Gilbert Rozman (China, agriculture), 1992

Gilbert Rozman interview 9 September 1992
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
Rozman is interested in relations between Russia and China, and exposed some debates about agricultural policy.

Rozman: The final stage of the research for that book was done in the summer of ’82 and then I tried to keep up with developments until the beginning of ’83, but the book reflects research into ’83 but interviews into ’82.

Spencer: Did you keep track of the discussion that want on later? Do you know what went on with regard to Chinese agriculture?

ROZMAN: I think it’s a very good question. I was curious about it and I wasn’t readmitted to the SU because of the research for that book for a number of years. They were very angry, particularly when the article came out preceding the book in ’83. This article appeared in the China Quarterly. It led to a number of ramifications in the academic exchanges under IREX and in my opportunities to do research in the SU. I could not get back until ’88. But I heard the behind the scenes later — who blew up and what kind of investigation took place. It was related to the debates about China. I have pieced together some of the background discussions in the intervening years but haven’t written anything substantial on it and haven’t done the serious work. There are people, including Deliusin, who have helped me understand some of this, including one man named Gelbras. I do believe that Burlatsky was very interested in this and he, in the summer of ’86, wrote one of the first substantial pieces on the Chinese model and how the SU should learn from it.

In 82 Burlatsky was on the outs, had little influence, and then when Andropov took office, Burlatsky was appointed the political observer for Liturnaya Gazetta. That immediately gave him access to different opportunities to write. But China was something he couldn’t touch for a while. Finally, in ’86 he was able to raise it. There was a lot of talk about the Chinese reforms and what their meaning was. That talk took different significance at different times — before perestroika, after perestroika, into the 80s. So why the Russians didn’t adopt that model has to be answered in terms of different stages — what was the Soviet thinking about in terms of economic reform in general, and then how that affected their response to the particular way Chinese did things.

S: Who had what kind of influence early in Gorbachev’s period? Aganbegyan says everybody asks why we didn’t follow the Chinese model, but he doesn’t give a good answer.

ROZMAN: In 88 I wrote a piece on how the Soviets were responding to the Japanese model, which I thought was of more interest to them than the Chinese one. And why they weren’t responding to it was, and which groups were trying to push them to respond. This appeared in Pacific Review in the fall of 88, so I was investigating the various groups and interviewing in 88 on that subject. I had the sense that the Chinese model wasn’t being debated very vigorously for whatever reason. There were a number of reasons, perhaps. One was, they really didn’t think that the agricultural conditions in their country were very close to China, because they didn’t have much of a peasantry to respond to the new kinds of incentives, the privatization of land.

S: I interivewed Simonia, who gave me that answer and who also said that he thought the Japanese model was more relevant.

ROZMAN: He’s really interesting on that subject. I have had a lot of good talks with him and I hope that he’s going to be here next year.

S: The pattern that Gorbachev experimented with in Stavropol years ago — this zveno system doesn’t look that different from the Chinese model.

ROZMAN: My recollection is that they were talking about some types of zveno from the late 70s, talk about brigades, decentralization, breaking them into smaller units that would take responsibility for livestock, self-accountability. That is different from China in that what the Chinese did was to say, okay, we’re just transferring the land to individual households who are now free to use their family labor as if it were private land. That’s a lot different from a decentralized unit which will still follow many centralized directives but will have more incentive to do so.

ROZMAN: Shibashki (?) if you remember that term, such as the Korean group that went around building roads and harvesting onions. They tended to be out of the collective sector altogether and much more effective than the Russians. So they did some similar notions but these were treated as not part of the collective economy and I don’t think there was any reform saying that the collective economy would be handed over to the groups that weren’t under central control.

S: The main objective I heard is that after they put in a year around Stavropol doing this scheme and then he cancelled it under pressure from above and put in something like a brigade system, which sounded like a much bigger unit but later I read that some of these varied in size and some may have been very small, may have been household size.

ROZMAN: Household size is really tiny, but I guess in some cases, they could twist the name, just as in China they often twisted the name, such as individual household where you would often end up hiring a number of workers.

S: Can you tell me more about what happened to you and do you mind?

R. No, I have no problem. I found that when I was doing my investigating, people told me when I was interviewing them that I was into something that was very sensitive, that a lot of people would be very angry if they knew what I was doing, that I could get into real trouble getting back into the country, that they could get into real trouble if I revealed their names, so I was never in any doubt. Then when I published an article in 83, Rachmanin, a member of the Central Committee, first deputy under Ponamareyov, blew up and a lot of people got into trouble. Ambassador Lukin got into trouble and when he came to Princeton this spring I toasted him. It was the first time I had seen him since I had interviewed him. Although I didn’t say anything about my interview with him, I did refer to his publications and put him into a category that did cause trouble for him. Deliusin got into a little trouble and many others got into more trouble. I revealed a lot of pseudonyms of people who were party figures, so there was the sense that I had stumbled onto a debate about what China meant for the Soviet Union, which was something I ought not to have known anything about.

