The New Soviet Apologists
Among the many consequences of the downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 has been the temporary suspension of a growing disposition on the American Left to propagate a more sympathetic attitude toward the Soviet system and the Soviet Union’s global role. I stress the word temporary, since recent history suggests that those who are predisposed—for whatever reason—to an optimistic analysis of Soviet behavior are fully capable of ignoring, forgetting about, or explaining away acts of Soviet barbarism entailing far greater loss of life and with much more serious geostrategic implications than the airline catastrophe. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, for example, has by conservative estimates resulted in the slaughter of over 130,000 people, including many noncombatants, the destruction of whole villages, refugees numbering in the millions, and innumerable instances of calculated murder, such as the cold-blooded execution of all males in a particular village. Despite the obstacles which inhibit press coverage of these events, reports of Soviet atrocities have nonetheless appeared in the most influential Western newspapers and journals. They have thus come to the attention of the very people who have been engaged in a campaign to convince the American people that the Soviet Union, far from being an implacable, totalitarian “evil empire” (in Ronald Reagan’s words), represents a lesser danger to world peace than the United States.
Yet to such people a resurgent anti-Communism represents a threat to everything the Left holds sacred. Thus in an article entitled “The Return of Cold War Liberalism,” prominently featured in the Nation, Andrew Kopkind issues a sweeping indictment of liberal institutions, publications, political figures, and writers who have contributed to what he calls a new cold-war culture. Among Kopkind’s targets are Irving Howe (for expressing reservations about the New Left in his autobiography); William O’Neill (for his critical examination of fellow-travelers in A Better World); the New York Review of Books (for publishing an essay by a defector from Vietnam’s National Liberation Front); Susan Sontag (for her Town Hall “Communism-is-fascism” speech); two radical journalists (for a Rolling Stone piece condemning the irresponsibility of the New Left); and just about anyone on the Left who has changed his mind about the social, racial, or global assumptions which guided the radical “movement” during the 1960’s, or who has taken the position that Soviet Communism represents the betrayal of liberal or socialist principles.
Contrary to what he himself asserts, however, Kopkind’s attack on this position is now widely echoed both implicitly and explicitly on the American Left. Indeed, not since the dying gasps of the presidential campaign of Henry Wallace in 1948 have so many on the Left been so intently working to recast the Soviet image in a more positive light.
There are, of course, important differences between the current period and the immediate postwar era. The Communist party, although it works assiduously to influence the peace movement and other liberal and left-wing movements, today counts for much less in national politics than it did in the 40’s. And with rare exceptions, one never encounters the kind of overt pro-Sovietism which during the 40’s was frequently expressed by writers in the Nation, the New Republic, and other liberal periodicals.
But similarities between the two periods are evident as well. Then, as now, it had become clear to most people that the Soviet Union, far from having given birth to a new and uniquely humane social order, was in fact a brutal police state led by a cynical dictator who had revealed his contempt for high principle by reaching an alliance with Nazi Germany. Nor was it a secret that Stalin was moving rapidly and with utmost force to consolidate the Kremlin’s hegemony over Eastern Europe. Yet confronted with the undeniable facts regarding Eastern Europe, many leftists in the early postwar years simply replied that the subjugation of these countries must unfortunately be overlooked, since the necessity of maintaining “peace” overrode all other concerns. Some were even willing to go further and argue that Stalin’s policies regarding the satellites were altogether to the good. As late as 1950, two years after a Communist coup extinguished the hopes for democracy in Czechoslovakia, I.F. Stone could write:
Western Europe wasn’t safe for democracy until feudalism had been cleared away and the masses raised from illiterate serfdom. Russia in its own rough but effective way is doing that preliminary job in Eastern Europe. . . . To push the Russian power back to its old borders would be to clear Eastern Europe again for German commercial exploitation and imperialist domination in partnership with the feudal and clerical elements. . . . Restrictions in intellectual freedom may be irksome for the intellectuals in the area, and Russian suspicion no doubt makes life difficult for the local native Communists. But there is no doubt that for the masses in Eastern Europe the new regimes have brought benefits in the shape of land, education, and jobs.
