It is common ground that something roughly describable as "re- Stalinization" has been taking place in the Soviet Union over the past five years. More precisely, the present leaders are re-Stalinizing in the sense that they are consolidating the Stalinist institutions (a little shaken by Khrushchev's various reorganizations); preserving the rule of Stalin's chosen personnel ; restoring the rigor of his doctrines; putting a stop to the exposure of any more indecent facts of Soviet history; and tightening up the ideological and political disciplines required by his system. They are not reinstituting (and are occasionally and mildly deploring) those elements of Stalin's technique which were directed to terrorizing the party apparatus itself. Nor are they practicing indiscriminate repression against the population. Stalin, to atomize society and build his new system on its ruins, relied on creating total insecurity among friend and foe alike. The present rulers have neither the need, nor the will, to do this: only their critics have anything to fear from them. Stalin revolutionized a society; the present-day "Stalinists" wish to consolidate the new one. The aim is different: but above all the mood is different-a timid (though sometimes panicky) mediocrity has replaced a raging will.

In a world of rapid communication an impression is given of greater cultural unity than anyone would have suggested 100 or 500 years ago. Where every political leader wears trousers, it seems to be felt that basic cultural differences cannot exist as they would have been understood to do between a turban-clad Sultan and a periwigged Hanoverian King. It is always tempting for us to take the unconscious assumptions of our own society as natural and universal. The polity created by Stalin and inherited by the present leaders does not have the norms of our own (though in many respects it claims to have them, thus further confusing the outside observer).

The Soviet leaders speak, in however debased a form, one of the political dialects of the West. In it they constantly imply that the main difference between the United States and the U.S.S.R. is one of social organization. In reality this has little bearing on the matter-as can perhaps be deduced from the Soviet use of almost identical propaganda criteria in differentiating between the U.S.S.R. and Jugoslavia and between the U.S.S.R. and the United States. The differences, in reality, are at basic levels of civic culture and cannot be understood in terms of "capitalism" and "socialism." (And if socialism has anything to do with the idea of society exerting some control over the economy, the United States is more socialist than Russia as well as more capitalistic.)

Understanding the different attitudes of this alien culture is difficult, but the effort must be made. It depends partly on imagination. It is always difficult, for example, for us really to grasp in ancient times the powerful element of inhumanity, of minds entirely closed to the idea that a slave could have the same feelings as other men. History itself, in the ordinary sense, cannot give us this feeling: we have to read "Salammbô." In the Soviet case, fiction is unnecessary, but we still have to avoid lifeless general concepts divorced from historical or current reality.

Nor is it simply a case of such errors about the communist polities arising among Westerners more or less sympathetic toward them. For example, more recently, the basic political-strategic error in the conduct of the war in Vietnam was surely the failure to understand the motivation of the Politburo in Hanoi; the whole sophisticated mechanism of "graduated response" was based on the unconscious and false assumption that the other side would act according to what would appear from our point of view to be normal common sense. And, even now, on both sides in the argument about ABMs (if in different degrees) one notes a similar failure to look at the real Russian leadership, as against an abstract, computerized opponent. For example, it is argued[i] that since a technical solution to the ABM problem is very difficult, a political one should be sought instead. To put it this way is to forget that the political problem might be more refractory still.

