The Words of the Anderson Family
Over one hundred fifty experts on the Soviet Union met in Geneva with a hundred international scholars of the Professors World Peace Academy to attend their Second International Congress, entitled "The Fall of the Soviet Empire: Prospects for Transition to a Post-Soviet World!' The organizing chairman of the conference was Professor Alexander Shtromas, who teaches contemporary politics in Britain.
The four-day conference was divided into two segments. The first part involved a discussion of the Soviet system and its inability to face up to the difficulties it is experiencing on an ever-increasing scale. The second part was devoted to thinking about possible critical situations that might provoke change in the Soviet Union and alternative systems likely to emerge in the aftermath of such a change.
Eighty papers were presented by distinguished scholars in the field of Sovietology. Twelve panels explored specific elements, such as economy, ideology, law, nationalities, international relations, and possible ways in which Soviet reforms might take place. For example, in one group, Professor Michael Volensky, a former member of the Soviet elite, argued that the West should put economic or diplomatic pressure on the Soviet leadership in order to force them to reform their system. The president of PWPA International, Morton A. Kaplan, was one of the scholars who took the opposite view, by saying that any attempts on the part of the West to influence the process of change in the Soviet Union could lead to an even more repressive Soviet regime.
Rather than advocating any particular view, the conference revealed a spectrum of possible futures for the Soviet empire. The discussions created a feeling of hope among those who had emigrated for political reasons and who still long to return home in the future. Aleksis Rannit, an emigre poet from Estonia who had been a longtime associate of PWPA, submitted the original proposal for this conference but did not live to see its fruition. He wrote:
The Soviet Union is now the last empire, and one does not need to be a prophet to foresee its end, in exact accordance with the Soviet's own dogma that all empires and kingdoms are predestined to fall. We do not know when it will happen, whether by interior or exterior forces, yet the likelihood inspires many thoughts of scholarly practicality.
Rev. C. H. Kwak delivers his address.
On the opening day of the conference, a major paper was presented by historian R.V. Burks of Wayne State University in Detroit, in which he predicted that the chances of a complete collapse of the Soviet economic system "within the next five years are probably better than even" He compared the coming crisis of the Soviet Union to the situation of Hungary in 1965, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Poland in 1980. He mentioned numerous factors contributing to the breakdown, but he believes "the slowdown of the rate of economic growth which set in about 1978 will...provide the background" for the collapse of the current regime. In addition to the unworkability of a centrally planned economy, the Soviet Union suffers from a shortage of raw material, pressure to divert domestic productivity to military goods, the rise of minorities, the increase of corruption and black market activities, and the general neglect of the social infrastructure that has been going on for the past twenty years. The result is that the regime's ideology, which promises increased prosperity under socialism, has lost any credibility it had obtained for the people of the USSR.
Another major paper was given by Professor Shtromas, a former legal scholar in the Soviet Union. He argued that, contrary to popular opinion, the Soviet military is not solidly lined up behind the Communist Party leaders. "The military, more than any other Soviet establishment, always was and continues to be a virtual prisoner to the Party" A second tension exists between what Shtromas terms the technocrats, who feel the urgent need for reform, and the "partocrats," Party members who are opposed to any measure that would threaten or diminish the Party's power. The growing class of technocrats feels that decentralization and response to market forces would improve quality, productivity, and efficiency in the economy. However, those in the middle management, who are in prominent positions only because they are loyal Party members and not because they are endowed with professional skills, resist such reforms, which would render them jobless. Shtromas suggested that the military, which needs a healthy economy to carry out its own social role, has numerous reasons to ally itself with the technocrats if the situation becomes critically unstable.
While the opinion of many scholars differed from Shtromas, several scholars publicly announced at the end of the conference that their understanding about the current state of the Soviet Union and the possible constructive transformation of Soviet society had been considerably advanced.
It is expected that four books will come out of this conference, comprehensively addressing: the general Soviet crisis; Soviet economy and society; ideology, religion, and nationalities in the Soviet Union; and international relations.
With this conference, another recent seminar sponsored by PWPA-USA on Sino-Soviet-US relations, and a forthcoming conference on the new generation Soviet leadership, PWPA is becoming recognized as a growing source of information on the Soviet Union.