Online version of: Nissani, M. (1992). Lives in the Balance: the Cold War and American Politics, 1945-1991.
It's incredible to me that after fifty years of Soviet power, paradise should be kept under lock and key.
And now the forces marshalled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning hammer-blows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.
Throughout the Cold War, the omnipresent doomsday clock stood as a reminder of the abiding peril of nuclear war. Other doomsday clocks could be visualized too. If we take the environmental situation as a whole, we can imagine a doomsday clock which has been relentlessly moving toward midnight since World War II.3 This is not the place to establish the reality and magnitude of this peril; we only need note in passing that it is in this context that one hears speculations about whether humanity shall go out with a whimper or a bang.
One can imagine yet a third doomsday clock and a third way of going out. The clock I have in mind is a totalitarian clock. The peril is not to our physical, but spiritual, existence; not of something new, but of something as old as the human species. "The atom bomb . . . is equaled by . . . the threat of totalitarian rule . . . By one, we lose life; by the other, a life that is worth living."4
This chapter demonstrates the existence of this third clock. It raises a few theoretical issues concerning freedom and slavery. It portrays the dark reality of life under the totalitarian yoke and, by presenting this reality almost side by side with the reality of nuclear war and the arms race (Chapters 2, 3), it attempts to show that we must never forget either one or the other.
What is Freedom?
I shall begin by proposing a practical definition of freedom. If given the chance to think this matter through, most people might concede that freedom is made up of at least six components.
Political freedom encompasses such rights as voting, running for political office, sitting on juries, or belonging to opposition political parties.
Civil liberties encompass freedom of speech, religion, and movement; freedom to leave and enter one's country and place of residence as one sees fit, to listen to any kind of music, read any book, etc. Civil liberties require the rule of law (an orderly political system which guarantees and protects these liberties) as well as adequate checks against abuses of power by governments and other organizations.
Economic freedom encompasses the right to act in the marketplace as a free agent, choose any line of employment, and start a business of one's own, with minimal interference from government, other organizations, and private parties.
When people feel alienated, oppressed, or exploited because they are not governed by members of their own nation, ethnic
group, religion, or other collective, they lack collective self-determination. Most Tibetans residing in Tibet feel less free now than they did before China conquered their ancient homeland. In Kuwait, some women feel oppressed and exploited because their lives are largely governed by men. In 1979, to take another example, the political affairs of Estonia were largely controlled by Russians; those of Romania by Romanians and Russians; and those of Russia by Russians. Consequently, at that time, most people in these three places perceived Russians as freer than Romanians and Romanians as freer than Estonians.
Social justice encompasses: 1. Extension of the franchise of political, civil, economic, and intellectual liberties to every member of society. For instance, the U.S. today is freer than it was in the past in part because it no longer sanctions slavery and indentured servitude and because it grants women the right to vote and run for political office. 2. People can suffer social injustice not only at the hands of their government, but also at the hands of their fellow citizens, and this too can detract from their personal freedom. Most of us would agree that people who suffer job discrimination or who are looked down upon because of their national origin, skin color, sex, sexual orientation, age, religion, or bad eyesight, are not as free as they could be, and therefore that one's social acceptance influences one's freedom. 3. Access to such basic necessities as food, clothing, shelter, health care, safe environment, and educational opportunities. The needless sufferings of Charles Dickens' children (and reality was worse than Dickens' sugar-coated stories), constitute flagrant violations of freedom. Parents who must prostitute their child to save their family from freezing or starving are not as free as their fellow passengers to the grave who squander a million dollars on their child's wedding. Likewise, all other things being equal, children whose physical, intellectual, and moral development has been stunted through starvation, lead pollution, or life in a crime-ridden ghetto, cannot be said to be as free as well-fed children growing up in a safe, nurturing environment.
Intellectual freedom is the least obvious component of freedom. We have no difficulty grasping that a man behind bars is not free, and only little difficulty perceiving that adverse social circum.pa stances curb freedom, but we find it difficult to see intellectual cages. Nonetheless, these invisible cages are just as real as their physical and social counterparts.
We can sense the importance of intellectual freedom by diverting our attention from our own familiar surroundings to other cultures. Consider, as one extreme example, Native Australians before they came in contact with European culture. Though they lived in greater harmony with nature and though their society's chances of survival were higher than ours, anthropological research suggests that even the most questioning minds among them, compared to the minds of a few of their English conquerors or a few ancient Greek intellectuals, were limited by their culture. The same can be said of other cultures, and, to a certain degree, of all of us. To the extent that our behavior, feelings, store of knowledge, and worldview have been distorted by past indoctrination; to the extent that we take anything for granted merely because we imbibed it from our elders, superiors, or tradition; we are still, like our ancestors, dancing around the fire.
But although absolute intellectual freedom is not given to anyone, some individuals manage to come nearer to this ideal than others. Here we are chiefly concerned with the fact that some societies and nations place more hurdles on their members' road to intellectual freedom than others. Some societies are more inclined than others to teach their members not only how to think, but what to think; to cover up and restrict their access to "undesirable" information and ideas; or to shape their desires, thoughts, and behavior by propaganda and lies.5
The question "What is freedom?" has been debated for thousands of years. A few examples will suffice to show the range of opinions and some of the irreconcilable positions that have been taken by some participants in this perennial debate. Some communists attach overriding significance to social justice and consider the other five components trivial or obfuscatory. Fascists consider collective self-determination as the only important component, while proponents of cosmopolitanism think that human beings would be freer if they did away with nation states and came to think of themselves as citizens of the world. Some libertarians hold that only political, civil, and economic rights are important, and some behavioral psychologists confidently assure us that freedom itself is an illusion.
But we cannot go into all these ideologies here. We can only observe that, with the possible exception of cosmopolitanism, these ideologies tend to ignore the deep-seated aspirations of most people. We all like to believe that reality is simpler than it is; that it readily lends itself to neat, compartmentalized solutions. But reality is infinitely more complex than these singleminded ideologies allow. Once they let go of ideological cliches, most individuals perceive freedom in terms similar to the ones described above. Naturally, different people assign different weights to the six components. In practice, however, most people do accept the importance of all.
Assuming that these six components come close to telling us what freedom means in practice to most people, there remains the problem of freedom ranking-determining that a given society is as free as, freer than, or less free than another.
A good starting point is provided by the realization that utopias exist only in their creators' minds: in the real world, no nation or society is totally free or unfree. For example, there may have been little intellectual freedom in some tribal societies of the past, but their adult male members may have enjoyed extensive political rights (e.g., free elections of tribal chiefs), civil liberties (e.g., no prisons, speaking out without fear), economic freedom (e.g., choosing to be hunters or medicine men), social justice (e.g., equal opportunity for leadership positions, rough equality in material possessions), and collective self-determination (e.g., not being dominated by members of another ethnic group). Likewise, Americans are overall freer than Jordanians, but, as of this writing, not as free to smoke hashish.
By its very nature, then, freedom-ranking of some countries is exceedingly difficult, requiring detailed studies and involving somewhat arbitrary and subjective value judgments. In 1980, for instance, it was hard to say which was freer, Sweden or the United States; the Soviet Union or China; Guatemala or Cuba. In such cases, consensus is unlikely and even a single observer might be hard put to come up with definite conclusions. But these fine distinctions should not blind us to the fact that some nations are, overall, freer than others.
Here we are only concerned with the freedom ranking of widely divergent political systems such as Canada and Mexico; Sweden and China. In such cases, you might conclude that a given country was freer than another by studying the six components of freedom in each. Unless you are blinded by ideology, you will quickly discover that Sweden in 1980 outclassed China in all six components (including these two countries' treatment of minority groups-which falls under both collective self-determination and social justice; for instance, compare the treatment of Lapps in Sweden to that of Tibetans in China). Hence, you would probably conclude that Sweden was freer than China.
In most cases, however, a few telling signs can obviate laborious comparative research, e.g., elections where one party gets 99 percent of the votes; thousands of prisoners of conscience; persecution of small farmers, intellectuals, or ethnic minorities; mass production of busts of a living political figure; prohibition on speaking a particular language; or mass emigration.
Life in a Dictatorship
One classical example of a dictatorship is provided by Rome under the emperor Gaius Caligula.6 Caligula assumed power in 37 A.D. (at age 25) and was assassinated in 41 A.D. Caligula took his own sister from her husband and treated her openly, and incestuously, as his wife. Later, he attended a friend's wedding and appropriated the bride to himself, disregarding both her and his friend's wishes. He killed and tortured most of his friends and relatives. He forced parents to attend the executions of their sons. He killed many of his victims slowly, with numerous slight wounds. "Strike so that a man feels he is dying," was his constant order.
