Robert Prince, 1992, on the World Peace Council
Interviewer — Metta Spencer in my apartment. (He was in Toronto for some kind of meeting.)
PRINCE: In January, 1986 when Gorbachev unveiled the program to create total disarmament by the year 2000, it marked a new step in Soviet foreign policy and at this time, of course it was very difficult to evaluate what that meant … is this serious, is this propaganda … I do remember very clearly being startled by it, that even then it was something qualitatively different and it was a vision for peace, idealistic, utopian and that it was very stimulating to me. It came at a time when the cold war tensions were so sharp and the dangers of nuclear war were appreciated in the peace movement and elsewhere. So that was the beginning and then it was followed soon thereafter by the announcement of a Soviet veto on nuclear testing, which was the first unilateral step taken by one of the two super powers to decelerate the arms race.
I gave most of my peace work in what was called the U.S. Peace Council, which came together in 1979, at a founding convention in Philadelphia. That council brought together three social trends and those three stayed together for the 11 years I was involved in them. One were activists from the Communist Party U.S.A., most of whom really had not much to do with the C.P. leadership. We, I was one of them, we from the party but we were not particularly important in the party, but we came from either the anti-Vietnam movement or one of the solidarity movements. And the second trend were blacks and there were certain group big on black democrats who were not going to leave the democratic party but were frustrated with the political positions of the democrats and were not afraid to work with communists. And the third trend was a small but still existing group of left trade unionists in the U.S., which was centred around electrical workers, and at different occasions there were other local unions that were left-oriented—a small trend, but it did have an actual base, and that base helped.
We were never a big trend and we had all kinds of problems, but I still think of it as a wholesome movement in those days. In any case, from the beginning we worked in the western regions and the projects that we worked around—our main thing has always been peace dividends, cutting military spending for social needs, we worked around disarmament though and we worked in cooperation with the peace movement … it was never an easy alliance and there was something of a cold war with the peace movement, and I’m saying it now without putting the responsibility for that on the others, it was mutual, there was a lot of mistrust. But still we managed to work with them.
At the end of 1985 I was asked if I would be interested to go to Helsinki to work under the auspices of the World Peace Council. I really knew very little about the WPC at that time. The WPC was founded in 1949, it has a very interesting beginning. It came together in two conferences, one which was held in Paris and another in Prague, which called for the formation of an international organization. It essentially brought together much of the coalition which defeated the Nazis, a world-wide coalition … so there were prime ministers involved, religious people, intellectuals and people from all over the world. That was reflected in its first campaign which was called Stockholm Peace Appeal. That campaign raised the danger of the nuclear danger at a time when not very many other voices were doing it. Picasso, Matisse and other significant artistic-intellectual personalities, etc, and I’ve heard different theories as to why it came about and one which is a little bit different than what some people think who are here today, was that very influential and it was the Poles. The Poles saw that their window of opportunity was going to close to the west because of the cold war and Stalin, and so what they wanted was some kind of opening and they saw the possibility through the WPC of somehow continuing ties even though the Iron Curtain would come down and the cold war would begin.
In any case there were a number of important personalities who from the beginning wouldn’t touch the thing. One of them was Einstein, who they asked to participate in it and he saw it was too much tied to official Soviet positions and he stayed away. Not the Stockholm Appeal, so much, I don’t know whether Einstein signed it or not but I know he did not lend his name to the founding of the WPC and that that was a big disappointment and a big effort was made to get him involved. So even there, there were hesitations in the beginning, but my main point is that it began in a way where it was active and where it gave the world something that went beyond Soviet policy and propaganda, it was alerting the world to the nuclear danger. That was good. After that things deteriorated rather quickly, from what I can tell, by the mid-fifties, first of all it had been taken over by the Soviet bureaucracy and one of the results of that was that the broader cultural figures left—so it lost a lot of what made it a really exciting movement. But it still had some strength.
Then in the early sixties it suffered a big blow because two of the important supporters of the WPC were the Italians and the French communist party, which were enormous parties, unlike the CPs in North America, and the first attempt to dissolve the WPC came from the Italian and French communists who were anxious that it be dissolved. Because they saw it as too tied to Soviet policy and because they could not develop their own independent positions and because it had become bureaucratized. So there was a big struggle and it was in the early sixties over the Soviet state. The result of that struggle was that the Italians and French dropped out. That was a big blow, because when you lose the Italians and French at that time you lost the big social forces — and the European communists had ties far beyond their own parties and the left. You also lost a lot of funding and the result of that was that the WPC became a Soviet tool—official Soviet tool.
By then, already, the idea of rebuilding the WPC significantly weakened. It never had a base in the US. The cold war atmosphere made it impossible to form a US organization. Europe really was the main ideological battleground for the cold war, at least until the sixties when it shifted more internationally. So already by the sixties you could say that the WPCs chance of really influencing events in Europe had declined. It was at that point that the organization shifted gears where an Indian communist who had emerged through the ranks of the organization came to prominence and that was Romesh Chandra, who would become the president and what he did, and for this he deserves a certain acknowledgement, was he changed the WPCs focus. He wasn’t particularly interested in Europe and he reached out to see if the WPC could be built in the third world.
