Reading the clandestine political literature which percolates from the ussr to the West through ever-widening channels, it is evident that two Russias exist side by side: le pays légal and le pays réel. We become familiar with more and more names of Soviet dissenters and protesters, with those who sign Open Letters, appeals, theses, manifestoes, and even full scale volumes which all circulate in Samizdat, slipping out of the tightest net of the censorship. Dramatically and tragically the pays légal with its legalized lawlessness impinges on the pays réel: when a dissenter is hauled out to prison, to a labour camp, or—final perfidy—to a lunatic asylum. It also happens, though much more rarely, that pays réel proves stronger: when a victim of bureaucratic persecution makes his way back from detention into freedom. Thus the biologist Jaurès Medvedev was retrieved from a psychiatric ‘hospital’ as a result of pressure from Keldych, the President of the Academy of Sciences, and such famous scientists as Kapitza and the half-dissenting Sakharov. To their voices was added that of Solzhenitsyn, who, though himself in the authorities’ bad books, probably owes his impunity to his reputation in Russia and abroad.
The main reasons for the tensions, ferments, and turbulence which are now producing constant clashes and eruptions in the pays réel, lie in the long series of contradictions which characterize contemporary Russian society: the contradiction between the collective ownership of the means of production and the irrational bureaucratic management of the economy; the gulf between the privileges of the ruling stratum and the plight of those whom they rule; the contrast between the potential wealth of the country and the poverty of most of its citizens; the dissonance between the education and skills of the new generations and the grey mediocrity of the old leadership; the tragi-comic paradox of scientific achievements and lack of elementary freedoms. Soviet scientists and cosmonauts may soar into space, but on land they are kept in leading strings; they are directed towards the moon, but are forbidden to cross the frontiers of their country: their letters are censored, their bookshelves scrutinized, while half-literate and halfwitted officials decide what they are allowed to read, what they are allowed to write, and what they are allowed to publish.
The Soviet ruling ‘élite’, hand-picked by Stalin, is obsessed by the fear of the slightest criticism: by keeping the whole country in bondage, it has itself become entangled, enchained, and fixed in stagnation and immobilism. In its desire to maintain the status quo at any price, it sometimes seems to have lost even its own instinct of self-preservation or it could not have been so totally deaf to the voices of those who beg for some change, for some modest rationality in Soviet public life, if only to save the ruling party itself from an impending catastrophe.
The Manifestofootnote1 signed by Academicians Sakharov and Turchin and the historian Roy Medvedev (brother of the biologist) and addressed to ‘greatly honoured Comrades Brezhnev, Kosygin and Podgorny’ contains a 15-point programme for a gradual democratization of the régime. It also includes a warning, which sounds like a paraphrase of the famous credo of Tsar Alexander II: remember that it is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait until it is abolished from below.
It is perhaps surprising that Sakharov and Medvedev signed the Manifesto together, because the two men appear to differ in their political Weltanschauung. Sakharov himself, highly praising a 1,000-pagelong work which Medvedev has devoted to an analysis of Stalinism, says: ‘Medvedev in his writings views history from the Marxist standpoint. His work has unfortunately not been published in spite of its great value and the depth of its ideas. Comrade Medvedev . . . would not perhaps reciprocate my compliments, because he considers that my ideas are in some respect tainted by “westernism” ’.footnote2