Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
In the deeply divided world of today, one main obstacle to achieving a genuine state of peaceful coexistence is the gap in the meanings attached to these two words in different societies and political systems. The gap is, of course, just one additional example of the estrangement of vocabularies that besets every effort at direct and sincere exchanges of ideas across or through the ideological and psychological barriers. Words like "democracy," "freedom," "progress" are, as we know only too well, employed in very different and even opposite senses in the two worlds.
Another obstacle lies in the confrontation of absolutes, the insistence on the total good of one ideal and the total evil of the way of life that it seeks to displace and destroy. This sense of serving as a mere instrument of History justifies, in the minds of its champions and supporters, a vast arrogance of self-righteousness. To them, the adversary is not only doomed but is morally wrong in his every act and thought.
Finally, the ideological armor that encases the Communist leaders is wrought of that contradiction in terms, "scientific revelation." Its theoretical bases, which were laid down over one hundred years ago at the beginning of the industrial era, must be proven to be uniquely correct and infallible today; and therefore those who dare re-examine or question any part of its fundamentalist dogmas must be silenced or destroyed.
The most recent and most authoritative statement of Communist dogma is, of course, the new Program of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, unanimously adopted by the Twenty-second Party Congress on October 31, 1961. Despite its repetitious length and its many internal contradictions, it was carefully designed to serve as the main guide to Soviet thought, policy and action over "the next historic epoch." In the ten weeks between the publication of the draft program and the convening of the Congress, it was "discussed" in tens of thousands of meetings; since the Congress, it has been distributed in millions of copies printed in scores of languages. Hence, its statements on the nature and purpose of coexistence must be studied seriously. First:
Peaceful coexistence of the socialist and capitalist countries is an objective necessity for the development of human society. War cannot and must not serve as a means of settling international disputes.[i]
Excellent! All reasonable people can welcome this position as a basis for a lively and earnest give-and-take discussion on how best to guarantee mankind against the danger of a new and terrible war and especially on how, in practical terms, we can concert our actions so as to diminish, contain or eliminate some or all of the conflicts that threaten to escape our control and balloon into a total struggle.
Here, however, the Program brings its non-Communist partners-in-dialogue up sharp against a flinty dogma of Communist fundamentalism:
Imperialism is the only source of the war danger. The imperialist camp is making preparations for the most terrible crime against mankind-a world thermonuclear war that can bring unprecedented destruction to entire countries and wipe out entire nations.
Here dogma, as so often, takes precedence over reality. After all, the Soviet Union has also been hard at work constructing horrendous weapons systems. Its leaders have, indeed, addressed blackmail notes to more than 30 governments, in which it has threatened their peoples specifically with nuclear destruction unless they abandon certain policies and postures of which Moscow disapproves. Semantically, the Kremlin, like its opponents, argues that it is not preparing for "aggression" but "to deter aggression." The distinction rests in the degree of faith or confidence in the government that makes the threat. Today any nuclear threat raises the level of international tension. This is all the more its effect when the Kremlin stretches the concept of "self-defense" to include the demand for Communist control over West Berlin and for the breaking up of alliances that Moscow views as obstacles to the extension of its own power.
The completely one-sided nature of the Communist interpretation of world politics appears in one small but interesting correction that was inserted in the final version of the Party Program. The draft of August 5 referred with approval to ". . . a growing number of countries that adhere to a policy of neutrality and strive to safeguard themselves against the hazards of participation in military blocs." This wording apparently gave too strong praise to non-alignment. At bottom, Communists are bound by dogma to view non-alignment as a way-station to joining their own power bloc. The words of the draft program might even imply an endorsement of Tito's posture, were it not for his heresy of claiming to be both Communist and uncommitted. And some Communists might have wondered why Khrushchev had used his tanks and artillery, in October 1956, to put down the attempt of the Imre Nágy government to declare Hungary neutral.
The drafters of the final version caught this awkward ideological ambiguity and changed "participation in military blocs" to "participation in aggressive military blocs." Since "aggressive" is an adjective that is applied only to "imperialists" and never to "the countries of socialism," the revised wording modifies the Kremlin's praise of non-alignment and leaves the gate open for presently uncommitted countries to commit themselves later to the "good" military bloc of "socialism."
