Readings — From the September 2019 issue

Cogs of War

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From the December 30, 1979, entry in his diary, which was released in May by the George Washington University National Security Archive. Chernyaev, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was then the deputy director of the International Department, which was in charge of the U.S.S.R.’s policy for the international Communist movement. Boris Ponomarev was his boss. Translated by Anna Melyakova and edited by Svetlana Savranskaya.

Our troops entered Afghanistan. They deposed Hafizullah Amin (“the bloody dog”). Babrak Karmal assumed all the necessary posts, gave all the necessary speeches, including one in which he said that he invited the Soviet Army, released political prisoners, and promised everything to everyone.

From Carter, to Khomeini, to L’Unità, everyone is furiously condemning the occupation, intervention, and interference in the internal affairs of a small and weak country—“Russian imperialism” and the like. By the power of the mighty mass media, the rest of the world has turned against us. The détente capital we accumulated after Brezhnev’s Berlin speech in connection with the December session of NATO is shot to hell. All the “democratic” and “peaceloving” forces that were lined up to support our peace policy are discouraged. All that Communists and our unwavering friends in general can do is rebut comments about “Soviet aggression”; nobody will listen to campaigns against American missiles. All those in the “Third World” who were planning to or already set course for socialism now can only think about how not to tie themselves up with us à la Afghanistan, because they have a clear demonstration of what it can lead to.

The question is—who needed this? Did we really commit an act that will be positioned alongside Finland 1939 and Czechoslovakia 1968 in international public consciousness just for the sake of revolutionary philanthropy and humanitarianism? The Soviet people do not need it at all. What they need is meat, consumer goods, and more order!

This plot was brewed somewhere “under the radar.” The decision to send troops was made three weeks ago. Assault forces started moving close to Kabul a week before the coup, at the request of Amin himself (!), who must have de­cided that he could not stay in power otherwise (!). However, he did not take into account that the troops were being sent for the exact opposite purpose. Now an entire division is moving across the border, and it will take them a whole week (crossing the mountains) to reach Kabul (apropos the question of “border security”!).

This is how policy is made in the name of the Party and the people. And nobody objected—not members of the Politburo, not the P.B. secretaries, of course not the republics, not even the apparatus. I think there hasn’t been a period in Russian history, even under Stalin, when such important actions were taken without even a hint of coordination, counsel, discussion, weighing of options—even in a very small circle. Nowadays everyone is a pawn that is ready in advance to quietly and meekly recognize the “rightness and necessity” of any decision emanating from one person. We have entered into a period of senility at the ruling top that is very dangerous for our country. They are not capable of assessing who is doing what and why. These are not even desperate blind flings from the realization of the hopeless situation in our society; these are just senseless inertial impulses of a decrepit organism that has lost its bearing. These impulses are born in the dark corners of political dysfunction, in an atmosphere of complete atrophy of responsibility that has turned into an organic disease.

Yesterday I was already writing drafts for Babrak: a statement against the imperialist slander campaign in connection with the entry of Soviet troops into Afghanistan, and a letter to Communist parties calling for solidarity (i.e., so they do not protest, as the Italians already did). This is once again Boris Ponomarev’s initiative. As always, he’s hustling. He wants to earn some points even here. Who knows, maybe fortune will smile on him and he will be rewarded with membership in the Politburo!

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