Andrei Sakharov is no enemy of détente. On the contrary, complete and genuine détente, ideological as well as political coexistence, has been one of the two objectives of the extraordinary campaign he has been waging since 1968.
The other is the democratization of the Soviet Union. Sakharov envisaged democratization as the foundation for a firm and lasting détente, and détente, as solidifying democratization. What he never imagined is that a limited form of détente might be achieved without democratization and turned into a positive obstacle to it. This is the unpleasant turn of events which lies behind the anguish he is now expressing. This is what the Nixon-Brezhnev understanding did to his hopes and to the cause of freedom within the Soviet Union.
The Sakharov campaign relied on two optimistic assumptions. The first was that the social systems of the two superpowers would converge, the Soviet Union growing more democratic and the United States more socialistic. The other was that the Soviet Union would be forced in this direction by the power of its technological elite and the need to give that elite—and the population at large—more freedom if the Soviet Union were to improve its low labor productivity and solve the ever more complex problems of managing the modern economy.
In three major memorandums of extraordinary breadth and humanity addressed to Kremlin leaders in 1968, in 1970, and again in 1971, Sakharov produced a blueprint for gradually liberalizing the Soviet regime. This blueprint derived from a larger vision which qualifies Sakharov pre-eminently for the Nobel peace prize. His ultimate premise is that “if mankind is to get away from the brink, it must overcome its divisions.” Not only the thermonuclear weapons he helped fabricate but the other urgent planetary problem of uneven development between poor and rich nations requires mankind to look upon itself as “a single family.”1 For Sakharov democracy and true détente are both endangered if men are sealed off into separate air-tight chambers by suspicious police states.
Sakharov’s memorandums were first circulated in samizdat among Soviet scientists and scholars for discussion and revision. But they were addressed to the top Kremlin leaders and their argument was designed on pragmatic lines to appeal to that audience. The crucial message was that the Soviet economy was falling behind that of the United States quantitatively and qualitatively. This was most bluntly stated in the Sakharov Memorandum No. 2 of March, 1970, addressed to Brezhnev, Kosygin, and Podgorny. This one was also signed by the historian Roy A. Medvedev and the mathematician and computer expert V.F. Turchin.2 They warned the Kremlin leaders:
The more novel and revolutionary the aspect of the economy, the wider becomes the rift between the USA and ourselves. We are ahead of the USA in the production of coal but behind them in the production of oil, gas, and electric power, ten times behind in chemistry and immeasurably behind in computer technology. The latter is especially essential, for the introduction of electronic computers into the national economy is of decisive importance which could radically change the face of the system of production and culture in general. This phenomenon has rightly been called the “second industrial revolution.” Meanwhile the total capacity of our computers is hundreds of times less than in the USA, and as for the use of electronic computers in the national economy, here the rift is so enormous that it is impossible to measure. We are simply living in a different era.
The memorandum cited two decisive comparative factors. Soviet labor productivity was many times lower than in capitalist countries “and its growth rate is sharply declining.” In science and technology the Soviets were also falling behind. “In the late Fifties our country was the first to launch a sputnik and to send a man into space. By the end of the Sixties we had lost our lead in this field (as in many others). The first men to set foot on the moon were Americans. This is one of the outward signs of an essential and ever-growing gap.” As a result, the Soviet Union could “gradually revert to the status of a second-rate provincial power.”
Sakharov and his two colleagues said the source of the difficulty lay not in the socialist system but “in the anti-democratic traditions and norms of public conduct which were laid down during the Stalinist period and which have not been eradicated even to this day.” They said these were excused as the price of industrialization, although the decrease in industrial production in the prewar years suggests, the scientists noted, that they were an impediment to productivity even then.
But there can be no doubt, they went on, that “from the beginning of the second industrial revolution” these rigid bureaucratic ways had become “the main brake” on Soviet economic development. As a result of the increased scale and complexity of economic systems, problems of management and organization “cannot be resolved by one or two persons in positions of power and who claim to know everything. They demand the creative participation of millions of people at all levels of the economic system. They require a broad exchange of information and ideas.”
