Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?
The New Russian Tragedy
The Demonstration in Pushkin Square
Message From Moscow
Russia: Hopes And Fears
War Between Russia and China
The Masaryk Case
Report On My Husband
It is Lenin year. This month, it is one hundred years since there was born in Simbirsk on the Volga that impatient, redheaded person who changed the world more fundamentally than any other man since Mohammed. In Moscow, the Caliphate has already stupefied its subjects with Leninolatry: thousands of little dead-white busts, a billion chocolate cakes and puff pastries bearing in relief the face of the man from Simbirsk, countless speeches and articles maintaining that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as presented by Messrs. Brezhnev and Kosygin is precisely that socialist fatherland which Vladimir Ilyich would have wanted to see. In China, the Moslem Brotherhood of Peking dismisses the Moscow celebrations as an obscene smear and claims Lenin for its own. In the pagan West, the game of quotations is played to suggest that Lenin, were he to awaken in his mausoleum, would repudiate everything he found about him.
That is unbalanced. Lenin would likely be satisfied enough to find the state he founded militarily secure, technically advanced, and adequately fed. His criticisms would be secondary, but acid nonetheless: the tendency toward chauvinism and bureaucracy against which he fought so desperately in the last months of his life has not been overcome, but instead has produced both the absurd quarrel with China and the internal reluctance to undertake economic experiment or change.
Above all, the “cultural revolution” which he considered so necessary has not been carried through beyond limited social groups. This, from a very different standpoint, is the theme of Andrei Amalrik’s Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?, an essay unusual among Russian dissident writings in that it is aimed primarily at Western public opinion.
To call Amalrik’s book pessimistic would be a pale reflection of this prophecy of doom. Amalrik, a young historian, suggests that there is little chance of fundamental reform from any foreseeable Russian leadership. The division between the “middle class” of specialists and functionaries, weakly agitating for a more genuine rule of law, and the “uncultured” masses below will widen. War will break out with China between 1975 and 1980, a prolonged wasting war which will drain the Soviet Union of its strength. Eastern Europe and a reunited Germany will press greedily upon a weakened Russia from the other flank. Eventually the system will collapse. The middle-class “democratic” reformers will be swamped, however, by the masses’ terrible frenzy for destruction.
“I have no doubt,” Amalrik pronounces, “that this great Eastern Slav empire created by Germans, Byzantines and Mongols has entered the last decades of its existence.” This sort of language is instantly evocative of the Kulturpessimismus of the old German generation of conservatives. Amalrik lacks their morbid nationalism; he is detached. But the cultural pessimism is unmistakable, and with it—as so frequently—the very nineteenth-century valuation of race as a political factor. It is no coincidence that Amalrik first got into trouble by reaffirming that the Kievan state was of Viking, rather than of Slav, origin. The Russians, he is saying, are not a Kulturvolk capable of creating a civilization, and their state was built by “Scandinavians, Byzantines, Tatars, Germans and Jews.” Among the masses, the Christian ethic has been destoyed but not replaced by a Marxist one. They understand only force and a leveling sort of equality, but have no comprehension of individual freedom which they equate with disorder and sin.
To this deeply conservative analysis (which also contains traces of a cyclical interpretation of history in its suggestions that the breakdown of the Tsardom in 1905 and 1917 is repeating itself) Amalrik adds an account of Russian intellectual dissidence which is invaluable and brilliant. He divides what he calls the “Democratic Movement” into “genuine Marxist-Leninists” (what the Caliphate would call revisionists), liberals, Christians, and, not really within the movement, “neo-Slavophiles.” The first three categories seek the return of the rule of law based on respect for the rights of man. They are a “middle-class” group, requiring intellectual freedom for their work and law to protect their property. But Amalrik, in his usual detached way, considers this group too effectively policed, too defensive, and too much involved with the state as its employer to succeed or to spread its protest to the masses.
Amalrik was a friend of Anatole Shub, the Washington Post correspondent in Moscow until his expulsion last year, and there are traces of Amalrikism in Shub’s own The New Russian Tragedy. As the title suggests, he also suspects that the present regime is virtually incapable of “reappraising fundamentals,” and that a “prerevolutionary situation” is slowly building up as the present leadership re-creates the errors of the late Romanovs. He describes the “sense of suffocation…among the educated matched by the sullenness and permanent irritability of the masses….” In a long, fascinating, and often savagely worded account of the development of the post-Khrushchev leadership, Shub also argues that the struggle of “conservatives” against “reactionaries” has produced a sort of paralysis. Further de-Stalinization seems too alarming a prospect; yet the leaders fear the results of actually repudiating “the men and measures of 1954-64.” Shub considers that this fear of what will happen to the leaders themselves if the “terror machine” is again put in motion is a fair guarantee that there will be no return to full Stalinism.
