Why are Russians quarrelling?

Kontinent quarterly (Paris), No 23, January- March 1980 (excerpt)

Undoubtedly, predictions of an imminent revolution in the USSR are absurd and it is as criminal to promote such a revolution as it is to promote terror. Only sentimental writers claim that revolutions happen because people are impoverished and have no rights, and take place at the moment when the common people have been driven too far.

No one fully knows why revolutions take place but when a person is hungry and destitute he is more inclined to steal, rebel or display a dull-witted subservience. When someone has no rights he does not know what his rights might be and he is too humiliated to demand them. A competent government can always bribe the most gifted and energetic among this mass of atomised and embittered people. This leads to stagnation and degeneration, as we can see in the USSR today. In such conditions, even if some magical external force were to remove the existing administrative structures the result would be a catastrophe, leading to anarchy and mutual destruction.

Revolutions most often happen when true poverty and lack of rights are far behind but the accumulated popular hatred and mistrust of the regime make any reform detestable and inadequate. In such circumstances an indecisive or incompetent government is a guarantee that revolution will occur.

It is extraordinarily naïve to expect that revolution will bring justice and liberty. Any social upheaval mobilises the dregs of society and then, in the words of the Internationale, they “who were nothing, shall be all!” Revolution promotes the most cruel, deceitful and bloodthirsty individuals, those with strong despotic characters who lead gangs of thugs. After a determined struggle the most cruel and crafty among them will concentrate absolute power in his hands. A revolution, in other words, always ends in tyranny, it does not lead to liberty and justice.

Could the same happen in the USSR?

Regrettably, it could but it is unlikely to occur soon. For the time being the regime is still strong enough to reject any reforms: even the emasculated Kosygin reforms were not implemented as originally intended and with good reason. The authorities understand that the present clumsy bureaucracy could not cope with the forces unleashed by any significant reforms. There are no more fearless young men waving Mausers who know how to combat chaos. The Communist regime in the Soviet Union is, probably, the most conservative regime on earth today. Even Khrushchev proved too revolutionary. Thus far no significant social forces independent of the regime and capable of forcing it to reform have emerged in the USSR.

It may take any length of time for such forces to appear. It depends on the behaviour of the Soviet government, the international situation and yet other factors. Sad as it may seem, we should not expect rapid improvement let alone radical change. In present circumstances economic difficulties will not force the regime to carry out significant reforms. All we can count on is the slow growth of independent forces in society against a background of stagnation and degeneration. So far the contours of these growing forces have only been outlined: the national and religious movements, the civil rights movement (for the most part based on the intelligentsia) and the beginnings of a workers’ movement.