The pursuit of "peaceful coexistence," in Moscow's view, must not lead to any slackening in the effort to reshape the rest of the world to the Communist pattern. On the contrary, the struggle for the triumph of Communism must be pressed even more vigorously and with the wider and more varied arsenal of instruments that is now available:
Peaceful coexistence serves as a basis for the peaceful competition between socialism and capitalism on an international scale and constitutes a specific form of class struggle between them. As they consistently pursue the policy of peaceful coexistence, the socialist countries are steadily strengthening the positions of the world socialist system in its competition with capitalism. Peaceful coexistence affords more favorable opportunities for the struggle of the working class in the capitalist countries and facilitates the struggle of the peoples of the colonial and dependent countries for their liberation.
The Program specifically warns Communists everywhere against pinning to a new world war their hopes for their worldwide triumph. Indeed, the expectation of victory through cataclysm might lead them to relax their efforts and to slacken their discipline. However, in accord with a long Leninist tradition, the Soviet leadership is not against all types of wars:
The C.P.S.U. and the Soviet people as a whole will continue to oppose all wars of conquest, including wars between capitalist countries, and local wars aimed at strangling people's emancipation movements, and consider it their duty to support the sacred struggle of the oppressed peoples and their just anti-imperialist wars of liberation.
This reservation leaves a wide range of military actions open to Soviet arms, for the Kremlin reserves to itself the right to decide what peoples are "oppressed" and which wars are "wars of liberation." Despite the great risks that may accompany its participation, direct or indirect, in a variety of wars, the Program affirms the self-confident belief of the Soviet leadership that it can achieve complete victory without becoming involved in a nuclear war:
The growing superiority of the socialist forces over the forces of imperialism, of the forces of peace over those of war, will make it actually possible to banish world war from the life of society even before the complete victory of socialism on earth, with capitalism surviving in a part of the world. The victory of socialism throughout the world will do away completely with the social and national causes of all wars. To abolish war and establish everlasting peace on earth is the historic mission of Communism.[ii]
In the Soviet view, "peaceful coexistence" is the correct policy in "an epoch," more or less prolonged, during which "capitalism" (the label the Kremlin attaches to those who resist its embrace) is to be compelled to retreat from one position to another until it finally gives up the ghost. The means for enforcing each such retreat are to be varied according to the local and international balance of power.
In some countries the transition to socialism (i.e. to rule by the Communist Party) may take place by peaceful, in others by "non-peaceful," means. Of course, even if "the working class" (those who obey and support the Communist Party) manages to ". . . win a solid majority in parliament. . . ," it must also ". . . launch a broad mass struggle outside parliament, smash the resistance of the reactionary forces, and provide the necessary conditions for a peaceful socialist revolution." Since the Communists would then hold the monopoly of force, they would also be able to define "the reactionary forces" to suit their own interests. In any case they would have no further interest in providing conditions of "peaceful coexistence" with any groups or individuals that they considered hostile or recalcitrant to that monopoly of power.
The Program emphasizes that the struggle must be waged untiringly and relentlessly, with a rapid succession of tactics, in order to keep the various opposing forces off balance and disunited:
The success of the struggle which the working class wages for the victory of the revolution will depend on how well the working class and its party master the use of all forms of struggle-peaceful and non-peaceful, parliamentary and extra-parliamentary-and how well they are prepared to replace one form of struggle by another as quickly and unexpectedly as possible.
In the end, of course, all roads lead to Rome, to the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e. of the Communist Party:
. . . whatever the form in which the transition from capitalism to socialism is effected, that transition can come about only through revolution. However varied the forms of a new people's state power in the period of socialist construction, their essence will be the same- dictatorship of the proletariat, which represents genuine democracy, democracy for the working people.
