Contribuição para a compreensão do Liberalismo

Do livro de Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy, uma passagem:


(…) Liberalism is primarily a doctrine of power, both self-regarding and other-regarding: it aims to limit the power of other agents, and at the same time grants enormous prerogatives for itself. In a sense it is a super-theory of society, logically prior to and—by its own declaration of self-importance—higher than any other. It attributes to itself the right to be more general, more spacious, and more universal than any of its rivals. Its goal is—as the liberals say—to create a general framework within which others will be able to cooperate. The liberals will never voluntarily give up this admittedly highest of political prerogatives to anyone and will never agree to share it.

Why this extraordinary hubris and the belief that liberalism should play the main, in matter of fact, the only organizing role in society? Until recently, the liberals have been saying, probably in good faith, that they are doctrinally transparent because not only do they not exclude anyone from the great society but they want to include everyone in it. To use an analogy: they think they are like those who write the rules of the road and at the same time are responsible for directing traffic. They aim to create a system that will be most efficient and most convenient to a large number of vehicles, much higher than that of other road builders or traffic wardens. According to what they have claimed, they are the only ones who can create such a system because only they are neutral, their sole interest being to secure freedom for each and every agent.

This noble goal, however, has its other side, usually ignored by liberals who claim to be transparent. Not only do these liberals position themselves above the others, but they always demand more power—ostensibly for making more traffic rules and hiring more traffic wardens—being almost never satisfied with the power they have. Not only do they want to control the mechanisms of the great society but also those of all its parts; not only what is general but also specifics; not only human actions but human thoughts as well. The original message, “we will only create a framework for society at large, and you will be able to do what you want within it” is rapidly turning into increasingly detailed message such as, “we will only create frameworks in education (in the family, in community life) and you will be able to do what you want within them later.” But even this is not enough: “We will only create a framework at this school and you will be able to do what you want within it later.” Then the class follows the school and so on and so forth.

Few liberals claim to be transparent nowadays. Most of them openly stand for a specific worldview, which they believe to be the most adequate of and for modern times, formulated in opposition to other worldviews and held to be uncompromisingly superior to them. They no longer hide themselves under the formula “we are creating only a general framework,” but fight hard for their power over minds and institutions.

This spirit of partisanship should not be surprising, as liberalism has always had a strong sense of the enemy, a direct consequence of its dualistic perception of the world. After all, liberalism is more about political struggle with non-liberal adversaries than deliberation with them. Although such words as “dialogue” and “pluralism” appear among its favorite motifs, as do “tolerance” and other similarly hospitable notions, this overtly generous rhetorical orchestration covers up something entirely different. In its essence, liberalism is unabashedly aggressive because it is determined to hunt down all nonliberal agents and ideas, which it treats as a threat to itself and to humanity. The organizing principle of liberalism—as in all other philosophies aiming to change the world radically—is therefore dualism, not pluralism. The modern stalwart of liberalism, Isaiah Berlin, was absolutely faithful to the liberal spirit when he said that the history of human thought could be viewed as a conflict between pluralism and monism, and that liberalism represents the former, whereas everything that is not liberal represents the latter.

This opinion, fairly typical, reveals the absurdity of the liberal claim. First, Berlin and other liberal-minded thinkers put duality—monism versus pluralism, closed versus open, freedom versus authority, tolerant versus autocratic—as the primary division, and by so doing had to assume that whoever supports pluralism must be for dualism. It is like saying that anyone who is for diversity must see the world dichotomously.

This leads to an even more bizarre conclusion: that whoever supports pluralism must favor liberalism, which means that anyone who wants to recognize the multiplicity of social arrangements and the diversity of human experience can accept only one philosophical and political philosophy. Given that in the course of the history of human thought there were dozens of different profoundly nonliberal philosophies—many of them of great intellectual value—such a conclusion can only be compared with Henry Ford’s famous statement about the Model T: in defense of pluralism, we give people the right to choose any available philosophy, provided that they choose liberalism.

Berlin himself, a superbly educated man, knew very well and admitted quite frankly that the most important and most valuable fruits of Western philosophy were monistic in nature. The consequence of this was inescapable: virtually everything intellectually intriguing that the Western mind produced in the field of philosophy had to be classified not only as monistic, but also as nonliberal. Therefore, if we take Berlin’s view seriously and disregard all monistic theories in the entire history of human thought, we would be left with very little. The effect of this supposed liberal pluralism would be a gigantic purge of Western philosophy, bringing an inevitable degradation of the human mind.

The communists, who were the first to use, and with much success, the dualistic perspective to fight their enemies, made us accustomed to a certain practice of philosophical polemic: they evaluated the arguments of their adversaries in the light of political consequences. The arguments were to be rejected not necessarily because of their demonstrated spuriousness but because of their political implications for communism: one accepted what served the movement’s cause, and one rejected what hindered its construction. Lenin, of course, made this practice his only method of argumentation: every fact, thought, idea, book or person was looked at from one and only one perspective—whether they were useful for or detrimental to Russian communism.

