Soviet Active Measures in The
'Post-Cold War' Era 1988-1991
The Conciliatory Slogans
Of New Political Thinking
"New Thinking" in Perspective: the Soviet View
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev perhaps best summed up the core precepts of "new political thinking" in his speech before the Congress of People's Deputies on May 30, 1989. He stated:
The Congress of People's Deputies is to consider and to legislatively endorse principles of our foreign policy course for the coming years. I believe these must be as follows:
the country's security should be ensured primarily through political means, as a component of universal and equal security, in a process of demilitarization, democratization and humanization in international relations, with a reliance on the prestige and resources of the United Nations Organization;
the use of force or the threat of force to attain any political, economic or other ends are inadmissible; a respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity in relations with other countries are indispensable;
dialogue and negotiations to achieve a balance of interests, and not confrontation, should become the only means of resolving international issues and settling conflicts;
we are in favor of making the Soviet economy part of the world economy on a mutually beneficial and equitable basis and in favor of active participation in the formulation and observance of the rules of the present international division of labor, scientific and technological exchanges, trade, and cooperation with all those who are prepared for it.
In January 1990, the Soviet Foreign Ministry published its report to the Supreme Soviet on "the main lines of the foreign policy of the USSR in the years of perestroika." It explained the economic, political, military, and technological developments that led the Gorbachev team to adopt the principles of "new political thinking:"
...the world was undergoing changes unparalleled in scope and pace.
...A dynamically developing economy based on new technologies, primarily electronics and information technology, is becoming a key source of influence in the world. ...Global communications are giving rise to a single world information area. No frontiers can stop news or its interpretation from being transmitted immediately to any part of the world. ...Attempts to shut out the rest of the world are particularly ineffective today, to say nothing of their unfavorable political consequences.
...There is a mounting trend toward an interpenetration of economic mechanisms, towards integration at regional and global. The world economy is becoming a single whole as far as its main characteristics are concerned, and no country left outside it can keep abreast of the times.
...The ideas of freedom and democracy, the supremacy of law and order, and freedom of choice are increasingly taking hold in people's thinking. Individuals and peoples who are now in a position to compare things are demanding conditions and a quality of life that technological progress can provide.
By the mid-1980s, the most fundamental truth has fully come to light: those who fail to respond adequately to the challenges of this complex period of transition involving the very foundations of human being in the economic, political, humanitarian or any other sphere of material and intellectual life will find themselves in the margin of world civilization.
A change is taking place in the very concept of national security. No nation can consider itself secure unless it commands a powerful dynamic economy. Those who have put the emphasis on military means are themselves at a disadvantage. More and more, it is technological and monetary factors that are at work as sources of political influence in the world ... whereas huge arsenals that have swallowed so much effort and expenditure can provide no reasonable response to the challenges of today. These armaments are so powerful that they cannot be used without putting one's own country, one's neighbors and, indeed, the whole planet at the risk of destruction. Military means of ensuring national security are objectively giving way to political and economic ones.
Thus, by the mid-1980s, the Soviets had concluded that their extremely militarized and confrontational foreign policy, inefficient economic autarky, and technological backwardness had led them into a strategic dead-end and that a fundamentally new policy had to be devised. On November 15, 1989, Gorbachev spoke about the need for the Soviet economy to regenerate itself if it did not wish to slip "hopelessly behind" the rest of the world and suffer a "strategic defeat." He said:
In the context of general civilization, we have been left, so to speak, in a bygone technological age in a number of vitally important social spheres. The industrialized Western countries, meanwhile, have entered another age, an age of high technology and fundamentally new relationships between science and industry....
...Moreover, in the last few years, the technology gap between the USSR and the developed countries, above all in computer-based technologies, extensively employing modern achievements of science, has even widened.
The world is about to develop into a new computerized community.
We should be aware of this and realize that any delay in this area of society's development is tantamount to a strategic defeat.
And if we maintain our previous rate of development, we shall risk ending up hopelessly behind the world in scientific, technological and social progress.
In February 1987, in a meeting with leaders of the Soviet mass media and propaganda organs, Gorbachev compared the Soviet situation then with the one that had impelled Lenin and the newly-enpowered Bolsheviks to accept the onerous peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany in March 1918. Gorbachev's remarks on this occasion have never been published, but one of the meeting's attendees, Yegor Yakovlev, spoke about Gorbachev's comments in the 1987 Novosti pamphlet Openness, Democracy, Responsibility:
Frankly speaking, it came as a surprise when Gorbachev spoke of the Brest Peace Treaty, the treaty which Lenin has described as a disgraceful, oppressive, immeasurably severe, obscene, foul and humiliating peace. What is the analogy here? The Brest Treaty exemplified how short lived interests could be sacrificed for a historic turn to secure vital interests.