Sakharov had hoped that the regime would have to grant greater freedom of information and exchange of ideas in order to enable the Soviet Union to catch up technologically. The Brezhnev-Nixon agreement promises to free the Kremlin from the need to conciliate the technical-scientific intelligentsia by loosening rigid party controls over management and discussion. Instead the Politbureau feels it can buy the new technology (1) by giving American capitalists access to Soviet energy and mineral resources, and (2) by enabling Nixon to have a “peace with honor” in Southeast Asia. The Kremlin not only no longer feels pressure to conciliate the best of the artistic and scientific intelligentsia but has been cracking down on them.
In the past two years, during which the Nixon-Brezhnev détente has come to fruition, the Soviet secret police seem to have succeeded in crushing the first visible underground movements in the Soviet Union for the defense of basic human rights, rights protected—on paper, at least—by the Soviet constitution. They have stopped The Chronicle of Current Events, which began to be published in samizdat in 1968 but ceased to appear early this year. The KGB also succeeded in suppressing the Ukrainian analogue, the Ukrainian Herald, which had appeared in six issues between 1970 and 1972. These two publications represent the first known efforts at a free press in the Soviet Union since the last few remaining independent left papers like Gorky’s Novaya Zhizn were suppressed on Lenin’s orders in July, 1918. These two first ventures in more than half a century limited themselves to a sober record of what was happening to dissidents and critics at the hands of the KGB.
Instead of the convergence Sakharov dreamed of, we are seeing a new type of convergence—one of bureaucratic convenience. This is encouraging the worst rather than the best tendencies on both sides. A characteristic of both ruling bureaucracies is (in Nixon’s term) to treat their people as “children” and—as Watergate has revealed—to run the government as a conspiracy against them.
For Nixon and the US military machine, the new understandings with Moscow and Peking have made it possible to achieve “peace with honor” in Vietnam by forcing Hanoi and the NLF to acquiesce in the maintenance of the Thieu regime with torture chambers and police terror developed under CIA auspices. In spite of the unpopularity of the war in Southeast Asia, and the need to conciliate public opinion by withdrawing combat troops, the US has been able to emerge with its basic line of policy since the 1950s intact. This policy has been to take over from France the satellite regimes in South Vietnam and Laos, and indeed to add a third dependency in Cambodia. For the American people this means the expenditure of many billions of dollars in this decade to keep these regimes in power in spite of their lack of popular support.
For the dubious privilege of another decade of entanglement in Southeast Asia, with all the danger this entails of renewed warfare, the American people have paid and will pay a heavy price. Part of the price was the rise in food costs, in substantial part a result of the huge subsidized grain sales to save the Soviet Union from a bread crisis last year. Another part of the price will be the government loans and subsidies required to finance the far-reaching deals broached between Nixon and Brezhnev for technological aid and capital goods to modernize Soviet industry.
No one yet knows how much this will cost. All we know is that these US exports could not possibly be financed by normal Soviet trade with the US since the Soviets have little to sell here beyond specialities like vodka, caviar, and furs. The Soviet Union promises to become our biggest welfare client. For all the talk by American banks and big business men, none of them is prepared to invest on any large scale in the USSR unless US agencies provide credits or guarantees. Thus American capitalists and Russian communists are—in sardonic echo of Kropotkin’s famous phrase—practicing “mutual aid.”
To understand Sakharov’s fear of such détente without internal democracy, it is useful to turn to the “Postscript” he released in June, 1972, when he gave Western newsmen in Moscow Memorandum No. 3. This had been sent by Sakharov to Brezhnev on March 5, 1971, but had elicited no reply.3 In that postscript, perhaps because despair had outrun tact, he spoke out more boldly than ever before on a very sensitive subject. “In socialist countries,” Sakharov wrote,
it is also essential to reduce the militarization of the economy and the role of a messianic ideology…. Militarization of the economy leaves a deep imprint on international and domestic policy…. The role of the military-industrial complex in US policy has been thoroughly studied. The analogous role played by the same factors in the USSR and other socialist countries is less well known. It is, however, necessary to point out that in no country does the share of military expenditure with relation to national income reach such proportions as in the USSR (over 40 percent).
This may be read with a more oblique passage in Memorandum No. 3, written when Sakharov was still hoping for a reply from Brezhnev. There Sakharov has a section sketching out the basis of that ideal society which should be the goal of Soviet development. He wrote that such a country and people would be “always ready to enter into friendly international cooperation and aid within the framework of universal brotherhood,” but this new society would “not need to use foreign policy as a means of internal stabilization, or of extending spheres of influence or exporting its ideas.” He wrote that “delusions as to the uniqueness and the exclusive merits of its own path” would be alien to it, along with “dogmatism, adventurism and aggression.” What this indirectly tells us about existing Soviet society is not flattering.
