Poles Apart: Letters from Warsaw and New York City

Western peace activists rarely can talk with our counterparts in Eastern Europe. The independent movements in those countries promote such reforms as the right to be a conscientious objector. Their ideas differ form ours. For example, while they use nonviolent direct action, they reject the name "pacifists," which means to them "cowards who surrender." Joanne Landy, a New Yorker who works for democracy and peace, vitists Poland often. Last summer, Warsaw's Freedom and Peace Bulletin published an interview with her, which led to this dialogue. It reflects the views that were current in Poland before the INF agreement was a reality.

By Kazimierz Orlos, Piotr Niemczyk, Joanne Landy | 1988-02-01 12:00:00

To Editor, Freedom and Peace Bulletin

By Kazimierz Orlos

I AM RESPONDING TO YOUR INTERVIEW WITH Joanne Landy, whose illusions irritate one who lives under real socialism. She speaks of “American aggressive, imperialistic policy” and of Soviet policy in the same tone, treating Reagan and Gorbachev as both striving to achieve world domination. Would she equate Nazi Germany and the USA, or Roosevelt and Hitler? She cannot imagine what the Soviet system really is.

Leaving aside their history of slaughter worse than anything Nazi Germany did, even now the USSR is waging genocide in Afghanistan. It supports terrorism. Its secret police control every domain of life. In an imperialistic country that has been controlled by a fanatical party for seventy years, pursuing an obsolete nineteenth century doctrine, there is no room for normal social life, constitutional freedom, an opposition press, or public opinion.

The President of the United States is chosen by democratic election, controlled by Congress and the Senate, and constantly attacked by the opposition and the free press. Can he be compared with the First Secretary of the Central Committee, who is elected as dictator in secret by some elderly men to rule unimpeded by social institutions? Ms. Landy is so tactless as to say that Reagan has cut medical aid, housing projects, urban services and welfare. She was talking to a citizen of a country where one has to wait twenty years for an apartment, where people die in hospital corridors, where there are not enough nurseries, kindergartens, and schools, where some kinds of food have been rationed for years! It is wishful thinking to talk about “peace negotiations.”

Ms. Landy says with utmost seriousness: “Let us assume that the United States launches a democratic foreign policy and begins to unilaterally disarm…. I do not suppose that Gorbachev would immediately withdraw his 500,000 troops from Eastern Europe, but such a move by the U.S. would complicate things for him…. One could then ask why Soviet troops are still in Poland, if the USA had abandoned its aggressive imperialist policy. Eventually, one could even appeal to Soviet society…”

“Dear Ms. Landy,” one would like to reply. “You do not understand anything! To appeal to Soviet society to make Gorbachev withdraw troops from Eastern Europe is fantasy!”

Ms. Landy should meet Vladimir Bukowsky, Yuri Orlov, and Anatoly Shcharansky. They could explain the difference between a President of the United States and a First Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee. Otherwise, she will continue to cherish the illusions of Western peace movements.

Kazimierz Orlos, born in 1935, is a writer who has been working in independent publishing since 1976.

An Open Letter

By Piotr Niemczyk

Dear Joanne Landy,

WE ARE WITNESSING A REVOLUTION IN THE USSR. Peace and human rights movements receive these changes with enthusiasm, since they want d?tente. Gorbachev’s claims, however, cannot be taken for granted. Sakharov and about a hundred other famous prisoners of conscience have been released, but several hundred remain imprisoned. Many of them are conscientious objectors who are charged for refusing military service.

Independent activities for peace and human rights are impeded in all Warsaw Pact countries. Evidence of this was shown in the arrests of the Czech, Peter Pospichal, and the Hungarian, Zsolt Kesthelyi. In Poland, “Freedom and Peace” (“WiP”) members are always harassed by the Security Service, and a propaganda campaign is run against us.

There is no evidence that Soviet plans for withdrawing from Afghanistan are sincere. The armistice aims to break the insurgents’ solidarity rather than end the war. The Soviets themselves suggest that their withdrawal depends on the United States. The Soviet Peace Defence Committee has asked the U.S. government to stop helping Afghani insurgents, so the Red Army soldiers can go home. The Soviet “defenders of peace” even blame President Reagan for the USSR’s sending its troops to neighboring countries.

The war in Kampuchea also been going on for years, with the Vietnamese army supporting the pro-Moscow regime against the will of the people. Is Reagan to blame for this as well?

