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American Dissent in Moscow

To the Editors:

The following statement was released in Moscow last month by several members of the American delegation to the World Peace Congress being held there. We think it will be of interest to your readers.

Let us begin by identifying ourselves as outspoken critics of the foreign policy of the United States. We have opposed that policy whether it took the overt, cruel, and monstrous form of the attacks on Indochina, or whether it was the more covert but no less effective intervention we have just witnessed in Chile.

Nor have we separated the issue of foreign policy from that of domestic policy within the United States. We have been vigorous in our defense of the civil liberties of all citizens and in our opposition to every effort to intimidate, harass, and silence those who dissent. We have sought social justice for those who, by reason of race or religion or national origin, found themselves at economic disadvantage.

It is not a secret that our actions have been viewed in a hostile way by the government of the United States and that some of us and many of our friends have at various times been brought to trial or imprisoned for our actions, or have been forced from jobs because of our dissenting views. We mention these matters not to be self-serving, but to make it clear we have earned the right to speak on the question of Soviet dissenters. We are not Cold Warriors. We welcome all steps toward genuine detente with both the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China, and all steps toward an end of the nuclear arms race which threatens the entire planet.

It is with this background that we speak. We note that much of the Western press has identified all dissenters within the Soviet Union—and in the countries under the political control of the Soviet Union—as liberals or radicals when, in fact, many are not. Among the dissenters are writers such as Solzhenitsyn, who combines a major literary talent with a conservative viewpoint; or leading scientists such as Sakharov, who can appeal for the personal safety of the late Pablo Neruda while otherwise avoiding comment on events in Chile because they are “too distant.” We say first, to these, our Russian friends with whom we may have disagreements, that it is only the curtain of silence maintained by your government and by our own which prevents you from knowing that there have, for years, been voices raised against Soviet actions in suppressing dissent. And we say to you that there are at this hour men and women in prison in Saigon and Santiago—and in the United States—whose situation is at least as desperate as your own, and who need the strength of your voices raised in protest on their behalf, as you have asked them to plead your cause.

But your actions cannot determine our own; your views cannot permit us to be silent in the case of some Soviet dissenters and protest on behalf of others. It is intolerable—absolutely intolerable—for anyone to set the limits of free speech or of the freedom to write and openly distribute and discuss what has been written. It is a fact that all governments are fearful of such freedoms. The entire series of events known as “Watergate” symbolize an effort by the powers of the United States to curtail such freedoms as we still enjoy. There are a thousand moments in history when men and women have fought for their rights and won them—but there is not a single example of a government freely granting such rights.

We therefore join in condemning the Soviet government for its campaign to silence not only your intellectuals, but any Soviet citizens who seek to exercise their rights—rights already defined by and contained in the Soviet Constitution. We point out that there is an unhappy parallel between the events in Chile in 1973 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968. In both cases efforts to create a “Marxism with a human face” were destroyed by military intervention. In 1968, with a minimal loss of life but with 500,000 invading troops from the Warsaw Pact; in 1973, with a hideous loss of life and an army equipped by the United States.

All will applaud as the Great Powers move away from that Cold War which so often in the past generation had threatened to become an open military encounter. But there is more than one war which must be ended. Not only do we oppose the threatening gestures great powers make at one another, brandishing nuclear weapons; we also oppose the hostile and repressive acts made by those powers against their own people or their weaker neighbors. This, too, is a kind of war which must end and which can be ended only when the conscience of humanity finds a clear voice, one that does not permit itself to justify the suppression of freedom in one country but not another. We support the Soviet dissidents. We call the attention of the Soviet government to its own Constitution—and to those human rights which no state has the right or authority to infringe.

Initiated by:

Grace Paley

Father Paul Mayer

Noam Chomsky

Dave Dellinger

David McReynolds

Sidney Peck

Father Dan Berrigan

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