Commentary Magazine


Survey: A Journal of East and West Studies, edited by Leopold Labedz

East-West

Survey: A Journal of East and West Studies. 100th Issue.
by Leopold Labedz.
Oxford University Press. 339 pp. $8.00.

The publication of the 100th issue of Survey magazine is a noteworthy event, both because it is a milestone in the history of this distinguished journal of East-West studies, and because the issue itself is of exceptional value. Entitled “The Future of East-West Relations,” the current Survey appears at a moment of deepening anxiety in the West. Disillusion with détente and alarm over the Soviet arms build-up, increasing unrest in Eastern Europe and aroused interest in the West in human rights, the growing strength of West European Communist parties and the spread of Marxist-Leninist states in southern Africa—these are but some of the factors which make the subject of East-West relations the central and most critical problem of our day, even if, according to the conventional wisdom, the cold war is now behind us.

No journal is better qualified than Survey to assess the present trends in East-West relations. Owing to the broad political interests and unique talents of its editor, Leopold Labedz, Survey has, since its founding in 1955, provided an extraordinarily comprehensive analysis of world Communism. It has frequently called attention to new trends, such as the Sino-Soviet split or the spread of revisionist thought in Eastern Europe, years before they became generally acknowledged in the West. It took an early interest in the movement of intellectual and literary dissent in the USSR, introducing to English-speaking audiences the work of Andrei Sinyavsky and Andrei Amalrik and publishing for the first time in English essays and samizdat texts by Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, Bukovsky, and Nadezhda Mandelstam, among others. Beyond this, it has published scores of important pieces on the history and ideology of Communism, and in recent years it has devoted increased attention to the factors accounting for the West’s failure to understand, or to respond adequately to, the Communist challenge.

The current book-length issue contains forty-eight contributions, most of them part of a symposium on the future of East-West relations. While the contributors to the symposium are not of a single mind on détente—a few find more value in it than do Robert Conquest, Richard Pipes, Leonard Schapiro, and most others—some basic themes emerge. There is no talk whatsoever of convergence between East and West, or any feeling that the ideological hostility of the Soviet Union to the West is diminishing. As Richard Lowenthal observes, such hostility “is institutionalized as part of the legitimation of Leninist party rule.” At the same time, there is general agreement that Communist ideology is regarded with the utmost cynicism by virtually everyone in the Soviet bloc, in marked and ironic contrast to the revival of interest in Marxist and Marxist-Leninist ideas in the West.

Ideological bankruptcy is but one of the problems faced by the Soviet leaders. Many of the Survey contributors emphasize the severity of the Soviet Union’s well-known internal problems: a rigid and technologically backward economic system, growing dissent, unrest among the non-Russian nationalities of the Soviet empire, and an overstretched foreign policy which must keep Eastern Europe under control while contending with rivals to the West (the U.S. and Western Europe) and to the East (China). There is an obvious opportunity here if the West (meaning to all intents and purposes the U.S.) adopts policies which exploit these weaknesses, or at the very least if it resists the temptation to purchase Soviet good will with concessions that strengthen the Russians economically or militarily. A weaker policy, on the other hand, could encourage the Soviet leaders to try to escape from internal crises through expansion. The contribution of Zbigniew Brzezinski, now President Carter’s National Security Adviser, is significant in this respect, for he emphasizes both the need to convince the Russians of our political will and military preparedness and the importance of pursuing a policy that would promote polycentrism in the Communist world, particularly with regard to Eastern Europe.

The point of view that emerges from the Survey symposium is that, despite the suicidal tendencies of the Left and the Spenglerian pessimism of the recent U.S. Secretary of State, there is some cause for hope. In a fascinating historical analogy, Bernard Lewis reminds us that during the 16th century it seemed to many as if “the centralized, disciplined power of the Turk was overwhelming and that Christian Europe, weak, divided, and irresolute, was doomed.” In fact, he writes, “The great age of the Eastern empires was past; the great age of Christian Europe was just beginning.” Even the most pessimistic observers in Survey, such as Leonard Schapiro, are convinced that the West can reverse its decline and gain the advantage against the Russians if, in the words of Adam B. Ulam, it “puts its own house in order, achieves greater unity, and regains self-confidence.” Of course this is much easier said than done, but simply having this said by writers who share none of the currently fashionable illusions about Communism is in itself a step toward renewed self-confidence.

