Mr. Navrozov is a serious man and his political concerns, no matter how improbable they may appear, must be taken seriously. He believes, first, what has been happening in the Soviet Union since March 1985, namely its visible decomposition, is a KGB disinformation achievement, that the “collapse of communism” (he puts the phrase in quotation marks) is what he calls a “mass fiction,” that perestroika is a “Trojan horse” and that Eastern Europe “has not been set free.” We are in a new era, the era of what he calls “superdetente.” Second, he believes the KGB has fooled the press media and leading scholars of Soviet politics like Robert Conquest and Walter Laqueur, academic Sovietologists, and publicists—like Barbara Amiel—into thinking that communism has been overthrown in the ex-U.S.S.R.
Playing on the opening words of The Communist Manifesto, he writes: “A spectre is haunting Europe. It is the spectre of anti-communism.” By which he means not what we think it means, but rather that the seeming anticommunism in the ex-U.S.S.R. is really a KGB-created fraud. Mr. Navrozov says it “can be proven that Andropov was the greatest ‘anti-communist’ since Stalin who was the greatest ‘anti-communist’ of them all if only by virtue of his clear understanding of ideology’s function in a brave new world that awards its criminals no prizes unless whole nations are their victims.” I looked in vain for proof of these statements in Mr. Navrozov’s pages. I see no possibility of empirical verification of his speculations or opinions disguised as fact. A confession or a defection by a KGB disinformation conspirator might be evidence, but how would we know if the confession were genuine? All Cretans are liars, said the Cretan.
And when Mr. Navrozov does undertake to talk about matters that can be subjected to empirical analysis, I find his conclusions unacceptable. Mr. Navrozov says “Russia is years ahead of the West in military applications of its space technology.” How can this be? The Soviets simply do not have modern computer, radar, or sensor technology for advanced surveillance. In the past, the Soviets launched lots of satellites, but they only lasted a few months before they became space junk. The Russians have been unable to make a viable space shuttle, which in itself shows a certain technical retardation. They can put people into space for long periods of time, but such achievements are of little military significance.
Mr. Navrozov concedes that “the role of the Communist Party in Russia, and even more plainly in Eastern Europe, has been genuinely curtailed.” But he then asks, “Does this mean, however, that the fulfillment of the totalitarian strategy continues no longer, or that the strategy is any less global?” Let us agree that fulfillment of the global totalitarian strategy is still a priority; so what? If the role of the Communist Party has been genuinely curtailed, then the fact that there are some conspiratorial remnants of the old regime still around—and there are as I will show—is not necessarily a cause for panic. All societies have such scum about. As Norman Cohn wrote in Warrant for Genocide: “[T]here exists a subterranean world, where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and half-educated fanatics. There are times when that underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people. And it occasionally happens that this subterranean world becomes a political power and changes the course of history.”
Yegor Ligachev, an early victim of perestroika, wants a return to communism and a global triumph for his Utopia. He has said so openly, but is the success of such a project at all likely? Is it possible that Ligachev or the Pamyat crowd are going to fascinate, capture, and dominate the Russian, Ukrainian, or Byelorussian people as Hitler once did the German people or Mussolini the Italians? Hardly. But Mr. Ligachev isn’t the only true believer around. With delight, Roy Medvedev told the official U.S. communist weekly last fall: “In most of the country, Communists are still in power, because there is no other structure. About two-thirds of the country is still run by the Communists. They are not advertising it, but the old structure still basically continues.”
Mr. Navrozov is concerned, as we all must be, whether the new Commonwealth of Independent States can be trusted, whether its leaders, all former Communists, have really surrendered their Marxism-Leninism and are today believing and practicing democrats. The history of the last 74 years, it can be argued and as I have written, gives the West little reason for trusting what was the Soviet Union. But today there is no Soviet Union; in fact, there hasn’t been a Soviet Union since the August 19 putsch, which obviously backfired, regardless whether it actually was a ploy by Gorbachev. Mr. Gorbachev is out and Mr. Yeltsin is in, or was that what was always intended by the KGB disinformationists? I don’t ask this question scornfully. There are informed people in Russia who believe that Mr. Gorbachev plotted the coup against himself with consequences unforeseen by the conspirators. Vladimir Bukovsky has written: “Many in Moscow believe that Gorbachev was much more actively involved in the so-called coup, if not the mastermind behind it. As quite a few cynics would point out, he had very good reasons to want his immediate subordinates to stage a ‘coup.'” Talk about another coup is still heard in Moscow.