Today one rarely hears justifications for the continued Soviet domination of Eastern Europe along the lines spelled out by I.F. Stone (although it is not so rare for much of the blame to be placed on an overly aggressive America for having somehow “forced” the “paranoid” Soviets to impose their system on unwilling neighbors). But a line of reasoning similar to Stone’s, only now usually restricted to the Soviet Union’s efforts to stimulate revolution in the Third World, is often advanced to explain the importance of the Kremlin’s military might.
Examples are legion. Saul Landau, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), claims that the USSR’s armed power and its demonstrated willingness to employ that power represent “the one insurance of [Third World] revolution.” (Ironically, Landau said this in response to a denunciation of the crushing of Solidarity issued by none other than I.F. Stone.) Jeff Frieden, writing in In These Times, observes that the Soviet Union “has been a major force in world politics, as well as a valuable supporter of some Third World revolutions.” Fred Halliday, a felow at the IPS’s Transnational Institute, also praises the Kremlin’s support for revolutionary movements; his major complaint is Moscow’s failure to back its proxies more vigorously in such areas as the Middle East. John Beverley, a theoretician for the New American Movement, one of two organizations which recently merged to form Democratic Socialists of America, writes that “With some exceptions, these revolutions or revolutionary movements could not have come to power and cannot maintain themselves in power without some help from the Soviet bloc. This means that whatever criticisms or reservations one might have about [the Soviet Union and its allies], they are still the main force in the world supporting the anti-imperialist struggle.” Beverley notes that the period of détente was a propitious time for global revolution, listing Vietnam, Laos, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua, and Grenada as gains; Portugal and Jamaica (the only two countries on the list where democracy has survived) as instances where the revolutionary impulse failed; and Afghanistan, Iran, and Cambodia as “important” but “deeply problematical for the Left.” And Mike Davis, in an essay included in Exterminism and Cold War, a volume edited by the leader of the British “peace” movement, E.P. Thompson, perceives in the Soviet military build-up the means for extending “a regional shield to new revolutionary regimes.” Finally, a more cautious appraisal of the Soviet Union’s world role is provided by Robert Borosage, the director of the Institute for Policy Studies. While Borosage sees in the United States and the Soviet Union “systems . . . that lead to dead ends,” he contends that the Soviets have spawned a “whole range” of “interesting social experiments,” naming as examples Hungary, Yugoslavia, Poland, Cuba, and Nicaragua. (Boro-sage’s observations are especially strange given the fact that two of the cited countries have risen in rebellion against Soviet-imposed “experiments,” while in every instance he cites, the level of prosperity has increased in direct ratio to the country’s ability to free itself from the Soviet economic model.)
In these circles another commonly accepted argument which resembles the Wallaceite line of the 40’s is that while the U.S. is superior to the Soviets insofar as guarantees of civil liberties and democratic freedoms are concerned, America is also the more militaristic of the two superpowers, and thus the more dangerous to world peace. This is a formula to which E.P. Thompson’s followers are especially attached, and it carries a strong tactical appeal. First, it presupposes the primacy of peace over revolution; second, it suggests a superficial evenhandedness, a symmetry, useful in responding to charges that the peace movement’s motivating impulse is anti-Americanism. Thompson himself has declared that the objectives of the peace movement are twofold: “In the East, a movement for freedom; in the West, a movement for peace.”
How is it possible, one might well ask, for the U.S. to be both more democratic and more militarily aggressive, especially given the fact that the Soviet Union represses all expressions of opposition to its foreign policy? One answer is provided by Alan Wolfe, a member of the editorial board of the Nation. Wolfe’s thesis is that democracy, or rather the “perverted” democracy which holds sway in the United States, is largely responsible for America’s global belligerence. Democracy, he contends, “has become a major force for the perpetuation of the cold war; any elite fraction wishing to pursue a policy of militarization finds it relatively easy to fan the flames of popular discontent behind an arms build-up.” Wolfe recognizes that the Soviet system suffers from various “deformities,” but believes that “not much time need be spent on the subject,” given the fact that the failures of Communism have been more “endlessly catalogued . . . than the ills of any other social system in human history.” Indeed, it is these “deformities” which, Wolfe implies, enable the Soviets to conduct their foreign affairs in a more consistent and responsible way than the U.S. “Contrary to the theory of totalitarianism,” he notes, “there is substantial evidence that the more open a society, the greater is its proclivity to practice an aggressive foreign policy.” Conversely:
As a highly centralized, authoritarian state, the Soviet Union practices a quite different brand of imperial politics from that of the United States. The absence of competing parties, combined with the lack of freedom of thought and expression, ironically removes one of the pressures toward inconsistent imperial behavior. Whereas the United States politicizes its path toward empire, the Soviet Union approaches its hegemony managerially.