MS: How did you feel about the fact that you might be getting people into trouble?

ROZMAN: Well, I thought I took all the appropriate precautions. They had willingly written the things they did, and willingly given me information, and I got people into trouble only because of what they wrote. For no other reason and they had been part of a public debate. I don’t mean anyone got into really BIG trouble. No one was imprisoned. They weren’t able to travel, they weren’t able to have graduate students, there were political meetings dealing with it, but it wasn’t as if this was some sort of political torture. So I didn’t feel that I had done anything wrong. I was sorry about it and several of these people I have gone back to and invited them to Princeton for joint research and other things where I really admired their work. And then I went to China and did the same thing. I wrote a book on Chinese views of the Soviet Union using almost entirely internal publications that I should not have seen. And I found out what their basic debates were. I don’t think there has been the same degree of sensitivity in China, but I am going back to China this fall for two months of research and —

S: So you weren’t PNGed for that?

ROZMAN: They don’t do it that way.

S: Did anybody else get in trouble?

ROZMAN: Not that I know of. A lot of these people were in trouble anyway in the sense that many of these people were known for their critical views of the establishment. Some of these people ‘have left the country. I just encouraged openness at this stage.

S: Lukin didn’t get mad at you?

ROZMAN: I don’t think so. I saw him. As far as I know, the academics on the reform side felt proud and generally were not angry. There may be one or two who were. Some of them slipped messages. I got the information that they were having trouble because of me, and they treated me well when I went back there.

S: Do you know other people who have had similar experiences?

ROZMAN: Not this exact thing. Of course there were a lot of people who weren’t allowed to go back in. Nobody else that I know goes so clearly after debates, perceptions, who is saying what.

S: Deliusin said on that, I think, that he and Bovin wanted to write something in Izvestia and were not allowed to do so.

ROZMAN: He told me about a number of pieces he wrote and submitted or wanted to write and was not able to publish during the period 85 to 90. AT times he had to delay. Sometimes something came out a year and a half after he had written it, because it had been held up. Other times, he published in an Estonian journal because it wouldn’t get published in Moscow or elsewhere, so it is not at all surprising. He and Bovin were two of the reformers in my discussion of 1983, and they worked together.

S: One thing I am pursuing for a larger section of my book has to do with the group of people who were connedted thru having been in Prague at about the same time. Arbatov, Burlatsky — was Deliusin there?

ROZMAN: Well, if you go back, there are two origins. One is the advisors to Andropov, when he was the secretary in charge of relations with socialist countries, and all of these names were advisors. And the second is the Prague group. Rumyantsev is an important figure in the Prague group and is also related to the Deliusin group and I talked to his former private secretary who had emigrated when I was doing my research at the beginning of the eighties. I think it’s a fascinating group and I have always felt for over 10 years now, I felt that something should be written about the history of this group. Maybe Arbatov in his book —

S: I interviewed Arbatov and then about two weeks later found his book in Berkeley. It’s a wonderful book. He spills all the beans and scoops everything I was going to say. Do you know William Smirnov?


S. He is an aide of Shakhnazarov and he told me about all this. I want to diagram the network. And so they all had something to do with the World Marxist Review, but the masthead doesn’t identify them.

ROZMAN: You might find out through Ambassador Lukin. He was in Prague. There are a lot of peole who know who they were. I haven’t talked to him in some years, Boris Rabot, lives in New York. He was the secretary for one of them.

S: Did Deliusin retire at the end of his stint with Andropov?

ROZMAN: He resigned the position as Chair of the Department of China at the Oriental Studies Institute in 1990 and took a position at Bogomolov’s institute, where he goes in once a week. As of last spring he was still formally associated with that institute.

S: When he was most influential, do you know anything about the actual discussions? Were there meetings? He says it was in print, but in journals, not public documents.

ROZMAN: He didn’t want to go to meetings with the other side, he found them to be so obnoxious, as I did, so he was a separate group writing but not in meetings. There were times when there were open clashes in meetings, and in my later investigations of debates with Japan, I heard accounts of those famous meetings. People would give different accounts of what went on. But on the China side, the debates were so bad for so long that the people weren’t talking to each other. The two groups were the Institute of Far Eastern Studies and the Department of China at the Oriental Studies institute, which was Deliusin’s group. His group was supposed to be historical, although a small number there were writing reports for the Central Committee and other distribution purposes, but they were primarily concerned with the history of China as a culture. I didn’t hear much about actual meetings where there were explosions.

