No. 507
The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Kennan) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State (Matthews) 1


Dear Doc : In my recent telegram about the present Soviet anti-American campaign (May 22)2 I stated that I was not prepared to speculate at that time on the special motives that might have given rise to the peculiar violence and timing of this recent manifestation of Soviet policy. Since sending that telegram I have naturally continued to give the subject study and thought. While I do not yet feel in a position to put down in telegraphic form any conclusions for general distribution in the Government, I thought it might be useful for yourself and others in the Department if I were to try to review for you in this letter the present stage of my own thoughts about this matter.

Please bear in mind that in what I am about to say I am not dealing with those well-known and routine impulses which have caused the Soviet Communists as a matter of general policy to distort and degrade the image of America before the eyes of their own people over the entire thirty-five years of their exercise of power. What I am speaking of here is specifically the present campaign, and I am trying to get at the reasons for its extraordinary violence and its timing.

I might also stress, by way of preface, that it is no easy thing to take this outrageous and provocative propaganda material, permeated as it is with the smell of a vicious and shameless mentality, and subject it to a calm and dispassionate analysis. In doing so, I feel as I think the medical scientist must feel when setting out to examine some of the less savory manifestations of illness in the human body: it is unpleasant, but the interests of scientific truth [Page 988] demand it. I can only hope that I have been able to put revulsion and indignation far enough aside, and to have arrived at something like a detached judgment.

Of the various hypotheses that have been advanced among foreign observers here with respect to the motivation of this campaign, the following seem to me to be the ones that warrant our most careful attention:

That the Kremlin considers that the general state of popular morale throughout the Communist-controlled area, as marked by such things as the attitudes of the Communist war prisoners in Korea, the continued defections of individuals in the satellite area, the difficulty of raising reliable military forces in Eastern Germany, and the general apathy of the Soviet population itself toward international problems, is simply not adequate for the strains of the situation in which Soviet policy is now proceeding, and has concluded that something drastic must be done to stir people up to a greater enthusiasm for the severe tensions which this policy involves.
That the Kremlin foresees some more severe test of political morale in the Soviet and satellite areas looming up in the near future, and is setting about to steel the population for these anticipated eventualities, whatever they may be.
That there has been some internal disagreement in influential circles here over problems of policy toward the United States and that the violence of this present campaign represents the characteristically crude and ruthless expression of the victory of one group over another; and
That the campaign stands in some connection with my appointment and arrival here, and with the possibility that a time might be approaching when confidential discussions between our two governments on what would be considered here the “real” plane, as opposed to the plane of propaganda exchanges aimed at the grandstand, would be in order, or would at least be suggested by our side.

Before commenting on these hypotheses individually, let me point out that they are not in any sense mutually exclusive. More than one of them might actually have some reality.


With respect to the first of these hypotheses, namely that there is a generally unsatisfactory state of popular morale in this country and in the Communist areas and that the campaign is designed to combat this situation, I can only say that I think there is much evidence which points in this direction. The Soviet leaders can obviously not be really satisfied with the state of political morale at the present time in any of the satellite areas or in the Soviet Union. This situation in the satellite areas requires no comment. But even in the Soviet Union itself there is evidence of a continuation [Page 989] of the widespread political apathy and skepticism that have marked the state of mind of the predominant part of the Soviet public ever since the purges (except at that time when national feelings were touched by the German invasion and the subsequent elation of victory). The continued prevalence of this state of mind cannot be agreeable to the Kremlin.