He had some success, for a number of reasons. One, (I must admit I did not agree with him and I criticized him publicly and privately — the man is quite brilliant, a clever organizer) through his organization skills he was able to open doors that had been previously closed to the organization in the third world. Why would third world countries join WPC? Why would they affiliate? I think that there were a couple of reasons. The Vietnam war was a very important milestone because it was part of the cold war where it was quite easy, for legitimate reasons, to vilify the US. And what could be an uglier fact of the US than its role in Vietnam? And that war evoked tremendous response throughout the third world. And who was organizing the third world in terms of opposition to the war? It was Romesh Chandra(?) of WPC. The timing was right, it was an anti-colonial war, anti-imperial war and the Soviets were thrilled to have someone flying around the world doing it. The Vietnam war was a period of redirection and regrowth towards the third world and with unquestionable successes.
That is only one part of it. The one part of it was the way the Vietnam issue was picked up and and Romesh Chandra’s way of doing it and that he really struck a chord in the third world. The other reason was that in many third world countries the WPC wasn’t so important, because some other thing were happening, such as the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 which did not have the support of the third world. But the third world wanted ties with Moscow. They wanted ties with Moscow, now ties with Moscow were complicated in the 1960’s. Because ties with Moscow meant you irritated the US, you irritated the British, the French, whatever, and they also wanted ties with the US, the British and the French. So why not not have exactly direct ties with Moscow but have them through the WPC? And the WPC was seen as a conduit through which these third world movements and countries, in some cases, could strengthen their ties with Moscow. So that was the appeal, i.e., that Moscow was a friend of the anti-imperialist movement, which I suppose was right.
And so there was this growth, and I say that because even today, for the criticism, valid criticisms that one can make of the WPC, that its ties with the third world remain something of value. So then the war ended and then the situation of the WPC became much more complex. First of all, even though it was doing well at these activities the bureaucratic trend within the WPC was strengthening — tremendous bureaucracy, I mean, it took me two years to learn the structures of this organization, because it is not just one committee, but many layers. And first you had to learn the structure and then you had to learn the players…
M: How many people were staff members?
PRINCE: When I was there there was sixty people who worked in the office. The bureaucracy of the organization continued to grow. It was an attempt in a certain way to create a kind of administrative…..socialist version of the UN. So you went to the office, and you had your meetings and there was translation in four languages, every document was translated into four languages, it was a big operation. After ‘75 a couple of things happened, and they happened fast too…from ‘75 to ‘79 you had the liberation of Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau…you had struggles which were the traditional imperialist struggles which the WPC would have no trouble with whatever. Nicaragua.
And then you had Afghanistan. And when Afghanistan comes the line that the WPC followed was completely subservient to the Soviet interests. Nothing short of that. Today they deny it. I’ve heard on numerous occasions Romesh Chandra say that that’s not true, that WPC didn’t take that position. I have read the statements that were made in 1979 and 1980 and those positions took a clear cut unambiguous support for what the Soviets were doing in Afghanistan and opposition to those that they were fighting. That next that happened that would undermine the WPC is the death of the peace movement in Europe, which came to be known as the Movement. And the main problem there, and it really WAS the main problem, was they didn’t control the Movement. A new movement emerged completely out of their hands and not only that, it was a very original movement in many ways, a movement that was looking for disarmament east and west, that wanted cuts in both the Warsaw Pact and NATO, that criticized the dual track decisions to put US cruise missiles in Europe, but also criticized the ….of the SS 20s and many of those forces that in the early days of the WPC had been so key to influencing Europe…the Italian communists, etc, so heres a movement that has…and not only that, Social Democrats, and winning support of the SDs on their own terms has been a goal of the Soviets for a long time. So here not only did they not win control over these elements, but these elements are forming their whole peace movement independent of the Soviet Union and there is no way that that could happen without the Soviets reacting very strongly and without the WPC reacting very strongly as well and attacking it in all kinds of predictable ways.
But more than that what was the WPCs role? Real role, in that situation in the early eighties. It was on the sidelines. It played very little role in what was happening and in fact its relations were very antagonistic to this emerging movement and that the birth of this movement laid bare the marginal nature, the sectarian nature of the WPC. And it caused a certain kind of a crisis within the WPC which was also very interesting, because in that period there were many peace groups in the west, Europe and the US that without agreeing with the Soviets and eastern Europeans, they wanted relations. And they would go to Moscow and they wanted direct relations with the Soviet peace committee, the Soviet Central Committee…
I know that in the US there were efforts of major US peace groups during the 1970s to make direct ties. What were they told? We won’t deal with you directly, go through the WPC. And the WPC became this brokerage house through which western peace activists were told to go if they wanted contacts. So you couldn’t have official contacts, and of course this gave the WPC more prestige in Moscow’s eyes, but what happened with the groups that I know is they simply stopped going because they found they were not dealing with the Soviets directly, everything had to come through the WPC. And it was in that period were the WPC begins to consider itself THE international peace movement.
