sports Literature," by B. Ivanov and E. Rodikov, in Komsomoiskaya Pravda, March 6, 1949.
[xv] Reported in the Voprosy Ekonomiki, No. 8, 1948.
[xvi] "Cosmopolitanism--Ideological Weapon of American Reaction," by Yu. Pavlor, in Pravds, April 7, 1949.