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.
The religious writer Anatoli Levitin-Krasnov introduces himself as an ‘incorrigible socialist’. For him, ‘socialism . . . is not housing, bathrooms or tractors; socialism is in the first instance a spiritual regeneration of man’. He writes as an evangelist, invoking other-worldly values with which it is hard to engage at a rational level. In the second of his two essays in the volume, Levitin-Krasnov draws a loving psychological profile of Russian youth and, like his literary idol Dostoyevsky before him, gazes at the picture seeking to gauge ‘the future of the nation’. Despite the growing influence of religion, he does not find the picture particularly reassuring. True, writes this author born one year before the October Revolution, the new generation does not want the return of capitalism. But it is deeply disillusioned with the very idea of communism. The young ‘do not fight against communism, they do not argue against it, they do not curse it; something much worse has happened to communism—they laugh at it’. Even Lenin, who for Levitin-Krasnov remains a genius ‘who committed mistakes’, among young people in Russia is increasing becoming a subject for humorous anecdotes. Lack of faith and the ideological vacuum drive people to drink: ‘Vodka, the evil spirit of Russia, was never before as triumphant as it is in our days.’ Yet the dissidents fighting for human rights and circulating Samizdat literature would not be as active as they are without the help of the ‘bearded boys and girls in trousers.’ Lenin promised that electrification and Soviet power would bring about socialism. Levitin-Krasnov says: we have had forty years of electrification and sixty years of what is called Soviet power, and honest Leninists no longer know how to take the prophecy of ‘their Messiah’. Nevertheless his own hopes for the Kingdom of God on earth seem to have remained as strong as ever, in spite of the even longer delay in their realization!
The most substantial contribution to the volume comes from its editor Belotserkovsky. Born in 1928, Belotserkovsky worked as an economic journalist. In 1963–4, he published two novels which were frowned upon by the authorities and finally withdrawn from circulation. He left the Soviet Union in 1972, and now lives in Munich. He has a job with Radio Free Europe where, according to his friends, he valiantly struggles against both his employers and the Russian Solidarists (nts), the oldest and the most reactionary of all the émigrés. His friends as well as his enemies expect him to be sacked any day. He seems to be the moving spirit behind the group searching for ‘Democratic Alternatives’, and like the other contributors is working for a socialist (emphatically non-capitalist and non-authoritarian) transformation of the Soviet Union. In this enterprise, he looks for allies among the democratic, socialist and ‘left-wing’ movements of Europe and America.