M: Late 70s?
PRINCE: Late 70s, early 80s were really the worst excesses in terms of this kind of ridiculous attitude that emerged. So you had that going on. But you also have this movement, which has shifted to Europe, and its having a very big impact on public opinion in Europe, east and west. It doesn’t take long before a number of eastern European peace committees who had worked within the WPC, that they would begin to try and make their own independent contacts. They saw that working through the WPC was simply inadequate. And its interesting who really broke first where the monopoly that was this kind of external ministry of peace …at least to my knowledge it was East Germany that did it. And this caused a big fight within the Socialist camp. Somewhere in 83, 84 and once the GVR began making its contacts, and I’ll tell you, one can make many valid criticisms of their peace committee and obviously if people rejected socialism later on, but they were very clever in the way they make new contacts, and they didn’t just make them with the west, they were very clever … the GVR broke from the WPC (it wasn’t until the end that they formally broke) but what they did do is put the main emphasis of their work into developing independent contacts. It yielded almost immediate results. So what they began to do is play down the WPC and look for direct contacts. Now in their case, they were interested in Europe, and particularly in West Germany. So they had a specific focus, so once their successes were seen then the Hungarians and the Czechs followed, and this was a big fight with Romesh Chandra who well understood what the implications of this would be. That the WPCs role, which he had carefully crafted, was collapsing and it was collapsing..
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Begin side 2, tape l1 (#0)
PRINCE: …and it was collapsing … by 1986,87 the Soviet Peace Committee was doing the same thing, the SPC was making its own contacts, particularly in Europe — Europe was the main focus from 86 to 88, later Canada and the US would come into it and they would begin doing this. I can’t speak much about what they did with Canada, but in 88 and 89 they were developing a whole new strategy, and in fact by that time the WPC was embarrassing, an embarrassment and they wanted to play it down. They never left it or loaded it, but it was de-emphasized, and now it was in that period when it had been exposed and it wasn’t involved in the real movement in western Europe, when the shift was taking place of these peace committees in the east….making contacts that glasnost and perestroika began in the SU.
They were looking after their own national peace movements and for the Germans they wanted contacts with the West German peace movement. And they also wanted it with the French, the CC oriented one in the US … They had a very clear strategy … and it’s very interesting that once they developed this approach they all were very pragmatic in who they made their contacts with and they knew how to do it quite well. These were things the WPC could not produce…the contacts.
And when these eastern European peace committees went face to face and opened up to these western movements, it felt not particularly friendly or cozy, but there was interest based on mutual respect and the danger of the cold war and the struggle for peace…there was interest and these countries ties began to grow. So this was a very important phase in the history of these movements. Now of course to do this they needed a different approach and the kind of command style bureaucrat that worked at the WPC was completely ineffective in dealing with west German peace activists or Canadian peace activists, etc, so who were the ones who came to the fore were then these eastern European committees who could do the work…and there were people who had some mass experience, some contact with their own people, be it in east Germany or Czechoslovakia — very talented people — the political lines hadn’t changed but (unclear)…and that was not one of the great skills of the Soviet Peace Committee…so they needed people, like an Andrei Melville, and they needed several kinds of personalities among the Czechs and the Hungarians and the east Germans and so these people began to play a more key role.
M: Give me the names of some Czechs and east Germans….
PRINCE: The Czechoslovakian was Ivan Fiala (?#43), a really extraordinary man. In East Germany there was a guy who when the whole thing collapsed they tried to turn it over to him because, it just went so fast that it didn’t work, his name is Peter Tanneman (?#46). There were others too, but these committees would have a well paid relationship with these reformers who were very effective in their work and the very fact that these same people get paid, not only did we have to have contacts with peace movements outside our country, we had to have contacts with peace movements inside our country, unofficial movements, where that’s where the committees drew the line.
These committees were able to reach out beyond their own little circles. If you look today at who the SPC was courting in the US, it dropped a lot like a hot potato…its communist party contacts and in a certain degree that was really refreshing. And it went through a whole new….of people. It went through all these thinks tanks, they went for a whole new circle who tended not to be poor people, they tended to be white, well-to-do people. They broadened in a lot of ways, they began making contacts in the US with organizations like the Centre for Defense Information and someone who is now very big in the European Parliament, Ken Coates, and certain trends within E.N.D., and at the same time they were doing that what were they doing to the independent movements in the SU?
I know what they were doing…they were preventing them from going to E.N.D. conventions…I mean its something but its a small thing, but they were treating them very poorly, so that didn’t change…but their external relations really grew widely, so that was going on and it was into that setting that the SPC, in the period at the beginning of perestroika and glasnost, looked at the WPC and what did they see? They see a spent force. They see an oversized, international peace tourist agency. They see tremendous amounts of money literally wasted and very little peace work done.
M: And were does that money come from? Is it funneled directly from the Central Committee?
