Joseph Finder: Red Carpet; New Republic/Holt, Rinehart & Winston; New York

by Henry L. Mason III

One of the most persistent sources of confusion among educated Americans is the failure to realize that the Soviet Union’s relations with the outside world are conducted on levels which do not correspond to those of democratic societies. On Good Morning, America, for example, David Hartman recently described Stanislav Menshikov, a functionary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, as a foreign policy “advisor” to the Soviet government. In reality, the Central Committee’s apparat “advises” the Soviet government in precisely the same way that Edgar Bergen acted as adviser to Charlie McCarthy. A Communist dictator:


can ignore the [Politbureau] and fail to call plenums of the Central Committee and Congresses of the Party, and nothing will happen to him as long as he relies on the Central Committee’s secretariat, but once he starts acting over the head of the secretariat he’s done for; the secretariat directly controls the Party, the political police and the armed forces (A. Avtork­hanov, Tekhnologiya Vlasti [The Technology of Power](3rd ed., Frankfurt, 1976), p. 711).


Thus, in the Soviet Union the dominating institution—the Bolshevik superego, as it were—is the hierarchically structured (“democratic centralist”) Communist Party; this body also handles relations with Communist and other “fraternal” parties abroad. The second level, which can be thought of as the ego or external personality of the U.S.S.R., is the Soviet government, which signs treaties, operates embassies, and engages in the manifold diplomatic activities of a modern state. Finally, the Soviet id is made up of numerous agencies (“all-union foreign trade associations”), whose purpose is to engage in commercial activities necessary to satisfy the perennially frustrated Soviet economy. Each of these three levels is in turn supported by the Soviet propaganda and espionage apparatus (press, broadcast media, and KGB), as well as by the Soviet armed forces when required.

Westerners are constantly surprised to discover that Soviet behavior on one level does not necessarily imply corresponding behavior on another;indeed,it is a basic principle of Soviet policy that normal diplomatic and commercial relations with capitalist states are perfectly consistent with revolutionary subversion directed against them. Despite repeated lessons over more than 60 years, Americans still find it hard to believe that the purpose of all levels of Soviet society is to serve the Communist apparatus and not the other way around.

Red Carpet is about the effects of this failure on a number of Americans who have been prominently associated with Communist commerce. Although Finder does not attempt to describe the overall dimensions of Soviet trade with the West, its importance to the U.S.S.R. can be judged by a brief summary which recently appeared in Pravda (October 5, 1983):


From the developed capitalist countries the U.S.S.R. purchases equipment for the chemical, metallurgical, and other branches of industry and for the agro-industrial complex, as well as machines and installations for drilling, boring and geological prospecting, lifting and transport equipment, highway-construction vehicles and appliances. We also obtain licenses on new technological processes and equipment. In addition, we import from those countries pipes, rolled ferrous metals, alumina, bauxite, chemical products, consumer goods, grain and food-stuffs.


Not to mention truck factories, computer technology stolen from Silicon Valley, and, as Red Carpet reminds us, Pepsi-Cola. Nor is this a new phenomenon; it has been estimated that well over 90 percent of Soviet industrial enterprises were built with varying amounts of Western assistance, equipment, or technology.

Given the unblushing and implacable hostility of the Soviet Union toward the capitalist world, why would any American businessman trade with it? Red Carpet uses five examples (Armand Hammer, Cyrus Eaton, Averell Harriman, Donald Kendall, and David Rockefeller) to provide five answers, ideology, eccentricity, cupidity, vanity, and stupidity. It is a striking fact, moreover, that none of the major figures in Soviet- American trade seems to have made much money at it; Finder’s book is in large part a description of how the Bolsheviks used American businessmen for their own political, diplomatic, and financial purposes. As Alexander Todorsky, an early “proletarian” writer whose views Lenin admired, put it in 1918:

Rapping the exploiters on the knuckles and rendering them harmless is only half the battle. The job will be done when we put them to work, and by the work of their hands we will be able to make our new life better and strengthen the Soviet power.

