This Date's Issues: 4315 • 4317
Johnson's Russia List
22 May 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. The Russia Journal: Andrei Piontkovsky, The Russian patient
(re schizophrenia of the Russian political class).
2. The Guardian (UK): Ian Traynor, Rubble women defy Russians in
3. Itar-Tass: Putin to Introduce NW Representative to 12 Regional
4. The Times (UK): Giles Whittell, Putin chooses KGB man as his
5. BBC MONITORING: RUSSIAN FINANCE MINISTER CONFIDENT IN RUSSIA'S
NEW ECONOMIC PROGRAMME. (Kudrin)
6. Christian Science Monitor editorial: A New Moscow Empire?
7. Reuters: -Russia must move on banking system-Rhodes.
8. Abraham Brumberg, SOVIETOLOGY AND THE FIRST YEARS OF PROBLEMS
OF COMMUNISM: A MEMOIR.
9. The Russia Journal: Otto Latsis, Discreet charm of reform.]
The Russia Journal
May 22-28, 2000
SEASON OF DISCONTENT: The Russian patient
By ANDREI PIONTKOVSKY (email@example.com)
Columnist Andrei Piontkovsky looks at schizophrenia of the Russian
Right through the last three centuries, relations between Russia’s
political class and Europe, the West, have been contradictory, painful and
highly emotional. Russia’s greatest political text to date remains
Alexander Blok’s poem "The Scythians," written in 1918, with its famous
lines about Russia "She looks, she looks at you, her eyes lit with hatred
and with love."
As was the case 300, 200 or 20 years ago, we understand that we need
Western technology and investments, and that autarky and an iron curtain
would bring economic and geopolitical disaster to Russia. We understand
that Russian culture is a part of European culture.
But nonetheless, the West, it seems, annoys us through its very existence.
We perceive it as throwing down before us an economic, information and
spiritual challenge. We’re constantly convincing ourselves of the West’s
imminent hostility and ill intentions toward Russia because it flatters our
ego and makes it easier to explain our errors and failures.
Officials like to talk about European values and partnership, and to
tirelessly restructure old debts and obtain new loans. But take any
respectable mainstream publication here and look through the last 100
articles on foreign policy issues. Of these 100, 98 will be full of
resentment, demands, irritation, venom and hostility toward the West. But
this doesn’t stop the authors of these articles from preferring to spend as
much time as possible in Western capitals, holidaying at Western resorts,
keeping their money in Western banks and sending their children to Western
schools and universities.
The Chechen war has painted new strokes in the schizophrenic picture of our
relations with the West. We indignantly dismiss as an anti-Russian plot the
rather timid reproaches Europe has made over the scale of victims in Chechnya.
What’s more, Kremlin propagandists had the bright PR idea to their mind,
at least of marketing Russia in the West as a shield defending the
civilized West from "barbaric Islamic extremism."
This repeats the familiar motif of The Scythians "We, like obedient
lackeys, have held up a shield dividing two embattled powers, the Mongol
horde and Europe."
"We have seen European countries and European leaders not able to support
the Russian struggle," said President Vladimir Putin in London, "because
they are afraid of a reaction among the Muslim inhabitants of Europe. But
that should not be their conclusion."
Putin urged Europeans to "wake up" to the threat of "fundamentalist
extremists on their borders." In his view, militant Islam is mushrooming in
Central Asia, the Caucasus and Europe. But, he warned, "so far, Russia is
Thus, the schizophrenia of the Russian political class has reached the
summit of absurdity. As if it wasn’t enough to stand before the West with
hand outstretched and shower it with insults at the same time, we’ve now
read our fill of S. Huntington and offer ourselves as a shield against
"barbarians." And then we reproach the West for not joining our crusade to
defend European civilization.
These nonsensical propagandistic castles in the air would be funny if they
weren’t so dangerous for Russia’s future. Anti-Islamic rhetoric as
propaganda justification for the Chechen slaughter won’t bring us any
dividends in the West but will risk definitively ruining our relations with
that other great world civilization that is Islam.
(Andrei Piontkovsky is director of research of the Center of Strategic
The Guardian (UK)
22 May 2000
[for personal use only]
Rubble women defy Russians in Grozny
Ian Traynor in Grozny
In a city of ruins and Russian checkpoints, Koka Isayeva is seeking solace in
trowelling bricks and mortar. Aloft a ladder at Grozny railway station where
the trains do not run, she has enlisted with an army of Chechen war widows
slapping cement onto salvaged bricks, painstakingly putting the bombed-out
station back together.
It is a labour of love amid the hatred of war and occupation. The railway
project is an attempt by the women, most of whom have lost sons and husbands,
to find distraction from their grief simply by being together and doing
"My husband is dead. They killed my two sons. I raised my family and now it's
gone. What am I supposed to do?" Mrs Isayeva wails. She is 57, but she looks
more than 70.
Her tears turn to anger as she surveys the Russian Rambos, in bandanas and
armed to the teeth, swaggering around their armoured cars, wary of the bowed
but unbroken women of Grozny.
"Look at them, they're proud of themselves," hisses Mrs Isayeva. "They call
themselves liberators, but they're occupiers."
The railway work is the only rebuilding evident in Grozny three months after
the Russians vanquished the city by grinding it into dust. The project seems
an absurdity in this landscape of devastation.
