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National Dinner to Honor Robert A. Conquest
July 7, 1992
G. Robert A. Conquest, Elena Bonner, Preston Martin, Czeslaw Milosz, John O’Sullivan, CBE, David J. Theroux, Aaron B. Wildavsky, Hongda Harry Wu

Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco, California

Speakers (In Order of Appearance):

David J. Theroux
Founder and President, The Independent Institute

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention. Welcome to our program to honor the world-renowned author and historian Robert A. Conquest.

My name is David Theroux, and I’m the President of the Independent Institute, and we’re delighted to have you joining with us tonight, and we hope that you’ll thoroughly enjoy tonight’s program. For those of you new to the Independent Institute, on the seat for each person is a packet of information about our program.

The Institute, for those of you new to our program, was founded about six years ago. The program was designed to pursue a series of projects that would cut through what many consider a moral and intellectual poverty in public debate over public policy issues, some of which is manifested in the current presidential race.

As a result, the Independent Institute is a non-profit, scholarly research and educational organization. Our programs focus on completing comprehensive studies of major social, economic, environmental, and international issues. We believe that there is a pervasive and increasing politicization, not only in our daily lives in society, but also in public debate over major issues. And by that, I mean that there’s a very narrow focus on what kinds of issues can be looked at and the kinds of proposals that are discussed in the public arena. And the Institute was created to try to broaden that discussion, so that a more constructive and insightful perspective could be generated.

In addition to the research, books, conferences, and media programs that the Institute pursues on a regular basis, the Institute publishes a biannual review catalog called Liberty Tree, which many of you may have seen; there are copies available at the display in the reception area. But the main focus of the Institute is the production of about six to 10 books per year.

The subject of tonight’s program may be the single greatest issue that’s affected mankind in the 20th century and, perhaps, throughout human history. The suffering that countless millions have endured under the yoke of total statism is almost incomprehensible to most of us. In making tonight’s program possible, the assistance of many people, of course, was of great help, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank many of those special people for their marvelous help.

First, I would like to thank former Presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, as well as Prime Minister Thatcher, for kindly agreeing to serve as honorary co-chairs for the evening. The Dinner Committee was co-chaired by three distinguished business leaders who I want to sincerely thank. First of all, Tom Clausen, who is Chairman of the Executive Committee of Bank America Corporation; Gerald Gidwitz, who’s Chairman of Helene Curtis Industries in Chicago; and Preston Martin, who is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of WestFed Holdings.

I also want to thank the many members of the dinner committee, each of whose participation made tonight’s program possible. I also want to extend a special thanks to Mr. James Fair, member of the Institute’s board of directors, who very kindly and generously provided the wine that we’re enjoying tonight. John Raisian, who is director of the Hoover Institution. John was very supportive of our efforts throughout in making tonight possible. Dick Burress, Admiral James Stockdale, and Martin Anderson, also of the Hoover Institution, who were each very helpful in helping us to arrange for tonight’s program. John O’Sullivan, editor of National Review, who will be speaking later this evening. Charles Wick, former director of the U.S. Information Agency. Cecilia Fabos-Becker, Ginetta Sagan, Philip Siegelman, Chuck Warner, who’s chairman of Bayshore Metals, and all the other people who very kindly and generously volunteered their time to help promote tonight’s program.

And most especially, I’d like to thank Theresa Snyder and the other staff members at the Independent Institute who worked tirelessly in coordinating tonight’s program and helped to make sure that everything ran smoothly.

At this time, I would like to introduce our head table. If each would please stand when you’re introduced. And please hold your applause until the end. First of all, Mr. Tom Clausen and Mrs. Peggy Clausen; Mr. John O’Sullivan; Mr. Preston Martin and Mrs. Genevieve Martin; Professor Aaron Wildavsky, who is from the University of California, Berkeley, and Mrs. Mary Wildavsky; Professor Czeslaw Milosz and his wife Mrs. Carol Milosz; Mrs. "lena Bonner; Mrs. Mary Theroux, my wife and chairman of Garvey International; and our distinguished honoree, Dr. Robert Conquest, and his wife Mrs. Elizabeth Conquest [applause].

Now I would like to turn the program over to the man who will actually be hosting the evening’s program for us. Dr. Preston Martin has pursued a career developing and managing organizations in business, government, and academia. He currently is chairman and chief executive officer of WestFed Holdings and associated companies. Preston has founded numerous enterprises, including ones for Sears Roebuck and Company, Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, and graduate schools in Italy and Pakistan. He served as vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors from 1982 to 1986, and holds a Ph.D. in monetary economics from Indiana University. It gives me great pleasure to present Preston Martin [applause].

Preston Martin

Thank you, David, ladies and gentlemen. I was told that I should refrain from addressing the ladies, because of certain legal complications which might arise from that phrase, and, therefore, for the men present, I cannot welcome gentlemen, so fellows, it’s nice to have you with us tonight [laughter].

Seriously, your presence tonight is a recognition of the momentous historical events in Europe and Asia, the utter defeat of Communism, which has literally transformed our world in just seven years—think of it, just seven years since 1985.

Time is the only truly scarce resource, and your presence here is a tip of the hat to a handful of scholars who contributed to worldwide awareness that the socialism in Russia, and so many other countries, was characterized by human horror and dictatorship, not by the proletariat but from the nomenklatura, the bureaucrats. The evidence communicated so vibrantly by Bob Conquest and just a few others was rejected by the politically correct academics here, in Europe, and Japan. The Western world’s politicians ignored the truth about socialism which millions of migrants told of, and our governments continued to grant loans and credits to oppressive socialist societies, even as the Soviet Union, China, and others expanded their massive military forces to incorporate nuclear arms. Thank you, sir.

Robert Conquest

You’re welcome.

Preston Martin

In the end, the then Soviets and the U.S. aimed almost 40,000 missiles at each other and at the allies on each side. Our group tonight is honored by the participation of the people who raised their voices, their pens, and their keyboards to tell the world of the horrors of Communist societies, the moral, human, political, and economic disasters, and the imperatives to change these societies in the most fundamental ways. Change to human freedom, human dignity, political and economic opportunity.

For those who are visitors with us tonight, your American friends extend their warmest thanks to you. Let me mention your names. Among our distinguished guests tonight, we have individuals active in the cause of human rights whom I would like to recognize with you. I hope you’ve had the opportunity earlier, before dinner, to meet them.

First, Dr. Harry Wu, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, who spent 15 years in the Laogai, the Chinese gulag, for his public defense of the Hungarian revolution of 1956. Dr. Wu is, today, the world’s leading authority on the existing Chinese gulag and its effects, and his filming in China is notable.

We have student leaders of the Chinese democratic movement with us tonight. Leaders who were there when the massacres by government troops at Tiananmen Square and at most principal cities in China, a fact little known. I introduce Dr. Jian-li Yang. I introduce Zhong Ya-lai, Lee Fung, and Arthur Jun-guo Liu, all veterans of those bloody events. Also, we recognize Lee King Yee and Wang Wu, leaders of the Chinese democratic movement here in our country.

