Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
There is a growing feeling, in the West as well as in the Soviet Union itself, that there are prospects, growing prospects, of a "New Russia." There is a feeling, whatever the immediate state of Brezhnev's health, that the fairly near future must see a breakup of the logjam created by a top leadership all of whose members are aged around 70. But the impression, one feels, goes deeper than this. Russia is seen to be at a social and economic dead end. Forthcoming political changes must, in this view, lead to radical and beneficial change over the whole field.
In examining the possibilities, our own first thought in the West is naturally in what way developments in the U.S.S.R. of which there are any real prospects could affect the international scene; and in particular, of course, whether they might contribute to a firm and lasting peace. It is quite true that the internal and international attitudes of the Soviet leadership are closely interlinked-indeed, are aspects of a single worldview. And this again is bound to make us consider what actions, or policies, on the part of the West can best help to turn Moscow in a favorable direction.
The root of the problem of understanding this great central crux in foreign affairs-and one which needs to be insisted on with the utmost emphasis on account of the neglect and misapprehension which are all too common-is fully to grasp and to master the true nature of the Soviet political culture. A vast amount of well-intentioned comment in the West is almost totally vitiated by failure to study and understand the motivations of the Kremlin leadership. In large part this is no doubt due to a perfectly natural habit of extending the assumptions of one's own culture more or less automatically, as if they were universally applicable. In his Nobel Prize speech, Alexander Solzhenitsyn penetratingly noted that in the old days disparate cultures were physically separated. Men were "guided by their own experiences in their circumscribed localities, in their community, in their society and lastly on their national territory. Then it was still possible for a single pair of eyes to perceive and accept some common scale of values." The extraordinary differences between the polities of different parts of the world were known to, and astonished, only a handful of travelers. Nowadays (he remarked), mankind has become "united," not in the old natural way of communities, but rather simply in a crude physical sense, with instant communication of superficial information, while at the same time "people in various places apply their own tried and tested scale of values to events, and insist self-confidently and stubbornly on judging only by their own scale and never by anyone else's."
It follows that a powerful effort, both intellectual and imaginative, is required if we are to have a sound view of the true nature-and prospects-of the Russian system. I must confess-and it is an interesting fact, to put it mildly, that almost all those who have made a special study of the Soviet Union are substantially in agreement with me-that I have little confidence that these necessities are widely enough taken into account in all the political and media circles whose responsibility it is to form or propagate policy.
For the Soviet polity is one whose characteristics are almost extravagantly different from those of our own. Russia was, indeed, for centuries a very awkward member-to the degree that she was a member at all-of the Comity of Nations. I once noted in these pages the names of Marx and Engels among those who saw in Russia, from the time of Peter the Great, a general tendency not merely to expansionism but to "universal supremacy."1 This tendency, only partly explicit in those days, was of course subsumed into the new Soviet-style universalism. Just as absolutism was replaced by totalitarianism, the roughly formulated claim to world supremacy became the hard notion that the only truly legitimate states were those founded on-and not deviating from-the Soviet model, a state of affairs only attainable in practice where Soviet troops are present, or can effect an entry.
Today we are used to the Soviet Union, and in spite of what, regarded in any depth, must be seen as an almost unbelievably aberrant and deviant political culture, we tend to treat it as just another foreign state, a powerful rival no doubt, but little more: a country whose rulers certainly conduct their internal affairs in a way we can only deplore, but who in the international field are to be regarded as more or less like anyone else. Even after a particularly evidential act, such as the invasion of Czechoslovakia, old habits of mind gradually restore the mistaken image. There is a residue of quite inapplicable "good sense," which insists that a new Russia has since emerged, or is emerging, or will emerge. Every verbal assurance, every minor real change, is taken as at least a harbinger of the desired result.
And indeed a real New Russia, in the sense implied, would indicate the total transformation of the world scene; would be the one single event which could bring true and lasting peace to our planet. Is it emerging? Will it emerge? Can we help it to emerge?
