Ihope that the almost Wildean title of my lecture is not misleading.footnote＊ I intend to be totally serious. If there is a place for irony in today’s talk, then it is as one of those ‘ironies of history’ about which Isaac Deutscher wrote so prophetically. I have thought for a long time about what to say in this lecture. Usually, when prize-winners receive their awards, they try to give a very wise and profound speech so as to prove to themselves and to the public that they have not been given the award for nothing. I would probably have done exactly the same if the political situation in my country had been somewhat different and tanks had not yet become a common sight on the streets of many of our cities. But, alas, this is precisely how the situation is developing. Today everybody is expecting a person who has just arrived in the West from the Soviet Union to talk about current political events. And I do intend to speak, not about history, but about what is happening in our country today.
The time is not conducive to serious academic research. But does it follow from this that, in these stormy days, we can do without theory altogether. It would appear that a large part of the liberal intelligentsia, speaking from the rostrum of the Congress of People’s Deputies, on television and in the pages of Moscow News, considers this to be the case. And, in any event, this section of our society is profoundly convinced that they can manage perfectly well without Marxism under any circumstances. Quite possibly they are right: they can do without it. But can society manage without it as well?
On the ideological plane, the first two years of perestroika were the revenge of the Sixties’ generation. Representatives of this generation unexpectedly found themselves in the forefront; many of them found they had real power. Liberal communism, which had inspired intellectuals in the Khrushchev era and suffered a crushing defeat, after the intervention of Soviet forces in Czechoslovakia, seemed to have gained a second wind. People once again believed in the possibility of gradual reforms from above, and that a liberal market reform, envisaged as a second edition of Lenin’s New Economic Policy and implemented under the guidance of Party leaders conscious of their historical
Unfortunately, such illusions were destined not to persist for long. It soon became clear that behind the general striving for ‘change’ stood contradictory interests; that the market reform being carried out by the authorities was of real benefit to the most modern section of the apparatus—the technocracy—to an alliance of a few international corporations with the traditional bureaucratic nomenklatura through the system of ‘mixed enterprises’. Of course, there were some real and positive changes. The very fact that the Soviet people now have access to writings which were considered dangerous and subversive only three or four years ago must not be underestimated. This is not only important for the intellectuals. And, despite much bureaucratic manipulation, there can be no doubt that the holding of the elections earlier this year and the subsequent proceedings of the Congress and Supreme Soviet have stimulated political life and have allowed oppositional voices to be heard. But if you are talking about our daily life, about our everyday struggle for survival, you will find that perestroika has not been beneficial to the masses.
Sixties-style liberals found themselves on the defensive. They were being replaced by more consistent advocates of neo-liberal ideology: admirers of Mrs Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Whether we like these latter views or not they were, in any case, rather more logical than the views of the liberal-communists. Indeed, if you are in favour of the unbounded freedom of the market, of ‘pluralism of property’, then in practice this means creating a private sector and the sale of shares in state enterprises; if you see the only hope for the country in dynamic entrepreneurs and not in the working class, if you argue for the need to commercialize education and health-care, in short, if you do or advocate exactly the same as has been done and propagandized by rightwingers in the West, then what is the point of talking about socialism and a return to the ‘true Lenin’ or the experience of the 1920s. Consistent neo-liberals have seen in all these ideological attributes no more than a debt to tradition and political circumstances, a temporary screen no longer needed in the conditions of glasnost. Sixties-style liberals used to think differently. They truly believed in the possibility of combining liberal and communist ideologies. Nowadays, it seems to many of them that the supporters of reform are going too far. But ideological hegemony is no longer in their hands. And—worst of all—they are unable to propose any strategic alternative. Eighties-style liberalism appears to society as the rightful heir of sixties’ liberalism.