PRINCE: I can’t, even me who worked there, I can give you my speculation on it, but I cannot give you documents and I wish I could, because I worked there and it means something to me. But during the years that I was there the lion’s share of the money came from the SPC and through the eastern European committees which were still members. That was for what was called the main budget, but that tells you very, very little. We were told that the main budget was about $1,000,000 a year of which the Soviets put in about 3/4ths. And that the other socialist committees put in close to the rest — on occasion there would be contributions from elsewhere, some African nations, some Asian nations, sizeable contributions. So that is what I know about the budget. But then the Peace Courier was a whole other budget, entirely Soviet funded…we never saw that.
You know the little sham of an organization called the International Liaison Forum, all that essentially is was a little file in the WPC office. That was completely Soviet funded. Plus I’m convinced that there were many more budgets than that. That those were just the ones we knew about and that there were other budgets. The socialist committees each had their own budgets. But if then if something was really important all of a sudden you would hear “Well for this we have money.” Right? And we’re hearing that there is a financial crisis. And sometimes when the Soviets didn’t have money for something, the east Germans or the Czechs did. So we are talking about a system that…who knows how many budgets there were. Interestingly enough, after the events of ‘89 what happened? The eastern European budgets disappeared. Boom. That’s the revolution there. At that point, financially anyhow, the WPC is completely folded by the SPC.
Now how were they funded? My more concrete answer is I didn’t know. What I do know is that they were able to get hard currency and getting hard currency in the SU even before was no simple question and it was something that had to go through a number of ministries — finance ministry, ministry of the interior and it had to be based on decisions that were made in the international department of the communist party of the SU. So I know that. The mechanism, that money was transferred to Finland, therefore the Finns had to know a lot about it, a lot more than any of us. But the Finns have up until now not really said very much about it.
M: What Finns knew a lot about it?
PRINCE: The Finnish government and the Finnish banks. There are also other ways, for example, we flew Aeroflot, so WPC had a budget of a million dollars, but then the way we were travelling was we would take the train to Moscow and then from Moscow we would fly all over the world. Well, those trips were currency of the WPC and other trips we would take, you could get yours compliments of the east German committee, etc. So the actual budget was much higher than a million dollars and then there were other supplementals. If there was one thing the WPC excelled in its later years, if it wasn’t really peace work, they were spending Soviet money. And no one could spend Soviet money faster and more wastefully than Romesh Chandra. No one. No one ever came close. We would have delegations of 15 people that would go to New York — these delegations were very interesting because they were people from all over the world. But you know, when you’re flying from Buenos Aires to New York first of all it is not too logical to do it through Aeroflot, then you get to New York and there is hotel bills, and some of these would be $30,000 or $40,000 to spent three or four days in the UN. And then, you know, like the (?) congress in 1983…you have to figure that those congresses cost one or two millions dollars. That gives you some sense of the world we were in. In 1986 there was an attempt to reform it. It was understood that the situation was out of control, that very little peace work was being done and that all there was was this international travel agency for so-called peace activists, many of whom weren’t peace activists. And that is when a number of us were brought to Helsinki, there were four or five of us.
M: Who decided to report it and how did that decision get made?
PRINCE: I don’t know all the details of that. There were certainly a number of aspect of it which are clear. First, the Soviets themselves understood it. The eastern Europeans — again we are talking about old guard, official peace movement, you know, they don’t pee without talking to the central committee. These old guard peace movements, their are already somewhat cynical about the WPC….there were a number of committees, like mine, that said, ‘hey, this is a farce, this is not peace.’ Then there was a lot of pressure a that point for the rejection of the WPC from many of the western peace movements. This had an impact.
OK, so could the thing be reformed? Well, a whole team was brought in to try to revive it. At this point, the revival really didn’t have so much to do with changing its political lines, so when we came in, the line was a pro-Soviet and clearly anti-imperialist left Marxist line for peace. Not communist, which was quite a different groups — separate from Marxists at this point. But we wanted these things to be live committees. That began a movement for reform, which lasted two years from 86 to 88. It was really quite an experience.
M: Tair Tairov was leaving when you were coming.
PRINCE: Right. I first began hearing about Tair in 1982 and 83 — I knew who he was before I got there. The SPC mostly had these boring conferences, either in Moscow or elsewhere and then there was Tair. He was……from Norway to Rome, I don’t know where, he was trying to bring the WPC alive and his main approach to the work of the WPC is ‘involve yourself in peace work, don’t worry about what your ideology is, your title, but you’ve got to be part of the movement.’ And that was what drew us to Tair. To this day I don’t agree with him on a lot of things, but I know that Tair wanted to make this a wholesome movement and that he pursued that under great pressure and we consider with a lot of principle, and that he did it.
So what Tair did was, he understood the hole that the WPC had found itself in, its marginalization, and he was trying to break out of that. He was trying to get the organization to become part of the peace movement, and that’s what we were trying to do. But we did it a little differently, we were trying to do two or three things — the first was to activate the peace committees in different countries, that they do real peace work, that we weren’t that interested….you know, it had become a thing where people were fighting over trips. So our task was, ‘forget the trips, the trips will come….in Canada, what’s the Canadian Peace Congress doing? In Britain, what’s the British Peace Assembly dong? How are you involved in your own peace movement? And in many other places, because the problem was endemic to the system.
