William Smirnov, Institute for State and Law, Moscow, June 29, 1992
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
[THE ACOUSTICS IN HIS OFFICE WERE POOR, SO THIS TRANSCRIPTION IS IFFY.]
Metta Spencer: Lindsay Mattison told me about the people who had worked together in Prague around the World Marxist Review. I found someone who mentioned that in print, but he didn’t explain the dynamics of it.
Smirnov: In Prague was the editorial board of the principal magazine of the Communist and Workers Parties — problems of peace and socialism (or world and socialism). The position of this journal would be unique in the position of the editorial board and staff. They should reflect and be in constant communication with the different political parties and left movements all over the world. So they were much more open and had much better information and access to the variety of the world. Many of them had been very well trained; they knew revisionists, knew the social insights of the Western society and the East and West, democracy. They had the first book that was published about democracy. It was published in the end of the fifties and the beginning of the sixties about the future of democracy. The title was “What Future is Envisioned for Mankind,” and the focus was on the progress and democracy. Quite a few people had been trained there and after that they came to very good relations, including Shakhnazarov,like Bogomolov, Ambartsumov, and many, many others who became prominent later.
There was quite a strict selection because in some way if you come from the Soviet part, it means they trust you, that you are a person who really are ready to resist the temptation of Western ideas and revisionist ideas. At the same time, they can’t send just a stupid apparatchik because in this case you should be in dialogue with very skillful Western leftists — communists and not only communists, so there were two approaches — dedication and allegiance to the CPSU and at the same time the ability to write, discuss, to be in negotiation. Because the main purpose of the journal would be to persuade, to keep, to influence, to make the main ideological channels of influence and coordination of the CPSU with the leftist movements all over the world.
MS: Tell me more about this book on Democracy so I can locate it. Is it in English?
Smirnov: It probably has been published in English. “What Future Can Mankind Expect?” It was at the end of the fifties. Shakhnazarov was Secretary General of this editorial board, right in the core of this editorial board. He published the book about democracy — at the time, quite a [revisionist?] book. And some of the people recruited to the separate department in the Central Committee — the department that dealt with the Communist Parties and the pro-communist parties in the world. He was promoted as Vice-Chairman of this department due to his outstanding character [?]. He and not only he, but some others, being between the cultures, in the midst of the meeting of ideologies, being in everyday theoretical and ideological fight it made them much more flexible, much more open, much better understand the complexities of the world.
At the time, the majority of the population and particularly the Central Committee’s Department of Soviet Relations would be quite narrow minded people. Very narrow vision, without any understanding; some of them traveled abroad, but without any knowledge of the language. Being in a group, being separate. Only occasionally, like Gorbachev himself during his visit to Canada, meeting Yakovlev, the ambassador, he managed to understand, and Yakovlev also is openness, involved in persuasion. But in most cases, these apparatchiks, these CPSU leaders who went abroad, they saw only superficial things — people in the streets, in the shops, maybe talk to the communist parties. And of course they relied for information on the communist parties abroad, which gave them a distorted perception. Because what happened at that time was that most of these communist parties had been on the payroll, directly or indirectly, of the CPSU.
MS: The foreign communist cadres?
Smirnov: Yes. In the West, they were very dependent, ideologically, theoretically, in many respects, so the selection of the leaders of these parties had been very pro-soviet. They knew in advance what was expected, so they were just echoes of what was produced in Moscow.________ The first break was the Italian Communist Party.
Smirnov: Togliatti. Very famous.
MS: Please tell me about the place of Eurocommunism as influencing the development of reforms here.
Smirnov: That’s what we are approaching, because when the influence becomes stronger, when Eurocommunism appears as a more or less coherent movement with dissenting leaders, that was the real turning point. Eurocommunism opened for the first time— it was not just the person in charge or a branch of the Communist Party; it was a real movement, with a very strong and a coherent system of arguments, with an intention to openly challenge the Soviet type of communism. When the dialog with Eurocommunists had been established, it was much more sophisticated because members of Eurocommunism knew much better the [variety?] of communism in the USSR and Eastern Europe.They had their own personal experience; they knew very well their arguments. Their arguments; their ideas — we couldn’t just say “No, it’s propaganda,it’s capitalist, it’s bourgeois,” and so on. You should treat them seriously. It was not easy at all because they were not against socialism itself; they were against (at that time, in the beginning) against the Soviet statism; they were for democracy. So for the members of the editorial board in Prague, it was the most difficult task, the urgent task, to find arguments because, you probably remember, the end of the sixties, up to the middle of seventies was the heyday of Eurocommunism. There was a lot of influence.
