An Ode to the New World Order : THE FUTURE BELONGS TO FREEDOM <i> By Eduard Shevardnadze</i> , <i> Translated by Catherine Fitzpatrick</i> , <i> (Macmillan/The Free Press: $22.95; 237 pp.) </i>
In June of 1986 Mikhail Gorbachev, secretary general of the Soviet Communist Party, placed a call to his old Communist apparatchik buddy down in Soviet Georgia to come to Moscow and help end the cold war. The buzz in Moscow foreign-policy circles was shock at the elevation of this bumpkin.
Eduard Shevardnadze, a poorly traveled provincial Georgian whose only foreign language was a heavily accented Russian and who admitted quite freely that he knew little about the intricacies of diplomacy, complex arms-control negotiations or the major players on the world stage, seemed an absurd choice. “No experience?” Gorbachev replied to his friend’s demurral. “Well, perhaps that’s a good thing.”
Gorbachev chose him, Shevardnadze tells us here, precisely because he wanted someone alienated from foreign policy as it had been conducted for the past seven decades. The new leader of the Communist Party already was committed to a bold “new thinking” that swept aside the assumption that national security and power were based on military might, and he was confident that Shevardnadze would be a loyal “comrade in arms” in what they knew even then would be nothing less than a foreign-policy revolution.
This fresh and easily read, if sketchy, book provides illuminating details of the 30-year friendship and reformist conspiracy that connected these two neighboring regional party bosses. What a shame that this work is not three times as long and written at a more leisurely pace, for there are so many intriguing insights that are only suggested.
Among other things, we still don’t know enough about just how Shevardnadze, a product of orthodox communist education and careerism, got to be as enlightened as he makes himself out to be--and probably is.
The great mystery of the second Soviet revolution is just this question: How is it that Gorbachev, Shevardnadze and Boris Yeltsin, three men determinedly following the dreary path of the very successful Soviet party careerist, emerge not as the expected gray and corrupt figures but instead as men of bold imagination and startling integrity?
All three were committed young Komsomol leaders, educated in the party schools and selected to be regional party bosses; all three eventually ascended to the highest level of power as members of the Politburo. Shevardnadze tells us here, as Gorbachev did in his book, that they never quite fit the simple mold of mindless, duty-bound higher party functionaries caricatured in the Western media. He still insists that his party work was a source of idealism as well as oppression.
“By all traditional standards, our path was the path of success. Outwardly, at least, that was true. From the usual viewpoint, that of the man in the street, we had made our careers as successful Komsomol and Party functionaries. But if we go by other standards, this was the path to our political reality, to finding out the reasons for the existing state of affairs, and to an intense search for a way out.”
There is an inherent honesty to this report from the perestroika front as Shevardnadze refuses to be drawn into the fashionable blackening of all Soviet history. He insists that he joined the Party at the age of 20 in 1948 out of a spirit of idealism, despite the crimes of his fellow Georgian Stalin which forced Shevardnadze’s father underground. The war validated at least some of Stalin’s alarms about an external enemy, and Shevardnadze remains proud of the party’s role in the war against fascism:
“The Soviet Union emerged from the war a great power, having saved the world from fascisms. The victory was identified with the name of Stalin, with the will and might of the Party. Critics of the system accentuate the element of repression and violence, and utterly exclude the vital ‘embodiment of spirit’ summoned up to build, to repel the invasion, and to restore the devastated country.”
Nor will Shevardnadze now be drawn into a simple pro-West revisionist history of the Cold War. He argues that the Cold War began with Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, that the decision to bomb was “not justified in any way by the military and strategic situation of the time,” and that its real purpose was to intimidate the Soviets:
“The atomic blackmail had at least two global consequences that deformed the contours and the life of mankind for decades to come. First, by sowing in our hearts the seeds of alarm, it . . . also exploded the strategic stability and sparked the nuclear arms race. Second, it marked the starting line in the cold war. . . . It was not our country that began the nuclear arms race or repeatedly pushed the Cold War to the threshold of a hot war.”
While harsh in his evaluation of President Harry Truman’s role in the origins of the Cold War, he is effusive in his praise of Secretaries George Schultz and James Baker in responding to Soviet overtures to end it.
He is less charitable, by far, towards Gorbachev, in a last chapter rushed to the publisher after the failed coup. This epilogue, which has appeared in Newsweek, adds nothing to what we already know about those events from other sources. It is elliptical in the treatment of Gorbachev’s role, ranging from sharing his suffering during the kidnaping ordeal, invective over the President’s “blindness” to the coup plotters, and even a whiff of doubt about Gorbachev’s own role in the coup.
Clearly, Shevardnadze is torn in his appraisal of the man who gave him this chance on the world stage. He constantly acknowledges Gorbachev’s role in risking the major breakthroughs in both foreign and domestic policy and the vicious criticism he endured from hardliners. But he also cannot forgive Gorbachev for turning his back on the foreign minister and other liberals in his camp during the months before the coup. This is, of course, his right; his warning of a right-wing putsch upon quitting was certainly prophetic, and it is questionable whether he and Alexander Yakovlev would have been effective in stopping the coup if they had remained in the Politburo.
Where the book runs aground is in its efforts to go beyond memoir and formulate a full-blown manifesto for the new world order. Not an easy task, under any circumstance, but here it is done in just too breathy a fashion to be much more than a collection of homilies about justice and freedom for all. At this point, the book reeks of the presumption of the convert who assumes everyone else is marching in step to the new tune. It seems suddenly easy to talk about a world in which stability will be ensured by economic and political justice.
The glaring and increasing discrepancies in income distribution in the new world order are the same as they were in the old one but are dismissed by Shevardnadze as easily solvable. The magic solution is the application of new technologies in a market setting. Like many of his compatriots, so shell-shocked by the grotesque distortions of their command economy, he seems to believe justice automatically flows from the invisible hand of the market.
In a myopia shared with a number of Western experts advising the Soviets these days, he appears unaware that the gains of ordinary folk in the West were not granted to them automatically by the market force but rather were wrested by social movements, including labor unions. Writing of the West, he says: “It’s an elementary principle of business that a worker has a vested interest in the results of his labor. Any economic activity to be productive must take the farmers’ interest into account.” Would that that were so. Unfortunately, in the United States slave labor was productive, and the horrible exploitation of migrant farm labor continues as a staple of the enormously successful California agriculture. There is nothing automatic about social justice in the market economy, as Cesar Chavez could tell him.
The critic who wants to can easily make a hash of this book. It’s too thin, often self-serving and frequently naive, particularly in its evocation of the West and the prospects for a new world order. His boldest claim, as the title proclaims, “Freedom is the future,” will be mocked each day by new reports of bitter nationalist disputes, terrorism, poverty and exploitation as recurring universal themes. His native Georgia, for example, is now rent by such violent divisions that many may be yearning for the more tranquil Shevardnadze/Brezhnev years.
But the redeeming quality, for all those caveats, is an integral complex honesty, making this an important book well worth reading. There are a lot of false starts and incomplete thoughts, but one does have a sense of an essentially earnest and bright fellow attempting to make sense of a political world he inherited, faithfully served, helped to destroy and which he and his reformist colleagues, suddenly in power, may fail to rebuild.
Janice Joplin singing “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose” could be the subtext to this ode to the new world order by an idealistic Georgian farm boy who, in part because he became such an effective Soviet foreign minister, may also now be a man without a country.
BOOKMARK: For an excerpt from “The Future Belongs to Freedom,” see the Opinion section, Page 2.