View the h-diplo Discussion Logs by month
View the Prior Message in h-diplo's October 1998 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
View the Next Message in h-diplo's October 1998 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
Visit the h-diplo home page.
Curt Cardwell's answer to Stephen Schwartz represents what increasingly seems to be the fallback position of the revisionists: unless someone finds a big red book with the words "World Domination Master Plan" in gold leaf on the cover in the archives, then the Soviets did not start the Cold War, the whole thing was a conspiracy on the part of the international economic elite to keep the markets humming, and the Soviets--while nasty--were apparently no real threat to anybody but themselves. The revisionist interpretation stands, QED. I don't think there's much that will convince Mr. Cardwell or other revisionists that the Cold War wasn't the result of the dread machinations of international capital, but there is a reason that many of us find in the recent material confirmation of what we suspected for so long: that this was at its foundations an ideological, rather than economic, struggle. Exact cites to most of this material may be found--warning, shameless plug imminent!--in my upcoming article on lessons of the Cold War in the next issue of _International Journal_, while others are just bits and pieces accumulated from Russian materials and CWIHP issues. My current favorite addition to the Korean debate, for example, is this 1955 outburst from Khrushchev to Molotov: "Viacheslav Mikhailovich, if you, as minister of foreign affairs, analyzed a whole series of our steps, [you would see that] we mobilized people against us. We started the Korean War. And what does this mean? Everyone knows this...We started the war." Given recent discussions about Bruce Cumings on H-DIPLO, this admission of who started the war just can't be repeated enough for my tastes, and should simply lay to rest any more canards about Cherry Trees or Fort Sumter. Maybe Cumings and others think this is something that shouldn't have been asked, and perhaps later historians think the whole business was too much a Rashomon phenomenon to ever understand completely, but there were apparently plenty of people in the Kremlin who thought it was a pretty good question with a pretty simple answer. But why were the Soviets so entangled in these kinds of adventures, particularly later in the Third World when they should have known better? To counter U.S. attempts to corner markets? To respond to insecurities created by American mischief? Hardly. Gorbachev advisor Aleksandr Yakovlev lays it at the door of the "organic dogmatism" of a "Bolshevik foreign policy" in the Third World right into the 1970s, in which "peaceful coexistence was only a special form of class struggle." (Or, as avuncular racist Leonid Brezhnev put more crudely to his inner circle: "Why look, even in the jungles they want to live like Lenin!") Yakovlev goes on: "It seems to me that the Soviet leadership of that time acted somewhat blindly. It was sufficient, for example, for any African dictator to declare his 'socialist orientation,' and then to add to this some complimentary words about a star-wearing Soviet leader [TMN note: that would be, of course, Brezhnev] who's keen to be flattered, for assistance to be practically guaranteed. Thus, the friends of the Soviet Union included 'Africa's first Marxist,' and later emperor-cannibal Bokassa, the Ugandan tyrant Idi Amin, the merciless murderer from Ethiopia Haile Mariam Mengistu. It's possible to go on enumerating names from, I hope, days already gone by. The choice of company [was] the most reactionary, the most sinister. For my country, this turned into gigantic expenditures and, especially tragically, human victims, about whom to this day if we speak of them, we speak of them under our breath....The debt of foreign countries to the Soviet Union is on the order of one hundred billion dollars. The lion's share of that debt was irretrievably plunked down in support of 'national-liberation' movements, based on the ephemeral calculation of finding additional spheres of interest that the country did not and does not need." As Boris Yeltsin later wrote: "That nation [the Soviet Union] could not exist without the image of an empire. The image of an empire could not exist without the image of force." It's also true that Yakovlev thinks that true revolutionary messianism in Soviet foreign policy had been extinguished even by 1941, but that the Bolshevik ideological machine creaked on anyway. Note, however, that what Yakovlev is saying is not that the United States threatened the Soviets into doing these things, but rather that these were irrational policies that sprang from the internal belief system that sustained the very raison d'etre of the Soviet state. Perhaps Yakovlev had in mind a 1979 discussion on Afghanistan, in which Andrei Gromyko said point blank that intervention was a bad idea because if the Soviet Army goes into Afghanistan it "will be an aggressor. Against whom will it fight? Against the Afghan people first of all, and it will have to shoot at them," and yet the Politburo elite --with Gromyko in on it from the start--voted to do just that. Former Poliburo advisor Georgii Arbatov goes on, in his own memoirs, to note that ham-fisted and plainly aggressive Soviet policies (Afghanistan and the SS-20 being special moments of idiocy) in fact may have produced the very set of leaders--Reagan, Thatcher, and others--who helped destroy the USSR: "We, in essence, became participants in the dismantling of détente [at the end of the 1970s and early 1980s], actually helping the enemies of détente in the USA and other NATO countries to start the second cold war. Moreover, the negative aspects of our foreign and domestic policies in those years had an obvious influence on the constellation of political forces and on the course of political struggles in the USA and other western nations; we strengthened the position of the right and the far right, even militaristic, circles. It must be acknowledged that Reagan, the 'early' Reagan, the hater and bitter enemy of the 'evil empire', along with a whole cohort of the most conservative figures, came to power with our help." What's especially startling about all this is that it corresponds with the opinion of the hard-left Soviet traditionalists, people like Valentin Varennikov (for one) who lament the passing of the Soviet empire and its messianic mission, fumbled away by...well, by people like Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Yakovlev and their ilk. In other words, there is broad agreement on what kind of state the Soviet Union was, just disagreement over whether it was a *bad* thing. If Cardwell and others could, for just a moment, step outside the economic determinism of American revisionism and take seriously the idea that the Soviets (like the Nazis before them) believed, for whatever insane reason, in their own ideology, the origins and nature of the Cold War might be just that much more accessible to them and they wouldn't be left trying constantly to reduce 45 years of deadly struggle to a simple matter of markets and interest rates. I'm sure the revisionists (in the name of "context" and "nuance") can explain it all away, but it it is stunning and revelatory to read a senior Soviet ambassador and policymaker like Yakovlev later writing: "God save us from what was called internationalism in the Bolshevik manner." I couldn't have said it better myself. Tom Nichols Naval War College -------------------------------------------------------- --Public reply to list: firstname.lastname@example.org --To unsubscribe send e-mail to: email@example.com with UNSUB H-DIPLO as the only text in the body of your message --To temporarily suspend your account: send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with SET H-DIPLO NOMAIL as the only text in the body of your message. To reactivate your account, send e-mail to email@example.com with SET H-DIPLO MAIL as the only text in the body of your message -- to receive a daily digest of events: send the following message to firstname.lastname@example.org: SET H-DIPLO DIGEST. To reverse this, send the the command SET H-DIPLO NODIGEST to the same address --Personal help from list moderators: email@example.com --Visit the H-Diplo web page at: http://h-net2.msu.edu/~diplo/