Bohlen Papers, lot 74 D 379, “Personal Correspondence, 1952–1953”
The Ambassador in the Soviet Union
the Deputy Under Secretary of State (Matthews)
Dear Doc : I am addressing this letter to you largely because I do not know where else to address it. I will leave it to you to see that it reaches those people in Washington who ought to see it and might be interested in doing so. The good old despatch form—that of the personal address by a chief of mission to a theoretically interested Secretary of State—now seems to have passed away with many of the other older features of diplomacy, and has been replaced, I gather, by some sort of impersonal form used mostly for unimportant items. Somehow or other I find difficulty in exposing my thoughts indiscriminately to the six or seven thousand people who I understand today make up the Department of State.
The purpose of this letter is to try to sum up for you the impressions I have gathered to date of the present state of Soviet society, as compared with conditions in the times of my former periods of service here. I am looking at these matters in the present letter from the standpoint of the population. I hope soon to make a similar [Page 1022] assessment as to how things look from the standpoint of the regime.
You will understand that these impressions rest on a very slender basis of experience. Even the average foreign diplomat, in these days of restricted travel and total isolation from Soviet citizens, sees little from his Moscow prison. An American Ambassador, surrounded by his fantastic retinue of guardians, is even more limited than others in his opportunities for observations. What I say, therefore, is merely the result of analysis and conjecture from such shreds of evidence as are available—plus the one element which perhaps does actually lend a special value to our judgments here: the fact that we are stung daily into thinking intensively about these matters and very little else, and have the requisite time and freedom from distraction to permit us to do so.
Let us begin with the mass of the people and work toward the top.
If Moscow is any criterion, the mass of the urban dwellers in this country have it materially considerably better (quite naturally) than they had it at the end of the recent war, but also probably slightly better than they ever had it at any previous time in the Soviet period. This improvement finds itself expressed principally in the availability on the market of food and clothing and minor conveniences of life. Cost is, of course now, with the abolition of rationing, a real factor; and how much the average citizen can actually afford to buy we do not know. But life must be greatly facilitated, for almost everyone, by the ability to do readily such elementary things as to buy a pair of shoestrings or a new purse or clothes for a child, to summon a taxi in any emergency, to find something nice for a birthday party, or to get a seat—sometimes—in a bus. It is the little things that the improvement has manifested itself most; and who would challenge their importance?
Altogether, however, the improvement is not really very marked if compared with the best prior period since the First Five Year Plan—namely 1938–41. In some of the larger things, notably housing and facilities for recreation, there seems to have been little or no improvement at all. It is hard to tell, furthermore, just how far these ameliorations extend, both socially and geographically. In food and clothing the improvement is probably fairly uniform throughout the industrial and urban population of the country. But some of the most striking changes in Moscow, particularly the more extensive use of private cars, the construction of private cottages on the outskirts of the city, etc., seem to represent concessions to the privileged bureaucratic caste in the capital city, and find only pale reflections, if any, further afield. The streets of Leningrad, for example, are still, except for buses, just about as devoid [Page 1023] of motor vehicle traffic as they must have been in the year 1914; and since the ubiquitous droshki, which then commanded the Petersburg scene, has now disappeared entirely, the streets have a very empty appearance indeed, contrasting strongly with Moscow’s busy thoroughfares.
The concessions made to the more influential Moscow public are most striking in the extent to which they have made possible the emergence of a wide-spread cultivation of private interest. I understand that in Hungary the cultivation of private garden plots is frowned on. If so, this is a very significant divergence between Soviet and satellite conditions (and, incidentally, not the only one). Garden plots exist around Moscow by the hundreds of thousands, some leased out for the summer by the suburban municipalities from public lands (roadside strips, streambottoms, etc.) but without accompanying buildings, others leased out as the grounds of summer dachas, others belonging to what are, in effect, private suburban properties. These areas on the edge of the city virtually hum with activity, and the activity is one having little or nothing to do with the “socialized sector” of economy. Houses are built with family labor (log houses still, but stout and warm and not bad housing); gardens and orchards are laid out; poultry and livestock (individual cows and goats) are traded and cultivated in great number, though all trading must be done in individual animals, or at the most, pairs, not in herds.
