BLAIR FRASER REPORTS FROM MOSCOW How the Russians are trained to hate the West
Their press, radio, TV and schools preach hatred. Their “news” is tailored to the Party line. “But,” says this Maclean's editor, “what astonishes the visitor is to find they’re not entirely deluded by this claptrap”
The deputy director of the official Soviet news agency TASS is a grey-haired, tired, amiable man named Vishnyevsky. He has spent years in Western Europe, speaks excellent French, is altogether a congenial figure to a colleague from the West. It seemed almost rude to ask him the obvious question:
“How does the Soviet government transmit and co-ordinate its instructions to TASS on how the news is to be handled?”
Vishnyevsky took no offense. “There are no such instructions,” he said with the patient air of one who answers the same question for the hundredth time. “Each TASS correspondent writes the news as he sees it. Nobody tells him what to say and what not to say.”
Oh ... In that case, would he please explain certain features of TASS reporting on the Hungary story?
When Premier Imre Nagy announced that Hungary would withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and adopt a policy of neutralism. TASS made no mention of this fact. It has since been admitted that Nagy’s attempt at neutralism was a major reason for the return of the Red Army to Buda-
pest, and the fall of the Nagy government. Yet it was five weeks before TASS carried any reference to this important development. Why?
“Perhaps the TASS reporter wasn’t aware of this announcement.”
But it was made in a public broadcast. It was carried by the Associated Press and other agencies with which TASS has exchange contracts. How could TASS have remained unaware of it?
Vishnyevsky began to wriggle a little. “Perhaps our correspondent did not consider this a development of major importance.”
The conversation languished after that. It was obvious that I didn’t believe him and that he didn’t really expect to be believed, so further discussion was rather pointless. I took my leave without even mentioning other, more serious distortions in TASS dispatches.
These, of course, were no surprise. One thing everybody knows about the Soviet Union is that news is tailored to the Party line, and every stream of public information polluted at the source.
What does astonish the visitor is to find Soviet citizens are not entirely deluded by the claptrap
hate the West
they read and hear. In theory — ours as well as theirs — they ought to be captive dupes of state misinformation, believing what they read in the official press and deaf to anything else. In fact, this doesn’t appear to be so.
The best recent example is the story of the Hungarian rebellion. From beginning to end TASS gave Soviet readers this picture of events in Hungary:
A Fascist putsch, though a “failure” from its first moment, nonetheless managed to launch a “white terror” and kill thousands of innocent men, women and children. Organized, trained and armed by the United States, these Fascist, gangs were finally defeated by the Hungarian government with the aid of law-abiding citizens and, incidentally, some units of the Red Army. The Soviet government, "selflessly doing its duty as an ally,” had sent these units in response to a Hungarian appeal for help in restoring order after the criminal outbreaks.
No facts were published that did not fit this version. TASS reported early in November that the Red Army had left Budapest, but never that Premier Nagy had asked it to go. TASS reported
five days later that the Nagy government had “collapsed and stopped to exist,” and that the new Kadar government had asked the Red Army to come back. No mention of the fact that Nagy was still premier when the Red Army returned, or that his last public act was a broadcast appeal to Hungarians to resist it.
Yet I found, to my amazement, that almost every Russian I met betrayed doubt of the official account.
“Is it really true,” several asked, “that Fascist troops went into Hungary from Austria?” And when I said that nothing of the kind ever happened, they accepted the statement in silence. Others did not mention the imaginary “invasion,” but talked about the atrocities — the wholesale . lynching of security police and Communist Party officials that really did take place. Whether the victims deserved their fate or not, any outburst of mob violence is an ugly thing to see, and the Soviet press was full of perfectly authentic pictures that shocked the Russian public. One, very widely published, was the series taken for Life magazine and Paris Match, showing a group of unarmed security policecontinued on page 71
Blair Fraser reports from Moscow continued from page 27
“Russians seem to know that something went very wrong in Hungary’
men backed into a corner and mown down by gunfire. In the Soviet press such people were described, no doubt quite accurately, as “loyal Communists." Other reports that may well have been true told of violence or the threat of violence against Soviet citizens in Hungary, and many such “refugees" were interviewed at great length on their return. Naturally they had their countrymen’s sympathy.