Each new one of Gorbachev’s disarmament proposals raises controversies: Is it an actual step toward disarmament, a propaganda manoeuver, or just a political fraud? The proposal to withdraw all middle range missiles from Europe fits this pattern. Everyone is morally obligated to support this idea. NATO countries cannot openly question it since it was a part of their own zero option. However, there is a danger of Soviet predominance in tactical and conventional weapons. The Soviet General Secretary never makes unconsidered declarations. Do his suggestions express a genuine disarmament intention? Or are they aimed to sow disagreement between NATO countries?

The NATO governments keep a policy of deterrence. No wonder: Feeling responsible for their countries, they cannot trust the opponents’ claims. Both sides consider the balance of power essential to avoid war. Negotiation proposals come with conditions that cannot be accepted by the other side. Therefore, such offers are a fiction — a dirty propaganda trick used to influence international views. The Soviet leaders must realize their proposals are likely to be rejected. So is the U.S. government the actual addressee of these appeals? Or is it rather public opinion, with a hope to raise the peace movement into another anti-American campaign? We cannot trust them enough to demand one-sided disarmament and it is unlikely that both military pacts will disarm simultaneously and independently.

I do believe that disarmament is possible. However, it can come only through multilateral negotiations based on gradual d?tente between both systems, rather than on temporary political shifts. This should lead to dissolution of military blocs and granting full democratic rights to all states whose sovereignty has been limited.

To independent peace activists in Poland, nothing is more alarming than seeing the Western peace movements become tools of Soviet policy and propaganda. Vladimir Bukowsky described this manipulation in his book, Pacifists against Peace.

Independent circles in Eastern Europe say that peace is connected with the observance of human rights. This is the message of Solidarity, Charta 77, and other anti-totalitarian groups in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and the USSR. Western people tend now to share this opinion. A memorandum was submitted jointly by independents from both sides of the Iron Curtain at the CSCE [Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe] meeting in Vienna.

ONLY A SOVEREIGN SOCIETY MAY WARRANT disarmament. No individual, even bestowed with full power—as the Soviet General Secretary is—can constitute such a warrant. Independent trade unions limit the war industry, independent parliaments control official foreign policy, and a free press informs on abuses in international relations and pressures politicians.

Solidarnosc, as a peace action, became effective through protecting citizens’ rights. Four West German Green members who visited Poland concluded that Solidarnosc was the only European movement to make deployment of missiles in its country too risky for a superpower.

Our ideas on the disarmament initiatives differ greatly. I would like to contribute to our mutual understanding.

Piotr Niemczyk is a Warsaw activist for freedom and peace.

Response to Piotr Niemczyk, with comments on Kazimierz Orlos

By Joanne Landy

Dear Piotr Niemczyk,

YOU SEEM TO ASSUME THAT ANYONE WHO SEES that Soviet foreign policy is imperialist must therefore accept Western “deterrence” policy. While I agree with you about the USSR’s goals, I don’t agree that support for Western armaments follows from that.

My reasons are two. First, the Western powers have imperial interests of their own— to protect the capitalist social system globally. In the Third World, capitalism is unpopular because it harms people’s lives. It must be imposed from outside (with the aid of local elites) by economic, political, and military pressure. This leads the U.S. to support dictators (e.g. Pinochet in Chile) or conservative governments (e.g. Duarte’s in El Salvador) who hold power by not offending economic or military elites.

Such U.S. support makes communism more attractive to Third World people who have not experienced it, but who believe it must be better than what they have experienced. Idealistic youths see only two ways for their societies— capitalism or communism. Far from defending democracy, then, support for authoritarian regimes achieves exactly the opposite.

What does this have to do with disarmament? Everything, because one cannot separate weapons from the interests they are defending. In the Soviet case, I’m sure this is obvious to you. If you were arguing against the Soviet quest for nuclear parity with the U.S., you would point out the illegitimate foreign policy aims of the USSR. You would mention its aggression in Afghanistan and Eastern Europe, and you would correctly argue that its nuclear weapons serve the same ends that bring its armies into neighboring countries.

Likewise, the global objectives of the U.S. cannot be separated from its nuclear arsenal. You and Orlos may think that I am calling U.S. and Soviet behavior toward weaker countries “symmetrical.” Yes and no. On one hand, in recent decades the U.S. has not often invaded other countries (though, don’t forget the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, and Grenada), whereas the USSR has kept armies in Eastern Europe since the 1940s and in Afghanistan for nearly a decade. Still, this doesn’t mean that the U.S. has respected the rights of the people in weaker countries.