It is interesting to note that the domestic anti-American propaganda, to judge by its content, is not aimed in any sense at influential and responsible party circles. Marxist concepts, or even thoughts remotely connected with Marxist theory, seem to have only the most unimportant and peripheral place in this campaign. The emphasis has been on stirring up a sheet physical loathing of Americans per se, as people, and above all as soldiers. Pravda, possibly itself somewhat shocked at the realization of the ideological emptiness that has characterized the campaign, ran an editorial on June 4 the purpose of which was evidently to instill into it a more pronounced ideological tinge; but even this was not very impressive. The campaign, Pravda cautioned, is really against American ideology—by implication, therefore, not against America as a nation. The American ideology, it seems, now consists of Fascist racial prejudice (racism), the cult of brute force, and the hatred of other peoples. It represents, Pravda explains, weakness and loss of faith on the part of the American imperialists in themselves and in the capitalist system. Such an ideology, we are allowed to infer, calls for an ideological response. But the response which Pravda continues to try to evoke on the part of the Soviet citizen, and this is the point I wish to emphasize, is not an ideological one—it is not one of serene and contemptuous contemplation of the inevitable evil workings of capitalism as seen from the infallible vantage point of a proper Marxist understanding of the laws of human society—it is rather, to use Pravda’s own words, one of “hatred”, “resistance” and “enraged protest”. Plainly what Pravda has in mind here is mass feeling. The campaign is not addressed to the views of responsible and sophisticated party circles.

It is true that in this campaign particular use is made of those media that reach the Soviet intelligentsia. This may be partly simply to convert people not yet converted and thought to be in particular need of conversion; but it may also be to invoke the authority of these circles to support a thesis aimed at a wider audience. There is evidence of severe pressure being brought to bear on the artistic and literary community to join in the campaign and to lend it the support of their voices—the theory apparently being that if gentle and sophisticated people of this sort can also be made to appear full of flaming indignation, ordinary folk will conclude that “there must be something in it”. I would not wish to imply [Page 990] that there is not a serious concern for the state of mind of the cultural and intellectual figures themselves, per se: I am sure there is. But underlying it is always an appreciation of the high respect in which the cultural circles are held by the broader Soviet public, and a recognition that greater effect can often be produced these days on the popular mind here by the relatively subtle impulses of propaganda masked as art and literature than by the flat appeals of governmental propaganda, to which so many people have become inured and indifferent. The marked attention now paid to the cultural world by the Kremlin propagandists may well be a tribute to the degree of influence this world has come to enjoy, as the more direct means of reaching and twisting public understanding have gradually been abused, and their own possibilities destroyed, by the professional propagandists.

All in all, I think we can say that there is underlying all the cacophony of this hate campaign, a note of real concern over the apathy, and sometimes latent disaffection, of large masses of people in the Communist world—not a concern connected with any fears of revolt or civil disobedience (overt obedience is no problem), but a concern lest the existence of this state of affairs be progressively exposed by events in the cold war, as it already has been in Korea, and come to affect the minds of people and the course of events further afield. The future of Asia, in particular, surely depends in the Kremlin’s view—on those who are now the waverers in the Asiatic countries not yet committed; and for Moscow it is vitally important that these latter not be astonished and estranged, and a band wagon movement set off, by signs of apathy or disaffection on the part of the peoples within the Communist orbit.

I think, therefore, that we cannot wholly reject this first hypothesis. We must, on the contrary, recognize that it certainly plays some part in the general pattern of Soviet motivation today. The question is only: what part? And is it the only motive?

I would doubt that it can be the only motive. This unsatisfactory state of morale has existed in the Communist area for several years. If the Kremlin were sure that the strains of the immediate future were not going to be greater than those of the immediate past, a campaign of this violence would hardly have been justified at the present time.


This brings us to the second point: Are the Soviet leaders looking forward to something they expect to see happen in the near future which will put greater strains on popular morale in the Communist world than the events of the last two or three years? This hypothesis, plainly the most ominous of them all, is the one probably most [Page 991] widely entertained among foreign observers, and it demands respectful and minute scrutiny.