However, like the '"Trümmerfrauen" or "rubble women" of Berlin after the
second world war, the Muslim women of Grozny, in headscarves and billowing
skirts, are making a start in rebuilding their city.
They get no help from the thousands of Russian troops who are barely
controlling the Chechen capital.
"They give us no money, no materials," says Malika Bisayeva, another woman
working at the railway station. "They won't let you live. We just can't live
with these Russians. But we were in the cellars for four months and we've got
to start somewhere."
The only other recovery work that seems to be going on is the grim business
of retrieval and reburial of corpses. A crew of 36 Russians and Chechens
working for the Russian authorities combs the city daily, digging up the dead
from what were cellars or courtyards or gardens and taking them to
On average, more than 20 corpses are dug up every day from their makeshift
graves or from where they were killed. The exhumation squads have reburied
more than 1,200 dead, almost all civilians.
The Russians have stated baldly that Grozny is not worth recovering and their
reconstruction efforts are directed not at the city, but at the sprawling
military base of Khankala, south of Grozny, which is the headquarters for the
permanent deployment of more than 20,000 troops.
Meanwhile, the Russian troops in the capital are busy plundering, according
to the Russian-appointed mayor, Supyan Mokhchayev. He claims that billions of
roubles worth of assets have been looted from destroyed power stations and
industrial plants. The conquerors of Grozny are now laying mines to deter
"New minelaying has been started in a city just cleared of mines and other
ordnance. It's a paradox, but there's no other option," he said. "Grozny is
now being mined again by the new authorities."
To travel north from Khankala, through the outskirts of Grozny, into the
centre and on to the Staropromyslovsky district where an impromptu Chechen
bazaar has sprung up is to witness destruction on an epic scale. Not one
building has been spared.
"What do you expect? I know of a unit of 80 of our guys and only 12 of them
survived the fight for Grozny," says Yury Vasin, a spokesman for Russia's
justice ministry. "I've just seen Grozny for the first time and, to be
honest, I thought the damage would be worse. I thought there wouldn't be a
stone left standing."
What is left standing is uninhabitable. Twenty-foot bomb craters pock the
roads. Bridges and tunnels are collapsed. High-rise blocks of flats have
concertinaed into heaps of mangled masonry and metal. Charred shells of
older, once elegant buildings are sprouting weeds and saplings. Hovels are
being patched together out of the debris and scrawled signs have been placed
on them proclaiming "We live here."
The totality of the destruction takes the breath away. On a bright spring
day, there is a cruel beauty to the ruins of Grozny. Bizarre, dream-like
images burn themselves on the memory - four elderly blind men tiptoeing
through the debris, holding hands and clutching sticks; two peasant women
embraceing silently on a sunny street, tears streaming down their faces; a
middle-aged woman suddenly running after a western reporter, pleading as she
throws a folded scrap of paper for him to catch.
It reads: "They've been holding my son illegally for four months. Akhmed
Arbiyevich, born 1976. They took him away and won't let him go."
"There's no money, no work, no water, no electricity, no prospects," says
Ruslan Khatuyev, a 25-year-old Chechen man lingering at the bazaar where
country women are selling garlic bulbs, radishes, parsley, and tomatoes. "No
The mayor maintains there are now 100,000 people in a city that once was home
to four times that number. But the true figure can only be a quarter of the
mayor's estimate and most of them are still living in blasted basements.
And beneath the Russian swagger, the troops are on edge. The violence is
unremitting, the bitterness festers. Firefights erupt every night as the
rebel gunmen infiltrate to stage hit-and-run attacks before melting back into
the maze of ruins.
"The high intensity of firing at federal forces in Grozny suggests that the
militants have started implementing orders to intensify subversive and
terrorist activity," the Russian military has admitted.
"They call it liberated Grozny, but there's no freedom, only taunting," says
Raisa Nakhamadova, 62, who has lost two sons.
"Every night, from dusk till dawn, the firing never stops," says Mrs Isayeva.
"Russian soldiers came around drunk at 11pm the other night. They shot the
neighbours, Maleyka and Hasan. They're in hospital. What about their three
Putin to Introduce NW Representative to 12 Regional Governors
MOSCOW, May 22 (Itar-Tass) - Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to
introduce his plenipotentiary representative for the North-West Federal
District (NWFD), Viktor Cherkessov, to the leaders of the District's 12
constituent regions here on Monday.
Cherkesov will be the first out of seven Presidential plenipotential
representatives in Federal districts to be introduced to Governors by the
At the end of last week, Cherkesov stated in St.Petersburg that the work of
the plenipotentiary representative "cannot be done without interaction or
without the distribution of duties between the presidential power structures
and administrations in the district".
Cherkesov is convinced that the local authorities' duties, resources and
power levers "will be fully preserved and protected", whereas the work which
requires the participation of territorial agencies of Federal minsitries and
departments will based on mutual understanding.
In the opinion of Vyacheslav Pozgalyov, Governor of Vologda Region, the NWFD
may become a model on the example of which constructive techniques for
forming the other Federal districts will be optimised.
The Times (UK)
22 May 2000
[for personal use only]
Putin chooses KGB man as his enforcer
BY GILES WHITTELL
A NOTORIOUS former KGB officer, is one of seven men chosen by President Putin
to enforce law in Russia's unruly provinces.
