MANY of the American tourists who are pouring into the Soviet Union this year are surprised by the evidences on every hand of economic vigor and large-scale construction. "From our papers," said one, "I thought everything would be in a mess. Things look pretty good here; they have built a lot." Another tourist: "People are very free here. I took as many pictures as I wanted in the Kremlin and no one stopped me."

The new rulers are obviously gaining credit with the people at large through making one minor adjustment or accommodation after another. Many Soviet people commented favorably to me on the shortening of the sixth day of work, on Saturdays and on the eve of holidays, from eight to six hours. "This will be a great help in my weekly shopping." Many individuals mentioned this change with pleasure and then asked whether people in the United States work six or eight hours on Saturday. They were amazed to learn of the normal five-day work-week in America and in many other Western countries.

Much satisfaction was expressed over the recent restoration of free tuition for students in high schools and universities, a reversion to the pre-1940 arrangement. Since education is the major channel for social advancement, this is an especially welcome improvement. Again, no one I spoke with had any realization that in the United States tuition in high schools has long been free and also includes free books and school supplies. On the other hand, the multifarious system of free, partly free and paid tuition and scholarships in our colleges and universities was much too complicated for most listeners to grasp.

There was much favorable comment on the improved pension system, which was adopted by the Supreme Soviet in July. Many people remarked that the raising of the minimum pension would now make it possible for older people actually to give up work without becoming a direct burden on their grown-up children. Through these and other measures the new rulers appear to be paying closer attention to raising the living conditions of their people and have won much credit and a great extension of patience. The assertions of the régime that only the rapid growth of the economy has made it possible to provide these alleviations seem to be accepted in good faith. If there were people who questioned whether these beneficent actions could not have been taken earlier, their comments did not come to the ears of a foreign visitor. As one casual acquaintance said, "We had an evil-hearted ruler; now our rulers are closer to the needs of the people."

Another general impression was one of relief following the slackening of obvious and active forms of terror. On every hand people seem to feel that the political police are now less active, but that they are continuing to observe and to note down actions and attitudes which might be "interesting." In general, people over 35, having lived through previous periods of "relaxation" and then of revived terrorism, do not believe today in the permanent abandonment of these methods of rule. Perhaps those under 30, who have grown up since the tightening of the screws after the end of the war, will be more inclined to believe that the "bad old days" are gone, never to return.

Perhaps just because of the great impact of the Stalin apparatus of unpredictable terror, the new rulers can now relax the pressure somewhat and still receive the same or even better obedience to their commands. The effects of "Stalinization," which has left a firm imprint of caution and conformity, make it possible for Stalin's successors to carry through a small percentage of "de-Stalinization."

When offered opportunities to comment on Stalin and his posthumous demotion, ordinary citizens were not inclined to blame Stalin for more than "excesses" and "mistakes." Perhaps their caution was due to the realization that it is not possible to go far in criticizing Stalin without seeming to question some of the basic policies of the régime, such as forced industrialization, drastic collectivization, intellectual conformity to a line determined from above, and other continuing features of the régime. It may also be due to the feeling that the criticism so far leveled at Stalin deals only with his ruthless handling of the upper ranks of the Communist Party, and the ordinary Soviet citizen is reluctant to mention, much less discuss, people in these lofty positions of power.

In any case, while attacking Stalin's methods more and more openly, the new rulers are, in other respects, applying procedures and pursuing aims which were characteristic of Stalin's program. For example, this summer the Kremlin decided that the raising of private livestock, often by the use of purchased bread, was distorting the economy and creating too large a private sector. New decrees, issued in July, promptly put a stop to this revival of the bad old capitalistic Adam of private profit. However, it is typical of the new methods of rule that, instead of simply confiscating the excess of private livestock, particularly marked in suburban areas, the government offered to buy it back from its owners at rates pretty close to the market price. The reduction in the size of the private plots of the collective farm members is also proceeding apace. This is in line with Stalin's dictum of October 1952 that the private sector in agricultural production must eventually be eliminated completely. The vigorous campaign for the establishment of boarding schools on a widespread, ultimately universal basis marks a revival of the doctrinaire Communist belief that the education of children must be taken away from the parents and concentrated in the hands of the government and Party.

Because of the wide range of abuses and discomforts which have been suffered by the Soviet population, the opportunities for the new rulers to provide one alleviation after another are extensive. Each new removal of pressure or discomfort is greeted with genuine gratitude. It would be a mistake to underestimate the ability of the régime to provide more and more of its members with a genuine stake in its expanding economy without slackening the build-up of heavy industry and military power.

