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Changes in the Soviet Union

November 02, 1987

Conversing in Russian in Moscow and Ulyanovsk (on the Volga) in September, I got some sense of the changes that have taken place since my first visit to the Soviet Union in 1960. I found people--especially the younger ones--unafraid to talk, not looking over their shoulders to see if anyone were watching, as they had before.

And there is less naive faith in official dogmas, perhaps because of the increasing contacts with visitors from Western Europe and North America.

Gorbachev's calls for economic reforms and nuclear arms reductions are very popular. War is the last thing they want; they're living a hard enough life as it is. Even in September and in Moscow many kinds of vegetables were in short supply. There is starvation in some parts of that vast country a university student told another visitor, who told me. How much worse will it be in January?

Two solutions to this problem may be tried. One is to lower military expenditures and increase investments in the consumer sector. The second is to return to Lenin's New Economic Policy, his 1921 switch to the market economy and the profit motive (described in Armand Hammer's recent autobiography). It has already been partially applied in Hungary and China, promised in Poland, and in some form will probably be introduced in the Soviet Union.

Will greater prosperity make the Soviet Union a more dangerous power? Not if the U.S. cooperates with it in reducing nuclear and conventional forces. In the bargain we can cut military spending and put our own faltering economy on a sounder basis.

And the history of Western Europe (most recently of Spain and Portugal) and South America suggests that a market economy gives rise to a larger and better educated middle class, who want a larger say in shaping government policy and eventually get it.

Gorbachev's calls for "openness," "reconstruction," and "democratization" may already be responses to such demands. A democratic Soviet government could eventually emerge, making possible a just and lasting peace.


Santa Barbara

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