On the sanguine view, the U.S.S.R. is in principle much like any other country, and if its political principles are at the present time to some degree aberrant, this is a minor phenomenon, rapidly being overcome by the forces of convergence, common sense and the natural law. Close and concerned observers, on the other hand, see a different picture. Reports from the Czechoslovak communist leaders who were taken to Moscow under arrest after the 1968 invasion all emphasize that while they had expected the Soviet leaders to be narrow dogmatists, they were surprised at their coarseness and thuggishness. Observers in the U.S.S.R. have similar opinions of the low standards and the narrow horizons prevailing. American readers will, or should, have read Anatole Shub's striking series in The Washington Post last year.[ii] The British left-wing New Statesman's even more left-wing East European correspondent, K. S. Karol, writes: "Stalin's heirs have shown themselves completely incapable of carrying on either his mission or his methods. They have forgotten all he previously taught them on the art of dividing the opposition, or of dressing up every action in plausible doctrinal robes. In a word, they are completely ignorant of politics, which they have replaced with plain brute force incapable of deceiving even the citizens of their own country."[iii] Karol quotes a Russian who remarked that the Soviet Government had contrived to antagonize nearly all the nations in the world, and adds that propaganda attacking, for example, complicity between Mao Tse-tung and West Germany and between Mao Tse-tung and the "imperialists of Israel" inspires genuine fear in Russia for its lack of any sense of proportion: "instead of stimulating, it demoralizes an already traumatized and apolitical country. . . ."

Roger Garaudy, the noted French communist recently deposed from the Politburo of the French Communist Party, points out that "the present Soviet leaders" had by 1966 "completely interred the criticism of Stalinism," and gives the reasons: "the leaders who form the essential framework of the Party and the State were formed by Stalinism and put in position in Stalin's time on the basis of the criteria of the epoch: the acceptance of official dogmas; the fulfillment without discussion, at every level, of directives coming from above; and centralized, bureaucratic and authoritarian functioning."[iv]

Andrei Amalrik, in a profound analysis, similarly notes that not merely is the present degree of freedom in the U.S.S.R. minimal compared with what is required of a developed society, and is moreover shrinking, but that the whole concept of "liberalization" is misleading, since it implies some sort of deliberate plan to adapt the Soviet system to modern conditions: "as we know, there was, and there is, no such plan." At the same time he feels that it is equally false to think of the régime making piecemeal concessions to the pressures of society. On the contrary, "the régime regards itself as the acme of perfection and so deliberately does not want to change its ways either of its free will, or, still less, by making concessions to anyone or anything." In so far as relaxation takes place, it is merely a sign of "growing decrepitude," of a decline, in this as in every other field, of the vigor and energy of the ruling caste.[v]

Michel Tatu-long, as the Moscow correspondent of Le Monde, the most respected of all direct observers of the Soviet scene-takes a similar view, and sees no way out except through either a disintegration of the system or a reversion to one-man rule, as the result of some form of coup.[vi] Garaudy, from his different political position, also sees no hope for the present leadership, and equally no hope of "change of political orientation" except by "the way of an explosion, or of a 'palace revolution'." And failing any democratic development, he envisions the "bureaucratic-military" leadership perhaps developing into "a reactionary neo-Bonapartism and a dictatorship of the army."

But how does the contrary conception arise? Professor Hugh Seton-Watson, head of London University's School of Slavonic Studies, remarks sardonically that, evidently, "What 200,000 Communist Party officials, from Brezhnev down to the secretaries of party branches in factories or collective farms, tell their subjects is all camouflage. The real views of the Soviet leaders are what some nice guy from the Soviet delegation at the U.N. said over a drink or what an itinerant Midwestern scientist heard from some friendly academician in Novosibirsk."[vii]

Dr. Ronald Hingley of Oxford University remarks upon a certain type of Westerner who "has seen the bastions of Soviet reaction fall again and again," and "remains permanently poised for the great moment when, somehow, all will change and the dawn of enlightenment, reasonableness, ease and prosperity will suddenly break.... In an instant of time (and with luck as the result of a 'summit conference') a new era of sweetness and light will be ushered in on the international and Soviet domesticarena." Hingley comments that basic misapprehensions about the U.S.S.R., almost unknown among specialists in Soviet affairs, are also rare among the ordinary people, being confined to men of fair intelligence. "For it is surely true, if not generally recognized, that real prowess in wrong-headedness, as in most other fields of human endeavor, presupposes considerable education, character, sophistication, knowledge, and will to succeed."[viii]

These more or less frivolous, or unconscious, misapprehensions are compounded by certain writers with something resembling a general theory of the "convergence" of the Western and Soviet systems. Both are largely industrial (this view has it), so economic pressures will impel them, and in fact are already impelling them, into an essential similarity.