I would guess that the number of people participating in the pursuit of such part-time activities just around Moscow alone runs into the millions. And around their activities there has grown up a sort of commercial servicing establishment: people who make their living by growing seeds and hot-house plants, breeding animals, etc. All these people have to keep their operations to a small scale. They must be careful not to employ labor, or to be found owning anything so magnificent as a truck. Everything must be masked as individual, rather than highly organized commercial, activity. But there are ways and means of solving all those problems.
The result is that on the outskirts of Moscow there has grown up a veritable world of what you might call “miniature private interest,” a world in which people devote themselves to, and think about, everything under the sun except the success of Communism, and appear to be quite happy doing so. I know, in fact, of no human environment more warmly and agreeably pulsating with activity, contentment and sociability than a contemporary Moscow suburban “dacha” area on a nice spring morning, after the long, trying winter. Everything takes place in a genial intimacy and informality: hammers ring, roosters crow, goats tug at their tether, barefoot women hoe vigorously at the potato patches, small boys [Page 1024] play excitedly in the little streams and ponds, family parties sit at crude wooden tables in the gardens under the young fruit trees. The great good earth of Mother Russia, long ignored in favor of the childish industrial fetishes of the earlier Communist period, seems once more to exude her benevolent and maternal warmth over man and beast and growing things together; and only, perhaps, an American Ambassador, stalking through the countryside with his company of guardians to the amazement of the children and the terror of the adults, is effectively isolated, as though by an invisible barrier, from participation in the general beneficence of nature and human sociability.
It is at this point that the pursuit of private interest by the city-dweller merges with the pursuit of private interest by the country-dweller. The crisis over collectivization—the quiet, creeping, cautious but stubborn resistance of the peasant to the disguised form of state exploitation involved in the collective farm system—plainly continues unabated. The regime tries to make the peasant work the collective holdings; the peasant prefers to address himself to the tiny private plot which is left to him to work by himself and the produce of which he is free to sell as he likes. It is true that the private plot is tiny (roughly one to two acres), that he may not employ labor on it, that the amount of livestock and equipment he may have on it is limited practically to kitchen garden dimensions. All this does not matter. It is a commentary on the collective farm system that what the peasant can make from his one private cow and one private litter of pigs still seems usually to interest him more than his entire share in the collective farm herd. The collective farm system was drawn up in ignorance of the basic delicacy of the essential relationship between man and earth, man and plant, man and animal, in the agricultural process. The nature of the Soviet system has been deeply affected by the fact that the early Communists who conceived and imposed it were city people, for whom the agricultural process was only a backward and unglamorous form of industrial output, and its devotees—a reactionary, benighted caste, hovering socially between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, awkwardly resistant to classification in Marxist terms. As the years go by, the consequences of this deficiency in knowledge and experience on the part of the authors of Bolshevism become clearer and more important in their implications.
Since the average peasant house is hardly distinguishable from a great many of the city people’s dachas, and since its “private” plot looks much like the summer garden of many a part-time urban farmer, it is sometimes impossible to tell from visible observation which is which. Nor is there, subjectively speaking, much difference. The peasant is condemned like the city man, to work a certain [Page 1025] proportion of his time for what amounts to the state, at an inadequate remuneration. Like the city man, he finds relief, both spiritually and materially, by addressing himself with great intensity to the tiny plot which is left to him for his own use. Thus the partial “private sector” that is spread throughout the whole vast countryside of Russia.