Yet in spite of all these impulsions to believe the official version, the Soviet people seem to know quite well that something went very wrong in Hungary. In Kiev, for example, I asked a university professor whether the events in Hungary arxi Poland had upset the students or caused much discussion among them. He answered stiffly that students had been “unanimous" in taking a “correct” view of the Fascist putsch in Hungary, and really had nothing to discuss. But as soon as we got outside my young interpreter, who had been at the university himself until a few months before, said, “Of ccairse you are right. We did discuss the Hungarian rebellion a great deal. Professors don’t always know what is going on among the students.”
However. I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from the handful of Russians I was able to meet. This particular impression is borne out by secondhand accounts from Westerners who live in Moscow, by several eyewitness reports of student meetings, and even by the curiously defensive and aggrieved tone of the official press itself.
“Ike’s horrid doctrine”
There is some evidence of a similar incredulity toward the steady campaign of hatred toward the West in general and the United States in particular. It is in this campaign that distortions, misrepresentations and outright lies are most prominent and most habitual in the Soviet press.
When, for example, the “Eisenhower doctrine” of aid for the Middle East was laid before Congress, the TASS report was headlined: “Program of U. S. Imperialist Colonialism.” The president’s speech, said TASS, “opened with a series of reservations meant to soften the flagrantly aggressive character” of the new proposal, but it "leaves no room for doubt as to the imperialist and colonialist character of American policy in the Middle East, despite all attempts to camouflage its aggressive substance.”
This was the “news” report; the editorial denunciations came later. lo this day the Soviet reader has had no account of what the horrid Eisenhower doctrine actually is.
But the press is only one, and not the most important, of the instruments used to instill hatred of the “Anglo-American Fascist-imperialist bandits.”
Another is television. It is interesting that among all the consumer goods of the Soviet Union, almost the only things that are relatively cheap by Western standards are radio and television sets. You can buy a small but efficient television set in Moscow for the price of a ready-made suit of medium quality.
On the outskirts of Moscow last Sunday I noticed a wretched log cabin that in Canada would be rated as substandard accommodation for one family. Evidently it had no inside plumbing, for a woman was emptying her dishwater in the front
yard as we drove by. Yet from the sagging roof of this dwelling rose no fewer than four television aerials.
Deadliest of all propaganda weapons, though, is the school system. In the Soviet Union this weapon is used to the full
against the Western world and everything it stands for.
Lesson No. 2 in a middle-school English textbook. 1954 edition, has sentences for translation like this one: “According to the Wall Street imperialists, American
children must be taught that banditism is a normal thing and that modern techniques will help them to rob, kill and commit crimes."
Komsomolskaya Pravda, the daily newspaper of the Soviet youth movement, stated its objectives thus: “It is the duty of Komsomol organizations to develop in youth hatred of the Anglo-American warmongers.” Teachers are enjoined to "instill a just hatred ot the imperialists and their venomous ideologies.”
I have a whole book of these quotations, eighty pages long; it would be
wearisome to cite more of them, but they are all alike. The astonishing thing is that they seem to have so little effect on the behavior of the average Russian to a Western visitor.
In Canada, Russian visitors are made to feel hostility. A recent delegation had to be protected by police from demonstrators at the airport. The TASS correspondent in Ottawa was once refused membership in the Press Gallery by vote of a majority of his colleagues. His successors have been admitted, but without warmth. Although most of them have been decent enough individuals, they lead a lonely life—not, as in Moscow, because the government discourages citizens from having anything to do with them, but because Canadians spontaneously dislike having social relations with representatives of a nation they believe to be hostile.
In Russia, in spite of organized propaganda to damn the West in every field, the Western visitor is made welcome. During three weeks’ stay in the Soviet Union and tours of three major cities I have not met a word, a glance, a gesture to make me feel I was among anything but friends. Everybody has been cordial, from my little Moscow interpreter who has looked after me as firmly and kindly as if I were her own grandfather, to the young Red Army officer I met on the street in Kiev.