We must begin, I think, by recognizing that there is no indication here that the Soviet leaders are planning to launch a major war by an overt offensive action of their own in the near future, or that they really think the outbreak of such a war might be imminent from other causes. Let me elucidate: they may feel that our policies tend inevitably toward war, and may therefore regard war as inevitable unless our “contradictions” catch up with us and weaken us in good time; but that is different from regarding war as imminent. It is true that if they thought war imminent, one of the things they might well do would be to launch a campaign of just this nature, for obvious reasons. However, this is by no means the only thing they would do. There are a number of other steps they might be expected also to take in such a contingency. Of these other steps we here have seen no evidence; and I think it unlikely, despite our isolation in Moscow, that all these steps could be taken without our receiving any inkling of them. And even in the field of psychological preparation this sort of hate campaign, useful as its effects might be from the standpoint of the regime, would hardly alone be enough to condition the population for immense changes in government policy and in the condition of their lives that another war would involve.

On the other hand, we cannot ignore the disturbing fact that the most obvious purpose of such a campaign—the one which might normally be supposed to underlie an effort of this sort—would be to instill into the minds of the Soviet and satellite peoples a degree of hatred and resentment for the United States which would be capable, so to speak, of bearing weight. And what could this “weight” be? Presumably, some sort of demands on the part of the regime for loyal support in a course which might otherwise be expected to appear to people as drastic, arbitrary, unwarranted, perhaps even excessively violent and cruel. Can we conceive of a future course answering to this description and still stopping short of war?

The pattern of Soviet intentions in Europe seems to me to be not too unclear. The trump cards of the Kremlin are: (1) use of the French Communist Party at any possible moment to disrupt unity and effectiveness of the Western coalition, and (2) eventual use of the East German Communist regime to break the Western position in Berlin, thus producing a German civil war à la Korea, in which the Atlantic Pact as well as West German forces could be exhausted and perhaps defeated while the direct military assets of the Soviet Union would be held in reserve. The Kremlin seems already, as a reaction to its failure to impede progress toward the German contractuals and EDC, to have raised the level of boldness and [Page 992] recklessness with which it is willing to dispose over these European assets. But the French Communist card is one which, aside from the fact that it seems already to have been tried and failed, could hardly be expected to lead to war. The East German card, if it is not to be frivolously and prematurely sacrificed, will take some time to develop to a point where it can really be played to full effect. What could, of course, lead to war at an early date would be premature, abrupt and rash pressures against Berlin at the present time, involving direct Soviet responsibility. But Moscow surely knows this. If it expected to follow such a policy it would have to reckon with the immediacy of a major war involving its own forces—and, as indicated above, there is no broad pattern of evidence that it does. But if it does not expect to follow such a policy, why the steeling of the Soviet population through a hate campaign?

For these reasons, I find it difficult to believe that this propaganda campaign has been launched in particular contemplation of, and by way of preparation for, anything expected by the Kremlin to happen in Europe. It seems to me more likely that if it is pointed toward any specific expected development at all, it is one in the Asiatic area. The terms in which it is conducted seem to direct attention in this direction. But what could such a development be? Only, it would appear, some new phase of the Korean war, perhaps involving the use of new and unusually cruel tactics or devices on the Communist side, but still expected to produce consequences short of the emergence of a state of outright warfare between the Soviet Government and the United States.

I must say that I find it difficult to picture precisely what such a development could consist of—what it would look like. For this reason I am not satisfied with this second hypothesis. When one analyzes it to the end, one gets nowhere—unless one assumes that the Soviet leaders are really counting on an early outbreak of war and have successfully concealed from all of us the measures they would have to take to be ready for such a contingency. This, I think unlikely.


The third hypothesis, namely that this campaign reflects the outcome of some policy struggle within the Kremlin, seems to me to be one that might conceivably account for its abruptness and violence. But there is simply no real evidence of anything of this sort. We have no grounds to believe that such differences and hesitations as might recently have existed within the Politburo with respect to policy toward the United States have been of such seriousness [Page 993] and intensity that the victory of one faction would be apt to be signalled to the country in this striking way.

