It now seems possible that within a year or so the vast, lumbering Soviet Union may start to change its course. A turning point to compare with the major shifts of 1921, of 1929 to 1934, 1953 to 1956, and 1964 to 1966 may be impending. Will the change, if it comes, be in the direction of reform, as present hints suggest, or of reaction? And what might the consequences be for the currently beleaguered dissidents, of whom Ludmilla Alexeyeva has now given us the first comprehensive history?
Why is it unlikely (though it is not impossible) that the trend of the last two decades will be maintained much longer? My brief answer is: because it is a course of muddling through, or, rather, “muddling down,” which has produced deepening demoralization in both the Soviet people and the regime. This tendency could possibly continue if Gorbachev’s faction were to swing in one direction, fail to hold the line, and then have control seized from it by a rival faction, which then steered in another direction—that is, if political instability developed within the ruling elite. But nothing quite like that has happened in the past.
Why do many Soviet people find the status quo unacceptable? The most common answer in the USSR itself is that it has produced a mounting and intolerable “lack of order” (otsutstvie poryadka)—an expression used by many people in all sections of society and often reported by returning visitors. “Lack of order” is a widespread condition that permeates daily existence and causes deep disquiet. At its most literal, lack of order means that crime and corruption are—or are perceived to be, the statistics being a state secret—steadily rising. So too is the incidence of petty stealing, alcoholism, divorce, abortion, infant mortality, congenital defects in children, adult male mortality, and animosity between and within social classes. Moreover, the institutions charged with providing at least a measure of protection against such woes—the police, the courts, the soviets, the Party, the health services, and so on—are regarded as increasingly corrupt or ineffective.
Nor is there “order,” i.e., reasonable predictability, in such necessities of daily life as food supplies and medical services. Chronic shortages of basic foodstuffs and the constant need to resort to bribery or the black market—both of which are illegal and expensive—have become more common, not less. Moreover, no order has been imposed on Afghanistan, where the “limited contingent of Soviet troops” is now in its sixth year of “temporary duty.” Instead, the disorder there produces violence, death, the discrediting of official patriotism, and still more demoralization.
In addition, since the late 1970s the situation of the only two sections of society that are politically active—the ruling elite (or nomenklatura) and the dissidents—has become more difficult in certain specific ways. Previously the nomenklatura had been the one social group to enjoy more or less secure lives. But in 1979 its privileged position was sharply jolted by the start of a campaign against corruption. This continues today and will doubtless continue for as long as Gorbachev finds it useful in order to get rid of opponents and install his own supporters—the most important immediate task he has set himself. Already he has replaced eighteen of the 150 regional Communist party first secretaries, as well as dozens of other high officials. So the comforting sense of order produced by fifteen years of Brezhnev’s policy of “stability of cadres”—job security for officials—has given way, for many in the elite, to real anxiety about losing their jobs, or even going to jail for corruption.
As for the dissidents, the continuous insecurity of their lives before 1979 has since become much more acute, as their choices have narrowed to three: open activity followed by a heavy sentence when they are arrested, or underground activity for a time, followed by an even heavier sentence when they are caught, or withdrawal into passivity. The price of the latter is unpredictable but often psychologically unpleasant, and that of the first two—broken health or, more often than before, death in a camp.
The complaint of “lack of order” thus suggests the sense of disquiet felt by people cut adrift from their social and political moorings; and with few symbols of national unity remaining that everyone can respect. All this might be tolerable if the economy were doing better than it is. But the growth rate has sunk to close to zero, and without serious reform little or no improvement is in sight. A widespread eagerness to have more consumer goods is frequently frustrated. And the military leaders must be demanding a bigger budget, as the arms race once again becomes more intense.
The entire situation might seem tailor-made for a reforming leader, and some observers see one in Mr. Gorbachev.1 Certainly he has repeatedly called during the last year for “a decisive revolution in the economy,” for a “profound reconstruction of the whole economic mechanism,” and so on. However, the nomenklatura includes officials who instinctively respond to adversity in neo-Stalinist ways; and in recent years most of the Kremlin’s policies have had a reactionary character, recalling as they do some of the policies that Khrushchev tried, with variable success, to abandon. Hence we have seen the invasion of Afghanistan, the xenophobic anti-Western campaign of 1983 and 1984, the brutal assault on dissent, the stopping of emigration, the trend toward compulsory assignment of labor, and the more frequent appearance of anti-Semitism and crude Russian nationalism. If the neo-Stalinists who have fostered these policies were to gain the upper hand during the next few years, they could be expected to push further in all these directions.