How they read their “news”
I was waiting for a streetcar one snowy midnight, talking to a friend who speaks Russian, when the young soldier interrupted to say to my friend. “I can't speak a word of English but I am studying it, and I can understand what you fellows are saying.”
At first I wondered if he was spying on us, but since we were discussing Montreal’s deplorable inability to win the Grey Cup, this seemed unlikely. After a while we got tired waiting for the tram and set off to walk. The soldier again spoke to my friend in Russian.
"He says if we don't mind, he will escort us to the hotel.”
For three quarters of a mile the three of us walked together, the soldier beaming at us and occasionally throwing in a remark, which my friend would translate. At last we came to the hotel; he shook hands, bowed, wished me a happy visit to his country and a safe journey home, and started walking back the way we had come.
I said, “Do you mean this wasn't on his way home? I thought he was just walking with us while our paths overlapped.”
“He lives in that barracks right opposite the streetcar stop where we started." my friend replied. “He just came along with us to be friendly, that’s all.”
Perhaps this strange hospitality comes from mere politeness, though Russian delegates to the United Nations have no*, given the impression that courtesy is an outstanding characteristic of the Soviet Union. I can’t help believing it is more than this—that it shows at least some distrust, or at any rate some disregard, of the anti-Western propaganda they hear day in and day out.
Perhaps the Russian reads his "news" as we in the West read advertising, and for the same reason, that he knows it is written with the intention of selling him something. Certainly we are influenced by advertising—our buying habits prove that—but we do not actually believe that life is quite so round, so firm, so fully packed as Madison Avenue says it is.
The analogy holds good in another respect, anyway. Not all advertisements take for granted that ours is the best of all possible worlds. None actually say
thaï “most men lead lives of quiet desperation,” but many are obviously based on the assumption that their readers are insecure, overburdened, painfully aware tha" all is not well. This is also true of news and comment in the Soviet official press.
At the end of November the Moscow Literary Gazette carried a signed article from Budapest that began:
“This is no idle question but one that comes straight from the heart: on whose side are you. writers of Hungary?"
The article went on to recall, with horror that “long before the October events many Hungarian writers openly came out against the Leninist principle of the Party spirit in literature. Under the false flag of freedom of thought' and ‘freedom of creation’ they gave currency to nihilist conceptions of state and society, views alien to socialism . . .
“Matters went as far as the allegation that the working folk of Hungary ‘did not want socialism at all, . . . More than that, the workers of the ideological front gave free play to these assertions."
The article then reported a conference, after the October rebellion, with some Hungarian writers:
“Lstvan Erken bombastically endeavored to prove what cannot be proved. He claimed there had been no threat of counterrevolution at all, or at least that it had been hysterically exaggerated . . .
“The conversation also turned upon UN examination of the Hungarian question. It suddenly transpired that the Cuban delegate, who had put before the General Assembly his genocide fake, not only had a sympathetic audience but even wholehearted yes-men among the Hungarian writers ...
“One, who called himself a Communist, lisped something about ‘the crisis of Marxism.’ A certain young literary hanger-on among those present began to yell of his ‘hate for the Russians.’ The atmosphere of a friendly conversation by no means sprang up."
Three weeks later another dispatch from Budapest, by a different reporter, appeared in the same magazine: “A large number of writers who are (Communist) Party members played a great role in the events in Hungary . . . They incorrectly carried criticism from the Party to the street, thus allowing the reactionary elements to join it . . . Certain writers, Hying in the face of incontestable facts, denied the existence of counterrevolution."
It doesn’t require much discernment to see, in articles of that sort, that there was more in the Hungarian rebellion than the TASS reports had indicated.
Perhaps the best proof that Russians don’t believe all they're told is the survival of religion in the Soviet Union.