Actually, when you are in dialogue, you also become the target of influence, you start to absorb some other ideas. It was not just earlier ideas— deviation — but deviation that you can’t reject without serious discussion. So Eurocommunism has certainly been one of the sources of the new thinking.
MS: Were there meetings? What sort of actual events, encounters forced that dialogue along?
Smirnov: There were lots of them because CPSU foreign relation department led the propaganda department (it was the task of the formulation department, mostly — but not only) made numerous attempts to influence Eurocommunism. They tried to have bilateral talks, to invite members to Moscow. From the beginning they thought it was the most ambitious deviation of the ____ state persons, like [Jorge Agadin???___] or some others who, from their point of view, at the beginning. There were some other marginal cases. They didn’t expect it would become a strong movement. So had _________ in Prague. They invited people from the Eurocommunism, they had discussions, they encouraged them to publish articles. At the same time, they had other means. Sometimes they would try to bribe directly or indirectly. They provided them with resort houses, the best hotels and food, everything they like, and try to persuade them that Eurocommunism is “objectively” [we laugh] undermining socialism, weakening the movement for socialism. “Objectively” you are supporting the suppressors, the imperialist forces.
Also, they tried to persuade them that socialists in Russia are changing; we are moving in the same direction. The second argument was the “Well, your criticism in some respects is correct, but you should understand the limit; socialism is a developing system and can’t become tomorrow prosperous and introduce all kinds of freedom. Some restrictions are needed in the period of transition.” Many other arguments. Also, the CPSU used articles published in GDR, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria. Less Hungary, because Hungary started much earlier and was a little bit deviating case.
MS: Yes, and I had understood that the Hungarians had MORE influence than the others here, simply because after a certain point, they were regarded as the avant garde of new thinking.
Smirnov: In some ways you are right. In some ways. But in Hungary didn’t use, because very often the argument had been, “Of course, Hungary is a very interesting case, but it’s a tiny country with a very particular historical background. The country actually received a lot of financial support from the West.” Not the average.
MS: Who are some of the Hungarians who were particularly influential?
MS: That’s pretty early, though.
Smirnov: He was the most influential because his publication came to this society quite late. Even then, it was not for everybody’s consumption. It was only for researchers, scholars, because they had a commission in the library, or for the apparatchiks, because they had their own system of information—or maybe the academy of sciences produced these kinds of translations of the most provocative books and publications and theories. So one of the reasons that the Academy of Sciences did well in information was that they were the vehicles that helped the CPSU Central Committee and other levels keep in touch with what was happening in political thinking, in political theories, in social sciences, in humanities in the West.
MS: Through professional meetings?
Smirnov: Including professional meetings. For a long time it was double-thinking. Zinoviev described it in Homo Sovieticus and other publications that one of the prices for the social science scholars, [was that 341] we had two truths. One of them, for the Central Committee, which more or less objectively described what was going on in political analysis, but for the general consumption there was another kind.
MS: So the people in the Academy of Science had the responsibility for producing “double texts,” so to speak?
Smirnov: Yes, and at the same time it was helpful because if you asked me what helped to fertilize the ground for these scholars (not only these groups, but for scholars also) scholars were supposed to be involved in this double-track research, the answer would be very likely to be many revisionists, like Arbatov, Bogomolov, or Ambartsumov. Many of them started as critics of western political and social ideas—revisionist ideas. They started to interpret with another culture; professionally, they had very good knowledge of this. They began in the ’60 and 70s, and in the 80s they became the liaison officers between the two cultures, because we had not only theory but we also created something _____ between Russian intellectuals.
MS: I interviewed Mr. Simonia, who told me that he used to use someone’s office in the Central Committee and there was a bunch of white books that were translations of foreign books that ordinary people couldn’t see.
Smirnov:___ [?] by Progress Publishing House.
MS: He said that these were published by Progress, only 300 copies of each title, and sent to Central Committee members.