Further introductions are warranted. Jack Rendler, national campaign director for Amnesty International, is here in San Francisco. Stefana Baghdadi, representing the Armenian organizations in our country.

Next, a policy-oriented economist, advisor to presidents, member of the Independent Institute’s board, Bill Niskanen, chairman of the Cato Institute. Like several of you I recognize here, I served in Washington when he held office. He changed the world a little, and he’s still changing it.

Professor Lazio Jankovic of San Jose State represents the National Federation of American Hungarians. We all know that entrepreneurship and privatization are well understood in Hungary. Next, Cecilia Fabos-Becker, Americans for East Central Europe, the coordinating committee, a coalition of nine organizations representing over two million East European Americans. Welcome, Cecilia.

Next, Vytautas Šliūpas, former chairman of the Lithuanian American Community and president of the Lithuanian Archives. How thrilled we all were, Vytautas, when Lithuania stood up to Gorbachev’s military and moved the Baltic states toward independence.

Next, Dr. Roland Choi Lo from the Chinese community here in the Bay Area. Genevieve and I have been to China recently, and observed the real thrust toward growth in Guangdong, Fugian, and other portions of China. Again, entrepreneurship today can be spelled in Chinese characters.

Unfortunately, because of distances involved and the press of busy schedules, many who had wished to be with us this evening were unable to do so. But they have sent their best wishes, I have their letters on my table there, and if I may, I would like to read just a few of their names. Relax, not their whole messages.

George Herbert Walker Bush wrote us; thank you, Mr. President. Richard Milhous Nixon gave us a note, as did Ronald Reagan. Yes, and wait a minute, one more. Dan Quayle. Murphy Brown sent her regards [laughter] and her regrets; she couldn’t be here, taking care of the baby, you know. The imaginary baby.

Well, we have the largest of the letters and containers thereof came from our distinguished governor, Pete Wilson. I think he’s not here because he couldn’t afford it. Senator John Seymour’s letter—he couldn’t stop running. A fine note from my old colleague, George Shultz, and my guess there is that he couldn’t stop golfing, if you know George. And my partner, former Treasury Secretary Bill Simon, I think has the same affliction, golfing. And others—well, all right, I see your expressions—I’ll stop.

But finally, before I leave you for now—I’ll be back, you lucky people—on each table you will find cards for your use in submitting questions for Dr. Conquest. Be direct, Bob can handle them. Please have them ready, though, to be picked up during the dinnertime. So let’s proceed with dinner, thank you very much [applause].

[break in tape]

Ladies and gentlemen, if I may have your attention. None of us can forget the stirrings in Poland so early in recent history which characterized the rise of Solidarity. I can still recall my CNN reporter daughter, Margaret Lowrie, and her descriptions of Lech Wałęsa and the movement which eventually swept much of the nomenklatura away there. She went on to Beirut, Cairo, and then the Gulf War for CNN, but Poland was to her, and to all of us, I think, a truly historical development in the downfall of socialism.

Our honoree this evening has tirelessly labored for decades as a historian, a man of letters, as a poet. His subject has been the most horrendous story of the 20th century. Few can better discuss the significance of Dr. Conquest’s work than our first speaker. Czeslaw Milosz was born in Lithuania, received his education there and in Paris. He was active in the Polish resistance during World War II. Mr. Milosz joined that country’s diplomatic corps in 1946. And in 1951, he broke with Poland’s then Communist government, went into exile, first in France, and later in the U.S. In 1961, he became a professor of Slavic languages and literature at the University of California at Berkeley.

This is the author of numerous books, including, The Captive Mind, a compelling assessment of the spiritual costs of Stalinism. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. Please join me in welcoming Mr. Czeslaw Milosz. Please come forward. [applause]

Czeslaw Milosz
Nobel Laureate in Literature

Ladies and gentlemen, paying tribute to an exceptionally worthy man is to realize, once more, that there is no equality in the republic of arts and letters. Its structure is strictly hierarchical. The first rate is not equal to the second rate. Daring is not equal to cowardice. Generosity of mind cannot be put on the same level as self-interest. Uncertainties that are obvious when we try to assess what is the first rate in art or writing constantly undermine the very notion of hierarchy. And yet, life brings again and again the confirmation of its existence. The achievement of Robert Conquest becomes most obvious when we view it together with the behavior of his contemporaries, writers as himself, whether they are English, American, French, or Italian.

For many decades of the 20th century, the great majority of them observed certain rules that seemed to them so obvious that they became their second nature. To act against those rules would be to violate powerful taboos. Not that the existence of those taboos testified to open political choices. The choices were there, but not evolved. And the penalty for non-conformity was not political, but societal, as it entailed a loss of status in the intellectual community.

I have in mind, of course, the injunction forbidding to speak the truth about the Communist system in the Soviet Union. Robert Conquest, though he is the author of several scholarly books, is a poet, and I wish him much free time to pursue his true vocation now, when he completed his task in the service of humanity by writing about the criminal nature of the Soviet state which is no more.

In the history of modern poetry, Conquest occupies a permanent place as an initiator of the so-called Movement in England of the 1950s, together with Kingsley Amis, Dennis Enright, Donald Davie, Philip Larkin, and Thom Gunn.

Being a poet myself and having lived in the ‘50s in Paris, I am able to visualize the risk assumed by a poet who would transgress against what was then considered as politically correct. At that time, Jean-Paul Sartre was leading a hideous campaign against Albert Camus, who dared to mention in his book, The Rebel, the existence of concentration camps in the Soviet Union. Robert Conquest’s London must have been not very different, in this respect, from Paris.

And even if I cannot compare my contribution to the struggle against modern forms of slavery with Robert Conquest’s voluminous oeuvre, my experience is enough to comprehend the resistance he had to overcome in order to embark upon his investigations.

Honesty compels me to add that several years after World War II, owing to the peculiar political situation in Poland, I practiced a compromise with my conscience. Therefore, what I say here may be interpreted also as an homage paid by sin to virtue. Perhaps certain facts recede too fast into a merciful oblivion.

The attitude of the overwhelming majority of Western literati towards the Communist state ranged from open adulation to silence about such facts as mass murders, mass deportations, artificial famines, and slave labor camps. Altogether, it belongs to the strangest phenomena in the history of our century, and will certainly provide a subject for many analyses.

A mythologized notion of progress led to equating the so-called socialism of the Soviets with the future of humanity. Among the active adulators and admirers you find the most brilliant minds who just wanted to be deceived. To mention only George Bernard Shaw, George Romero, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Pablo Picasso.

Today, it becomes more and more obvious that the 70 years long survival of the Soviet tyranny was to a large extent dependent upon maintaining through a gigantic machine of disinformation a pretense of humaneness. Testimonies and reports published in the West were not heeded. I remember an eminent American journalist assuring me that the works of Abram Tertz, a pseudonym of Andrei Sinyavsky, were not written in Moscow but fabricated abroad by anti-Communists.

Yet the voices of Russian writers and scholars succeeded at last to reach the world at large. Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago and the outspokenness of Andrei Sakharov punctured the pretense. And that was one of the main causes of the disintegration of the empire. It was indeed, to displease President Reagan’s detractors, an evil empire.