Viktor Cherkesov has been picked to run the new northwestern district from Mr
Putin's home town of St Petersburg. He made his name in the 1970s and 1980s
by arresting many of St Petersburg's most prominent intellectuals. Undeterred
by glasnost, or the Soviet collapse, in 1988 he became the last KGB officer
to make an arrest for political crimes.
He has since led Russian efforts to monitor private e-mails and was made the
first deputy director of the FSB security service. His fellow envoys include
three army generals and another career KGB officer. Their posts were created
by decree last week and filled two days later with no public debate.
General Victor Kazantsev, one of the architects of the Chechen war, is to
impose Moscow's rule on the North Caucasus. His deputy, General Konstantin
Pulikovsky, will do the same in the vast Russian Far East. General Pyotr
Latyshev has been appointed to the Urals district, and Georgi Poltavchenko, a
career KGB officer who ran St Petersburg's tax police, has been assigned to
The appointments coincide with a plan announced by Mr Putin last week to
throw 89 powerful regional governors out of the upper house.
RUSSIAN FINANCE MINISTER CONFIDENT IN RUSSIA'S NEW ECONOMIC PROGRAMME
Source: Russia TV, Moscow, in Russian 1600 gmt 21 May 00
[Nikolay Svanidze, presenter] Russian Finance Minister and Deputy Prime
Minister Aleksey Kudrin is our studio guest...
I have the following question: are you officially responsible for the
government's macroeconomic policy?
[Kudrin] Yes, it seems I will be doing this in the government.
[Q] What policy will that be? There has been a lot of talk and comments on
this subject in the press.
[A] Macroeconomic policy defines the main parameters of the country's credit
and monetary policy. I must say that the Finance Ministry has always worked
on this subject, and recently the Centre for Strategic Studies headed by
German Gref has been working on this subject very thoroughly.
[Q] He is now heading the Economic Development Ministry which is under your
supervision, isn't he?
[A] Correct. Of course, we have today serious proposals on the main
parameters of the country's credit and monetary policy and macroeconomic
[Q] I will put the question in a different way, even if everything is clear.
Do you have serious differences with German Gref whom you supervise?
[A] I have no serious differences with German Gref whom I supervise...
This is the most professional team of programme writers I have met in the
last 10 years. And in this sense this is perhaps the best thing we now have
in Russia even if this team can be further built up since there are other
highly qualified experts in the country. But this concentration of
specialists is unprecedented. And I would like to add that both Vladimir
Vladimirovich Putin, who listened to the intermediate results of this work,
and Mikhail Mikhaylovich Kasyanov believe that the authors of this programme
should continue their work in the government. Therefore, I expect not only
German Gref but other authors of this programme too to join the government,
including the Economic Development Ministry...
I don't think that this programme or the main guidelines that have been drawn
up should undergo any fundamental changes. And I would like to say that I
value this work quite highly.
Christian Science Monitor
22 May 2000
A New Moscow Empire?
Both the Soviet Union of the 20th century and the Russian Empire of the 19th
century weren't built by a weak central government.
That's why it is worth noting recent steps by Russia's new president,
Vladimir Putin, that appear to tighten Moscow's power over both former Soviet
states and the many entities inside the smaller Russian Federation.
Mr. Putin, a former Soviet spy, traveled south to two Central Asia, states in
the last two weeks where he cut significant deals.
In Turkmenistan, Putin tried to ensure that Russia gets large shipments of
natural gas - enough to possibly undercut shipments to the West. In
Uzbekistan, he promised aid to fight Islamic rebels. But he also seemed to
proclaim an ally by saying "any threat to Uzbekistan is also a threat to"
Russia. It was another step - such as having 25,000 troops near Tajikistan -
hinting at empire building.
Such steps could just be seen as an attempt to ward off radical Islam and
rebuild the Russian economy. But last week Putin also issued an executive
fiat that reimposes Moscow's authority over Russia's 89 regions and republics
by breaking the country into seven new administrative sections.
He also plans to diminish regional power in the upper house of parliament
and, possibly, vest in himself the power to remove regional governors.
Many Russians applaud his determination to bring discipline to an unruly
situation. At least 30 regions have laws that contradict the Constitution.
Others see the moves as evidence of an ingrained Russian inclination to
assert dictatorial power from the Kremlin. His iron-fist policy in Chechnya
feeds such concerns.
Powerful regional governors like those in Tartarstan or Bashkortostan may opt
to wait out the chief executive's initial activism, betting that old
bureaucratic sludge will set back in.
Assuming Putin will use the new power to bring desperately needed reforms,
such as private property and and a legal system that fights oligarchs, he
probably deserves support.
But Putin likes to talk about a "dictatorship of the law." That's a step up
from the Marxist "dictatorship of the proletariat," but can still translate
as undemocratic central control. In a country as sprawling and diverse as
Russia (not unlike America in that regard), the rule of law could hinge on a
workable balance of power between the center and far-flung regions and on a
Such actions by Putin show Russia still has not fully chosen whether to
recreate empires of old or truly seek domestic reforms.
INTERVIEW-Russia must move on banking system-Rhodes
By Joe Ortiz, European Banking Correspondent
RIGA, May 20 (Reuters) - The new Russian government of President Vladimir
Putin must move urgently to reform the country's banking system, Citigroup
Vice-Chairman Bill Rhodes said on Saturday.