Smirnov: It differed. Some of them had wider circulation — just to Central Committee or KGB or the hierarchies in ______ and in defence; some of them also to the bosses in the Academy of Sciences— presidents and vice-presidents. Some were even sent to libraries, where they were restricted to use by researchers. In such a case, one should receive a letter from the director, explaining that William Smirnov is working on a subject such as “criticism of Western political science.” That was really my subject. So I got access to journals and books in political science. Because some of them would be for general consumption and some for the specialists, who were really doing something to ——.
MS: I would imagine that if there was a publication that was obviously supposed to be privileged, that almost nobody should have access to, then those who did have access to it would approach it with considerable interest and read it more attentively than other publications.
Smirnov: Exactly. The outcome was the opposite to what these apparatchiks expected. It became some kind of prestigious consumption. If you had the right to read it, you were exceptional. And very often, the famous Russian talks in the kitchen and companies and parties, the speaker was just re-telling what he or she had read in these Western books and articles. It was very valuable; it became the fashion. It [encouraged] people to read these and try to understand, to gather knowledge. So the outcome was quite opposite; it was to make [these ideas] much more attractive.
MS: Fascinating. Now, how did one know which books different people had read? I was at a discussion the other day where someone had a list of the different movies that Brezhnev and Stalin watched, and so on. It turned out not to be correct and I can’t cite it, but it would be wonderful to know what kind of audience these books reached.
Smirnov: Yes, it’s a very interesting point. First, we had quite a lot of people who formally had the right to read. Then too,[ _____________ some people took them home and retyped them for their friends and relatives.]
MS: So this became a source of — it’s not called samizdat if it’s foreign.
Smirnov: Samizdat is what you write yourself. In this case, it’s not. We call it “tamizdat.” In some cases, Western society itself translated some books, like Djilas, for example, [Karagov?] Voslensky, and some others.
MS: I don’t know Voslensky.
Smirnov: It’s the theory of the Nomenklatura.
MS: Oh, yes. I do know that book. I haven’t read it but I know of it.
Smirnov: ___ So these books were “injected” into the society. But in any case, they would be [most often read] by intellectuals, predominantly in the largest cities — Moscow, most of all, then Leningrad, and maybe Kiev. But it mostly would never reach into small cities — except for such books as Solzhenitsyn. He was an exception. He became so famous that his books had a much wider circulation. And even Zamiatin became one of the sources of the double thinking, on the totalitarian system. His work was widely circulated — almost underground circulation.
MS: You had access legally. Say, some of your friends who were not working on these problems — say, people with whom you studied at university — would they have had access to these books?
Smirnov: I would say that the majority would have seen some of these books or articles. It was so widespread. It was a fashion. It was like — people would try by all means to read it, to be a full-fledged participant in the discussions.
MS: But these discussions must have been a bit risky.
Smirnov: That’s right. It was somewhat risky. But [I have a] speculation: that in most cases, this KGB crowd knew the situation of these books and knew probably who read them, who discussed them, who spread them. But _____________ at the same time, not to prevent. What they tried to prevent was in case somebody — they would be much more sensitive to a book written and published about Soviet events — then those books would be, like [Zamiatin] publicly written and published in the twenties. They would be much more sensitive to books about the Soviet Union written later on, like Solzhenitsyn or Zinoviev or when the human rights movement started, but even in this case they didn’t try literally to stop everything, no. They would only interfere when, from their point of view, it was just written but ______ ____ political movements. _________770. They tried to distinguish between those written for personal consumption and tried to prevent them from reaching political activists. _________ My guess is that in most cases, they were quite well informed. [knew but didn’t do anything].
MS: What about samizdat? Did you know people who were the authors of unapproved publications?
Smirnov: Well, some. I knew for example Lev Kopolev, who was the husband of the sister of my teacher of English. And my friend and I _____________ and met him a few times so I knew him and read most of his publications — not published here. And his memoirs and some others.
MS: I began by wanting to show that the E/W dialogue had an impact. After interviewing people, I heard that this was entirely a revolution from the top; the change of public opinion or political culture had nothing to do with it. If Gorbachev had not changed it, it would have remained the same for another 50 years. Others have said it was both a revolution from the top, but that Gorbachev would never have done this if it had not been clear that it would have changed. Others say that political culture has not even developed yet. The situation in Russia is not the same as in Poland. Virtually everyone told me that “I had my doubts, but I kept it to myself.” Dissidents had no status or impact. To what extent do you think that the internal contradictions were recognized by the people who were in position to make decisions?