We had some successes. Those successes interestingly enough caused pressures in different countries, because when these peace committees that really had been nothing for so long began to become active there were tensions. And there were tensions in people who were very distrustful because of past history. They got nervous. Its one thing when you can say, ‘well, you know, this Communist peace movement is doing nothing, they are really not threatening’, and then all of a sudden this communist peace committee began to get activated. It caused tensions when it happened. But for us it was a beginning of something wholesome, at least they’re doing peace work, and then they were doing it in a … when you haven’t done it for so long and you first start you’re not particularly elegant necessarily in how you are doing the work. As a result of that, a number of these committees, the more corrupt elements were defeated in elections. New faces began to emerge….I want to say that these achievements didn’t happen all over the world, but there were things happening.
The second thing we thought important, this was already in the period of transition, was 1986. It was a question of what were we changing the WPC into. Well this questions really should not be answered by a couple of bureaucrats, even bureaucrats like myself in Helsinki. That question necessitated a kind of discussion, an international dialogue that had to go far beyond the WPC. So we developed this idea that we should try to address the question…(unclear #235)…..1986 and 1987.
M: That’s when you started your reforms?
PRINCE: That’s right. There were…..WPC, and then in talking about that….that evolved, and the way it evolved was that the substance of the question should be a little different. The substance of the question was, ‘how is the world changing.? And how, based on these changes, what are going to be the new responsibilities of your peace movement?.’ And the peace movement needs to change politically, structurally and based upon that, ‘how should the WPC change?’ We thought we had really come onto something and we got excited — all of a sudden their was something creative happening. Where was this creativity coming from? It was coming from ordinary peace workers. O.K. we were communists, I don’t deny that for a second, but we were not big personalities, we were kind of the little people of this movement and we started to produce the ideas.
METTA Like what?
PRINCE: Well, like the idea of discussion. We saw this discussion taking place in two ways. One, that these questions should be addressed throughout the WPC and we should hear from committees, personalities, individuals, but that’s not enough — that that discussion should take place far beyond the WPC and that we had to find a way to interest peace activists who had nothing to do with the WPC, in addressing these questions, in answering these questions and that together we could come up with some ideas, some vision for the future based on this dialogue. Well, that’s when some people got extremely nervous.
We understood that this would entail some criticism of the WPC, that it was impossible given the reality of the WPC not to have criticism and that in fact it was necessary because people had an awful lot of hostility that was built up against many things that the WPC had done over the years and that there was no way that those people would work with us unless some of that came out and unless we acknowledged very self-critically a lot of the problems had been our fault. We thought we could survive that and move on. But the idea of this kind of discussion, that was too much for them.
Now a couple of things happened, first, all of a sudden you have some of these people emerging in peace committees; you have the idea the discussion which at some point is going to be turned on the WPC and it was freely acknowledged that that would happen, and what they were really afraid of was that the answers to that question by some other peace movements or other activists would be ‘we don’t need a WPC.’
METTA Are there peace councils or are they national peace committees?
PRINCE: Yes.In fact the real life experience of the eastern European committees was that they really didn’t need it even though they stayed in there because the Soviets insisted that they do. But this was what was needed and it was in the spirit of the times, perestroika and glasnost. O.K. so who opposed all these things? Well first of all it included anybody who was opposed to glasnost — which was a lot of people in the WPC, they just don’t have that tradition of any kind of open criticism. And we made the criticisms open and for a certain period of time we were able to make them in a newspaper which for a few years was a real exciting experience of peace journalism and that was our Peace Courier.
METTA I think it got really good lately, I don’t know why you think that it has gone downhill.
PRINCE: I haven’t seen it lately…that was the product of our work and that’s when it was real interesting. Well, all of those interesting articles caused storms of protest. So all of those people who were against glasnost, and as well some of those people who lost their trips. For those trips you’d think that those people would really kill and when they started to lose their trips they went on the warpath.
And then the idea of this discussion, it was clear that if it culminated in the way it looked then the WPC would be virtually transformed. I guess the final straw was, it came in March of 1988 when we published an edition of the Peace Courier just before a big conference that we had in Prague (Canadians came to that too), there was an interview with the General-Secretary of Finn (?343) named Johannas Pakaswadi (?343) and there was an editorial…
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…but she came, we’re in dialogue with her, please give me more money for the WPC.
METTA Mac Makarchuk was a good example of that, cause Mac held the purse strings to whole thing in Canada, he could buy anything that he pleased…but the main thing was that he was not somebody’s mouthpiece…
PRINCE: But what came of those things, did any real activity…no. So the key thing was to bring you to the meetings…and you could that by then, this was the difference between 83 and 84, they kicked you out. But 86 and 87, they wanted you there, because then they could say, look we are really with others, we are really open. But the thing was nothing came of those meetings and if any idea came from somebody like you…they never produced anything. The purpose was that now the WPC could say, look, we are not so narrow and isolated…and there were some interesting people who came to these things.
