Posts tagged with: gorbachev

This is a book review by Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse, president of the American Orthodox Institute. He blogs at AOI’s Observer. This review will appear in the forthcoming Spring 2012 Religion & Liberty. Sign up here for a free digital subscription to R&L.

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Roads to the Temple: Truth, Memory, Ideas, and Ideals in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991. By Leon Aron (Yale University Press, June 2012). 496 pages

Review: The Second Russian Revolution (1987-1991)

Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse

“There are different ways to understand how revolutions work,” writes Leon Aron in his new book Roads to the Temple: Truth, Memory, Ideas, and the Ideals in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991 that chronicles the collapse of Soviet Communism during Glasnost from 1987-1991. The most dominant is structuralism, an approach that draws from Marxist thought and sees the state as the central actor in social revolutions. In the structuralist view revolutions are not made, they happen.

Aron explains that structuralism has some merit because of its chronological linearity. It can reveal the events that lead from point A to B to C; an important function because the historian’s first step is to grasp what actually happened. But structuralism also has a grave flaw: the materialist assumptions (“objective factors”) informing it are deaf to the “enormously subversive influence of ideas.” (more…)

I want to second Marc’s article recommendation from earlier today. The phrase “a must read” is badly overworked, but in this case I can’t help myself: Claire Berlinski’s A Hidden History of Evil in the latest City Journal is a must-read. A few excerpts:

Communism was responsible for the deaths of some 150 million human beings during the twentieth century. The world remains inexplicably indifferent and uncurious about the deadliest ideology in history.

For evidence of this indifference, consider the unread Soviet archives. Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile in London, has on his computer 50,000 unpublished, untranslated, top-secret Kremlin documents, mostly dating from the close of the Cold War. He stole them in 2003 and fled Russia. Within living memory, they would have been worth millions to the CIA; they surely tell a story about Communism and its collapse that the world needs to know. Yet he can’t get anyone to house them in a reputable library, publish them, or fund their translation. In fact, he can’t get anyone to take much interest in them at all.

Then there’s Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who once spent 12 years in the USSR’s prisons, labor camps, and psikhushkas—political psychiatric hospitals—after being convicted of copying anti-Soviet literature. He, too, possesses a massive collection of stolen and smuggled papers from the archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which, as he writes, “contain the beginnings and the ends of all the tragedies of our bloodstained century.” These documents are available online at bukovsky-archives.net, but most are not translated. They are unorganized; there are no summaries; there is no search or index function. “I offer them free of charge to the most influential newspapers and journals in the world, but nobody wants to print them,” Bukovsky writes. “Editors shrug indifferently: So what? Who cares?”

Stroilov claims that his documents “tell a completely new story about the end of the Cold War.” … They suggest, for example, that the architects of the European integration project, as well as many of today’s senior leaders in the European Union, were far too close to the USSR for comfort. This raises important questions about the nature of contemporary Europe….

According to Zagladin’s reports, for example, Kenneth Coates, who from 1989 to 1998 was a British member of the European Parliament, approached Zagladin on January 9, 1990, to discuss what amounted to a gradual merger of the European Parliament and the Supreme Soviet.

Zagladin’s records also note that the former leader of the British Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, approached Gorbachev—unauthorized, while Kinnock was leader of the opposition—through a secret envoy to discuss the possibility of halting the United Kingdom’s Trident nuclear-missile program.

“We now have the EU unelected socialist party running Europe,” Stroilov said to me. “Bet the KGB can’t believe it.”

Bukovsky’s book about the story that these documents tell, Jugement à Moscou, has been published in French, Russian, and a few other Slavic languages, but not in English. Random House bought the manuscript and, in Bukovsky’s words, tried “to force me to rewrite the whole book from the liberal left political perspective.” …

In France, news about the documents showing Mitterrand’s and Gorbachev’s plans to turn Germany into a dependent socialist state prompted a few murmurs of curiosity, nothing more. Bukovsky’s vast collection about Soviet sponsorship of terrorism, Palestinian and otherwise, remains largely unpublished.