W Smirnov: I agree with the second point in which Gorbachev was______ in the beginning, the main agent of [the process 900] as Khrushchev had been, and played the predominant role. But at the same time, I would not totally ignore the role of public opinion, despite the very limited feedback from the bottom to the top, but without some sort of communication it would be impossible to do. It happened in this type of society, in authoritarian society, that in the second half of the fifties and the beginning of the sixties, it was the time of the thaw. __________[It was an occasional breath.] Now they are the main leaders who had grown up as mature citizens in the sixties, in the time of this transformation.
You may say we have LOW political culture, but I cannot agree that there was NO political culture. In our society, it was and still is not the political culture of the general population that played the most important role, but the political culture of a numerically small segment of the population, the intelligentsia. They are really the ones who produced this kind of revolution. We have of course may have helped with the institutions and with all kinds of encouragement of Gorbachev. But at the same time, those seeds fell on fertilized ground. So, of course it was from the top down, but also from down to top. Although it is very difficult of course to [say it]— we have no figures, we have no real survey research — we have lots of signs that can prove my arguments. One of them of course is that _____ should all come to discussions.
We should also mention that in the Central Committee there were also two worlds — official and semi-official. It is not occasional [he means it’s not by chance] that there have been many divisions formed inside the CPSU—Central Committee like Shakhnazarov, Burlatsky, Arbatov, and many others, who grew up and trained inside the CPSU. So Gorbachev and his [crew] reflected some revision inside the CPSU. Of course it was a very small number, very narrow, they were scattered, they had a lot of enemies, but at the same time, with the support of this numerically small group of intellectuals, their influence had been many times [higher] than their numbers.
MS: Okay, what was the relationship of the people you most know — Shakhnazarov and the people from the Prague relationships? What was their connection to Gorbachev? He never worked with them particularly in earlier periods. Where did he get his ideas? What attracted him to them? How did he even know about them?
Smirnov: That is one of the most difficult questions. Many [people] have tried to study perestroika and Gorbachev and all those things, including Dimitri Michaev. He published a strange book in which he said that everything happened contrary to Gorbachev’s intentions. He is now about 15 or 20 years in the US. He is in Hudson Institute. This was a published book that he brought to Moscow and I met him and had a discussion a couple of months ago. It was an international seminar in S___ not far from Moscow. I mention this example to show the wide range of opinions concerning the source of ideas and intentions of Gorbachev.
Well, Gorbachev was not a revisionist at the beginning; he was a student but he was quite thoughtful and open minded. And also he had some relatives who were persecuted in different ways during the Stalin period.
MS: Grandfather or grandfathers. Was it plural or singular?
Smirnov: Actually, as far as I know, both. He also lived in a prosperous region where there was a lot of atrocities throughout the Kazaks. That was a region where the resources were quite ___ly. Very rich soil. The people are industrious, but the system [put certainly much restrictions] on what they could develop. They could produce many times as much, more efficiently. So being the secretary of this regional CPSU committee, he knew quite well the limits of the system itself. I would [name] also his wife, of course. Raisa.. . . [I inject an anecdote here about Julia’s reaction to her.]
She was the first wife who really became almost an equal partner of the head of the Russian state. Traditionally, all of the leaders’ wives kept a very low profile._______ Most of them were uneducated, without any imagination. She was the first one and she encountered all of the resistance of _____________. I’ll leave it to psychologists to say why. I find this very unjust. I have met Raisa several times. She is not, probably, the best speaker, but she is really the first lady who deserves to — and she’s a strong influence on Gorbachev—in some cases very positive, in other cases negative but it doesn’t matter. She was and she is an individual personality.
MS: And she’s not stupid.
Smirnov: Not stupid, no! I disagree totally. She’s not stupid at all! The majority of the Russian population has a very strong prejudice against her. She is much more popular in the West because she is more Western. She is too much Western, too much independent, too much liberal, she didn’t want to behave as wives of the Secretary General before. So this is the cultural matter.