Of course it is true that economic pressures, like all other living forces in the U.S.S.R., tend constantly against the present system. But there is no evidence, as opposed to sanguine generalities, to show that the present régime is likely to bend to them more than minimally. Their release, when it comes, can hardly be other than as part of a general disintegration of the system. The collective farm system, for example, is quite alien to genuine productive principles and constitutes a vast investment in inefficiency and inadequacy. Yet there is no sign whatever of its abandonment; here, as everywhere, political dogma and political discipline are decisive for the present ruling group.

Rather than examining general probabilities, we must examine the available evidence as to the actual cultural-political content of Soviet society. The political machine Stalin created was designed, among other things, to enable him to impose his will against the natural economic trends. For perhaps the first time in history, a political organization was created that was powerful enough to take on the social forces and break them.


The present leaders started for the most part in humble posts in the newly Stalinized Party of the early thirties, whose main activity (particularly in the Ukraine) was an almost unbelievably brutal crushing of the peasantry. Most of them made their careers in the great purge of 1936-38, a period when the qualifications required for promotion were denunciation of one's comrades and servility to the Stalin machine.

At the February-March 1937 plenum of the Central Committee, which marked the final establishment of Stalin's personal autocracy, he told those present that all party officials should "select, within a certain period, two people in each case, two party workers capable of being their real substitutes." As it turned out, his estimate was conservative. Throughout the country, it was very common for only the third or fourth of a series of party secretaries-or of army commanders or factory directors-to be holding their positions by the end of the purge. Academician Andrei Sakharov, the atomic scientist, has lately told us that one-half of the party membership (over 1,200,000) was actually arrested in 1936-39-and that of these only 50,000 ever came out of jail again.[ix] Moreover, this casualty rate was highest among those who held any sort of responsible position.

Nor was it possible to rise without full complicity in the terror. A typical instruction put out in April 1938 made a special call to those conducting the purge not to forget to bring the "silent, politically spineless ones" to account.[x] That is to say, no one could remain in good odor at all without denouncing and exposing "enemies." And we can be quite certain that anyone who rose rapidly must have given particularly acceptable service in this field.

In fact the Brezhnev-Kosygin generation is the actual product of the Stalin terror. The rulers who preceded the present group-Molotov and Malenkov, Khrushchev and Beria-had a record of ruthless brutality. But they had reached positions of influence before the terror. They were its creators rather than its products, Frankensteins rather than Monsters. (Indeed, it was only from them, with their residual independence of mind, that the various attempts at de-Stalinization could come.) This is not an ethical differentiation; the most noticeable change seems to be, rather, that the later generation is far more constricted in imagination, in the ability to look at the world and the ability to conceive new policies. As a victim, and close observer, of the purge pointed out of those who then came up, "They had not even the normal advantages of youth in their favor, for the choosing had been a very negative one. They were men who had denounced others on innumerable occasions. They had bowed the knee whenever they had come up against higher authority. They were morally and intellectually crippled."[xi]

To see how these processes took place, how the present leadership was formed, it is worth examining the facts of their political origins in some detail. Leonid Brezhnev became a member of the Communist Party in the Ukraine in 1931, at a time when its main activity was the crushing of the peasantry. The party membership was mobilized to extract from the peasantry a certain amount of food for export, regardless of whether that left the peasant anything to eat. As one Soviet novelist, Ivan Stadnyuk, has put it, "First the children died, then the men and finally the women." Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his "The First Circle," has a peasant describing how earlier in that year someone would drive round the village shouting at each house "Anyone dead?" but later on this was changed to "Anyone alive?" Five and a half million is the most probable figure for deaths simply by famine. In all, ten million peasants were starved, killed or deported. Party members, and particularly the students among them, were formed into squads to carry out these actions. Brezhnev was at this time a student at the Dneprodzerzhinsk Metallurgical Institute, with previous agricultural experience, and he did his duty.