"I wish the Roman people had but a single neck," he said once when his subjects annoyed him; and there is little doubt that he would have chopped this neck sooner or later, if only he could. When short of money, he would force people to make him their heir; then, complaining that they ridiculed him by continuing to live, he would have them executed in mock trials. To save money, beasts kept for gladiator shows were sometimes fed human beings instead of cattle.
The point in recounting these misdeeds is not the monster Caligula, but the ubiquity of Caligulism on history's bloodstained pages. The only known solution to such abuses is the replacement of arbitrary power with a system of checks and balances. According to legend, such a system was first introduced more than 25 centuries ago by the Athenian Solon, a man who was in a position to assume dictatorial rule but chose, instead, to legislate democracy, greater social justice, mild redistribution of wealth, and the rule of law.
The Nature of Totalitarianism
Caligula's approach to the exercise of power was based on a rational but erroneous premise. The keys to a tyrant's survival, he unscientifically believed, were hate and fear. "Let them hate me, so they but fear me," he used to quote from a favorite poem. It did not occur to him that if he concealed his crimes and fiendishness; controlled all important facets of the nation's political, economic, social, and cultural life; placed informers among his subjects so that they would be afraid to conspire against his life; justified his brutality with lofty words, ideals, ideology, or scientific pretensions; shaped his subjects thoughts and feelings; and made them love this carefully contrived but absurd image of himself instead of hating him; that he could commit his monstrosities for decades, enjoy his victims' affections, be fondly remembered after his death, and receive kind, heartfelt eulogies from a great number of distinguished historians.
If, in addition, he himself believed what he told his subjects, if he believed that the crimes he committed supported some higher purpose (Nazism: the glory of the race; Stalinism: social justice; Skinnerism: saving American culture from overpopulation, nuclear war, and environmental destruction), then his actions and utterances would have been more consistent and carried greater conviction, thereby further improving his prospects of survival in power.
The application of these insights, or totalitarian principles, marks the difference between dictatorial and totalitarian systems. In both systems, individuals are not free and in both they are under the threat of being treated as the Romans were treated by Caligula. But, though in real life the lines of demarcation between both systems are blurry, these principles are thoroughly applied only in a totalitarian system. Rome during Caligula's reign is a classical example of pure dictatorship; China during the Cultural Revolution may be the closest our species has come to pure totalitarianism.
Iraq under Saddam Hussein provides an intermediate case between dictatorship and totalitarianism. According to one writer, "fear is the cement" that held the country together.7a Pervasive internal security forces, a multitude of informers, one party state, a single ideology, random executions, a single-minded ruthlessness, and unending purges further solidified the regime's foundations. A large painted figure of Hussein towered over the "entrance of every Iraqi village," often emitting "a lurid fluorescent glow."7b For over ten years, the regime has been embroiled in self-imposed, devastating military conflicts with Iran, some of Iraq's ethnic minorities and, more recently, an alliance of Western and Middle Eastern nations. In some cases, children of suspected dissidents were arrested and tortured; their mutilated corpses then sold back to their grieving families. Children's eyes were reportedly gouged in order to force confessions out of their adult relatives. Hussein's family and a few associates held a great deal of the country's political and economic power. In a typical episode, Hussein's uncle usurped someone's land. When the victim threatened to take the matter to court, Hussein's uncle told him: "Why waste your time? If we are in power, you will . . . only hurt yourself. If we are overthrown, you won't get one centimeter of my flesh, because there are so many people waiting to cut me up."8
Totalitarianism is not new. Sparta, the Aztec Empire, and the Holy Inquisition lasted centuries precisely because they adhered to many totalitarian principles. The Third Reich applied these principles with near-perfection and might have still been with us were it not for its shortsighted foreign policies. Totalitarianism comes in two basic types, gruesome and docile. Past totalitarian states fall into the former category-harsh, heartless regimes in which the unhappy vast majority is held in check through a mixture of mind control and intimidation. Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany, and Mao's China practiced gruesome totalitarianism. In fictional form, Orwell's 1984 magnifies these twentieth century nightmares.
Our vision of docile totalitarianism is derived from fanciful future projections, not from actual realities. In America, two of the best known works of this genre are Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and B. F. Skinner's Walden Two. Huxley's Brave New World, for instance, depicts the final stage in the gradual, ongoing descent of the West into the abyss of docile totalitarianism. In sharp contrast to Orwell's 1984, in Huxley's Brave New World overt coercion is rarely encountered. Instead, the rulers retain total control through a deft combination of genetics, mind control, and escape valves. Their subjects are content in their slavery. For them, life's meaning can only be found in pleasurable sensations. Their thoughts, actions, and feelings have been ably shaped and engineered by the best that the science of that future day can offer. While the puppeteer quietly pulls every string, the puppets lead lives of blissful ignorance.
The Soviet Union: 1917-1984
From 1945 to 1984, the only putative external threat to Western democracies came from the so-called communist countries, especially from the Soviet Union and China. Because conventional wisdom throughout most of this period insisted that the Soviet Union was Chief Enemy of the Republic, I shall largely confine my remarks to this particular country and period. Post-1984 Soviet developments will be taken up in a later section. Let us begin with a few generalizations.
Throughout most of its history, Russia had been a dictatorship. As in Rome under the Caesars, the level of criminality depended on the particular individual, or group of individuals, in power. At times, their actions would have made Caligula himself green with envy. At other times, their actions were relatively mild. But because Russia did not possess a system of checks, balances, and free elections, the specter of untold horrors always lurked in the background.
Under the Bolsheviks, some of the totalitarian insights mentioned earlier were superimposed on this dictatorial framework. During Stalin's long reign, especially, the system came fairly close to letter-perfect gruesome totalitarianism. Thus, power was traditionally secured not only through terror and intimidation, but also through propaganda and lies and through near-total control of the economy, media, and educational system. Crimes which secured the power and privileges of a fairly comfortable ruling class were justified in terms of a high-sounding ideology. Any genuinely critical discussion of this ideology was considered a heresy. Any mention of the obvious fact that many national policies had little to do with this ideology's stated objectives of equality, freedom, and peace, was suppressed.
The rulers were shaped and handsomely rewarded by the system they governed and there is no reason to believe that they were endowed with critical minds. Most likely, then, they did not see that Marxism was, despite its many insights and despite its justified anger at heartless exploitation, a mistaken nineteenth century political and economic theory. They saw it, rather, as solid scientific truth, much as we view the theory that the earth revolves around the sun. This firm belief lent their actions conviction and consistency they might otherwise not have possessed. Bertrand Russell saw this disturbing aspect of Soviet communism already in 1920:
Bolshevism is not merely a political doctrine; it is also a religion, with elaborate dogmas and inspired scriptures. When Lenin wishes to prove some proposition, he does so, if possible, by quoting texts from Marx and Engels. A full-fledged Communist . . . is a man who entertains a number of elaborate and dogmatic beliefs . . . which may be true, but are not . . . capable of being known to be true with any certainty. This habit of militant certainty about objectively doubtful matters is one from which, since the Renaissance, the world has been gradually emerging, into that temper of constructive and fruitful skepticism which constitutes the scientific outlook.9
This habit of militant certainty, combined with effective command of every major aspect of the nation's life, contributed to this system's stability. No fundamental changes were likely unless the leaders themselves chose to relax their grip on their subjects or unless they were made to do so through foreign intervention.
Let us try to bring to life this abstract characterization of pre-1985 Soviet Union by means of a few unrelated episodes:
I. Between 1917 and 1984, the Soviet system lacked elementary freedoms. But it went to great lengths to create a facade of democracy-such things as a seemingly independent judiciary system, free elections, and autonomous republics. Many Soviet citizens sensed the truth, but felt they couldn't make the system live up to its professed ideals. Resigning themselves to the realities of absolutism and to the pretensions of democracy, they quietly went about their private lives.
Yet after decades of oppression, some people were still brave enough to stand up and say: "I've had enough. Kill me if you want, but I will no longer put up with your lies." Viktor Tomachinsky's case provides one heartrending example. One day in 1981, this 35-year-old auto mechanic and poet was seen handing invitations to a court hearing in which he planned to sue the Secret Police and the Department of the Interior. They had promised him, he charged, an emigration visa; they later reneged, causing him serious monetary losses. The following day he pressed this charge in a Moscow court, and one can well imagine the judges' amazement at his daring challenge. The judges dismissed the case on the grounds that they did not have jurisdiction over the matter, without explaining what private citizens could do to protect themselves from governmental abuses of power.