But Shub is more optimistic about the “Democratic Movement” than Amalrik. He is impressed with the rapid spread of the movement and its underground literature as a response to the qualified “re-Stalinization” which is taking place, and believes that tacit support for the “Movement” is very much wider than is generally supposed, spreading even into KGB circles whose members are playing a double game with their masters.
Pavel Litvinov’s documentation of one of the skirmishes of the Movement, The Demonstration in Pushkin Square, does not add much evidence about the scale of the protests, but makes clear the very odd atmosphere—at once heroic and bizarre—in which they take place. They are a chain phenomenon, protest following trial following protest, initiated with the Sinyavsky-Daniel affair. In the courtroom reports which Litvinov brings us there is exactly the variety of belief which Amalrik describes: the young Christians (usually converts); the liberals who tell the court that English parliamentary democracy should be introduced; the wooden Komsomol witnesses describing how their moral feelings were outraged by seeing “anti-Soviet” placards; the defense lawyers performing contortions to suggest that their clients were misled innocents; the “open” trials whose galleries are somehow always full; the brutal sentences for petty offenses.
Litvinov himself is now serving a five-year sentence for demonstrating against the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Yet the trials are trials of a sort; there is legal argument and political argument in court, also of a sort. Moreover, men and women do not simply vanish these days, and have some confidence that such things will not happen again.
This curious twilight atmosphere is the theme of one of the best books about the Soviet Union to be written for many years: the anonymous Message From Moscow. An “Anglo-American” student living in Moscow presents the reflections and experiences of a fairly long sojourn spent living, apparently without particular hindrance, among young Russians. “Observer,” as he calls himself, has high sensitivity, intelligence, humor; he has the talents of a good novelist. Living in Russia drives many Westerners to the edge of paranoid collapse, but “Observer,” fortunately, went native and contrived to relax. He acquired what he considers a quality of the place, “an enervating mixture of foreboding and serenity,” and shared these emotions as well as much vodka with Russian friends.
His sketches are superb, especially his long night conversation with Nadezhda Nikolaevna, the taxi-driver, whose combination of fierce pride in the Revolution (Stalin recalled with nostalgia), resigned disgust at “them” (technocrats and authority in general), and candid acceptance of a state of affairs in which everybody is up to some petty racket, should set her in any portrait gallery of the proletariat. With Nadezhda Nikolaevna in mind, Amalrik’s picture of the destructive, amoral mass looks pretty schematic.
Message From Moscow has annoyed a good many Sovietologists in the West by its lack of enthusiasm for the “demonstrators”; the Movement, it is objected, is far more widespread and influential than “Observer” allows. I am inclined to share “Observer’s” doubts, however, which are very much in tune with what Amalrik is saying. He remarks that the position of the intellectuals has in fact improved steadily in some ways even since the “Khrushchev thaw,” and continues to improve: they are better informed than ever about the outside world and about events within Russia, and this is a state of affairs which the authorities tacitly permit (“They let you know things…” a girl commented, “if you keep your mouth shut about what you know”). At the same time, the sense of alienation from the masses and the helpless pessimism about the future which this induces is steadily deepening. The backwardness and brutality of the masses are often exaggerated. A frame of mind is created in which the tiny handful of protestors, though honored because they show that the intellectuals are no longer “snivelling, submissive lackeys,” appear to their admirers as valiant spitters into the wind.
Traditional attitudes reappear among the intellectuals: sometimes a retreat into the cozy little ghetto of Westmania, sometimes—a nineteenth-century echo—an enthusiasm for peasant folklore and the Orthodox Church, often a combination of both, with the ikon and a tape of Bob Dylan on the same shelf. “Observer” is not censorious; he finds the society of such Russian friends to be intimate and intense and morally free in a way which makes the Bohemias of the West seem jaded and constrained. But he does not overlook the hidden feeling of humiliation. A man encountered at a party told him: “I drink to the heroes of this country, the people in the camps. But that’s all I do about it: drink.”
Anatoly Marchenko is one of those in the camps. The face on the bookjacket is hard, worn, and ageless. At thirty-two, he is serving his third stretch in a life which has contained little but trouble and endurance. Born of illiterate parents, Marchenko was first sentenced in 1960 after a fight on a drilling site. He escaped from a camp near Karaganda and tried to cross the Persian border. He was caught and given six years as a “traitor” in the empty hall of the Supreme Court of Turkmenia. He served the term in the labor camps of Mordovia and, after an escape attempt, in the prison at Vladimir. On his release, he wrote down this horrifying account of his experiences. In July 1968, he wrote an open letter attacking the government’s policy toward Czechoslovakia. He was returned to captivity for allegedly violating his assignment of residence outside Moscow, and this sentence has been prolonged for various other “offenses” to this day.