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New Left Review I/104, July-August 1977

Tamara Deutscher

USSR: Democratic Alternatives

The Soviet dissidents arriving in growing numbers in Western Europe give us a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, concerns and aspirations of a section of the Soviet intelligentsia. Of course, it would be wrong to draw sweeping conclusions from these exiles regarding the state of mind of all or even the majority of intellectuals remaining in the Soviet Union—let alone about the mood of Soviet society as a whole. The oppositionists themselves are only too well aware of their isolation from most of their fellow citizens, as a result of their numerical weakness and the atomization of Soviet society. Nevertheless, like a few cells of yeast, they have started a ferment which may in time come to affect broader masses of a hitherto largely inert population. Most of those who have managed to get out are exceptional individuals, courageous to the point of heroism, who have suffered for their convictions in prisons, camps and psychiatric ‘hospitals’. Emerging somewhat dazzled into the broad daylight of bourgeois freedom, they have thrown themselves into political activity—into discussions and polemics barred them in their own country. A survey of these discussions at once makes it clear that the émigrés are deeply divided by now well-defined political trends. The spectrum of dissident opinion which these reveal is enormous, and includes views to surprise and shock even those well aware of the havoc wrought by Stalin and his heirs on the moral and intellectual potential of the Soviet people. ‘From Under the Rubble’ [1] The title of a collection of essays by Solzhenitsyn, Shafarevich and others, London 1975. of the Stalinist earthquake there come to us voices truly frightening in their vehement and blind hatred of everything modern, everything progressive, achieved in Russia and throughout the world since the age of Enlightenment. The greatest detestation is reserved for the very idea of socialism, which ‘aims at the death of humanity’, is the expression of a collective ‘death wish’ and threatens ‘the whole of humanity with destruction’. Such an apocalyptic vision precludes, of course, any rational debate, and can only be viewed as a symptom of terrible sickness and trauma.

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