When we are considering these grand perspectives of world change, the state of Brezhnev's jawbone or Kosygin's windpipe may appear rather minor matters. But we must not fail to bear in mind that the whole system created by Lenin and Stalin had as its main political achievement precisely a mechanism, an Archimedean lever, whereby a single man or a small group could exert the political weight elsewhere available only to whole social classes. Even if the view is taken that a decisive evolution is due in the Soviet Union, the first break must occur at the top political level.
And so we must first turn to the balance of forces in the Politburo. The growing impasse, the lack of any natural method-even by Soviet standards-of transferring power to a fresh generation is largely due to the very collegiality of the present leadership. When Stalin died at the age of 73 he had already groomed for the succession a man 22 years younger than himself, Georgi Malenkov-and even the other possible contenders, Khrushchev and Molotov, were 14 and 10 years younger respectively. Khrushchev in his turn maintained a series of heirs-presumptive, Kirichenko, Kozlov and Brezhnev, 14, 14 and 12 years younger respectively. But both Stalin and Khrushchev were leaders who had achieved working supremacy, and also effectively eliminated all credible alternatives of their own generation.
The present top five-Brezhnev, Kosygin, Suslov, Podgorny and Kirilenko (aged 68, 71, 72, 72, and 68)-are in a different position. In spite of Brezhnev's general ascendancy, neither he himself nor any of the others has been able to bring to the fore a successor from the younger generation in the Politburo. None of the latter has the long experience and prestige in work at the highest level which Malenkov and Brezhnev had at the time of their successions. None has established the credibility and authority required-perhaps particularly required in present Soviet conditions.
This is not the place for detailed speculation about the probable prospects of individuals.2 It has been commonly taken that if Brezhnev were to be politically or physically incapacitated, Kirilenko would become the leading figure in the Party. But Kirilenko is, or has been, no more than a follower and rather pale echo of Brezhnev himself, right back from when he became his client in the Provincial Committee at Zaporozhe in the 1940s. Far from representing any "renewal," he is a less impressive figure even than Brezhnev, who has had his own difficulties in holding power. Such an appointment could be no more than a lame duck Brezhnevism. We are told, too, that the Brezhnevites favor Fedor Kulakov (born in 1918) as the eventual younger successor. But Kulakov, whose specialty is the unfortunate one of agriculture, has only been three years in the top leadership. On the face of it, Alexander Shelepin, who is the same age, is incomparably more credible-as, indeed, are several other younger men.
Politics is, indeed, a devious art and one can envisage maneuvers in which weak leaders-or ones who are simply not given adequate powers-are accepted with a view to their fall being encompassed in short order. One can, indeed, envisage a scenario by which power could be transferred both smoothly and credibly: the takeover of the top party position by Mikhail Suslov, a senior of far longer experience and higher repute than Kirilenko, and not himself supposed to be ambitious for personal rule, who would mediate the succession of (say) Shelepin to the General Secretaryship and Kiril Mazurov (currently First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers) to the Premiership. But, leaving aside the fact that a Suslov once in power might not after all want to give it up-a situation of which history gives us a number of examples-this (and any detailed discussion of the sort) depends on the relative health and longevity of the individuals of the present septuagenarian supremacy.
As perhaps the closest student of modern Soviet politics, Michel Tatu, has observed, anything is possible in a succession situation, including a political impasse and even a virtual collapse at the highest level, possibly involving military or police intervention, or some other form of coup. It is perfectly true that developments in the Communist countries contain possibilities of every conceivable sort. Who in 1953 would have predicted correctly any of the main events which followed in the Communist world-the Khrushchev speech, the Hungarian Revolution, the Sino-Soviet confrontation, the Rumanian defection, the Prague Spring. . .? And today there are political, national, intellectual and economic forces in the U.S.S.R. which but for the existence of machinery designed to contain them would be fully capable of destroying or totally transforming the political order.
