Peter Reddaway on repression and liberalization in the Soviet Union 1953-1986

posted 28 Feb 2011, 02:40 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Feb 2011, 03:18 ]

A central fear of the Kremlin: that the legalist methods and moral endurance of dissident groups might gradually gain for them a certain de facto legalization


"To conclude this section on the domestic components of Soviet dissent policies, let me focus on a recurring thread that runs through the documents, but has not received much attention. This is the fear of the leaders that the legalist philosophy and methods of dissident groups, and their moral endurance, might gradually gain for them a certain de facto, if not explicit status of existing legally within the Soviet system. The fear was natural enough, given that obtaining such status was a central and either explicit or implicit goal of almost all the dissident groups, except for those that sought either revolution or national independence.
    The fear may have been instinctive or sub-conscious in most of the Soviet leaders, but Andropov expressed it clearly and repeatedly. In early 1968, for example, after a trial of dissidents had provoked the organizational birth of the human rights movement, he wrote to the party leaders: “Now it has become fully clear that Western propaganda and the group of people mentioned above, who are an instrument in the hands of our enemies, are trying to legalize in our country the conduct of their anti-Soviet work, to achieve impunity for their hostile actions.” [Footnote: Bukovsky, Vladimir, “Moskovskiy protsess”, “Russkaya mysl’” – Izdatel’stvo “MIK”, Paris – Moscow, 1996, p. 129.] [...] 
    Reporting in 1976 in the wake of the formation of the so-called “Helsinki groups”, whose main goal was to monitor Soviet observance of the human rights provisions of the CSCE “Final Act”, Andropov wrote in similar style. “The enemy”, i.e., the West, was trying especially hard to help a variety of Soviet dissident groups to work together. While promoting illegal subversion, it also “tries at the same time to promote hostile activities in legal or semi-legal forms”. A similar fear was expressed by Politbureau member Konstantin Katushev. At the earlier-quoted meeting to decide what action to take on Solzhenitsyn, he declared that the writer “has launched an attack on our sovereignty (posyagnul na nash suverenitet), and on our laws, and for this he must be punished”.[Footnote: Bukovsky 1996, p. 123.] 
    By “our sovereignty” Katushev meant the right of the party leaders to a monopoly of political power. Similarly, Andropov feared that if any group that thought differently from the leadership were to obtain the right to legal existence, i.e., for example, to publish its views freely, then the party’s monopoly would be broken. That would be the thin end of a dangerous and potentially fatal wedge." - extract from Peter Reddaway, 'Repression und Liberalisierung. Sowjetmacht und Dissidenten 1953–1986', Osteuropa, November 2010, pp. 105- 126. [English text kindly supplied by the author]
Peter Reddaway is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.