As he might have suspected, Tomachinsky's symbolic gesture cost him his life. The Secret Police (the co-defendant in the daytime proceedings) came for him that night. Two years after this nocturnal visit, his wife was told that he died of pneumonia.10 Maybe he did, but murder at the hands of his government appears a far likelier explanation for his untimely death. It is also a matter of speculation whether he was summarily shot or whether his government thought it expedient, as did Orwell's Big Brother, to break his independent spirit first by torture. II. Someplace in Washington, there is something called the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Although it was allegedly created to promote peace, informed observers knew from the outset that it was going to do nothing of the kind. As we shall see later, things could and should be different in Western capitals. But the point I wish to make here is that, throughout the Cold War years, many Americans realized that this agency could not properly carry out its mission and that the search for peace could not be handed over to this or any other government bureaucracy. Hence the peace movement, civil disobedience, and the bouts of massive demonstrations one saw from time to time in the Western World.
The Soviet Union had an official peace bureaucracy too, which, even more than ours, received its orders from the top. And there too, despite the propaganda and absolute secrecy about military affairs, a few conscientious individuals felt that the Soviet Union ought to have an independent peace movement. In coming to that conclusion, they were probably influenced by the glowing reports in the Soviet official media concerning autonomous peace organizations in the West.
Unlike its Western counterparts, this group did not plan acts of civil disobedience, e.g., sit-ins at missile sites or transportation routes. It only intended to promote trust between the USSR and the USA.11 Its members insisted that they were not dissidents and that their goals were identical to officially avowed goals of the Soviet government. All the same, in a functional totalitarian system any independent political group, regardless of its goals, undermines the status quo. A week after the group's formation, its members were threatened with persecution, loss of jobs, and home arrests if they failed to comply with orders to cease and desist. As an additional warning, two of the group's members were imprisoned for fifteen days.
For all these idealists knew at the time, their professional lives could be ruined by their actions. The Secret Police kept complete dossiers on every man, woman, and child, and it is practically certain that these individuals were blacklisted. For example, membership in this group might end a scientist's prospects of meaningful employment. Still worse, some of these individuals
faced the danger of finding themselves entrapped in a prison, mental asylum, or forced labor camp.
Despite the threats, these idealists persisted. Now, I have heard many unkind words about Western peace activists, but I have rarely heard anyone suggest that they are insane. Not so, however, in the early 1980s' Soviet Union. There, to sacrifice your career, your future, and possibly your life for peace, some practical people might have said, you must have been crazy. And this is what the Soviet government said too. Two months after the group's formation, just before its chairman, Sergei Batovrin, was scheduled to meet a few American peace activists, he was arrested on the trumped-up charge of evading military service. Later, Batovrin was forcibly confined to a mental asylum for a month and compelled to take depressant drugs. He was released after vigorous Western protests, but the "treatment" for his courageous and peaceful nonconformism was continued on an out-patient basis.12
III. Some time in the late 1930s, a Communist Party conference was under way in Moscow. At the end, the usual tribute to Comrade Stalin was made, followed by the customary standing ovation. At that point, an unusual complication developed. The presiding secretary was new at the job, replacing a man who had just been Gulagized. The secretary dared not stop clapping and thereby appear insufficiently worshipful of the Great Comrade, nor could his subordinates dare be the first to stop. The big shots on the podium, and the rank and file in the hall, kept clapping their hands vigorously with make-believe enthusiasm. Only after eleven minutes did one man on the podium stop, and only then, in an instant, did everyone else stop too.13
This act of courage, fatigue, or common sense led to the customary nocturnal visit. We may surmise that a confession was wrung out of him on an unrelated charge by prolonged physical and psychological torture, that he was sent to a concentration camp in the frozen North, and that there he was treated worse than most slaves had been treated in the U.S.-beaten, humiliated, worked to exhaustion, and slowly starved to death. (The lot of this particular man might have been less or more fortunate than the one I imagined here, but this would have been a typical treatment.)
Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union's last president, may have survived a similar incident as a young student and Communist Party activist. According to one report,
An acid test of the young student's basic human decency was posed by the infamous Doctors' Plot of 1953, when Stalin ordered several Jewish doctors in the Kremlin arrested on bogus charges of poisoning the leadership. . . . There was a Jewish student in Gorbachev's study group, Vladimir Lieberman, a brilliant orator and highly decorated war veteran. An ugly confrontation took place in a lecture room before Gorbachev's whole class. One student tried to implicate Lieberman in the Doctors' Plot, and spewed forth garbage meant to cast doubt on him. Lieberman himself rose to make an eloquent defense: "Should I, as the only Jew among you, take on the entire responsibility for all Jews?" Everyone fell silent. Gorbachev, eyes blazing, jumped to his feet, and for once he allowed his anger to surface. "You're a spineless beast!" he shouted at Lieberman's accuser. These were times of terror and suspicion everywhere. Just one denunciation was enough not only to be expelled but to earn a one-way ticket to a labor camp.14
IV. Although Tomachinsky, Batovrin, and the clapping-weary official were courting trouble, their tragedies still show the level of sheepishness to which the average Soviet citizen had to sink in order to thrive or even survive. Moreover, it is worth keeping in mind that most of Stalin's victims were no more defiant than their fellows. Many were picked because someone coveted their spouses, jobs, or apartments and pressed secret charges against them on fabricated grounds. A joke about Stalin's mustache, a casual praise for America's highways, a hazardous escape of a decorated soldier from a Nazi prison camp, or the misfortune of being a namesake (to say nothing of being a relation) of an Enemy of the Fatherland,15a invited death, torture, or the chilling horrors of Gulag. At times, arrests were made simply because someone needed to fill a predetermined quota (just as slave traders were not interested in establishing guilt, but in filling their ships).
The following quotation, taken from a 1988 issue of a Soviet journal, suggests that miscarriage of justice was commonplace in the Soviet Union, even in cases with no political overtones:
For fourteen years in a row, the same man was murdering young women. . . . Every year the number of victims grew. During that time, fourteen innocent people were convicted in eleven separate court cases. By the time the real guilty party was caught, one of the convicted had already served ten years in prison; another, after eight years of confinement, had gone completely blind and was released as "not posing any danger;" a third, given the death sentence, had lost his life; and a fourth had tried to take his own life but was pulled alive from the noose. . . . It turned out that those who tried to defend themselves during the inquiry were beaten. They slammed the head of one against a safe; they struck another in the face with his own shoe. A third they beat with a copy of the Criminal Code . . . They turned one adolescent witness upside down and shook him "to shake the nonsense out of him."16
V. Some apologists for the pre-1985 Soviet system justified its ruthlessness on the grounds that it was the only way to feed, clothe, and shelter everyone. Just give Marxism-Leninism time, they said, and you would see what it would do. Once material prosperity had been achieved, the apologists assured us, the rulers would relax their grip. Some people believe that affluence purchased at such a price-death for a fraction of the population, horrible slavery for another fraction, regimented life for the rest-is not worth it.17 But let us, at this point, try to evaluate the regime by its own standards of excellence: economic achievements, improved material living conditions, and social justice.
It must be conceded that significant improvements have been made. According to one 1982 CIA study,18 from 1950 to 1980, material living standards tripled, while the overall rate of economic growth was comparable to growth rates in Western democracies. In the same period, significant progress had been made towards a more equal distribution of income, wealth, and privilege. By the early 1980s, the average citizen ate twice as much meat as did his counterpart twenty years earlier, more than the average Norwegian, Israeli, or Italian.19 By 1984, the average Soviet ate more and better than his predecessors, worked less (41 hours a week), was assured gainful employment, earned more money, and consumed more goods. Yet, despite this record, it can still be said that, in comparison to the achievements of mixed economies like Sweden's and Canada's, Soviet communism largely reneged on this promise of material prosperity (and on Khrushchev's more extravagant brag that Soviets would soon become more prosperous than Americans).20 In particular, by 1984, after a lifetime of regimentation and misery, Soviet citizens still fared worse economically than the people of any advanced industrial democracy on earth.
American workers were 2.5 times more productive, and American citizens three times more affluent, than their Soviet counterparts.21 Most residents of Soviet cities lived in tight (the average urban dweller had one hundred or so sq. ft. of living space), shabbily constructed apartments, but even this was considered a luxury. According to the official press,22a some 20 percent of city residents in the Russian Republic lived in communal apartments. That is, two out of every ten families shared one apartment, with the parents and children of each family occupying a single room and all members of both families sharing small kitchen and bathroom facilities. A Russian acquaintance of mine now residing in the U.S. described the hardships such a situation created for him. After a messy divorce, he says, husband, wife, and mother-in-law had to go on living together because none could find another residence.23
Luxury consumer goods such as cars were beyond the reach of most people. Even more essential goods were inferior in quality or unobtainable. In the early 1980s, only 65 percent owned refrigerators,24a by which Soviets meant a cooling unit only one-third the volume of its American equivalent and lacking a freezer compartment.20 For every hundred people, the U.S. had approximately 76 telephones, Finland 62, South Korea 19, and the Soviet Union 11.24b
Many consumer goods were in short supply. The shabby service had to be experienced to be believed. For example, a typical Soviet woman spent on average two hours waiting in shopping lines every day of her adult life (besides the time everyone had to spend waiting in line at the bank, bus station, airport, government ministries, and elsewhere).20 In 1983, some Soviet provinces suffered from a chronic eyeglass shortage. In one province, thousands were on a waiting list for months.22b Humor captures the absurdity of the system better than dry descriptions: "What will happen to the Sahara if it is taken over by the Soviet Union?" went one Russian joke. "It will run out of sand."
