Commentary Magazine

The Choice, by Boris Shub

Boring From Within—in Reverse
The Choice.
by Boris Shub.
Duell, Sloan and Pearce. 205 pp. $2.75.


Evidence has been publicly accumulating for some time that a large part of the Russian people were ready and eager to trade Joseph Stalin in for any non-Soviet regime at the beginning of their share of World War II. This raises the question: Do they still feel that way, and if so, how should we go about making better use of mass Russian distastes for the Kremlin than Hitler did? In a Life article last year, Wallace Carroll, one of our top experts on psychological warfare, drew a preliminary blueprint for recruitment of the Russians as our allies if and when the free half of the world finds itself at war against the Politburo. Boris Shub, another American specialist in the logistics of fighting with words, here offers a program for an all-out psychological offensive right now, even at the possible cost of sparking a planetary explosion.

Fresh from a term as political advisor in Berlin to RIAS, the American radio station behind the Iron Curtain, Shub is confident the Soviet tyranny is teetering on a high wire over a chasm of popular discontent. One good hard shove, he suggests, and down it goes. This advice will be a bit too rich for most stomachs, but Shub makes a persuasive case, at any rate, for his argument that the Russians still detest Stalin—and that we must put that welcome fact to work for freedom.

This reader remembers how, in 1945, Russian DP’s lay down on West German railway tracks rather than be returned by the Allies to Soviet-controlled territory. Shub, a Russian-speaking sergeant-interrogator in the American army at the time, tells what happened to the Russian returnees—not just the “collaborationists” but the forced laborers and the war prisoners. They went with gratitude for their American liberators, and misgivings, to say the least, about their future. They were quite right. For those who weren’t shot out of hand it was as though, Shub writes, “the American officers and GI’s captured by the Japanese at Bataan, together with the American women interned, had been arrested after their liberation, put behind American barbed wire, and finally sent off to work as convict labor in Alaskan mines.” If Moscow feared the contamination of the victorious Red Army by Western contact, how much more dangerous a “source of infection” would millions of freed civilians and ex-soldiers be after years in Germany and months with the Americans! The NKVD could hardly have settled for less than isolation of all Russians who had enjoyed a respite from its close attentions.

In Berlin later, Shub had occasion to observe how the “infection” of civilization was also warping the loyalty of the favored ones in the Soviet regime abroad—the journalists, the army brass, the bureaucrats—not excluding the NKVD itself.

He gives the fullest account to date of the speech by Melvin Lasky to a German Writers’ Congress, where that intrepid New Leader correspondent (now editor of Der Monat) upset the Soviet agenda and digestion by expressing deep sympathy for Russian intellectuals laboring under the shadow of the commissars. No less a personage at the Congress than Boris Gorbatov, ace Pravda writer, practically apologized to the author for being a Communist.

RIAS aimed as much at Red Army officers and men in Germany as at the Germans. Its broadcasts steadily told the Russians that “we understood their cruel dilemma under Stalin’s rule.” It dared to dramatize Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. It read the text of Lenin’s testament recommending Stalin’s removal. Unlike too many of our propaganda efforts elsewhere, it spoke plainly, bravely, and with political savvy. Supported by considerable evidence, Shub maintains that RIAS was avidly “monitored” by the Russians because it fed their hunger for freedom.



One part of Shub’s brief, while not new, is especially impressive for its compact and devastating irrefutability: that the Russians fought incomparably better for the Czar than for Stalin although they were far worse equipped and worse matched in 1914 against the Kaiser than in 1941 against Hitler. In three years of World War I they defeated the armies of Austria-Hungary, forced Ludendorff to retreat, and yielded only the port of Riga; in five months of World War II they gave up Soviet territory containing 40 per cent of the USSR’s population, and over two million Russian soldiers surrendered. “With all the handicaps created by the brutal, senseless Nazi racist policy,” Shub quotes from high German Army authorities, “we raised more than half a million soldiers among war prisoners and the peoples of the occupied territory. With an intelligent political policy we would have won the war in the East simply because the Russian people themselves would have overthrown the regime.” Only when the Russians realized the Nazis were bent on their extermination as Russians did they begin to fight for their lives—and for Stalin.

Shub goes beyond the recent call of an American Senate group for a propaganda drive to “erode” the Politburo’s foundations, or William I. Nicholl’s strong plea in This Week magazine for a Russian “Emancipation Proclamation” by our government. Shub wants the President of the United States to do all this and proclaim our full, material support for any and all nuclei in the Red Army, Communist party, Supreme Soviet, and other bodies moving to replace the Politburo with an interim regime pledged to restore representative government. He wants us to confound Soviet lies about our atomic intentions by demonstrating our un· shakeable friendship for the Russian people. We should invoke the human rights provisions of the UN Charter against Stalin, indict him and his chief co-partners in crime before an international tribunal, guarantee the immunity of all Soviet officials who rally to us, and in particular appeal to the Red Army in Eastern Germany, which “is already permeated with the spirit of revolt.” If all this provokes Stalin to war, “he will find it most difficult to wage. . . . If he hesitates . . . the gathering momentum of revolution will sweep him from power.” Whatever the risk, Shub concludes, it is smaller than waiting for the Soviets to discover the hydrogen bomb.

Shub may be right, but it takes more intestinal fortitude than this reviewer possesses to go all the way with what is clearly a very large order. In his enthusiasm, Shub places perhaps excessive reliance on jammed broadcasts by the Voice of America, on leaflets and Mr. David Sarnoff’s mass-produced $2 radio receivers dropped over Russia. He discounts the enormous difficulties of organizing a planned insurrection in a land gripped by the most pervasive and efficient system of espionage and terror ever known. He passes too quickly over the equally enormous difficulties of bringing effective, coordinated aid from the outside to the dissident elements. Finally, he is inviting a great deal of trouble on a hunch which can only be tested by awesome risks.

But there are elements in his program—notably its insistence on straight talk to our real friends in Russia and around the world—which might well be injected into the mild curriculum of State Department and Radio Free Europe propaganda. And Mr. Shub himself—under reasonable restraints to his ardor—could be worth a regiment to our psychological warfare corps.



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