A lot of energy went into bringing people like you to those dialogues. Well, dialogue isn’t bad, good! People can exchange information, I’m not against it, but in terms of where it was coming from it was really rather cynical, literally it was a pathetic thing. Well this period of reform ended quickly and I was reading in fact your book, The Glasnost Papers, Melville and Lapidus, they make a point, they make a distinction between liberalization and democratization and that what was happening in the WPC was a form of liberalization. Essentially what happened was that for a certain period of time the Soviet Peace Committee loosened their choke. A very important point is that glasnost, because what glasnost insisted upon was democratization and democratization is an empowering process, liberalization, essentially, you have a source of power that’s easing its control, but the control never really changes and when the control gets threatened the period of liberalization ends. So it is quite a different thing. We were involved in a process of liberalization, it was not democratization. The problem was that people like myself unfortunately took these things seriously.
METTA I honestly don’t know that I understand the difference.
PRINCE: A Czar or Stalin could have a period of liberalization, under Stalin it wasn’t always 1938, every once in a while the atmosphere..for a brief period of time it was more open….liberalization followed by repression. The hidden structures that really ruled that society, had not really changed. In democratization you are talking about a transfer of power to one degree or another from the top to the base. Its quite a different thing. In the case of the WPC it was a slight opening and then they began to see, (‘they’ being the Soviet Peace Committee) that this has gotten out of their hands.
PRINCE: Zhukov was gone.
PRINCE: Yes. Borovik, Kharkhardin, Lokshin, Vladimir Oryell, and Slava.
METTA: Slava didn’t have status, is that right? Both Sasha Kalinin and Tair told me that he didn’t have enough power to do much.
PRINCE:. Yeah, I think that’s true, but he works with them and the last I heard, continues to. But these were the leadership of the SPC.. . .
PRINCE: I know that there was a time when Vladislav Kornilov played a very positive role in the movement of the WPC and that the next thing I know, he got booted. Beyond that, I can’t tell you very much. But the SPC rejoined forces with Chandra and his people and tried to put an end to the reform. They DID put an end to the reform. Let’s say they tried, rather hard. What followed was a purge, they purged the Finnish General-Secretary, (Johannes Papaslai sp?) who was serious about reforming, in a dirty, ugly way, humiliating way. And they tried to reverse the changes.
Within the organization the reformers were weak, we were…you know these people knew the system inside backwards, we were in a very difficult position, but we were able to continue, we struggled on, this international dialogue did take place and while it was somewhat stunted it still produced many, many interesting ideas even up until the end and the end was February 1990 when the WPC held its congress, most of the ideas had any substance at all came from the reform elements, from those who were struggling under great odds.
But in the end it failed. The organization really didn’t change, they had some wonderful bylaws, most of which came from the reform movement, but the essence of it it was really a show run by the SPC, a command type structure. What they did though, what was important for the SPC was to cut the costs, it was a financial embarrassment. They were running into a shortage of money themselves, that’s one part and the other part of it is that anybody could get in to really investigate how that money was wasted, I think there would be people in jail because the funds were so big. They wanted to at least say look, we cleaned this up, and to a certain degree they cut the costs, there is no question that they cut the costs considerably from 88 to 90.. . . Look, the end of the story, to be quite simple, the world does not need this kind of peace movement anymore, its days are over, its a dinasaur, and the biggest contribution that could be made by the WPC to world peace was to dissolve itself. Its still there.
METTA On anything like the scale it was before?
PRINCE: I don’t know the details, I can’t tell you that but it seems to me that the budget itself has been dramatically cut back in terms of what activities it’s doing now. The days of the big Louis IV conferences are over. The junket peace trips…they are gone. How much is being spent now I don’t know. I think they should be investigated, it should be public knowledge, perhaps they’ve cleaned it up more that I think they have. If they have, all the more power to them. But I doubt it.
Today it’s a rather cynical, vestigial organ for the SPC , a way for them to have certain contact outside the Soviet Union that they want to have at this point in time so they haven’t killed it. And it continues. It was an organization that couldn’t function democratically, that whenever the situation became a challenge it would come up with a secret (?127), a hidden structure that would rule it and the name of the structure would change. It would have names that mean nothing to anybody. There was one when I was there, it was called the “Ad Hoc Commission on Rules and Regulations”, but when you see the people who were involved in it the body might change but the personalities in it were almost always the same and they had to get together and they had to conspire in secret if they could help it in Moscow, but if they couldn’t help it, somewhere else. And so it was like a cancer — it was always producing a hidden structure and you would expose the hidden structure and you’d condemn it and eventually they would agree, dissolve it and then come up with another one. That’s when you began to see that it didn’t really matter how beautiful the new constitution read, and it did, if you looked at it it was a lovely document, but the power relations in the organizations hadn’t changed a bit and if anything they had been consolidated and in fact when the new constitution had been written it was real clear that one of things that they were very concerned about was that nobody like Johannass Pakasslani or Rob Prince or (name??) would be able to go into that organization and challenge it again.
Its dying. It doesn’t have future. What we are engaged in is stories of the past, of dying structures…
METTA Rate the peace committees in different countries in terms of how…because I don’t think you can lump all of those national groups together …because I think they vary.
