In Saul Bellow’s latest book To Jerusalem and Back [Viking Press, 1976], I found on p. 43 the following account:
Eban’s attitude toward Russia is shared by many. In a different form, I heard it recently at the Beth Belgia, one of the Hebrew University buildings, from Professor Shlomo Avineri, who is a historian and political scientist. As stated by Professor Avineri, the position is something like this: After World War II, it was widely believed that capitalism had taken a new lease on life. But this was an illusion. The postwar prosperity of capitalism was based on cheap energy and low-price raw materials from backward countries. The price of these has now risen, and the last free ride of Western capitalism is over–over for all except, perhaps, America. Other Western countries must now prepare to live on a more austere standard. In Eastern Europe, on the other hand, life has immensely improved. The lower classes are beginning to eat well and dress comfortably and live in warm apartments. It is principally the old middle class that is unhappy—the professionals, the intellectuals. And across the face of Europe we see a gradual evening out of privileges and a redistribution of the good things of life. The Western centers of old Europe are growing dimmer, but Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania, Poland are brightening up. This, rather than expanding Red imperialism and the subjugation of Europe by Russia, is what we should be considering. If I understand him, Professor Avineri is saying that an independent sort of communism is developing among Russia’s satellites and that Western communism is becoming more democratic, less obedient to Moscow. In any case, the world is being transformed, and neither superpower is what so many of us had always assumed it to be. This is the sort of thing one hears in Paris or Milan rather than Jerusalem. Such a vision of the future evidently grows out of assumptions about the decline of American prestige and influence. It takes for granted that in fighting the extension of communism in Southeast Asia the United States made the greatest mistake in its history. A desire to accept a new view of communism is one of the results of the Vietnam disaster and of America’s internal disorder. Besides, Israel’s utter dependency upon the United States leads Israeli intellectuals to hunt for signs of hope in the Communist world. I often wonder why it should rend people’s hearts to give up their Marxism. What does it take to extinguish the hopes raised by the October Revolution? How much more do intellectuals need to learn about the U.S.S.R.? Knowing something about life in Communist countries, I disagree completely with Avineri. In my judgment this is a frivolous analysis —heartless, too, if you think how little personal liberty there is in Eastern Europe. One has no business to give away the rights of others. But I look again at Professor Avineri and see that he is...
Online OnlyFor just $19.95 a year, get access to new issues and decades' worth of archives on our site.
Print + OnlineFor $35 a year, get new issues delivered to your door and access to our full online archives.
Already a subscriber? Log in: