For a venting of stridency, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Jeane Kirkpatrick appear to be locked in competition over who can be the shrillest foe of communism. Within a few days of each other in early May, both offered raw and inaccurate assessments of the motives and thinking of groups whose opposition to communism is something less than apocalyptic.
In a London interview, Solzhenitsyn attacked Amnesty International for double standards. The human-rights organization, he said, is partial to reporting abuses from non-communist countries. Heating up, Solzhenitsyn claimed that "Soviet means and money" are behind Western peace groups. The anti-nuclear protesters have eyes that are "bound" and they don't understand "absolute good and absolute evil."
In New York, Kirkpatrick, the former professor who seems unendingly irritated that her teachings on power politics have not turned the United Nations into a classroom of grateful students, had it in for Congress. A Reuters story in The New York Times quoted her: "What happens is that there are people in the U.S. Congress who do not approve of our efforts to consolidate the constitutional government of El Salvador and who would actually like to see the Marxist forces take power in that country."
Of the two oracles, Solzhenitsyn is the easier to tolerate. His thinking has a compactness. All is Mother Russia: Orthodox, pre-Lenin Russia. Until the forces that have destroyed his homeland are themselves destroyed, anyone not in perpetual rage against the Soviet government must therefore be in the pocket of the Kremlin. Solzhenitsyn would like the honors that the world once gave him for his books about Soviet repression to have a foreverness: Unceasingly, we must always be in full war at the atheists and tyrants who have betrayed the dream of a free Russia.
Solzhenitsyn is the ordinary single-issue zealot: my truth, my cause and my method are the only truth, cause and method. With a less narrow mind, he could increase his strength and credibility by joining groups like Amnesty and some of the disarmament organizations. There are acres of common ground. If flaws exist, why not work from within for improvement? Solzhenitsyn is too great a man to reduce himself to a lifetime wrangle with those who are his natural allies. His militancy is needed. His ravings are not.
Kirkpatrick -- not a victim of a gulag, not a figure with a wide following beyond Reagan circles -- is a rogue voice of discord. The hostile tension she creates appears to satisfy the insatiable urges of reactionaries to savage the critics of the administration's Latin America policies.
To hear Kirkpatrick, Congress now has a Marxist caucus, along with others like the Black Caucus and the rural caucus. But who are the members? Some in Congress would like to know. Eight members of the House, not satisfied with woozy accusations, are writing to Kirkpatrick for specifics. The eight understand that the agony in El Salvador, and in all of Central America, is not East-West, or communism against capitalism. It is victims against death squads, hungry peasants against unsharing rulers, the need for development against the imposition of war.
Humane nonviolent solutions are complicated. For Kirkpatrick, brimming with anti-communist slogans as though she were a bulging briefcase popping its lock, no allowances are to be made for nuances. Again, it's a case of my truth, my cause and my method.
Explaining away the revolutions in Central America as mere surgings of Marxism is to embrace political deafness. We aren't listening to what the region's revolutionaries are saying, as though being a revolutionary -- an honored calling at one time in U.S. history -- means dealing in lies. Yet there is truth in the distinctions made by Miguel D'Escoto, the Nicaraguan foreign minister and Catholic priest: "In the Sandinistas, we have been very much aided by Marxist thought to understand some great problems. But we have been equally or more influenced by Christian thought."
The Nicaraguan minister of culture, Ernesto Cardinal, another priest, calls himself "a Marxist Christian. That is, I believe in what Marx wrote about capitalism . . . that there can be a society with less selfishness. I don't think that's kin contradiction with the Gospel."
It isn't. It only contradicts the biases of the unlistening. And it counters the idea that there is one method of reform.