MS: I have not read her memoirs, but I must get them.
Smirnov: All memoirs try to portray the person in the best way possible. At the same time, her memoirs will reveal some personality, some facts. Even __ try to interpret the facts when ___ have the chance to see. So I would say it would not be useless to read it. Is it in English?
MS: I haven’t seen it in book stores, but if I don’t watch, these things get past me. For example, I have been looking for Mr. Shakhnazarov’s memoirs. I understand he has a book out in English, but it is not in any of the books in print.
Smirnov: It isn’t published yet.
MS: Huh! Robert Tucker told me that.
. . . [tape turned over, missed a sentence or two. we are talking then about a conference he will be attending in a day or two. it is on:
MS: The military development of what?
Smirnov: Of Russia. So Shakhnazarov will be one of the speakers. Do you have an appointment with him?
MS: He told me to call him on a certain day for an appointment. [I turn the recorder off while I look for the date.]
Smirnov: His publication was ___. He was a close adviser to Gorbachev. But at the same time I should say that Gorbachev never followed any advice. He had his own positions and made his own personal decisions — not always the best, but he was a leader, not just a puppet or a follower of the advice of any person, including Yakovlev, who at one time probably was the most influential.
MS: Do you think that Gorbachev read many of these critical works?
Smirnov: Well, at least after his resignation he read many of them; some of them he reviewed. He got much more time to read.
MS: But my interest is in trying to explain how he got the views that he had. But I think that the group in the International Department identified themselves as the Children of the 22nd Congress. Did they actually see themselves as having something in common?
Smirnov: They recruited each other. For most of them it was impossible to be recruited to the Central Committee _ this type of job. But the [22nd … was the beginning of de-Stalinization. It was the first wave of reforms and revision in the society, in ideology, in politics.] … Unfortunately, after the Khrushchev people were _____ ossification during the Brezhnev time. — At the beginning he tried to keep some continuity, but  _____ because in the name of stability he produced stagnation. And Gorbachev and the Central Committee and the Central Committee staff, they tried but the process of decision-making was that it was the Politburo who decided in the end, so the advice of such people as Shakhnazarov or Brutents and others, in many cases never reached the level of Suslov, who was the watchdog of ideology, or Brezhnev. If you are on the Central Committee staff, you can’t send directly to the Secretary General or to the members of the Politburo because there is the process of the intermediary decision-makers — in this case they can just put aside what you prepared — your notes, memorandum, your suggestions. But in some cases, for example, the 11th World Congress of the International Political Science Association, happened due to the dedication of Shakhnazarov, who managed to pass this directly to the attention of Brezhnev, who agreed. [He agreed to give this most revisionist social science, political science, a chance to organize the World Congress Political Science here in 1979.] So, the members of the Central Committee staff, they had some opportunity and really did their best. Or this group of members from Prague supported each other. They became a “club.” At that time, to survive, you needed personal relationships for support.
MS: It seems to me that there was another group from Novosibirsk.
Smirnov: That came later on.
MS: It is harder to explain why they should have new ideas, because they certainly weren’t in contact with foreigners. The most obvious thing about new ideas is to have some sort of contact where you are forced to change your thinking in the course of debate, which explains to me why the Prague group would be so interesting. Why should be Novosibirsk group be innovative?
Smirnov: Well, to a certain extent, the economic sociology— Zaslavskaya, Lukins, and some others — you mean those names?
MS: Uh huh. And Aganbegyan.
Smirnov: And Aganbegyan, yes. The reason is that the Novosibirsk people were beyond the supervision of the Central Committee.They had much more freedom. It was academically too far from Moscow to be under strict control, strict supervision. Another side is that because it was a newly established academic research centre, it brought young . . . persons there without dominant prejudices. The president and other members of the Siberian branch of the academy of science would be much less prejudiced than the old guard of the Academy of Sciences. In many cases, the old guard from the Academy of Sciences would be much more conservative than the members of the Central Committee’s Department of social sciences and humanities. Much more! I have come across several cases where the old academicians or corresponding members of the Academy of Sciences, demanded the interference of the Central Committee. They insisted. They tried to do that because for them, promotion to the Academy was not due to the academic ability . . . but they took their position because they were dedicated to the ideological side…. the future of socialism and ideology. . .