Perhaps no sector of American society has contributed more enthusiastic participants in the effort to reshape American conceptions about the Soviet Union than the churches. In recent years a steady procession of clergymen has visited the Soviet Union at the invitation of the country’s officially-sanctioned religious organizations. In view of the USSR’s unremitting, indeed escalating, persecution of religious believers, the conclusions drawn by some participants in these pilgrimages are often startling.
For example, the Reverend Paul Dinter, counselor to Catholic students at Columbia University, concluded after a tour of the USSR that the Soviets “have a perspective that is not diabolic or satanic.” According to a report in the Columbia Spectator, Dinter observed peace demonstrations in the USSR which, he says, drew as many participants as similar demonstrations in the U.S. Although acknowledging that civil liberties are not honored there to the degree that they are here, he claims that the Soviet people are tolerant of official policies, having never enjoyed Western-style freedoms in the first place. Yuri Andropov serves a function similar to that of a “chairman of the corporation”; his leadership is largely economic, rather than political, in nature. Nor is there “the gross persecution of religious groups that we think there is”—a strange statement from a priest, given the fact that Catholics in Lithuania and the Ukraine are prime victims of government oppression. Father Dinter does concede that the situation of Jews is somewhat different, but minimizes the regime’s culpability by noting that anti-Semitism is ingrained in Russian culture and is “not a religious matter.”
Concerning Soviet anti-Semitism, Father Dinter has obviously missed the point. The distinguishing feature of the Kremlin’s “anti-Zionism” crusade, and what makes it so thoroughly repulsive, is the fact that it is a political phenomenon, initiated and orchestrated by the party leadership in the service of domestic and foreign-policy objectives. Outside the countries of the Arab world, the Soviet Union is just about the only nation to have instituted a policy of official anti-Semitism, the most recent manifestation of which is the establishment of a government-sanctioned anti-Zionist committee, one of whose spokesmen saw fit to dredge up the myth that Jews cooperated with Hitler in planning their own destruction.
Another recent visitor to the USSR was Bishop James Armstrong, president of the National Council of Churches (NCC), who headed an NCC delegation which visited Russian Orthodox churches and officials in Moscow and Leningrad. Bishop Armstrong reported on his return to the United States that he was “encouraged” by the “vigor and dedication of the religious community” in the Soviet Union. The NCC leader was sensitive to the possibility that he might be labeled a dupe or (perhaps recalling the furor generated by the Soviet tour of Billy Graham) a simpleton. Nevertheless, he felt compelled to note that while “People can talk about ‘plants’ in the churches,” he himself was most impressed by “the evident piety in the faces of the people as they participated in the services.” What the regime’s domination of the Orthodox church and the devotion of individual worshipers have to do with one another was not made clear. Bishop Armstrong also expressed pleasant surprise that the services were attended by many men and young people; religious belief was not, after all, restricted to a dwindling number of elderly women.
If only he had realized it, Bishop Armstrong was on to something of potential significance. There has, in fact, been something of a resurgence of religious faith in the Communist world, a development which the party leadership views with deep apprehension. In regimes where an avowed belief in God is almost certain to result in discrimination in employment or schooling, the very act of attending church is a political statement. Moreover, the churches in several East European countries (in addition, obviously, to Poland) are demanding increased latitude to speak out on issues of sociopolitical consequence. Thus the Evangelical church has begun to criticize, cautiously, the pervasive militarism of East German society.
