Some four to five years ago the international situation was still a source of serious anxiety to all who cared for peace, democracy and socialism. The enormous scale of the continuous American intervention in Indochina, the incursion of the Warsaw Pact troops into the territory of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, the new Berlin crisis, the armed skirmishes on the Soviet-Chinese border, the acceleration of the arms race all over the world—all these were exacerbating international tensions to the utmost, and encouraging reactionary and extremist forces in every country. Major efforts were needed to change the trend of world events. Today, we know that such efforts were made and that they have achieved quite impressive results. We shall not enumerate here all the agreements and treaties which have critically altered the international atmosphere. It should not be overlooked, however, that the progress of détente over the last three years has been neither smooth nor easy. Initiatives of the ussr have played a very significant role in furthering it. We can assume that the development of the Soviet ‘peace offensive’ provoked serious disagreements among our leaders.
The main reason for the elimination of Shelest, for example, was certainly not because of his ‘nationalist’ errors, but because of his objections to Nixon’s trip to the ussr in 1972. The pensioning-off of Voronov from the Politbureau was another major setback to rightist circles within our leadership.
International détente was not, of course, the outcome of the Soviet peace offensive alone. It was made possible by mutual concessions, and readiness to compromise on both sides. It is plain that in the Western countries this readiness for compromise likewise emerged only after prolonged and acute political conflicts. The diminution of international tension created conditions not only for limiting increases in strategic armaments, but also for reducing the military establishments of all the great powers and of many smaller countries, and thereby for accelerating the peaceful economic development of every continent. The improvement of relations between the largest powers on the planet has thus proceeded not at the expense of other countries and nations; it benefits all mankind.
In the past, the state of armed confrontation between the Great Powers, the ‘Cold War’ and the debased anti-Soviet and anti-Western propaganda which they exchanged, in no way helped to overcome the remnants of Stalinist totalitarianism nor to foster democratic reforms in the ussr. Today, however, we can likewise see that international détente and development of trade and other forms of co-operation do not automatically lead to changes in the political climate in the Soviet Union, to the growth of democratic freedoms, or to respect for the political and civic rights of the individual, either.
No country in the world has in this century undergone such dramatic and contradictory experiences as the Soviet Union. It was therefore natural that even the insignificant and limited degree of democratization which could be observed in our country between 1961 and 1967, awoke among thinking elements in our society the most diverse political currents, both within the framework of Marxism and without it. Although these trends involved only a minimal fraction of our intelligentsia, this awakening of political thought alarmed the Right within the leadership of the cpsu. This wing of the party is composed of functionaries promoted and formed in the epoch when Soviet society was plunged in utter political passivity and silence, when administrative rather than political methods, coercion rather than persuasion, were used to rule the country.
Various measures to constrict freedom of political discussion within the ussr were introduced by 1967 and at the beginning of 1968. They were notably tightened after August 1968. All political tendencies, ‘left’ as well as ‘right’, were attacked, although in differing degree; in recent years, for instance, the most blatant manifestations of Russian chauvinism and open exaltations of Stalin have also been condemned. Subsequent foreign policy successes of the Soviet Union and the slackening of international tension did not put a stop to the assault on ‘dissenters’.
In many respects, the pressure against dissent even increased; political trends that had only just started to emerge were stifled and social thought repressed. A considerable number of people, who had much to say, were forced into silence as they were not prepared to put at risk their own apparent freedom or the well-being of their relatives and friends.