Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn


In an era notable for its lack of heroes, it is inspiring to witness the example of Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In the face of a new wave of Stalinist repression, both have steadfastly refused to recant. On the contrary, with each passing day they seem to grow bolder in asserting fundamental human rights.

In the final week of August, each held a press conference with Western reporters. Both have strongly urged the U.S. Congress not to reduce tariffs on Soviet goods until the Soviet government permits free emigration. Solzhenitsyn has boldly announced that despite death threats from the KGB, he will go on publishing his works abroad. And he announced the existence of an underground plan that, in the event of his death, would release his major, unpublished works all over the world. Further, he announced that he will remain living in Moscow, without government permission.

Sakharov, a leading Soviet physicist, one of the founders of the Committee for Human Rights, has been taking an increasingly activist role. Last December 5th he took the place of imprisoned dissident Pyotr Yakir in leading the annual protest against loss of the rights guaranteed in the Soviet constitution. In August, following an interview with a Swedish radio correspondent, Sakharov was warned by Soviet first deputy prosecutor Malyarov to cease his activism. Sakharov memorized the conversation and sent a transcript to the NEW YORK TIMES! Then, like Solzhenitsyn, he invited newsmen to his apartment for a press conference.

For once, the response from the West has been something to be proud of. Especially impressive was the forthright, uncompromising stand taken by Philip Handler, president of the National Academy of Sciences. In a cable to the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Handler warned that planned binational scientific projects could not take place if Sakharov were harassed any further. In an interview, Handler said it was his "very real belief" that American scientists would refuse to take part in joint projects if the harassment continued. Nor was the NAS cable the only one; as early as last April the American Physical Society had sent an "unprecedented" letter to the Soviet Academy protesting Soviet restrictions on emigration as a "barrier to the free flow of science and scientists."

Temporarily, at least, the protests seemed to have had an effect. For the first time in years the Soviets stopped jamming Western radio broadcasts, and the press campaign against Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn was halted. The Soviet reaction seemed to indicate the urgency of that government's interest in expanded trade and scientific exchanges with the United States. I don't wish to argue here the issue of whether the U.S. government is justified in not reducing tariffs on Soviet goods, unless free emigration is permitted. Instead, I want to focus on some of the implications of the Sakharov/Solzhenitsyn affair.

The most important lessons concern the renewed illustrations of the essential link between personal "civil" liberty and economic liberty. Advocates of government sponsorship, government control, or nationalization have yet to learn the lessons made so plain by the Soviet dissidents:

• Government control of the media: In the Soviet version of public ownership of the media, the State owns the printing presses, paper, ink, etc. Only the use of clandestine typewriters and carbon paper permitted the now-defunct CHRONICLE OF CURRENT EVENTS to report the truth for a few years. Freedom of the press is meaningless without the freedom of individuals to own the means of printing and publishing.

• Government control of the arts: In the Soviet bloc only writers and composers who belong to State-controlled unions are allowed to publish. Solzhenitsyn was expelled in 1969, and the expulsion of political dissidents (Amalrik, Maximov, etc.) continues to this day. There are advantages, of course, to shutting up and mouthing the Party line, such as a guaranteed job (no worries about "Will it sell?"). Among those joining in the published attacks on Sakharov were 12 Soviet composers, including Dmitri Shostakovich and Aram Khachaturian. The naive American supporters of the National Endowment for the Arts mouth platitudes about the independence of their subsidies from political control. As the subsidy total continues to double and triple each year, can anyone seriously believe that political factors won't (or don't already) affect the choice of who gets supported? Would Congress any more readily support "anti-American" artists than the USSR would support "anti-Soviet" writers and composers?

• Government control of science and education: "To be a Soviet scientist means to be a Soviet patriot—there is no other way," states PRAVDA. The same argument that applies to artists also applies to other professions, such as science: he who pays the piper calls the tune. Yet it is precisely in science where the need for freedom—and for truth—conflicts most disastrously with State control. The decades of Lysenkoism bear witness to this sad lesson. Yet in America the proponents of science grow more adamant each year about the "need" for increased government support of science. Meanwhile, the Soviet government points out with macabre logic that since the State has paid tens of thousands of rubles for the education of scientists, it has a right to demand work, or a cash payment, before allowing them to leave. It is precisely this kind of slavery that State schooling and State science invite.

• Government control of medicine: Perhaps most chilling of all are the revelations regarding the extent to which psychiatry has become a tool in the hands of the Soviet state for controlling dissidence. Both Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn have provided extensive documentation of times, places, perpetrators, and victims of Soviet enforced "therapy." Yet much the same thing has been happening for years in the United States, with nobody other than Dr. Thomas Szasz sounding the alarm. The Soviet use of medicine to achieve State ends should give Americans serious pause about the extent to which our medical system is becoming state-controlled, and should prompt renewed consideration of the advantages of a truly free-market approach to this most vital profession.

Have Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn themselves made the connection between civil and economic liberty? There are signs that they have. Solzhenitsyn's press conference is full of contempt for Soviet economic institutions as gross violations of "democracy." And Sakharov openly states that he is no longer a Marxist-Leninist, or even a socialist, but rather a "liberal"—and he may very well mean a classical, free-trade liberal. What the West urgently needs is more people who can see the broader lessons of these events, who can see the underlying similarity in principle between partial government control in America and total government control in the U.S.S.R.—and change course before it is too late. Only then will we truly profit from the example of our Soviet comrades in the struggle for liberty.