But that machinery does exist and, created by the horrible genius of Stalin, it is powerfully adapted to its purpose. Of course a breakdown involving the overthrow of apparat rule would lead to a New Russia, whose nature cannot be predicted. But the power of the apparat-and its motives for sticking together-are so strong that we had best confine ourselves to the more probable, and more analyzable, prospects. My example of a Shelepin-Mazurov regime represents perhaps the strongest and most credible succession, but even a much weaker team would still find itself in charge of the Party apparat, the Committee of State Security-and the vast armed forces of the U.S.S.R. It would be, in short, essentially a continuation of the present system.
The question then becomes whether, how, and in what sense a New Russia, or the conditions for one, could evolve from the present system.
The difficulties of such an evolution are great. In the first place, the Party machine itself is a structure whose very purpose is bound up with the perpetuation of the present order. Even in the economic field-and contrary to the views of those in the West who imagine that "managerial" types are bound willy-nilly, through mere economic laws, to favor a more efficient and "convergent" structure-such technocrats (as Zbigniew Brzezinski has pointed out) have shown themselves highly conservative both politically and economically, since they are precisely the people trained for and experienced in operating the present inefficient system, and would lose by change. And the apparat (the managerial élite too) is recruited on principles which tend to ensure that the younger men promoted are the copies or toadies of their predecessors. From this point of view there is little use, for example, in looking to the bright new intake from universities, for it is the hide-bound young careerist and Marxist-Leninist, who is secretary of his University Komsomol, who will be the one so recruited.
When we discuss the motivations of the Soviet leadership, we often hear comments roughly to the effect that "ideology" means little to them, and that their main motivation is the preservation of their power and of the system which gives it to them-as if the two factors were in conflict. The question of the relation between a man's actions and his formal beliefs is an old and difficult one and, as Lenin himself pointed out, it is impossible in any case to devise a "sincereometer." Again, there is a difference between the ingrained and automatic attitudes of the "ordinary" believer and the perpetual meditations of the theologian. No one, I imagine, thinks that Brezhnev recites the Theses on Feuerbach every night before retiring. The point is, rather, that "Marxist-Leninist" belief is the sole justification for him and his regime-and further, not simply belief in a particular political theory, but belief in the transcendental, overriding importance of that political theory. As George Kennan has remarked: "It is not so much the actual content of the ideology . . . as the absolute value attached to it."
But we can, in fact, document-and without much difficulty-the attachment to actual dogma of the Soviet leadership. The invasion of Czechoslovakia was a notable act of doctrinal discipline. Another striking example was the extraordinary and clearly long-considered advice given to the Syrian Communists in 1972, and leaked by nationalist members of the local leadership. In two separate sets of conversations, with Soviet politicians and theoreticians respectively, even the former group, two of whom have been identified as Suslov and Ponomarev in person, advised in the most scholastic terms on the impossibility, according to Marxist principles, of recognizing the existence of "an Arab nation." Or, to take a more important matter, the Soviet agricultural system is based on, and rendered grossly inefficient by, nothing but dogma.
The normal way of adapting in adult politics, at least on practical matters, is to keep the label while altering the substance. But when Gennady Voronov faintly adumbrated such an approach in the early 1970s, he was removed as a result. Again, the economy was somewhat reformed in the late 1960s, but only to the degree of taking up a measure of slack in the old system, rather than implementing such plans as the Liberman proposals, which might have been highly effective but only at the cost of a theoretically unacceptable relaxation of political control. As a Soviet economist remarked to a Western left-winger, "I thought they understood, from their experience, that repressive measures would never achieve results, and that they were therefore ready to employ purely economic tools. Now I see there was nothing in it."3
But, indeed, to think in terms of "doctrine" is to give only a partial picture of the sort of process involved. The Marxist-Leninist language used by the ruling Party is not merely some sort of formula. It is the only way in which the leaders are able to represent to themselves the phenomena with which they deal. "Each language cuts out its own segment of reality. We live our life as we speak it. . . .": this fairly typical comment by a prominent student of language (George Steiner) is certainly applicable to the use in politics, from birth onward, of a particular political dialect. Soviet leaders are, it seems clear, simply unable to think in any other categories. Nor can we understand their outlook by "common sense" of our own style.