The vigor and persistence of this small-scale private economy continues to be a source of concern for the regime, because it has a tendency to absorb both physical energy and emotional enthusiasm which the regime would like to harness for its own purposes. The farther one gets from Moscow the greater the problem seems to be, and the more difficult the control. The “private sector” is not without its own peculiar economic power and influence; and while these advantages are not exploited for any “counter-revolutionary” political purpose, they are exploited wherever possible for purposes of individual self-betterment, and have a tendency to lead to a good deal of connivance and corruption on the part of local officials. In consequence, the public lands and herds of the collective farms have everywhere an incurable tendency to shrink quietly and inconspicuously, the private ones to grow in similar fashion. This sort of thing seems to flourish with particular virulence in the more remote parts of the realm, where people have the feeling, to use an old Russian expression, that “the Tsar is far away.” In Georgia, for example, things appear recently to have advanced to a point where the collective farm system hardly existed at all any more, except in name. The regime finally woke up to the full import of what was going on; Beria was reportedly sent down to look after things; severe measures were taken; and the collective farm structure will presumably be put back together again somehow. But this disciplinary operation cannot have been agreeable to a great many influential local figures in that part of the world; it will presumably intensify sectional discontent, and it emphasizes the way in which the growing underworld of individual economic activity operates to widen the breach between the interests and hopes of broad masses of the people and those of the regime.
This spiritual breach between the rulers and the ruled is one of the things that most strongly strikes a person returning to Russia at this juncture after a long absence. Somehow or other, the betterment of material conditions for the mass of the people seems to go hand in hand with a certain sort of withdrawal of these masses from emotional participation in the announced purposes of the regime. This is not to be confused with political discontent. On the contrary, it is attended by the steady disappearance of those age groups which have any sort of recollection of pre-revolutionary times or any ability to imagine any other sort of government than [Page 1026] this one. It even is attended, I think, by an increasing acceptance of Soviet power and, in general, Soviet institutions as a natural condition of life, not always agreeable or pleasant, sometimes even dangerous, but nevertheless something that is simply “there,” like the weather or the soil, and not to be removed by anything the individual could possibly do—something that simply has to be accepted and put up with.
But in this very acceptance of Soviet power as a sort of an unchangeable condition of nature there is also implied the very lack of living emotional and political relationship to it, about which I am speaking. Thirty years ago people were violently for it or against it, because all of them felt Soviet power as something springing from human action, capable of alteration by human action, and affecting their own lives in ways that raised issues of great immediacy and importance with respect to their own behavior. Today most of them do not have this feeling. Their attitude toward it is one of increasing apathy and detachment, combined with acceptance—acceptance sometimes resigned, sometimes vaguely approving, sometimes unthinkingly enthusiastic. In general I think it fair to say that the enthusiasm varies in reverse relationship to the thoughtfulness of the person and to his immediate personal experience with the more terrible sides of Soviet power—such things as the experiences of collectivization, recollections of the purges, or personal unhappiness as a victim of the harshness of the bureaucracy.
It is my feeling that the regime is itself in large measure responsible for this growing emotional detachment of large masses of the people. For one thing, it has rendered itself physically and personally remote from the rest of the population to an extraordinary degree. One had a feeling 15 or 20 years ago of a much greater personal impact of the members of the Politburo on the actual running of the country, an impact which created a certain sense of intimacy between them and their subjects, and even with such of their subjects as were suffering at their hands. More was known and felt by people of the personalities, the views, and the moods of the top rulers. Today, these rulers sit in inscrutable isolation behind their Kremlin walls. For most people, they are only names, and names with a slightly mythical quality, at that. The relatively few changes in personnel in the top bodies in the past 15 years have meant that even that link with the public which is provided by the normal flow of advancement into prominent position of people who once had normal ties with friends and neighbors and co-workers, is now largely missing.