Since the early 1920’s the most persistent and obtrusive example of an American tout for Bolshevik business has been Armand Hammer (“indubitably the Kremlin’s favorite capitalist”). Finder devastatingly recounts Hammer’s career of dissimulation which began when his father’s Communist connections led to a brief meeting with Lenin in 1921, and which reached its twilight only with the death of Leonid Brezhnev. Hammer’s wheelings and dealings with the Bolshevik leadership constitute 60 years’ proof of the principle (bluntly stated by a Chekist defector as long ago as 1931) that the Soviet Union dispenses economic favor in return for political assistance; any doubt that Hammer has consciously lied to serve the Bolshevik cause can hardly survive his comparison of Lenin with Christ, his characterization of Leonid Brezhnev as “kind, human and warm-hearted,” and his fantastic description of Mikhail Suslov as “a scholarly-looking individual with a kindly smile and an … intelligent face.” Hammer isnot describing St. Francis of Assisi, but a hideous Stalinist living mummy whose only known contribution to human happiness was the joy that he caused by dying; when he finally did die at the age of 80, the émigré writer Alexander Zinoviev celebrated the event with an article entitled “At Last!”

Suslov was the ideological symbol of Soviet society. He did not create the ideology. His contribution to the ideology was precisely zero. But not withstanding this fact his role in Soviet ideology was enormous. He was the spirit and personification of the ideological machine which attained monstrous dimensions in the Soviet Union after the Second World War. This machine was characterized by formalism, tedium, drabness, creative infertility and, despite these characteristics or even because of them, by a vast capacity to manipulate millions of people by lobotomizing their consciousness into conformity. Suslov was equal to the machine; it is impossible to dig up a single Marxist ideologue more mediocre than he was. He was beyond all comparison the most outstandingly undistinguished of all the superlatively undistinguished Soviet ideologists. He was a spectacular proof of the fact that among the Soviet leadership even creatures who are at most half alive and at least half demented can play a decisive role. He was perhaps the most powerful goose-egg among all the nullities who hold power in the Soviet system. (A Zinoviev, Ni Svobody, ni Ravenstva, ni Bratstva [Neither Liberty nor Equality nor Fraternity]. (Lausanne, 1983) p. 68.

In comparison with Hammer’s detest­ able conduct, the antics of Finder’s other “heroes” are merely contemptible rather than repulsive. Cyrus Eaton, an “inveterate iconoclast” and congenital eccentric, promoted the Pugwash Conferences for Western-Soviet fraternization largely from personal spite at the U.S. government and lust to possess the Nobel Peace Prize (he had to be content with the Lenin Peace Prize). Averell Harriman, by contrast, periodically nourished the vain delusion that commerce would moderate Bolshevik rapacity. Donald Kendall wanted to see Pepsi-Cola in the U.S.S.R. largely because Coke hadn’t gotten around to it, and also because he was flattered by the lavish attentions of the Bolshevik tyrants (one of the weirdest illustrations in the book is a picture of the PepsiCo Board of Directors meeting in Novorossisk under a portrait of Lenin ). And David Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan Bank financed the Kama River truck plant, which built the vehicles used by Soviet troops in Afghanistan, apparently for no better reason than that the Soviets wanted the factory and the Export-Import Bank had also agreed to help.

The disdain the Bolsheviks felt for the fawning barons of American business is abundantly shown by their selection of Anastas Mikoyan as Minister of Foreign Trade to deal with their gullible visitors; Mikoyan’s influence on policy was as close to nonexistent as any senior Bolsheviks could have been (“We let him stay on in the leadership,” Khrushchev once remarked, “because he dances the lezginka beautifully”). Among the numerous jokes the Soviets have told about Mikoyan for almost 50 years—one of the few which is not obscene—describes how a group of workers and peasants petitioned the Academy of Sciences to remove the letter “m” from the Russian alphabet on the ground of superfluity; in support of their petition they submitted the following explanation:

We have no money. Maize and meal do not exist. There’s no meat, no milk, no macaroni, and no margarine. There are no manufactured goods. All there is is Mikoyan, and Mikoyan is no reason to have a separate letter of the alphabet.

It is utterly characteristic that Cyrus Eaton once described Mikoyan as “an extremely clever man with very wide experience with humanity” and a “tremendous understanding of history” (as Tolstoy once remarked about another Westerner who thought he would make his fortune in Russia: “Quos vult perderedementat”). Under such circumstances, it is perhaps less than surprising that the Bolsheviks had no trouble exploiting Eaton and the other capitalist cretins for their own ends; Lenin had little doubt that bourgeois culture would produce idiots eager to advance their own destruction:

We cannot build Communism from any materials other than those created by capitalism, or from any cultural apparatus other than that which is perverted by the bourgeois environment and which is therefore inevitably permeated—once discussion turns to the human material which forms part of any cultural apparatus—with bourgeois psychology. In this fact lies the difficulty of constructing the Communist society, but in this fact is found also the guarantee that it can and will be built successfully.

Red Carpet, depressing as it is, performs the useful service of making apparent to Americans what the Bolsheviks have always known about the character and intelligence of their groveling commercial suitors.