MS: That’s interesting because I just interviewed Nodari Simonia, who told me that at one point the Academy of Science was regarded as the boldest organization because they had turned people down on the basis of the fact that they were not sufficiently qualified to be promoted into the academy, but then after a time they became the among most reactionary. His analysis is a little different from yours, because you wouldn’t say that they would originally have been the most reactionary if it’s because they were promoted during the Brezhnev period.
Smirnov: Well, I would say that humanities and some social scientists were very reactionary in Moscow, but in Novosibirsk it is another case. . . .young scholars have been invited from the Central Committee are independent. . They had conditions to establish themselves as real scholars without the pressure of the old bureaucratic inheritance. But also they were free to introduce ____ quality, to publish. in Moscow there was much more selection and control over publication than in Novosibirsk.
MS: So they didn’t have to go through the gatekeepers in Moscow.
Smirnov: They could publish in Novosibirsk publishing houses, some of the publications.
MS: I see. is there be any other group comparable to the Prague circle or the Novosibirsk circle? Can you think of another place that would have been a hothouse for generating new ideas?
Smirnov: One group of course is the group of advisors to Kuusinen: Arbatov, Burlatsky, Shakhnazarov, and Bovin — some called them the Young Turks. They didn’t like to give advice to Kuusinen (some of them at least) for Andropov (some of them). There was also quite an interesting group of the members of the staff advisers and researchers. I should also mention some philosophers. Some of them, Zinoviev. Some historians also, like [Gudinov?] with his ideas of the changes of civilizations. He was one of the Russian “passionates” — he is a son of poet Akhmativ [Akhmatova??]— and another poet Gudinov, who’d been [defeated?] by the Bolsheviks. So they were a group of scholars. Some of them, like Bogomolov, for example, [absorbed ideas] from East European societies and were revisionists, they’d been quite a good group of scholars. … The Eastern European societies had been far greater than the Soviet Union in their revisionism.
MS: Is there reason to think that dissidents (and that’s a big word) had any influence? When you speak of Zinoviev and people who had to leave, I guess they are dissidents, but I am thinking of the people in Eastern Europe who were in Charta 77, for example — Jiri Dienstbier, for example — and people in Poland who were members of Solidarnosc and Freedom and Peace. Do you think that any of those people who were not necessarily able to publish (although in Poland, they could publish because they had huge underground presses) had any influence in intellectual circles here and fed into the decision-making circles?
Smirnov: Certainly, but in many cases they did not do so directly but through some stages of reinterpretation and adaptation. For example, De Bor, in history, who produced a revision of the Second World War. I don’t know how to properly pronounce his name. Or Daniel and Sinyavsky, who also had influence on Soviet literature. They had to see the options, to see other traditions to introduce the appropriate culture. And I would say the Central Economic and Statistical Institute were close to the Harvard school, mostly in the eighties. In the seventies, they also introduced another brand of economics. So it’s not easy to say who was influential. In the theory of totalitarianism, and suppression of course, Solzhenitsyn.
MS: As of now he has marginalized himself with some extreme views. I suppose that may not have been true ten years ago.
Smirnov: But what was important was his criticism of the Stalin years.
MS: You said something a while back that interested me. Two or three years ago Timothy Leary was on television and he predicted that in the 1990s we will have a movement of youthful critics, as we did in the sixties because people are like their parents. The rebels of the sixties were the sons and daughters of the leftists of the thirties. Their children will be coming to university in the nineties. I don’t see much evidence of that so far, but it may still happen. What you said was something like, these are the people of the thaw. How could you substantiate any connection between the thaw and perestroika?
Smirnov: Well, it was a real time of excitement — some form of peaceful revolution and of the renovation of socialism. It was a time when I should say 99% still believed in socialism. It was the time of de-Stalinization, with all its atrocities. The fact that Stalin was condemned by the party itself allowed one to believe that it had been a deviation. And now the goal is democracy, human rights, self-government. ________
MS: You said that in the sixties Mr. Shakhnazarov had been involved in this group. Was that not about democracy?
Smirnov: Well, yes, it was. These books that he published were unusual for that time. Pluralism. He didn’t mention the multi-party system, but it was understood by the readers because we have a tradition — we call it “to read between the lines.”