What, then, are the limits within which any apparatchik regime of the near future could vary its policies, both internal and external?
This raises the perennial Western press picture of "hard-liners." These (it is argued) are powerfully represented in the Politburo, and if we do not give in to the demands of the present leadership, these "harder" figures will take over and make things much worse. This is an old thesis, ever since Edward Stettinius warned Roosevelt that he should accede to Stalin's demands, since the latter was hotly pressed by a group of extremists who would otherwise overthrow him. Given that there are different attitudes among the current leadership to a certain extent-and given, too, that anyone seeking power will hold himself ready to attack any policies that have failed to produce results-nevertheless, so long as Brezhnev has in fact been able to obtain foreign policy advantages without giving anything in exchange, there is little that the "hardest" could object to. This is particularly so when we consider that internally he has exhibited a very high level of dogmatism and authoritarianism in all matters: on agriculture (as we have noted); on the persecution of heterodox thought; and in the suppression of certain "liberal" tendencies within the Party toward the national feeling of the peripheral peoples-as with the removal of Shelest and his supporters in the Ukraine.4
Thus a successor regime that continued the basic Brezhnev policies seems substantially the most likely outcome. At least so long as the Western response continues to give Soviet leaders the best of both worlds, we may expect no change in policies that are in effect the international and internal faces of a single attitude.5
There is, however, one possible future scenario-within the evolutionary non-breakdown framework-for which there are parallels in Russian, and not only Russian, history. Radical change, of whatever type, has always been put into effect in Russia by unchallenged autocrats overriding their own traditional apparats. This was true to a considerable extent of Peter the Great, truer still of the far more important reform of the 1860s by which Alexander II put through the Emancipation of the Serfs, and true (to the extent that they were successful, being incomplete in each case) of the Stolypin modernization in the first decade of this century, and of the Khrushchev episode itself. Thus it is at least possible to envisage the coming to power of a single man with enough insight and force of mind to impose on the Soviet Union the new deal it really needs. The difficulties are of course twofold: first, one does not see the candidate for this operation. And, moreover, as has been obvious over the past ten years, the apparat has grown particularly apprehensive-and vigilant-at the prospect of one-man rule.
There is one other evolutionary possibility: it is not by any means excluded that a new faction could come to the top using the "Khrushchevite" line. Of course, Khrushchev himself had no intention of dismantling Party rule. He was a typical interim figure who saw that there was something badly wrong with Soviet society and yet could not see any answers beyond the system. This led, internally, to a cycle of bold but superficial initiatives in every field. Yet his rule was, in Russian circumstances-as Solzhenitsyn has described it-a miracle. The attempt, in particular, to renew the Party itself, to reestablish truth as a possible criterion-however partially fulfilled-opened perspectives which might conceivably have led to better things, had Khrushchev himself been a better tactician.
As we have noted, however, Khrushchev's personal primacy is not very likely to be repeated, at any rate not soon. One would expect a Shelepin (let us say), even if he elected to play the Khrushchevian card in the future, to be more cautious and careful. Shelepin, Mazurov and others of the younger (late 50s) group seem in fact to be motivated in favor of at least a certain increase in economic and administrative efficiency; but, as we have noted, efficiency need not equate with liberalism and indeed such moves have in the past tended, on the whole, to go with harder internal policies. In any case, as a fresh style of motivation this does not amount to much.
Nor, if we seek more broadly, is there any sign in or around the Central Committee (at least since the removal of Tvardovsky from candidate membership nearly a decade ago) of a genuine trend even by individuals in the direction of Communist-style "liberalism," such as occurred in the quite differently recruited Hungarian and Czechoslovak Communist Parties in 1956 and 1968. In short, the prospects for a radically favorable evolution among the ruling group or their visible successors are minimal, except under very heavy pressures indeed.
If we accept that Soviet principles are not changing, what are we to make of current Soviet foreign policy? Or rather, since the assembly of a huge armament and the avoidance of nuclear war have been part of that foreign policy for three decades, what are we to make of that specific tactic for which we employ the word "détente"?