From 1935 he held a post in a local factory. The Great Purge was just about to begin. From 1936-39 the Ukraine suffered more heavily than almost any other part of the country under Stalin's new super-terror. Of the 1937 Ukrainian Central Committee of 102 members only three reappeared the following year. The whole Politburo went. All the Secretaries of the Provincial Committees and all their successors disappeared. The entire Ukrainian government was replaced, and then its successors were replaced in their turn. The Party and State virtually ceased to exist except as appendages of the NKVD. The Prime Minister, Lyubchenko, committed suicide with his wife. The First Secretary, Kossior, was shot with his wife and two brothers. Lyubchenko's successor, Bondarenko, and his successor, Marchak, were shot. Every profession and every industry were ruthlessly purged. The general commanding the Kiev military district, Yakir, was shot, and so was his successor, Fedko. The head of the opera, Yanovsky, was shot, and the purge raged through the cultural institutes. Of the 13 secretaries of the Kiev Academy of Science who succeeded each other between 1931-38, none was spared. Of the seven principals of Kiev University one died a natural death and the others were all arrested.

In the factories the same atmosphere prevailed. Dr. Weissberg, who worked with the foundry industry, recalls that usually it was the third or fourth director who kept his place. To please the Party a factory executive of the time required certain qualities. Brezhnev had them. In 1937 he was promoted- to be deputy chairman of the local Executive Committee (i.e. deputy mayor). In 1938 he became a full-time party organizer, which at this time bore its own meaning. Starting as head of a department in the Dneprodzerzhinsk Provincial Party Committee, by 1939 he had become its Secretary. By 1950 he was First Secretary in Moldavia, a "republic" formed from territories annexed from Rumania, and noted for a particularly harsh style of party rule. Stalin appointed him one of the Secretaries of the Central Committee in Moscow in 1952 at the height of the gathering new wave of terror centered on the Doctors' Plot. He was only demoted, for the time being, after Stalin's death.

The present leadership contains a number of other veterans of the Stalin machine in the Ukraine. Andrei Kirilenko's career is very similar. He, too, was a party member in the Ukraine from 1931 and by 1938 had become party secretary of a district committee and by 1939 Secretary of the Zaporozhe Provincial Committee. President Podgorny joined the Communist Party in 1930 and he too worked in the Ukraine from 1931-37, and by 1939, after various promotions, was a Deputy Minister. In 1944 he held for a time the post of plenipotentiary of the Ukrainian Republic in Poland, to supervise the deportation of Soviet citizens.

Outside the Ukraine, the worst-hit area was Leningrad, where (apart from two honorary non-Leningrad figures) none of the city's 152 delegates to the 1934 Party Congress was there for that of 1939. In 1935 Alexei Kosygin graduated from the Leningrad Textile Institute, then became a foreman in a textile mill. He advanced his career as a result of the purge, and "played an active role" in Leningrad's party life as a member of the city's Vyborg District Committee, when the main "activity" was the denunciation and purge of previous secretaries and bureaus. In 1937 he filled a gap left by the purge when he became director of the "October" Textile Works. In 1938 he moved up to head the Transport-Industry Department of the Leningrad Provincial Party organization, and then to be Mayor of Leningrad (replacing the executed I. F. Kodatsky) and in January 1939 was already a People's Commissar in the central government.