The liberals adopted a similar Leninist practice, though probably they would not find the adjective pleasing. When faced with a statement, or an opinion, or an idea, the first and most important question they ask is whether any of these may be dangerous: that is, whether they may potentially contradict liberal assumptions. Their favorite version of this approach is a slippery-slope argument. It amounts to the following: if one can indicate that this or that idea may sooner or later lead to some harmful practices, the idea should be discarded as politically contaminated. Because most theoretical claims or statements contain an element of unity—which the liberals would call monism—or imply a hierarchy—which the liberals would call domination—these claims and statements can be interpreted as direct or indirect encouragements to some form of political authoritarianism, and immediately become politically suspect. To give an example taken from Berlin, several philosophers made a distinction between superior and inferior parts of the soul. Whether this statement is true or false is of little importance; what is important is that it is politically dangerous because it is easy to imagine a group, a party, a community, or a church considering itself to represent this superior part of the soul and using coercion against another group, party, community, or church to which it will ascribe the role of a representative of the inferior part of the soul. This kind of argument—outrageous, let us admit it—is considered by the liberals to be decisive, and it serves them to disparage opponents by suggesting that by making seemingly harmless theoretical statements they open the gates to totalitarianism, fascism, inquisition, torture, Hitler, and various other horrors.

Surprisingly this essentially intolerant and doctrinaire side has been overlooked, and liberalism achieved a remarkable success in conquering people’s minds. In the past few decades, the liberals and the liberal democrats have managed to silence and marginalize nearly all alternatives and all nonliberal views of political order. Liberalism monopolized people’s minds to an extent that would put to shame the theorists of socialism in the communist countries, who, after all, had much richer resources at their disposal.

(in Ryszard Legutko – The Demon in Democracy, pp. 76-81. Encounter Books, New York, 2016)



O Bom Carniceiro

Exposta à contemplação universal a governação desmedida de Estaline, os ideólogos têm defendido o comunismo imputando àquele, e não a este, a carnificina. Estaline seria um caso anómalo, face ao qual os apologistas erguem, como exemplo contrastante, a benevolência de Lenine, o piedoso.

Hélas, Lenine não resiste à prova dos números.

Jacques Baynac, ele mesmo um marxista francês, socialista libertário, editou em 1975 um interessante livro sobre o Terror no tempo de Lenine  a que chamou, para o distinguir do Terror Estalinista, o Primeiro Terror. Na introdução da obra, Baynac apresenta um cálculo aproximado das mortes perpetradas por Lenine e pelo Partido Bolchevique no breve período de dezanove meses e meio entre 1918 e 1920. O resultado é um número que excede, em média, o das execuções e liquidações de Estaline.

Tanto pior para Lenine.

Baynac, como bom marxista, quer pôr Marx a salvo deste vórtice contabilístico. Na nossa opinião, estes números estão já contidos em potência no Das Kapital. Mas esta é matéria para outras conversas. Fiquemo-nos para já apenas com a contabilidade sinistra do Santo Fundador da Revolução Russa.
Continuar a ler

O Mal

Escrito há oitenta anos, e só verdadeiramente compreendido nos tempos que correm. E não é apenas sobre o nacional-socialismo, mais conhecido hoje em dia por nazismo, ou sequer sobre as demais religiões políticas, como o islão, o comunismo e as numerosas declinações quiliásticas de cariz socialista que se apresentam sob figuras mais benignas. É também, e sobretudo, sobre essa forma suprema de religião política maligna, que se chama Humanismo. Não sei se durará mil anos.

“Existe hoje um tipo ideal de intelectual politizante que manifesta a sua profunda aversão pelo nacional-socialismo baseando-se em poderosos juízos éticos; vê a sua tarefa e o seu dever na condução da luta por todos os meios literários de que se dispõe. Coisa de que também eu sou capaz: a minha rejeição por qualquer forma de colectivismo político pode encontrar-se, por quem souber ler, no verso de Dante colocado no início do estudo (1); e eu poderia facilmente revelar a amplitude da minha reserva de expressões, mais ou menos rebuscadas, a tal condenação. Mas que eu não me permita expô-la, no quadro destas efusões politizantes contra o nacional-socialismo diante de um grande público, tem as suas razões — numerosas razões. Não posso aqui aflorar senão uma delas, assaz essencial.


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Uma fábula

Era uma vez um porqueiro chamado Herr Junker. Junker tinha uma vara de porcos que mantinha na pocilga com os cuidados e os mimos necessários à melhor preservação. Poucos porcos morriam por incúria de Herr Junker, que dizia a quem por ali passava que a sua pocilga era a melhor das redondezas e que os fazendeiros vizinhos, como Mister Trumpter ou Gospod Porktin, tratavam mal os seus porcos e os deixavam entregues ao acaso e ao Deus dará. “Deus dará, percebem?”, dizia ele com uma piscadela de olho. “Deus dará. Mas aqui, na minha pocilga, não é Deus, mas os próprios porcos que decidem como são tratados. Claro que, meus amigos, sendo eles uns porcos, preferem a lama e a porcaria, mas quem sou eu para os contrariar? Eles são donos e senhores do seu próprio destino. Aqui não é ao Deus dará, mas sim e literalmente, ao Nós daremos.”