S: He mentions that his enemies were the bureaucrats. To me that means something different from scholars. What do you think he means by that?

ROZMAN: I suspect he thinks that a number of people who were active at the institute were not scholars but bureaucrats. There weren’t many really good scholars, and when you think of people like [Fladkovsky?] you are thinking of a bureaucrat. He certainly had enemies as well, higher up. He had enemies for a number of reasons. These debates go back a long way. You are asking about what went on in 85, 86, but it is hard to understand that without the context of what was going on in the sixties because they were trying to come up with a new position toward China in the sixties. This was the time when Burlatsky was purged from Pravda, when Deliusin was briefly appointed to be the head of a new institute, and then was fired from that position — what later became INION —the institute of scientific Information. This is a time when Flakovsky, over the objections of many, was chosen to be the director of the main institute on China. So there was a real clash of views in the late sixties that continued over twenty years.

S: So this debate was an academic debate that was not really taking place within the politburo or in any policy-making level?

ROZMAN: I think the major decisions were made high up. Creating a new institute in the academy of sciences, deciding in 1982 on normalization of relations with China and what the policies would be to do that. These were the highest level decisions and there were speeches by Brezhnev and others identified with them. The four people whom I name as the leadership on the orthodox side all were bureaucrats in their access and their appointments. The deputy foreign minister, a first deputy of the department of the secretariat, and directors of institutes.

S: Who is the deputy foreign minister?

ROZMAN: Kapitsa.

S: So there is no separation between their roles as scholars and the policymaking roles?

ROZMAN: When I said to Deliusin in 1983 that I had heard that Kapitsa read everything on Chinese foreign policy before it was published and decided what could be published and what could not, he didn’t disagree. And he was a deputy foreign minister. So the two overlapped. Rakhmanin took an intense interest in what was written about contemporary Chinese politics.

S: He mentioned “at the embassy.” I didn’t know what that meant.

ROZMAN: The embassy in Beijing?

S: I don’t know.

ROZMAN: Often there is a mixture at the embassy, where you get a mixture of reformers and hard-liners in the foreign ministry. Lukin, for example, worked in the foreign ministry in the mid-80s dealing with policy, including China.

S: That wold have been in Moscow, not Beijing.

ROZMAN: Yeah. I don’t know that he was ever stationed in Beijing, but I am thinking of the Tokyo Embassy. There were people of both persuasions and I was interested in their battles in the 2nd half of the eighties.

S: Tell me why you think that Japan is relevant to the Soviet situation. Simonia was talking about the Japanese situation at the end of the war.

ROZMAN: Well, the Japanese write a good deal about that too — as a case of recovering from a collapse, failure, and that what they did may have a lot in common with what the Russians have to do now. There are so many issues here that it is hard to know where to start. In terms of agriculture, the Chinese model itself can use some explanation. Stages of that model from 78 to 82 or 83, some of those steps might have been easier to do in Russia than others. Some of them might have been quite inappropriate. For instance, Soviet farmers were already making quite a bit of money and had good pensions and security, compared to other groups in the population. Between 1953 and 1985 they had narrowed the gap enormously, even though there weren’t many consumer goods or leisure opportunities or other things in the villages and the villages were dreadful places to live, but they had security. And it is not at all clear that if someone had offered them an extra 25 per cent or 50 percent increase in income that it would have had much impact on their behavior. It wasn’t clear that the people who paid most attention were still in the villages. The villages were dominated by older people, by people who were drinking a lot. Whereas in China, the backbone of rural society was preserved, there was almost no migration out of the villages, family structure was strong, there was every reason to think that family farms could be rebuilt in China with little effort. So that is a big difference. Now in China they weren’t really trying to rebuild family farms to begin with. They were hoping to increase prices of agricultural goods. Well, that had already been tried in Russia and I am not sure that it would have meant very much at this stage. They were reestablishing markets to sell things from the rural sectors. The marketing situation was worse than it was in the Soviet kolkhozes, the peasant markets were greatly suppressed in the cultural revolution, much more so than in Russia, so in a variety of ways what China was doing was like what Russia had done in the fifties. They got the benefits that Khrushchev had obtained by overcoming Stalinism in agriculture. But they also went much further, partly because their situation was so desperate. They had nowhere else to go, and because the peasants responded vigorously to the opportunities they received and went much beyond them with the help of local officials. In the SU if they had done some of the same things it is not clear that they would have got much response and it’s not clear that the _____ would have met anything like what they met in China.