For its part, the Kremlin is as scrupulous in its efforts to control the churches as it is in assuring party domination of trade unions, peace committees, and other ostensibly independent institutions. Those who refuse to knuckle under—a group which includes many Catholics and fundamentalists but also a large number of believers affiliated with denominations that are members of the National Council of Churches—are subjected to a degree of repression which is unusual even by Soviet standards.
The NCC itself is aware of the difficulties faced by believers in the Communist world; it has justified its visits to the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and other Communist countries on the laudable ground that its policy seeks “to help minimize the isolation of the Christian church and to strengthen its hand.” In practice, unfortunately, emphasis is placed on forging closer bonds with the puppet official church leadership, a policy which, at least in the Soviet case, serves mainly to legitimize “church leaders” whose major function is to promote the domestic and international objectives of the state. Nor is there evidence of a change in this policy; the major result of the NCC’s most recent visit to the USSR was a decision to expand the East-West exchange program with a particular eye toward developing “practical means” to support each other’s peacemaking efforts.
Another project putatively aimed at the reduction of international tensions which has been given the NCC’s indirect support is a study, Must Walls Divide?, written by the Reverend James Will. Published by the NCC’s Friendship Press, Must Walls Divide? has been widely circulated by the Methodists, Presbyterians, and the United Church of Christ as basic resource material for their international-affairs programs. The study’s declared purpose is to contribute to the lowering of ideological barriers which divide East from West. In reality, many of the arguments represent a reformulation of standard Soviet propaganda with the intent of convincing dubious Western church people that Communism, despite its shortcomings, is at least the equal of the democratic system in the provision of basic human rights—and in spiritual matters as well. Among other things, Reverend Will is the director of Christians Associated for Relationships with Eastern Europe, the NCC affiliate of the Christian Peace Conference (CPC). He describes the CPC as “a cooperative member of the ecumenical movement,” which emerged from the “depths of the cold war to focus the task of the churches squarely on peace and especially on disarmament.” In fact, the CPC is highly selective in its peacemaking work. As George Weigel has pointed out in a study prepared for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, the CPC “has had a long and ignominious history of faithfully putting forward the Soviet party line on every major issue.” When some CPC leaders did summon up the will to protest the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, they were replaced with more pliant types. So pliant indeed, that in the case of Afghanistan the CPC criticized, not the Soviets for their invasion, but the United States, Pakistan, and China for their “destabilization” of that country. According to a CPC statement:
The progressive forces in Afghanistan have themselves turned against such attempts to annul the achievements of the April Revolution. In the light of the analysis of this situation, the reasons which made the government of Afghanistan ask the Soviet Union for help and which made the Soviet Union honor this request become understandable.
On the question of human rights, always a touchy issue for the Kremlin and its apologists, Reverend Will asserts that Christians should support the concept of “holistic human rights,” which embraces social and economic rights as well as political rights and civil liberties. Since no nation or political system in human history has fulfilled the high standards of Reverend Will’s “holistic human rights,” the effect of this formula is not to broaden the human-rights debate but to smother it. Which, from the Soviet view, is just fine.
Reverend Will also places the atrocities of the Stalin era in a new perspective. The terror waged against the Soviet people, he writes, “though compressed into a shorter period and thus, more terrible, . . . was not unlike the oppression of men, women, and children in mine and factory—to say nothing of outright slavery—which accompanied early industrialization in Europe and North America.” Other conclusions reached by Reverend Will include the following: “The use of ideological anti-Communism to justify excessive arms expenditures in the West is just as bad” as the persecution of Soviet dissidents and the supporters of the Prague Spring; “East European churches safeguard carefully their traditions in relation to state ideology and support the ecumenical struggle for peace and justice. North American churches, in contrast, often blend their ideology with the civil religion which keeps them at a greater distance from the ecumenical search for shalom”; Communist regimes have been roughly as successful as the European democracies in meeting the economic needs of their people.