On the whole, though, I think such an outcome less likely than some sort of victory—probably a partial and confused victory—for the forces of reform. That nothing of substance has yet changed in Soviet policy since Gorbachev took over in March—whether concerning dissent or relations with the US, for example—should not surprise us. Until he has constructed his own broad base of power in the Party and in other key institutions, he cannot afford to expose his flanks by revealing with any clarity whatever controversial ideas he has in mind. The very earliest he could establish such a base of power will be next February, when the Twenty-seventh Party Congress convenes.
Another factor that is probably behind Gorbachev’s increasingly tantalizing refusal to spell out the dramatic reforms he keeps referring to—most recently in his interview with Time magazine—is his uncertainty about whether or not serious progress on Soviet–American arms control is a realistic prospect. The Time interview strengthens my impression that the reforms cannot be unveiled until potential neo-Stalinist opposition to them has been neutralized in advance by at least the promise of such progress. If I am correct, the Reagan administration should bear this point in mind as it prepares for the November summit meeting.
In any case if Gorbachev does next year embark on reform by, among other things, trying to relieve the deep sense of strain and demoralization in Soviet society, then the record of the dissident groups during the last two decades will provide him with a useful guide to the underlying tensions he must try to resolve. That record is now available in Ludmilla Alexeyeva’s Soviet Dissent, a major achievement of balanced analysis. The author examines in turn each of the two dozen major dissident groups and movements, describing their goals, leaders, methods, degrees of support in Soviet society, relations with one another, confrontations with the KGB, and so on. She brings her account up to the end of 1983. (Subsequent developments are discussed in the expanded edition of Joshua Rubenstein’s useful and well-written, if less encyclopedic, Soviet Dissidents.)2
What, then, have Soviet dissidents pressed for, and how conceivable is it that Gorbachev could give them, and those they speak for, at least some part of what they want? Any discussion of these questions should start by looking at the issue of economic reform, since the feeling is widespread that something radical should be done to improve industrial and agricultural production, housing, the amount and quality of consumer goods, etc. Gorbachev has, as I have said, already indicated the general direction of his thinking. He begins from the same premise as Andropov did, that the Soviet Union cannot exert power and influence in world affairs unless it has a strong and dependable economic base to complement its military might. Since it does not currently have this, major reorganization of its entire “economic mechanism” is urgently needed, with the economies of Comecon countries to follow suit, as appropriate.
In the Time magazine interview, he sums up his program in the phrase “accelerated social and economic development,” and although he says little about social issues it may be significant that he couples the two sorts of development. The urgency of the need for reform springs in part—though this is only hinted at in various sources, not stated—from the need to shore up the increasingly fragile East European empire by economic measures, and in part from the striking challenge posed by China’s revival under Mr. Deng. It also derives from the openly admitted fact that the USSR has been falling steadily behind the West in the microchip revolution.
Here the views of dissenters are pertinent. For on many key points Gorbachev seems—if one looks not just at his speeches, but also at recent economic experiments—to favor solutions similar to those advocated since the 1960s by Andrei Sakharov, Roy Medvedev, and others. These people have called for what amounts in practice to restricted forms of capitalism in agriculture and many consumer services. For the state-run industries, they advocate sharp decentralization in decision making. Although plenty of precedents for such policies exist in Hungary and Yugoslavia, and recently in China, Gorbachev cannot for the time being risk making such radical changes, although he is evidently tempted by them.
About the need for the wider use of computers throughout Soviet society, he and other leaders have been more explicit. A policy of teaching school-children how to use computers has even been launched in some schools. But there are good reasons to doubt that the regime can make good on its rhetoric. For as Sakharov argued in 1968, a serious commitment to installing computers would directly facilitate not just economic advance but also tendencies toward political democracy. The prospect of many thousands of civilians using computers to store, print out, exchange, and privately reproduce information would be daunting to the controlling officials in a society where every photocopying machine is closely guarded.