The responsibility of many intellectuals in maintaining a conspiracy of indifference could not, however, justify denigration of them as a social class or caste. For in Russia, in spite of their long subservience to the regime, they started to rebel early, and the fate of Boris Pasternak may be quoted here as an example. Also in the West, the case of Solzhenitsyn and the case of Sakharov found a tremendous response and advocacy precisely among writers and artists.

Robert Conquest’s books follow a discipline of scholarly investigation, yet they are not detached, as detachment in dealing with the misfortune of millions of human beings would be callous. The very titles clearly indicate the contents. In 1961, already appeared his Power and Policy in the U.S.S.R. In ’62, he published The Last Empire, which 30 years later proves to have been prophetic. And then follows, The Pasternak Affair, Russia After Khrushchev, The Politics of Ideas, Religion in the U.S.S.R., The Soviet Political System, The Great Terror, Stalin’s Purge, a monumental work. National policy, today avenged by events illustrated beginning with The Last Empire and The Nation Killers, The Soviet Deportations of Nationalities, Kolyma: The Arctic Death Camps, The Harvest of Sorrow, Soviet Collectivization, and The Terror of Famine, Stalin: Breaker of Nations. I bypass because of lack of time numerous—[break in tape]—he is a poet and writer of fiction, as the titles alone wouldn’t say enough.

People who dared, like Robert Conquest, to wake up the world conscience were usually branded ultra-conservatives, cold warriors, etcetera. If that sort of activity was a privilege of the conservatives, they should be proud of their willingness to call a spade a spade.

Yet among those members of the republic of art and letters who were breaking the conspiracy of silence were representatives of a wide political spectrum, like George Orwell, Arthur Koestler, and my late friends, eminent Italian writers Ignazio Silone and Nicola Chiaromonte. An honorable company, and including in it Robert Conquest, I say to myself that the high qualities of that group probably outweigh fallacies and aberrations so common among the intelligentsia.

My presence here on this podium is due in large measure to the fact that I come from an area in Europe that was for a long time occupied by the Soviets. Whatever the future reserves for that area, and we are not free of apprehensions, the horrors of the police state are ended. I have tried to reach the public opinion in the West by writing about the plight of the country of my birth, Lithuania, and the country of my language, Poland, and of course I was respectful of those not numerous colleagues whose works promoted the cause of liberation. At this moment, I have the opportunity to express to Robert Conquest my gratitude. Thank you [applause].

Preston Martin

You are aware that the debates in academe are largely reserved for colleagues. The motto “publish or perish” is alive and well in academe. But the impact of Dr. Conquest’s work has directly affected the lives of hundreds of millions around the world in every walk of life.

Conquest’s pursuit of truth was a lonely one. His work was secretly translated in the Russian underground press, proving once again the power of ideas over tyranny’s every attempt to suppress truth. Our next speaker will discuss the impact of the lessons from Bob Conquest’s scholarship.

Aaron Wildavsky is professor of political science and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. Former president of the American Political Science Association—I’ve got a long list here—no, you can’t come up here yet. Author of The Moral Collapse of Communism: Poland as a Cautionary Tale, Searching for Safety, and many other works of this caliber. I am pleased to present to you Aaron Wildavsky.

Aaron Wildavsky
Professor of Political Science, University of California

What is telling truth worth? What does it matter that against odds and hope one spends a lifetime telling truth?

In the 1970s, after several years of effort, my family got our cousin from Odessa, who had to leave everything in the world—children, and family; everything she held dear –behind so she could come and visit us as a tourist. One day we found her under under the bed with a flashlight, reading Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag, with the sides of the beds closed around her. She had been a doctor in the gulag, and she understood full well what had happened there.

What does it matter for a scholar to be punished as well as applauded for telling the truth?

I first heard about Robert Conquest’s work not from an American or English publisher, but from a Soviet citizen in Moscow. And then, somewhat shamefacedly, I went back to my library in Berkeley and began to read this material. And so I have thought before coming here about what the significance of this work has been in the past, and even more importantly, what it signifies to us now.

For this, we need a larger canvas. According to those who lived in that era, the decade or two before 1913 represented a world forever lost, a world much safer and saner than they claim anything we have known. The British peace movement claimed that rearmament was the work of the devil and that there was no evil intent in Germany. Recent historiography from the German side now reveals that the Kaiser and his generals planned everything, and that what has been presented to us as a kind of spasm response—'A' mobilizes and 'B' follows and 'C' does the same—was, in fact, a well-planned maneuver.

Those who said these things have yet to realize that they bear a deep responsibility because the peoples of the Western world lined each other’s young men up, row upon row, and mowed them down with machine gun fire, morning, evening, and night. They created a situation out of which Nazism and then Stalinism came. We have suffered, then, 75 years of bestiality.

Yet in 1913, the world’s nascent democracies knew no natural predators. There was no one able to defeat them militarily. It is we, in the West, who did ourselves in, partly by lying to ourselves, partly by self-delusion. But we did it nevertheless.

What should we say, then, about the 75 years in regard to the work of Robert Conquest? We honor the chronicler. We know now who told the truth and how much truth there was to tell.

Conquest’s work is remarkable in that on the one hand, he maintains the historian’s craft. If all you read was the history, you’d see fact piled upon fact, evidence upon evidence, in unending profusion. He accompanies this with a sense not of blame, but of vast compassion.

I think Rudy Rummel has calculated that something like 200 million lives were lost or tortured or deeply deprived in that period of time. Yet there were very few who told it as it was. So we honor the historian for following his craft, and we honor the man of humanity who understood, as the man in Russia told me, what it was to have suffered. From the outside to tell it to the people inside.

It is one thing to suffer greatly, it’s another thing not to be able to understand why this is happening. It is perhaps even worse to believe, as many Russians did, that no one outside their limited circle had any idea of what was happening to them and why. And for that, they felt grateful, as we should, to Conquest.

But there’s more. Consider the unique event of the last couple of years, say the Velvet Revolution. Why was it indeed that, outside of a little fuss in Romania, there was hardly a shot fired? Are we to believe, really, that they lacked the capacity to use force in Czechoslovakia, in what was then East Germany? Of course not. Are we to believe that they suddenly reinvented moral scruples, when they had killed and maimed and tortured so many? Certainly not.

What happened, I think, was many things, including a very poor economy. But without the work of Robert Conquest, and a few like him, this would not have happened, in my opinion. The reason is that work had a marvelous combination. You are evil, and you are ineffective. Merely telling them they were evil, as he well knows and knew then, would not do the trick. But combining the correct words for what they were, with the view that any society of free people would always outperform any society of slaves, gave them the understanding necessary for the Velvet Revolution. Namely, that after they killed their children and their children’s friends, they would also be unable to rule, they would also be behind, so what was the point?

One time I was in Leningrad lecturing on Watergate, and they just couldn’t understand. It was at a university, party apparatchiks here and there, and they just couldn’t understand. How many did Nixon kill? How many tens of thousands did he imprison and torture? I mean, what was this about? They lied—everybody lies. But when I said, of course he got caught, and they understood he was—ah, the light dawned like the light bulb in the comic strips—he was inefficient. That bothered them.

