To the Editor:
How the Kremlin must be chortling over Scott McConnell’s attack on E.P. Thompson [“The ‘Neutralism’ of E.P. Thompson,” April]. I don’t know if he wrote the article before seeing the abuse heaped on European Nuclear Disarmament [END], the organization Thompson helped found, by the official Soviet Peace Committee. The committee sent a letter to some 150 peace organizations in the West saying that the insistence of Thompson and END on linking arms with human rights in Eastern Europe was inadmissible and part of imperialist counterrevolutionary strategy.
To be put down publicly by both the Kremlin and COMMENTARY in the space of six months is an honor that falls to few, but I suspect it is one that E.P. Thompson cherishes.
Incidentally, contrary to what Mr. McConnell alleges, END did make contact with Solidarity, as I can testify from personal experience. There was nothing that Solidarity wanted to do more than call publicly, openly, for Soviet troops and weapons to be removed from Poland. But every well-meaning friend from the West, Left and Right, told the Polish union that to do so would be an act of the highest political irresponsibility; so, in order to avoid provoking the Russians, the Poles kept quiet on the number-one subject in the country. END cannot win. If Solidarity had discussed END’s ideas for a de-super-powered Europe, the union would have been accused of irresponsibility. By staying silent Solidarity can be later invoked by the McConnells of the world as being hostile to END. . . .
In the end it doesn’t perhaps matter whether you accept Mr. McConnell’s version that Thompson is either an unwitting, or foolish, or cynical tool of Soviet imperialism or the Kremlin’s argument that he is a closet CIA agent. What Thompson has tried to do is take the argument beyond how we should defend our freedom in Western Europe and extend it to the question of what are the ways for gaining freedom for the people of Eastern Europe. Personally I don’t share his apocalyptic vision of a nuclear war being just around the corner. Reagan and Andropov are too cynical and opportunistic for that. But I do agree with him that the massive stacking up of nuclear weapons and troops in Europe since 1945 has not advanced the cause of democracy one whit.
The supreme selfishness of those who criticize Thompson for his polemics against both superpowers is that our freedom must always be paid for by the continuing lack of freedom for Poles, Czechoslovakians, Hungarians, etc. Thompson may be wrong and naive in some of what are, after all, tentative proposals, but he is right to link armaments, human rights, and political freedom, and right to include the whole of Europe in the debate.
Scott McConnell writes:
The cordial and accommodating reply by END to the letter of the Soviet Peace Committee would only have reinforced my argument about the dubious nature of E.P. Thompson’s and END’s neutralism. In its response to the Soviets, END protested that the Russians had misunderstood its position; it did not propagate the notion that the two superpowers shared “equal responsibility” for the arms race, but rather had consistently sought to show that the West “at almost every step of the road” had “taken the lead in the development of this sort of weaponry.” END added that it considered the American and NATO defense posture “more dangerous and aggressive in the current period.” END assured the Soviets that it would continue to work for the breakup of both military blocs and a “community of European nations—a community within which the Soviet Union will have a rightful and influential part.”
In my article I stated that despite Thompson’s grandiloquent claims about the fraternity of the Western anti-nuclear movement and Solidarity, END did not in fact contact Solidarity during its legal life span. The British Guardian of August 3, 1982 reported END’s “first official contact with Solidarity” in Brussels. Actually this meeting was with Solidarity’s Coordinating Office Abroad; by the time END did actually meet with Solidarity representatives, most of the union’s leaders had been languishing in detention camps in Poland for seven months. At this meeting, according to the Guardian, Solidarity’s representatives did not endorse END’s proposal for a nuclear-free Europe from Poland to Portugal.
If I thought that my article had induced those in the Kremlin to chortle more and terrorize their neighbors less, I would be delighted.