The regime, furthermore, seems now to care very little for the broad mass of the people as a possible thinking participant in the [Page 1027] processes of public life. The propaganda it addresses to them has an almost contemptuous overtone in the marked differences which distinguish it from the line put out for responsible and serious Communists. In the case of the masses, the appeal is to patriotic motives and the normal obligations of citizenship on the positive side, and to the most primitive and physical type of loathing for the foreigner, on the negative plane. In general, this appeal bases itself very strongly on the relationship between the Soviet—and outstandingly the Russian—population to its external environment. What the regime says to the masses of the people about internal affairs is laconic and perfunctory to a degree that seems almost derisive. It is significant that there is no longer even any five-year plan to serve as a focal point for popular enthusiasm. There are only the so-called “grand construction projects” (velikie stroiki) such as the Volga–Don Canal and the new building of the Moscow University—enterprises which many Soviet citizens can never be expected to see with their own eyes and in which few can ever expect to participate.
These, I repeat, are the only sops thrown to such Soviet citizens as might wish to indulge in enthusiasm over the internal programs of the regime, and it seems to me that the regime does not really care terrifically whether they enthuse about these current operations or not. The proper sources of enthusiasm for the average Soviet citizen, as reflected in the nuances and implications of the positions taken by the Party, all seem to relate rather to the past than to the present, and specifically to the great deeds accomplished in past times by two men claimed to have been of Herculean and almost inhuman stature: Lenin, whose greatness is treated as a historical fact, to be taken for granted, and Stalin, the disciple who outgrew the master, whose greatness merged into divinity, and whose magic, unerring touch caused problem after problem to dissolve into the gold of “the right solution” by the peculiar alchemy of genius and infallibility.
After such great deeds, there is very little left to do, or to say, or to suggest. Challenge grows only out of conflict; but conflict is only a product of social tension. Where social tension has been overcome, where “the right solution” has long since been found, what is there left to discuss, or even to combat?
This is the question which today wracks the labors and deliberations of the Soviet literary and artistic world. It is no accident that in recent months the major debate in Soviet cultural circles has been over the question of the “conflictless” play or novel: the question, that is, as to whether it is possible for genuine conflicts to be present, and so portrayed by the fiction writer, in a society where all important social problems have theoretically been solved. The [Page 1028] question was raised some months ago, quite bluntly and unwisely, by a Soviet playwright apparently frustrated to the point of desperation in his search for a suitable conflict to form the subject of drama. Its frightening possibilities were readily perceived by almost everyone concerned; and the party, still pale from the thought of the abyss into which it had been obliged to peer, hastily announced that there were indeed genuine conflicts in Soviet life, explaining that there were always some people more advanced and other people less advanced in the understanding of the work and purposes of Soviet power and that in this disparity lay tensions and conflicts quite adequate to the purposes of any competent playwright or novelist.
Naturally, nobody was really fooled by this prevarication. The fact of the matter is that the bottom has been knocked out of the internal ideological position of the Soviet regime by the immoderate and “all-out” glorification of Stalin and exaggeration of the regime’s own successes in the past. A vacuum has been created in this way which it will not be easy for anyone to fill. The country lives today, ideologically, in a species of Wagnerian twilight, characterized by the rosy, ethereal reflections of great deeds once accomplished, breathing an atmosphere of well-deserved relaxation and smug self-congratulation over the tremendous achievements of the parting day. The real reason why Soviet plays are bad plays in the year 1952 is that all have to be written on the assumption that the happy ending has already taken place before the dramatic happenings begin: witnessing them, the western observer has the impression of seeing a family of actors sitting around on the stage after the last curtain has fallen, still congratulating each other on the fortunate outcome of all their adventures, those who were once in error having now seen the light and started on proper paths, the others glowing with a veritable surfeit of rectitude. There can be no real negative characters in the Soviet drama, except agents and dupes of the menacing outside world; for how could such people be produced by the influences of Soviet society alone, which has been correctly conducted for 35 years?