The most disturbing aspect of Must Walls Divide? is not that a particular clergyman has written a blatant apology for one of the most dreadful political systems in human history, but the fact that these views have been sanctioned and circulated by several of America’s largest Protestant denominations. At a more fundamental level, the attitude of those churchmen who have come to believe, as the Reverend William Sloane Coffin recently put it, that “we and the Soviets, if not one in love, are one in sin,” raises serious questions about their belief in the values of their own institution.
It is by now well known that the persecution of Christians by the Kremlin is not an episodic occurrence but reflects an everyday, purposeful, and systematic campaign to eliminate the influence of the church from all aspects of life, save the most narrowly circumscribed religious dimension, and an effort to transform the church into an instrument of the Kremlin’s foreign policy. One would expect that the fact that the devout continue to fill the churches should be essentially meaningless to Western clergymen who, concerning countries maintaining friendly relations with the U.S., have expressed the strongest condemnation of efforts to limit the churches’ political voice.
Ironically, the one movement which embraced egalitarian, religious, and democratic values—the Solidarity trade union in Poland—aroused little passion among liberal American churchmen. Here the churches were not alone; never in recent times has the utter bankruptcy of what passes for the Left been so clearly revealed as in the reaction to events in Poland. All the elements of a revolutionary workers’ movement were present: nonviolence, broad support, a program stressing popular participation in economic decision-making, commitment to freedom of speech and civil liberties, with a young and charismatic leadership laboring against overwhelming odds to forge a new society out of the rubble of a cynical and corrupt order. Yet the response of the Left can most charitably be characterized as ambivalent. A few publications, most notably In These Times, gave rather straightforward support to the forces around Solidarity, and a handful of unaffiliated liberals and radicals actually visited the Polish revolution first hand.
More instructive, however, is the contrast between the response to developments in Poland and in Nicaragua. While no more than a trickle of American political activists visited Poland, innumerable delegations of churchmen, peace activists, political figures, and liberals have made the trek to Nicaragua, and most have returned with glowing reports about the new society arising there.
Yet on practically every ground, Solidarity should have been more appealing than the Sandinistas—that is, if we take the proclaimed ideals of the Left seriously. Solidarity was (and is) committed to nonviolence and anti-militarist values; for the Sandinistas, the militarization of Nicaraguan society was the first order of the day. Solidarity spawned the freest and most lively press to have ever existed in a Communist country; the Sandinistas have almost extinguished press liberties. Under Solidarity, civil liberties were expanded; under the Sandinistas, the emphasis has been on social control. Solidarity wanted to free the economy from the crushing weight of a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy; the Sandinistas have contributed to their country’s chaos by bringing more and more of the economy under state direction.
The double standards of the Left, and further echoes of the 1940’s, were on display this past May at a weeklong “U.S.-USSR Bilateral Exchange Conference” held in Minneapolis under the sponsorship of the Institute for Policy Studies. The conference brought together 27 Soviet and a slightly larger group of American leaders of the peace and disarmament movements. Predictably, given the sponsors’ diligent efforts to wrap the event in the mantle of people-to-people statesmanship, the conference drew the wholehearted support of the political and community leadership of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. An editorial in the St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch said that the conference was “commendable, since it indicates a nongovernmental effort to achieve some degree of understanding between our highly divergent cultures.” The problem is that only one side was nongovernmental; the Soviet delegation, to a man, consisted of representatives of the state and party.
Among the Soviet delegates were a Russian Orthodox priest who noted that freedom of religion was inscribed in the Soviet constitution; a teacher who boasted of the superiority of the Soviet educational system; several journalists who insisted that Soviet citizens were better informed about international affairs than Americans; and assorted “academics” affiliated with the various institutions which study and monitor developments in the U.S.
If the Soviet delegation consisted of representatives of the Soviet government, the American delegation, by contrast, could almost be described as anti-government, or certainly opposed to the policies of the Reagan administration. It included three Carter administration officials: Patricia Derian, Carter’s Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights; Carter’s UN Ambassador Donald McHenry (a conference co-chairman); and Paul Warnke, Carter’s director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, who did not attend the meeting itself but did contribute a paper on disarmament. The remainder of the delegation was balanced between members of the liberal establishment and representatives of the Left. The former included Minneapolis Mayor Donald Fraser, Episcopal Bishop Paul Moore, the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jerome Grossman of the Council for a Livable World, Seymour Melman of Columbia University, and Randall Forsberg, generally considered the architect of the freeze movement. Those of a more radical bent included Cora Weiss, Richard Barnet, Marcus Raskin, Michael Klare, and Robert Borosage, all directly or indirectly connected with the IPS.
