Let History Judge
A Question of Madness
A Chronicle of Current Events Republished in English by Amnesty International Publications, Turnagain Lane, Farringdon St., London EC4, England
The essence of the struggle, in my view, is the struggle against fear—the fear that has gripped the people since the time of Stalin and which has still not left people and thanks to which this system continues to exist.
The voices of dissent filtering through from the Soviet Union should have a double interest in the West. They are the beginnings of a struggle to achieve a synthesis of socialism with freedom. They are also a warning of what can happen elsewhere. For what the non-conformists in the Soviet bloc are up against is more than a reflection of Russian backwardness and Marxist degeneration.
The habits and mentality bred by bureaucracy and by any secret political police are universal phenomena; technology has improved the means of surveillance and repression everywhere; new methods for dealing with nonconformists, like the Soviet practice of committing them to insane asylums, may spread from their society to ours. The theory that communism and capitalism will converge was put forward by optimists in the hope that the former would become more liberal and the latter more socialistic. But the convergence—unless the independent-minded everywhere are on their guard—may develop less happily. The capitalist and soviet forms of industrial society may borrow the worst rather than the best from each other. The struggle to reform society there is linked with the struggle to prevent its deformation here. This is a common, a planetary, cause.
Fifty years of experience with communism have demonstrated that socialism without freedom, whatever its declared intentions, turns into a suffocating nightmare. Yet a third of the human race lives under it and the Third World is moving in the same direction. The full mobilization of productive resources in the under-developed countries seems unattainable without some form of socialism and—to be honest about it—some form of coercion of the labor force, the most important resource of all. Many of the features of Stalinism reappear under Mao in China and Castro in Cuba. The problem of achieving a synthesis of socialism and freedom is matched only by racism among the urgent problems of mankind.
The underground discussion in the Soviet Union may contribute to a solution at two different stages of social development. How does a communist society find its way back to free expression and the rule of law after its industrial plant, the substructure of a better life, has been built up? How can a developing society learn from the Stalinist era to avoid the pitfalls in which so much human energy, idealism, and labor power may be destroyed or squandered by the easy acceptance of stereotypes about the dictatorship of the proletariat?
Law and freedom exact a price and may indeed slow development. But the story of the Stalin years, as told by Roy A. Medvedev in Let History Judge, shows that official lawlessness and lack of freedom exact a price, too, and a heavy one. Perhaps the heaviest of all is that law and …
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Zhores, Not Jaures March 23, 1972