So I think that we have Robert Conquest to thank for that marvelous combination of truth, of moral condemnation, and the underside of it, the belief that free societies would prevail. It is worth speaking truth to power over the decades because they have to listen. They may not believe it under the most favorable circumstances, but as life changes as it must, that message we now know, does get through.

One more thing. If we turn to the present era, I have an eerie feeling of 1913 déjà vu. The world’s democracies now have a monopoly on large-scale serious power. No combination of the non-democracies, good, bad or indifferent, could overthrow us in any way by force.

A qualitative revolution has also occurred. It has always been true, from Gideon’s army, before and after, that highly trained and qualitatively superior individuals could beat much larger forces. But now, as the Persian Gulf War demonstrated to us, unless you can construct and program missiles to go around buildings, so CNN will not be inconvenienced by a little war, you cannot compete in big-time force.

You see that our Defense Department does as it should. Scenarios of likely threats, but they can't make it. They can't take them seriously, and we can’t take them seriously, because there is no strategic threat.

The consequence of this is that we are the guardians of civilization in the world. If we, the world’s democracies, with all our imperfections, stand for what we have stood before, over time, the rest of the world has figured out that if you are capitalist and if you are free, you do better than if you are the reverse. So that over time, we can expect more people to get wealthier and freer, and things to get better, if the world’s democracies stay democratic.

So what, then, have we learned from Conquest? To honor the truth teller; to speak truth to power; to support the rule of law; to follow even more the rules of civility in public life, without which free peoples cannot stand; to honor our traditions.

It is quite true, of course, that when you look into the history of traditions, as Conquest does in one of his most interesting books, you discover they are flawed, and they are not entirely what they are cracked up to be. I hope those of us here realize that nobody would have a friend or get married if everything had to be exactly as it was cracked up to be.

Mr. Conquest is in favor of a certain passage, a story in the Bible, which I rather like as well, the story of Naboth, whose vineyard was taken from him by the machinations of the wicked Queen Jezebel and the worst dupe, Ahab here, and who nevertheless stood out because in his religion, the land and the spirits were collected, and it was against the rules of God to give up your possessions. Our possessions are not in the land, they are in liberty. And yet, there are those even now, who would have us give them up because we are somehow imperfect; that is, human.

The best way that I can say what I think is Robert Conquest’s due, because his work is meaningful for us now in the struggle to maintain democracy as it was before, is to read one of his poems, a tribute to George Orwell. And if you will join me in just changing the name, you will get the point quite well. I apologize in the name of poetry that this is legible, and you will have no trouble understanding its significance.

George Orwell, in Arias from a Love Opera: “Moral and mental glaciers melting slightly betray the influence of his warm intent because he taught us what the actual meant. The vicious winter grips its prey less tightly. Not all were grateful for his help, one finds, for how they hated him who huddled with the comforts of a quick remedial myth against the cold world and their colder minds. We die of words, for touchstones, he restored the real person, real event or thing, and thus we see not war but suffering as the conjunction to be most abhorred. He shared with a great world for greater ends that honesty, a curious, cunning virtue, you share with just a few. With just the few who don’t desert you, a dozen writers, half a dozen friends. A moral genius and truth seeking brings sometimes a silliness we view askance, like Darwin playing his bassoon to plants. He too has lapses, but he claimed no wings, while those who drown at truth’s empiric part in disarray aboard dogma turned frenetic than whom no writer could be less poetic, he left this lesson for all verse, all art.”

It may be that Mr. Conquest thinks he’s going into some sort of retirement. My sense of it is that democracy needs him more now, perhaps, than before. [applause]

Preston Martin

The impact of Dr. Conquest has been enormous. But has the general public been made sufficiently aware of the devastation and the falling of total statism? Are we in the U.S., not in danger of statism by gradualism right here?

Our next speaker, John O’Sullivan, with his outstanding knowledge of journalism and politics, is in an enviable position to address these questions. Currently editor of National Review, having taken over from Bill Buckley in 1988—think on that for a minute—Mr. O’Sullivan has been a columnist for The London Sunday Independent and The Sunday Telegraph, associate editor of The London Times, editor of Policy Review and a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard.

Formerly a special advisor to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who, as you know is a sponsor of tonight’s meeting, his articles have been appeared in a list of publications as long as your arm. And I will not take his time to read them all to you. Commander O’Sullivan is a trustee of the Thatcher Foundation, and was made a Commander of the British Empire in the 1991 New Year’s Honors List. John? [applause]

John O'Sullivan
Editor, National Review

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for that kind introduction. It’s an enormous pleasure to be asked to be here tonight and celebrate Bob Conquest’s contribution to scholarship, and it’s an enormous privilege, albeit a slightly daunting one, to do so in such distinguished company as Mr. Milosz, Ms. Bonner, and Professor Wildavsky.

Now in such company, one doesn’t attempt to compete with them in philosophical reflection, in political analysis, in moral insight. But my qualifications for being here tonight are slightly different. The first is that I am the bearer of a message, a message from Lady Thatcher, or as I prefer to call her, Prime Minister, that I shall read out later as a sort of climax to my short speech. The second capacity I speak in tonight is as the editor of a magazine to which Bob is a distinguished contributor. He is, in fact, the very best of contributors, namely, someone whose copy goes directly to the printers without the slightest intervention necessary from me. Indeed, his last book contained a forward that said, “Portions of this book appeared originally in Investia and National Review.” [laughter]

We at National Review have good reason to be grateful to Bob. When last August’s coup in Moscow occurred, he was the first person I telephoned to get some guidance on it. Although we put the magazine to bed at the very moment when the tanks were still rumbling towards the Russian White House, we were able to publish an interview with him that forecast the early collapse of that coup. And our editorial predictions, based entirely on his advice, were that the Soviet Union and the CPSU would shortly be a bad memory, Gorbachev discarded, and Russia restored in Boris Yeltsin’s image. As an editor, I can tell you, I have to be profoundly grateful to a contributor who can enable the magazine to seem so prescient.

So I was glad to be able to thank Bob tonight, and glad, too, that National Review has been able to repay, in small part, that debt with Charles Fairbank’s review of his biography of Stalin. This was less a book review than an examination of Bob’s entire corpus of historical and literary work, and it made the essential point that in Bob’s work, scholarship is always allied to clarity and common sense. His achievement has been to bring great truths and sometimes terrible facts before the great mass of the public, not to debate minutiae in the decent obscurity of learned journals.

My third credential for being here tonight is as a member of Bertorelli’s lunch club in London. Not many of you will have heard of that, perhaps. It was a gathering of conservative writers and journalists in the 1970s, presided over by Bob and by Kingsley Amis. It was, as you might imagine, a very convivial and entertaining table, especially on those occasions when Signor Bertorelli donated a bottle of grappa. But it was more than that. At a time in the early ‘70s when official conservatism in England was defeatist and supine, before the intellectual fads of the ‘60s, the Bertorelli’s club, in its inebriated way, generated a stream of sharp criticism of that seedy status quo. Those criticisms covered the entire spectrum of politics, but in particular, Bob and Kingsley helped to stimulate what became known as the black papers on education; then denounced as reactionary and elitist, now accepted as having been a common-sensical corrective to the educationalist nonsense of that day.