A minor part of the de-Stalinization program has been to reopen intellectual and scientific contacts with non-Soviet countries. During the past year several hundreds of Soviet delegations have attended congresses abroad, or have paid visits to associations and other bodies with professional interests similar to their own. Very few Soviet tourists travel abroad alone, but during the past summer at least two cruises of Soviet tourists have followed the route from the Black Sea to the Baltic or the reverse, with brief trips to major cities in Western Europe.

The Soviet Government has admitted large numbers of foreign travelers, in a drastic reversal of Stalin's policy of careful political screening of all visitors. In addition to delegations from European satellites, North Korea and Communist China, visits were paid this summer by delegations of social security workers from Sweden, 300 Finnish partisans of peace, former Italian partisans, English experts in metallurgy, Italian political leaders, a parliamentary delegation from Pakistan, and two boat-loads of French tourists. It was reported that some 2,500 visas had been issued to American tourists. During one period of four weeks, the Soviet Union received extended visits from the Shah of Iran, Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia, as well as a brief visit from Dag Hammarskjold, the Secretary General of the United Nations. All this, of course, in addition to the visits by the leaders of the Communist Parties of France, Italy, Belgium and Great Britain, following the publication of the Soviet Party decree of June 30 on de-Stalinization. In general, the Soviet authorities prefer to receive organized delegations, which enjoy well-planned hospitality and follow tightly packed programs. However, individual tourists are also admitted readily and find it relatively easy to secure interviews with people in the fields of science and letters.

Contacts of Soviet citizens with foreign visitors are not unrestricted or unsupervised. A foreign visitor is informed politely but firmly that he is not permitted to consult a Moscow telephone directory, although any numbers required are furnished to him at his request. When a visitor approaches the building of the United States Embassy, for example, to collect mail, he is greeted by the piercing stares of one, two or three security officers; when they are addressed in English, their gaze softens and turns away. Certain other unwritten limitations are discovered only by accident. On returning to their hotel on foot from the theatre one evening, two recent tourists lost their way and, seeing a lighted and open doorway, entered a dormitory to ask for directions. Their appearance aroused great interest and, through the use of French, they had a lively exchange of information and opinions for about two hours. On leaving, they were urged to return the next evening. On the second occasion, having arranged to take along an Intourist interpreter, they found the entrance to the building guarded by several firm characters in leather jackets; some of the same people with whom they had chatted innocently and vivaciously the evening before passed in or out of the door without a sign of recognition. In some cities away from the capital, the supervision of foreigners is more obvious and more easily detected than in Moscow.

When Westerners think about the Soviet Union, they often forget that the régime has been in power for nearly 40 years and that a very detailed system of supervision and direction of thought has been enforced for more than 25 years, despite periodic shifts in the details of the "line." Over this period of time the present generation of "leading intellectuals" has had ample opportunity and incentive to become adjusted to the concept that "truth," though it may vary in content from time to time or may even be reversed, is a definite doctrine to be ascertained and applied but not to be questioned except at grave risk. Since all intellectual activities are organized from above and regulated by the Party doctrines, there is obviously a large number of "officials for science" who can now be "licensed" to meet with foreign visitors and can be fully relied upon to exchange permitted information and to state with conviction and apparent spontaneity the official and Party view. Persons who do not feel secure and at ease within the system or in their loyalty to its dogmas are likely to avoid contacts with foreigners. Experience has shown them that no good can come to them from such meetings, whether casual or planned. In addition, most contacts with non-Communist foreign visitors are carried on in groups, an arrangement which provides the protection of witnesses.

In Moscow, certain standard questions about Soviet-American relations, based on the flow of information which Soviet thought-control transmits to its own people, were brought up with great regularity and with apparent sincerity. "Why does the American press tell lies about the Soviet Union?" To this, the obvious answer was that under our cherished freedom of the press a wide variety of facts and opinions are presented. Certainly, serious newspapers and periodicals make strenuous efforts to provide well-rounded information, but many parts of the press are likely to publish only news stories which have a vivid, sometimes a sensational, news interest. In any case, the difficulties which the Soviet Government places in the way of securing accurate information concerning the Soviet Union are a major handicap. For example, I pointed to the failure, from 1939 until April 1956, to publish such a simple fact as the total size of the Soviet population. "Why doesn't the American Government punish those who spread false information?" My interlocutors seemed baffled by the notion that the government should reflect the basic desires of its people, based on freedom of information and discussion, rather than imposing selected information and its own views on the people.