This question runs through all manifestations of Soviet life. It affects the legal system. It causes jurists to argue about the continued causes of criminality in a system where consciousness is supposed to stem from class membership and yet classes are supposed to be abolished. It carries into the debates of the psychologists and the philosophers who wonder whether or not the individual is supposed to be considered a moral being capable of arriving at his own choices between right and wrong. Into every nook and cranny of Soviet life flows the insidious paralyzing influence of this dilemma—the [Page 1029] dilemma of a group of men who have officially portrayed themselves as just one bit too successful and too infallible.
By and large the major escape from this situation for the government propagandist and teacher is the “capitalist encirclement.” More and more the outside world, and above all the United States, is made to stand as scapegoat for all the genuine deficiencies and conflicts of Soviet society. But this is successful only to a limited degree. By and large, people are too perceptive to permit their emotional world to be absorbed by a thesis which tells them that this is the best of all possible worlds at home and the worst of all possible worlds lies immediately beyond the Soviet border. They shrug off this rather obvious and childish proposition—largely for the reason that it gives them no real help in meeting the genuine problems of individual life that each of them must face. They have heard it too long, it is all too remote and abstract. They need something more earthbound, something more close to home. In these circumstances it is no wonder that their emotional interests turn again to personal relationships, to the providing of greater security for individual and family. It is no wonder that there is a renewed interest in romantic love, and that bobby-soxers now storm the tenors and leading men of the Moscow stage in a manner little less violent than that of the partisans of the popular crooner at home. Above all, it is no wonder that even in the relatively sophisticated and politically-minded city of Moscow one-fourth to one-third of the population is estimated, on fairly serious evidence, to have some sort of religious faith—at least in a degree sufficient to interest them in seeing to it that their children are baptized and their dead do not go unprayed-for to the graves and crematoriums. While the ubiquity of this sort of simple faith is not to be confused with any revival of secular influence on the part of the Orthodox Church (they are two quite different things) it is nevertheless a fact of immense underlying importance.
This type of life—the combination of modest work, modest hope and modest faith—combined with an attitude of cautious detachment vis-à-vis the political power, appears to bring to those who lead it a state of mind which, if not exactly happiness, is also not unhappiness, and is actually not too different from that of working people in any country. Once the individual has detached his own inner life from the world of politics, his joys and sorrows are pretty much the normal ones of life anywhere; and the fact that there are narrow limits to the field in which his ambitions can roam, with respect to both wealth and position, is perhaps rather a source of spiritual health than otherwise.
This reasonably healthy and normal state of the popular mind contrasts quite sharply with what I fancy I see in the faces of the [Page 1030] intelligentsia and at least a certain sector of the more important people in the apparatus of power—with all those people, in short, who might be said to have “pretentions.” I have never seen any more subdued, morose, and obviously deeply unhappy people than many of the upper class theater audiences in Moscow. There is a deadness about them that is almost frightening. Most of these actually belong, in all probability, to the upper officialdom. One sees relatively few intellectuals any more in the Moscow theater audiences.
It requires, however, only a slight acquaintance with current artistic and critical literature to see how deeply unhappy the literary and cultural circles themselves must generally be. The long years of purges and censorship have taken their toll in two ways. They have eliminated most of the more sensitive people from the scene entirely. Relatively few of these, I think, have suffered any actual arrest or any punishment worse than a semi-exile in the years since World War II. But many have been in one way or another barred from productive work in their normal fields and from association with other people of like tastes, and many others have voluntarily barred themselves from these things. Those that remain are primarily the political careerists—people whose real profession and source of strength lies in their political collaboration with the regime but who have just sufficient talent, or did have it when they were younger, to pass plausibly as artists, authors, or what you will. Only a handful of writers of any real prestige remain, and these—instead of producing anything of great literary value—vie with each other on the overt level, in blood-thirsty propaganda speeches about bacteriological warfare, and, behind the walls of the Writers’ Union in waspish personal duels with one another, conducted in the guise of comradely literary criticism and counter-criticism, but against a background of the most savage party and police intrigue. The result is, of course, that their efforts have relatively little meaning to the wider Soviet public. They come to resemble simply a blind and confused whirling of positive and negative particles around the magnet of the central political power, with occasional minor collisions about which nobody any longer cares. When one sees these people, and indeed all of those whose lives, by virtue of their positions in life, have come to be entirely identified with the shifting shadows of favor and disfavor in the higher ranks of the regime, and when one compares their taut faces with those of the stolid but relatively healthy and happy non-party masses, one is reminded of the words of Dostoevski’s Grand Inquisitor: “And all of them will be happy, all the millions of beings, except the hundred thousand who rule them. For we alone, we who guard the secret—we alone shall be unhappy. There will be [Page 1031] thousands of millions of happy children and one hundred thousand superiors who have taken upon themselves the curse of the knowledge of good and evil.”