"Reform of the banking system in Russia must be a first order of priority for
the government," Rhodes told Reuters in an interview at the annual meeting of
the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
"They must move towards a soundly capitalised and strongly regulated system
that would be able to stand up to shocks -- if you don't, then you won't get
sustainable economic growth."
Rhodes said Russia was now seeing the benefits of the devaluation of the
rouble and high oil prices but urged Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov
and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin to renew economic reform.
"With this new cabinet in Russia we have the chance to see a renewal of
reform, but it's much too early to say how it will go," Rhodes added. "We
need to see what they can do."
RATE RISES A THREAT
Noting that, for the first time since Central and Eastern European countries
had set out on the road to economic reform, all of them are expected to show
some GDP growth this year, Rhodes said this might be tested by rising
interest rates in the U.S. and Europe.
The U.S. Federal Reserve raised interest rates by 50 basis points last week
to 6.5 percent and Rhodes noted that some economists believe they could go as
high as 7.5 percent.
Coupled with higher rates in Europe to support the weakness of the euro,
Rhodes said this would likely impact on emerging market economies.
"The biggest danger to this region (Eastern Europe) and all emerging markets
is what happens in the U.S. because the U.S. economy has been the motor,"
said Rhodes, adding that it was the U.S. economy which had helped Asia out of
its problems by taking the regions exports.
"If rates rise further in the U.S., the economy will slow and that will have
an impact on emerging countries in higher borrowing costs and on spreads,"
He said other challenges for the Russian government include reform of the
legal system, the introduction of modern accounting practices and of a modern
"This all goes under the general heading of transparency," Rhodes said. "How
is Russia going to finance itself? Capital will not flow back into the
country unless they have the system right and that includes development of a
domestic capital market."
Citibank has branches in Moscow and St Petersburg where it undertakes banking
for multinational companies and larger Russian corporate clients but it has
not as yet moved into consumer banking.
Date: Sun, 21 May 2000
From: abe brumberg <ABrumberg@compuserve.com>
Subject: SOVIETOLOGY AND THE FIRST YEARS OF PROBLEMS OF COMMUNISM:
SOVIETOLOGY AND THE FIRST YEARS OF PROBLEMS OF COMMUNISM:
Note: A few weeks ago I placed on the Johnson's Russia File a series of
thumb-nail sketches of late contributors to Problems of Communism. This
met with so gratifying a response that I decided to place another section
of the paper to be given at a conference at St. Antony's College in Oxford
in July of this year. The lines below are preceded by a depiction of my
early experiences that led me to become a student of Soviet affairs.
Models and Options
These events in my life were crucial in steering me into the field
of Sovietology, and many other "freshmen Sovietologists" went through
similar soul searchings, even without the benefit of my particular brushes
with Soviet life. The historian Abbot Gleason, in his book Totalitarianism,
remarks that "most academics drawn into the study of Russia and the Soviet
Union after l945 were of the same mind and part of the same intellectual
world as official Washington", which is to say that they shared the
militant and simplistic view of communism as a scourge, a view that
constituted for a long time the received wisdom on this subject.
Stephen Cohen makes a similar point in his essay "Scholarly
Missions: Sovietology as a Profession." He charges many of his colleagues
with adherence to the "totalitarian school" of Sovietology, which regarded
the Soviet Union as a fixed, immutable entity, shaped by Russian history
and Marxist-Leninist dogma into an agent solely of power and oppression. In
his view the most objectionable excesses of this school date from the
l960s. A Russian political scientist, Evgenii Kodin, levels similar
charges at American Sovietologists. The assumption of Soviet immutability
rendered pointless the study of social processes in the Soviet Union, since
nothing fundamental could or would change, and instead emphasized
government policies and how they were implemented to achieve a
better-functioning totalitarian system, one similar to the phantasmagoric
vision of Orwell's l984.
The strictures voiced by Gleason et al. are not entirely off the
mark. The "totalitarian model" certainly was applied to the Stalinist
system, though it became increasingly stale and irrelevant. US
institutions, both official agencies like the CIA and non-official like the
Ford Foundation, found it attractive, and continued to fund projects that
accepted the conventional wisdom. The tendency to regard Stalinism
exclusively as a centralized, relentlessly expansionist and
ideologically-rigid system bent on maintaining and maximizing power turned
into a dogma, one that pervaded the field of Soviet studies both because of
genuine faith and -- given the funding available -- occasionally of
Nevertheless, early recruits to Sovietology included disciples of
what I would call the "social democratic option," as early volumes of our
journal clearly demonstrate. Many of those drawn into Soviet studies
regarded the Soviet Union as above all else a desecration of the finest
dreams and principles of socialism, a vulgar distortion of Marxism rather
than -- as the conservative view held -- a direct descendant of it. Soviet
communism, as they saw it, represented a "false ideology", a fraud. Soviet
society, that huge "Potemkin village," abounded in odious features, from
one-party dictatorship and a centralized economic system to suffocating
censorship--the very negation of the Marxist dream. Yet at the same time,
it was still a functioning system, its facade of "monolithic unity"
concealing a good deal of diversity. It was essential, then, to analyze and
explain it -- especially to those influenced by to its deceitful claims --
rather than merely condemn it, if only in order to lay down the
foundations, hopefully, for a "third way". (To what extent the latter, too,
was a utopia I leave to my readers to decide.)