This is the very issue addressed by Donald Shanor in his thoughtful, unusually lucid book, Behind the lines. A journalist who has traveled widely in the Soviet Union, Shanor argues that while the regime has long aimed for a complete monopoly of information, its success in imposing such a monopoly on the press, publishing, radio, and television has, during the last thirty-five years, been gradually undermined. To demonstrate this, he assesses the effects of foreign radio broadcasts, émigrés’ letters home, the samizdat networks of home-produced literature and tapes, and the computer and video revolutions of recent years. Aside from these, there have long been what he calls “private information networks,” by which a great deal of news from a variety of unofficial sources is circulated, and which dissident groups have developed for their own purposes since the late 1960s.
The taping and distribution of radio material from the West have long angered the authorities, but they have never been able to suppress it. Now Estonia has a new underground cottage industry of videotaping Finnish TV broadcasts, adding Russian voice-overs, and selling the product nationwide through the black market. For the police mentality of the Kremlin, this sharply increases the political threat. Shanor concludes:
The microchips and glass fibers are pulling [the USSR] closer to the rest of the world with a force it cannot resist if it wants to compete in that world.
[It] is likely to face up to the information revolution in the same way it has faced other challenges: by delaying, handing out a concession here and taking another away, retreating, regrouping, and hoping in the end that it can have both control over information and the benefits of open information exchange.
The result is likely to be more penetration of the Soviet Union by independent information, tolerated grudgingly by a regime that cannot stop all the leaks.
He ends on a boldly optimistic note by predicting that the main effect of a better-informed public
could be to force the next generation of leaders in the Kremlin to explain their policies and processes of decision-making a little more thoroughly and openly. That may not seem like much. But it could cause those leaders to consider their policies more carefully before they decide to imprison another scientist, writer, or peace activist, or invade another country. It could even cause them not to take those actions at all.
If Shanor is right—and his technical knowledge seems impressive—then one major demand shared by all the dissident groups, for greater freedom of information and expression, will be at least partially met. The effects of this would be considerable.
To see why, we should recall that it was precisely consultation on social, economic, and political issues that Moscow intellectuals on the fringes of the establishment thought they were being offered in the mid-1960s by the post-Khrushchev leaders. This was what Roy Medvedev thought when he organized the group around his journal Political Diary in 1964; and Sakharov and Valery Chalidze were acting on the same assumption when they organized the Human Rights Committee in 1970. By the early 1970s, however, the Brezhnev regime had retreated into its laager. The think tanks and “study institutes” controlled by the Party were locked firmly inside it. Everyone else was pushed out into the wilderness of samizdat and the KGB.
Now, however, prospects may be improving for the patient Medvedev (partly compromised though he is in the eyes of many dissidents), and also for younger semidissidents who would be ready to hold discussions and to some degree collaborate with a more open regime. Some of the intelligentsia—writers, scientific experts, economists, disaffected scholars—believe that with the help of the information revolution, they may hope for more constructive relations with Gorbachev’s regime, comparable, perhaps, to those that have existed in recent years in Hungary.
If such hopes are fulfilled, a broad relaxation of cultural controls would logically follow. And the overall result could be that the most talented writers, artists, and scholars would feel less need to defect or emigrate. Sooner or later, in my view, a Soviet politician is bound to press for such liberalization, doubtless making a virtue of the near necessity suggested by Shanor’s analysis. Certainly he would strike a chord in a society that has been deprived not only of Solzhenitsyn, Rostropovich, Makarova, Veniamin Levich, and Viktor Korchnoi, all now “nonpersons,” but also of many other people of equal or almost equal talent in their professions. And this is not to mention that the same dispiriting loss can now be felt in economics, medicine, history, philosophy, journalism, the visual arts, literary criticism, and many other fields.
In other words, the drain of talent has become a national issue waiting to be grasped by a bold politician. And if the severity of political and cultural censorship could eventually be reduced, then dissident journals would not have to report with such regularity on the hounding and subsequent departure abroad of talented Soviet citizens.