It is essential, of course, for the main center of the Communist movement to assure the unquestioning unity of "the working class," in order to lead a well-orchestrated offensive against "capitalism." In recent years this has not proved easy or simple even within those countries and Parties that acknowledge Moscow's hegemony. In fact,
Revisionism, Right opportunism, which is a reflection of bourgeois influence, is the chief danger within the Communist movement today. The revisionists, who mask their renunciation of Marxism with talk about the necessity of taking account of the latest developments in society and the class struggle, in effect play the role of pedlars of bourgeois-reformist ideology within the Communist movement.
However, "dogmatism and sectarianism, unless steadfastly combated, can also become the chief danger at particular stages in the development of individual parties."
Finally, who is to define "revisionism" and "dogmatism?" Obviously Khrushchev is determined to keep this "lever of power" in his own hands. He demonstrated this most dramatically at the Twenty-second Party Congress where he made his famous attack on the Albanian Party leaders, only to be rebuffed by Chou En-lai, who protested the bringing into the open of this bitter inter-party quarrel, and then departed for Peking. The Chinese leadership could, had it been so minded, have cited the very words of the Soviet Party Program on this crucial point:
The Communist Parties are independent and they shape their policies with due regard to the specific conditions prevailing in their own countries. . . . The Communist Party of the Soviet Union . . . regards it as its internationalist duty to abide by the appraisals and conclusions which the fraternal parties have reached jointly concerning their common tasks in the struggle against imperialism, for peace, democracy and socialism. . . .
Apparently the Soviet leadership has been unusually sensitive to the accusation that it dictates its policies unilaterally to other Parties, for it inserted a significant rewording in the final version of the Program. The draft of August 5 stated:
The C.P.S.U. will continue to strengthen the unity and cohesion of the ranks of the great army of Communists of all countries.
This could be read to mean that the C.P.S.U. will, by its direct action within or upon those Parties, strengthen their "unity and cohesion" and assure their obedience to Moscow. In the final draft this slip of the drafters was softened:
The C.P.S.U. will continue to direct its efforts to the unity and cohesion of the ranks of the great army of Communists of all countries.
Indeed, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Khrushchev to exercise over a wide diversity of régimes and Parties Stalin's "internationalist discipline." As the Program states in another context: ". . . not only the big states, but also the small ones. . . . are in a position, irrespective of their strength, to pursue an independent foreign policy." The forces of division seem to be working within "the camp of socialism" as well as beyond its bounds. The impact of fissiparous trends may be all the more serious for Khrushchev's policy just because these tendencies run directly counter to Communist dogma as well as to Soviet ambition.
It is important to know the new Party Program. It is not mere rhetoric or a pious affirmation of hopes or aspirations. Lenin and his successors have prided themselves on "the unity of theory and practice," and since the new Program, despite Peking's carpings, is genuinely Leninist, it lays down not a theory but a set of comprehensive and coherent guidelines for action.
Modern practices of scientific analysis also affirm "the unity of theory and practice," but this means something quite different to the West. Under conditions of free inquiry it means that theories are formed on the basis of carefully examined facts for the purpose of giving order to larger and more complex bodies of facts. Then, when new or previously unexamined facts can no longer be explained or contained within existing theories, these comprehensive concepts must be revised, sometimes radically. Thus, the generalizing role of theory in a system of free inquiry means that all theories have a utility value rather than a moral value, that many theories are competing to establish their validity as scientific tools, and that they are basically tentative rather than absolute in character.
Despite the recent and modest enlargements of the sphere of inquiry in Soviet scientific thought, the fundamental duty of the political leadership to define the limits of inquiry and to state in advance the conclusions it must reach has been strongly reaffirmed in the 1961 Program:
The investigation of the problems of world history and contemporary world development must disclose the law-governed process of mankind's advance toward communism, the change in the balance of forces in favor of socialism, the aggravation of the general crisis of capitalism, the break- up of the colonial system of imperialism and its consequences, and the upsurge of the national-liberation movement of peoples.
