Lev Deliusin (China scholar), 1992

Lev Deliusin, 1992
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

Deliusin: So Chinese peasants still remember how they’d done that before. Although there was what was called communization in China – establishing people’s communes and cooperatives — in some regions, provinces, districts of China the rules [laws?] were not followed very strictly. And though some call China a totalitarian state, it is a very peculiar totalitarian state because not all the decisions taken in Peking are fulfilled in the provinces.

MS: Now or then?

Delusin: Now and then.

MS: There’s another thing I want to move to. But before I do that I want to ask you…, it occurred to me that perhaps some of the rigidity of some of the policy makers concerning the use of land reforms early on may have been a result of the fact that Bukharin was not rehabilitated until fairly late and that Chayanov was not in good status. I wonder if you could say that this overcommitment to what looks to have been failure in agricultural policy could have been a result of slowness, reluctance to change the official position on these people.

Delusin: No, there a lot of factors here, not just the slowness you’ve mentioned. Those people understood that if they changed the existing system of production in agriculture, i.e. [scrapped?] kolkhozes and sovkhozes, they might lose their privileges. We called those chairmen of kolkhozes and directors of sovkhozes “red land owners”.

MS: Red land owners?

Delusin: Yes, they have a lot of privileges. And they didn’t want to lose them, they didn’t want to lose their control over other peasants. We can see it now in China. It is not a widespread phenomenon, but in some regions peasants who understand that they have some independence which comes from owing land don’t pay too much attention to party functionaries. They want to elect their local officials (village level) themselves and not just to accept those proposed by the people who are above them [the centre?]. This is just the beginning of the process. And in our country also. If you give independence to peasants there will be no need in having this huge bureaucratic structure [in agriculture?].

MS: OK. Gorbachev was a reformer in some areas. But you are saying that he was, which seems to me obvious, in seeing something important in the area of agriculture. He certainly personally didn’t enjoy (???) as a red land owner. What is your explanation for his slowness in this area?

Deliusin: Here we have to deal with a very complicated problem of Gorbachev. Sometimes we adore him because he initiated this process of reforms, but he did nothing to implement those reforms. He was speaking too much about perestroika and did nothing in practice. It seems to me that in our country now there are people who begin to analyze and criticize his attitude, his approaches to the reforms, his style of work [leadership?]. And it’s good because it works for the future of our country. I think he did two mistakes. But we should not condemn him [be too unforgiving?] because he is a product of this society, of the Communist Party. His first mistake is that he defends socialism. He believes in the classical form of socialism. You may call it Marxism, or Stalinism. Simonia says that Stalinism distorted Marxism. Tsipko says that Stalin is a true follower of Marx. There a lot of discussions about it. Nevertheless one of the faults, or mistakes, or weaknesses of Gorbachev is that he, though a reformer, wanted to preserve the idea of socialism. His understanding of socialism is different from Sakharov’s. There was time when Sakharov also defended socialism. He was trying to understand whether it was possible to improve socialism or it was hopeless (“go to hell with socialism”). And Gorbachev wanted to serve socialism. Yakovlev who is now against socialism and Marxism also used to say that our task was to save authority [?] of socialism, the ideals of socialism and Marxism. Now Yakovlev has a different view with regard to this problem. But at the time of the beginning of perestroika he was in favor of socialism and Marxism. So this is one of their [his — Gorbachev’s?] weaknesses.

MS: What about you? You were an assistant to Andropov. Right? Were you … radicals? Or were you more critical than Gorbachev and Yakovlev were…?

Delusin: No, it was not possible to criticize him. I don’t like discussions about the Soviet Union because I want to study China. It takes a lot of time to read Chinese newspapers.

MS: But when people said, now, if you do this you open the door to capitalism, did you believe that? Or did you yourself at that point say, no, you could have agricultural reforms without jeopardizing socialism?

Delusin: I don’t like to use those words – “capitalism” and “socialism”. There is a system of production that can [help?] develop agriculture and thus improve the life of people. And it doesn’t matter how you call it. Modern capitalism is not the same as it was in Marx’s times. Those who have a chance to go to France or England now and can see how French or English pesants work will say that it’s not capitalism. It’s a new form of production. You might not call it socialism but it’s not capitalism either. And in China there is also a very interesting trend. They gave land to tillers [peasants]. Peasants don’t actually own this land privately but they can use it. They get it for a period of 100 years [a lease?]. And they can leave to their sons and daughters. So it doesn’t actually matter that the land is not quite theirs [not their private property], for all practical purposes it’s like owning it. But the new problem in China now, after many years of successful reforms, that peasants begin to express their desire to change the nature of the relationship between the government and themselves. They want to have a new state structure [?], [working?] collective structure which would help them to solve those problems which they themselves cannot solve. The problems like building roads, hospitals, other things which they cannot do on their own. They are at the lower level – the one of private use of land, and there’s another level — the level of collective, or state, structure which can help them. It is the same as far as I know in England () [India?] where there are owners of land and there’s the structural level responsible for supplying them with what they need — machines, seeds, fertilizers, etc. So the same process is now beginning in China. And the Chinese say that this is socialism.

MS: Maybe you can give me a reference to some place where I can read about this in English. Have you been publishing anything that’s either in English or if it’s a short article I’ll have Julia translate it for me? And I’d like to know more about your analysis.