Another central demand of the dissidents has been for a rule law, and not of men—i.e., for a less arbitrary and corrupt legal system. Here again, the record of the last twenty years has been discouraging, but Gorbachev could eventually make some changes. To legalize much of the underground or “black” economy, as he seems tempted to do, would be a good start. Beyond this, to be successful any progressive reform of state-controlled industry would require more legal accountability on the part of managers and petty officials throughout the economy.
If legal institutions could be strengthened in these ways, then some specific concerns of the dissidents could more easily be addressed. Political offenses could be more sharply defined, so that the KGB would hesitate before pressing charges. Bans on people emigrating could be made subject to legal appeal. And the courts could be ordered to stop conniving in the practice of sending critics of the system to mental hospitals. If the Kremlin replaced a few of the officials who now run Soviet psychiatry, this practice could even be ended now, with no cost and much benefit to Soviet international prestige.
The dissidents have always campaigned for less harsh sentences and more humane prison conditions. They have been bitterly disappointed. Just as the easing of social controls during the mid-1950s led to a sharp improvement in labor camp conditions, so the souring of the last fifteen years has produced the reverse. Gorbachev began by taking walks through Russian cities and greeting citizens in the Khrushchev manner. It is less likely that he will rush to emulate Khrushchev in softening penal policy as well, but he still could do so as part of a general process of reform and relaxing social tensions.
Without incurring too much opposition from neo-Stalinist elements in the regime, he could also relax religious policy. As Alexeyeva shows, the Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, Seventh-Day Adventists, and, to a lesser extent, the Russian Orthodox, have been subject to severe assaults from the KGB, especially since the late 1970s. Apart from easing tensions, a halt to religious persecution would be useful in satisfying the foreign pressure groups that oppose it. This would remove a major obstacle to the remarkably successful Soviet campaign to persuade naive Western church people to attack the arms policies of the US and NATO but not of the Soviet Union.
In any case, as Gorbachev’s advisers know well, the political danger of releasing the four hundred or so religious prisoners currently known to be in jail would not be great. The Protestant denominations, to which three quarters of these prisoners belong, have no political aspirations; they merely want to practice their religion without state interference. As for the churches with some connection to minority nationalism—the Georgian Orthodox, the Armenian Gregorians, and the Catholics in Lithuania and the western Ukraine—the number of such prisoners from each church is not very large.
This, however, brings us to one of the Kremlin’s most difficult problems, that of the ethnic minorities. As Alexeyeva demonstrates, nationalist dissent is deep in the Ukraine, the three Baltic republics of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, and the Transcaucasian ones of Georgia and Armenia. If, moreover, the occupation of Afghanistan goes on much longer, the hitherto mostly passive feelings of dissent among the Soviet Muslims of central Asia could well, in my opinion, become more militant. In this situation the hard-line solution of abolishing the entire federal system in favor of a unitary state more suited to neo-Stalinist policies—an option that clearly has supporters in high places—would entail very serious risks of alienating the ethnic minorities and even inciting them to revolt.
On the other hand, to make concessions to the various local nationalist demands—n for greater political autonomy, more economic self-management, wider cultural freedom, and fewer Russian immigrants—is also risky. It could inspire a demand for further concessions and lead to growing support for the currently weak tendencies toward secession. It could also encourage similar claims within the dangerously volatile, semicolonial states of Eastern Europe. And unless it were accompanied by an unimaginably daring switch of the entire economy to a radical form of market socialism, granting a degree of autonomy would risk a further growth in economic localism, with consequent threats to the sacred principle of central planning.
While it is hard, therefore, to foresee much change in the overall policy toward minorities, Gorbachev could well turn his attention to the specific grievances of certain national groups. As Alexeyeva points out, the oldest dissenting movements are those founded in 1956 by the Crimean Tatars and the Meskhetians. In 1944 Stalin deported both these Muslim peoples to central Asia, two thousand miles away, the former from the Crimea and the latter from southern Georgia. In 1967 a campaign by the Tatars succeeded in getting Stalin’s false charges of mass treason revoked. No charges were ever made against the Meskhetians. Despite three decades of campaigning, however, neither people has yet regained its homeland.