The mix of hatred, eagerness to understand, and hope animated, I am
sure, many "charter members" of the Sovietological profession, and stemmed
-- as in my case -- from their own internal conflicts. Whether from Eastern
Europe or from radical backgrounds in the United States, many were veterans
of sturdy and passionate ideological battles. They imported both their
early battles and their commitment into their professional work.
To the Other Shore
My personal experiences in the post-war years again have some
relevance to the first years of Sovietology. In May l941 my family and I
arrived in the United States, and six years later I enrolled as a student
at the City University of New York (CCNY). A spell of living under Soviet
rule had liberated me of qualms about socialism vs. communism but my
curiosity about this subject had not abated, nor had my eagerness to cross
swords with Communist believers. The papers I wrote articulated these
obsessions, occasionally absurdly - such as the paper I wrote for a physics
course, on the Soviet attitude towards the Quantum Theory. I had no clue
what this Theory was all about, but I did know that the absolute verities
of Marxism-Leninism, to which the Soviet leadership presumably subscribed,
somehow disputed its implications. Miraculously, though I remained as
ignorant about the Quantum Theory after completing the essay as I was when
I began, I nevertheless earned an A for it--which made me wonder vaguely
whether True Scholarship consistently mainly of the ability to provide the
By the same token, for a paper in my Introduction to Art class, I
chose the topic of Socialist Realism. This was inspired by the irreverent
comments of my professor and the many paintings of Stalin and Lenin he
exhibited during his lectures. Later on, when my former professor, Jacob
Landy, wrote e an article on this subject for Problems of Communism, I
illustrated it with some of the same paintings he had shown in the
I also remember an elective course on folk music, and a row with
some of my radical (read: Communist) classmates. When I discounted as
"genuine" folk songs such carefully composed (though genuinely popular)
anthems as the theme from the 1936 film Circus, "I Don't Know a Country as
Free as Ours" ("Ya drugoy takoy strany ne znayu..."), they countered: "This
is typical fascist rot," I remember one student saying with icy contempt.
"Brumberg obviously thinks the world of such garbage as Irving Berlin's
"America the Beautiful." Our teacher, another young man but this one less
versed in the labyrinthine polemics of Stalinism and anti-Stalinism,
listened to our exchange in stunned disbelief.
By l949, when I had to make up my mind about the future course of
my studies, what later came to be known as "area studies" was just
beginning, with Columbia, Harvard, and Yale in the forefront. I chose Yale
University, determined to study Russian, Russian history, literature, and
politics, and to hone my polemical skills for further confrontations with
American area studies programs resulted directly from the
increasing role played by the United States in world affairs, and a
concomitant realization that the United States and its allies knew
relatively little about the history and culture of countries they were
engaged with, now and potentially. Russia and Japan attracted particular
attention (the first result of the increased attention to Japan was Ruth
Benedict's seminal book, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword). In earlier years
individual scholars had studied Russian history, literature, philosophy,
and even political institutions but they had labored outside the framework
of and lacking much support from academic or government institutions. They
had received few grants, scholarships and fellowships; they had attended
few international or even local conferences. (The hoopla that Arthur
Koestler once waspishly dubbed "the international academic call-girl
circuit," and subsequently parodied by David Lodge, belongs to a latter
Whatever their yearnings for a role in national debates
commensurate with their knowledge and experience, many of these scholars
were content with quiet university lives and an occasional lecture
sponsored by National or Royal Geographic Society, the Council on Foreign
Relations or Royal Institute of International Affairs.
Men like the historians Bernard Pares and Geroid T. Robinson,
Russian and Soviet law specialist John Hazard, the future Czech president
Thomas Masaryk (author of a trenchant study of Russian intellectual
history), the American journalist cum historian W.W. Chamberlain, the
Russians Gleb Struve, George Vernadsky, Michael Karpovitch and many
others wrote relatively little that was germane to the issues being aired
in the media or that concerned the men and women in the State Department
Only Germany had already developed a scholarly discipline similar
to what became Sovietology in the United States and Great Britain. It had
created special institutes on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, along
with professional journals in these fields as early as the 1920s,
anticipating by at least two decades similar establishments in the United
States. By and large, these German centers and journals concerned
themselves with contemporary political issues more than they did with "pure
In Britain and in the States, two sets of texts preceded and paved
the way for professional Sovietology: "confessional" books by travelers
and journalists, and the writings of Menshevik and Trotskyite opponents of
Stalin. All these gathered momentum in the l930s, with the rise of Naziism
and the consolidation of Stalinism. Anton Ciliga's The Russian Enigma
(Paris, l938, and London, l940), contained revelatory material based on his
several years -- as a Yugoslav Communist/oppositionist -- in Soviet camps.
John Scott's Behind the Urals (l942) told his story as an American engineer
working in Magnitogorsk. British and American journalists -- Malcolm
Muggeridge, Eugene Lyons, Walter Duranty, Louis Fischer -- wrote of their
experiences living in the Soviet Union. In 1951 two remarkable books
appeared, Gustaw Herling's A World Apart and Alexander Weissberg's The
Accused, the latter attempting to explain Stalin's show trials, with their
fantastic confessions and patently pre-arranged verdicts.
Not all of the personal "been and seen" works were confessional in
nature. Leon Feuchtwanger, Emil Ludwik, and Howard Fast wrote what amounted
to little more than pro-Communist apologies, though the degree of finesse
varied. And after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, a whole
cottage industry arose in the United States: supposedly "objective" writers
produced pro-Communist propaganda masquerading as reportage or scholarship,
for no doubt appreciative customers.