Many of the writers in Survey analyze and agonize over the moral hypocrisy, the “self-induced blindness,” and the totalitarian sympathies of the Left intelligentsia. There is very little left to say on this subject that has not already been said, which makes Raymond Aron’s essay on Jean-Paul Sartre all the more remarkable for its power and clarity. What Aron calls the tendency to “justify evil by justifying the justification of it,” to justify, in other words, “the practice of committing crimes in the name of ideology,” is so widespread on the Left (especially in Europe) as to lead one to the conclusion that only a thorough rethinking of fundamental ideological assumptions can salvage the intellectual Left as a force for decency in the world. A point of departure, suggested by Sakharov and reiterated by many of the contributors to Survey, would be to recognize that the practice, common to both the Left and the Right, of thinking of world politics in terms of a struggle between socialism and capitalism has lost all value, not least since both terms obscure the social realities they are intended to describe.

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The process of ideological revaluation has already been started by intellectuals exiled from or still living in the Communist world who are exceedingly skeptical of all ideological claims. Some of the best of these thinkers appear in this issue of Survey. Milovan Djilas states unequivocally that “By virtue of its basic humanistic qualities, the West is today incomparably closer to the classic—indeed, Marxist, if you wish—socialist teaching than is the East. ‘Eastern’ bureaucratic ‘socialism’ is in every respect inferior to democratic ‘capitalism.’ I have never said this before in such a direct way.” Djilas affirms his agreement with Leszek Kolakowski, the exiled Polish philosopher. An early revisionist who once believed that it was possible to change the Communist system through the party, Kolakowski has recently come to the view that “the concept of a non-totalitarian Communism” is the same as “the idea of fried snowballs.” Adam Michnik, Kolakowski’s successor among the dissident Polish intelligentsia, writes that the death of the revisionist illusion has not led to a loss of hope, for efforts are now being mounted to pressure the party from the outside through an alliance of workers and intellectuals supported by the Catholic Church.

Some of the essays in Survey have a special value apart from the main theme of the symposium. Albert Wohlstetter carefully picks apart the popular belief that the U.S. is engaged in an “arms race” with the Russians by comparing our steadily declining expenditures on strategic forces over the last two decades with their steadily increasing expenditures. Alexander Nekrich, a Soviet historian exiled to the West last year, tells of the arrest two weeks before Stalin’s death of Ivan Maisky, Russia’s wartime ambassador to Britain. Nekrich, a student and close personal associate of Maisky, links the arrest to preparations then under way for the purge of Molotov, whom Stalin had suspected of disloyalty. In another essay, Andrei Sinyavsky describes the practice of self-mutilation by Soviet labor-camp inmates as a desperate means of communication with society. Sinyavsky’s account of the suffering of these prisoners has startling power because it is told in the most simple and matter-of-fact way. How else could he hope to explain to Western readers something that is totally outside their range of experience and comprehension?

The London Daily Telegraph recently expressed the hope that “Survey will produce at least another hundred issues in the next twenty years.” It seemed likely, until very recently, that the current 100th issue would be the last. Now it appears that Survey will have the resources to continue to publish, at least for the immediate future.

The growth of academic institutions of Soviet studies in recent decades has been accompanied by the publication of other journals in the field. But none can replace Survey, which has achieved a rare balance of intellectual discipline and political engagement. Its approach to the study of Communism has been informed by a sense of history, an understanding of politics, and above all by a commitment to freedom. The West’s ability to sustain such qualities in its political culture is not unrelated to its capacity for revival, which lends a larger significance to the fate of Survey.

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