The Kremlin’s refusal to allow their return seems to reflect the conservatism and inertia so characteristic of the Brezhnev years. In view of the efficiency of the security controls around the USSR’s borders, the dangers of adding half a million Muslims to the millions already living near the Soviet frontier would appear minimal. If Gorbachev were eventually to act, he would remove an irritant in his relations with the Muslim governments that have been giving the exiled Tatars and Meskhetians some support.
Emigration is another issue on which change would be relatively easy to bring about, and here the new leadership has even hinted at its readiness to allow more people to leave. As Martin Gilbert’s eloquent article in these pages recently showed,3 the Jewish emigration movement is currently subject to the same sort of persecution and harassment as all the other movements. But despite this, many of its members are far from despairing at the virtual halt to emigration since 1982. The temptation for the Kremlin to use potential emigrants at appropriate moments as bargaining counters in negotiations with the US or even Israel—in other words to “sell” them—is likely to prove irresistible. The analogous emigration movement among the USSR’s two million Germans is smaller, but just as determined. Its current position is similar to that of the Jews—the potential buyer, in this case, being the government of West Germany. Whereas a quarter of a million Jews have emigrated since 1971, no more than 70,000 Germans have done so.
One large section of the population, however, will have no organized groups to bring pressure on its behalf. This is the deeply demoralized working class. As Alexeyeva tells us, the two main attempts to form free trade unions have failed to produce results even remotely comparable to Poland’s Solidarity. Vladimir Klebanov’s group, started in 1977, was crushed within months, and its immediate successor SMOT—the Free Interprofessional Association of Working People—barely exists after continuing assaults from the KGB.
The Soviet proletariat suffers more than any other group from the “lack of order” I discussed earlier. But in addition to the disastrous effects of mass alcoholism, early deaths, broken families, and so on, the working population is also subject to ruthless manipulation by the Party and the KGB, which use the tested methods of divide and rule. Those who think I exaggerate here should read Kevin Klose’s recent account of his unique experiences in the mining center of Donetsk.4 For four days in 1980 Klose, a reporter for the Washington Post, lived in the city’s “lower depths,” listening to people describe their lives and observing the pervasive demoralization among the miners. As was expected by all he met, his main host, Alexei Nikitin, a miner who had not been broken by previous imprisonment, was arrested as soon as Klose left town. Not for nothing has the KGB erected almost insurmountable barriers to prevent just such contacts from occurring.
The conclusion I would draw is that only a combination of economic reform providing effective incentives right away, and long-term programs to alleviate social ills will have a chance of raising the low productivity of Soviet workers. If Gorbachev proves able to take on these huge tasks, he will be well advised to listen to the voices of two other dissenting groups described in Alexeyeva’s book, both of which were persecuted from the moment they emerged in the late 1970s.
The first is a group to help disabled people, founded by victims of industrial accidents. Its members have pointed out, for example, that since hardly any attention is paid to people like themselves, managers feel encouraged to go on neglecting safety measures. This not only deprives an economy that is already short of labor of many skilled workers who are injured or killed, but it also tends to brutalize industrial relations. Lower productivity is the result.
The feminist movement, meanwhile, to which Rubenstein gives more attention than Alexeyeva, directs the regime’s attention to the “double burden” of Soviet women in the workplace and at home. They must both hold jobs, often menial ones, and do not only all the housework but the shopping as well, which often means standing in lines for hours. This burden does much to produce broken marriages, rising alcoholism among women, and a falling birthrate. The pervasive feelings of social despondency I have mentioned spring in part from the condition of women. Even the Brezhnev regime, alarmed by the falling birthrate, took some measures to give women relief by, for example, granting longer leaves in which to have children. Gorbachev, if he is to undertake serious reforms, would have to pay much more attention to the complaints made on behalf of women, as well as those from the other dissenting groups.
What is the general situation of those groups now? Almost all the formal organizations that were made up of people who openly acknowledged their membership—like the ones set up to monitor the Helsinki agreements—have been crushed.5 But despite this, most of the broader movements to which they belonged continue to function, if often through less coordinated, more sporadic, and more underground methods. From time to time, new groups still emerge. Samizdat has few regular publications, except among the prolific Lithuanian dissenters, yet much new material (smaller in volume than during the 1970s) continues to be written and circulated, although more of it is now by anonymous authors. And the secret networks for passing on information are proving resilient. Each issue of the fortnightly USSR News Brief: Human Rights6 in West Germany prints information on dissent received from about twenty different locations in the Soviet Union. Most of these items are no more than a few weeks old.