All indications point to the likelihood that the central foreign policy question agitating the highest circles here in recent months has been that of the degree of stability of the Western coalition: the extent, that is, to which—in the absence of a major war—it may be expected that the strength of the non-Communist world will be sapped by internal factors such as rivalries and disagreement among its major components; colonial disaffection, economic strains resulting from excessive investment, and a possible major economic crisis in the United States springing from what Communists would consider the basic defects of the capitalist system. The indications are that to date such questions continue to be answered in the Kremlin in a generally hopeful vein. The prevailing view seems still to be that the visible or likely rifts in the capitalist world are indeed serious enough not only to assure eventual victory to the Communist camp, but to justify its leaders for the time being in continuing, and restricting themselves to, a policy of militant political attack, stopping just short of the initiation of provocation of a new general war.

Let me spell this out in a little greater detail, for it is a subject on which we cannot afford to risk any misunderstandings. I would not like to give the impression from what has just been said that the members of the Politburo have been able to trace out for themselves a clear and consistent line of thought and policy in this complicated problem of “war or no-war”. Their own position today contains certain plain contradictions and dilemmas themselves. They appear (and perhaps wisely) not even to try to solve them. They allow them to emerge quite frankly in their ideological articles. On the one hand, they assert that capitalism is undergoing an internal crisis of final and mortal import from which, in the long run, it will not be able to recover through its own resources. True, they take pains to point out that this is not the same sort of crisis Marx talked about—not the same one that prevailed up to 1917—but a new phase characterized and made possible only by the development of Soviet power. This proviso is important to the Kremlin. Without it there would be no justification for the constant pressures maintained against the non-Communist world by the Stalinist political movement. Failure to insist on it would play into the hands of Titoist factions in other countries, who would say: “If the collapse of capitalism is inevitable from internal causes, then we do not require the authority and help of you Russians—either for its overthrow or its replacement”. This proviso does not state that the helpful ministrations by Soviet power to the decline and death of capitalist power must always remain “short of war” or that the [Page 994] Soviet armed forces should have no part in them. It admits the possibility of “wars of liberation” and of “defense against wars of aggression.” It insists that the capitalists will eventually be compelled by the logic of their situation to try to resort to arms in order to wipe out Soviet power—the inner citadel of Socialism. But about the timing of all this and the order of precedence, Soviet thinking is blurred and undecided. Certainly the whole burden is not left, in the Soviet mind, to the Red Army. The factors mentioned above: the national differences within the non-Communist camp, the colonial problem, the strain of armaments, and the deeper economic instability, are all given most serious attention and are all allotted important roles in frustrating and defeating the “imperialist” design. But in what order?—and with what results? On this, Moscow is silent, and perhaps wisely so, from its own standpoint. It still allows for the possibility that the internal weaknesses may perform their task first and perform it so well that either there will be no attack on the Soviet Union or the attack, when it comes, will be a fizzle: the last ill-advised adventure—as they see it—of cornered, desperate men, hampered on every side by colonial and domestic disaffection, by disunity, by defects in their own system and by their fateful and significant failure (now heavily emphasized in Soviet thinking) to understand the way in which political action must be intermingled with military action if the latter is to produce effective results.

It is plainly on this question of timing—the question whether capitalism will try to launch its last desperate attack before or after it has been extensively weakened by internal causes—that the determination of Soviet policy today must rest. Obviously, up to the present day hope must have continued to exist in the Kremlin that capitalism would be extensively weakened by internal causes, supported by Soviet-inspired political attacks, before it could resort to general war, in which case its final effort might conceivably be absorbed and repulsed by Communist puppet forces alone.

This conclusion must have rested, and must continue to rest, on the most anxious study and analysis of the weaknesses within the non-Communist world.

On this particular subject—the assessment of the seriousness of the weaknesses in the camp of the adversary—I think it possible and even likely that there have been differing opinions at the Politburo level. These differences may even have found reflection in serious disagreements on actual questions of tactics and policy. But I see no evidence that such differences have reached the point where disagreements become identified with the political fortunes of prominent individuals; and it is only at this point that intellectual differences in the Kremlin assume the extremely savage and [Page 995] bitter aspects that we have witnessed on certain occasions in the past. My feeling, therefore, is that while this present propaganda campaign is undoubtedly designed, partly if not wholly, to combat sentiments and states of mind somewhere which the Kremlin regards as disagreeable and dangerous, these sentiments and states of mind are not ones represented—so to speak—in the Politburo as such, or even in the more responsible Communist circles; they are ones having their residence in the minds of the intelligentsia and of the broad masses of the people in the Communist-controlled areas.