I went to two Roman Catholic services in Russia, one in Moscow and one in Leningrad, and in each place the scene was the same. Most of the congregation were women, and a great many were elderly. Both churches had a group of singularly ragged and pathetic old crones near the door, who turned out to be beggars. (There are no beggars in the Soviet Union, officially, but they are tolerated at church doors.)
Nevertheless these general observations were not the entire truth in either city. There were younger people present too —many young women, a few young men. There were some children. Beside me in Leningrad, on his knees with prayer book in hand, was a young policeman in uniform. Apparently religious faith is not, as I would have thought, an insuperable bar to official employment in a Communist state.
On the plane from Kiev to Leningrad a fellow passenger was a young Orthodox priest. 1 wouldn’t have recognized him,
for he was wearing ordinary street dress, but he asked my interpreter if he might talk to the visiting foreigner, and his first question was:
“Why is it that a certain percentage of your countrymen refuse to believe that we have freedom of worship in the Soviet Union?”
(I explained that Christians did not feel they had full freedom of worship as long as their children were compelled to attend schools where they were taught that everything their parents believe is false.)
In Moscow 1 talked to Rabbi Shlifer in
the synagogue where he has conducted services ever since before the revolution. He proudly showed me a picture of the new rabbinical school that opened last January 6 under his leadership, the first such school since 1917. At Zagorsk, the ancient monastery outside Moscow, we met several young students for the Orthodox priesthood, obviously boys who were born into Bolshevik Russia and must have gone through Communist schools. Two of the priests who were among their teachers were young men, too, their long brown beards not yet touched with grey.
If they were living at all in 1917 they must have been no more than infants.
Evidently these, at least, had not believed all they were taught by Communist mentors. Neither had their congregations, and 1 was told that at Easter and other religious festivals the churches of Russia are still packed to the doors, and overflow into the streets.
However, I don’t want to give the impression that Russians disbelieve everything their government tells them. Testimony is unanimous that some things in the Party line against the West are ac-
cepted by the people without question.
One is the charge that the United States is an aggressive power threatening war, that the North Atlantic Pact is an aggressive alliance against the Soviet Union, that whatever danger of war now exists is the threat of an allied attack on Russia, and not the other way around.
Russians are surprised when foreigners challenge this belief. To them it is proved by mere geography. The Soviet Union has bases in its own territory and in a few small states immediately beyond its western frontier. The U. S. has bases all over the world, in a great circle around the USSR and Communist China.
The nearest approach to an unfriendly remark I heard in the Soviet Union was a Red Army officer’s question to an American tourist: “How would you feel if we had bomber bases all around the United States, in Canada and in Mexico, in islands of the Atlantic and the Pacific?”
Besides the geographical facts, the Russians quote U. S. official spokesmen to prove, as they think, the warlike intentions of Washington. Every witness before a Congressional committee who talks about the striking power of the Strategic Air Command, every editorial writer who talks about “preventive war” can be sure of getting full quotation with embroidery in the Soviet Union.
Statements about the “liberation” of satellite countries, including those Baltic states that are now incorporated in Soviet territory, also get very full coverage. It is not as clearly understood in the Soviet Union as it is at home that though eminent persons may talk of such things from time to time, they have no intention of doing anything about it.
Another staple of Russian propaganda is the U. S. Congress bill a few years ago, allotting a hundred million dollars to encourage anti-Soviet activity in satellite countries, and to nourish and sustain any exiles who might want to go back to those countries and work against Communism. To Soviet readers this is proof that the U. S. is lavishly subsidizing subversion and espionage. I don’t know what good this Congressional act has done the Western cause, but it has certainly been a godsend to the editors of Pravda.
Indeed, little study of the Soviet press is needed to show that however necessary it may be to maintain our strength against the Red menace, bragging about it does no good and much harm.
On my last morning in Moscow a Soviet journalist called on me, ostensibly
Who is it?
This picture and this pose should tell you all you need to identify this Canadian who is unique in his profession. Turn to page 78 to see who this boy grew up to be.
to talk about education but really, 1 think, to änd out what I was going to write. I told him, among other things, that the picture of the United States given in Russian newspapers and schoolbooks was totally false, and that this seemed to me a serious obstacle to peaceful and natural relations between the two groups.