By 1990, the Western media were openly informing their readers that "the Soviet Union is an utterly backward nation, lagging far behind the West in virtually every facet of life while squandering its rich natural resources and poisoning its environment."25 Per capita income in the Soviet Union was one-tenth that of Northern Europe. One out of five families has been on a waiting list for an apartment for more than ten years. Many regions were on the verge of ecological breakdown. Most basic consumer goods were still in short supply.
VI. The Soviet agricultural program entailed collectivization and the deliberate massacre, Gulagization, and starvation of millions of peasants. Although the mass terror disappeared by the mid-1950s, although Soviet people did not depend on food imports for their survival19 (before the early 1990s' partial breakdown of the Soviet economic system), Soviet agriculture remained grossly inefficient. The inefficiencies stand out enough when Soviet agriculture is compared to agriculture in countries like Argentina (which were often not free but which gave their people, even during dictatorial phases, greater economic freedom). When the early 1980s' Soviet and Western systems are compared, the differences are striking. About 25 percent of the Soviet workforce was on the farm (and only 3 percent of the American,24c) yet Soviet yields were smaller. One likely reason for this comparative backwardness was clear long before the communists came to power. A nineteenth century writer observed: "Give a man the secure possession of a bleak rock, and he will turn it into a garden; give him a nine years lease of a garden, and he will convert it into a desert."26
Apologists for Soviet regimentation used to scoff at this view, explaining the scandal of Soviet agriculture by denying this scandal's existence27a or by arguing that there was something peculiar about the Soviet Union; for instance, its soil and climate were just not good enough. Such explanations were silenced by another statistic. Grudgingly, the regime let some people farm small private plots on a part-time basis, mostly by hand. In 1973, these private plots occupied less than 1.1 percent of the nation's agricultural lands, but produced 27 percent of the total value of farm output,20 with private plots yielding about eight times as much as comparable collective fields.28
It follows that the pre-1985 Soviet Union might have solved its agricultural problems by restoring individual ownership of land or by introducing other political and agrarian reforms29 (a program under way in 1992). For decades, though, the totalitarians at the top were comfortable, well-fed, and conservative. After all, they might have felt, you give those muzhiks a centimeter, they may want a kilometer.
Ivan Khudenko did not propose private ownership of land. His approach was more along the lines of an Israeli kibbutz (ironically, an institution which is itself Marxist-inspired): a small group of people farming cooperatively by sharing labor, machinery, and profits. In 1972, he was given some men, unused marginal farmland, and machinery to test his ideas. The experiment succeeded and labor productivity on Khudenko's farm was twenty times higher than on neighboring farms. Shortly after, an order was received from high-up to close down Khudenko's cooperative and not pay his co-workers anything for a whole year's work.
Khudenko sued the government for back pay for himself and his workers. Through some slip of the authorities, or through the exemplary courage of the judges, he won. He then took the court order to the bank to collect the money, where the Secret Police finally caught up with him. He was charged with an attempt to take state funds under false pretenses, and this time the judges were good team players. The death penalty was naturally considered. Eventually the judges decided, in view of his family situation and other mitigating personal circumstances, that a six-year jail sentence would be sufficient punishment for his crime. Two years later Ivan Khudenko died in jail.30
By the late 1980s, even though the centralized bureaucracy was under siege from reformers at the Kremlin and on the farm, its tentacles were still paralyzing the nation. Although its labyrinthine intricacies were being explored by the Soviet press itself, and although productivity was no longer a life-threatening crime, the stagnation persisted. For instance, an enterprising peasant rented an island from a government-run farm. By 1987, he turned it into a profitable cattle farm. Predictably, the farm was closed down.15b By late 1990, the impasse between the bureaucracy and reformers contributed to peacetime food rationing in the Soviet Union.
VII. I remember reading, when I was about eight years old, an entertaining Soviet short story. The plot, which takes place some time after the October Revolution, describes an episode in the lives of a working couple. Both are former peasants now residing in a city. By the time we meet them, the husband is literate. An anti-illiteracy campaign is afoot, and the wife is strongly encouraged by the Party (through her husband) to learn to read and write. She staunchly refuses until she discovers a letter in her husband's coat, apparently from a woman. She then becomes obsessed with the idea that her husband is cheating on her. Too embarrassed to show this letter to anyone, she resolves to learn to read so that she can decipher this mysterious letter herself. Her husband gives her daily lessons, and in a few months she reads the letter. To her disappointment (or relief, I can't remember which), she finds out that it was merely an official letter from a female Party education commissar-a letter which accompanied the reading primer.
Years later it dawned on me that this story was not mere literature, but propaganda written by an exceptionally gifted "engineer of the human soul." Clearly, in this story and in thousands like it, the Party pledged a better future in which, among other things, workers would be literate and well-educated. Did the party keep this pledge by 1984, 67 years after the Revolution?
Some quantitative progress was made. Under the czars only 25 percent of the people were literate; by 1984, most people were. By 1987, more than 70 percent of the Soviet population over ten years of age completed secondary education and 12 percent completed college.31a The overall quality, however, was substandard. Conformity, blind patriotism, and hero worship were fostered from an early age. Critical thinking and creativity were stifled. A 1950 textbook for a Soviet teachers' college defined "initiative" as the "search for the best way to fulfill an order."32 And so, with few exceptions (such as music and mathematics where creativity was not perceived as a threat to the regime, dissident literature which deliberately aimed at undermining the regime, and sporadic achievements in other areas) the Soviet cultural output was unimpressive. This low quality was especially conspicuous in the sciences, in part because the scientific method involves a critical search for the truth, a search which is inherently incompatible with dogmatism and authoritarianism. A clear conflict existed between the national interest in first-rate culture and science and the rulers' interests in stifling them. And here too, the rulers had the last word.
VIII. Their system, the Soviets used to claim, promoted freedom, truth, equality, justice, peace, and prosperity. It abided by the rules of good and scientific living laid down by the all-wise Lenin and the almost-as-wise Marx, and therefore it was, by definition, the best system on earth. So, while they admitted that they still had a long way to go, they publicly subscribed to the observationally absurd notion that they were the front runners. Hence, falsities and pretenses permeated the entire system.
Some 2,300 years ago, the Athenian Agathon said that "one thing is denied even to God: To make what has been done undone again."33 Although familiar with dictatorships and Spartan totalitarianism, poor Agathon would be hard put to imagine the practice of molding the past. Yet, Soviet history books often omitted key events and figures which contradicted the conventional dogma prevailing at the time they went to press. Occasionally, such histories went as far as creating new facts to fit the old theories (instead of-as might be expected in a disinterested academic discipline- creating new theories to fit the old facts).
Some time after the execution of Lavrenti Beria (Chief of the Secret Police), subscribers to the Great Soviet Encyclopedia received an essay on "the Bering Sea," along with instructions to cut out the entry "Beria, L." and replace it with the new, perfectly fitting, article.34
A powerful tool in the Soviets' brand of creative history was omission-inconvenient events simply never happened. By 1984, most Soviets were still unaware of the massive American aid their country received during World War II. Similarly, Stalin's fellow revolutionaries were not only murdered, they were also purged from, or diabolized in, the nation's collective memory.
IX. The confrontation between Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church has been much talked about. The Church, you will recall, claimed that the sun goes around the earth, citing some passages from the Scriptures in favor of its position. Galileo claimed the reverse, citing observations and common sense in favor of his position. As a result, Galileo was tried, threatened with torture, publicly humiliated, placed under house arrest, and prohibited from publishing his books. In the opinion of some historians, this incident contributed to the centuries-long decline of Italian science. Lesser known but more extreme incidents occurred countless times in Soviet history. One state ideology supposedly provided the rulers with justification for their power. Therefore, novels, poetry, music, physics-every branch of the arts, humanities, and sciences -had to conform to this ideology first, and only then to petty bourgeois ideals like truth and beauty.