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O que é o socialismo?

Já apresentámos, há algum tempo atrás, um texto do filósofo polaco Leszek Kolakowski. Cabe hoje a vez de um panfleto que ele redigiu em 1956 para um jornal estudantil de Varsóvia, e cuja publicação foi barrada pelo censor. Afixado a seguir num mural da Universidade de Varsóvia, foi prontamente confiscado pelas autoridades, tendo circulado posteriormente em cópias clandestinas. O escrito, intitulado O que é o socialismo?, data da fase revisionista do autor, na qual já se consumara a ruptura com o comunismo soviético, mas não ainda a separação da tradição filosófica de que esse comunismo oficial se reclamava.

A presente tradução portuguesa é feita a partir da edição norte-americana, publicada por Agniezska Kolakowska, sua filha, em “Leszek Kolakowski, Is God Happy? Selected Essays, Basic Books, 2013, pp. 20-24.”


Is God Happy?


Pretendemos dizer-vos o que é o socialismo. Mas primeiro temos de vos dizer o que não é — e as nossas ideias sobre este assunto foram outrora muito diferentes do que são actualmente.

Eis, então, o que o socialismo não é: Continuar a ler

Igor Shafarevich – O Fenómeno Socialista


Igor Shafarevich (1923-2017) foi um matemático e filósofo russo, e uma figura destacada do movimento de contestação ao comunismo soviético. Participando, ao lado de Soljenítsin, Sakharov, Yanov e outros, no movimento Samizdat, Shafarevich é sobretudo conhecido, para além das suas obras de matemática, por dois importantes ensaios de filosofia política: Russofobia, em que procurou analisar o ódio à Rússia por parte dos intelectuais russos que procuravam a modernização do país, e entre os quais se encontravam muitos dos seus companheiros da Samizdat, e O Socialismo como Fenómeno da História Mundial, uma tentativa de compreender a essência do socialismo, não apenas na sua encarnação mais recente, a da União Soviética marxista, mas ao longo da História. Esta essência encontra-a Shafarevich na “pulsão da morte”, no desejo de aniquilação do humano que está presente no pensamento e na praxis de algumas das mais destacadas figuras da história política e intelectual da humanidade e que, segundo ele, anima igualmente, ainda que de uma forma subterrânea e inconsciente, as multidões que o entusiasmo revolucionário acomete periodicamente. No caso do fenómeno socialista propriamente dito, esta “pulsão da morte” manifesta-se especificamente na vontade de destruir a individualidade humana. O indivíduo é, enquanto lugar do Ser e da liberdade a que o Ser obriga, o grande obstáculo à realização do Nada, e portanto, o obstáculo que deve ser eliminado para se extinguir o sofrimento e a dor da existência. Tal é a pretensão do Socialismo. E tal é a sua essência.

Continuar a ler

Paul Hollander e a queda da União Soviética

No seu magnífico livro Political Will and Personal Belief. The Decline and Fall of Soviet Communism (Yale University Press, 1999), o não menos magnífico Paul Hollander especula sobre as razões porque a queda da União Soviética, ocorrida em 1991, não foi prevista por ninguém, nem fora nem dentro do Império. É do capítulo 1 dessa obra que eu extraio estas páginas, acompanhadas pelas notas de fim de capítulo. A tese geral de Hollander é a de que essa queda, tornada possível pela monstruosidade política e ineficácia económica do sistema comunista, foi precipitada por uma atitude mental de descrença no sistema e de sentimento geral de ilegitimidade por parte dos seus dirigentes da geração pós-Khrushcheviana. Sem esta derrocada mental e atitudinal, o sistema poderia, apesar das suas deficiências, manter-se por mais tempo, como o demonstram os exemplos da China e da Coreia do Norte.

Hollander Book Cover

[Chapter 1]
Taken By Surprise: Western Scholars and the Collapse

The fall of Soviet communism was among the major historical events of modern history that few anticipated, including myself; although it might have been “rationally predictable,” it was “neither emotionally nor instinctively awaited,” as two Hungarian social scientists put it.21 Even after the fact, I found most of the explanations put forward unconvincing or incomplete. I fully agreed with Strobe Talbot that “most of us who tried to understand the USSR were profoundly wrong about it in one crucial respect. We believed that bad as it was in so many ways, the system was good at one thing. its own preservation … Therefore the system would surely last for a very long time.”

