Mini Teaser: America is at war, and its citizens are understandably fixated upon events in the Persian Gulf.

by Author(s): John B. Dunlop

What position should the West take toward the current Soviet crackdown?  The first and essential conclusion is that the time to "help Gorby" has long passed.  As the noted Soviet democrat Tatyana Zaslavskaya recently put it, Gorbachev "has exhausted his resources as a reformer....He doesn't want those changes that are the logical extension of what he started."(5)  Gavriil Popov, the reformist mayor of Moscow, expressed it more graphically: "There is an effect in astronomy known as the burnt-out star.  After the star burns out, planets far away still receive its light and believe it is still there."(6)  Gorbachev will not again emerge as a reformer, and the West must cease paying homage to the author of a bloody crackdown.  Rather than "helping Gorby," it should be helping those republics committed to democracy and market reform in their severe struggle against a resurgent neo-totalitarian center.

The West understandably welcomed the reforms associated with glasnost and democratization, and it was proper to help an innovator perceived as moving his country in the direction of pluralism and the free market.  It is just as logical that the West should penalize a dictator who has now turned his back on his own reforms.  In words which Andrei Sakharov penned during the last year of his life:

...the West should encourage the process of perestroika, cooperating with the USSR on disarmament and economic, scientific and cultural issues.  But support should be given with "eyes wide open," not unconditionally.  The opponents of perestroika should understand that their triumph, and a retreat from reform, would mean the immediate termination of Western assistance.(7)

The ranks of these opponents now include Gorbachev.

As the short-term prospects for democracy in the Soviet Union look grim, it is all the more important to stress that the historical tide is strongly in favor of liberalization.  Given any serious measure of resolution on the part of the West, the chances that Milosz's "wounded totalitarian beast" can prevail are slight.  Not only will its commitment to a command economy ensure a deepening impoverishment, but it will also be a totalitarianism built around an ideological void.  On August 25, 1968, following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, seven brave dissidents conducted a sit-down demonstration on Execution Place in Red Square.  Six of them were promptly arrested and a seventh was given a forensic-psychiatric examination and declared to be of unsound mind.  On January 20, 1991, by contrast, a crowd of 100,000 marched to the Kremlin to protest the Baltic bloodletting, shouting "Dictatorship won't do!"  The populace has unquestionably come a long way since 1968.  It is the moral and creative forces which have been released in the Soviet Union over the past six years which represent the ultimate pledge of renewal and which must eventually emerge supreme.

John B. Dunlop is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace in Stanford, CA.

1. Los Angeles Times, January 14, 1991.

2. Trud, December 27, 1990.

3. While leading Soviet officials avoid discussing this controversial scheme in public, it has been aired in several major articles in the Soviet press.  See for example, the pieces by Vladimir Sokolov in Literaturnaya Gazeta, August 2, 1989, and Vladimir Tarasov in Literaturnaya Rossiya, November 30, 1990.

4. New York Times, January 15, 1991.

5. Wall Street Journal, January 28, 1991.

6. Boston Globe, January 30, 1991.

7. Moscow and Beyond, 1986-1989 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 13.

Essay Types: Essay