Genetics was among the victims. Some passages in the Marxist-Leninist "scriptures" implied that acquired characteristics could be inherited. They implied, for instance, that the body building efforts of parents could improve the physique of their future children. Geneticists claimed that they could not, citing observations and common sense in favor of their position. This unintentional heresy led to the denunciation, persecution, torture, or death of many geneticists. The "science" of Marxism, not the science of genetics, was applied to Soviet agriculture (genetics played a key role in improving agricultural productivity in this century), with the predictable, highly disastrous, consequences. Some geneticists were rehabilitated later and steps were taken to put genetics on its feet again. Yet even by 1992, Russian genetics-like Italian science-has not fully recovered.
Empirical sociologists were particularly apt to challenge the state ideology. For instance, they might find that blue-collar workers were alienated from their jobs, or that Soviet society was divided into distinct classes-theoretically impossible findings according to the Marxist-Leninist gospel. Stalin, who was a fairly consistent fellow, banned empirical sociology. In 1968, the Institute for Applied Social Research was set up in Moscow. Some sociologists then proceeded to assemble some facts about Soviet society (including a few theoretically impossible facts). This prompted the rulers to set up an "investigating committee," to force the Institute's director into early retirement, and to fire about one-third of the staff. The changed policy of the Institute, according to its new director, was this: "Sociology is a Party science. . . . The Marxist sociologist . . . cannot pose as an 'impartial researcher.'"20a In other words, at that time, in that Institute, objectivity and the scientific method were to be servants to the state religion.
A similar logic applied to creative artists. Here is an older (1958) excerpt, taken from the newspaper of the writers' union:
What sort of reason can anybody have in our socialist conditions to pine for "freedom of creativity?" . . . The reason can only be sought in philistine individualism, a mortal sickness distinguishable from the plague perhaps only in that outbreaks of it still occur. Anybody who feels himself restricted by his part in the common cause should look deep in his own heart: he will probably find a wretched individualist lurking there.31b
X. Perhaps more sinister than the attack on truth was the indirect attack on empirical rules of evidence, on reason, and on language. This attack was based on the ingenious insight that human beings too confused to observe, reason, and communicate clearly tend to be subservient subjects. Such individuals find it hard not only to realize that history is being rewritten in front of their eyes, but that past events are immutable. They believe that yesterday's friends are today's foes, and disbelieve evidence showing that their real enemies are the people who so ruthlessly manipulate them.
If Marx had any goal, it was the elimination of injustice and inequality. But Stalin and his Party faithfuls (the pigs in Orwell's Animal Farm) had absolute power, and there was nothing, and no one, to prevent them from being a bit more equal than others. How to resolve then the conflict between the creation of a new privileged class with Marx's ideal of a classless society? Nothing is simpler. You need only decree that "equalization in the sphere of requirements . . . is a piece of reactionary petty bourgeois absurdity."20b
Marxism was forcibly imposed on Czechoslovakia in 1948. Twenty years later, the Czech communist government set about establishing communism with a human face. After the typical war of nerves and intimidation, the Soviets brutally crushed the Prague Spring. A typical Czech newspaper article, written fifteen years after the invasion (and only six years before the collapse of Eastern European communism), described the invasion as "internationalist assistance that the fraternal countries gave to the people of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in August 1968." It was consistent with "the fundamental interests of the working people of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic . . . and of the international working class as well." The attempt to establish communism with a human face resulted in part from "serious errors of a subjective sort, such as the inconsistent observance of Leninist norms of intraparty life, unjustified self-confidence, unrealistic assessment of the potential for further development, and attempts to accelerate that development in an artificial manner. . . . Underestimating the importance of . . . ideological and political upbringing work, replacing it with administrative interference, and ignoring the working people's critical remarks, demands, needs, and experience were also serious mistakes." The Czech Communist party in 1968 was "politically heterogeneous, divided, indecisive, and simply weak and incapable of repelling the frontal attack of right-wing internal and reactionary external forces."22c
Totalitarian Foreign Policies
Soviet Foreign Policies: 1917-1984
The historical record strongly suggests that Soviet communists had, for the most part, continued the expansionist foreign policies of their tsarist predecessors, and that they were willing to resort to ruthless methods to further their objectives. At the same time, and despite occasional lapses, by and large their foreign policies showed a considerable degree of restraint and rationality. In particular, the desire to avoid the cataclysmic consequences of nuclear war played a key role in shaping Soviet international behavior.
The ruthless and expansionist elements are evident from a great number of historical episodes, including treacherous Soviet conduct during the Spanish Civil War,35 the reported sacrifice in 1945 of one million soldiers in order to reach Berlin before the Western armies,36a breaking a written obligation to evacuate northern Iran and only doing so under strong American threat to use force,37 Stalin's approval of the invasion which precipitated the Korean War,1b occasional threats to use nuclear weapons (regardless of true Soviet capabilities and intentions at the time such threats were made, prospective victims such as the United Kingdom could not take them calmly), the reckless gamble to assure Cuban independence and redress America's meaningful nuclear superiority by placing nuclear missiles in Cuba,1c the brutal crushing of the Prague Spring, the hardships these so-called communists imposed on independent trade unions in Poland, and the Afghanistan War. A typical occurrence-the Russo-Finnish Winter War-gives the flavor of pre-1985 Soviet foreign policies as a whole.
In their 1939 non-aggression pact, the Nazis and Soviets secretly agreed that Eastern Poland, Finland, and the three then-independent Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) should come under the Soviet Union's "sphere of influence." The Soviets proceeded to invade and occupy Eastern Poland and, by threatening the Baltic states with a similar fate, were able to annex all three without the direct use of force.
Stalin faced a more difficult situation in Finland. This small country was closer to the Russian heartland, so a fascist rise to power in Finland, or a German takeover, would have posed a genuine security risk for the Soviet Union. Long before the October Revolution, Finland (like the three Baltic states) was part of the Russian Empire. Perhaps the Soviets felt that they had some legitimate claims over Finland and that this was an opportune time to bring her back into the fold. The people of Finland were freer than the people of the other four nations which the Nazis conceded to the Soviets' sphere of influence. The Finns were more likely therefore to fight for their national independence and greater individual freedoms and to exert a higher price for their subjugation. Thus, war could weaken the Soviet Union and tarnish its reputation. Moreover, the Soviets had no territorial or other claims against Finland. In fact, a non-aggression pact between the two nations was to remain in force until 1945.
In late 1939, the Soviet Union tried to coerce Finland into making territorial concessions. Finland accepted some key Soviet demands but rejected others. Trusting their overwhelming advantage, the Soviets failed to foresee the critical role this confrontation with their diminutive neighbor was to play in their history (especially by leading Hitler to believe that it would only take "one powerful blow" to topple the clay-footed Soviet giant38). According to Khrushchev, if the Finns "didn't yield to our ultimatum, we would take military action. . . . All we had to do was raise our voice a little bit and the Finns would obey. If that didn't work, we could fire one shot and the Finns would put up their hands in surrender. . . . None of us thought there would be a war."1d
When the Finns didn't obey, the Soviets alleged an attack by Finland (they did not have to search far in history to learn this trick; four months earlier Poland had "invaded" Germany). Finland suggested arbitration. The Soviets indignantly refused. Three days later they attacked Finland on a massive scale. Finland decided to fight back.
Obviously, this wasn't an even match. The Soviets outnumbered the Finns at the outset four to one in troops, eight to one in airplanes, and 36 to 1 in tanks. The Soviets also had a much larger population and resources. During the Winter War, the Finns received considerable material support from Sweden, moral support from the entire world (with the exception of most Nazis and communists), and little else. Yet they withstood the Soviet Goliath successfully throughout that cold winter. By March of 1940, the Finns had to agree to a dictated peace. The Soviets, for their part, had more pressing concerns. The Winter War had already cost them one million soldiers,1d and they must have assumed that through peace they would be able to accomplish what so far they failed to attain through war-turning free Finland into the Finnish Democratic Republic.
As if Finland had not suffered enough-almost 1.8 percent of its people dead or wounded, 11 percent refugees, some 11 percent of its territory lost-the Soviet Union started blackmailing her again shortly after the signing of the March 1940 peace treaty. This time Russia tried to dictate Finland's foreign and domestic policies, and it demanded reparations for the war Finland "started." Finland was negotiating a defensive alliance with Sweden and Norway, but all three were browbeaten by the Soviets and prevented from concluding it. This psychological warfare and the fear of approaching doom probably contributed to Finland's subsequent decision to join the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, a decision which alienated Finland's erstwhile democratic supporters, cost numerous lives, and justifiably weakened her postwar position.39
By war's end, Finland managed to retain her political and economic institutions. It continued to be a free and prosperous country, albeit with the obvious problem of its big neighbor still breathing down its neck. The threat of Soviet aggression always lurked in the background, though it receded with time. The Finnish press, for example, could not be openly critical of the USSR, Finland could not conduct a truly independent foreign policy, and virtually all her military preparedness plans were aimed at deterring, and if need be, bitterly fighting, any overt Soviet aggression. Perhaps we can sum up this delicate David and Goliath duet by saying that, from 1945 to 1989 Finland was not as free as Switzerland, but that it was incomparably freer than Cuba, South Korea, or El Salvador.