In the first place, that (as has been frequently stated by Brezhnev himself and others) it is itself, from the Soviet viewpoint, "a form of struggle" with the West. We can note, too, that it is actually compatible with-indeed an aspect of-a policy of matching or overmatching the United States in arms. The novelty, insofar as it is a novelty, is not so much the utterance of pacific phrases or the conclusion of successful negotiations on particular issues. These, of course, marked the era arbitrarily and verbally distinguished from the present by the horrid title of "cold war." Then, too, endless assurances of peaceable intent were present. There were periods of a comparative relaxation of tension, and even the reaching of agreement on issues of great danger, as with the ending of the Berlin blockade in 1949 or the negotiations ending the war in Korea in 1953 or the easing of the Berlin and Cuba crises in 1962. There were even periods of "cultural exchange" at more or less the present level. The true characteristics which mark, or appear to mark, the present period as different are first of all a measure of mutual agreement on arms limitation; and secondly a perfectly serious Soviet campaign for "trade."
The question of Soviet-Western trade, in fact, goes to the heart of the conflict of political cultures between Russia and the West. It is represented as something desirable for its own sake, and something in itself automatically contributing to the establishment of a long-term peace.
This correlation is an extraordinary naivety. Witness only the curious facts that Soviet-American trade declined considerably after the United States recognized the U.S.S.R. in 1933, and that Russian-German trade reached its highest points in 1913 and 1940 respectively. But over and above this, the mere prospects of Soviet-American trade, taken at the most commercial-traveler level, have always been absurdly exaggerated. The naivety I speak of has always been particularly strong among businessmen: Ronald Hingley of Oxford has noted of his various stays in Moscow that (apart from some scientists) Western businessmen there were incomparably top in misapprehension and general silliness about all that went on around them. And this seems to be true at a more formal level. The catalogue of ridiculous overestimates of trade with the Soviet Union since World War II, especially by business leaders, is a long one-as Walter Laqueur in particular has demonstrated.6 As he notes, U.S. trade with the Soviet Union is bound to remain only a small fraction of U.S. trade with Canada, while West German trade with the Benelux countries, for example, will surely remain roughly ten times as great as West German trade with the Soviet Union.
Trade in the normal sense has not become and will not become a major factor, for the perfectly simple reason that Russia has practically nothing the West needs (and even the keenest trade-fans are no longer urging a natural gas deal by which the West would put itself even more abjectly at the mercy of the fuel producers). Of course, there is the odd million to be made here and there. But this is emphatically not a case of what is good for Corporation X being good for America. There are indeed innocent and constructive deals, like Pepsi-Cola's. But others tend to resemble Lenin's remark about Western hemp-manufacturers-that they would happily turn a fast buck by selling him the rope to hang them with.
When we come to the main crux of Soviet trade, we are considering a matter involving the profoundest historical and political-cultural considerations. For the Soviet quandary is one which has affected Russia for nearly three centuries. Since Peter the Great, that country's rulers have sought the technology of the West with the purpose of arming and equipping a political culture based on totally anti-Western standards. Indeed Peter, and Stalin after him, sought Western techniques with the greatest assiduity at the precise times when they were enforcing serfdom and autocracy on an unprecedented scale.
The trouble is, and always has been, that to obtain Western technology while rejecting the civic culture of the West is in the long run not satisfactory-a connection Marxists should be the first to admit. The newly imported techniques may render armaments superior for a certain time, as they did the Russian artillery industry in the 1820s, at a period of maximum political regression. But sooner or later these transplants wither on the vine. Now, at a time of quick technological change, Moscow once again seeks the fruits of-on this occasion-the Third Industrial Revolution: that is, electronics, computerization and so forth.
