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
Solzhenitsyn, Maximov and the review Kontinent (financed by the Springer concern) do not have much in common with less publicized exiles, whose socialist or Marxist convictions do not find such ready access to television screens or the columns of the bourgeois press. On the one hand, Solzhenitsyn harnesses his considerable literary talent to the chariot of the traditional messianism of Mother Russia, alone—purged by her sufferings—in a position to redeem the godless, materialist and degenerate West. On the other hand, mathematician Leonid Plyushch engages modestly in a debate with French Communists: with some success, helping them to shed their remaining illusions in the ‘socialist’ nature of the Soviet Union; with less success, seeking to persuade them that abandoning the concept of ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ may not be the best recipe for realizing socialism in France.
In West Germany, Plyushch’s friends Vadim Belotserkovsky and the group around him are trying, with hardly any financial resources, to set up a regular journal to express the views of liberal and socialist Soviet exiles and serve as a counterweight to Kontinent. As a first step in this direction, the group has now published a volume of essays, edited by Belotserkovsky, under the title ussr: Democratic Alternatives.footnote2 The contributors represent a wide variety of liberal, christian, democratic and socialist opinion. They are all in their different ways searching for a democratic alternative to the monstrosity pressed on them, throughout their lives in the Soviet Union, as the gospel truth of socialism. But they are all also searching for an alternative to capitalism, whose affluence (residual and relative, be it said) has not blinded or corrupted them. They reject the immorality of a system based on exploitation and the ruthless scramble for profit—even if they do so purely in the name of moral and humanitarian principles. The writings are addressed not only to their fellow citizens, but also to oppositionists in the other countries of Eastern Europe and to all democratic forces in the West.
The volume opens with an interview with Leonid Plyushch, followed by an essay on ‘Democracy and Socialism’ from the pen of Mihajlo Mihajlov,
Leonid Plyushch is more forward looking, seeing a socialist democratization of the Soviet Union as the only way out. The process, he thinks, will take non-violent forms, but will result in a revolutionary change. Power will pass from the hands of the bureaucracy to those of the working class which, by means of workers’ control and political and economic decentralization, will come to play a determining role in government of the country. The process will be gradual. It will come ‘from above’, because decades of brain-washing have left the working class, and the nation as a whole, unprepared and unable to think politically. On the other hand, endemic economic stagnation and chaos in production will force the ruling group to introduce reforms; under pressure from below, and especially from the technical intelligentsia connected with the working class, these will lead to further liberalization and democratization. However, Plyushch warns that not all opposition forces in the ussr are striving for democratic reforms. In particular, he mentions the spread of fascism among students, very often children of kgb officials or high-ranking officers, to the point where some have even adopted the swastika as their emblem.footnote3 (It should be noted that the punishment for this kind of clandestine activity has been surprisingly mild. In the most notorious episode, nobody except for the leader Fetosov-Antonov was sent to a prison or camp; most members of the organization were simply drafted into the army.) Plyushch is extremely sober in his evaluation of the present situation in the Soviet Union. His analysis benefits from his Marxist approach, and at the same time from his willingness to adapt Marxism to modern conditions and the scientific and technical developments of the last century. It is to be regretted that his contribution to Democratic Alternatives is so short and sketchy.