Yakovlev's summation of Gorbachev's remarks and his use of the Brest-Litovsk analogy are evidence that although the Soviet leaders were extremely worried about their situation, they hoped to turn events to their advantage with a bold, conciliatory strategy.
The Soviet View of Compromise and Conciliation
The Soviet penchant for using conciliatory tactics and compromise as a way to seek advantage was best explained in the 1989 monograph The Problem of Compromise in Politics as Seen by Lenin in the First Post-Revolutionary Years (1918-1921), authored by Alexander Lebedev, who served during 1990 as head of the international information subdepartment of the CPSU CC Ideology Department. As noted earlier, Lebedev has privately denied authorship of this monograph. Whether it was authored by him or under his name by someone more powerful than him, it is worth noting because it reflects the thinking of senior levels of the Soviet leadership during this time. Lebedev left the CPSU Central Committee in late 1990 to become counselor at the Soviet embassy in Prague. During the August 1991 hard-line coup attempt, he and Soviet ambassador to Czechoslovakia Boris Pankin issued a statement condemning the coup - the only Soviet diplomats to do so. When Pankin became Soviet foreign minister, Lebedev became the Soviet, and later Russian, ambassador to Czechoslovakia.
The monograph explained the Leninist understanding of compromise as a temporary phenomenon, a "moment of agreement" that occurs when "the new ... is not yet strong enough to completely overthrow the old." It reminded the reader that a Leninist compromise "in no way minimizes revolutionary devotion and readiness to carry on the struggle." The monograph emphasized:
Lenin repeatedly stressed that a compromise did not eliminate the struggle. Nor did a compromise make the question of "who will defeat whom" irrelevant. ... Lenin observed that a compromise was a very specific form of struggle. It is a peaceful form of struggle in which the factor of agreement and coexistence prevails over the factor of mutual exclusion. (p. 6)
In a formulation that can be viewed as a guide to the thinking behind the "post-Cold War" policies of glasnost, perestroika, and "new political thinking," the monograph stated:
...in the sphere of foreign policy the most important thing for Lenin on the question of compromise was to neutralize and, if possible, isolate the class enemy; in the realm of home policy the most important thing was the problem of winning allies, of building and expanding the mass base of the movement. It is important to note that here Lenin viewed the question of compromise as the key problem of long-term political strategy. (p. 24)
The monograph characterized the following extremely Machiavellian quotation from Lenin as "without question the key provision of all of Lenin's writings on compromise:"
The most powerful enemy can be vanquished only be exerting the utmost effort, and by the most thorough, careful, attentive, skillful, and obligatory use of any, even the smallest, rift between the enemies, any conflict of interests among the bourgeoisie of the various countries and among the various groups or types of bourgeoisie within the various countries, and also by taking advantage of any, even the smallest, opportunity of winning a mass ally, even though this ally is temporary, vacillating, unstable, unreliable, and conditional. (pp. 23-24)
The monograph concluded that "compromise is an indisputable objective law of the revolutionary process," admonishing its readers that "it is impossible to get even a general picture of these processes ... without seeing the problem of compromise as part and parcel of the question of revolution." (p. 49)
The monograph also shed light on the reasons the Soviets had for wishing to integrate the Soviet economy into the world economy and for wishing to reintroduce elements of a market economy in the USSR. It described Lenin's policies during the New Economic Policy (NEP] of the 1920s, which allowed the rebirth of some market economic relations after the harsh, confiscatory policies of "War Communism" had brought the USSR to the brink of economic collapse:
So, out of necessity, the idea emerged of turning for assistance to foreign capital, ... which, from the point of view of the class-oriented analysis of the alignment of the main forces inside the country and on the world scene, was the outright enemy of the Soviet state and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
... Lenin's provisions on this score are of great importance for understanding the way the elements of capitalism were used in the conditions of NEP. It can be said that in essence Soviet power in those days allowed and even cultivated ... precisely that (and only that) kind of capitalism and only in that form which it considered admissible and desirable. As Lenin put it, this is "capitalism which we shall be able to restrain, and the limits of which we shall be able to fix...."
...Naturally, the growth of capitalism was bound to revive anti-Bolshevik tendencies. ... But even that prospect did not bother Lenin. The attitude towards small-scale commodity producers in general was one thing, while the attitude towards their ideologists was something else. In the case of the former, compromise was inevitable and even desirable, while in the case of the latter complete irreconcilability was necessary. ...In the latter case, it was methods of suppression that were necessary.