Mikhail Suslov worked from 1931 with the disciplinary bodies of the Party and took part in the official party purges from 1933-34 in the Urals and elsewhere. At Rostov-on-Don, the notorious former NKVD man Evdokirnov was in charge. Even he is said to have protested against the extent of the purges, and he and his colleagues were shot. Suslov became a secretary of the Rostov Provincial Committee in their wake. He was promoted again and by 1939 was First Secretary on another much purged provincial committee, Stavropol. In this area he covered the Karachai, a Turkic people of the Caucasus. Their deportation en bloc, as part of Stalin's genocide policy, came in 1944. It was, of course, a police action, but Suslov seems to have had the immediate political responsibility. We do not know the casualties of the Karachai, but Academician Sakharov has recently told us that in the parallel case of the Crimean Tatars, 46 percent died, mainly children and old people. Perhaps as a result, Suslov was transferred later in 1944 as one of the three plenipotentiaries reimposing Soviet power in the Baltic states. Suslov got Lithuania, the most difficult of the three, and there supervised the ruthless crushing of the local partisan movement-which, however, continued to fight on after his departure in 1946. In 1947 Stalin made him a Secretary of the General Committee of the Party, the position he has held ever since.

Kiril Mazurov, a younger man, went into the political administration of the railways in Byelorussia in 1938. The railways were among the most purged section of Soviet life. At this time vast nests of "Trotskyite-Japanese spies" had been uncovered on every track in Russia. Railwaymen were held by the thousand in prison trucks in sidings where special courts presided over their execution. By 1940 Mazurov had become First Secretary of the Provincial Komsomol Committee at Brest in the territories newly seized from Poland, where the main party activity was mass terror, and organizing the deportation of the Poles and Western Ukrainians by the hundred-thousand.

Alexander Shelepin was too young to be involved in the early purges, but became important in the Moscow Committee of the Young Communist League from 1940, and from 1943-50 was a secretary of Stalin's Young Communist Central Committee. Stalin promoted him to head this body in October 1952, the worst period. Stalin's idea of a Komsomol, since officially stated in a speech of S. Pavlov at the November 1962 plenum of the Soviet Party's Central Committee, was that "the very first task of all Komsomol education work was the necessity to seek out and recognize the enemy, who then were to be removed purely forcibly, by methods of economic pressure, organizational- political isolation, and methods of physical destruction." Shelepin held this post till 1958 and then became head of the KGB, which organized such actions as the assassination of the Ukrainian leader Bendera and other anticommunist leaders in exile, by means of the notorious gas-gun pistols.

Similar things, at various levels within the Stalin machine, could be said of the remaining members of the Politburo and Secretariat. No less than 36 members of Stalin's 1952 Central Committee are members of the current one elected in 1966. They are even more strongly represented in the leadership. Brezhnev, Kosygin, Shelepin, Suslov, Voronov, Grishin, Ustinov, Kapitonov, were all full members and Ponomarev was a candidate member. In general, the mere continuity of the present régime with Stalin's is remarkable. Khrushchev's attack on Stalin rid the Central Committee, in all, over a period of eight years, of eight "Stalinists," of whom one, Voroshilov, was restored to his position by Khrushchev's successors. In fact, there is now an increasing tendency to rely on old trusties of Stalin. Alexander Yepishev, Stalin's nominee as Deputy Minister of State Security during the horrible Doctors' Plot period, now plays a most important role. General Shtemenko, Stalin's Chief of Staff in the postwar years, who was much despised in professional circles and degraded two ranks at Stalin's death, is now back in high position and played an important part in organizing the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

It was of the political origins of such men as these that Alexander Solzhenitsyn suggests in "The First Circle," that "While Stalin would not tolerate failure, he also hated it if people were too efficient. ... so Stalin's touch turned everything into mediocrity." Other accounts of the period, for example that of Professor Tokaty (Tokaev), who had direct experience of the top leadership, also give the impression that while a handful of the younger members in the postwar Politburo, such as Malenkov and Voznesensky, were men of decisive intelligence, immediately below them one found nothing but bureaucratic windbags, whose main concern and only skill was in shifting the blame.