America often uses economic and political pressure or military threats instead of deploying troops. Thus in Nicaragua its proxy army is headed by former members of Somoza’s National Guard. These methods, combined with the intimidating effect of its nuclear weaponry, has made the U.S. powerful globally.

The Cold War is a conflict between two major social systems, capitalism and communism— both inimical to peace and democratic rights. The U.S. and the USSR, at the centers of the two systems, have strengths and weaknesses in different areas. For example, capitalism has a scientific and military edge, whereas communism has the advantage of broad political appeal, particularly in the Third World. But we, campaigning for peace and democratic rights, must stay clear of both systems, which oppose not only one another, but also our own egalitarian, pluralistic and peaceful values. Instead of supporting either side, we should suggest our own radical democratic alternatives.

Unlike the USSR’s First Secretary, the U.S. President, Orlos points out, is elected democratically, controlled by Congress, and constantly attacked by the opposition and the free press.

I am well aware that Americans and citizens of most advanced capitalist countries currently enjoy great political rights (although some developed capitalist countries have been authoritarian or fascist). Most of us in the West today do have important freedoms of press, assembly, and elections. But Orlos leaps from that fact to the conclusion that U.S. foreign policy is more peaceful and democratic than the USSR’s. I’m afraid this is a necessary but not sufficient condition.

True, no country can be trusted to conduct a decent foreign policy unless it is democratic and accountable to its citizens. Still, democracy is not enough. (I have no space to discuss the limits on democracy in the West that result from the concentration of wealth and the dictates of the capitalist system.) But I reject Orlos’s view that somehow it is “tactless” for me to discuss social suffering in America because Poles are worse off. We who stress the human rights issue in the Eastern bloc are often told by other peace activists to overlook it because people in many countries are even worse off. To this we reply that, regardless of who is more repressed than whom, we refuse to use comparisons to excuse injustice anywhere.

SUPPORT THEDOUBLE ZEROOPTION for two reasons. First, it slightly reduces risks by ridding Europe of some missiles. Second, removing these missiles is a victory for the disarmament movement, which spent years protesting their deployment. While I share your dismay that many Western peace activists focused on cruises and Pershings and barely mentioned the Soviet missiles, nonetheless the movement is mostly independent and non-aligned. It should be strengthened.

I know that Freedom and Peace has alerted Poles to the dangers of a nuclear conflict. I know you, too, want “detente from below,” a coalition of movements for peace, human rights, and social justice from the East, West and Third World. Together we challenge Cold Warriors everywhere. We have already begun to bridge the chasm separating our movements. We are rejecting the idea that “the enemy of my enemy must be my friend.”

To continue drawing closer, each part of this new coalition must keep its own identity, its own focus, and its own agenda. The victories of one movement may not neatly mesh with those of other movements. We cannot wait to act until there is a matching advance in the other bloc. In linking our struggles, the movement in each bloc should welcome the other’s successes, knowing that our fates are connected even if our issues and immediate enemies differ.

You say that Gorbachev doesn’t really want to give up nuclear weapons, but offers to as a trick to divide the West. I think you are mistaken. He is no peacenik, but I think he wants to cool the arms race for economic reasons. Still, his motives are irrelevant. To find out if his offers are genuine, call his bluff. To challenge the USSR’s occupation of Eastern Europe, the U.S. should adopt a democratic, non-militaristic foreign policy— ending support to dictators, welcoming radical democracy in the Third World, and reducing nuclear and conventional arms. This can’t be done while rejecting the “double zero” option.

As I said in the interview for which Orlos reproached me, the way to pressure the Soviets to leave Eastern Europe is by withdrawing U.S. troops from Western Europe and challenging the Soviets to respond. Democratic offers by either superpower would undermine repressive rulers on the other side by ending their Cold War excuse for militarism. Such initiatives from a transformed Soviet Union might affect the West more than the other way around because the East gets less news from the West. But over time, those who live in the East would hear of such Western offers. I can’t see any other way out: The present polarization only reinforces itself. We have to try a new way.

Joanne Landy is director of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy East and West and co-editor of New Politics.

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1988

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1988, page 16. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Kazimierz Orlos here
Search for other articles by Piotr Niemczyk here
Search for other articles by Joanne Landy here

Peace Magazine homepage