No one talks much about the victims of Communism. No one erects memorials to the throngs of people murdered by the Soviet state….

Indeed, many still subscribe to the essential tenets of Communist ideology. Politicians, academics, students, even the occasional autodidact taxi driver still stand opposed to private property. Many remain enthralled by schemes for central economic planning. Stalin, according to polls, is one of Russia’s most popular historical figures. No small number of young people in Istanbul, where I live, proudly describe themselves as Communists; I have met such people around the world, from Seattle to Calcutta.

The full 3000-word essay is here. It’s well worth the time.

As a former disarmament policy analyst for the Holy See in New York and in Vatican City, I was recently asked to comment on its position on nuclear disarmament by the National Catholic Register; the article can be found here. The reason for raising the issue now was a Nobel laureates’ peace conference in Rome hosted by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

The article describes the Holy See’s views as mainly expressed by Canadian Senator Douglas Roche, who also served on the Holy See delegation to several United Nations disarmament meetings. I would like to use this post, however, to expand on some aspects that the article only mentions briefly.

While the Holy See has the official status of a state, it does not pretend to be a state like any other; its status is primarily meant to protect the religious freedom and independence of the pope. So it cannot be said that the Holy See has any kind of political expertise in the disarmament field. After all, it hasn’t had to disarm itself and Vatican City is protected by Italian, NATO and US forces in the area. The Holy See’s mission here is to serve as a moral conscience, not as a political example to other states.

The Holy See seeks to exercise its moral authority in matters of war and peace, offering, over the centuries, its good offices to mediate a peaceful resolution of conflicts between states. But the Holy See’s position is not “pacifist”, i.e. avoiding war at all costs. For the most part, it recognizes the larger moral and strategic aspects of international relations while trying to avoid unnecessary slaughter and destruction.

The NCR article correctly notes that in 1982, Pope John Paul II linked the moral acceptability of deterrence to progress towards nuclear disarmament; this linkage is also the basis for the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Yet the background for this linkage – the real possibility of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union – is neglected. In fact, most observers (Gorbachev included) now admit that the nuclear arms race contributed to or accelerated the demise of the Soviet Union, and hence the passing of the threat of a nuclear war between two ideological foes.

When John Paul II granted some moral acceptability to nuclear deterrence, he did so in the face of extreme opposition from European and American pacifists, including some Church leaders who thought the US, UK and France should disarm unilaterally. Incredible as it may seem, the possession of nuclear arms by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher was considered a greater threat to peace. Vatican officials, however, were more sensible and aware of the menace posed by the USSR.

The Soviet Union is no more. As a result, the US and Russia did agree to greatly reduce their nuclear arsenals. September 11, 2001 changed strategic calculations, and especially nuclear proliferation concerns. North Korea and Iran are the most worrying of these, but there are many others, including the spread of nuclear materials to terrorist groups. But, once again, the no-nukes movement has decided to make the US the focus of its disarmament rally.

Perhaps this is because most of the nuclear abolitionists live in societies that allow them to criticize their governments openly and freely. There are no North Korean or Iranian equivalents of Senator Roche. In fact, the nature of the political regime should be more worrying than the possession of nuclear weapons. To think about the nature of such regimes is not to automatically praise one’s own over others; rather it is the beginning of political wisdom.

The opposite tendency is to deny all political responsibility and cede such authority to tyrants and terrorists. International relations would then be a field for “realist experts” who shun moral reflection and argue that “anything goes” in war. It would also describe mainstream foreign policy thought in the West.

In our age of moral relativism, it is tempting to say no regime is better any other, but it is also nonsensical. Instead, we need more reflection on what makes a good society and how a good society should carry out its foreign relations. No country can live in splendid isolation from today’s threats, just as no country can ignore today’s globalized economy. In international relations as in other human endeavors, the challenge is carrying out our moral responsibilities without losing our soul.