The anti-Semitism of the apparat is another sign of intellectual degeneration. Anti-Semitism cannot be traced in the régime until about 1943- 4. By 1948, junior apparatchiks, of the type now at the top, were boasting to the Jugoslavs of how "Comrade Zhdanov purged all the Jews from the apparatus of the Central Committee and how the Assistant Chief of the General Staff, General Antonov, was exposed "as being of Jewish origin."[xii]

Later came the arrest of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and the horrors of the Crimean Affair and the Doctors' Plot There is little reason to believe that Stalin himself was seriously anti-Semitic except for what he took to be political advantage. But the attitudes which were now absorbed by the apparatus in general did not have this cynical limitation. It was after Stalin's death that the crudest anti-Semitic attitudes prevailed. Konstantin Paustovsky, the writer, noted the "pogromist" jokes of senior officials in 1956, and we later saw such things as the by no means isolated case of the notorious book "Judaism without Embellishment," by Z. T. Kitchko (1963). That these feelings thoroughly permeated the present leadership became obvious at the meetings between the Soviet and Czech communist leaders-still in slightly toned-down form-at Cierna-nad-Tiszu, and in their full crudity when the Czechoslovak leadership was kidnapped after the invasion and taken to Moscow, where Kriegel was openly referred to in front of his colleagues as "that damned Galician Jew."

Any serious estimate of the Soviet leaders must deal, too, with the built- in tendency to irrationality which has pervaded the Soviet Communist Party from early days. The irrational element may be seen in scandalous form in spheres usually regarded as nonpolitical, for example in the medical area, always a favorite stamping ground for the irrational layman. Lenin, in a well-known letter to Gorki, in November 1913, advised him to avoid Bolshevik doctors: "But really, in 99 cases out of 100, doctor-comrades are asses.... To try on yourself the discoveries of a Bolshevik-that's terrifying!" He realized, in fact, that the intellectual likely to be attracted to Bolshevik political theory was only too likely to be "advanced" in crackpot fashion in other fields.

During the great "show trial" of 1938, it came out in evidence that a number of high party officials had been receiving treatment from one of the accused, Kazakov, who was admittedly a complete quack. After the war the régime sponsored the notorious "longevity" quack, Lepeshinskaya, and others- as well as the terrorist charlatan, Lysenko, in biology. Lysenko was discredited with his protector, Khrushchev.

None of this is, of course, to deny a rational component in Soviet political decisions. It is, however, to assert the existence and the importance of the irrational. Observers who do not make allowances for this sort of thing, who do not correct their own natural tendency to impute rational (even if mistaken) motives to policy decisions, will surely fall into misinterpretation.

It is also true and important that the present leaders have no natural ascendancy over the other members of the Central Committee, including men (themselves comparative third-raters like Patolichev, Mikhailov and Pegov) who were in positions just below the most senior long before Podgorny or Kirilenko were ever heard of. It seems clear that a good number of apparatchiks of the second rank must regard the present Politburo as a more or less accidental concatenation of nonentities who could in principle be replaced. That any replacements now visible would also, in general, equally lack credibility is one of the cruxes. It implies that the decadence of the present leaders is not an accident of personalities but inherent in the whole political situation.

As Rosa Luxemburg long ago predicted, the absence of political liberty has resulted in the dying out of true political life and intelligence. The sequence Lenin-Stalin-Malenkov-Khrushchev-Brezhnev is a rapidly plunging graph. The present Politburo is the first to show no superiority in ability or prestige over the main body of the party apparat. One is reminded, on its different scale, of the "heat-death of the universe." In this closed system entropy has done its work. There is now hardly a sign of anything rising above the mediocre norm.

Moreover, the current Politburo has not, as I write, produced any one figure capable of providing genuine direction. It operates, rather, as what the science fictioneers have hypothesized for us as a "hive-mind." But the linking of 11 third-rate members has not produced the single will required. Vacillation, the attempt to combine contradictory drives, has been the pattern. The predominant motive seems to be a desire to avoid all change and reform in the hope that no crisis will spring up and that the contradictions within their society and economy will go away. There is an absence of motivation, except for the apologetics-and the defense-of power.