In a similar vein Alexander Dallin wrote: “What we are really puzzling over is how as thoroughly controlled, as tightly disciplined and as heavily indoctrinated a system as the Soviet Union managed to fall apart, unravel so easily and so completely.”22 Few even among the specialists sensed the impending end of the Soviet empire, a circumstance that lends further justification to this enterprise aimed at achieving a better understanding of how and why it happened. Riszard Kapuscinski, the Polish author, has observed that “just before the breakup of the USSR, the view of that country as a model of the most stable and durable system in the world had gained wide acceptance among Western Sovietologists … there was not one American political scientist who predicted the collapse of the USSR.”23

Robert M. Gates, former head of the CIA, confessed that “he was amazed by the breakdown of the USSR and rests his defense on the entirely fair observation that virtually no one in the defense or intelligence business predicted that the Soviet Union was bound for the dustbin of history until it hit bottom.”24 Walter Laqueur reminds us that “the general view in the West during most of the 1960s and 1970s was that the Soviet Union had no monopoly on serious economic problems, which seemed by no means incurable … With a few exceptions Western experts grossly overrated the Soviet GNP and thus underrated per capita arms spending and thus the defense burden for the population … According to a study published as late as 1988 by a well-known Western economist [E. A. Hewett] specializing in the Soviet Union, Soviet citizens enjoyed ‘massive economic security.'”25 Severyn Bialer, another well-known specialist in Soviet affairs, wrote in 1982 that “the Soviet economy … administered by intelligent and trained professionals will not go bankrupt … like the political system, it will not collapse.”26 Jerry Hough, a prominent Soviet specialist, argued in 1991 that ”economic reform in the Soviet Union was going ahead with amazing speed and that Soviet political problems had been grossly exaggerated.” He also wrote, shortly before the historical events of the summer and fall of 1991: “The belief that the Soviet Union may disintegrate as a country contradicts all we know about revolution and national integration throughout the world,” and “Anyone who sees him [Mikhail Gorbachev] as a tragic transitional figure has little sense of history.”27 Moshe Lewin, the historian, in 1988 saw the Soviet Communist Party as “the main stabilizer of the political system” and could not conceive of conditions under which any group “would back measures likely to erode the integrity of the entire union or the centralised state. The party … is the only institution that can preside over the overhaul of the system.”28

Senator Daniel Moynihan was among the handful who envisioned the eventual disintegration of the Soviet Union, and not merely for economic reasons but resulting from a profound malaise of the entire system. Richard Pipes was another observer who had few illusions about the long-term stability of the Soviet system, noting in 1984 that it was in “crisis” and “has outlived its usefulness and that the forces making for change are becoming well-nigh irresistible.”29

Western specialists as well as Western political elites were susceptible to impressions of Soviet strength and self-assurance that the regime projected, often by means of coarse and primitive propaganda.30 For many decades the regime succeeded in covering up or distracting attention from its underlying weaknesses. Martin Malia wrote in 1990 that “the world in fact was being hoodwinked by the assertion of efficacy and power in just one domain”: heavy industry and military production.31 John Lewis Gaddis notes that “nuclear weapons preserved the image of a formidable Soviet Union long after it had entered into its terminal decline.”32

Why was it so widely believed that the Soviet Union was virtually indestructible or, at any rate, stable and durable? Possibly the reluctance to pay attention to the attitudes and beliefs of particular human beings contributed to this state of affairs.33 Seymour M. Lipset and Gyorgy Bence have suggested that the failure to anticipate the collapse was more common among scholars than among journalists and politicians. By the 1970s and 1980s “most of the Sovietologists … were left-liberal in their politics, an orientation that undermined their capacity to accept the view that economic statism, planning, socialist incentives, would not work.”34

Of all the reasons for the Western failure to anticipate the unraveling of the Soviet empire the belief in the superpower symmetry and moral equivalence were probably the most important. Numerous ancillary beliefs rested on the “two superpowers” scenario. It was, for instance, widely believed that global stability required an equilibrium between these powers. Critical views of the United States were also bolstered by the seemingly objective equation of its shortcomings with those of the Soviet Union; the somewhat cynical, hence apparently impartial wisdom used to be that neither of the superpowers inspired much respect and that each used the other for nefarious purposes (to bloat defense budgets and to establish unseemly domestic policies, among others). After the late 1960s these viewpoints became conventional wisdom among influential American journalists, academic intellectuals, many politicians in the Democratic Party, and the liberal middle classes. Even when the domestic weaknesses of the Soviet Union were noted, its successes abroad seemed impressive, its superpower status resting on its spreading influence abroad, especially in the Third World. 35

Another important force contributing to the Western belief in the durability of the Soviet Union was the antinuclear/peace movement. All those convinced of the imminence of nuclear holocaust who dedicated their lives, at least their public lives, to averting the disaster and for whom the cause of peace and nuclear disarmament (unilateral, if necessary) became an important source of identity had a vested interest in the persistence of the Soviet Union. The peace movement could not flourish without the cold war. The former needed the latter at least as much as the CIA and the KGB needed one another (another item in the inventory of “superpower symmetry,” part of the conventional wisdom of the period).

Another group, not large but influential, consisted of academics and other intellectuals who quietly harbored the hope, after the rise of Gorbachev, that the Soviet Union might yet realize the great aspirations of the October Revolution, reclaim its founding ideals, and become at last a democratic socialist society. They also tended to believe that on the whole the Soviet Union was successful in modernizing. There were also those – usually critics of the United States – who were deeply (and hopefully) committed to the idea that the “late capitalist” United States was in decline and was in fact the most decadent society around: surely the Soviet Union could not overtake the United States in its rate of decline. In this view, American decadence was caused by, or associated with, capitalism; a socialist (even a semi-or quasi-socialist) society such as the USSR was expected to have a greater staying power and a better chance to solve its problems. Critics of capitalism could not anticipate or entertain the prospect of the Soviet Union breaking into its constituent parts and scrambling to create a market economy, thus reversing the Marxian principles of historical development.