Delusin: I wrote about it many years ago.

MS: If it’s not convenient to look now, I’ll go on and ask you some other questions. And then maybe I can pursue that another time and ask Julia to contact you.

Delusin: This is an article about reforms in China at (?) “Marxism” () [and Marxism?]. It was published in …

MS: …‘91?

Delusin: This one is in English (?).

MS: Good. That’s good enough. Because there are some other things I want to ask you that are quite different. Look, I want to go to this other thing which is actually very interesting to me. What I’m really trying to find is ways in which the ideas at the top changed. I understand that this was a revolution from the top, at least at first, that somehow ideas reached the top from critics or to some extent I’m sure that people generated ideas at the top, Gorbachev had his own negative experiences and so on. What I’ve been looking for is people who were critics, perhaps quiet critics, but the critics or who are [were?] opening new ways of thinking ten years ago. And people who had a foot in each camp, people who knew dissidents and critics and artists and other liberal-thinking people here and also had contacts at the highest level. But the main reason I contacted you was that someone told me that you were not only an assistant to Andropov but that you had friendships in the artistic world and that in particular you had friendships around (??) [at?] the Taganka Theatre with Mr. Lyubimov.

Delusin: You can see Mr. Lyubimov here (?).

MS: I saw the prcture when I came in. So what was that like? Can you tell me a little about the situation of the people like yourself. Were there many people in that situation, people who had relationships in both places?

Delusin: It is an interesting problem to study because it was a very interesting period. I was working with Andropov. He was a party bureaucrat but nevertheless he understood that we needed new ideas, new approaches in our relations with China and other countries. So our conversations with him were not limited to our work but we also discussed other matters, like poetry, for example, and in particular such poet as Bulat Okudzhava. I argued with Andropov about him because Andropov didn’t have objective information about this poet. I am a friend of Bulat Okudzhava’s and I criticized Andropov for believing that bad information he had about him.

MS: You told him that?

Delusin: I told him.

MS: And how did he react?

Delusin: According to the information he had Okudzhava was a dissident and a bad man. But I told him that he had taken part in the Great Patriotic war (1941-1945), that both parents were persecuted under Stalin, and that his poems are good for our country and our young people will benefit a lot from reading them. And he changed his mind.

MS: Really?!

Delusin: Yes. And at the time of a campaign against Lyubimov my friends from TV went to Andropov and said that it could damage our relations with other countries and democratically minded people.

Side B

And he gave instructions to the Minister of Culture not to put obstacles on the way of such a performance [play?]. Andropov was a very controversial figure. Sometimes he permitted us to speak very freely and urged us not to conceal our opinions. But at other times he wouldn’t agree with us and it’s quite natural. His experience was different, he belonged to a different generation. You can ask Arbatov. We were working together – Arbatov, Burlatsky, Bovin.

MS: Did you feel that there was ever any risk for you in speaking up in favor of liberal… ?

Delusin: I didn’t feel that I was at risk but some people were saying that I was very brave speaking openly. You see, Andropov at that time allowed us to speak [freely?].

MS: But you wouldn’t have been able to do that under Brezhnev?

Delusin: This is where the problem of relations between people comes in. Because there are problems that I can discuss freely with Andropov and cannot, for example, with Ponomaryov and other people. And before you start speaking you try to figure out whether this is the person with whom you can speak freely. I know, for example, that with Arbatov I can speak freely, with Burlatsky I can discuss everything, and the same thing with Bovin. But not with other people… .

MS: But under Andropov in general people were freer than they had been under Brezhnev? Or wouldn’t you want to say such a thing?

Delusin: It is very difficult for me to judge Andropov because he was a very interesting man, a very controversial man. But he was a product of the Party and of this society and he didn’t want to lose his post…

MS: Would you say that then the critical people and artists and dissidents, critical critics, had any influence on policy under Andropov, under Gorbachev.

Delusin: To a certain degree.

MS: And was it mediated personally by people such as yourself who would play that broker between these positions, or would you say that the people at the top were themselves listening to … ?

Delusin: You see the decision making process in our country is not completely controled by the leader of the country (). So Andropov could listen to us but couldn’t [always] follow our advice.

MS: He didn’t feel free himself to do so?

Delusin: Right. You are freer than him.

MS: When he was in power?

Deliusin: Of course we are freer than him. Because we work at this lower level and he was at the top level. And those who are at the top level of the establishment are not free.

MS: That’s interesting.

Deliusin: You don’t have to take those decisions but he had to and was responsible for them. He knew how Khrushchev and Brezhnev felt about things. We worked with Andropov and knew his feelings and opinions on many problems. But we didn’t always knew the opinion of Brezhnev. Arbatov and Bovin worked closer to Brezhnev and knew him quite well. I didn’t. I might have known something but not from my personal experience.

MS: Do you think that he, well let’s say Andropov, whom you did know, had any independent interest or sympathy for the people who put themselves in jeopardy by being critical. Was he in any way sympathetic to those people?

Deliusin: Maybe sometimes he felt some sympathy deeply inside. But he was a politician. So he had to choose between his position and his genuine feelings. You can ask Arbatov, he knows more than me because he had a relationship with Andropov and Brezhnev and others.

MS: I will ask him. And I must go.

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