Much as we have become accustomed to surprises in the era of glasnost , the outspokenness of the letter that appeared in Sovietskaya Rossiya on March 13 was unexpected.
This unabashed criticism of glasnost and the political changes taking place in the Soviet Union--and thus, by extension, an outright attack on Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev himself--genuinely reflected the bitter resentment of a large section of the Soviet population. Signed by Nina Andreyeva, a chemist from a Leningrad technical institute, it lamented the fact that glasnost has gone beyond the original agenda and now is undermining almost everything the Soviet people have come to hold sacred. Heroes are now being vilified; what was clean and pure has become dirty and corrupt.
Andreyeva expressed shock that, among other things, one of her students had the audacity to ask a speaker from the military about "political repressions in the (Soviet) army." What, she wanted to know, has the Soviet Union come to when revered institutions like the army are attacked this way? Others, she hears, imply that the Soviet Union has suffered from "terrorism," "spiritual slavery," "universal fear" or "a dominance by boors in power." There now are calls for "pluralism." No wonder that she finds her students succumbing to "nihilism," "ideological confusion and a loss of political bearings."
The letter was unusual, not only because an important newspaper that speaks for the Communist Party and the Russian republic should devote a full page to it, but because many of the sentiments it contained had a familiar ring.
Attacks on pluralism and undue concern over repression were sounded in an August speech by Yegor Ligachev, the No. 2 in the Politburo, as well as a September speech by V. M. Chebrikov, the head of the KGB. Both men bemoaned the fact that it had become fashionable to criticize Josef Stalin and the 1930s. As Ligachev put it, "Those were the years when the Soviet Union reached second place in terms of industrial volume of output, conducted collectivization of agriculture and scaled unprecedented heights in the development of culture, education, literature and art."
In her March letter, Andreyeva reiterated Ligachev's complaints and--using virtually identical language--protested that all of this comes from attacks on the "personality cult" and that "persistent demands for repentence are being made of Stalinists." "Repentence," of course, is also the title of a widely shown movie that attacks Stalin. The fact that the movie has been put in such broad circulation is seen as a Gorbachev initiative to generate criticism of Stalin.
But attacks on Stalin seem to delineate as much as anything the differences between the reformers and the anti-reformers. Thus Andreyeva writes that "today hardly anyone is disturbed by the personality qualities of Peter the Great." During his rule, "Russia became a great European power." Some day the same will be said of Stalin, she notes, so why the self-hating?
Andreyeva implies that much of the initiative for this campaign comes from foreigners and from Soviet "cosmopolitans," a word that in the last days of Stalin came to mean a Jewish-inspired cabal. Andreyeva uses it in the same context. Moreover she finds it hard to believe that no one else seems critical any more of the kulaks (successful farmers until collectivization), NEP-men (private businessmen under Lenin's New Economic Policy) and for that matter capitalism itself. One of her students went so far as to insist "that the class struggle is supposedly an obsolete term, just like the leading role of the proletariat." No wonder Andreyeva is disoriented.
Andreyeva's letter was finally rebutted by an equally long article on April 15 in the even more authoritative Pravda. But the Pravda reply indicates how far the Soviet Union has to go before there is real glasnost in the Soviet Union. It took three weeks for the reply to appear. In the interval, there was panic among those in favor of reform.
Why no answer? Gorbachev was in Yugoslavia for part of the time and no one else was brave enough to counterattack. In the meantime the Andreyeva letter was widely reprinted in the Soviet Union and in East Germany, the Eastern European country most hostile to glasnost . In the Soviet Union, study sessions were organized to discuss the correctness of the Andreyeva view. The Leningrad party organization was particularly enthusiastic, and issued a special TV documentary reporting mass support for the Andreyeva letter.
As disturbing as the Andreyeva letter was, there is no doubt that it represents the feelings of a large segment of the Soviet population. So in order to assure that everyone knew who had won the battle, Sovietskaya Rossiya was forced to acknowledge defeat and reprint the Pravda attack on the Andreyeva letter.
Understandably, supporters of reform needed a sign that glasnost would continue. But it should have been enough for Pravda to simply print a response to the Andreyeva letter. The fact that no one felt brave enough to respond until Gorbachev himself took the initiative, and that Sovietskaya Rossiya had to print a rebuttal, suggests that glasnost is not deeply rooted. In fighting for such a policy of openness, it seems as if Gorbachev is not just the tip of the iceberg, but the whole iceberg.