Even as “actually existing socialism” was collapsing in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe some American intellectuals entertained hopes of its rebirth.36 Some critics of the United States, at home and abroad, believed that the Soviet Union was a crucial counterweight to the United States and predatory imperialism and did not wish to contemplate a world without it. Such wishful thinking also contributed to a belief in the durability of the Soviet Union.

For the most part, the conservative critics of the Soviet empire were no more farsighted in predicting its collapse than were those less averse to its prolonged existence. The “cold warriors” and unembarrassed critics of the Soviet Union (myself among them) had few illusions about the virtues and advantages of Soviet-style socialism over the depravities of capitalism and were never tempted to consider the Soviet Union a successful, modernizing society. Their belief in the durability of the Soviet system did not depend on overlooking its moral, political, or economic flaws; they were not under the impression that it had enjoyed a high degree of legitimacy in spite of its shortcomings (as many on the left believed); they did not believe in an implicit social contract between the rulers and the ruled. The anticommunist critics thought that the system was durable because it seemed to them – wrongly, as it turned out – that the communist states had succeeded in building institutions of control that would keep them going regardless of their economic inefficiency and minimal legitimacy and because the USSR had managed to offset domestic stagnation by expansion abroad and was capable of producing an abundance of modern weaponry to remain a formidable power.

In retrospect, it is clear the conservative critics overestimated the efficiency of the apparatus of control, the political cohesion of the Soviet ruling elite, its commitment to power, and its ability to manipulate the citizenry regardless of their growing discontents. These views were influenced by the theories or models of totalitarianism that used to be helpful in grasping the character of the Soviet system but were far less useful in stimulating realistic anticipations of its end.

The conservative (or anticommunist) critics of the Soviet system also underestimated the long-term subversive impact of increased information about and contact with the West that began in the 1970s.

Anticipation in the Soviet Bloc

Insiders, products of Soviet communism, failed as well to anticipate the unraveling of the Soviet system. Two émigré Soviet historians who had no illusions about the severe domestic situation and believed that the system had “shown itself incapable of resolving economic, social or nationality questions” nonetheless suggested that the system could perpetuate itself through foreign policy successes: “The Soviet Union finds life-giving energy only in expansionism and an aggressive foreign policy. Thus expansion is becoming the only form of life for mature socialism.” By the same token, “communism threw in the towel the moment its expansion was finally brought to a halt,” Milovan Djilas observed in retrospect.37 Arkady Shevchenko, quoted earlier, believed (in 1984) that “it is very important … to understand the built-in continuity and momentum of the Soviet system … the faltering economy and other afflictions should not mislead anyone about the durability of the regime. There is no doubt that the USSR is experiencing serious domestic and other difficulties. But it has overcome worse troubles in the past.”38

Jan Sejna, a former Czech general and high-ranking Party official (discussed in Chapter 2), believed that the Soviet Union had a grand design for global domination, hence the title of his book, We Will Bury You. He also claimed that Brezhnev himself, notwithstanding his tendency toward personal corruption and high living, believed that ”the only way for Communism to triumph [was] by the destruction of Capitalism” and that détente was merely a tactical ploy to advance this goal.39

Zubok and Pleshakov regarded Brezhnev as “the incarnation of the post-revolutionary new elites whose expansionism was driven by great power commitments … [t]hough the revolutionary-imperial paradigm was still alive.”40 Valentin Turchin, a prominent Soviet dissenter, observed in the early 1980s that “the basis of the social order [in the Soviet Union] is considered by the citizens as absolutely immutable … They consider it as a given, as Newton’s Law. When you fall you don’t blame gravity.”

Natan Sharansky, another leading dissident, wrote in 1988: “Not only the authorities consider citizens cogs in the wheel of the state, the people so consider themselves too.”41 Alexander Zinoviev, another prominent dissenter, thought that the system had become “essentially unshakeable,” that “Homo Sovieticus” was entrenched.42 Vassily Aksyonov, the Soviet émigré writer wrote: “All of our lives, if we ever dreamed of the demise of totalitarian Communism, it was assumed that the monster would never surrender without a devastating fight … Then the wildest dreams of my generation of Russians came true.”43

If belief in the durability of the Soviet system on the part of its critics was rooted in a pessimistic overestimation of the powers of coercion, of popular inertia, and of apathy, there were also those in the West who credited its prolonged survival to its material accomplishments, overlooking what a more knowledgeable commentator called “the Soviet planner’s habitual contempt for social needs.” Some of these recent sanguine assessments resembled the colorful Western misperceptions of the Soviet Union dating back to the 1930s. Many of them persisted, remarkably enough, to the very end of the system.