More directly, if less forcefully, Sakharov had already touched on the relationship between internal democracy and foreign policy in the 1970 Memorandum No. 2 written with Turchin and Medvedev. There they said:
In the past there have been certain negative features of Soviet foreign policy which bore the mark of messianism, which were over-ambitious and which forced one to conclude that it is not only imperialism which bears responsibility for international tension. All such negative features of Soviet foreign policy are closely associated with the problem of democratization, and this cuts both ways.
They cited among other examples the great uneasiness caused by lack of democratic discussion of such questions as aid to Nigeria during the Biafran civil war. On the Middle East, Sakharov and his two colleagues praised the UN resolution but wondered whether “our attitude is not too far removed from this document and whether it is not too one-sided,” i.e., too anti-Israel. They also asked, “Is our position realistic on the status of West Berlin?” They questioned “our striving to extend our influence in places far away from our borders” at a time of Sino-Soviet tension and of economic and technological difficulties at home.
They argued that democratization would further public understanding of foreign policy and provide support for removing such “negative features” of Soviet policy. “This, in turn,” they wrote, in what seems to be a reference to intramural dispute between hard- and soft-liners in the Kremlin, “will remove one of the aces in the hands of the opponents of democratization.”
From Sakharov’s point of view, the Nixon-Brezhnev understanding has instead taken away the main ace in the hands of the proponents of democratization. To Sakharov the Jackson amendment must now look like the last chance for a liberalized Soviet Union. It would deny most-favored-nation treatment and credits for Soviet exports to the US unless the right of emigration was recognized for all Soviet citizens. Free emigration would threaten a brain drain on Soviet resources and the only way to counter that brain drain would be to improve conditions at home for all who now wish to emigrate.4
What is to be the response of intellectuals in America to Sakharov’s appeal for passage of the Jackson amendment? The question is not an easy one. Jackson is as slippery as Nixon, who originally wanted Jackson as his Secretary of Defense. The coalition behind Jackson and the amendment includes hard-liners, the military-industrial complex, and rightists who oppose détente of any kind, and for whom Nixon is too “liberal,” as Brezhnev may be too “liberal” for the Red Army crowd in the Soviet Union. On the other hand, to stand with Nixon and Kissinger on the issue is to stand with men who bear a substantial responsibility for the tragic end of Allende in Chile, as they do for the many thousands of political prisoners who remain in the tiger cages and prisons of Thieu despite the Vietnam accords.5 There is not much to choose between the Nixon crowd and the Jackson crowd. The former, especially the super slick Kissinger, are simply smoother.
But when a man as humane as Sakharov, who knows what is going on in the Soviet Union far better than we do, calls on us to back the Jackson amendment as the last hope for some liberalization in the USSR, I think we have no choice but to support him. We certainly would oppose and have opposed US credits to Franco, to Papadopoulos, and to a grim assortment of Latin American dictators. I see no reason why we should regard credits for the Soviet Union any differently. If Moscow wants them, let Moscow pay something on account politically, especially since what the amendment and Sakharov ask would put détente on a firmer basis and not leave it at the mercy of the Soviet military and the Soviet party hacks whenever it serves their purpose to make a change of policy. How easy it would be for them to turn on the propaganda spigot of hate again when the Soviet peoples have not even been allowed to know that US grain saved them from a bread crisis.
For me the decisive argument in favor of the Jackson amendment is the consequences of its defeat, now that the issue has been joined. If it is defeated, the Soviet bureaucracy and secret police will feel they can crack down on the dissidents with impunity. This may explain why Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn and twelve leading Jewish Soviet scientists waiting for visas to Israel have had the courage to risk reprisal by a public appeal to the American Congress just when action on the Jackson amendment nears. When they risk so much instead of relying on “quiet diplomacy” in the Nixon-Kissinger style, we must not only respect their bravery but accept their judgment—that to hit hard is the best way to deal with the Soviet bureaucracy. The Kremlin needs US technology and credits far more than the US needs its trade—if we’re going to give goods away on credit, there are poorer and more deserving places than the Soviet Union. Sooner or later Moscow will have to come to terms.