I mention that because Kingsley Amis has said, in my view rightly, that one of Bob’s great gifts is his genius for light verse. And Bob often employs that gift to prosecute his political and philosophical battles. In one of those is a poem called “A Grouchy Good Night to the Academic Year,” in which he took on the educational fads of that time. I’ll quote simply a few lines from it. “Those teach who can’t do, runs the dictum. But for some, even that’s out of reach. They can’t even teach, so they picked ‘em to teach other people to teach.” And it ends with, “When psychology meets education, a terrible nonsense is born,” or words to that effect. Through the medium of Bob’s journalism, he did much to invent and to spread the ideas that later became Mrs. Thatcher’s revolution.

My fourth qualification tonight is that in the mid ‘70s, I actually shared an apartment in London with Bob. We were both bachelors, he a temporary bachelor, I a still temporary bachelor, and among the many things I learned from the experience of sharing that flat was his technique of inviting girls out to lunch. My own technique was to invite them out to lunch at the Ritz, which did a lot for my waistline, not much for my bank balance, and not much else either.

But Bob would invite a girl 'round for lunch at the flat; she would arrive; he would offer her a gin and tonic; he would take her into the kitchen; he would open the fridge. In the fridge there would be a can of sardines, some baked beans, maybe a few olives, the remnants of last night’s salad. And he would say, "Well there you are. Do you think you could do anything with that?" [laughter] A moment later, she’d have the apron on, half an hour later, we’d be eating a very pleasant lunch. It always stuck me the success of this technique was quite remarkable. And then I read his limerick, which went as follows: “My demands upon life are quite modest: they’re just to be decently goddessed. Astarte or Isis would do in a crisis, but the best’s Aphrodite unbodiced.”

Well, Aphrodite arrived not long afterwards from Texas, and Bob has been very decently goddessed ever since. I can say that as someone who’s often eaten at their table that I’m jolly glad she doesn’t like sardines.

Let me now return to my first qualification. I believe that my part in history, my little footnote in history, will be that I affected an introduction between Bob and Mrs. Thatcher. He began giving her advice on the spot and has continued to do so to the present day.

Now I believe that Mrs. Thatcher’s instincts on foreign policy were always sound, and would always have taken her in the right direction. But she didn’t have the experience or the knowledge or the background in that area, and she knew it. And she knew that around her there weren’t many people who would give her the right kind of advice. And when she found someone like Bob, who was giving the right kind of advice, she accepted it, and I believe it has materially contributed to the events of the last 15 years. Not perhaps as much as his scholarship, but certainly to a considerable extent.

And she asked me tonight to read the following message to you and to him. “I was delighted to be asked to be co-chairman of your dinner, and I’m only sorry that I cannot be present with you tonight. When the history of the West’s victory in the Cold War comes to be written, a special place will go to Robert Conquest. His scholarship and eloquence have always been put to the service of a remorseless search for truth. Truth about Stalin’s terror. Truth about the evil system which generated it, along with so much other suffering. Truth about the dangerous delusions so long entertained by so many in the West about the nature and intentions of the enemy. Long before I became Prime Minister, I listened and benefited from Bob Conquest’s wise advice. And during the years, when I sought to strengthen the West’s resolve in support of President Reagan’s strategy for freedom, I always knew I could draw on Bob Conquest’s masterly analysis. Now, as we struggle to rescue the newly liberated nations—

[break in tape] [applause]

Elena Bonner (Mrs. Andrei Sakarov)
Founder, Andrei Sakharov Foundation

If someone were to ask me when I first met Robert Conquest, at this time I am afraid that I could not give an exact date. This is not a question of a personal contact, but because I learned of him from his writings. Robert Conquest's books, especially The Great Terror, were special not because they came from the West, but for their special and profound contents. By reading the books of Conquest and other writers in the West, we in the Soviet Union understood that the free America too was not free. It was not free intellectually, it was not independent of fashion and ideology; it was almost as dependent as our Soviet historians. The West was as prone to influences as was the East. In the '60s, books were coming from the West that were steeped in the ideology of the students' revolution and glorified socialism. Then there were other books that tried to establish a symmetry between the West and the East: "Your society is no good, our society is no good." Even though there was a lot of factual information in those books, there were very few that were honest.

And my friendship with Conquest began with the feeling of truth, that truth had emerged. Our society today, as well as all of those 70 years, as no other society, needs the truth. And this is why in that process that has taken place in the former Soviet Union and bloodlessly destroyed the most terrible empire that ever existed on Earth, Robert Conquest should be seen as one of the most valiant soldiers.

But I must say that although the August revolution is over, the lie is still going on. In our country, it is a premeditated thing, but why it persists in the West is hard to explain. Before, I used to think that it was due to a lack of understanding. In regards to this, I share Anna Akhamatova's feelings related in Lydia Chukovskaya's book on her. Chukovskaya once came to visit Akhamatova and found her very irate after a visit by a western scholar (either an historian or a philosopher). To Chukovskaya's question, what was it about this visitor that upset Akhamatova so much, she said, "You see, he was in such a snow white shirt, such a beautifully pressed and starched white shirt." Chukovskaya asked, "But why did this white shirt trouble you?" Akhamatova replied, "I had this feeling, that while in our country there was a revolution, a war, people were being destroyed, blood was being shed, all they were doing was washing that shirt, pressing and starching that shirt."

Now I think the lie persists, not from a lack of understanding, but often because of unwillingness in the West, or more precisely its political leaders to stick to the democratic principles declared by their nations. History of recent years, history of the era of perestroika keeps confirming this. Let's take a look at the struggle for independence in the Baltics. The West was only going to recognize them if the decaying center, the falling-apart Moscow, recognized them. Let's take a look at the Yugoslavian tragedy: it has taken place only because the West did not want in time to recognize the independence of Croatia and Slovakia, and other republics later on. It took a revolution in August 1991 to make the West understand that the peoples of the Soviet Union also have a right to their independence. Unfortunately there are those among western intellectuals who manage to find intellectual excuses or logic of their own to justify this position. And today, in the same way, in the former Soviet Union, there are three regions where war is similarly going on and blood is being shed: Transdniester, Ossetia, and Nagano Karabakh.

What I want to thank Robert for on behalf of many, many people in my country who know him and read his books, is his intellectual courage, his standing by the truth, not trying to substitute it by things more fashionable. I am not an historian so I cannot be the judge of it, but I do not think that Conquest has made any mistakes. But tonight, before dinner he made a big mistake, and I advise him not to repeat it. I asked him in what year he was born, which I assumed to be ten years later than it actually is. But he told me the truth. But this is one occasion when you should not speak the truth. I would like to remain in the belief that you were born ten years later. And we really do not want anyone here to know exactly when you were born.