Having, back in the fifties, challenged the United States at the most sophisticated level of armaments-just the area in which they should not have provoked competition-the Soviet leaders are in principle in a position from which there are few obvious ways out. Not only is there a built-in tendency to fall behind technically, but the Soviet economy is simply not strong enough to support the mere financial strain of the armaments with which they have equipped themselves. To maintain the present system, and keep it viable for the future, they need not only Western techniques but also what would ordinarily be regarded as "aid" of the type sent to backward countries: long-term credits at low rates and cheap agricultural products to buttress incompetent local agriculture. As the Liberal leader, Jeremy Thorpe, remarked on February 18 of Prime Minister Wilson's latest deal: "It is ironic that we are borrowing from the Shah of Persia and extending credit to the Soviet Union."
In both these spheres, clearly, the West is mainly engaged in equipping, or indirectly subsidizing, armaments directed against itself. As Lord Kennet, the Labour defense and foreign-affairs figure, has often pointed out, the Soviet economy could solve all its own problems but for its distortion through vast arms production. Not only has a heavily disproportionate part of their economic effort been put into armaments, but it is also true that in their conditions the skills and resources put into the armaments effort have been totally diverted. There has been virtually no "spin-off" to the benefit of the civilian sector.
And, more important yet, the mere existence of an enormously powerful and efficient armament, including a ballistic missile system matching that of the United States, has its own logic. In Russia, as Max Hayward has pointed out, nothing works except, unfortunately, the armed forces and the KGB. This is an exaggeration, but not a gross one. The Soviet leadership find themselves in possession of vast and efficient fighting machinery, and little else worth boasting about. Governments incompetent at home but capable of demagogic expansionism abroad have traditionally-one might almost say automatically-turned to foreign adventure.
Thus, these huge armed forces constitute a factor in themselves. Their mere existence, and the absence of any other horizons for the Soviet leaders, certainly tend to attract those leaders-and any but the most clear-headed of their successors would have the same temptation-toward using this rare success, this actual resource. This would not indicate any wish actually to loose the nuclear weapon. (I speak now of the Soviet-Western rather than the Soviet-Chinese relationship, since the latter poses particular problems.) But they naturally tend to employ the political pressure of this military power: to use the threat of their armaments on what they would regard as weak sections of the surrounding world. Indeed, even apart from nuclear weaponry, there is no justification, even on a traditional Russian-expansionist view, for such vastly expensive items as their blue-water fleet. This has been justified by Gromyko himself, on the ground (reminiscent of William II of Germany) that Russia's voice must be heard the world over.
And if this situation continues, any "new" leaders in Moscow would find themselves with this same physical equipment and, if they wished to reverse or ameliorate the position, would have to take a major decision-against the grain not only of their universalist ideology but also of a vast established momentum, and in the absence of other successes-to reinforce their position.
In short, there is a direct and inescapable connection between the Soviet desire for trade and the acquisition of Western technologies-on their own terms-and the maintenance of an enormous military establishment which in itself tends to impel any Soviet leadership in the direction of thrusting, if not downright aggressive, foreign policies. And the question whether there can be an evolution in these foreign policies comes in the end to turn heavily on the Western response, particularly in matters of trade.
Even if there are virtually no economic concessions, as such, by which the U.S.S.R. could pay for Western economic assistance, the Soviet leaders could hardly expect in the long run-however lucky they have been in the short-to get something for nothing at all. And what is it that would be of substantial value to the West if we cannot find an economic quid pro quo?
It is in this light that the Jackson Amendment is to be regarded. And when we speak of that Amendment, we should note that it is only one of various initiatives in the West designed to secure at least the beginnings of progress toward an easier world. Just as Senator Jackson has sought to commence the erosion of the siege mentality and siege polity of the U.S.S.R. by asking freedom of emigration, so the European statesmen have, since Chancellor Brandt's speech of May 1970 in Kassel, regarded the free movement of ideas and people as one of the necessary bases for real peace. President Pompidou raised the issue clearly during Brezhnev's visit to France in 1971, and the Danish Prime Minister during Kosygin's visit to Denmark. And since 1973, the Germans, the Danes, the Dutch and other progressive Westerners have continually pressed it, particularly at Helsinki in the Conference on European Security and Cooperation. To the extent that there are now some useful results in this forum, it will be because the West has stood firm.
