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The best way to begin mapping the conceptual terrain that lies beyond containment is to re-examine the premises of containment itself.
For more than four decades, Western policy has been based on a grotesque exaggeration of what the U.S.S.R. could do if it wanted, therefore what it might do, therefore what the West must be prepared to do in response. Gorbachev has shown that, in some respects, where the West thought the Soviet Union was strong, it was in fact weak. The spectacle of this past year -- often exhilarating, sometimes chaotic and in Tiananmen Square horrifying -- has revealed a brittleness in the entire communist system, whether the armed and uniformed minions of the state ended up snipping barbed wire, as they did in Hungary, or slaughtering students, as they did in China. That brittleness has been there all along, but it was often mistaken for toughness. By "calling things by their own names," Gorbachev is admitting that much of what has been perceived by the outside world as his country's collective "discipline" is actually an ossifying, demoralizing, brutalizing system of institutionalized inefficiency. He should make us look again at the U.S.S.R.: a monstrosity, yes, but not a monster in so formidable and predatory a sense as has figured in the cross hairs of Western defense policy.
The Soviets themselves now look back on the almost two decades of Leonid Brezhnev's rule as the era of "stagnation." Harsh as that word sounds, it is actually a euphemism; it really means general decline. Gorbachev personifies to his own people, and should personify to the outside world, a damning revelation about Soviet history: Russia made a huge mistake at the beginning of the 20th century, one that it is trying to correct as it prepares to enter the 21st. Having already missed out on what the 18th and 19th centuries offered in the way of modernity, including much of the Industrial Revolution and the democratic revolution, Russia then missed whatever chance World War I and the collapse of the monarchy gave it to become a modern country in this century. In assembling the Soviet state, the Bolsheviks took two components of their own revolutionary modus operandi -- terror and conspiracy -- grafted them onto the ideology of universal state ownership, then retained five vestiges of the czarist old regime: despotism, bureaucracy, the secret police, a huge army and a multinational empire subjugated by Russians.
The result of that mix is the disaster that Gorbachev faces today. The combination of totalitarianism, or "command-administrative methods," and bureaucracy has stultified Soviet society, economy and culture. Gorbachev is trying to introduce the economic mechanisms and democratic political institutions that have been developing in the West while the Soviet Union has been trudging down its own dead end, particularly during the lost years of the Brezhnev period.