S: Would you say then that their deliberations were rational ones or would you say that there was such a strong overlay of ideology?

ROZMAN: That’s a good question. I’m not sure I know what their deliberations were. If you go to 88 or 89 when perestroika was in full swing and there was talk about Chinese farms, I would suspect that there was a good deal of rationality. That is, they were desperate, they wanted to do something, and they knew a lot about the Chinese model and why it was successful. At that time, in deciding not to do it, they understood a fair amount the lack of immediate gains — that it wasn’t anything like a panacea and wouldn’t work the way it did in China. But how the discussions might have taken place two or three years earlier, I don’t know.

S: They didn’t rehabilitate Bukharin until 88.

ROZMAN: The speech in October of 87, I guess. It was mostly a rehabilitating speech. Not completely. But there were certainly ideological barriers to raising the Chinese model and a lot of them came in from the mix of bureaucrats and scholars who dominated the China field, much to the dislike of Deliusin. These people were feeding false information and misleading information about China with the support of high officials, and therefore it was difficult to get the Chineese model taken as seriously as it should have been. In the years of reform, beginning with Andropov and going into the early Gorbachev period.

S: He says that Gorbachev was listening to those people who didn’t want to hear this discussion. IF you had been making policy at that time, what would you have promoted?

ROZMAN: In 86-87?

S: Yes.

ROZMAN: It’s very hard to dissociate my Western background and preferences from the circumstances of the Soviet Union, which are so different. I suspect I would have had to force myself not to promote some of the things that I have come to believe in in the West because in the short run they might do much good and they might do a lot of harm. I would have looked at China very carefully. I would have gone into special economic zones, the collective cooperatives in the cities. I would have wanted to do things with livestock brigades and others, I would have advocated some decentralization. I suppose, in retrospect, I would have worried about the breakdown of order, the breakdown of the things that held the Soviet Union together. I would have known that there was a danger that things would get a lot worse before they would get better, and that I might not be able to come up with a solution that would see gradual change, as it occurred in China, where nobody had to pay much of a price for the first five or eight years of reform. Everybody gained. Nobody had an economic loss. I don’t think the Soviets had that luxury.

S: Whatever they did, it wouldn’t have come out all right?

ROZMAN: I think that they would have paid a dearer price. The question is, who would have paid it and whether they could keep that price somewhat down. I would have looked at the Chinese model as the one socialist reform model that worked. It was already successful by 85 – 86, I would have had a special group look at it very intensely, I would have tried to get the most open-minded people to do so, and then I would have had meetings to discuss the implications of this for the country.

S: Should I look for anything else besides the papers you mentioned?

ROZMAN: There are a few people around the country interested in Russia-Chinese relations, but I don’t think they are as much interested in reform as in foreign policy.

S: Deliusin made quite a point that the people who opposed making any reference to the Chinese economy were people who didn’t want to normalize relations with China.

ROZMAN: There seems to be that close link. And the third part of it is their role in censoring scholarship on China. They do all three things at once. Deliusin’s position is not necessarily the only one in Russia on this. I admire him a lot, but there are others. Deliusin is especially interested in foreign policy. The history of Sino-Sovet relations is his special interest, but there are others including Gelbras, who wrote a book comparing of the Chinese policies and talking about some of the relevance. He came to work with me at Princeton just after Deliusin was here a little over a year ago.

S: You say Simonia is going to be with you?

ROZMAN: He’s applied to come to the states. He won’t be at Princeton unless something comes up. He hopes to go to Washington for a year.

S: Someone told me that Burlatsky was looking for work in the U.S.

ROZMAN: I’m not surprised. I gather that he has spent quite a bit of time here and has been in Washington a fair bit. Deliusin and he were never very close. Some of the people did not regard Burlatsky as a full-fledged reformer in the sixties and seventies. But there are elements to that that I probably don’t know.

S: Do you know what they disagree about?

ROZMAN: Well, there is one issue that isn’t central, but it does matter some. That is, Burlatsky is not a real China scholar and he wrote a lot about China that Deliusin frowned on his popularizing and frowned on his mistakes. There is more to it than that, I am sure. But Burlatsky is also an important person for me. He is someone I never quoted anything that he said to me but he, along with Deliusin, are people I learned a lot from.

S: I will try to get to Lukin and, if I can find him, Burlatsky in the US. I want to interview Petrovsky about other matters.

ROZMAN: I think you will have some interesting things to say, based on what you have looked at and that others haven’t looked at this subject very well.

S: I will send you something after I have finished it, if you like, especially since I will be drawing on what you have told me. It is only fair to show it to you.

ROZMAN: I will be going to China for two months and won’t be back until December, but if you want to send anything, I’ll be glad.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books