And I would like to make a little gift. I think, that, like all historians, Robert likes papers; while his wife probably does not care for them because papers just fill up the house. But this is a copy of documents from the KGB, which lists all the files that the KGB had on Andrei Sakharov and me, which they have burned. Five hundred and seventy-eight volumes! And this shows that history was falsified not only for seventy years, but also during the years of perestroika, and I am afraid that this falsification is still going on now, because these files were burned in 1989.

Good health to you, Robert. [applause]

Preston Martin

The events during the past few years in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are indeed incredible. We have moved from a world poised for nuclear devastation, with almost a billion people enslaved under totalitarianism and the resultant economic, social, and environmental havoc. Recently here in San Francisco, Gorbachev has urged moderation in economic reforms, and has even indicated his desire to return to the former centralization of the Soviet Union. Yeltsin struggles with market-oriented reforms as bureaucracies and former communist party enclaves fight at every turn. Ethnic and religious rivalries have resurfaced, sometimes with a vengeance, and innumerable other factors are at work. In his talk tonight, our honoree will be addressing such issues and what future he believes will result from the collapse of communist rule in the former Soviet Bloc.

Robert Conquest was born in Malvern, England on July 15, 1917. He was educated at Winchester College, the University of Grenoble, and Oxford University, where he received his M.A. and D.Litt. During World War II, Conquest served with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He also served under Soviet command against the Nazis in Bulgaria in 1944. After the war, he joined the British Foreign Service and received postings in Bulgaria and New York, the latter as part of the British delegation to the United Nations.

Since 1956, Conquest has pursued a full-time scholarly career. Congruent with the publication of books such as The Great Terror and The Harvest of Sorrow, he held positions at the London School of Economics, Columbia University, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Conquest now resides in California, where he is a Senior Research Fellow and the Scholar-Curator of the Russian and East Europe Collection at the Hoover Institution. Conquest also serves as an Adjunct Fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and as a member of the Advisory Board of Freedom House in New York.

In addition to his achievements as an historian, Conquest is a respected poet and science fiction author. He has been the Literary Editor of the Spectator and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the British Interplanetary Society. Alexander Solzhenitsyn selected Conquest to translate his book-length poem, Prussian Nights.

I am very pleased to present you Robert Conquest.

Robert Conquest

When you set out to honor somebody, you certainly honor him. When I think about what wonderful sponsors you found and your splendid hosts, being hosted by your hosts and sponsored by the sponsors, and guested by your wonderful guests, that’s nothing to complain about. Except, of course, John O’Sullivan’s description of my lunching girls with cans of sardines. He didn’t get up until 3:00 in the afternoon at that time. He was parliamentary correspondent, I think of the Times, and then he has no firsthand evidence to back this at all.

But apart from this minor fly in the ointment, I’m very, very honored indeed. There’s very little to say which hasn’t been said much better by the wonderful speakers who’ve come before me, by Czeslaw Milosz and Dr. Wildavsky and Elena Bonner and, I suppose, John O’Sullivan in a smaller way.

I think the main point has been made. The question that had arisen and had destroyed the old communist regimes in Eastern Europe and in Russia was basically the question of truth. It was, of course, economic and ecological and physical in that sense. But that also was a matter of lies within the system, a deep lie within the system. But before we go into that, I ought to first of all say that we are now only talking about part of the world. I’ve been asked to say has the lesson been learned.

Remember, a large part of the world is still in the grip of Marxism and Leninism: China, as we’ve been reminded; Vietnam; and North Korea, the struggle is not yet over. That is not the area I’ve been concerned with, but we must never forget it. This implies a further intellectual and moral ethic by the West.

In Russia and the other republics of Eastern Europe, we know the physical economic disasters. But one of the reasons was, for half a century, one of the main characteristics of the whole system was falsification on enormous scale. History was falsified. Production figures were falsified. They’re only now telling us what really happened in the 1930s, whereas often in the West, even, you got huge figures of industrial production increase and now they say they didn’t happen. The census results were faked. Everything was faked.

But even more demoralizing, I think the whole sphere of thought was controlled and distorted. The inhuman and continuous pressures of the State demanded that all minds should accept what was actually a fantasy. This was incredibly hard for the Russians and for everybody. Worse, in a way, in Russia and the Soviet Republics than in Eastern Europe because it went on longer.

The struggle against this monster was a struggle for truth. It was a struggle against terror and oppression. But it was a struggle more against lies. There were a handful of voices, some in the West, which was easy. Somebody used the word “courageous” of us. It wasn’t at all courageous. The courage was in the Eastern Bloc. The West, our books were published in underground editions. The Western message went over the splendid Radio for Europe and the other Western radios. But a great deal of what counted was done by the people we think of like Andrei Sakharov, a few thousand, a very few thousand dissidents in these countries.

They were fighting against an enormous machinery of lies and indoctrination, vast millions of pages every day, millions of hours on the radio, everything in the schoolrooms. Everything was telling lies. These few thousands helped, to some extent, from the West brought down this frightful goliath. It bit the dust after this long struggle. That has been the lesson. Our previous speakers have made that fairly clear of Eastern Europe.

The only people who were able to go on believing these lies, the falsehoods behind the whole regime, were very stupid and abject. Something has been written about how very third rate and nasty and treacherous and mean and lying the second level of the rulership of the apparat of the priviligencia were. This is something you can’t put into political science very easily.

But this was so unpleasant. There are books which say this. And, of course, the fate of Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner, every detail of their persecution shows this awful level, this impenetrable level. After last year’s incompetent coup d’etat, I was told by one Russian—we were in Russia a month later—we’d been ruled by morons for 30 years; this is the first time it’s paid off. It was.

Has a lesson been learned? Of course Russia and the other countries of the East Bloc are going through a terrible period economically. They’ve got to readjust. They’ve been ground into the dust by the previous system. They have a hard time ahead. You may well say they don’t yet understand our market system, but they know the previous system is no good. They may not know quite what they want, but they know what they don’t want.

It’s quite noticeable that the conspirators in August, their manifesto to the Soviet and Russian peoples didn’t mention Marxism or socialism at all. Even they didn’t dare suggest they wanted to return to the system. They did, of course. They didn’t dare say so. They spoke simply of restoring order and reviving the old frontiers.

The contempt and hatred felt for the doctrines which ruined the country are very powerful. Incidentally it’s now wholly accepted—I’ve been at conferences of the Foreign Ministry—that the Cold War was a campaign by Stalin and his successors against the West, against the East European countries and against the peoples of the Soviet Union, and that the West was not in any way to blame. The blame entirely attaches to them. That is commoner to meet in even official circles in Russia, I’m afraid, than it is in the West.

The basic point is that what Russia went through and what Ethiopia, for example, has gone through, was not the result of some sort of natural change or even bandits or crooks or bad people as such. It was due to an idea, the Marxist/Leninist idea. The rulers in Ethiopia, these military coupists, might have been thugs and bullies and dictators, but they put through an agricultural program which ruined the country, which even thugs and dictators wouldn’t necessarily have done, simply on the basis of a false idea.

