William James was much concerned about “faith-tendencies,” which he defined as “extremely active psychological forces, constantly outstripping evidence.” The Gorbachev era fully confirms his apprehensions. The eminent psychologist even constructed a seven-rung “faith-ladder”:
1. There is nothing absurd in a certain view of the
world being true, nothing self-contradictory;
2. It might have been true under certain conditions;
3. It may be true, even now;
4. It is fit to be true;
5. It ought to be true;
6. It must be true;
7. It shall be true; at any rate for me.
James’ faith-ladder has never been more in evidence than over the last six years since Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union; True, there has been a bit more caution in the West about Gorbachev than there was about Stalin. But not very much.
The “faith-tendencies” that troubled James reached the zaniest heights on the New York Times editorial page. In a piece of prose that might even embarrass a Pravda paranymph, the Times wrote on December 8, 1988, in praise of a Gorbachev speech at the United Nations:
Perhaps not since Woodrow Wilson presented his fourteen points in 1918 or since Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill promulgated the Atlantic Charter in 1941 has a world figure demonstrated the vision Mikhail Gorbachev displayed yesterday at the United Nations . . . Breath-taking. Risky. Bold. Naive. Diversionary. Heroic. All fit.
And as if that wasn’t worshipful enough, the Times rhapsodized on May 21, 1989:
Imagine that an alien spaceship approached Earth and sent the message: “Take me to your leader.” Who would that be? Without doubt, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.
Well, you sort of expect that sort of wilding on the Times editorial page. (Have you read Anna Quindlen, the newest Times columnist, on the second war of the Persian Gulf?) One expects Ted Turner to say: “Gorbachev has probably moved more quickly than any person in the history of the world. Moving faster than Jesus Christ did. America is always lagging six months behind.” But far more sensible people also developed a faith, if not in Gorbachev himself, then in his reformist intentions.
At a time when the Soviet economy is dead in the water, when a majority of its republics are seeking their freedom from the Kremlin, former Prime Minister Thatcher told a Washington audience on March 8:
We should not underestimate the future reforming zeal of a man who allowed Eastern Europe to grasp its freedom; who has begun the withdrawal of Soviet troops, accepted arms reduction for the first time; and cut support for communist insurgencies across the world. We have to go on doing business with him. In the same way, he has to do business with the democratic reformers if he is to succeed.
Second, we have to stress to the Soviets just how essential private property is to freedom. History teaches that human rights will not long survive without property rights; nor will prosperity be achieved without them.
To say that nothing has changed in the Soviet Union would be false. But to say that the fundamentals of Soviet power have changed would be equally false. There can be no question that the Soviet Union is today an amazingly different country—and for the better—than it was in 1985. Few predicted German unification. Few predicted as much freedom of emigration or speech or press as was the case until recently when Gorbachev ordered a crackdown. Few predicted that the Soviet leadership would seek some genuine legitimacy for its monolithic rule as Gorbachev did through the recently concluded national referendum. Yet we now see that Gorbachev’s “reforming zeal” is ebbing fast as the KGB, the military, the party bureaucracy reassert themselves to prevent what would to those pillars of power be the ultimate blow—the dissolution of the Soviet system of rule. Without that dissolution, either Gorbachev’s “reforming zeal” will come to an untimely end or, equally likely, Gorbachev himself will.
Annelise Anderson, a sharp-eyed economist and a Hoover colleague with whom I am normally in agreement, recently published in the Christian Science Monitor an op-ed piece that the paper titled: “Perestroika: An Obituary.” Her theme was that the passing of perestroika represented “an opportunity to reflect on a life.” But that’s just the point. While glasnost did have some life (because, as we are seeing, it is reversible), perestroika had none. Had Gorbachev provided an equivalent break with the past economically as he seemed to be doing politically, the Soviet Union might by now have been on the road to long-term recovery. To break with the Soviet economic past means giving up Marxism-Leninism. That faith, Gorbachev has said over and over again, he will not surrender. So long as Gorbachev acts as a Communist, as a Marxist-Leninist, perestroika is a buzzword. Therefore, an obituary for perestroika is an obituary for a phantom.
What Mrs. Thatcher, Mrs. Anderson, the New York Times, and Ted Turner do not face is that there is no way Gorbachev’s “reforming zeal” can turn a system with a record of seven decades of failure—socially, intellectually. environmentally, economically, politically—into an achieving society. All the tricks, the speeches, the “going down to the people” stunts, the summits, the easing of political burdens, glasnost, perestroika, the dog and pony shows—have served to demonstrate the unworkability of the Soviet system even under the Gorbachevian best of circumstances. As chess champion Gary Kasparov put it recently: “There is no good move in a lost match.”
Why such pessimism? (Or—realism?) Simply this: where no rule of law exists, private property rights cannot exist. A rule of law cannot exist when the state and the party, through the KGB, can invoke the most severe penalties against those citizens who, according to the KGB and the non-independent judiciary, violate the “laws” against revealing state secrets. Since the KGB defines the state secrets, the definitions can include restrictions on personal freedoms such as the freedom to publish or the freedom to buy, sell, and own property. A rule of law and a KGB are irreconcilable. The rule of law and the rule of Gorbachev are incompatible; he has not come to power in a democratic election, referendum or no. The Gorbachev propagandists have talked about establishing a rule of law, but it is all smoke and mirrors. Under a Marxist-Leninist system there simply cannot be a rule of law, a constitutional system. Therefore, no inalienable rights are possible. Gan anybody sue the Soviet government for its promulgation of the Soviet currency “reform” that made illegal notes of 50 rubles or higher?
Can anybody get an injunction to restrain the Soviet dictatorship from robbing ordinary citizens of their savings? Where is the privatization of agriculture? Where, are the promised innovations in industry? As Hilaire Belloc once wrote: “The control of the production of wealth is the control of human life itself.”
Some months ago the Soviet literary weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta reported that its legal expert, Arkadii Vaksberg, had stated that “our state has not been lawful in the true sense of the word for a single day in the whole history of its existence.” It cannot be a lawful state where a small group of men, in the name of “central planning,” decide on the allocation of scarce resources, especially investment; dictate prices regardless of cost accounting; exercise a kind of ecological despotism; ignore the sanctity of contracts; and reject privatization—where there is no accountability to elected legislative or provincial bodies empowered to alter the direction of a failed economy. What passes or has passed for perestroika is the old system with a snazzy maquillage, but food and now even bread lines tell the true story: socialism/communism (or central planning) and liberty cannot coexist.
The only true perestroika must be anti-Marxist, anti-Leninist, anti-Stalinist, and anti-Gorbachevist. Gorbachev says over and over again that he is a Marxist-Leninist, but victims of “faith-tendencies” pay no attention. Gorbachev is well-described in something Leo Tolstoy wrote at the turn of the century:
I am sitting on a man’s back, choking him and demanding that he carry me, and without getting off him, I assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to alleviate his condition by all possible means except by getting off his back.