As for the Mensheviks and Trotskyites, the Soviet Union represented
the stuff of their dreams and nightmares, the focus of their overriding
attention, and they constituted probably the best sources of information
and analysis on the Soviet Union and Communist parties throughout the
world. The Menshevik writings appeared mostly in the Russian-language
journal sotsialisticheski vestnik, , but English translations surfaced in
journals like the New York weekly The New Leader and books by Mensheviks
such as David Shub, Boris Nikolaevsky, and Solomon Schwarz, all
exceptionally well informed and skillful writers, came out in English too.
The Trotskyites, a cluster of tiny groups, published a number of
journals and newspapers in English (The Militant, The New International,
The Fourth International, Labor Action) which carried assessments of
developments in the Communist world that were, despite their often
pugnacious tone and penchant for unending exegetical debates, both
revealing and sophisticated.
(I recall for a timer having difficulties in distinguishing the ‘Workers
Socialist Party" from the "Socialist Workers Party", but eventually this
whole demi-monde became altogether as familiar to me as the map of
Manhattan.) In those early days, this "pre-history" of Sovietology,
provided us, the first generation of Sovietologists, with remarkably
accurate information on the Soviet Union and the emerging pro-Soviet
regimes in Eastern Europe -- certainly more accurate than the one textbook
I recall, Soviet Politics at Home and Abroad (l946), by Frederick L.
Schuman, a slightly daft left-wing (but not Communist!) academic who
thought that listing the individual rights enumerated in the Soviet l936
constitution mattered more than ascertaining the relevance of these rights
Into the Fray
The story of how I became the editor of Problems of Communism in
the spring of l952 is not even a minuscule footnote in history, but it is
worth relating, as it illustrates the confusion and the amateurism
dominating Washington in what was the heyday of the cold war.
When I left Yale University with an MA in Russian Studies, I got a
job at the newly constituted US Information Agency, first in New York, then
at its headquarters in Washington. I was to write articles on the Soviet
Union for the Agency's Wireless File and also for possible use by the Voice
of America. The job proved undemanding, and I occupied most of my time with
reading the Soviet press, bundles of which arrived nearly every day in my
One day, a man entered my room as I sat with the latest issue of
Pravda. He asked me peremptorily whether I wasn't "some kind of a Russian
specialist." Though taken aback, I owned up, whereupon he said -- with no
further inquiry into my credentials -- "Well, we are starting a new
magazine on Communist affairs, and you will be in charge of it." And he
turned and left the room.
I do not remember that man's name, I had never seen him before our
brief encounter and never after, nor do I have a clear recollection of what
transpired in the succeeding weeks. But the new magazine made its
appearance, and I ended up in charge of it. Its model was Ost Probleme, a
respectable publication issued monthly by the US Government in West Germany
which reprinted from English-language papers and magazines articles and
reviews dealing with the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and world communism.
Beyond the decision, made somewhere in the State Department, that something
similar should appear in English, there were no guidelines, no attempts to
define the new publication, no directions of any sort.
For me, barely 26 years old, politically and intellectually
preoccupied -- if not obsessed -- with communism, it was as if I'd been
handed a miraculous vessel, to fill as I pleased. I could pursue my own
interests and, with the help of the growing number of Sovietologists and
also of journalists with experience in this area, search for answers to
questions that had tormented me for years. Furthermore, the magazine
presented an extraordinary opportunity to influence if not die-hard
Stalinists, then at least "Stalinoids" (a marvelous term coined, if I am
not mistaken, by Dwight Macdonald), vague sympathizers and fence-sitters in
many countries. My audience would no longer be restricted to the crowded
classrooms, library carrels and cafeteria tables of City College: it
expanded to the whole world.
The cold war was already raging.. I had no sympathy for its
ideological simplifications, nor for the idea that it should be supported
by military means, by bogus "indigenous" uprisings, by propping up unsavory
albeit "anti-communist" foreign leaders. The bombast in praise of the "free
world," a designation which seemed to include many areas not much less
odious than the Soviet Union, appalled me, as did the "dirty tricks"
engaged in by the CIA, occasionally in tandem with the British MI5. But
the opportunity to influence the views of so many people who out of
ignorance, ideological commitment, or sheer naivete, accepted the Soviet
myths, and furthermore, to do so by honorable means, by reasoned argument
and punctilious evidence , was a version of the "cold war" to which my
colleagues and I wholeheartedly subscribed.
And indeed, odd though it may sound, despite the reigning
anti-communist hysteria, our bureaucratic chiefs hardly interfered in our
work. One might expect that a magazine on communism, published by a
government agency at a time when every departure from received wisdom was
apt to be branded "disloyal," "anti-American," and even treasonable, would
be meticulously scrutinized for even a hint of suspicious thought. Yet this
was not the case. Never during the whole period from the inception of the
magazine until my departure in l971 was I subjected to any serious control
from above. None of my superiors ever tried to impose a specific editorial
line, none advocated pre-publication censorship, none voiced any objection
to what appeared in the journal.
What explains this anomaly? Mainly, the amateurism I have already
mentioned, which included pervasive ignorance and an astonishing lack of
political sophistication. I remember the first chief of our section, which
included men and women not associated with the magazine, a dapper
gentleman in his mid-fifties, formerly an instructor of English in a small
Catholic college in Pennsylvania, assuring us that he had "read the works
of Marx, Engels and Lenin, though not in their original Russian."