By late 1989, the Soviet Union formally recognized Finnish neutrality and declared that it had no moral or political right to interfere in the affairs of Finland or Eastern European nations.40a
Before leaving the subject of pre-1985 Soviet foreign policies, we need to review three commonly held misconceptions.
The first tends to merge Soviet desires with madness. The Soviets, so this popular misconception goes, were willing to take any risk, including the risk of nuclear war, to achieve their objectives.
To be sure, given their expansionist record and imperial history, a turbulent past replete with invasions and occupations of their homeland, the added security afforded by buffer states between their homeland and potential enemies, the propaganda value of external threats in fostering internal cohesion, and the rise of Russia's political and military status in the international pecking order thanks to its centuries-long policies of foreign conquest, Pre-Gorbachev Soviet foreign policies could hardly be characterized as humanitarian or as showing much concern for other peoples' aspirations for national independence. By the same token, with few possible exceptions, these policies were not reckless. Like others, the Soviets would have liked, if they could, to rule the world. But as long as they couldn't do so without undue risks to themselves, they were evidently willing to reconcile themselves to the status quo and to adopt policies that were likely to secure what they had and to maximize the chances that, history willing, in the long run they would have more.
In my opinion, this view-that Soviet foreign policies until 1985 were expansionist in intention but restrained in execution-offers the most plausible interpretation of the historical record:
After Stalin's death . . . the Soviet Union became committed . . . to the prevention of nuclear war. Moreover, the Soviets believe that any major military clash with the United States will tempt the enemy to use nuclear weapons. They also feel that it would be almost impossible to contain a limited nuclear war. Therefore, in Soviet thinking, it is important to avoid a direct military confrontation with the United States at almost any price. . . . Hence, the thrust of Soviet foreign policy can be best expressed as neither war nor peace. It is a formula that still stresses the security of the homeland and its empire as the uppermost priority of foreign and military policy. The leaders are still committed to the expansion of influence and power, and to a global definition of what they consider legitimate interests. At the same time, they are determined to prevent a nuclear war for any reason whatsoever, and to avoid dangerous confrontations with the United States."41
A second misconception confused Soviet intentions and Soviet capabilities. Like other nations, Russia wished to increase its power and, if possible, achieve world hegemony. In the 1950s, this might not have seemed an utterly absurd hope. But by 1984 the internal contradictions and inefficiencies (a sample of which has been described in this chapter) that afflicted the system put such dreams squarely in the realm of the impossible. The overall East/West correlation of forces (Chapter 6) and, since the early 1960s, the diminishing international influence and stature of the Soviet state, lend strong support to this view. During this period, the Soviets suffered serious reversals in China, Indonesia, Algeria, Ghana, and Egypt. Their ideological hold over many of the world's intellectuals and workers had considerably diminished (who could conceive in 1984 of countless individuals of the caliber of George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, or H. G. Muller endorsing Soviet-style socialism?) Their once near-total control of communist parties in Western Europe and elsewhere shrank or evaporated. Their misguided decision to aid a collapsing but friendly regime in Afghanistan led to a years-long quagmire, which, by 1989, culminated in withdrawal reminiscent of the French and American defeats in Vietnam. Unlike Britain, America, or any other empire, they did not derive economic gains from their vassals; in fact, their involvement in Eastern Europe, Cuba, and Vietnam constituted an economic burden. On the positive side, their domestic policies were beginning to undergo reforms which could make their nation stronger, they achieved, perhaps, practical nuclear parity with the U.S., and they gained temporary influence in Angola and Ethiopia. In 1981, a former U.S. ambassador sarcastically summed up the historical record and the fallacy of mistaking intentions with capabilities: "Expansionism indeed!"27b
The last misconception concerns parallels between Nazi and Soviet occupation policies. Some comparisons are instructive. Both systems were pseudo-scientific and totalitarian, both believed that the end justifies the means, both preferred collectives to individuals, and both were capable of unspeakable callousness. To a certain degree, both were afflicted with nationalistic fervor. But it takes a great deal of closed-mindedness to ignore the real and significant differences between Soviet and Nazi occupation policies.
Undoubtedly, most Czechs would have been better off if left alone, and most Poles happier, but there is positively no question that they, and Eastern Europeans in general, were far better off under the Soviets than they were under the Nazis, or, in some instances, under their own fascist governments. Also, even though the realities for most ethnic minorities were often bleaker than the official disavowal of racism might suggest, they were incomparably better than they were under Nazi occupation. By 1984, the Soviet practice of obtaining slave labor from occupied countries had long ceased. Eastern Europeans enjoyed a greater degree of autonomy and self-rule. The situation was even more striking in the economic sphere:
The Soviet imperial system . . . does not . . . imply economic exploitation . . . In the immediate postwar years the East European economies were effectively subordinated to that of the USSR, but . . . the situation has now changed and Soviet subsidies to Eastern Europe may have amounted to $87 billion for the period 1960-80. . . . Uncommonly among historical empires, the USSR as the dominating power generally lags behind its East European dependencies in standard of living, economic development and educational levels. Yet the Soviet Union heavily subsidizes Eastern Europe.42a
Similarly, the USSR's financial commitments in the early 1980s' to Cuba, Vietnam, Mongolia, Kampuchea, and Laos were substantial and represented "a considerable drain" on an economy which was "already badly strained in several key areas."42b Other analysts believe that these subsidies only posed a marginal difficulty for the Soviet Union.43 But regardless of the details, there is a consensus on the key point: from 1974 until Soviet satellites were set free, the relations between the Soviet Union and its satellites were devoid of economic exploitation.
Needless to say, this last point is not only strikingly divergent from Nazi policies, but from the policies of most Western democracies. Before German unification, East Germany provided the clearest illustration of these Soviet policies. According to one source, East Germany's per capita gross national product was comparable to that of Britain, while its industrial accident rate was about one-third that of the Western average. Most workers had approximately five weeks of paid holidays. In general, though material living standards of East Germans were far lower than those of West Germans, they were considerably higher than those of Soviet citizens. For example, practically every East German household owned a refrigerator, but only two out of three Soviet households owned one.28
China and Tibet, 1950-1991
Some people believe that ruthlessness and expansionism are temporary features of totalitarianism. Past Soviet foreign policies, they say, sprang from legitimate security needs, especially the Soviets' determination to prevent, once and for all, future invasions of their homeland. Although this view cannot be readily dismissed (because it deals with motives, not with observable actions), I believe that expansionism and ruthlessness are not incidental features of totalitarianism. Theoretical considerations which lead me to this belief will be reviewed later. Here I should like to lend this belief empirical support by briefly considering two other case histories of totalitarian foreign policies. I shall take up contemporary China first, then move on to ancient Sparta.
In 1950, a year after the communists had assumed power in China, they invaded Tibet, their smaller and weaker neighbor. Since then, Tibet has ceased to exist as an independent nation. This was a flagrant violation of Tibet's rights for self-determination. However, with an international order governed by anarchy and brute force and with a backward theocracy ruling Tibet, it may be unfair to blame China for trying to build an empire of her own, improve her national security, or modernize and improve the lot of the Tibetan people. So I shall confine my remarks to Chinese occupation policies after organized and armed resistance to the invasion ceased.
Once they took charge, the communists ironfistedly imposed a Maoist brand of totalitarian hell on the deeply religious Tibetans. A few dry statistics speak for themselves.
"In Tibet, 100,000 political prisoners toil in Chinese labor camps . . . more than 50 anti-Chinese uprisings have flared in 25 years. A half-million Chinese occupation troops-one soldier for every 12 Tibetans-keep order. . . . [By November 1983], at least 35 leading dissidents were executed in public, 3500 more were arrested."44 In 1959, nine years after the Chinese takeover, a nationwide uprising was followed by an escape to India of some 100,000 refugees, including Tibet's political and spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The Chinese occupation led to "an estimated one million Tibetans dead from imprisonment and starvation. Tibet's 6254 monasteries . . . [are] gutted and in ruins; the Tibetan people themselves vehemently anti-Chinese." "A flood of Chinese immigrants has moved into Tibet, taken the best land for destructive, collectivized agriculture, decimated the already scarce forests, and wantonly slaughtered Tibet's once abundant wildlife."45 As usual, the mass killings can be gleaned from population statistics, which "reveal a disproportionate dearth of males in Tibet."46 The Dalai Lama summed up the situation: "The Chinese claimed that they came to Tibet to 'liberate' us from the past and modernize the country. In fact they have brought the greatest suffering to our nation in its 2100 years of history."44
Sparta and the City States of Ancient Greece
Although the Spartan state contained some democratic and oligarchic elements, it can be best characterized as totalitarian. It depended, for example, on a much-dreaded secret police. Except on official business, Spartans were forbidden to travel abroad and foreigners were prevented from traveling in Sparta.