In Soviet theory and practice, what is desired is stated as already proved "scientifically." The only purpose of inquiry is to prove again what has already been affirmed by political authority to be "true." The Soviet insistence that new data, or facts that cannot be fitted to the only valid theory, are "non-facts" is a continuing obstacle to any genuine freedom of discourse. The habit of raising each disagreement to a quarrel between "sin" and "virtue" also remains strong. This means that the examination of new or unwelcome facts is regarded, not as an interesting exercise in scientific skill, but as another form of political combat.
The rigidities of Communist thought make it very difficult (outside the natural sciences and technology) for the shapers of policy to have available the findings of objective research. Nevertheless, the range of useful investigation is definitely wider today in domestic policy than it is in the analysis of world affairs. The Soviet leaders have made numerous adjustments in their domestic economic policy: breaking up the machine- tractor stations, cutting back long-range investment in hydroelectric power plants in favor of more numerous and less costly thermal plants, and so forth.
The quality of rational inquiry has been improved substantially in those fields where its validity is of direct advantage to the decision-makers. Unfortunately, even in this area of policy many of the major decisions seem still to be based primarily on deeply rooted prejudice. What will the Soviet people do with all the steel that has been promised by 1980? What can it do with a vast flow of petroleum if the output of private cars remains as low as is planned? Can agriculture possibly meet the growing and more varied needs of the Soviet people without a far larger investment of resources?
In the study of foreign countries and world politics, on the other hand, there has been almost no relaxation of political rigidities. Everything is painted in black and white. On one side, angels; on the other, devils. If dialectical materialism can provide a scientific basis for analysis, it should make it possible for Soviet experts to examine more objectively than they now do the causes of the high rate of growth in several of the free- world economies. It should actually encourage them to state calmly and without indignation why other systems operate differently from the Soviet one. A strong and powerful country needs objective information and conscientious analysis, and its rulers should not be afraid to permit the full use of scholarly inquiry if they want to be well served.
Because "science" had become a magic word in his time, Karl Marx baptized his theory of economic history with the name of "scientific socialism," and the same honorific adjective has been claimed by Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev for their political programs. In practice, however, many of the judgments made by Soviet leaders have chiefly reflected ingrained ideological prejudices and strong political ambitions. As often as not, Soviet appraisals have fallen wide of the mark.
By the late 1920s the Comintern, along with some "bourgeois" economists, was predicting the onset of an economic crisis in Western Europe and North America. On the other hand, the first Five Year Plan was drawn up on the assumption that world prices of foodstuffs and raw materials, Russia's main exports, would remain stable. Moscow's oracles insisted, in the face of obvious facts, that the depression of 1929 was driving the United States down the path of fascism. In 1941 Stalin assumed that, if Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, Britain would make a compromise peace with him because of common "class interests." Fortunately for the people of the Soviet Union, Churchill and Roosevelt had already concerted a policy of alliance with Russia against the common enemy. In 1948 Stalin thought he could take West Berlin by a cruel blockade, and since 1958 Khrushchev has made several misjudgments of the Berlin question. Until recent months Soviet spokesmen have had little or nothing to say about the rapid steps that Western Europe has been taking toward economic unification; the "law" of capitalist competition made this historic process, in Moscow's eyes, an absurdity. The record of Soviet predictions suggests that it is more faith or habit than practical performance that supports the Kremlin's claim to possess the sole "scientific" and "infallible" instrument for predicting the future course of events.
Since 1953 many things have changed for the better in Soviet life. The improvements in food, housing, clothing and household conveniences have been widespread and substantial. In literature new themes of individual love and suffering, together with a cautious criticism of recent Stalinist "excesses," have become almost fashionable. More than at any time since the early 1930s the Party and the press seem to be trying to remedy some of the most callous features of Soviet administration and to improve the workings of Soviet justice.
All this is extremely welcome. The people of the Soviet Union, as they approach the forty-fifth anniversary of the October Revolution, have earned over and over the right to a modest return for their vast sacrifices and patience. Through this long travail they have preserved many fine qualities of friendliness, hospitality and patriotism. The modest comforts many of them have now attained, the pride in the scientific and material achievements of their country, and a burning memory of the Second World War combine to make them deeply and genuinely eager for peace and coexistence. They are now confident of the good intentions of their new rulers toward themselves, and therefore they accept more readily the Kremlin's protestations that only Soviet policy is "peace-loving" and that the sole risks of war now arise from the "imperialists" and their conspiracies.