As for the Soviet authorities, they maintain their post-1979 rate of making between two hundred and three hundred new arrests each year for political crimes with long-term sentences. During the first seven months of 1985, the number of arrests recorded by the USSR News Brief was 117.7
For the time being a tense balance exists between dissidence and repression. From 1979 to 1982, the KGB’s broad assault on all dissenting movements largely wiped out the small, formally organized groups.8 Since then, the levels of other dissident activity and of KGB arrests have remained fairly steady. This implies that if two hundred dissidents have been arrested in a particular year, a similar number of their friends have stepped forward to take their places. Since this rate of arrest, or worse, has gone on for six years, it suggests that dissent is indeed endemic.
What has so much dissent so far achieved? Alexeyeva sees the human rights movement, with its allies in the other groups, as a moral rather than a political movement, comparable in some ways to the movements of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. It has sought reforms from above by exerting pressure from below in largely “prepolitical” ways, that is in ways which are intended to arouse moral outrage and to shame the regime into relaxing oppressive controls, but which stop short of making demands for sharing in political power. This aim has been somewhat undermined in recent years by the disarray and feelings of dejection caused by the KGB clampdown since 1979; by the rise of antidemocratic tendencies in the Soviet population, a point to which I return below; and by the gradual turning to specific political goals within the dissenting groups themselves. Nonetheless, although their achievements in changing official policy are few, their success in àltering people’s attitudes and liberating them from the official ideology seems to both Alexeyeva and myself to have been remarkable.
In support of this view, she quotes the results of two opinion surveys conducted secretly by independent sociologists in 1981. These concerned attitudes toward Dr. Sakharov and toward Polish Solidarity. In each case a little more than 20 percent of respondents had a sympathetic view. Taking other evidence into account, Alexeyeva believes that in large Russian cities, about 20 percent of the population have democratic attitudes, a further 20 percent are antidemocratic, and the remaining 60 percent are politically inert. In the non-Russian republics more people are probably democratic.
Alexeyeva has much to say about the antidemocratic forces. Some represent the “right wing” of the dissenting Russian nationalists and Russian Orthodox believers. Some are associated with fascist groups that have increasingly appeared since 1980. Some are people who believe that only an iron hand can put an end to the all-pervasive “lack of order.” As Alexeyeva writes:
Economic failures, corruption, the deteriorating standard of living, and the fear of war, all have stimulated favorable conditions for the popular dreams of a strong ruler, a traditional way out for Russia in times of crisis.
Not surprisingly, neo-Stalinist elements within the nomenklatura have tried to manipulate these antidemocratic forces. They have also ensured, as Alexeyeva shows, that the KGB will treat these forces tolerantly at the same time that it is directing its blows at the human rights movement.
Now, under Gorbachev, the neo-Stalinists are undoubtedly trying to ally themselves with those in the nomenklatura who have already been fired or whose jobs are at risk—at risk either because Gorbachev wants to give them to his own supporters, or because the reforms he apparently has in mind may soon lead him either to abolish the jobs or to remove their occupants as being unsuitable for new tasks. It is the resulting coalition of neo-Stalinists and the former followers of Brezhnev and Chernenko that will make the optimistic program I have outlined here so hard to launch, and even harder to carry out. The coalition includes, for the most part, policemen, ideologists, government ministers, Party officials, economic executives, and military men.
Gorbachev’s chances of overcoming this coalition would be greatly enhanced if he could win over to his side key leaders of the Soviet military establishment and the defense industries. These people are clearly worried by the weakness of the Soviet economy and the low morale and bad health that are widespread in the society, both of which affect the quality of military recruits. But their traditional response to social problems has been the same as that of the nomenklatura generally: to seek an improvement through stepped-up discipline and political indoctrination, inspired from above by both exhortation and coercion. They have sought, in other words, a further militarization of an economy and a society that are already far more militarized than their Western equivalents. This is the path of partial re-Stalinization, and, as such, doomed in my view to failure.