"Why does the American Government subject Soviet visa applicants to fingerprinting, which is the mark of a criminal?" Some Soviet interlocutors assumed that fingerprinting was required only of Soviet applicants, and were surprised to learn that it is required of all foreign visitors except those bearing diplomatic or official passports. They found it hard to understand that, being a government of laws and not of individuals, the United States Government could not make exceptions without appropriate Congressional action. It was easy to point out that Americans coming to the Soviet Union accept Soviet requirements as a matter of course, including internal passports and numerous permits equipped with photographs, as well as registration with the police at each change of address. Soviet listeners found it incredible that none of these requirements exist in the United States; once they had absorbed this concept, some were ready to understand that fingerprinting, in American practice, is a partial substitute for the much larger number of Soviet identification papers.

The question of "Why does the United States not have a social security system?" was answered readily by taking my social security card from my wallet and passing it around. Soviet people were amazed to learn that despite the greater size of the Soviet population a larger number of persons are covered by the United States social security system, and a far larger proportion are currently receiving benefits under it.

Soviet journalists, in particular, were informed in detail, and were indignant, about the demonstrations by former displaced persons against the seven Soviet journalists who toured the United States a year ago. To the comment that "No such demonstrators or pickets would be allowed to annoy a visitor to the Soviet Union," I could only reply that this was a great pity, for I would welcome demonstrations for and against myself. They found it hard to understand that private citizens can freely picket the President of the United States or anyone else so long as they refrain from physical violence. My quoting of the American saying that "Words do not kill" left them shaken but unconvinced.

To the complaint that "The Soviet Union is cutting down its troops by 1,840,000 men, and why doesn't America cut back too?" I gave the easy rejoinder that we had cut back our forces very completely at the end of World War II and had rearmed only as a result of Soviet aggressions and threats. Furthermore, we do not know how many troops the Soviet Government is maintaining today, nor how many it will have after it has carried through the cutback. Soviet interlocutors admitted freely that they also had no idea how large the Soviet forces were. It was my turn to be somewhat embarrassed when pressed to explain why the United States, having proposed a ratio of fixed ceilings for conventional forces, was now attaching new conditions to its own proposal after it had been accepted by the Soviet Government in July. It was easier to explain why the Soviet proposals for setting aside limited and fixed areas for inspection of troop and material movements would not remove the uncertainty over actual Soviet strength and therefore would not eliminate the distrust of the West concerning Soviet armaments.

My Soviet interlocutors were well informed about statements by individual Americans concerning the possible use of the hydrogen bomb in case of war. It was not easy to get across to them that not only individual citizens and journalists but even Congressmen and high military officials are accustomed, according to American tradition, to state their individual views, even when they are at variance with the policy of the government. They could only shake their heads over this in incredulity.

Soviet people frequently asked: "Why don't you Americans trust the Soviet Union?" To this my reply was that for ten years --in Greece, Iran, Czechoslovakia, Berlin and Korea--Soviet policy had been beating us over the head with a crowbar and our head was naturally still aching. I suggested that if they showed a genuine willingness over the next ten years to resolve many unsettled questions, including the acceptance of free elections in divided countries, they would gradually restore the level of confidence which they had enjoyed in America in 1945.

From these and many other conversations one thing which stood out was a sense of "unrequited love" toward America: the tendency to measure each of their own achievements against American achievements and a sometimes pathetic desire to receive some favorable recognition from Americans. "Isn't there anything we do that you admire?" If Americans wish to promote greater receptivity to fuller cultural exchanges with the Soviet Union, they must be prepared to speak favorably of Soviet achievements, wherever they exist, in order to overcome this deep-seated feeling among Soviet intellectuals that Americans look down upon them and talk down to them.

Another factor which the American cultural approach must take into account is that the Soviet picture of the United States has been carefully shaped over many, many years by the information which is pumped through Soviet channels. True, a very few "intellectual workers" have access to a wider range of information. In general, however, the Soviet citizens' picture of America is that given by Soviet printed sources. In order to broaden and correct this picture, one must start from it. If the information given is too sharply in contrast with what is known and accepted by the Soviet citizenry, it meets with incredulity, alarm and rejection. The higher people rise in the Soviet system, the more information they generally have available--though selected and organized according to the Soviet pattern--and the more confidence they have in it. If the picture painted for them is too directly in contrast to what they have been taught, this makes them uncomfortable and fearful of losing their grip on the pattern which has been set for them, and thus of coming into political conflict, even though unspoken, with the Soviet "line."