Russian television now routinely runs documentaries about the execution of the Romanovs, Stalin’s bloody collectivization program, the purge trials. According to David Remnick, Russian journals and newspapers detail historical damage reports and how many people were shot and imprisoned; how many churches, mosques, and synagogues were destroyed. Can this really be a KGB disinformation campaign? When Mr. Navrozov writes that “all information originating within a totalitarian state is deception,” the question then arises: is there a Soviet state, and if Mr. Navrozov says yes, then what is there about it today that is totalitarian? Or is its seeming pluralism a deception? Yet doubts that all is on the up-and-up with the new republics cannot easily be suppressed. We shall have to wait and see. During World War II, there was a great elation in the West when Stalin announced the dissolution of the Comintern. Yet he managed quite well from 1945 on without the Comintern to pursue communist expansion westward.
Mr. Navrozov is on surer ground when he criticizes “Sovietology.” This subdisciplihe in the social sciences was the postwar creation of two hardheaded American academics—Philip Moseley of Columbia and Merle Fainsod of Harvard—and Leonard Schapiro of the London School of Economics. The researches and writings of these three men inspired future Sovietologists like Robert Conquest, Walter Laqueur, and others. They were the best and the brightest in their field, and it is precisely these academics whom Mr. Navrozov singles out for derision. If Mr. Navrozov is correct that Messrs. Conquest and Laqueur have been taken in by a KGB conspiracy, what can account for the fact that these tough-minded historians who were not taken in during the Stalinist and post-Stalinist decades seem now to have lost their heads in the Gorbachevshchina? Have men like Jean-François Revel, Vladimir Bukovsky, Richard Pipes, and Adam Ulam also been taken in by the KGB? But there are Sovietologists and Sovietologists. Men like Jerry Hough, Stephen Cohen, Moshe Lewin, Arch Getty, and Marshall Shulman, among others (as well as, lest we forget, the CIA analysts who woefully underestimated Soviet arms expenditures) represent one of the great intellectual failures of the century. It is my hope that someday a study will be made of the tendentious research findings and monographic literature of this pro-Soviet school of Sovietology. But to sneer that the current crop of “Sovietologists expect the new Stalin to smoke a pipe and sport a mustache” is downright silly.
Mr. Navrozov fails in one important regard, a failure that makes his pamphlet valueless. He neglects to supply us with any criteria for judging what events in Russia would confirm or disprove his thesis. In other words, what would have to happen in Russia to compel Mr. Navrozov to say, “I’ve been wrong; Conquest is right”? If everything—including German unification, the opening up of secret archives, the decomposition of the Soviet Union; indeed, all that has happened since March 12, 1985, when Mr. Gorbachev came to office—is part of a KGB conspiracy, what would be needed to persuade Mr. Navrozov to rethink his conclusions? Or is everything that happens in the ex-U.S.S.R. proof of the KGB conspiracy? In any case, opinions are not data. Metaphysics is not empirical proof. John Bunzel has put it neatly: “[A]ny proposition that is not capable of being refuted is not scientifically acceptable.”
Let me end on a personal note, I was a hard-line skeptic about events in Russia for a very long time, as many of my columns in the Washington Times will confirm. As far as I was concerned, Mr. Gorbachev was guilty till proven innocent. He still hasn’t been proven innocent especially, inter alia, in respect to the killings in Lithuania and Georgia before the civil war broke out. But with the failure of the August coup I became convinced (or was I taken in?) that there was no going back to communism or to KGB conspiracies against the free world. I still think a wait-and-see attitude about events in the new Commonwealth is fully justified. But that is a far cry from saying that fulfillment of the KGB’s global totalitarian strategy is still the aim of those who are now the country’s political elite, or that there is an invisible elite behind the visible one and an invisible elite behind that, and another behind it, and another . . .
[The Coming Order: Reflections on Sovietology and the Media, by Andrei Navrozov (London: The Claridge Press) 59 pp., £3.99]