There is one more aspect of this division of the classes which is really new and of greatest potential importance for the future development of Soviet society: that is the relative stability of social relationships which has characterized the period since the war. The fact is that in the past five or six years there has been relatively little political purging. The result is that mobility throughout the apparatus of power has probably been far less than was formerly the case. Influence and position have now been retained by the same people for a relatively long time. The children of these people have begun to grow up with a distinct conciousness of caste identification. There are increasing evidences at present of a stratification of society which is attaining a certain firmness, and will not be easy to break up again. Stratification, in itself, is of course not new in Soviet society. It was frequently observed and commented on in the later thirties and during the war. But this was a relatively unstable stratification related solely to the holding of office; and since office was generally not held very long and life was full of abrupt changes and catastrophes, there was little chance for this stratification to solidify. The years since World War II, however, seem to have brought a certain change in this respect. Social distinctions are again becoming important in the relations between young people. Older people are beginning to complain of “snobbishness” among the young. The behavior of different groups of people, in other words, begins to reflect not in just the jobs they happen to hold at the moment but their general estimate of themselves and of their place in the hierarchy of Soviet society.
The absence of extensive purges, which has had much to do with producing this situation, is something well worth noting for a number of reasons. Among other things, we are forced to conclude that the political concentration camp population in the Soviet Union has probably declined greatly in the last two or three years. There has been no evidence of arrests and forced labor sentences for political reasons on a scale adequate to maintain the camps at the level of populousness they reached in the late thirties and during the war. Since many of the victims are, after all, confined on limited sentences and released after varying periods of time (many of the terms should now be maturing in the case of those arrested just before and during the war) and since mortality is extremely high among the remainder, the camp population can drop very drastically and rapidly if arrests and deportations are not maintained at the levels of roughly a decade ago. We cannot even be sure that the Soviet Government is not quietly preparing a situation [Page 1032] in which it will be possible for it to adopt a position, some fine day, that there are no political concentration camps in the Soviet Union, and to challenge some sort of international inspection to prove it. This may not be for a long time, and it may never come entirely; but the absence of evidence of extensive political arrests in recent years for offenses other than those having to do with foreign connections leads me to feel that we ought perhaps to be a bit careful in our propaganda and allegations on the forced labor question and to draw a certain distinction between the satellite areas, where concentration camps and other features of the terrorism of an early revolutionary phase are still prominent, and the Soviet Union, where terror has really done its work so well that arrest and confinement of great masses of people for purposes of intimidation are possibly no longer considered really necessary.
This relative stability in social relationships seems again to stem directly from conditions in the top ranks of the regime: particularly the congealment of personnel at the very top, the stagnation in promotions at the Central Comite level, and the general atmosphere of wary hesitation and inactivity which is no doubt a reflection of the delicacy of all personal-official relationships in the light of Stalin’s increasing age and the growing problem of succession. The connection of these things with the growth of social distinctions was clearly symbolized for some of us, the other evening, by the sight of Stalin’s son sitting with two other Air Force officers in solitary splendor in the government box at the ballet and ogling the prima ballerina in the best regal tradition. I cannot imagine that this young man conceives of himself as a crown prince. Despite his generals rank, he is not a person of any position on the Party, as far as any of us are aware. I should suppose that any bid for power on his part would set all sorts of fireworks in motion. But the quiet ostentation of his appearance at the ballet is eloquent testimony to the fact that distinctions other than ones of party or police position now have raised their heads and achieved recognition in the Soviet Union and find their crowning expression in the immediate vicinity of the august presence itself.