Paul Samuelson, the famous American economist, wrote in 1976 that it was “a vulgar mistake to think that most people in Eastern Europe are miserable.” John Kenneth Galbraith, another well-known economist, wrote in 1984 that the Soviet economy had made “great material progress in recent years … one sees it in the appearance of solid well-being of the people on the streets.”44 These observations were reminiscent of those made by G. B. Shaw in the early 1930s, when he commented on, and freely generalized from, the abundance and excellence of meals he consumed in certain restaurants in Moscow where he was taken by his attentive hosts.

The misconceptions of visitors diligently fostered by the authorities help to explain both the belief in the prolonged survival of the Soviet system and the surprise upon its abrupt collapse. Steven Solnick accurately labeled it “a system … complacently accepting of its own artificial reality.” He also writes: ‘Just as artificial Potemkin villages’ hid the squalid countryside from traveling tsars, plan fulfillment reports obscured the true state of Soviet economic social relations from Moscow planners. General Secretaries [of the Party] determined to make their own observations found contemporary versions of Potemkin villages thrown up for their benefit.” If in retrospect “it seems a marvel that a system so complacently accepting of its own artificial reality could have survived,” the most obvious explanation of the inability to foresee its demise was the facade of strength, unanimity, and stability the system managed to project almost to the very end (or at least until the intensification of glasnost).

Much of this rested on “preference falsification” and “the imperfect observability of private preferences” on the part of the masses. Timur Kuran writes: “The system and its instruments of violence were supported by a pervasive culture of mendacity. Individuals routinely applauded speakers they disliked, joined organizations whose mission they opposed, ostracized dissidents they admired, and followed orders they considered nonsensical, unjust or inhuman.”46

Anticipating radical change was also difficult in Eastern Europe. Eugen Loebl, a surviving victim of the major Czech show trial (of the Slansky “conspiracy”), recalled that “most of the people I met in civilian life [that is, outside prison after his release] did not believe that things could change or that those in power could be overwhelmed.”47 Gyorgy Konrad, the Hungarian writer and social critic, noted: “Two months ago I spoke to a distinguished Czech writer of the opposition who said that one cannot expect any significant change, the standard of living is quite high … the working classes are not discontented, the students are not active and the Party is not split! … And then we saw the pictures on TV, the hundreds and thousands of demonstrators in the streets of Prague and Bratislava.”

Even in retrospect, when the temptation to correct for past error is great, a survey, conducted in March 1990, found that 76 percent of the East Germans were “totally surprised” by the collapse of the East German communist regime.48 The unanticipated disintegration of communist states provides new opportunities for addressing the connections between shifts in individual belief and institutional change. “Objective” factors such as economic decline make a difference to the survival of political systems only insofar as people, especially those in power, recognize and respond to them. Arguably, the Soviet system had confronted more serious difficulties in the past, yet it survived.49 The tolerance of deprivations of any kind depends on prevailing expectations; information about socioeconomic problems or malfunctioning institutions may be brushed aside, rationalized, or taken seriously, depending on the disposition of the leaders; popular discontent can be ignored, repressed, or paid attention to by the powerholders.

Systems do not radically change or unravel merely because of economic difficulties but because rulers come to see the difficulties in a new light, as profound, systemic, or intractable. Economically weak political systems are often capable of staying in power as long as the will to power remains intact at the top and the personnel of coercive institutions are ready to perform their duties, as in Cuba and North Korea.50 Before the 1980s the Soviet Union repeatedly experienced severe economic difficulties, which it managed to survive.

It was the economic difficulties combined with other setbacks (for example, Afghanistan, NATO’s introduction of intermediate missiles into Western Europe) and the changed attitude on the part of the rulers that together led to the familiar outcome. Domestic reform under Gorbachev went hand in hand with a far less aggressive foreign policy – with pulling out of Afghanistan and giving up Eastern Europe – as if the diminished self-assurance of the rulers had found expression in hesitation about imposing their will abroad. The self-assurance and sense of legitimacy of the ruling political elite provide the key to system maintenance in highly authoritarian states such as the former Soviet Union and its allies. Such self-assurance and the associated will to power must in turn be nurtured by deeply held political beliefs, as well as by the material advantages that the beneficiaries enjoy and believe they deserve. If in earlier times “the official ideology … functioned to give the ruling elite an inflated self-confidence and legitimacy,”51 this was no longer the case by the mid 1980s. By then, ideology had become, in George F. Kennan’s words, “a lifeless orthodoxy … [Though] Still able to command a feigned and reluctant obedience, it had lost all capacity to inspire.”52