It’s worth thinking what these ideas are like and how they worked out. First of all, they thought that they’d found a rigorous and scientific understanding of human society. They thought that was possible and that they’d achieved it.

Secondly, they thought that human society was governed entirely by unappeasable struggle. Who-whom, Lenin’s slogan. Every single transaction is a fight and someone wins and someone doesn’t.

Then, of course, human beings had to be found who would accept such a dogma without any serious consideration.

Let’s turn to the West and think in those terms, those points. In a general way in the Soviet Union, the lesson has been learned. Is this quite true in the West? There are people who will say quite truly—like Francis Fukuyama—that the market idea, the democratic idea has triumphed.

Well, yes. But if you look around the West, I do find the mere existence of the U.S., as Elena Bonner pointed out, distorted the way in which many people thought about history and society and economy over here. A lot of the West’s elites were deluded, as has been pointed out. The minds open to reality, like Professor Wildavsky’s, were not dominant. And one reason was factiousness. Argument about the nature of the Soviet regime became confused, quite illogically, with the internal liberal/conservative row in America and elsewhere.

I should say that there seem to be an awful lot of Republicans around in sponsors. I see a few people. My first connection with American politics was with Scoop Jackson, the Democrat. The question of whether the Soviet Union was frightful or not should not have got mixed up with the conservative/liberal row in this sort of way.

One of my last books had a cracking blurb about Senator Moynihan, that you could be wrong about economics and right about the Soviet Union. I think Czesław Miłosz would regard himself as liberal. This is a thing that should not divide us in this way. But it did, to some extent.

Albert Camus, the great French writer who’s been spoken of already, once pointed out that people who supported the Soviet Union and France didn’t really care about the Soviet Union. He said, it’s not that they like the Russians; they hate part of the French. It became a theme of faction in France.

Then I think many were seduced by the comfortable word “socialism.” Isn’t it one of Sheridan’s plays where one of the women talks about that comfortable word Madagascar, which she recites to herself. The word “socialism” seduced many people. Nadezhda Mandelstam, the widow of the poet killed by Stalin, says that the word “revolution” spoiled a whole generation of Russian intellectuals. I think the word “socialism” helped to spoil a generation of Western intellectuals, not so much in the policies, but in the views of what was going on outside the country.

Of course, someone has mentioned—and indeed, your Independent Institute is particularly concerned with—bureaucracy. I don’t want to talk about bureaucracy as such, which is a subject which you speak of a great deal. But that, of course, is one of the lessons of the Soviet Union, is that a pullulating bureaucracy is not a very socially pleasant or effective machine. It’s easy enough to say this lesson has not been learned adequately. You can look around from Detroit to Brussels for examples of what I mean.

Another thing is sheer parochialism played a part in this understanding of the Soviet Union. No one could believe that a regime could kill millions of its inhabitants. I’ve spoken to academics who would not believe that Stalin killed 5-6 million peasants in the ’30s. Why not? It’s economically counterproductive. Well, yes. But Tamerlane built a pyramid of 70,000 skulls outside Distahun [phonetic]. Why would he do that? Obviously it affected the workforce. They don’t know any history. They don’t have any idea of the bad motives. That couldn’t be done in the University of North Northwest Oklahoma so it can’t be done in Distahun or the Ukraine.

There’s another point which is still with us, unfortunately, and that is political science in its abstract mode. Political science has treated the USSR as simply another state, not much different from any other state, analyzed by the same methods. We’re actually told academic objectivity means one should not be “judgmental.” Because that’s very unobjective, being judgmental. Say, he killed millions of people. You should study something objective, like cotton prices. I’m not joking. Just barely. I’m slightly joking. But this is perfectly true.

You’d think the collapse of the Soviet regime would involve the similar collapse of such academic attitudes. Some of those who misunderstood the experience will no doubt rethink their views. But this habit of mind I think persists because in Russia, they’ve learned the lesson because they experienced it. We have to learn it vicariously. We still find, first of all, with a view to the idea of a scientific theory of politics, there are still schematic models and methodologies speaking of the rationality or the prediction of human behavior, claiming objectivity but shackled by these inappropriate assumptions. In fact, to be fair to Marxism, it’s more flexible and had better claims to universality than some of these recent constrictions on the intellect and desiccations of the understanding.

We should remember that neither in the psychology of the individual, nor in the events of society, has the human experience really yet proved susceptible to any narrow scientific rigor. We can use our reasons and obtain useful and limited knowledge, but once this is pushed too far, we’re in the realm of pseudoscience, like Marxism and Leninism, and I don’t think it’s healthy.

Then again, the Leninist principle “who-whom,” you find in much academic work these days on literature, social order, politics, the notion that everything is a struggle for power, for being empowered, for hegemony, by depression, all competition is a zero-sum game. Just like Leninism. In the real world, there’s competition and cooperation. Not everyone is driven by power. But that is not recognized in some parts of academe these days.

I said people accepted a dogma because it sounded good. If you think nowadays, the age of 18 or 20, a student meets with a glittering general idea. Far from feeling any responsibility to submit it to serious questioning, he hence forward follows it as if he were a duckling imprinted by its mother. Are our students actually discouraged from that sort of activity? Do they see all their incidence subsumed into this? Whatever theory it happens to be, “the struggle.”

We’re told that the answer to our problems lies in education. It’s a very old saying. But does education teach our students to avoid these certainties, to avoid these interpretations of all human actions, of struggles, to avoid will-o’-the-wisp doctrines? Does it aim for intellectual responsibility, the avoidance of formulae and factiousness? I don’t think so. That’s my impression of the universities and schools of the West at the present. I’d almost say that it’s an educated or half-educated stratum, whose minds are still infested often with what in computers we’d call a virus, which distorts their calculations.

Kafka once wrote that the two great causes of human troubles were impatience and laziness. Intellectually, these are just the phenomena which produce these fantasies. Impatience: the insistence on having a simple formula knowing at all. Laziness: not bothering to work it out because you’ve got the formula.

I would conclude that we will still have much to learn and much to unlearn from what’s been happening in the communist countries and what’s been understood of that in the West. It’s not yet. Even in the Sovietological field, everything is not yet penetrated. There are still people who misinterpret the Soviet Union. But even if they did get that more or less right, there are others who sort of turn their backs on it and still nourish the directions of miseducation, which were, in part responsible for the whole Leninist disaster.

I didn’t want to end on as low a note as that. There are others who don’t. I mentioned Professor Wildavsky. There are many people in this room who are teaching the opposite. All I mean is there’s still a struggle to be fought on the intellectual field, and it will be fought to some extent still on the themes of the Russian revolution and counterrevolution and Eastern European changes and the future changes in China and Asia.

Thank you.

Preston Martin

Thank you very much, Dr. Conquest. All recognizing your almost unique contribution to the thinking of the civilized world and the truth about the terrors of Communism, it is our pleasure now to present to you the Alexis de Tocqueville Memorial Award.