My chief was not atypical.. Shortly thereafter, we were faced with
the prohibition -- issued by the head of USIA -- on the use of the names
Marx, Lenin and Stalin, on the grounds that publishing their names would
provide the fathers of the Soviet state with undue publicity. I thought
the country had gone bonkers, and seriously considered resigning. Luckily
this directive, too surreal even for Senator McCarthy and his two intrepid
aides, Roy Cohn and David Shine, quietly disappeared. (Cohn and Shine, in
fact, were to blame for the directive: while on a whirlwind "fact-finding
tour" of the USIS libraries, they discovered, to their horror, numerous
books containing references to and selected works by the three culprits.)
The US Information Agency -- at any rate its press and publications
department -- waged a holy war against communism on the basis of stories
furnished by the AP or UP, and with the help of mainly second-rate
journalists, bogus intellectuals, and mediocre radio broadcasters. Half of
them did not know the first thing about communism, and the other half
didn't care about anything except their safe government sinecures. The
material that appeared in Problems of Communism was something else again.:
"Russification of Soviet Minority Languages;" "Soviet Literature and
Retroactive Truth;" "Towards a Communist Welfare State"--all this was fare
rather beyond my supervisors' ken and experience Better, then, not tamper
with the magazine, nor to bother me. My anti-communism reassured them,
never mind the fact that it rested on an essentially different concept from
We worked very hard, our small staff. Terry Thompson was initially
editor in charge of the style of the magazine, then became "managing
editor" and two others joined us, Clarke Kawakami and Cary Fischer. . We
felt something of the crusader's zeal, channeling our passion into the job
of producing lucid, readable copy. Bertram D. Wolfe, author of Three Who
Made a Revolution, for whom I had worked for a time in New York as a
researcher, became my de facto intellectual mentor. Though Wolfe at first
regarded with some apprehension the appointment of a young stripling like
myself to so "powerful a job" (he had a reverence for the printed word, and
an exaggerated faith in its might, typical of his combative generation), he
changed his mind after two years, and wrote a warm letter about me to the
head of the USIA.
In time two other factors buttressed our autonomy and security
vis-a-vis the authorities. One was the international support we received.
Letters began streaming into our office from the far corners of the globe,
as did enthusiastic reports from many US Information posts--overseas
chapters of the USIA. . Initially Problems of Communism, as a publication
underwritten by the US Information Agency, was available only outside the
United States Many foreign service officials, more sophisticated about
the nature of the publication than our immediate bosses in Washington,
promoted it assiduously. The demonstrable enthusiasm we elicited thus
boosted our superiors' esteem for our activities, however abstruse they
seemed to them.
Ironically, our second source of support came from the Soviet media
and its increasing attention to the magazine. At first we represented
nothing more than a minor irritant, a fly that buzzed interminably but
could be waved away. Gradually, however, we came to matter. Soviet
newspapers and journals began working themselves into a lather about the
"directing center of all anti-Soviet activities in the United States."
Such sweeping invective proved a feather in our cap: obviously, the
officials reasoned, if the communists get so upset, we must be doing
something right. Ergo, leave the editors to their job.
There was one exception to this generous laissez-faire policy
pursued by the Agency, one that brings a flush of anger to my face to this
day.. Soon after the magazine was launched, we were informed that all our
contributors had to receive "security clearance" before their work could
appear in print. Anonymous "experts", in other words -- most of them, as I
later learned, amiable ignoramuses -- decided whether a writer was a
potential risk or embarrassment, either by virtue of his beliefs or by
associating with dubious characters, such as subversive leftists or sleazy
homosexuals. I fumed and swore, but stayed on, believing -- accurately, as
it turned out -- that if the rule remained in force it could probably be
ignored, and that the freedom we otherwise reveled in by editing the
magazine compensated for such idiocy. In fact, I was soon permitted to
commission one article without any security clearance, and after that I
could turn to anyone I pleased, though the rule stayed on the books until
the mid-1970s. I felt so dismayed by this directive that I could never
bring myself to mention it to my authors, some of them personal friends.
Apart from this noxious "security" requirement, I had -- and
relished -- full freedom in choosing topics, corresponding with
contributors, praising and scolding and demanding editorial changes from
people vastly more senior and accomplished in the field than I was.
Insouciance being a mark of the young I used every opportunity I could to
display my disdain for received wisdom and for its devotees within and
outside the government.
A case in point involved a book called The Protracted Conflict, a
veritable manifesto of the "totalitarian school" by Robert Strausz-Hupè of
the University of Pennsylvania and three colleagues. Nearly twenty years
earlier, James Burnham, a skillful political pamphleteer who'd turned from
dedicated Communist to dedicated right-winger, had labeled the Soviet Union
"not a conventional state but the main base of a world movement, an
unprecedented enterprise that is at once a secular religion, a world
conspiracy and a new kind of army, irrevocably pledged to world
domination." Now, in 1959, Strauss-Hupê et al rang the same tocsin about a
superbly organized system, dedicated to achieving absolute global power,
which had orchestrated "almost every international dispute that has gripped
the postwar world," every upheaval, every uprising, every outbreak of
industrial unrest. By its very nature, wrote the authors, such a system
could never negotiate honestly with its enemies, and the "free world" had
therefore a sacred obligation to devise, for the sake of its own survival,
its own version of brutal "conflict management."