So we may take the Amendment as representing a whole attitude, widely shared, about the issue of a real détente, of a real progress toward an authentically peaceable state of affairs, rather than a mere truce covering a period of technical reequipment. Such an attitude goes to the heart of Soviet intentions. It is not merely a matter of trying to get some quid pro quo for economic aid-though even that is hardly illogical. Far more profoundly, it goes to the center of the whole question of the possibility of a lasting world peace. Represented by some as a mere moralistic exercise, it is nothing of the sort. It is not just our principles which are involved, but our interest too.
The recent Soviet rejection of the American trade terms-whether or not partly, or largely, influenced by the later reduction in the economic inducement of loan levels-merely shows that one's general analysis of Soviet motives was correct. The Soviets have, as it were, been flushed out into the open. And they are now in a position, one hopes, where they know they can no longer get something for nothing, and will seriously feel the various pressures which may make them, or some of them, begin to recognize the dead end of their total policy.
Basically, the West seems to be faced with a choice between two policies with regard to the Soviet Union. First, it can purchase a temporary and partial truce, by not merely accepting Soviet international and internal conduct as perfectly natural, but also giving it the equipment its system needs to maintain itself as it is, and to make it a far more powerful threat during the next phase. The other is, while giving no opportunity for desperate action, to show Soviet leaders that their current policies are a cul-de-sac which can produce neither empire nor prosperity nor political success even for them. To make it clear, in fact, that-whether under them or as a result of their disappearance-a New Russia must indeed emerge. And, on this latter view, there is a basic fallacy in the idea of economic or other aid to the Soviet Union while it maintains its position of total hostility to the West and all the West stands for.
As for the problem of armaments and arms limitations as such, it is in the interests of both sides, however considered, to reach a measure of agreement. Hence, to a quite important degree these can be considered a separate issue, with similar policies imposing themselves on the West from both "Kissingerites" and "Jacksonites." It is natural that Senator Jackson should be in the forefront of those urging that we should be working for a reduction rather than a maintenance of armaments levels on both sides.
But again there is a direct connection between Soviet decisions on arms limitations and their prospects for maintaining through external aid their present military-industrial system (dwarfing any such "complex" the United States has ever known). While rebuffing the West on human-rights issues and reaffirming the principles of struggle against all Western ideas, the U.S.S.R. may still take practical steps to avoid nuclear war, to ease situations of potential confrontation (such as the Middle East) and to limit arms-if it is made clearly in its interest to do so. The true Soviet economic interest does tend in the direction of some limitation of armaments. But only if the Soviet leaders see that the West is not going to bail out their economy as much in the future will that economic interest predominate in the face of the political-ideological drives that now prevail over it. Once again, as in the thrust for human rights, "détente"-style pseudo-trade cannot be seen as a pressure for peace. On the contrary.
The opposing argument, from what might be called low-level détente fanciers, has always been that trade, cultural exchange and all those things will erode the harshness of Soviet policy and gradually lead to a true entry of Russia into the Comity of Nations. Except in the minimal sense that a few minor Russian officials and citizens may indeed become politically civilized for these reasons, there is no sign of this-and little prospect of it either, as far as the Party and the State, the ruling caste and its ideology, are concerned.
This is not, of course, a flat condemnation of what Secretary Kissinger stands for. There is no reason to imagine that he is deeply deceived about Soviet motivation. The trouble seems to be rather that, in the first place, his brilliant skills as a negotiator are only relevant when it is a matter of getting the optimum result from a set of variables which a less adept man might mishandle. But the area within which this applies, fairly large between states with similar attitudes toward compromise, is severely limited when it comes to the Soviet Union. And there are always, alas, political and other pressures in the West, failures of nerve-and even more of knowledge-which are bound to exert pressures on Western negotiators not so much to provide the appearance of agreement when none has been reached, as to exaggerate, and represent as deep and substantial, accords which only skirt the superficies of the fundamental situation.