In deep appreciation for, and recognition of
your outstanding and courageous scholarship
in unmasking the historical record
of totalitarianism in the 20th century,
and your unwavering dedication to the principle of individual liberty
as the foundation of free and just societies,
The Committee and Assembled Guests at
The National Dinner to Honor Robert Conquest
7th of July 1992, in San Francisco
Proudly Present to
G. Robert A. Conquest
The Alexis de Tocqueville Memorial Award

David Theroux

If I could also ask Dr. Harry Wu to come up. Dr. Wu also has a presentation he would like to make.

Hongda Harry Wu

This is my first work of my research program, which is supported by the Hoover Institution. It systematically describes the Chinese Laogai system. Ah, I just want to say: Stalin’s gone, Mao is gone, Gorbachev changed,—. But remember, the Chinese evil communism is still on our political stage. I have another book for my honorable host.

David Theroux

Thank you.

Hongda Harry Wu

And, I want to present as a gift respectfully to Mrs. Sakharov. Thank you.

Preston Martin

Bob, if you’d stay just a moment, let us see if there are questions from the floor. We know the hour is late, but if you have a question, here’s your opportunity.


Yes. I have a question relating to the Second Amendment - - United States. After - - say - - your work?

Robert Conquest

My copy of The Communist Manifesto has in it revolver prize money, Bisley 1937. I was a keen revolver shot. I don’t know that it has much bearing on the question between West and East because some Western countries have very strict gun control and some don’t, without much affecting the democratic process. I haven’t actually shot a gun for ages. My wife, just before we married, used to go down into the arroyo and shoot rattlesnakes a good deal. Perhaps she could answer that.


Do you think America and especially the Baltic States? Ukraine—Baltic—counterbalance Russia as a geopolitical rival of America?

Robert Conquest

The question is, should America give more support, in one sense or another, to such peripheral countries of the former Soviet Union as the Baltic States? Well. Yes, of course. But we should be supporting all the ex-communist countries. The worse off they are, the worse off Russia is, the more possible encouragement there is to Russian expansionism of the old type.

One of the reasons for supporting the Baltics in particular—I’ve just come back from there—is, of course, that they are, being smaller and with better farming and so on, they are better investments, in some ways. But I think if you’re setting them against Russia, I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Russia is also an ex-communist state. These are complications. I don’t see that America should be actually playing off the periphery against Russia exactly. These are matters of foreign policy, and it is in our interest to save the whole of that area rather than exploit national differences, I would have said.

Of course, this is not only a question of the Soviet Union. This applies in the Balkans as well. In my view, for example, we talk about the troubles in Yugoslavia being like the troubles in 1914. No, they’re not because there are no great powers who want to make war on the Count of Croatia or Serbia. I think what will happen eventually is that boundaries will have to be dictated by the great powers. This has happened before. That’s how the present boundaries arose. They may not be right, but sooner or later, these things are going to have to be settled by a consensus of the great powers, I would have thought.

Question from John Rendler

If you were Amnesty International, where would you direct your attentions now?

Robert Conquest

If I were Amnesty International? I suppose China and North Korea seems to be the worst offender against human rights at present. But, of course, that’s always raised the problem that it’s the countries which are behaving worst which, on the whole, are able to keep their offenses secret. Stalin was far more popular in the West than Brezhnev was. Because he was able either to keep his activities secret or else put out an alternative story, whereas Brezhnev wasn’t able to keep his actions secret. But Stalin was far worse than Brezhnev.

One wants to watch out particularly of those regimes like Korea, which are very difficult to get information out of. They’re almost certainly bound to be the worst. But now my impression is that Amnesty’s work has had a great effect in China, where they’re at last beginning to admit, and to a certain extent, to condemn or pretend they’re going to condemn some of the offenses by the secret police. This is a great beginning. This is, in a certain sense, what happened in Russia. They started to admit that things weren’t perfect, that they were oppressing some people, and then they said, oh, no, it wasn’t as bad as all that. But once they start admitting it, you are winning. I think we’ve done extremely well on China, and the beginnings of perhaps justifying the work on China as done by you and other people, which, of course, has nothing to do with my side of things. But I strongly welcome that type of stuff.

Written Question

Please comment on your predictions on mainland China and North Korea.

Robert Conquest

This is really the same question. Please comment on your predictions on mainland China and North Korea. I don’t really have predictions. I once wrote a general book about world history and world politics with two points in the preface. One of them was, I don’t understand China. For me to predict anything about China would be very difficult. But it does seem, speaking very amateurishly, that the beginnings are taking place of the evolution and, with luck, the democratic revolution. It does remind me of Russia, but certain years ago. There are obvious great differences.

But, with North Korea and the other, Vietnam, there’s still so much difficulty in knowing what’s going on, it would be very difficult to predict even for someone like me who doesn’t like predicting. I think predictions in human histories are very shaky. What happened in Russia was, in detail, dependent on all sorts of accidents, the way it happened. If Yeltsin had dropped dead of a heart attack just before the attack by the tanks on the “White House,”: who knows what would have happened exactly. There are a lot of things dependent on odd individuals, how they happened to feel. If Napoleon had been feeling better at Waterloo, he’d have won.

Written Question

This is on the Finnish question. Gorbachev, the questioner rightly says that Russia should not have invaded Finland. That has now become normal in Moscow to say that this was a gross aggression, the attack on Finland in 1939. The question is, will Russia consider returning parts of the territory annexed from Finland in 1940 and later, the end of the Second World War. Who knows? I’ve just been in Vyborg, as a matter of fact, in that territory. It’s now highly Russianized.

Secondly, the Finns are not making anything of it. There’s very little revanchism in Finland. It’s one of those questions like, will the Germans demand the Sudetenland. This doesn’t seem to be on. The people are accepting the borders except where there are minorities spreading across, which there aren’t now in this case. Of course, in terms of a general judgment and morality and so on, yes, of course the Russians should retrocede it, but I don’t think this is going to be practical politics.

Yesterday, the Communist Party went on trial in the Soviet Union. This is just and ironic, but is it appropriate? Is it a show trial of democracy?

This is a very interesting question. I must say it’s very hard to read a headline saying the Communist Party is not a party; it’s a criminal conspiracy. In America, that would be called “McCarthyism.”

But the thing is, what they’re being tried for is breaches of their own law. In Moscow, there are now representatives, for example, of the Italian Prosecutor General’s Office demanding to know the illegal sending of money by the Soviet Communist Party to the Italian Communist Party. They’re getting perfect cooperation from the Russian prosecutor because they’re legal under Russian law too, and was, even under the old law. In Bulgaria, they’re trying five or six party and police people for sending several hundred million dollars, $200 million, something like that, to countries, to communist movements in places like Angola and Ethiopia and elsewhere on the grounds, this was illegal under the then law. This is slightly different than prosecuting it just as a political movement. However, we’ll see what happens.

Preston Martin

Thank you very much, Bob. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. As I started off saying, time is a really scarce resource. It’s beyond scarcity. Let’s thank the Independent Institute, Monsieur Theroux and all of his associates. I’d like to acknowledge my assistant Elaine Zobol from the Simon Group, and thanks very much, Mr. Theroux, for all you’ve done.

We conclude.

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