“You say our people get a wrong impression from our press,” he replied. “Well, in my job I have to read the Western press, American papers and Congressional speeches. 1 tell you. reading them gives me a worse impression, not a better one, of the aggressive intentions of the United States.”
And he proceeded to quote, accurately so far as 1 could tell, a whole cascade of statements by American generals, senators and journalists, which certainly sounded pretty bloodthirsty as he reeled them off.
As for the fact that all these things were prompted by Stalin in the first place, that the West had disarmed to the point of utter nakedness until Stalinist aggression scared them into rearming again, Russians simply don’t know this. When they are told they do not believe it.
Any nation would find it hard to behexe that its own government, even an unpopular government, is actually planning a war. No people wants war, and the thought that one’s own leaders are planning one is always preposterous—it can only be those hateful foreigners, whoever they are, who plan aggression.
Russians have even more reason than most people to feel this xvay. They lost more blood during World War II than the rest of the Allies put together, and suffered more material damage than any victorious nation. The thought of going through such an ordeal again appalls them.
There is no reason to doubt that the ordinary Russian’s fear of xvar, xvhich apparently is universal, is also sincere. But neither is there any reason to believe that he is cowed by it. Russians are still as fiercely patriotic as they xvere in 194145, when they upset all the military probabilities by stopping Hitler. On this, all observers seem to agree.
1 had dinner one night with a Western diplomat who had been in Moscow for only a year, but who for many years before that had worked on the Russian desk in his own foreign office. Thus he knew, or thought he knew, most of the important facts about the Soviet Union before he arrived there.
"Only two things surprised me,” he said, “but those two surprised me considerably. One was the intensity of Russian nationalism. All this talk about international Communism is meaningless to them; in their minds Communism is Russian—Communism and Russian nationalism are the same thing. So, you see, the very thing that is weakening Communist rule in satellite countries is its greatest strength here.
“The other thing surprised me even more. It is the enormous popularity of Joseph Stalin.
“1 had always supposed they hated him, that with ex'ery new act of tyranny they must have hated him more. Not at all. I said this to an elderly Russian one day, and he answered, ‘Oh no, we always supposed that these were things done without Stalin's knowledge, and that if he knew he xvould stop them.’
“Just what they used to say about the czar, remember? ‘If the Little Father only knew!’ ”
If this observation is sound it explains a good deal, in terms not altogether comforting to the West. It explains why the revelation of Stalin’s crimes, long known abroad and actually endured in Russia, nevertheless caused such a profound shock among his people. It also explains
xvhy the new skepticism and the relative freedom of thought and speech the Soviet Union has noxv. compared to the total repression of a fexv years ago, seems to have brought so little gratitude to the men who have eased the chains.
After all. the people had always excused Stalin and blamed his tyranny on the underlings. Noxv Stalin is dead and these same underlings, a poor lot of rascals at best, are trying not only to fill his shoes but to blacken his memory.
Five days a xveek, in the little park beside the Kremlin wall just across the
street from my hotel window, the queue begins to form for the Lenin-Stalin mausoleum. Just before the hour of opening, a policeman leads the great shuffling line up the street to Réd Square and so to the door of the tomb. The line is never less than long enough to stretch all the way back to the park and to curl at least once around its perimeter. Foreigners are allowed to bypass the queue, but a friend of mine stood in it one day just to find out how long it would take—two hours and twenty-five minutes.
Of course this is partly mere curiosity.
1 must admit that I myself would have felt my trip to Moscow incomplete if I had not gone through that chamber of red and black marble, and looked at the two waxlike figures that lie side by side under the rosy light.
But there is more than curiosity in that silent crowd. There is also reverence, and you can feel it unmistakably in the chamber itself. Scoundrel he may have been, that small man who lies there xvith the deceptively benign expression on his face. But scoundrel or not. he was Russian— and he shook the world. ★