511.00/6–1352: Telegram

No. 508
The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Kennan) to the Department of State


1995. Before leaving Washington, I was variously requested bear in mind problems of our informational and psychological warfare authorities and give my suggestions as soon as possible on main direction our effort shld take. This msg intended as expression of my personal feeling on this subj after some weeks Moscow.

The more I become acquainted with spirit and tenor of present internal Sov ideological material, clearer it becomes to me that main basis of Sov outlook on world affairs today, underlying its entire behavior toward the Western Countries, is its persistent and despairing hope that present structure of Western World will prove unstable, unsound, and increasingly inadequate to withstand the steady polit attacks levied against it by world Commie movement. The belief is still officially accepted and entertained in Kremlin that, to use familiar Commie algebra, capitalist world is undergoing a phase of deep crisis which began with estab of Sov power in 1917, was rendered much more serious by outcome of World War II, and now actually represents the final and all-decisive crisis from which capitalism, in the face of its internal weaknesses and of [Page 1001] contd Commie harassments, will not be able to recover. On this thesis there seems to rest the main rationale of Sov current world policy, embracing on the one hand an unwillingness to launch and generate war against the West, this being unnecessary as well as dangerous to Sov power in many ways, but also, on the other hand, an unwillingness to have any real dealings, as distinct from “demonstrative” dealings, with Western Govts, and a refusal to treat these govts with respect or to refrain from intensive efforts to carve the ground out from under them and destroy them. If this thesis of the unsoundness of present structure of the non-Commie world cld be shaken, bottom wld drop out of the rationale of Sov policy as we know it today.

In the present shrill exaggerations of Sov propaganda one cannot help but sense an extreme nervousness about the validity of this thesis, a feeling of desperate necessity to find substantiation for it, and accordingly a somewhat frantic casting around for any sort of straw that cld possibly be conceived to support it. Pravda yesterday morning had an editorial on the internatl sitn which consists of nothing but this sort of whistling in the dark and gives evidence of the most anguished scrutiny of the Western World to see whether some new sources of weakness cannot somehow be discovered or plausibly claimed to exist, which wld serve to support the basic thesis. This seems to me to indicate there may be advanced degree of inner doubt here about the soundness of this thesis.

In these circumstances, I wonder whether most important and effective blow we cld deliver against Sov policy at this time might not be a psychological attack directed at the Kremlin itself, designed to shake its confidence and that of its influential followers in the soundness of above thesis and to give support to those people in high Commie circles here who may at one time or another have expressed doubt about it. It seems to me that the best way to handle this on psychological plane is by flat and vigorous challenge of the central theory on which the Sov position rests. This wld of course not replace but only supplement propaganda addressed to other major targets, such as peoples of uncommitted or threatened areas elsewhere.

In terms of hypothetical direct address to Commie leaders I wld conceive of this challenge somewhat along following lines, which is actually one I myself am taking here in Moscow whenever convenient occasions arise.

“Your people are continuing to live on the basis of a dream which is product of your own wish and your own fantasy. You still imagine that there will come a day when forces within the Western World, forces you have succeeded in influencing or bewildering will finally drag down or hamstring political regimes in the Western [Page 1002] Countries that oppose your policies or force those regimes to give up their recalcitrance and to dance to your tune. You have hypnotized yourselves in believing this because anything else is painful and distasteful to you. Fortifying yourselves by this self-deception, you have managed to persuade yourselves that you do not have any need to deal respectfully with Western Governments and to arrive in good faith at any serious arrangements with them. You believe that you can continue with impunity to abuse the diplomatic channel and UN by using them only ‘demonstratively’ as further means of trying to put public pressure on the Western Governments.

Actually, by following this line what you succeed in doing is only in keeping whole world in state of turmoil and uncertainty. This involves great burdens and inconveniences for everyone, but they are ones which West will be better able to bear, in long term, than you will.

This situation cannot be improved until you realize that you are indulging yourselves in an error of cosmic proportions which will sooner or later penalize you more heavily than anyone else. Your analysis of capitalism is at least 40 years out of date and wholly unsound. For a full 30 years you have been hopefully and regularly predicting catastrophe for capitalist society; yet nowhere has it occurred. Only Western Countries which have moved into Communist camp have been brought there by movement of Red Army into Eastern Europe, and by no other factor. They are held there today by sheer military intimidation and nothing else.