Whatever happens to the Jackson amendment, intellectuals in this country can do much to help fellow intellectuals in the Soviet Union. We welcome the action of the National Academy of Sciences in warning the Soviet Academy of Sciences that the arrest or further harassment of Sakharov could lead to a curtailment of scientific cooperation with the Soviet Union. We hail the similar warning by the Federation of American Scientists. We are glad to see that the new president of the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. Alfred M. Freedman, has moved from the weak position the APA took at the World Psychiatric Congress in Mexico City in December, 1971,6 and is protesting to Moscow against the continued use of psychiatric torture against dissidents. We hope that as a delegate to this month’s Congress on Schizophrenia in Moscow, Dr. Freedman will ask for the right to personally examine dissenters held in insane asylums.
We are glad to see that at least one well-known psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Chodoff of Washington, has suggested that the American psychiatrists break off relations with their Soviet colleagues if nothing can be done about “such a perversion of psychiatric practices.” Even if they break up the congress they won’t be missing much. The Manchester Guardian Weekly (September 15) notes that the three main Soviet speakers at the Congress on Schizophrenia will be G. Morosov, A. V. Snezhnevsky, and R. A. Nadzharov, “all three known as either perpetrators or apologists of the practice of secreting political dissidents as madmen.” Morosov, as head of the notorious Serbski Institute in Moscow, is the KGB’s top man in psychiatry.
I believe a boycott of social functions, a refusal of professional relations, and a “strike” against scientific collaboration may prove stronger than the Jackson amendment in forcing liberalization in the Soviet Union. There are ways to circumvent the Jackson amendment but none to deal with a refusal by US scientists to work on Soviet projects.
The resistance to liberalization, the drift to neo-Stalinist methods, has nothing to do with concern for socialism in any true sense. What the Soviet bureaucracy fears is an end to its monopoly of power and privileges. In Marxist terms, the organization of Soviet society has become a fetter on the forces of production, a basic impediment to internal progress and external peace. Sakharov touched on this, the most sensitive point of all, when he called, in the postscript to his last memorandum, for the abolition of the “hierarchical class structure of our society” with its “system of privileges in all spheres of consumption.” Again in Marxist terms, too much “surplus value” is being skimmed off the economy by the two most privileged Soviet groups—the military and the party bureaucracy.
Naturally no hint of this appears in the stale polemics of the Soviet press—that theme would be too popular in the Soviet Union. But some indication of how much it is feared turned up in the Stalinist-style “show” press conference after the closed-door Yakir-Krassine trial. Le Monde’s account (September 7) said Krassine blamed their descent into anti-Sovietism on “bad influences and bad books”—especially those of Milovan Djilas! The Yugoslav heretic was the one author cited in that staged confession. His No. 1 “bad book” of course was The New Class.
The Soviet peoples must be kept at all costs from discussing openly the “secret” all too evident in their lives—that “dictatorship of the proletariat” remains, as in the Stalin years, the dictatorship of a new ruling class of party hacks, bureaucrats, military men, and industrial managers. Why strengthen their heartless and unsteady rule?
October 18, 1973
See pages 37 and 47 of the 1968 memorandum, published in book form by Norton as Progress, Co-Existence and Intellectual Freedom with extensive notes and commentary by Harrison E. Salisbury of The New York Times, which originally printed the full text July 26, 1968. ↩
This was also released to Western newsmen, but for the full text one must go to the Summer, 1970, issue of Survey: A Journal of Soviet and East European Studies (London). Roy Medvedev is the twin brother of the anti-Lysenko biochemist Zhores Medvedev, once confined to a mental institution for his nonconformist views and now an exile in London. Roy is the author of Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (Knopf), which I reviewed in NYR (February 24, 1972), and of a new book, On Socialist Democracy, a samizdat work soon to be published by Macmillan in London. ↩
An abbreviated version of Memorandum No. 3 appeared in The New York Times, August 18, 1972. The discussion and quotation here is from the full text of the memorandum and the postscript as published at pages 223-234 of the Summer, 1972, issue of Survey. ↩
This would enforce Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights unanimously adopted by the General Assembly in 1948 with the abstention of the Soviet bloc and only two other countries—Saudi Arabia, which then at least still had human slavery, and South Africa, which institutionalized racism. ↩
See Joseph Buttinger’s article, “Thieu’s Prisoners,” NYR, June 14, 1973. ↩
See my article, “Betrayed by Psychiatry,” NYR, February 10, 1972. ↩