The strength of American culture is that it is, aside from a basic acceptance and enthusiasm for freedom, "unpolitical," whereas Soviet information and science are based on a rigid political "line." American information and cultural policy should turn this "unpolitical" factor to advantage by appealing to the professional, cultural and scientific interests of specific Soviet audiences. Physicians, musicians, writers, architects, farm experts and others can be reached through their intellectual interests, provided political differences are not thrust into the foreground.

In the early 1930s a large majority of Soviet intellectuals were well aware of the inner meaning of a free and democratic system, either through their knowledge of the West or through their memories of the earlier struggles for freedom within Russia. Opposing them stood a fanatical minority of Communist party liners on whom the régime relied in its ruthless campaign to shape all intellectual life to a pattern of conformity. By now this struggle of 25 years ago has ended. Several generations of intellectuals have been recruited, indoctrinated and promoted to positions of responsibility under the pressures and ruthless vigilance of the Party controls. Today intellectual life is staffed from top to bottom by Communist-trained intellectuals, but since the struggle for domination is over, the latter have much less reason to be fanatical than had their "Red Professor" prototypes of 25 years ago. They have gone through so many changes of line within the basic dogma that they now seem to be "bureaucrats of culture," eager to satisfy the régime, proud of Soviet strength and Soviet achievements, alert to detect forthcoming changes in Party policy, and, in Western eyes, distressingly at ease within the rigid system of Soviet ideology.

Today it is second nature for Soviet-trained intellectuals to accept the assumption that all questions should be and are decided by the dicta of political authority, sometimes handed down in a flash of lightning from on high, rather than being settled or left unsettled through a continuing clash of free opinions. In one group in which I raised the question of how Soviet scholars set about analyzing the desirable balance between the production of consumer goods and capital goods within the Soviet economy, the reply, presented with great earnestness, was: "Some months ago a few isolated individuals set forth an incorrect position to the effect that, with the maturing of the economy, a larger share of production would be devoted to consumer goods, but their mistakes have been corrected." With that dictum, the "discussion" came to an end.

In general, a visit to Moscow leaves the impression that people over 35 are not going to forget the rigidity and ruthlessness with which the Party line, in its changing aspects, has been enforced upon several generations of intellectuals. They accept gratefully the present relaxation of the direct pressure of doctrine upon their minds, but they do not assume that the present relaxation will necessarily be either extensive or permanent. The steel helmet has been pulled back a quarter-inch, to their great relief; but it is still there.

While at the Twentieth Party Congress of last February the Soviet leadership criticized its scholars for their "mania for quotations" from Marx and Lenin, there has been no change in the basic assumption that there is a single "truth," and that that truth is defined ultimately by the Party leadership. There is taking place a slight broadening of access to evidence and facts. Scholars are being urged to exercise some independence in their analysis, but they will remain timid about using it, for sharp reprimands are still being issued from on high whenever the findings of research conflict with Party policy or prejudice. Sometimes one has the impression that the Party leadership is exhorting its scientists to display more initiative, whereas the scholars remain reluctant to abandon their comfortable reliance on established and familiar doctrines. Whether younger scholars, who have reached intellectual activity during the most recent period of stringent control since 1946, will come to believe in a permanent relaxation and will endeavor to stretch somewhat the realm of permitted analysis and speculation is too subtle and difficult a question to be answered after a brief visit.

Unrest among writers and critics, which has been manifested sporadically since Stalin's death, suggests that literature and the theatre may prove the first fields of creative activity to feel the benefits of a partial broadening of the limits of what is permitted. The recent and posthumous rehabilitation of the famous theatrical innovator, Meyerhold, may be merely a belated gesture of contrition, or it may foreshadow a renewal of the search for new forms of creativity in the dramatic arts. Last spring architects and engineers were severely criticized for the "wedding cake" style of architecture which has monopolized the Soviet scene since 1937. How far architecture will now enjoy a wider freedom of experimentation remains uncertain. Will the "line" in architecture merely shift its course, or will it be broadened to accommodate several varying schools of thought? There may be some significance in the remark that "If the buildings of the new Moscow University were being planned today, they would be executed in a different style."