Lost inspiration contributed to the decline of ruthlessness the preservation of the system required. Alexander Dallin referred to the same phenomenon as “an unadvertised but far-reaching crisis of identity and self-doubt … a decline … in the rulers’ self-confidence concerning their right to rule … [and a] newly perceived challengeability of the Soviet system.” General Leonid Shebarshin of the KGB summed it up: “The decisive factor … was a lack of political will at the centre.”53 The self-assurance of the Soviet leaders and the leaders of other communist states in Eastern Europe which allowed them to preside for decades over a wasteful, inefficient economy, a system of politically allocated privileges, and the untroubled repression of dissent was apparently lost by the end of the 1980s. Although there was an awareness, especially on the part of the hardliners, that the system was in danger of collapse, the leaders failed to act expeditiously to prevent this from happening. Vladimir Kryuchkov, head of the KGB, said in a televised speech in 1990: ‘”A danger has developed that the Soviet Union might disintegrate …’ But the KGB would fight ‘with all the means at their disposal’ against ‘anti-Communist’ elements inside the country and abroad that threaten the state. ‘To be or not to be,’ that is the choice for our great state.”54 The awareness of impending doom did not lead to effective countermeasures. As David Remnick describes it, “The men of the Communist Party, the Army and the KGB who had tried to seize power [in August 1991] in the name of Leninist principles and imperial preservation betrayed their weakness before the cameras: their hands trembled, they drank themselves senseless, they could not bear to pull the trigger.”55 The attempted coup failed “because of divisions and hesitation among the plotters.” The intervention in the Baltics “was almost a caricature” compared to earlier interventions in Czechoslovakia and Hungary, characterized as it was by “inefficiency and halfheartedness.”56 The forces with which to crush these challenges to the regime were available, but the political will to make use of them was lacking.57

It is also noteworthy that the conspirators made no reference whatsoever to Marxism or socialism in their manifesto, speaking instead of maintaining order and the national boundaries.58 A circumstance that may help to explain the lack of reflexive and requisite ruthlessness in the last crop of Soviet leaders is that they largely lacked the traumatic experience of personal political insecurity of the earlier generations of leaders; they were pampered members of the nomenklatura, exercising power in relative security. Past suffering and personal hardship had not hardened their attitudes or help them justify the infliction of suffering on others. Nor did experiencing spectacular social mobility, as the earlier generation of leaders had, deepen their sense of legitimacy and self-assurance. By contrast, Khrushchev had believed that “the dispossessed of the world would inevitably prevail; he himself had been a miner … Mikoyan added that he had been a plumber, Gromyko that he had been the son of a beggar and … Frol Kozlov that he had been a ‘homeless waif.'”59 Experiences of suffering and insecurity, rather than creating a greater capacity for empathy, often lead to the opposite – ruthlessness, – presumably because adversaries are presumed to be implicated in the suffering that the revolutionary politician experiences. Suffering, then, may not improve character; rather, it creates a sense of entitlement to compensatory power and privilege, a sense of grievance, and a readiness to seek retribution for wrongs suffered.

The generation of Soviet leaders in power during the 1980s had no such experiences or background; for the most part they had no bitter store of memories of personal suffering to call upon to justify crushing opposition and taking any measures to preserve the system.60 This is not to say that such memories and experiences are the only basis of moral indifference to suffering; the capacity to inflict pain and deprivation, especially on a large scale, has a variety of sources, as will also be discussed in Chapter 6.


