761.00/3–2046: Telegram

The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Kennan) to the Secretary of State


878. In recent days we have noted a number of statements made either editorially in American papers or individually by prominent Americans reflecting the view that Soviet “suspicions” could be assuaged if we on our part would make greater effort, by means of direct contact, persuasion or assurances, to convince Russians of good faith of our aims and policies.

I have in mind particularly numerous calls for a new three-power meeting, Philadelphia Record’s proposal that US give “assurances” to assuage Russia’s fears, Lippman’s59 appeal for closer “diplomatic contact” and, above all, Henry Wallace’s60 expressed belief (if BBC has quoted him correctly) that there is something our Government could and should do to persuade Stalin that we are not trying to form an anti-Soviet bloc. (We note many similar statements in British press.)

I am sending this message in order to tell Department of the concern and alarm with which we view line of thought behind these statements. Belief that Soviet “suspicions” are of such a nature that they could be altered or assuaged by personal contacts, rational arguments or official assurances, reflects a serious misunderstanding about Soviet realities and constitutes, in our opinion, the most insidious and dangerous single error which Americans can make in their thinking about this country.

If we are to get any long-term clarity of thought and policy on Russian matters we must recognize this very simple and basic fact: official Soviet thesis that outside world is hostile and menacing to Soviet peoples is not a conclusion at which Soviet leaders have reluctantly arrived after honest and objective appraisal of facts available to them but an a priori tactical position deliberately taken and hotly advanced by dominant elements in Soviet political system for impelling selfish reasons of a domestic political nature. (Please see again in this connection part II of my 511, February 22.) A hostile international environment is the breath of life for prevailing internal system in this country. Without it there would be no justification for that tremendous and crushing bureaucracy of party, police and army which now lives off the labor and idealism of Russian people. Thus we are faced here with a tremendous vested interest dedicated to proposition that Russia is a country walking a dangerous path among implacable [Page 722] enemies. Disappearance of Germany and Japan (which were the only real dangers) from Soviet horizon left this vested interest no choice but to build up US and United Kingdom to fill this gap. This process began even before termination of hostilities and has been assiduously and unscrupulously pursued ever since. Whether or not it has been successful with people as a whole, we are not sure. Although they are now, since publication of Stalin’s interview, highly alarmed, we are not sure they are convinced of Anglo-American wickedness. But that this agitation has created a psychosis which permeates and determines behavior of entire Soviet ruling caste is clear.

We do not know where this effort has its origin. We do not know whether Stalin himself is an author or victim of it. Perhaps he is a little of both. But we think there is strong evidence that he does not by any means always receive objective and helpful information about international situation. And as far as we can see, the entire apparatus of diplomacy and propaganda under him works not on basis of any objective analysis of world situation but squarely on basis of the preconceived party line which we see reflected in official propaganda.

I would be last person to deny that useful things have been accomplished in past and can be accomplished in future by direct contact with Stalin, especially where such contact makes it possible to correct his conceptions in matters of fact. But it would be fair neither to past nor to future Ambassadors to expect too much along this line. The cards are stacked against us. An Ambassador can, as a rule, see Stalin only relatively rarely, and even then he has to overcome a heavy handicap of skepticism and suspicion. Meanwhile Stalin is presumably constantly at disposal of a set of inside advisers of whom we know little or nothing. As far as I am aware, there is no limit to extent to which these people can fill his mind with misinformation and misinterpretations about us and our policies, and all this without our knowledge. Isolation of foreigners and (this is important to note) of high Soviet figures as well, both from each other and from rank and file of Soviet population, makes it practically impossible for foreign representatives to trace and combat the flow of deliberate misinformation and misinterpretation to which their countries are victims. Let no one think this system is fortuitous or merely traditional. Here again, we have a vested interest vitally concerned, for excellent reasons, that things should be this way, that free contact should not take place, that foreign representatives should be kept in dark and that high Soviet figures should remain generally dependent on persons whose views [Page 723] are unknown, whose activities unseen, whose influences unchallengeable because they cannot be detected.

To all this there should be added fact that suspicion is basic in Soviet Government. It affects everything and everyone. It is not confined to us. Foreign Communists in Moscow are subjected to isolation and supervision more extreme, if anything, than those surrounding foreign diplomats. They enjoy no more than we do any individual confidence on part of Kremlin. Even Soviet internal figures move in a world of elaborate security checks and balances based on lack of confidence in their individual integrity. Moscow does not believe in such things as good will or individual human virtue.

When confidence is unknown even at home, how can it logically be sought by outsiders? Some of us here have tried to conceive the measures our country would have to take if it really wished to pursue, at all costs, goal of disarming Soviet suspicions. We have come to conclusion that nothing short of complete disarmament, delivery of our air and naval forces to Russia and resigning of powers of government to American Communists would even dent this problem; and even then we believe—and this is not facetious—that Moscow would smell a trap and would continue to harbor most baleful misgivings.

We are thus up against fact that suspicion in one degree or another, is an integral part of Soviet system, and will not yield entirely to any form of rational persuasion or assurance. It determines diplomatic climate in which, for better or for worse, our relations with Russia are going to have to grow. To this climate, and not to wishful preconceptions, we must adjust our diplomacy.

In these circumstances I think there can be no more dangerous tendency in American public opinion than one which places on our Government an obligation to accomplish the impossible by gestures of good will and conciliation toward a political entity constitutionally incapable of being conciliated. On other hand, there is no tendency more agreeable to purposes of Moscow diplomacy. Kremlin has no reason to discourage a delusion so useful to its purposes; and we may expect Moscow propaganda apparatus to cultivate it assiduously.

For these reasons, I wish to register the earnest hope that we will find means to bring about a better understanding on this particular point, particularly among people who bear public responsibility and influence public opinion in our country.

Sent Department 878; repeated London as 150.

  1. Walter Lippmann, journalist, writer of a special column appearing in several newspapers.
  2. Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of Commerce.