If Gorbachev understands this, as he seems to, can he educate, for example, those military men who have made the defense industries more efficient than the civilian economy? Can he persuade them to see that today economic reforms will never be really effective without social and political reforms too? Can he convince them that, as he has said publicly, an ambitious program lacking genuine popular support will not succeed?
Whatever the case, if my own prognosis is right Gorbachev will continue his efforts to push the more intransigent officials out of key positions; and then, having constructed a broad constituency of his own, will launch a program of reforms. If Shanor is correct, the inexorable pressures not to fall behind even further in technology will help him. And if Gorbachev makes concessions to the dissidents, they are, in my view, sure to respond positively, at least at first.
Some will say that to press for such concessions is unrealistic and that no Soviet leader would be foolish enough to set in motion reforms undermining the Party’s monopoly over ideology, information, and, ultimately, political power. This is not persuasive. Even highly authoritarian governments are rarely as powerful as they look. There is much they cannot control. They are even, perhaps, as liable as democratic regimes are to find themselves faced with intractable dilemmas. In such a situation they may decide that economic progress is more important to their long-term interests than grimly hanging on to every form of police control while their political legitimacy slowly ebbs away. In the Soviet case, moreover, reversals of policy of the sort I have suggested have occurred in the post-Stalin era—and without the Soviet system showing signs of collapse. Khrushchev changed course during the 1950s, and, as my own research has shown, Brezhnev also did so for five years, starting in 1974.9
But if Gorbachev is indeed a reformer, he and his advisers probably understand that the conservative and reactionary forces I have described will not be overcome without some kind of coalition between the official reformers and the more dynamic elements in society. Since such elements include the dissident groups—and many people outside them who recognize the rational basis of their claims—no such coalition will work effectively, in my opinion, unless most of these groups are in some measure appeased.
If Gorbachev believes otherwise, then the Western countries—on which any serious reformist strategy would have to rely both for implementing arms control and for easing economic relations—will, one hopes, be able to change his mind, if necessary through a judicious use of diplomatic pressures. If the Western nations were to fail in their moral obligation to the dissidents, Gorbachev’s reforms themselves would probably fail to achieve their aims because they would lack wide enough public support. This in turn would improve the chances for a neo-Stalinist revival whose aim would be to “restore order” not through reform but through reaction and even more severe repression.
October 10, 1985
See, for example, Archie Brown’s well-argued case in his article in Problems of Communism, no. 3 (May–June 1985). ↩
Joshua Rubenstein, Soviet Dissidents: Their Struggle for Human Rights (Beacon Press, second edition due December 1985). The first edition was reviewed in these pages by Leonard Schapiro (December 18, 1980). ↩
“The Fall of the Soviet Jews.” The New York Review (May 30, 1985). ↩
Kevin Klose, Russia and the Russians: Inside the Closed Society (Norton, 1984), pp. 29–115. This book won the Overseas Press Club award for the outstanding book on foreign affairs published in 1984. Also instructive is Mervyn Matthews’s article, “Poverty in the Soviet Union,” The Wilson Quarterly(Autumn 1985). ↩
An exception here is the “Group to Promote Trust between the USSR and the USA,” which the authorities have persecuted but, fearful of alienating the Western peace movements, have not completely crushed. One member of the group, Dr. Vladimir Brodsky, was recently sentenced to three years at hard labor and another, Alexander Shatravka, who is in a camp, was recently resentenced to a further two and a half years on trumped-up charges. ↩
Edited by Cronid Lubarsky and published in English and Russian editions by “Das Land und die Welt,” Schelling-strasse 48, 8 Munich 40, Federal Republic of Germany. ↩
These figures are far from complete, since many political cases never become known in the West. ↩
For details and an interpretation of this, see my “Soviet Policies on Dissent and Emigration: The Radical Change of Course since 1979,” Occasional Paper No. 192 (1984) of the Kennan Institute for Russian Advanced Studies (Washington, DC). ↩
He did so, in large part, to give some credibility to the Soviet commitment to “basket three” of the Helsinki Final Act. In 1974 and 1975 the rate of arrest of Soviet dissidents was halved and it was maintained at the new low level for five years. It then trebled. See note 8. ↩