Western society is not suffering any final and insoluble crisis, or anything near it. It has its problems, but it admits them and faces them, instead of trying to pretend, as you do with yours, that they do not exist. They are the normal problems of change and development; and they are being successfully faced. What you know in your hearts to be true but desperately do not want to recognize is that the world is actually entering upon a period which, in the absence of major war, will be another period of relative stabilization in the relationship between socialism and capitalism. This period is going to be extremely prolonged—so prolonged that there is no use even trying to look to the end of it. The fact is that ten years hence, or twenty years hence, whatever you do, those same non-Communist Western Governments that you are trying today so desperately to undermine are still going to be there and in command of the loyalties of the peoples and of the resources of their territories. The only real question for you will be the terms by which your relationship to them is to be governed. This you will have to work out with those governments by decent and respectful negotiation. However distasteful this may be to you and however desperately you may resist it, in the end it is precisely with those same [Page 1003] governments themselves and not with the peoples behind them, not with any ‘partisans of peace’ or ‘progressive circles’ or any other of your escapist alternatives, that you are going to have to deal. But longer you delay in realizing this and acting upon it, more unfavorable are going to be terms you get. It is high time, therefore, that you ceased deluding yourselves at your own expense, woke up to a sober appreciation of world realities. It is high time for you to learn to take a serious attitude toward those forces and institutions with which you are some day going to have to come to terms if you are going to assure to yourselves any comfortable and tolerable existence in this world.”

This seems to me line of attack best designed to hit Kremlin at point of maximum weakness and vulnerability. The essence of it is: “You Communists are wrong in your analysis of the trend of Western society; you have made profound theoretical errors; capitalism is not going to break up; your policy is therefore doomed to failure; those who persist in believing in myth of the basic capitalist crisis are going to have to pay the penalty of their stubborn error.”

If this central thesis be adopted, it should, in my opinion, be thrown out against the Communist World in every conceivable variation, with unremitting reiteration and persistence, and with all possible factual support. It should be plugged by VOA. It should be used as a talking line by all people who have occasion to deal with or talk to Soviet officials or their stooges. It should be planted in any places where there is reason to believe that it will get back to the Kremlin. It shld be extensively used at the United Nations. It shld find a place, if possible, in any serious theoretical discussions to which the Commie World is apt to pay attn. Sov propaganda contrary to it shld be relentlessly and vigorously exposed on a day-by-day basis, letting nothing go unchallenged.

If this were done, I think we wld be doing best we cld to shake Kremlin confidence and to prepare ground for eventual constructive dipl effort.

Lest some of the above suggestions appear too obvious, I wld like to point out what the above line, as I see it, does not say. It does not say that world conflict with Communism will be decided by war or even exclusively by predominance in armed force, although eventual Western predominance shld be confidently predicted, and high scale of armaments portrayed as inevitable result of erroneous Sov policy. It does not say that peoples of Commie area are going to rise up and overthrow Sov regime or that inner-Sov contradictions are going to bring about destruction or weakening of Sov power at any early date, although possibility of that shld not be excluded and may be talked about in materials addressed to other targets. It does not say that we are going to disintegrate [Page 1004] Soviet machine by propaganda or indeed by any form of direct external action. It only says that Kremlin is making grave theoretical errors in its estimate of outside world and will be unable to escape eventual consequences of this stubborn and persistent blindness.1

  1. There is no indication in Department of State files that this message was answered. The message was commented upon in a memorandum of June 23 from Regional Planning Director for the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs John K. Emmerson to Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs John Allison. Emmerson’s memorandum begins as follows:

    “It seems to me that Ambassador Kennan’s brilliant telegram analyzing the basis of the Soviet outlook on world affairs and prescribing a propaganda answer for us to use does not take sufficiently into consideration the situation in Asia. The answer suggested applies to Western Europe and the Americas, but I believe we need a different one for Asia.”

    The memorandum concludes:

    “In brief, I believe we should avoid discussing the world situation in terms only of Western stability or of an East-West conflict. Furthermore, to ignore the situation in Asia is to display weakness on our part and to lay ourselves open to rebuttals and charges which can only benefit the Communist side.” (511.00/6–2352)