Some historians believe that Sparta's foreign policies were not fundamentally expansionist. According to this view, her imperialistic ambitions, if they existed at all, were satisfied by subjecting, or bringing under her influence, her immediate neighbors. Other historians believe that when Sparta was the foremost military power in Greece (following her victory in the Peloponnesian War), she did harbor imperialistic designs against other Greek city states. According to this view, she failed to carry them through because of her parochial, incompetent, arrogant, and cynical foreign policies.
The scanty record is clearer on the question of heartlessness: Spartan foreign policies were extremely ruthless, even by Grecian standards. In foreign states in whose internal politics the Spartans had a say, Sparta "took care that they should be governed by oligarchies in the exclusive interest of Sparta."47 These oligarchies, which were hated by the majority of the people in the states where they had been set up, were often supported by Spartan garrisons. Two incontestable examples are the bloodthirsty oligarchies the Spartans established and propped up in Athens in 404 B.C. and in Thebes in 382 B.C.
The Soviet Union, 1985-1991: End of an Era
For almost seven years, the USSR has experienced radical political, cultural, social, and economic transformations. By December 25, 1991, this revolutionary period culminated in the formal resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev (this quiet revolution's chief architect), the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself, and its partial metamorphosis into the Commonwealth of Independent States. Early in this twilight period, moves were made to foster a genuinely pluralistic society. Meaningful steps towards economic democracy were taken. Committed reformers attained power in free elections. Pluralism, checks, and balances were no longer dirty words in the Soviet political vocabulary. Soviet newspapers were gradually becoming not only readable, but actually entertaining and informative. Bukharin, Kamenev, and Zinovev had been legally rehabilitated. Intellectually honest attempts to study Khrushchev's influence on Soviet history were published in the official press. Novi Mir serialized Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago. By 1989, excavations of mass graves were afoot. Gulag Archipelago was recommended reading in high school. A new history text put "the total number of deaths in the repression at about 40 million."40b The most popular Soviet magazine published an article by an American peace activist which was highly critical of both the United States and the Soviet Union. "The Soviets," concluded a 1989 Komsomolskaya Pravda article, "must share some of the blame for the Cold War." Soviet troops left Afghanistan, even though the Kremlin must have realized that this fierce neighbor of theirs might consequently retreat to inquisitional feudalism and vehement anti-Russianism.
In the foreign policy domain, a new theory and practice were upheld which were, according to one Western analyst, "profoundly different" from those of the Cold War.31c From 1985 through 1991 the Kremlin preached, and gave every evidence of practicing, what it called new political thinking. This policy constituted a sharp break from the Soviet past. The theory itself is not new. Humanitarians have been fighting for something like it since the dawn of history; ecologists for decades. No major world power, however, has ever before practiced this creed for as long as seven days (let alone seven years).
According to this new thinking, we are all residents of a global village. There is one world or none. There is much more which unites the world's people than that which sets them apart. No nation is an island; all nations are increasingly dependent upon each other.31d
The nations of the world today resemble a pack of mountaineers tied together by climbing rope. They can either climb on together to the mountain peak or fall together into an abyss. This new political outlook calls for the recognition of one simple axiom: security is indivisible. It is either equal security for all, or none at all.48
To survive the nuclear arms race, environmental decline, and economic chaos, global interests must be placed above the interests of nations and classes. Since all the world's nations are interdependent, and since successful solutions to the world's ills require cooperation, the old international pecking order, might is right, and parochial interests must be given up.31e This is not to say that serious conflicts among nations and classes are about to vanish, only that the overriding reality of interdependence mandates subordinating them to global concerns and peaceful resolutions.
This new political thinking called for massive reductions in military spending, and for using the savings to improve human needs. On the nuclear question, it advocated abolition as a long term goal. Recognizing realities, it espoused mutual interim reductions, leaving each nuclear weapons state with just enough weapons to deter nuclear blackmail or attack. This new political thinking proposed international cooperation to combat terrorism and a peaceful resolution of regional conflicts. Unlike some propaganda of earlier years, the Russians gave every appearance of willingness to let this new way of thinking guide their actions. From 1985 to 1991, they accepted, for instance, disarmament proposals which were, by conventional wisdom (but not by the new thinking) grossly skewed against them. They recognized Finnish neutrality. They permitted the re-unification of Germany, a decision which could turn the German military machine into the single most powerful conventional power in the Eurasian continent (even after proposed sizable reductions in Germany's 600,000 strong armed forces). Countless other examples could be cited, all showing that, at least for a few years, the new thinking was the beacon of Russian international policy.
The significance of these developments has been hotly disputed. Some observers believed that if reformers in Russia and in the newly formed Commonwealth of Independent States as a whole are not forced to retreat or retire, if the West comes around to giving these reformers the help they so richly deserve, if the Republic of Russia, at least, survives as a single political unit, these developments could prove to be one important legacy of this century to the next.
Others took a more skeptical view. They rightly insisted that by the beginning of 1992 Russia was still authoritarian. They pointed to the unpredictability of Russian domestic policies and to the move by late 1990 towards greater regimentation. They argued that economic turmoil in the newly formed Commonwealth of Independent States will force the leaders to restore tyranny. Russian reformers, in their view, were not driven by democratic impulses, but by patriotism and international competition. If they succeed, Russia would simply enter the 21st century as a smaller, but far more cohesive and assertive, rival. Others, these critics went on to say, tried to democratize Russia and failed. Why then should current reformers succeed? For a time, Russian autocrats would wait in the wings. Somewhere along the line, they would re-emerge as the dominant political force in Russian politics, as they did following Khrushchev's famous thaw, and as they almost did in 1991. Authoritarianism is too well-entrenched in Russian culture. Millions still worship Stalin. What, these skeptics went on to say, could you expect from survivors of Stalinist purges and self-proclaimed Leninists? How can anyone believe followers of that sickly intolerant Lenin, whose real goal, in Trotski's words, was not the dictatorship of, but over, the proletariat? How can anyone deal with former disciples of a man whose thoroughgoing authoritarianism caused so much anguish in his day, whose shortsightedness and arrogance set in motion the Stalinist steamroller, and whose bust still haunts the Russian landscape like the plague?
In view of recent Russian actions, skepticism about the Russians' sincerity rings hollow. Given the presence of hardliners in the Kremlin, what else, one wonders, could Russian reformers do to convince their Western enemies?
But the controversy about the future of democracy in Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States is grounded in reality. So far, openness has been purchased at a very heavy price. When Gorbachev came to power in March of 1985, he inherited a stable-albeit stagnant-regime. When he resigned, the Commonwealth of Independent States was in deep crisis. The economy and living standards were in decline, anarchy and apathy were threatening the very foundations of the political and economic order, crime was on the rise, and the average citizen was openly disillusioned and restive.49,50
At this writing, therefore, I would place greater odds on the future of a one-mile tightrope walker than on the future of Russian democracy. No one can say where Russia, the Ukraine, and their sister republics will be 25 years from now. There is an outside chance that Russia might become reasonably free, and perhaps even, in view of its socialist heritage, its clear recognition of the importance of economic justice, its adoption of a genuinely enlightened foreign policy outlook, the outpouring of creativity which might follow in the wake of centuries-long suppression, and its cultural diversity, that it might develop into a freer, more livable and peaceful place than many Western democracies are today. Alternatively, it could revert to Stalinism or it could end up someplace between these two extremes. The emergence of bellicose nationalism could be imagined too. In view of the tailspinning economy, the deepening ethnic strifes, the challenge which ongoing reforms pose to powerful groups in Russian society, the speed and unprecedented nature of these reforms, the sacrifices they require from the Russian people, the pathetic failure of many powerful Russian reformers to understand the realities of Western politics, and the West's disinclination to help these reformers in what could be in any event a hopelessly difficult task, no one can be sure what the future, in this case, will bring.
Fortunately, this uncertainty has little bearing on the central argument of this book, whose chief concern is Western, not Russian, freedom and politics. Though my indictment of Western military policies would be more convincing under the premise of lasting Russian democratization, its chief conclusions stand even if the reformers fail. For this reason, I shall concede this point to mainstream historians of the Cold War, and assume, throughout most of this book, that from 1985 through 1991 Russia posed as great a threat to Western security and independence as it did throughout the preceding 40 years. In particular, to make the flow of my narrative a bit less meandrous, I shall largely ignore the excitement, chaos, anxiety, and hope that characterize the later period and assume that both periods were fundamentally alike.
