A Gloomy View of the USSR


A Gloomy View of the USSR An Empire Loses Hope: The Return of Stalin's Ghost By Anatole Shub W W Norton 474 pp $10 00 Reviewed by Richard Pipes Professor of History, Director, Russian Research...

...A Gloomy View of the USSR An Empire Loses Hope: The Return of Stalin's Ghost By Anatole Shub W W Norton 474 pp $10 00 Reviewed by Richard Pipes Professor of History, Director, Russian Research Center, Harvard University Anatole Shub has spent seven years in Eastern Europe, mostly as a correspondent for the Washington Post In the spring of 1969 he was expelled from the Soviet Union—apparently because the authorities disapproved of his close contacts with a group of outspoken intellectual dissidents—and immediately afterward he published a series of articles on the domestic situation there Later collected in one volume, The New Russian Tragedy, these pieces attracted considerable attention because their gloomy portrayal of Soviet internal conditions contrasted sharply with the prevailing Western impression of slow but steady amelioration An Empire Loses Hope is a more ambitious effort The theme remains the same the inexorable re-Stalin-rzation of the Soviet Union and its dependencies But here this is set against an historic background and viewed in all its ramifications The Soviet bloc is treated as an entity, in which every significant occurrence produces instant repercussions among each of the constituent states Tito's relations with Moscow, the trial of an alleged American spy in Bulgaria, Solzhenitsyn's struggle with censorship, economic reform m Prague—all are seen as part and parcel of the same historical process The last third of the book—by far the most interesting part—concentrates on the repression of intellectuals in the Soviet Union and the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia These the author believes to be intimately linked, a climax to the re-Stahmzation of the Communist empire It the effort does not quite come off, it is because this book is somewhat disorganized and perhaps over-ambitious The structure is puzzling It is difficult to tell when Shub is following the logic of events and when the accidents of his journalistic assignments Like an amateur filmmaker, he tends to strive for effect by indiscriminately pding up snatches of ideas, incidents and flashbacks The chaotic kaleidoscope makes for rough going—at least until the gripping story of Czechoslovakia is presented in aa orderly and dramatic sequence, and in meaningful relationship to events withm the Soviet Union Elsewhere, there are too many East European political jokes (the lowest genre of humor, m my opinion) There are also too many gossipy references to anonymous "Soviet officials," "European travelers" or "American exchange professors" whose judgment the reader cannot evaluate Snub's excess of ambition is particularly evident in his attempt to supplement personal impressions with historical background Inevitably, references to the Middle Ages, foi instance, are sketchy, sometimes they are maccurate It is really quite unnecessary for a journalist who has seen so much to fatten up his personal observations with canned history ("While foreign occupation armies, from Suleiman the Magmfi-cant and Eugene of Savoy to the Nazis' Wehrmacht, camped m the cities of the plain ") One would prefer more of the intimately personal Only in the seventh chapter, dealing with Shub's first impressions of Russia, does the reader receive any sense of what it was like to be m Eastern Europe during the transitional, post-Khrushchevian era The author's reluctance to convey the personal diminishes the documentary value of his account I am convinced that Shub's pessimistic picture of Russia and Eastern Europe is accurate The Soviet bloc is unmistakably abandoning the more liberal course initiated by Khrushchev and reverting, if not to the insanity of Stalinism at its apogee, then to the rational repression of Stalinism at its dawn Indeed, it is difficult to see how it could have been otherwise Why should anyone have expected a system so effectively designed for exploitation to dismantle itself7 Khrushchev tried to infuse some life mto Soviet society, prostrate with exhaustion and apathy after a quaiter of a century of Stalinist rule and the bloodbath of World War II He wanted to accomplish this revitahzation withm the political and social structure created by Stalm, utilizing, m the mam, the people Stalin had put mto power (One must remember that there was no de-Stalmization of personnel m Russia, apart from a handful of top kgb officials ) The apparatus in the Soviet Union, though fearful and un-enthusiastic, carried out Khrushchev's orders, never quite ceitain how serious the authorities were In the satellites, the reforms were enforced with much greater zeal For there, under the pretext of de-Stahn-lzation, it was possible to give vent to nationalist feelings against the detested Russians, in Hungary, things even got out of control for a while But nowhere was the slightest effort made to divest the Party of its monopoly on power, to establish an independent judiciary, to give society, through control of wealth, a material base for achieving autonomy from the state De-Stalmization, in other words, was all along a bureaucratic device, whose destiny depended on the personalities and views of the bureaucracy's managers It represented no genuine alteration in the pohtical, social or economic structure of the Communist Commonwealth Only in Czechoslovakia was such an attempt made, in 1967-68, and the consequences are well known The ruling elite m the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is an upstart lower middle class that—unlike the jaded bourgeoisie of the West—knows well what is what who are its friends and who its enemies, and where its interests he The Party leaders are willing to loosen the reins of control if by so doing they can fire the spirit of the population and make it pull harder They are, however, decidedly unwilling to unhitch the beasts of burden, when the latter show signs of mistaking a loosening of the reigns for freedom, these drivers know exactly what to do Much of An Empire Loses Hope conveys the nouveau-riche vulgarity of the Communist elite, who have as little in common with the Marxist ideal as the self-indulgent monks ridiculed by Boccaccio had with the Sermon on the Mount A conversation Shub records illustrates how far the corruption has gone "A Slovenian mechanic who occasionally serviced Marshal [Tito's] car, and who had done the same for King Alexander before the War, was once asked the difference 'The King,' he replied, 'used to come up here with three cars, only one of them new The Marshal comes with sixteen, all of them new' " It is a sad story, bitterly told, which should be pondered by those who think that if we can restrain Nixon and Agnew, all will go well m this world...

Vol. 53 • December 1970 • No. 24

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