Because the book was not a shabby product of some obscure
right-wing organization, but a work by a respectable publisher (Harper &
Brothers) whose authors boasted unsullied academic credentials, I decided
that it required a serious review. Alfred G. Meyer, whose scholarship and
dedication to the "social democratic option" I admired, accepted the
assignment, and delivered a careful (if scathing) rebuttal of the authors'
In return, Strausz-Hupé expressed his astonishment that a book
praised by, among others, Senator William Knowland of California (a
prominent "hawk") and Vice President Nixon should be meted out such shabby
treatment in the pagers of so respectable a journal. To make proper
amends, he suggested that we publish not one, but two positive assessments
of the volume. I replied by asking whether Strausz-Hupé wouldn't agree that
Professor Meyer's credentials as an authority on communism were perhaps
greater than those of the Vice President and the Senator from California,
and suggested that in view of his strong feelings we would be happy to
publish a letter exceeding our usually stipulated length.
My co-editors were aghast, fearing that my letter would surely
invite an attack from Senator McCarthy or someone of his ilk. This I rather
liked, as I had long been fantasizing, like some latter-day Walter Mitty,
being invited to Senator McCarthy's Committee to be pilloried by him and
his chums, and standing up to them with impressive sang froid..
Alas, that was not to be. Professor Strausz-Hupé answered most
politely, and sent a long letter to which Meyer replied, all of which we
published and announced that the discussion has now come to an end..
(About ten years later, I happened to be in Brussels, staying with
a friend of mine from USIA. Strausz-Hupé, who was then US Ambassador to
Belgium , heard that I was in town, and invited me for supper at his
residence. He was cordiality itself. Not a word was said of our past
contretemps. The meal, attended by about ten people, was superb. I still
remember the paté and the marvelous wine.
Such were those days. Such were the years.
(The subsequent chapter will deal with the nature of the articles and
reviews that appeared in Problems of Communism, with some of its
contributors, friends, and critics.)
The Russia Journal
May 22-28, 2000
Discreet charm of reform
By Otto Latsis
Just a few days before the Duma approved Mikhail Kasyanov’s appointment as
prime minister, German Gref, the director of the Center for Strategic
Development, made a characteristic statement on what he saw as the best way
to carry out market reform in Russia.
Gref thinks reform should be a discreet process, without too much talk
about change. Reforming without reform, in other words. This seems to be
President Vladimir Putin’s chosen tactic. In April, for example, Putin
issued a decree that went almost unnoticed by the press, in which he
abolished 46 decrees by his predecessor Boris Yeltsin on exemptions to
compulsory currency sale laws.
Kasyanov, it seems, also believes in this tactic. He cleared the
parliamentary barrier with such unusual ease despite the fact that
attentive observers would have noticed that his speech to the State Duma
lower house of parliament contained views unacceptable to the Communist
faction the largest faction which nonetheless voted for him.
Only the smallest faction Yabloko refused to support Kasyanov, but
didn’t impose a vote against him. A minimum of 226 votes is needed for
approval, and Kasyanov got 325 a real triumph.
This triumph is mostly due to the new political balance resulting from last
December’s Duma elections. The left suffered a defeat, but unlike in the
past, it doesn’t want to live now in a state of constant conflict with the
president. Kasyanov made it easier for the left by making it look like he
wasn’t proposing anything they couldn’t swallow.
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said that German Gref’s strategic
development program (commissioned by Putin) was unacceptable to the
Communists. Kasyanov then said that the government didn’t have its own
program as yet and wouldn’t have one before early June. But the outline of
planned measures in Kasyanov’s speech corresponded exactly with drafts of
Gref’s program known so far. Gref himself, just before the Duma vote, said
that the press had published an old draft of the program from three months
Kasyanov took a flawlessly liberal line on economic issues and the work
ahead for the government. He spoke of tax reform, a new approach to social
issues (targeted support for poorer people), rationalization of defense
expenses and improvement of the investment climate. But above all, he spoke
of the poverty of Russia’s people and of how tackling this is the
government’s No. 1 priority.
Kasyanov also showed himself able to take a critical view of the situation.
He noted the recent sensational economic successes, but emphasized that
this is not irreversible and that the economic foundation of the country is
still very shaky.
To see how true this is, it’s enough to look at the foreign debt situation.
It’s been only a few months that Russia has been keeping up with its
foreign debt payments without any real financing from outside. This is an
average year for debt payments, with total payments of $10.5 billion. In
2003, for example, debt payments will total $16 billion.
To make any radical dent in the foreign debt would require Russia paying as
it does now for 10-12 years, but there’s no guarantee that oil prices, say,
will stay as high as they are now. And there are more serious problems than
foreign debt payments a worn out assets base, for example, which, to be
improved, would require substantial investment growth.
Investments have grown by 8 percent this year in comparison to last year,
Kasyanov told the deputies. This is a success as it is the first investment
growth in the last decade. But nonetheless, it is far too little to resolve
the most urgent problems facing the economy.
Kasyanov did not make a big showing of his reformist plans, and that was a
rational decision. Whether he will actually be able to achieve real reform
in this discreet fashion remains to be seen. It’s probably not so important
whether reforms pass unnoticed or not. It’s important that reform genuinely
takes place, otherwise getting approved by the Duma will remain Kasyanov’s
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