Nobody in the West believes the communists in charge of the Soviet Union when they insist they are trying to create a truly democratic workers’ paradise at home and to promote peace abroad. People here notice that the Communist Party has been ruling for over seventy years without having anything to do with opposition parties contesting their point of view in elections. They remember Stalin, and camps or worse for dissenters. They know about shortages of housing, bread and meat, while the military has carte blanche and the Party leaders get fat. And so for western democrats Soviet society is written off in one word: slavery. It remains a mystery, however, why the Party leaders would choose this form of rule, when any Somoza or Marcos can amass a far greater personal fortune without at all disturbing the sleep of the NATO high command.
The same story can be told in regard to Russia’s foreign relations. Hungary, Berlin, Cuba, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the PLO and the Sandinistas: either a people’s alleged struggle for western style freedom is “ruthlessly squashed,” or a “Moscow controlled” front fights for power in defiance of the world peace established by western power. In a nutshell, an “evil empire bent on expansion.” And again the strange mystery of political domination which obviously does not payoff for those in power. It would appear that the communists just want to rule, period.
This is all on the one hand. On the other, the West is now presented with perestroika and glasnost, the withdrawal of the Red Army from Afghanistan, and for Washington and London some embarrassing proposals for disarmament. According to the new directions for Soviet society, firms will have greater freedom in implementing the five year plans, prices will be set more “realistically,” debt will have a greater role to play and even some bankruptcy may be allowed. In the public sphere, debate already rages in the press and in the streets. The various nationalities are openly demanding their rights, and Party Conferences show a liveliness never seen at western political conventions. Even the Bible is getting a new printing. To the mind at ease with capitalism and democracy, this turn of events can be nothing other than a movement towards the western way of life in the face of a massive western show of force and the “obvious superiority of free markets.” Except that the communists, in the person of General Secretary Gorbachev, have firmly insisted that all this is for socialism, true to the spirit of Lenin and the October Revolution. And Richard Nixon, now a statesman for this occasion, warns about the danger of a revitalized Soviet power for the future of the West.
So, Mr. Jones, something is happening but you don’t know what it is! Nothing in the old image of the Russian bear or in the new slogans of “restructuring” or “openness” counts as an explanation of what the Soviet comrades have been up to, or still have in mind for their own people and the rest of the world. The recent literary attempt by the General Secretary is no help in that matter either. For that you simply have to read this book.