Bohlen Papers, lot 74 D 379, “Personal Correspondence, 1952–53”

No. 24
Report Drafted by the Staff of the President’s Committee on International Information Activities1

top secret

Summary of Testimony of Mr. Charles E. Bohlen, February 24, 1953

[Here follow Bohlen’s responses to questions from committee members concerning the basic foreign policy motivations of the Soviet rulers and any possible vulnerabilities existing in the Soviet system. Bohlen began by discussing the relationship between the ideology of world revolution and Soviet national interests, then gave his views on the nature of the cold war. William Jackson then asked if the Soviets would resist an attack on satellite frontiers. Bohlen replied that they would, then offered his opinions on why communism had enjoyed so little success in the Western world.]

Mr. Bohlen then turned to a discussion of what we can do effectively to capitalize on the weaknesses in the Soviet empire. There are extreme limitations on what we can do with overt propaganda. In the first place our overt propaganda is not listened to. There are very few radio sets and the Soviets are very efficient in jamming our programs. He does not believe that we can expect much success through overt external propaganda. What we can try to do is to leave a deposit of doubt regarding the truth of the propaganda put out by the Soviet Government. In the event of war this deposit of doubt might be an important factor. It might encourage disaffection in the army. It might adversely affect the will of the Russian people to support the war.

We should recognize that there is no possibility for the people to take effective action against the regime except in a war situation. For this reason he believes that our chief target is not the mass of the people. We might have a little more effect on the people who have made something of a success of their lives in the Soviet state. These include members of the new bureaucracy, of the intelligentsia, of the upper officer class, of the managers of the collective [Page 54] farms and industrial establishments, etc. In other words, of the level below the top authorities. These people are more intelligent than the average Russians. They have done pretty well, they are more skeptical about the system, they resent being sealed off from all cultural contacts with the outside world. In general, this is the audience we might reach with overt external propaganda. We can not hope to overthrow the system by any effect we can have on these people but we might hamper the operations of the system by creating doubt.

… These totalitarian states are more likely to get into trouble as a result of rifts at the top than any other way. The mass of the people can act effectively only when the instruments of control have been fractured.

There are certain endemic jealousies and rivalries. The major ones are those between the army and the secret police, between the army and the party, and between the party and the secret police.

The rulers are more afraid of independent action by the army than they are of anything else. The army is a necessity and therefore they must have a good one, but they recognize the danger that they are creating an instrument of power which is capable of independent action. We have seen such a situation in Nazi Germany. We see evidences of it again and again in the Soviet Union. The political commissar system is one example. Before World War II was over, Stalin amended his own constitution to provide for a decentralized administration of the army. It is interesting to note the almost complete eclipse of the popular military heroes of World War II.

. . . . . . .

We can not operate in the way the Soviets operate. They have opportunities for action because we have a free society. For example, we can not set up a fifth column in Russia as they can establish fifth columns in the free world. The police states have been set up to deal with the problem of civil disobedience and are very effective in suppressing it. In fact, it does not pose any real problem for them.

Mr. Bohlen turned to a discussion of the relations of covert and overt activities. We all want to see Eastern Europe free. There is no difference of opinion on this. There is a difference of opinion, however, as to the wisdom of proclaiming this as a national objective. If we make such a proclamation we are in a real sense committing ourselves to bring it about. This is a responsibility which a truly great power accepts when it speaks. At some point the commitment to such an objective may come into conflict with some [Page 55] other commitment; for example, we do not intend to start a world war and this goal may conflict with the goal of liberation for Eastern Europe.

Mr. Bohlen referred to the Kersten Amendment.2 He said that he had opposed this, not because it would provoke the Russians (he regarded this as a ridiculous point of view) but because it was worth a lot to them. They could exploit it both externally and internally. One of the external needs of the totalitarian system is a justification for its internal acts of suppression. The best justification is the hostility of the outside world. Everything like the Kersten Amendment helps them to some extent to justify the purges, the tightening up, the turning of the screw. Mr. Bohlen thought that we should work toward these ends but that in general we should not proclaim them as national objectives.

[Here follows a general discussion of the nature of the Soviet regime and prospects for its future behavior.]

  1. The President’s Committee on International Information Activities was established by Presidential directive of Jan. 24, 1953, for the purpose of evaluating the effectiveness of U.S. informational programs. William H. Jackson was appointed chairman, so that the committee was often referred to as the Jackson Committee. The other members were Robert Cutler, Gordon Gray, Barklie McKee Henry, John C. Hughes, C.D. Jackson, Sigurd Larmon, and Robert M. Kyes. The committee’s report, based on the testimony of over 200 witnesses, was completed on June 30, 1953. (Eisenhower Library, White House Office, Project “Clean-Up”: Records, 1953–61) For text, see vol. ii, Part 2, pp. 1795 ff.
  2. Reference is to Section 101(a)(1) of the Mutual Security Act of 1951, P.L. 82–165 (65 Stat. 373), Oct. 10, 1951.