The Myth of Authoritarian Efficiency
To those of us who love freedom, authoritarianism's moral inferiority to democracy is self-evident. We find it much harder to explain authoritarianism's greater inefficiency and heartlessness. Why, you may have asked yourself, is there less social justice under dictatorial and totalitarian rule than under freedom? Why are the sciences and humanities so typically backward in any totalitarian society that ever existed? Why is the standard of living and the economy in general so far behind those of free nations? Why are dictatorial and totalitarian foreign policies more outwardly ruthless?
Some people assert that authoritarian societies are, in fact, more efficient and just than democracies. But this is a myth because freedom is not only more humane, but also by far more efficient. This incontestable observation has been amply documented above, and will be further documented later in this book. At this point, I shall accept this observation as true and try to explain it.
Fortunately, we need not go far in our search, for the explanation is freedom itself: properly working democracies are more just and, at the same time, more efficient, because they are freer.
Why, for example, is there greater distributive justice in a properly working democracy than in a typical dictatorial state?51 First, thanks to their freer communications media, educational system, and other information resources, citizens of a democracy are more aware than their authoritarian counterparts of the extent to which poverty and economic inequality exist among them. Second, even if both knew what was going on, the former are freer to do something about inequality through protests or elections of more responsive candidates. In a democracy, then, there is a built-in self-correcting mechanism against injustice, a mechanism which is absent in a totalitarian state. Obviously, even in the most advanced contemporary democracies this mechanism is often subverted. But as long as a measure of free access to information and open elections exists, this mechanism can only be subverted in part. Conversely, an authoritarian ruler may introduce greater equality and social justice, but this does not stem from inherent qualities of the system itself. It stems, rather, from a rare combination of qualities (including foresight, generosity, and the political skill to override the inevitable opposition to just reforms) in a single ruler.
Whence the mediocre quality of totalitarian science? There is an inherent contradiction between the type of human being the system wishes to create and the type of human being needed for the creation of good science. To attain political stability, a totalitarian system inculcates dogmas, conformity, meekness, and subordination; to achieve excellence, a scientist must be open-minded, innovative, and mettlesome. To be sure, some individuals can uncritically accept social and political dogmas while retaining flexibility in their own field of specialization, so there is some first-rate science in such totalitarian countries as Stalinist Russia. But these isolated islands of excellence in an otherwise barren intellectual seascape can be best viewed as a tribute to the human spirit-which can sometimes prevail under the most adverse circumstances-and not as a tribute to a rigid social system.36b
Whence the persistent follies of totalitarian societies? In part, wisdom depends on a system's willingness to acknowledge, and learn from, mistakes, not on inflexible adherence to divine authority. Most policy makers find it hard to acknowledge mistakes and abandon failing policies (see Chapter 9). In totalitarian societies, policy makers can suppress evidence that they made a mistake and shoot anyone who somehow finds out the truth and who proceeds to recommend the needed changes, so unwise policies are likely to persist unchallenged far longer than necessary. In contrast, in functional democracies the truth comes out more readily and it leads to criticism and debate. If elected leaders commit many errors or if they rigidly adhere to failing policies, they and their policies may well be voted out of office. We see here again democracy's built-in corrective mechanism which assures wiser, more efficient, and more just policies.52
Why do dictatorial occupations tend to be more blatantly ruthless than democratic ones? Or why, to take a related question, do some democracies show greater responsibility towards nature? How can one account for the garish ecological conditions in some ex-Soviet and East European regions? If transparent atrocities against foreigners or the environment are committed, the public is more likely to learn about them in democratic than in totalitarian states and is in a better position to bring these atrocities to an end. So, regardless of their personal wishes, politicians in properly working democracies are going to think harder than their totalitarian counterparts before taking actions which may violate public sentiments about fair play, public health, nature, or the national interest.
We could go on answering such questions, but enough has been said to drive home the point that claims of comparative authoritarian efficiency and justice are a myth. This conclusion is not meant to encourage complacency. As we shall see later, the West must remain on its guard and it must still emerge from the plutodemocratic quagmire. Nor is this conclusion meant to imply that individual Westerners were somehow better than Russians, Chinese, Iraqis, or Indonesians, for they were decidedly not. This conclusion is only meant to support the belief that our political traditions are superior to theirs, and that the remedy to our ills cannot be found in universal slavery, as some people suggest, but in greater freedom.
For many years I took the myth of authoritarian efficiency seriously. I was always revolted by any form of slavery, but was troubled by the insistence of some otherwise intelligent people that totalitarianism is more efficient; that it can win wars and therefore that freedom in the end will be lost; that it can tackle humankind's most pressing problems better and therefore that freedom ought to give way to slavery. Disconfirming evidence kept flying in my face, but the myth itself still troubled me because of an unresolved theoretical difficulty: in totalitarian systems things are often worked out in advance, through a master plan, and by a single central planning authority. In contrast, in existing democracies there is less direction from the center, things are often arranged at the last possible moment, individuals go their separate ways, and there is no single planning authority. A totalitarian system, in short, appears as a beehive or as soldiers marching to a single drum; democracy appears as a colony of penguins or as a multitude of shoppers in a middle eastern market. Beehives and parades look more efficient than penguin colonies and middle eastern markets. By the same token, it seems more sensible to determine in advance the number and types of cars a nation needs and then produce them according to a single master plan, instead of letting seemingly blind market forces determine the outcome. It appears that way, I think, because we cannot help drawing an analogy between individual decisions and social policies. For an individual, centralized planning often makes sense. Why then shouldn't the same logic apply to societies too?
New social policies differ in principle from individual decisions. Because social policies involve complex systems, they lead to many unintended consequences. Because they involve actors who are capable of foolish and selfish actions, their formulation and implementation are often flawed. Human societies, in other words, are fundamentally different from bee colonies. Bees act largely by instincts; human societies select policies which often must be revised through a process of trial and error. As a rule, bees act in ways which promote the colony's well being; people sometime act in ways which benefit them and harm society. Hence, practical efficiencies of human societies are strongly influenced by these societies' abilities to learn from their mistakes, curb socially harmful individual actions, and promote beneficial ones. As we have just seen, such abilities are more readily found in democracies than in authoritarian systems.53
Individual freedom is comprised of political freedom, civil liberties, economic freedom, collective self-determination, social justice, and intellectual freedom. Individuals in freer political entities enjoy greater freedom than individuals in less free entities. Caligula's Rome provides one example of the arbitrariness and injustice of life in a dictatorship. Totalitarian societies often retain the repulsive features of dictatorships, but add to them a far greater degree of control over the political, economic, educational, and informational system, and thus, over the hearts, minds, and bodies of the citizenry. They range between two extremes-gruesome and docile. From 1917 to 1984, Soviet totalitarianism was often characterized by terror, intimidation, repression, ruthlessness, economic inefficiency, technological backwardness, big and small lies, enforced orthodoxy, dogmatism, and indoctrination. Soviet foreign policies often manifested expansionist and ruthless elements, as evidenced, for instance, in the 1939/40 Russo-Finnish Winter War. Throughout the Cold War, these untoward elements were tempered by Soviet rationality, eagerness to avert nuclear war, domestic weaknesses, foreign policy setbacks, a modicum of moral accountability, and the economic costs of empire-unlike Western powers, the Soviet Union was unable or unwilling to derive economic gains from its dependencies. Chinese and Spartan foreign policies further suggest a close link between totalitarianism and ruthlessness abroad.
From 1985 through 1991, Russia and, to some extent, other former Soviet Republics, have been undergoing a stepwise revolution. Bolshevism had been partially replaced with "new political thinking"-an ideology which underscored the importance of international cooperation in averting environmental decline, nuclear war, human suffering, and economic chaos; since the world's nations are dependent upon each other for prosperity and even survival, their common humanity should take precedence over parochial and national interests. Throughout this period, Russian actions were consistent with this new way of thinking-so much so that no analyst had been able to predict from one year to the next the extent of democratization, openness, dissolution of empire, and disavowal of the use of force within and outside Soviet borders. By the close of 1991, the fortunes of Russian society, of the new Commonwealth of Independent States as a whole, of openness, and of democracy remained uncertain.
The belief that authoritarian governments are more efficient than democracies is observably mistaken. Properly working democracies not only tend to enjoy superiority in the moral sphere, but also in the economic, military, scientific, and cultural spheres. Only checks and balances, unrestricted dissemination and exchange of information, a free marketplace of ideas, and popular elections can control selfish abuses of power and safeguard the crucial process of learning from past mistakes. Given the ethical repugnance and practical inferiority of dictatorial and totalitarian systems, the desire to curb, avert, or roll them back can be justified on both moral and utilitarian grounds.