One of the strongest impressions given by the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia is of the extraordinary political incompetence of the Soviet action. Even Hitler's comparable invasion of March 1939, crude and brutal though it was, showed a far higher degree of political finesse. First, a more or less spurious, but at least detectable, Slovak appeal against Prague was set in motion. Then, President Hacha was actually induced (by the most bullying methods, it is true) to sign the appeal to Hitler. The German troops met almost no overt opposition, and marched through and out of the cities. The Czechoslovak ministers formally handed their powers over to the Protector in the Hradcany. None of this in any way implies that the Czechs were not as wholeheartedly opposed in principle to the Nazis as they are to the Russians. It was simply and solely a matter of the superior exercise of political technique. It was thought clumsy at the time; and Ribbentrop became notorious as the most oafish of top diplomats. Since then, standards of duplicity, of competence in villainy, have sunk.

They have sunk even since 1956, when Khrushchev could at least produce some sort of puppet government among the Hungarians. And this diplomatic degeneration, as one might put it, can be seen not only in such major crises, but also in the day-today conduct of Soviet foreign policy. The ambassador in Prague, Chervonenko, was, indeed, an all-purpose square peg, responsible in his last post for the immediate conduct of the split with Peking, and therefore evidently regarded as suitable to exacerbate the next intra-communist crisis.

In fact, what we are seeing is not simply a more or less chance taking of power by a Stalinist faction. It is not the equivalent of a return to political control of Molotov or Kaganovich. On the contrary, it is a much deeper phenomenon (and one less easy to reverse). It represents, in effect, the taking of power by representatives-one might almost say extrusions-of the lower-level, narrow, heavily indoctrinated products of the Stalinist political tradition.

Neither in foreign relations nor toward their own people do they nourish the active, aggressive malice of the founder of Stalinism. Nor do they reach his level of intellect. Nor, too, do they possess his single, and enormous, will power. It is as though the death of a Sultan were to be followed by the rule of a committee of his eunuchs.

They, or their carbon copies, will, at least for the present period in which we now have to formulate a foreign policy, be the dominant factor on the "other side of the hill." No good can come of imagining that anonymous economic or other forces can be relied upon to change their political psychology.

As Orwell shrewdly remarked, "The early Bolsheviks may have been angels or demons, according as one chooses to regard them, but at any rate they were not sensible men." Over half a century, the angelic, or demonic, drive has departed. Yet it is still not as sensible men that the rulers in Moscow should be regarded, but rather, perhaps, if we are to keep within Orwell's metaphor, as trolls.


I would share the view of M. Tatu and others that revolutionary changes are possible in Russia, and perhaps in the fairly near future. But the mere strength of the party and state machinery in being at present should not be underestimated. So long as it does not (and it certainly might) commit suicide in the course of an ungovernable faction fight at the top, or is not overwhelmed by some vast objective crisis (as is again possible), it is fully capable of blocking and containing all the economic, intellectual and other forces which run continually against it. Changes, if they come, will not come with its collaboration or permission. Whatever our hopes for the long run, the political régime whose characteristics we have been considering is the one which will participate in and cope with the crises of the period immediately upon us.

The most urgent, and most immediately dangerous, of these is clearly the confrontation with China. In principle, of course, the Brezhnev doctrine has established the right of the Soviet Union to intervene in any other communist country by armed force in order to install a government and leadership of which it approves. (And its specific right to do so in China has been implied in a recent Prague broadcast.) To be empowered to do something in principle is not the same as to feel capable of doing it in practice. But the Chinese problem is a refractory one at every level. China is not merely aberrant from "true" communist doctrine, but also shows every sign of being actively and dangerously hostile to the U.S.S.R. The motives for a Soviet preëmptive attack before the development of adequate Chinese rocketry are thus both ideologically and militarily compelling. The arguments against it are merely practical: that the installation of an anti- Maoist régime by Soviet arms does not look an easy proposition; and that the Chinese air force may already be in a position to carry out suicidal nuclear bombardments of Soviet cities. What decision will be taken cannot, of course, be predicted, and we may hope that the dangers and complexities may be enough to prevent the outbreak of a possibly uncontrollable war in Asia. All the same, it is clear that the narrow ideological pretensions of the Soviet leaders make such a war more rather than less probable.

