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
In their Manifesto great stress is laid on the necessity of democratization in the interests of socialism and the Soviet régime. The authors assert that during the last 10 years, Russia has stagnated or even regressed in most respects: technical progress has slowed down; natural resources have been misused and wasted; productivity of labour remains nearly stationary. In education, social services, and per capita income the last 10 years have registered hardly any improvements. What is left today of the once vaunted slogan of ‘catching up and surpassing the United States’? The authors complain that in the 1950’s we were the first to send a man into space, yet in the 1960’s we have let the Americans overtake us in scientific achievement. In automation and electronics the gap between the ussr and the usa has become so enormous that ‘we are simply living in a different epoch’. Many Soviet minds are consequently corroded by the doubt: perhaps capitalism is more efficient, and has emerged victorious from its competition with socialism? Here the Manifesto provides an unequivocal rebuttal. It was in the 1920’s and 1930’s, when the capitalist world was going through crises and depression that Russia built up, with unprecedented speed, the basis of its future powerful industry. It is not socialism that has been at fault, but the anti-socialist practices of the régime. The complexity of any advanced economy and technical-scientific development create problems of such magnitude that they ‘cannot be solved by one individual or by an handful of omniscient men who keep power in their hands. What is needed now is the creative participation of millions’.
The 15-point programme of the Manifesto is so modest that if those to whom it was addressed were a little less obtuse they might have adopted and presented it on the front page of Pravda as their own product: ‘Democratization should proceed under the direction of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union . . . It (should) preserve and consolidate the leading role of the Party . . . and proceed gradually.’ Such democratization would put an end of the dangerous gulf which separates the Party apparatus and the State from the intelligentisia, and replace it by that spirit of co-operation and enthusiasm which characterized the post-revolutionary period of the 1920’s. The population should be better informed about the real situation of the country, but the truth must initially be dispensed in appropriately prudent doses. The right to foreign travel should be introduced gradually. An institute of public opinion should be set up, and its findings at first be made available to limited circles only; there is a demand for amnesty of political prisoners—and some sort of a public control over ‘places of detention and psychiatric institutions’. (There is no call for a complete abolition of these euphemistically named political prisons and labour camps.) The authors express a pious hope that their plan may be ‘acceptable’ to the Party and State. But there is no time to lose. Apart from internal dangers, there is also a threat from the East, from ‘militant Chinese nationalism’. This makes Russia’s industrial development even more pressing, because ‘We must increase or at least maintain our significant preponderance over China’. However, further on we read that in the epoch of nuclear weapons salvation lies in ‘international co-operation’ in scientific research, and rapprochement in economic, cultural, technical and even ideological fields (generically phrased but clearly with the West). To avoid the ‘dangers of slipping and sliding to the right and