What does the incipient "intellectual thaw" denote for Soviet Russia's relations with the West? To weigh its significance with care, we must keep certain basic facts in perspective. First, it is being carried out by a régime which is supremely confident, even arrogant. The Soviet leaders and Soviet intellectuals of today emphasize with great pride the fact that the Soviet system is the dominant force for one-third of the world's population, that it has built up the second largest economy in the world and that it is one of the two greatest military Powers. Second, despite the criticisms of Stalin's "excesses," this amazing development is attributed to the Soviet leadership and its "correct" doctrine. Third, by now several generations of intellectuals have been trained to implement the canons of Soviet dogma. Today there is almost no trace left of the former Russian deference for the science and culture of the West; it has given way to self-confidence, boasting and arrogance. Soviet intellectuals now desire to acquire useful facts from the West, not to borrow basic values, and they are pleased that the leadership has opened the door a crack. They want to improve their professional equipment, but to do so within the over-all structure of dogma. Within this new attitude of intense pride and intellectual self-sufficiency, the Soviet leadership can now permit a wider range of contacts with the West with relatively slight risk that Western cultural values will be understood, much less accepted, by the thin layer of intellectuals "licensed" to carry on cultural relations.

A somewhat widened intercourse with the West is also welcomed, with caution, by many Soviet intellectuals. Among them there is a real curiosity about the West, which is partly due to their having been denied direct access to it for many years. There is also a desire to receive from the West recognition of their achievements. Even more important is their belief that the current partial relaxation of tension, which they see reflected in the exchanges of cultural visits, means, to them, stronger prospects for a continuing improvement in the conditions of intellectual work and in material conditions within the Soviet system.

For Soviet people, the status of intellectual relations with the West is also a barometer of general prospects of peace. As many commented, "A year ago we could not have sat down at the same table; it is good that we can talk now." Until recently the order was: "Turn your back on the West." The instruction has now gone out: "Face the West." If the order should go out tomorrow again to ignore and attack the West, the order will be obeyed, even though at the cost of some silent resentment and loss of élan, and especially of a revived fear of war. The relaxation has been decreed by the Soviet leadership as a means to reinforce its claim to be seeking a relaxation of tensions in all fields. It gratifies a deep-seated aspiration of many Soviet intellectuals, but it is not due to "pressure" or "demand" on their part.

Is the present relaxation of intellectual barriers going to be an interlude, or is it the beginning of a continuing process, a movement toward ever wider freedom? Some analysts feel that the movement of "liberalization" is reaching or will reach a "point of no return." Others regard it as an effort to remove certain abuses and to improve the workings of the system, a strictly controlled development and one that can be reversed whenever the leadership decides to do so. In any case, the relaxation has been greeted with considerable caution by the Soviet intellectuals, ever mindful of the possibility of new reversals of line from above.

Whether or not the relaxation turns out to be long continued, the West should respond with sincerity. It should be prepared to meet with and coöperate with Soviet intellectuals on their own grounds of professional, scholarly and technical competence, without putting political questions directly in the foreground. Closer acquaintance with the cultural and scientific achievements of the West may help to demonstrate pragmatically the advantages of gradually broadened areas of intellectual freedom. We cannot require Soviet-trained people of today to subscribe to the abstract principle of intellectual freedom as a precondition for developing intellectual contacts and exchanges. The West does have an opportunity, a better one than at any time in the past two decades, to demonstrate empirically the soundness and vitality of its tradition of freedom of the mind, freedom of inquiry. It should grasp the opportunity.

The Soviet leadership is confidently challenging the West to compete with it for the future allegiance of the awakening peoples of Asia and Africa. One important aspect of the challenge is in the intellectual field. If free Western thought is to maintain and develop its great advantages in this competition, it must also be prepared to enter into closer if probably not intimate relations with Soviet scientists and scholars. An ounce of example will count more than a balloonful of exhortation.

Any sign of Western shrinking from the new Soviet challenge resounds throughout the Soviet-controlled world and also has unfavorable consequences among the intellectual leaders in Asia and Africa. The slight and somewhat tentative swing of Soviet policy toward the limited development of intellectual and scientific relations with the West is a challenge and an opportunity which cannot be brushed aside. It must be faced by the West, with confidence in the vitality of free science and free culture.

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  • PHILIP E. MOSELY, Director of Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; former Director of Russian Institute, Columbia University; officer in the Department of State, 1942-46; Adviser to the United States Delegation, Council of Foreign Ministers, London and Paris, 1945-46
  • More By Philip E. Mosely