Essay: Convergence: The Uncertain Meeting of East and West

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The convergence theory, in the words of Kremlinologist Bertram Wolfe, is "vulgar Marxism." It posits a fundamentalist belief in economic determinism that Marx himself would probably have disavowed. It ignores or underrates the role played by traditions, value systems and even national characteristics in deciding the future of societies. The concepts that people have of national characteristics, of course, are often mere caricatures, but they generally contain some truth, of a subtler variety than meets the eye. The American devotion to individualism and freedom can be exaggerated; yet the Lockean principles of individual liberty and ordered freedom that underlie the U.S. Constitution and indeed U.S. society are related to the American character and the American ideal. The line leading from the czars to Stalin to the Kremlin's present rulers is by no means straight. Still, it is no accident that the Russians—for whom a ruling father-figure rather than the individual is the central symbol in the national mystique—have a history of autocracy.

In the limited sense that capitalist societies are heading inexorably for more state planning and control and that socialist ones must inevitably allow for more decentralization, the convergence theory is true. It may well be that both Russia and the U.S. will come still closer to sharing a common economic model. But broad, perhaps unbridgeable differences will remain, particularly over the philosophic questions of the dreams and goals of the two societies.

Orthodoxy in Tatters

Especially among the young there is always a tendency to extol opposites. Just as many American youths seem to yearn for the collective, nonmaterialistic life, many young people in Communist countries seem to admire some (but by no means all) of the individualism and the material benefits of Western society. Today, Communism is splintered, Marxian orthodoxy in tatters. Nevertheless, the Communist view of man still has a powerful and self-perpetuating hold in those societies where it has become part of the culture—and it is still a vast distance removed from anything that American society would accept in the foreseeable future. The definitions of "bourgeois" and "socialist" ideologies have changed over the years—and no doubt will continue to change—but in the long run Lenin may well prove to be right.

The future is always problematical, but the weight of evidence suggests that Communist and non-Communist societies will continue to develop on separate but parallel tracks. Fortunately, though, basic differences no longer imply the inevitability of a cataclysmic showdown. The pragmatics of survival may well be the one respect in which the U.S. and Soviet Russia are really meeting. That may be a more helpful and hopeful prospect than the euphoric vision of convergence.

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