...But let us return to the problem of the relations with ... foreign big business, the highly advanced capitalism of Western Europe and America.
Lenin believed that the most resolute compromise had to be made with that force. For "socialism is inconceivable without large-scale capitalist engineering based on the latest discoveries of modern science. ...At the same time, socialism is inconceivable unless the proletariat is the ruler of the state. This is also ABC."
Thus, the idea was to combine that large-scale capitalist engineering and the corresponding organization of labor with the domination of the proletariat in politics. In other words, it was necessary to figure out how to combine the dictatorship of the proletariat with state capitalism in the economy.
...All that, of course, did not mean establishing a kind of "Lass peace" with the capitalists ... on an international scale. This, so to say, was the class struggle in the form of coexistence and, consequently, compromise. (pp. 42-45)
At one point, the monograph referred pointedly to Lenin's use of compromise during the Brest-Litovsk peace talks with the Germans in February 1918. It stated:
Because it had been clearly realized that the idea that the "world revolution" was just around the corner was a sheer illusion, it became necessary to put an end to the mood of revolutionary impatience, to convince the Party and government officials of the urgent need to take the only step that could save the Soviet state - to make a humiliating and difficult compromise with an outright class enemy - German imperialism.
...The key problem in February 1918 was that of compromise, specifically compromise with the class enemy. (p. 12, 14)
The monograph was, of course, not the abstract musing of an academic historian, but a rigorously argued presentation issued in the name of an authoritative senior CPSU ideologist of the principles that were to guide what was then the current "line" in Soviet policy. compromise and conciliation were key, for these were the best techniques that a weakened Soviet Union had at its disposal to try to avoid what Soviet leaders viewed as looming defeat in the Cold War and to devise a strategy that would give them hopes of eventually emerging victorious in the systemic struggle with the West. The Soviet leaders felt they had no choice but "to make a humiliating and difficult compromise with an outright class enemy," in the hopes of being able to "neutralize and, if possible, isolate [that] class enemy." In order to do this, the confrontational, militaristic policies of the past had to be discarded because they were not achieving their objectives and, in fact, were proving to be self-defeating. The Soviets believed that an aggressive policy of compromise the spiral at confrontation that was leading to their defeat, help the USSR gain access to the fruits of foreign and domestic capitalism's economic vitality, which it hoped to use to "win allies and build and expand the mass base of the movement." But while capitalists at home and abroad would be wooed, capitalism would be assaulted on the ideological front, but this time not by the bankrupt forces of socialism, but by the vibrant forces of environmentalism, anti-nuclearism, and economic envy, which the "new thinkers" hoped they could manipulate through sophisticated diplomatic and active measures campaigns. This was the "long-term political strategy" the Soviet "new thinkers" devised, centered around using compromise as an "indisputable objective law of the revolutionary process."
In his speech on "Points of Mutual Advantage: Perestroika and American Foreign Policy," Secretary of State James Baker highlighted the danger of assuming that the fact that the Soviets used conciliatory slogans meant that they interpreted them in the same way that Westerners did. He stated, with reference to the U.S.-Soviet relationship:
No relationship has been more difficult, or ultimately more promising. Difficult because traditional Soviet ideology has used the same words as we do - democracy, human rights, freedom, peace and justice - while in practice denying the values behind them.
This problem became especially vexing during the era of "new political thinking," when the Soviets evolved a coherent and comprehensive set of conciliatory political slogans and principles, which they interpreted from their own Leninist perspective, and which they sought to use as weapons in a peaceful form of struggle for eventual world domination. During the "post-Cold War" era, the conciliatory slogans of "new political thinking" were repeated ad nauseam in the speeches of Soviet leaders, in Soviet media, in Soviet press placements throughout the world, in Soviet front group publications, by Soviet agents of influence - in short, by all Soviet diplomatic, propaganda, and active measures assets. The relentless orchestration of these themes through all Soviet-controlled and -influenced channels, combined with their inherent attractiveness to Westerners, who interpreted them in a vastly different way than the Soviets meant them, guaranteed that these Soviet slogans soon began to be repeated widely in political discourse in the West. Despite this impressive ability to seize the momentum in much of the political debate in the West, however, the slogans of "new thinking" did not accomplish their purposes and ended in an unmitigated disaster for their creators, as first the communist regimes of Eastern Europe and then the USSR itself collapsed.