A Soviet View of American Academia
An article reprinted from the Moscow News
August 4, 1991
The following article “America Tries to Make Sense of Soviet Politics” is representative of the outlook of the Soviet people. Giving an accurate critique of the political views of a cross section of America, Konstantin Pleshakov emphasizes the failed attempt of the Soviet government to restructure the socialist system.
Americans love to hear of change, especially crumbling totalitarianism, a bogy even their grandfathers never saw. But if after six years of change the Soviet Union is ready to accept Christmas food relief, it’s a bizarre change. If you talk with academics at American universities about the Soviet Union you can see that they fall into several different categories:
Liberals of the 1960s
Their political views took shape on the crest of the leftwing movement in the U.S. They favor social experiment and leftwing views in general. They are sympathetic towards Marxism and distinguish it from Stalinism with a determination I can’t comprehend: a liberal of the 60s ferociously criticizes every step taken by the Bush administration.
They like many features of state socialism in the USSR such as the non-existent “collectivism,” “social security” and “egalitarianism.” They screw up their eyes maliciously on hearing of private businesses. Liberals of the 60s are well off, they aren’t like members of the US Communist Party, whom nobody likes. Among the academic community they are well known, people who live perhaps as comfortably as second secretaries of party central committees in the Soviet Republics.
They simply can’t understand why Soviets don’t want socialism any more. They say: “I hope your grandiose experiment will be carried through.” God forbid.
Liberals of the 60s are enthusiastic about all Soviet leaders ranging from the Center (Gorbachev), towards the left wing (Yeltsin, Popov, Sobchak). For them Gorbachev is outside all criticism. They support active aid for the Soviet Union, something on the scale of the Marshall Plan. They are not naive. Especially if they are Sovietologists, they well understand the games Soviet bureaucrats play – which is why they support the idea of a Marshall Plan and Western control over its implementation.
Liberals of the 60s are consistent friends: the political preferences that took root when they were still young are a firm link with an USSR undergoing change. Whatever takes place in the Soviet Union, the liberals of the 60s are with us till the end.
They have no affiliation with the leftists. They value human rights above social experiments in other lands. They like the Soviet Union for the current change rather than its socialist past (as do the liberals of the 60s). Traditional liberals don’t ignore those things liberals of the 60s like to forget (like bloodshed in Lithuania). They watch events in the Soviet Union with guarded optimism and regard its leaders with caution. They judge the situation with reference to traditional liberal ideas and most certainly see a considerable difference.
Traditional liberals are for aid to the USSR but they are stumped on seeing the gluttony of Soviet bureacracy, disarray in Soviet society, the uncertainty of the Republic’s position. Traditional liberals are sometimes amazed at Soviet endurance.
They appreciate our fear of a new mode of socialism – that’s part of their system of values. What’s happening today in the former “socialist camp” confirms their past predictions. For many years tolerant conservatives argued with liberals of the 60s about the USSR’s history and future. Today tolerant democrats in the USSR behave in almost the same way tolerant conservatives predicted. This gives them great moral satisfaction. They criticize most of the Soviet leaders and mainly for good reasons. They take a detached view of the Soviet Union.
Whereas liberals of the 60s would like to see the socialist experiment continue, conservatives are fascinated with the new anti-socialist experiment. They are in no hurry to help the Soviet Union, being very cautious and not wishing to send investment down the drain and provide aid in dubious circumstances – when reforms are contradictory.
They have insisted all along that the system should be destroyed. It has now finally collapsed. One Sovietologist caustically remarked: “They say Soviet perestroika has failed. It hasn’t: communism has collapsed.” Caustic conservatives should be happy, but they aren’t for some reason. Mostly because they no longer have an enemy to contend with. All along they were busy fighting communism in one way or another and still call for vigilance. They aren’t against helping the USSR on the whole, but do nothing to help.
What stumps tolerant conservatives is seen by caustic conservatives as an insurmountable obstacle. Whether historians or traders, they still want to make sure their enemy is dead. They are not intimidated by the prospect of a possible loss of geopolitical balance in Eurasia if the Soviet Union breaks apart, or if it becomes depleted, angry and abandoned by the world community. Caustic conservatives do not wish to consider these dangers. They want to see the noxious system razed to the ground.
The Soviet Union is in disarray. A country Americans thought they knew well – the winter of Stalinism, mummified leaders, fighters for human rights – has all at once been turned into a formidable crossword puzzle. Today’s Soviet Union does not fit any pattern. America is accustomed to the logic of categories of good and evil, black and white. In the USSR it is hard to find logic.
But the seventy-year-long winter has been followed by spring, hasn’t it? Yes, it’s spring, but a strange spring which history has never before known.