We come now to the last of these hypotheses, namely that this campaign might have something to do with my own appointment and arrival, with what they take to be the state of American thinking and policy today, and with the possibility (one which in this case would have to loom more prominent in the Soviet mind than it does in my own) of confidential talks looking toward the amicable adjustment of certain of the more dangerous of the issues on which the two governments are now divided.

I mention this with some hesitation, from my own standpoint as well as from the standpoint of the Department. In a conspiratorial atmosphere such as that which marks this city, and particularly when one is, one’s self, the object of much attention at mysterious and anonymous hands, it is easy to overrate one’s own importance in the general scene and to fall into the belief that the gentlemen in the Kremlin have nothing better to do than to pore over the reports their numerous agents obviously make and present about one’s own life and movements. Nothing is more detrimental to clarity of thought than this, and I think I am experienced enough not to fall into this error.

But my appointment here may have had two connotations to the Soviet mind of a somewhat unusual order, both of which are worth noting. One lies in the fact that my name and personality are known to at least some of the prominent figures in the Soviet intellectual and artistic world, and probably known to them in a manner which would at least not tend to support the contention that Americans are without exception bloodthirsty and boorish creatures, lacking in good will, ignorant and contemptuous of Russian cultural values, obtuse to developments in the world of the Russian spirit. The second connotation is the suggestion that since I have served here before and know the language, and since I am relatively well-schooled—so to speak—in the dialectics of the Soviet-American antagonism, the United States Government might have had some thought that my appointment would facilitate [Page 996] “real” discussions. The Soviet mind would not long delay in leaping from this to the assumption that the prospect of such talks might be imminent in our minds. And it is not out of the question that the Soviet leaders might themselves recognize the possibility that before very long they would find it to their own advantage to move, or to appear to move, in this direction.

You may ask: What in the world could such considerations have to do with the launching of this violent anti-American campaign? Surely, to the normal mind there could hardly be a less suitable way to react to the sort of connotation I have just suggested. But it would be making a mistake to attempt to carry out this analysis through the eyes of a normal individual. Let us remember that it has been the policy, and apparently sometimes the secret delight, of Stalin, before adopting a given course, to eliminate or force into an embarrassing position all those who might be suspected of having themselves favored such a course—all those who might be apt to claim credit for the new line or to seek in its final sponsorship by the regime a boon to their own self-esteem and prestige. It is always important, furthermore, for the Kremlin, when it seems to set out to make a concession (however insignificant or disingenuous this undertaking may be) that such a turn of policy should not appear to be the result of pressures brought to bear upon it from underneath. Specialists themselves in the art of bending foreign statesmen to their own will by building fires under them in the minds of their constituents, the Soviet leaders are abnormally sensitive to anything of this sort in their own camp.

It is not impossible that the Kremlin leaders might feel that if there were any chance that they would have need in the coming period to talk with an outward guise of reasonableness, and in a manner that could be construed as making concessions to the pressures we have brought upon them, they would want first to make it absolutely clear that they were not forced into such a position by any feelings within Russian society beneath them on which foreign statesmen could possibly play. This might have particular relation to myself if they felt that my personality and presence here tied in in any way with the neurotic uneasiness which besets a large number of Soviet artists and intellectuals in present circumstances in connection with their extreme isolation from the main cultural currents of the world.

If there is anything in this line of thought, the men in the Kremlin might then be saying two different things with this propaganda campaign. To the Soviet intelligentsia they might be saying: “We want no backtalk from you people at this stage of the game. Remember: you have no sympathies for America. You hate America. If any accommodation is to be sought with America, we leaders will [Page 997] handle the matter, thank you; and we will handle it on the basis of our own authority, and against a background of violent indignation in Soviet society over American faults and iniquities. We, not you, will be the moderate ones, if we find it profitable to appear that way. And then we will be the only moderate ones. We will appear in the guise of one who takes upon himself, for the sake of peace, the onus of suppressing the righteous indignation of his own people over the outrageous behavior of his adversaries. We will be in the position of restraining Soviet public opinion, not of being restrained by it.”