PRINCE: They went through dramatic changes very fast. I used to look at the ways in which the Hungarians and Poles were trying to change, it seemed to be very confused from the ones that I dealt with. They were trying to broaden out, they were essentially abandoning the role of a vanguard party, a leadership role and they were trying to make new contacts, but they were in a system where they couldn’t so even though they were trying to reform they were rejected. They were rejected in there own societies. They were never really trusted from what I could tell. So these were the more interesting experiments of reform, but in the end…
I don’t know what the situation of the Hungarian Peace Committee is today. When I say and spoke to a former..maybe he is still there, I don’t know…executive director Bagash (?181)..Nicholash, it was really clear, he tried to modernize it, they were hardly getting any government funds…they were trying to bring in all kinds of other political forces, but the country had moved so far beyond that and no matter what he did people perceived the peace committee as part of the old structure. And they rejected it. In watching the Hungarian example that I really understood the depths of the problem…that a separation between the majority of people in Hungary regardless of their political orientation and these old structures and that reforming not only the Hungarian Peace Committee but Hungarian socialism was just not what was in people’s minds. And you could see that again and again. With the Soviet PC there was a time in 86 and 87 when it appeared to me that it was the beginning of a dialogue between the emerging groups and the SPC, particularly the environmental groups. I know that that happened. In less that a year these little forces, independent movements that had existed in one form or another just appeared in 1986,87,88…they couldn’t work with the SPC, because it was too controlling and so they went their own way and so that dialogue there really didn’t last too very long.
And when I began to meet people outside that peace committee, and I did in the SU, I would always ask them ‘what do you think of this other peace committee?’ I asks that to every Soviet just about I meet and the answer that I get is very consistent that its the official organ, its peace work, whatever it does, its never affected us, its simply the mouth piece for the Central Committee, etc, etc. Overcoming that heritage is just really hard. Some made efforts and I give them credit, including the Hungarians, and some of them also really changed…not everybody who came out of those old structure remained in their thinking, (name #216) is a good example, Tairov (?) comes out of the old structure and so did Yeltsin for that matter and Tairov made changes. But he paid a price along the way. Those were the people and I respect them.
METTA What going to happen to the people who have double roles…KGB?
PRINCE: OK well in terms of who is KGB and who is not KGB I have no idea. The way that I related to them…we used to ask that question in the US, ‘who is CIA?’…
METTA But everybody on the WPC knows who they are.
PRINCE: That might be so, but my point is a little different—that it doesn’t matter who is and who isn’t, they are part of an official structure and that official structure just collapsed a month ago. As to what is going to happen to it…I have my own theory as to what is going to happen to the Soviet PC, its going to survive and the reason is its become a big business enterprise in the SU. I used to hear them talking about perestroika and glasnost and listening to some of them talk about glasnost is akin to me to people in the US mafia talking about democracy. Not all of them but some of them. But what had been the real developments in the SPC over the last two years by the time left. Well they did make a lot of contacts, and had these peace walks and stuff like that and some of it was actually for peace, some of the stuff they’ve done is peace oriented. The big things they’ve done is build hotels in Pakistan and places like that…big money! and peace spas! And joint ventures! So heres a place where to them what did perestroika mean? It meant big business. What I saw them doing was essentially becoming big-time capitalists within the Soviet context. I’ll give you an example, Slava Slouzhilov what was he doing the last time I saw him? He was involved in a joint venture with some German office supply company and he was driving around in a chauffeur driven Mercedes. That was typical.
METTA There people in Connecticut now who have some sort of peace and environment racket…
PRINCE: This is what they were doing and that is one of the reasons they didn’t fold WPC, because it was an outlet for their business ventures, to a certain degree, I don’t have any evidence that they made any big business deals but it gave them the possibility of doing it and I know like these hotels and these peaces spas, that was where they were going and my hunch was that here it would be interesting to see that now they got a bank roll so that they can send someone to Canada without getting money from the Central Committee. Someone comes to Canada…how do you come to Canada? You used to get the money from the Central Committee, now there is no Central Committee, how do you get the ticket? They got some money. Now I don’t know I don’t know the ins and outs of that.
They took a position against the coup on the 20th which [Slava?], as you know wanted everybody to know as you saw he was in the barricades and both Boroviks, father and son. The so, you know, was a journalist who did good reporting on Afghanistan. But Genrickh (the father) was on TV 5,6,7 times…and what he said wasn’t bad, I mean I thought it was very reasonable what he said. It was positive, but what are they up to? I don’t know. The last thing I heard was that Kharkardin has gone back to Helsinki to be the Soviet leader of the WPC…He was one of the key players in stopping the reform movement when it was going on when I was there.
METTA I believe that.
PRINCE: You know he’s mentioned by name in that paper.
METTA I’ve sort of got a physical reaction to people, it strikes especially whenever I shake hands with them, I really feel I know them and I get such strong feeling one way or another and I didn’t like Kharkaradin. And I didn’t like Zhukov. I did’t like Lukshin, I did like Melville. I did like Vladislav kornilov. I did like Semeiko. There’s another guy who was _________.