As to Soviet-American relations, one can say that in principle, for a communist leadership which regards even non-Soviet-style communist régimes as necessarily illegitimate, no "capitalist" societies have a right to exist at all (though, indeed, in practice heresy is and has always been hated more than unbelief). This régime will never abate its total theoretical hostility to the United States. On the other hand, it has long accepted as a principle that it should reach temporary accommodations where these are beneficial. Unlike China, the Soviet Union for the past 15 years has usually shown a healthy revulsion from the idea of nuclear war with the United States. At present, with enemies on both flanks, it is showing some desire for a measure of détente, if only temporary, with the West, though here one remarks (in the Helsinki negotiations, for example) an absence of any clear-cut willingness to see the full logic of the position and cut through the old line as Stalin did in 1939. And as we refer to the Nazi- Soviet pact, it is worth recalling that, of all the treaties signed by the Soviet Government during the Stalin period, this is the only one which it did not break-because Hitler was too strong. The present neo-Stalinists, clearly enough, will seek to avoid serious trouble with a United States which remains strong. Unfortunately, this is no guarantee that they will not blunder into unforeseen confrontations by pursuing a policy of petty advances, local pinpricks, and a general, continuous, low-pitched hostility to the West throughout the oceans and continents of the world.

Informed and intelligent opinion in the U.S.S.R. has few delusions about the competence and vision of the present leadership (fewer, indeed, than are found in the West). They see rulers who have contrived to antagonize almost the entire world (and have even produced that totally unprecedented phenomenon-a Jugoslav-Albanian détente); who have got the economy, once again, into an impasse; who show no signs of being able to handle the nationalities problem-for example, the Crimean Tatars-either by Stalin's simple methods of oppression, or by the alternative of concession. This sort of disillusionment is at present politically negligible, but it forms an important part of the pressures which, if ever given a chance, could destroy the régime.


It may well be true, as Engels commented of an earlier time in his "The Foreign Policy of Russian Czardom," that "As soon as Russia has an internal development, and with that, internal party struggles, the attainment of a constitutional form under which these party struggles may be fought without violent convulsions ... the traditional Russian policy of conquest is a thing of the past!" That, however, is not yet. In the meantime, various evolutions are possible. But for the immediate future Russia is stuck with a group of rulers who, though faced by a society tending in every respect away from their concepts, are in possession of an immensely powerful instrument for blocking social and political change-and immensely powerful military resources.

Hostile, suspicious, shortsighted, timid-and with the timid man's tendency to lash out at what he fears-the Soviet ruling group is not the one we might wish to see in power. Meanwhile, there it is, and any tendency in the West to pretend otherwise, to see it in a delusive light, may be comforting for the moment, but may also be lethal in the long run. About Russia we need, as ever, not stronger feelings, but stronger understandings.

[i] E.g. by Professor H. F. York in Scientific American, August 1969.

[ii] Now in book form: Anatole Shub, "The New Russian Tragedy." New York: Norton, 1969.

[iii] New Statesman, April 25, 1969.

[iv] "Le Grand Tournant du Socialisme." Paris: Gallimard, 1969, p. 535.

[v] Survey, London, no. 73, p. 47-79.

[vi] "Power in the Kremlin." London: Collins, 1969, p. 538-9.

[vii] The Washington Post, September 14, 1969.

[viii] Survey, London, no. 51, p. 102-110.

[ix] Andrei D. Sakharov, "Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom." New York: W. W. Norton, 1968, p. 55-56.

[x] Yu. P. Petrov, "Partiinoye Stroitel 'stvo v Sovietskoy Armii i Flote." Moscow, 1964, p. 301.

[xi] Alexauder Weissberg, "Conspiracy of Silence," London: Hamilton, 1952, p. 364.

[xii] Milovan Djilas, "Conversations with Stalin." New York: Harcourt, 1962, p. 170.

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