To me, on the other hand, as the symbol of that portion of the Western world which has not completely lost hope for a certain improvement and stabilization of relations between the two camps, they would be saying: “You come here to us making reasonable and disarming noises and letting on as though you thought that some day we might be able to talk to one another. Very well. We are not saying that we would totally exclude the possibility. But don’t think you can push us into anything. Don’t think that just because you speak Russian and have had a few friends here and are known as a person interested in Russian culture, you are going to have any special bargaining power in your dealings with us. Don’t think that you are going to be able to play on the cosmopolitan weaknesses of our artists and writers—to break down the resentments and suspicions of America that we have been assiduously building up in their minds, and to put pressure on us in this way. This is no longer 1945, when we all played at the farce of a community of cultural values. See what these intellectuals are now being taught and what they are now saying. If you are going to deal with anyone here, it is going to be with us, their masters, and not with these neurotic intellectuals whom you may conceive of as still longing for the fleshpots and the sterile estheticism of Paris. We do all the dispensing of favors in this town. Whoever wants to talk business talks with us, and leaves our subordinates alone.”

This may sound a bit farfetched, and I am not for a moment suggesting that the minor satisfaction our friends in the Kremlin might derive from conveying such an indirect message to me could alone be an adequate motive for laying on a campaign of these dimensions. But the Soviet mind gets a peculiar pleasure, I think, out of such neatly coincidental byproducts, and I think it not out of the question that in the present instance the effect of the campaign on myself, and in connection with my arrival here, might have been just such a byproduct. The same goes for whatever implications the campaign might carry to the Soviet cultural world at this particular moment. And all of this might combine to lead the Kremlin to feel that if there were any possibility that talking of a [Page 998] definite and more “real” order were soon to occur, or to be proposed, it might not be a bad thing to have the atmosphere prepared, and clarity established in all quarters, by a vigorous campaign of this sort. Perhaps there is even the hope that we would be prepared to pay a price to have it stopped.

When you try to sum up these considerations, where do you come out? You find it plausible that the Kremlin may regard the immediate future as a period marked by a new and somewhat higher intensity of the cold war, involving a bolder and more reckless exploitation of puppet forces on their side. You find it plausible that for this reason and to guard against all eventualities, the Kremlin should wish to make a vigorous attack on the apathy and skepticism with which a large proportion of the populations under its control probably views the East-West conflict. You recognize the immense significance which the successful prosecution of the cold war in the immediately coming period assumes in Soviet thinking, as the only really solid alternative to a general war which the Western powers could be expected to instigate or wander into at a time and on terms dangerous and disagreeable to Soviet power. You can see how faulty morale within the Communist areas begins, as in the Korean prisoners of war matter, to interfere with the prosecution of the cold war by the Kremlin and to present dangers for its further course. Finally, you can see that the Kremlin might also recognize a possibility that developments in this coming period might make it desirable for it to enter into “real” talks with the West, or to play at doing so, and you can understand how this might warrant a certain battening down of the hatches in the form of a rousing anti-American campaign, designed to keep Soviet opinion steady through the buffeting that might be occasioned by such unusual developments, to prevent any undesirable misunderstandings from slipping in, to prevent people from going all-out in hopes for a relaxation of relations with foreign countries such as many of them entertained during the war, and to remind a new and somewhat inscrutable American Ambassador, in the event that he should need such a reminder, that if he is going to talk to anyone around here it is going to be to Papa—that the other members of the family know their places and are well in hand.