PRINCE: Anyhow, in the current situation, if they can’t do their business deals and this law (preventing such things from happening) is implemented, I don’t see the SPC having a future. I might be mistaken, but I don’t see it.
METTA Let me go back a little…
END OF SIDE THREE #400
BEGINNING OF SIDE FOUR #0
PRINCE: …if you look at the deeper philosophy of the western European peace movement you’ll see that it comes from Gorbachev’s thinking. The key points are there. The notion that peace has got to be more than just disarmament, that it has got to include environmental questions, human rights, a broad rather than a narrow definition of peace, that comes from the peace movement. The notion that US nuclear missiles are evil and Soviet nuclear missiles are good for defending socialism was rejected — that is a very key thing, which eventually Gorbachev and the people around him accepted. It was the peace movement in Europe which first talked about taking unilateral measures and trying to have a very lively discussion in Europe about having non-offensive defenses…
METTA Do you remember any of those conversations, for example?
PRINCE: There were all kinds of conversations, but what I saw was when all of a sudden Soviet policy changed in practise, when you see cuts of the Soviet military in Europe, when you see the whole gamble of letting the events of letting the 1989 events draw to their natural conclusion. So I see in the political consequences a serious commitment to a different kind of Soviet defense posture and not so much in where this or that conversation was at. So you know, my focus is different. If you’re looking for the intellectual roots of these changes I see two really big traditions. One is the work of Sakharov, when he was writing in 68. What Sakharov was writing in 68, Gorbachev was trying to implement in 85.
METTA I have not followed this thing…I have not really straightened out what he did and did not say…he flip-flopped all over the land.
PRINCE: No he didn’t. Let me explain my position. When Sakharov was talking about international affairs I found him rather weak, because he was so committed to Soviet-US detente and cooperation….that he would say things that I think are indefensible about Vietnam, Chile and things like that, which I just disagree with and would criticize those things today. But that is all we know about Sakharov, were these statements that were very weak. The other side to Sakharov was while he was doing that, Sakharov was essentially outlining the need for perestroika and writing about it very coherently, simply and clearly and I consider that to be his very politically active contribution…there’s no question in my mind that what he was writing and thinking about…there were a few others from my point of view who were doing similar work. One is a guy who is still to my understanding a communist and that’s Roy Medvedev or his brother Zhores. The other intellectual roots of perestroika comes from the peace movement in Europe.
METTA How do you show that they come from there?
PRINCE: Yakovlev and Gorbachev have both acknowledged that a lot of their thinking have come from the European peace movement in the early 80’s. It’s in writing.I can only tell you what I saw among the Soviets, that already in 1986 and 1987 in the WPC the Soviets were saying the WPC was too one-sided, that peace has to be a US-Soviet agreement and that the Soviets have to bear some of the responsibility for the arms race. I’ve heard those statements, I heard them at WPC meetings said by Soviet representatives, including Borovik.
They could change their line like that, in fact they changed their line too easily and that’s the problem with bureaucrats is that they’ll say one thing one day and something else the next day, but what you didn’t see is the practise by which they got to that, and so what it looks like is that they just got a new order from the Central Committee, but I heard it all the time, constantly, during the years I was in Helsinki from representatives of the SPC and this was very attractive to Western ears, you know after a tradition of essentially hard-line CP approach, all of a sudden to be talking about Soviet-US blame for the arms race — wow — that was a big change.
METTA Yes, I have real cognitive dissonance because some of these people said things that were so out of keeping with what I know about them that I can’t hold it together or figure out what — for example Lokshin. He is crude, and yet I understand he has done creative work on conversion and he took a position in favor of total disarmament, not just nuclear disarmament.
PRINCE: Yeah, they all did that. Once the position changed…what they said publicly was quite different. On the other hand, when Lokshin would get drunk (which didn’t happen often but happened enough times in my presence) then it was Prince the dissident…I was the dissident. I was not very popular with them. But they were told to sound how liberal they were and I didn’t think they were particularly liberal. And so they would blow up and once they blew up it was threats, insults, and then of course the next time you’d see them they would be on their good behavior, occasionally apologize, whatever, but underneath it wasn’t so much the new line that they took — that they were against the coup — OK maybe some of them were sincere, but when I knew them, the measure of what they were really like wasn’t what they said publicly, but how they dealt with other human beings and there they just, as a teacher you know I can still think of grades — F minus — and in human relations and dealing democratically in an open way. People can change, terrible people can change, so they can change…but when I knew them they were the Mafia and so when the line changed their activities, the way they approached other people, that was constant.
“The Ghost Ship of Lönnrotinkatu”
Following are links to a three-part series on the World Peace Council by Robert Prince. The first two parts were published in Peace Magazine in 1992, with a third part added (on Prince’s own blog) in 2011:
- The Ghost Ship of Lönnrotinkatu May 1992
- Following the Money Trail at the World Peace Council November 1992
- The Last of the WPC Mohicans August 2011