"Making a peace treaty" with East Germany, "putting an end to the occupation régime in West Berlin"-all this sounds very reasonable to Soviet people. They are not aware that the people of West Berlin regard the token garrison as their protector and that they resent profoundly Ulbricht's insistence on "liberating" them from their hard-won freedom and prosperity. If people in the Soviet Union did know this, with whom could they discuss it? All they can do is hope that Khrushchev, who seems to them a human sort of man, knows what he is about and will, as he promises, safeguard peace.
The same old attempt to maintain a low level of strain at home and a high level of tension abroad has again been standard Soviet tactics in recent years. For many months Soviet readers heard all about the 400 or so American military advisers in Laos and the supply of American military matériel and economic support. It was many months before one relatively obscure Soviet newspaper gave one solitary hint that Soviet supplies and planes were engaged on the Communist side. Even now Soviet readers have no inkling that in Laos a major part of the fighting has been conducted by North Vietnamese units. Similarly, after the Soviet Government had announced on August 31, 1961, the forthcoming renewal of hydrogen bomb tests, it gave no further information to Soviet readers for some six weeks. Even so, the news apparently spread rather widely, at least in the major cities, and gave rise to a good deal of muted anxiety.
A fierce patriotism, a defensive resentment of any condescension on the part of foreigners, a strong pride in Soviet strength and achievements- these emotions are widely shared. They make it easy for many Soviet people to accept a messianic ideology of Russia's unique mission, without thinking very much about the historic foundations of this notion or about its intellectual inconsistencies. The extreme self-righteousness of the Kremlin's boasts and demands is more troubling to many thoughtful Soviet people. Sometimes they wonder whether there is not a contradiction between Russia's being "the strongest power" in the world, as Khrushchev often claims, and the strenuous effort to protect its people against all but carefully screened and denatured information about the "imperialist" world.
Coexisting on the same globe with a one-eyed and angry giant is dangerous rather than exhilarating. In one breath he demands "friendship" and describes the many achievements, mainly material, that he admires in American life. In the next, he explains with "scientific" certainty why Communism will inevitably "bury" this much envied America. Even without benefit of Freud, it is not hard to see the power lust bursting out from behind the appeals for "peace and friendship."
We must, nevertheless, deal with the world as it is, and two of the facts of the world are the Soviet messianic fantasy and the power the Soviet leaders wield. It is, of course, a sign of good judgment that the Soviet leadership recognizes the mutually suicidal character of a nuclear war, and we must welcome its stated intention to contain the conflict within a rather elastic definition of "peaceful coexistence." As the Soviet spokesmen have made clear at Geneva, however, the Kremlin is not actively interested in bringing nuclear arms under control, and it believes it can gain more political advantages by continuing the arms race at a high pitch.
Moscow regards the present period of "peaceful coexistence" as a prolonged contest in which it must exert its full strength and will in order to make decisive gains by all means short of nuclear war. By the leverage of its strategic, political and economic power it hopes, within a few years, to bring about a great shift of political power in its favor. In contrast to Stalin's cautious peripheral probings, Khrushchev's declared ambitions, and the current Soviet programs of action, now extend to all continents except, perhaps temporarily, Australia. Since Soviet military and economic strength will be growing rapidly in coming years, it is not going to be enough for the countries that cherish freedom to repeat old and tried formulas that have served them well in previous crises. They must seek actively for new ways to bring their great political, economic and strategic resources to bear in the balance if they are going to survive in freedom the multiple challenge that is posed by Khrushchev's program of "peaceful coexistence."
[i] This and subsequent translations of excerpts are official ones, reproduced in "Soviet Communism: Programs and Rules," edited by Jan F. Triska (San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Company, 1962). Orthography and punctuation have been adapted slightly.
[ii] I read the Russian original to mean "the historic mission," rather than "a historic mission."