How much of this is real, I cannot vouchsafe. I dare say a good deal of it is. To the extent that it has reality, I would not find it too worrisome in itself. But it has its worrisome sides, which I think we cannot and should not ignore. The first of these is that it is probably doing some degree of serious and lasting damage to attitudes toward the United States within the Soviet public—attitudes which have heretofore been characterized by a touching and stubborn insistence of people on the privilege of thinking well of us. [Page 999] But the second thing which I find really disturbing is that even under the most charitable and soothing interpretation of the reasons for this campaign, the mere fact of its having been instituted, taken in conjunction with the really deplorable deterioration in the treatment of the diplomatic corps and foreign colony in Moscow, bears witness to an attitude on the part of the Soviet leaders which I can only characterize as one of reckless contempt for whatever values and safeguards might conceivably still lie in the maintenance of the normal diplomatic channel and of the basic amenities of international intercourse. There is something in all this of the behavior of a person who has thrown off the last inhibitions of manners and good form in his relations with other people and is prepared to behave in any way that suits his most primitive feelings, without inhibition, even—when he feels like it—with derision, insolence and impertinence, in the confidence that he has nothing to lose. I hasten to add that this is not the recklessness of a regime which does not care whether or not war comes; it is the recklessness of a regime which does not dream that questions of war or peace could ever be affected by the amenities of behavior. And to my mind this latter type of recklessness is scarcely less disturbing than the former.

People insensitive to differences of degree may say that this is nothing new in Soviet behavior—that it has always been this way. I would warn them strenuously against this assumption. I can say on the basis of personal experience that in the thirties and again during the war there was visible in the behavior of these people a certain ultimate caution about their overt relations with the capitalist West—a certain solicitude for the intactness and state of good repair of the normal and polite channel—a certain recognition that there might be times when this channel would prove useful and necessary to them—indeed perhaps the only thing they might have to fall back upon. Today, that caution seems to be gone. In its place there is a note of bravado—the excited, uncertain bravado of the parvenu who thinks his fortunes have advanced to the point where he need no longer pretend to be a man of correct behavior or even a man of respect for correct behavior. When I observe the manifestations of the conduct of the people in the Kremlin today and drink in those ineluctable touches of atmosphere in which their moods and influences are so marvelously reflected on the Moscow scene, I sometimes have the feeling that I am again witnessing the swaggering arrogance of the drunken peasant-speculator Lopakhin in the last act of Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard, when he has just purchased at auction the estate on which he grew up as a serf, and now loses control of himself in his excitement and elation and stamps around, reveling in his triumph, impervious to the [Page 1000] presence of the weeping family who are leaving the place forever, confident that never again will he need their respect, their help, or their solicitude.

If this is the inner emotional background of the phenomenon we are witnessing, then we have a bitter problem on our hands. It is not easy to bring back to the level of sobriety and decorum people who have fallen into this frame of mind. It should not necessarily be impossible. But it will take real thought and skillful action on our part, and probably luck as well.

Please forgive me for writing at this length. I am not generally a partisan of long documents. But when you are dealing with matters so strange and intricate as the psychology of the Bolshevik regime in the year 1952, the danger of saying too little at the cost of being cryptic and over-simplifying is sometimes greater than the danger of saying too much.

Very sincerely,

George F. Kennan
  1. In a letter of June 7 to Matthews, Kennan suggested that distribution of this letter be limited to the following: Acheson, Bruce, Bohlen, Nitze, the Office of Eastern European Affairs, and Smith. Kennan was concerned about the security of this letter and observed: “I would not be worried about accurate leaks from it, but inaccurate ones could do a great deal of harm.” (611.61/6–752)

    In a letter of July 1, Matthews briefly responded to the letter printed here. The operative portion of Matthew’s letter reads:

    “I want to write briefly to acknowledge belatedly the receipt of your extremely interesting letter of June 6 regarding the Soviet anti-American campaign. I followed your request with regard to its distribution quite literally and have confined it pretty much to those listed in your letter of June 7, with the addition of Jimmy Dunn and two or three others in the Department. Chip is, I believe, working up some comments on the substance of the letter.” (611.61/6–652)

  2. Document 499.