As might be expected, the Soviets, no matter what the forum, no matter what the issue, no matter how respectfully the question was posed, did not concede an inch regarding alleged shortcomings of their society. When Marcus Raskin politely asked why peace organizations which criticized the government were not permitted to function in the Soviet Union, Vikenty Matveev, a columnist for Izvestia, responded with a straightforward lie, asserting that millions of Soviet citizens participate in “hundreds and thousands” of independent peace committees. Those Soviet citizens who had launched a short-lived nongovernmental peace group (and had been quickly repressed) were dismissed as an irrelevant group of youths whose only desire was to emigrate to Israel. Their names had been forgotten in the Soviet Union, Matveev noted, adding: “They cease, so to speak, to exist.”
During a public forum which was sponsored as part of the week’s events, things came somewhat unglued. Although the session had been advertised as focusing on disarmament, the issues raised by the audience (comprised largely of supporters of Soviet Jewry and émigrés from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe) zeroed in on the repressive nature of the Soviet system and Soviet imperialism. Some in the audience jeered at the Soviets, calling them “liars” and “propagandists,” which, given Soviet statements, was altogether accurate. For example, when asked why Jews are not permitted to emigrate, Genrikh Trofimenko responded with a straight face that emigration is guaranteed in the Soviet constitution, and “Whoever wants to emigrate from the Soviet Union can.”
The Soviets were furious at this unanticipated breach of etiquette. Vitaly I. Kobysh, an officer in the Department of Information of the Soviet Communist party, said that he was “sure that some of the people we saw there today were Nazis.” He called the incident a piece of “concrete reality” about America, prime evidence of why “America is not yet ready to say it will not make a nuclear first-strike.” He also pointed out that Hitler had “stayed in power through elections.” The chief of the Soviet delegation, Mikhail Milshtein, blamed the panel moderator, Harrison Salisbury, for having given the floor to “certain elements.” “We can assure you that nothing like this ever happens in the USSR,” he added.
And what was the response of the Americans? Bishop Moore was “deeply ashamed” and “deeply humiliated” by the behavior of the audience, but consoled himself “with the knowledge that this same thing has happened to many of us as well.” Another American, businessman Erwin Salk, was equally distressed: “I thought about sending notes to the Soviets telling them of Andrew Young’s description of the thousands of political prisoners in American prisons, of the blacks, Hispanics, and native Americans who are on our death rows. I thought of telling them of the sterilized Puerto Rican women. . . . We are here trying to talk about making a contract to stay alive. Then, after that, we can get on with selling things back and forth to each other.”
For Reverend William Sloane Coffin, the injection of human rights into the discussion was a “mistake.” “It’s almost impossible, given human nature, to raise the human-rights issue without self-righteousness,” he declared. Moreover, he said, reductions in armaments would lead to human-rights gains across the board, for “women and blacks and poor folk and the unemployed” in the United States and for Soviet dissidents, who will “fare better when the Soviet Union feels less threatened.” Randall Forsberg was also dubious about the wisdom of raising human-rights concerns on the grounds that “There tends to be a list of accusations from the West” over violations by the Communists. As a result, debates over human rights inevitably take on “a pointed and unpleasant and one-sided form.”
To give credit where it is due, at least one member of the American delegation, Patricia Derian, was clearly distressed by the behavior of the Soviets, and was willing to say so. In a Washington Post column written after the conference, Miss Derian described the Soviet presentations as “stylized and carefully executed,” “weightless,” “ceremonial,” containing no “concession of imperfection.” In such meetings with the Soviets, “there is no such thing as an ‘unofficial’ delegation.” The conference had left her with feelings of “exhaustion, exasperation, and creeping cynicism.” Miss Derian did not even claim, as others did, that private, informal get-togethers with the Soviets had produced any breakthroughs of substance.