We have seen that the emotional withdrawal of the mass of the people from an identification with the life and experience of the political power was a reflection of the policies of the government itself. We see that the stratification of social groups in the country likewise has as its origin conditions at the top of the regime. These things, to my mind, warrant our most minute attention. The very essence of the domestic policies of the Stalin regime has been to attempt to abolish the factor of elemental and natural evolution in the development of Russian society—in fact, to abolish change itself except insofar as change might represent one of the deliberate [Page 1033] temporary zig-zags of party policy. We now see two changes taking place before our eyes, neither of which was presumably desired by the regime, both of which even bear in themselves considerable potential danger for the regime, and yet both of which the regime has found itself obliged to stimulate. One is the detachment of the people from the supreme political purpose; the other is the growing rigidity of caste stratification in Soviet society.
Both of these phenomena, in deepest essence, are reflections of the life and works of a single man. The first is the reflections of his infinite jealousy and avidity for political power—qualities that carried him to his absurd pretentions to an earthly divinity and actually killed the ideological sense and function of the political movement of which he is the head. The second is the reflection of his increasing age and approaching death. No great country can be identified as closely as this one with the life and fortunes of a single man—so bent and attuned to his personality, his whims and his neuroses, without sharing to a degree his weaknesses and his very mortality. The Party has tried to rule out change; but the Party is hoisted here on the petard of its own lack of genuine democracy, of the loss of organic connection with the emotional forces of the people themselves—of its dependence on, and beholdenness to, the life cycle of a single individual.
I see no early revolt in the Soviet Union. I see no likely dramatic or abrupt ending to the phenomenon of Bolshevism. Least of all do I see in the minds of the people any new or revolutionary alternative to the present system. I cannot rule these things out, but they are not in the cards as they appear to me today. I do see that the Party has not succeeded in ruling out change. I see that there are great forces operating here which are not really under the control of the regime, because they are part of the regime’s own failings and its own mortality. I see that the original glamour and emotional meaning of the revolution have largely exhausted themselves, and that the regime faces a dilemma in the need for filling the resulting vacuum. I would warn against drawing any primitive and over-simplified conclusions from the observations I have just made. But I think they have sufficient force to stand also as a warning against the assumption into which many people have drifted: that the Soviet leaders have somehow found some mysterious secret of infallibility in the exercise of power and that it is no problem for them to hang on indefinitely and to mold Soviet society to their hearts’ desire. What is coming in this immediately approaching period may very well be a crisis of Soviet power quite comparable [Page 1034] in scope and seriousness to the original civil war or the death of Lenin or the purges of the 30’s—but entirely different in form.
P. S. Most of this letter was actually written a month ago, before I went to Germany. On reading it over now I have the following two after-thoughts:
- I have probably given a somewhat exaggerated picture of the role of the private sector in agriculture. The regime claims in effect an extensive reduction in private livestock holdings in recent months as a result of the disciplinary pressures it has brought to bear.
- I neglected to mention one or two things which support the thesis of the emotional retirement of people into “private life.” One is the frequency of drunkenness and delinquency—particularly among young men—both of which are manifestations of “private life,” though negative ones. The signs of this seems to me greater than at any time I have been here. Another is the regime’s show of concern for what it now does not hesitate to call the “spiritual needs” of people. The very recognition that people have such needs is new in Soviet official thought, and reflects the uneasiness of the regime over the realization that they are losing access to the inner life of people.