MS: You have to read between the lines to realize that he was promoting a multi-party system?
Smirnov: So he actually suggested som _____. So he encouraged the innovative thinking about democracy. And not only he, but he was one of the most outspoken members of this group, the people from Prague.
MS: Can you tell me a little more about with whom the Prague people were in dialogue. You mentioned the Eurocommunists. Was that the main source of stimulation to them?
(DON’T TRUST THIS SECTION. It is half guesswork.) Smirnov: Yes, it is difficult to judge. Bogomolov, Ambartsumov and others give different answers to the same question, and of course it depends on the personal quality, and at what time when he or she was in Prague — whether it was before or after the invasion, for example. But my understanding is that [the most exciting things were from Western society
______ but they were very suspicious. Not that there was hostility to such things, but they wanted it to be proved. It was very easy to agree psychologically and for external consumption also. Togliatti’s letters, for example. If it were something published by someone who was anti-communist, for example, would be perceived quite differently. And the idea of the convergence of the two systems. The theory was not understood completely, but in some way, new political thinking — and the new world order — was being created under the thesis of convergence of the two systems.
MS: How about Djilas?
Smirnov: Djilas, the New Class. Djilas really had an impact on the intellectuals, the intelligentsia. It was the strongest criticism of the CPSU. Djilas was the most influential. Djilas, Voslensky, Avtokhanov.
MS: I don’t know him.
Smirnov: He (she?) published a book called the Technology of Political Pressure, or something like that. But at the same time, I should say ____________. Djilas had more influence. And Solzhenitsyn was much more broad. It’s also because these — Djilas, Voslensky Aftokhanov — these are the publications that the KGB REALLY wanted to prevent. Some revisionists they did not so much try to prevent.
MS: What about groups that brought East and West together? I’m active in Pugwash, for example, but I’m thinking also of the Dartmouth Group and the Bergerdorfer Circle.
Smirnov: Well, I would say that generally all of these groups in the peace movement, certainly the purpose of the Central Committee was to improve Western public opinion and you can’t do it only in one way [direction]. They helped people understand that the Western society are not warmongers. Many of them are really caring about peace. So these groups made a much more positive attitude toward each other, probably. The Pugwash Conferences, the Dartmouth Meetings and all kinds of cooperation through IREX, these included the agricultural and scientific cooperation. . . . All of these kinds of cooperation de-legitimized the system of power or authority of the CPSU.
MS: I wonder if there is any way to show that that made any difference. Those who argue that it was a revolution from the top and was, indeed, almost a one-man show, what difference did it make?
Smirnov: Well, first of all, it was not just one man. There was a lot of support about it. But at the same time, I don’t want to undermine what he did. …. There is a Russian tradition never, never to say thanks to our leaders or pay tribute to those who really do something. …. Many people are very critical, to my disappointment. They forget all kinds of restrictions that we had before Gorbachev’s time — restrictions on travel, the strong supervision of the Central Committee. This is our national character.
MS: I can see why it is easier for Westerners to appreciate him because his foreign policy was so much more decisive.
Smirnov: Right, and much more successfully achieved.
MS: But the internal policies are so much harder!
MS: I have heard people say that he was not his own man during that last year. I have difficulty understanding that. People have told me that they had him by the throat and that he would not have been allowed to stay in office if he had not capitulated to the Right. But what I don’t understand is this: If somebody has me by the throat I can’t also make an alliance with him and act is if I am free and I agree. It looks as if he was under duress, but that he believed he was doing a good tactic by forming an alliance with them. Do you understand that?
[Very inaudible. Guesswork:]
Smirnov: Yes, I may say that he stood a good chance of losing the Central Committee, and he should split the Party, but he had the support of some parts of the CPSU. But he was too reluctant, he was too hesitant. Really, it was not sure that he would succeed, but if he was lost, he would be dismissed and he would become really the most precious hero of the USSR.
MS: But then, who would take his place?
Smirnov: That is the question. [There might have been a negative or a positive outcome.] It was the very conservative elements of the CPSU that applied pressure. It was for a long time . . . . If he lost the leadership, it could provide such hardship for people! [Paraphrase: He might not have done the right thing by doing so.] But in terms of his personal image, of course it would be much better if he took all this risk on himself.
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