Although she did not come right out and say so, the sum of Miss Derian’s observations suggested that the conference was a total failure, that is, if one took seriously the declared intention of the sponsors to promote a genuine dialogue between the two sides. Nonetheless, Miss Derian’s conclusion was that such meetings must continue to be held:
We must meet because our diversity seems mad to them and their singular intolerance of diversity seems mad to us. We are weak and unpredictable as only madmen can be, to them. They are strong and predictable as only madmen can be, to us. If there is another reality, we must be able to comprehend it. . . . The only way to comprehension and knowledge is experience. It comes with meeting the same people over and over again, getting past opening statements . . . to whatever else is there.
Unlike some of her colleagues on the American delegation, Miss Derian clearly prefers the pluralism and democratic freedoms of the United States to the Soviet system. Yet her experiences in Minneapolis have taught her nothing. If anything, her conclusions serve to reinforce the widespread perception that confusion and lack of direction crippled the Carter administration’s foreign policy. If the U.S. delegation appeared “weak” in Minneapolis, it was due to the disturbingly weak faith in democracy exhibited by a number of our most prominent delegates. The same two groups could meet one hundred times; the only accomplishment would be further concessions by the Americans and further stonewalling by the Soviets.
Such, at any rate, was the result of the Minneapolis conference. The one major innovative proposal advanced there, offered by Randall Forsberg, called for token (and as Mrs. Forsberg herself acknowledged, strategically meaningless) reductions by the Soviets as a means of galvanizing popular sentiment against deployment of the Pershing and cruise missiles in Europe. Mrs. Forsberg’s goal, as stated at the conference, was to trigger “sufficient division” within the U.S., Great Britain, and West Germany so that their governments “would be forced to delay the deployment and to try and come up with some kind of face-saving maneuver in the arms-control negotiations.” In any event, Mrs. Forsberg’s proposal and similar ideas advanced by other American delegates were flatly rejected by the Soviets, one of whom commented that suggestions for unilateral Soviet action, no matter how symbolic in nature, don’t “look very serious.”
It goes without saying that a successful foreign policy requires reliable information about and accurate analysis of developments in the Soviet Union and the Communist world generally. But there is little information or analysis in the current effort to brush up the Soviet Union’s image that will benefit our policymakers. Contrary to much of what we have read or heard lately from participants in this effort, Soviet policy has been marked by an increase in domestic coercion and global aggression. Moreover, it is precisely on issues of special concern to the Left that the Soviet record is most shabby. The peace movement, for example, has objected to a modest increase in ROTC programs in American schools and universities as reflecting a resurgent militarism. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, boasts that military training is compulsory in every school. In Khrushchev’s time, playing with war toys was discouraged; today, it is routine for children to be trained with real weapons.
Or take the question of workers’ rights. Here is one aspect of Soviet society where something new and potentially significant does seem to be taking place. Since the ascension of Yuri Andropov, a campaign stressing worker discipline has been enunciated and, to a degree, enforced, with police combing the streets to ferret out “shirkers.” Meanwhile, a number of worker dissidents languish in prisons and psychiatric hospitals; their cases have been publicized by the general press, though ignored by the political press of the Left. Where are the incisive, demystifying analyses on which radicals pride themselves? Given the fact that almost all Communist regimes adopt the Soviet labor model, or at least extensive parts of it, one might expect this to be a subject worthy of something approaching the intense scrutiny devoted to capitalism. Instead, Marcus Raskin inexplicably writes of “increasing official tolerance in Moscow for open expression of popular discontent, even among workers.”
William Phillips, the editor of Partisan Review, has written that “the Soviet Union has transformed what used to be socialist doctrine into a system of maneuvers justifying totalitarian ends but cloaked in a humanitarian and semi-socialist rhetoric.” The key word is maneuvers. There are no new ideas, theories, or doctrines in the effort to provide the Soviets with a slightly more human face. No noble ideas are expressed about the future of mankind. In this respect, the new apologists for the Soviet Union are if anything worse than their forebears of the 1940’s.