  1. Csepeli and Orkeny 1992: 1. Walter Laqueur writes: “The sudden collapse [is] difficult to explain even in retrospect. Why did the huge edifice collapse without even having been seriously challenged?” [Laqueur 1994: 71.] It was subsequently claimed that the CIA predicted the Soviet collapse, largely on economic grounds. [See Berkowitz and Richelson 1995.]
  2. Talbot, introduction to Arbatov 1992: 10; Dallin 1992: 282; see also Kirkpatrick I990: 274.
  3. Kapuscinski 1994: 314; see also Draper 1992: 7; and Chirot in Chirot 1991: 12.
  4. Quoted in Powers 1996: 20.
  5. Laqueur 1994: 57, 59, 99.
  6. Quoted in Freedom Review, 1992: 7.
  7. Quoted in Laqueur 1994: 120, 211.
  8. Lewin 1988: 131, 133.
  9. “Cracked Crystal Ball,” 1979: 136, 141; Pipes 1984: 50, 60.
  10. David Pryce-Jones points out that “the facade was completely false. An unbroken history of dissent, strikes, uprisings and armed rebellions was ruthlessly suppressed from the rest of the world in order to pretend to communist unity and solidarity.” [Pryce-Jones 1995: 36.]
  11. Malia in Brinton and Rinzler 1990: 405.
  12. Gaddis 1997: 292, 222. “… the determination of political scientists to act like physicists or biologists . . . But . . . the study of mankind differs fundamentally from the study of nature . . . in part because unlike molecules and cells . . . human beings have values and objectives that preclude their being analyzed in a value-free, unteleological manner.”
  13. [Pipes 1995: 160, 156.]
  14. Lipset and Bence 1994: 202.
  15. For a statement of Soviet successes in the Third World see Rubinstein 1988: 565.
  16. For example, Bertell Ollman has written: “Paradoxically enough, the objective conditions for socialism in the USSR are now largely present, but because of the unhappy experience with a regime that called itself ‘socialist’ the subjective conditions are absent . . . On the other hand . . . the Soviet Union might be saved by a socialist revolution in the West as our capitalist economy goes into a tailspin.” [Ollman 1991: 460.]
  17. Heller and Nekrich 1986: 730; Djilas 1998: 315.
  18. Shevchenko 1985: 487–488.
  19. Sejna 1984: 100–103, 109–111.
  20. 40. Zubok and Pleshakov 1996: 181.
  21. Quoted in Shipler 1983: 194; see also Sharansky 1988: 31.
  22. Quoted in Pryce-Jones 1995: 24.
  23. Aksyonov 1992: 612.
  24. Cottrell 1998: 40; quoted in Freedom Review, 1992: 6.
  25. Solnick 1998: 2, 5.
  26. Kuran, Private Truth, I995: 262, 275, 119.
  27. Loebl 1976: 228.
  28. Konrad 1991: 179; Kuran, “Inevitability,” 1995: 1529.
  29. Adam Ulam points out “how trivial in comparison with its past disorders were the ailments that afflicted it [the Soviet regime] in the beginning of the 1980s . . . a lowered rate of growth of the GNP . . . an elderly and somnolent ruling oligarchy; active dissent by just a tiny segment of the intelligentsia” [Ulam 1992: 389.] Chirot also emphasizes the relative unimportance of economic factors in the unraveling. [See Chirot in Chirot 1991: 4, 9.]
  30. Somin 1994: 84. See also Jowitt 1997: 43; and Odom 1998: 393–394.
  31. Lowenhardt 1995: 48.
  32. Kennan 1996: 51.
  33. Dallin 1992: 286–287, 298; quoted in Pryce-Jones 1995: 365.
  34. Quoted in Kaiser 1991: 379.
  35. Remnick, May 1996: 45.
  36. Steele 1994: 78, 202, 209.
  37. Vadim Bakatin’s description of disorder and irresoluteness among the conspirators confirms these assessments. [Bakatin 1992: 9–22.]
  38. “Conversation with Robert Conquest,” 1993: 10.
  39. Mikoyan, Gromyko, and Frol Koslov, respectively. This information was imparted in Moscow in 1959 during a meeting between those quoted and Averell Harriman. [Quoted in Gaddis 1997: 242.]
  40. Paloczi-Horvath speculated on the mentality of his tormentors: “Utter degradation and unbearable pain leave curious traces on the subconscious mind. They lead to almost senseless moral perfectionism in some people and to a pentup craving for revenge in others. This latter type feels that by his past suffering he is justified in doing anything.” [Paloczi-Horvath 1959: 207.]


O Comité Português de Estudo do Kimilsunismo

Lisboa, Queluz, Amadora e o Estoril têm, orgulhosamente, grupos de estudo do kimilsunismo. Eu explico, se não se importam.

Kim il-Sung, pai de Kim Jong-il e avô de Kim Jong-un, foi o criador da filosofia juche, a qual orienta benévola e ininterruptamente desde 1955 a política, a religião, a ciência, a literatura, as relações humanas, o coito dos coelhos e a florescência das estações na República Popular da Coreia [do Norte]. É, para usar uma definição oficial, a “contribuição original, brilhante e revolucionária para o pensamento nacional e internacional” de Kim il-Sung, ou seja, basicamente, a culminação cósmica do pensamento marxista-leninista.

Para celebrar os setenta anos de Kim ergueu-se em 1982 em Pyongyang, a capital do país, uma gigantesca torre de pedra com 70 pisos e 170 metros de altura (tem mais um metro que o Washington Monument), no topo da qual brilha perpetuamente uma chama de vidro vermelho.


Cá em baixo, à entrada do monumento, no enorme átrio que dá acesso aos andares superiores, as paredes estão literalmente preenchidas com pequenas lápides rectangulares de mármore, similares às inscrições votivas de alguns santuários de religiosidade popular e onde os crentes de todas as nações exprimem a sua admiração por Kim e pelo seu pensamento. Como diz um escritor que muito admiro, espera-se, ao entrar neste átrio, ver dezenas de braços, pernas, cabeças e dedos de cera oferecidos por aleijadinhos miraculosamente curados, como no Santuário de Fátima ou no Centro de Cirurgia Cárdio-Torácica do doutor Manuel Antunes nos Hospitais da Universidade de Coimbra.

Imaginem a minha admiração quando me apercebo que, colocada ao nível dos olhos, para mais fácil visibilidade, está a maior de todas as inscrições votivas, quatro vezes maior que as outras — a do Comité Português de Estudo do Kimilsunismo! Observem a fotografia em baixo, para detalhes.

Ex-votos ao santo

O Comité tem quatro centros, postados estrategicamente à volta de Lisboa. Consta-me que existem nesses centros, e guardadas em vitrines à prova de vandalismo, relíquias do santo, quer dizer de Kim: um fragmento de unhaca em Queluz, uma mecha do cabelo em Lisboa, o perpúcio na Amadora e — glória das glórias — a cabeça inteira no Estoril. Dizem algumas pessoas que essa cabeça fala e emite oráculos, os quais se ouvem claramente em Loures e são estudados com desvelo hermeneuta na Soeiro Pereira Gomes. Mas isso não posso garantir.

Seja como for. Sinto-me impante de orgulho. Vocês não? Ora confessem lá: ser português, às vezes, compensa. Não acham?