The main problem remains Western misunderstanding of basic Soviet attitudes and of the dynamics of the Soviet power structure-whether due to ignorance, or parochialism, or automatism of thought. Is it presumptuous for a London observer to feel that these tendencies are now particularly acute in the United States? At any rate it is instructive to read, on this side of the Atlantic, the impatient outbursts of those who have studied the Soviet Union professionally. I have cited Professor Laqueur and Dr. Hingley. I might equally have called on Professor Leonard Schapiro or Dr. Leopold Labedz, or half a dozen others. But I cannot resist quoting once again the sardonic comment of a renowned academic, Hugh Seton-Watson, who is noted for his restraint and amenity:
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 quiet drink, or what an itinerant Midwestern scientist heard from some friendly academician in Novosibirsk.
Today, more than ever, there is too much of this kind of naive thinking. Even in theoretically serious circles debate has centered, in a manner more appropriate to teenage debating societies, around the simple labels, "détente" (good) and "cold war" (bad). As the current efforts to close or emasculate Radio Liberty indicate, it is suggested that international relations would be improved if Westerners ceased to express opinions, or draw attention to facts, unpalatable to the Soviet leadership-though not, of course, vice-versa.7 Jacksonian, and European, attempts to verify whether the U.S.S.R. has really mitigated its adverse attitude to our general concepts and the norms of civilized international conduct are even more reprobated.
And, in the last analysis, the validity of Western policies cannot be separated from the atmosphere of public opinion that surrounds them. On a realistic basis there is a perfectly good case for a variant of the Kissinger policy of détente-so long as it does not give incentives to Soviet know-nothing dogmatism by unnecessary and unrequited concessions, and so long as it is not conducted under the pressure of uninformed opinion exhausted by unpleasant reality and incited to unrealistic hopes. A Western policy both encouraging to any potential Soviet tendencies to real accommodation, and discouraging to actual tendencies to long-term hostility, is clearly the best. But part-and perhaps the most important part-of such a policy must be the maintenance of vigilance, among the West's peoples as well as its politicians. In this respect, quite clearly, Senator Jackson's posture is sounder than that of the American administration.
Within the Soviet ruling group, as with any other, there are doubtless disagreements on matters of tactics. Internally, repression produces difficulties, and so does concession. Externally, in a given situation, there are arguments for advance, for retreat, and for standing still. But such divergences have little serious significance when it comes to the long-term prospects for world peace. They would be found, have been found, in the general staffs of countries totally committed to aggression. The basic problem is to convince the leadership as a whole that no chance to destroy or dominate the West will arrive. One component of any policy designed to do this must clearly be the maintenance of a system of armaments and of alliances which makes every particular aggression unattractive. All the same, this is simply the establishment, by vigilance and strength, of a long truce. That is certainly better than nothing, but it does not in itself solve the longer-term question.
Can Russia evolve? Yes, of course. Extreme fanaticisms in power have evolved, though it has usually taken a considerable period. They have evolved under pressures of reality. Those with universalist plans have evolved in the direction of abandoning them (in practice at least) when it has become clear that the program was quite incapable of fulfillment. Clearly, in dealing with such men, it is minimal good sense for their potential victims to adopt policies which contain two elements: first, as powerful a guarantee as possible that such expansion cannot succeed; and second, a clear promise that if the totalist power presenting the threat will abandon such claims, dismantle the battlements of ideological siege, and turn its energies to the problems of peaceful industry, it will be welcomed in the most cooperative manner. But not otherwise.
1 Robert Conquest, "The Limits of Détente," Foreign Affairs, July 1968, p. 733.
3 K. S. Karol, New Statesman, January 1, 1971.
7 I think, to take only one example from thousands, of the recent major Soviet work on Britain, Under the Shadow of the Monopolies, by Igor Biryukov. One might have thought, too, that the attendance, and speeches, by Soviet Politburo members at the Congresses of French and other Western parties devoted to the overthrow of our system could just conceivably be called "intervention in internal affairs."