Sakharov Speaks

SAKHAROV SPEAKS. Edited and with a foreword by Harrison E. Salisbury. 245 pages. (Collins and Harvill Press £3.00.

This collection of Andrei Sakharov’s writings is a product of a great deal of work between the Academician himself and the well-known American journalist, Harrison Salisbury.

Nearly half the book is taken up with Sakharov’s famous essay, “Progress, Co-existence and Intellectual Freedom”, which he wrote in 1968, when the Prague spring excited and influenced many Soviet intellectuals. His Thoughts reflected the most important problems facing mankind problems of war and peace, dictatorship, the prohibited subject of Stalinist terror and freedom of thought, demographic problems and even the pollution of the environment.

Read in 1975, the essay seems almost too simplistic an analysis of those years and the other essays, too, show how Sakharov has evolved since his black-and-white “student” days. He believed then that the USSR would purge itself of its Stalinist infection by a victory of the left Leninist Communists over the old guard. This would lead to a multi-party system and the successful affirmation of a policy of peaceful co-existence with the West.

Meanwhile, in the United States and other capitalist countries, the left reformist wing of the bourgeoisie would take power. This in turn would lead to a convergence of the socialist and capitalist systems which, in the wake of space exploration, would culminate in the formation of a world Government around the year 2000.

Five years later, Sakharov told Swedish journalist 0lle Stenholm: “I began by thinking that I understood socialism and that it was good. Then gradually I ceased to understand a great deal.”

The Jewish issue and the Middle East conflict are dealt with in the wider context of human rights. What emerges clearly is that Sakharov is tied emotionally to the struggle of the Jewish people. During the Yom Kippur War, when a Lebanese correspondent asked him what steps the US and the West could take to terminate the war, Sakharov replied: “Call upon the USSR and socialist countries to abandon the policy of one-sided interference in the Arab-Israeli conflict and take retaliatory measures if this policy of interference continues.”

Sakharov has always been a “hard liner” on the subject of the Jackson Amendment. He warned Congress continuously not to compromise itself by giving up the Amendment. Even when the Jackson-Kissinger exchange of letters took place in October, he was deeply sceptical, much to the chagrin of other Soviet intellectuals.

Sakharov’s 1973 appeal to Congress marked another stage in his development. It was the first time that any Soviet citizen had asked foreign politicians to commit themselves to a policy which ran counter to that of the Kremlin.

Shortly after, a massive propaganda campaign was launched against both Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn. Threats against his family intensified and Sakharov intimated more than once that he wished to accept an invitation to go to Princeton University.

His defence of Soviet Jews has always been considered and passionate, the latest example being in support of Dr Mikhail Shtern. Sakharov’s involvement in the early trials of Jewish militants was very midi-appreciated by the mainstream Jewish movement which as a rule did not interfere in the Soviet society.

In an appeal to the Supreme Soviet in 1971, published in the book, Sakharov points out: “A free country cannot resemble a cage, even if it is gilded and sap, plied with material things”. The Jews did not forget Sakharov in his hour of need when the campaign to denigrate him was at its height. The 35 leading activists addressed the following message of solidarity to Sakharov:

Thank you for your great heart, for your clear understanding reality, for your honesty. Can one be grateful for your honesty? Yes, for in the world we live in, honesty requires great courage which is not granted to all. Your courage is so immense that with its radiance, it chases away some of the darkness* around us and gives hope that reason wilt score its victory over folly, justice will triumph over lawlessness, good will triumph over evil. God bless you!

Jewish Observer 17 January 1975

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