861.00/2–748: Airgram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Smith) to the Secretary of State


A–143. The Embassy has encountered little evidence of the existence of the sentiments ascribed to the Russian people in the Praha report which is the subject of Department’s Airgram 401 of December 8, 1947.1

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In brief it is the Embassy’s view to the contrary that the great mass of the Russian people wants peace and with it the opportunity to repair the ravages of the recent war and improve their standard of living.

If little evidence is available to support the first part of this thesis, the contention that the Soviet ruling class “is doing everything in its power to curb the unrest of the returned soldiers and of the proletariat and to ‘pacify their belligerent hunger for the riches of the West’” seems equally to miss the mark. The picture presented to the Embassy is quite different: the Russian people are under the curb of a new five-year plan with usual emphasis on development of heavy industry and military-economic potential coupled with an aggressive and xenophobic propaganda line which has succeeded in convincing a sector of the population that the capitalist imperialists are making every effort to launch a new world war. Official efforts to improve Russian standard of living though present are definitely of secondary category. Kremlin has however made an extensive effort to reorient military personnel returned to the Soviet Union from other European countries in order to disabuse their minds of the luxuries apparent in the capitalistic west and to refresh them in the ideology of Communistic supremacy.

There are no doubt individuals or groups in the vast Soviet Union who do not conform to above pattern. It is conceivable that certain military circles who found the war not only a reassuring, but an exhilarating and profitable experience would welcome an opportunity to penetrate deeper into the “untapped riches of the West”, but this view would hardly be shared by the great majority of Russians for whom the war meant extreme deprivation and hardship, i.e. further reduction of an already very low standard of living.

The newly acquired territories and satellites, as well as such areas as the Ukraine and Byelorussia (not to mention the exiled and interned element of the population), are probably well stocked with persons who look upon war as the only possible release from Soviet despotism. But they are apparently not the subject of reference report.

It might be helpful in analyzing the report to learn specifically what smaller Soviet cities source visited and it should be suggested that his impression of popular Russian “war mongering” may be a, misinterpretation of the general dissatisfaction engendered in the population by the failure of peace to bring some measure of prosperity and the gloomy prospect of never-ending five-year plans. That such dissatisfaction is rather widespread is fairly well established, but the Embassy cannot assert that it has gone so far as to goad the average Russian into translating his subconscious “dreams of empire” into conscious objectives which can only be achieved by violence either at home or abroad.

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As a general thesis the report is not confirmed by the burden of the evidence available to the Embassy at this time.

To the above, I must add one note of warning. There is a very substantial percentage of veterans who remember war, not as an evil, but actually as a better life than they now live in the squalor and poverty of collective farms and villages. They recall that at the front they were well dressed, well fed, well taken care of medically, entertained and provided with recreation when possible. When on leave they were treated with marked respect by the civilian man in the street, and even by the police. Russian fatalism and lack of imagination divests the possibilities of wounds and death of most of their terrors. A danger lies in the numbers and in the youth of those holding such opinions.

  1. Not printed.