Since the beginning of the cold war, the West has been obsessed with the fear that, in the superpowers' world-wide tussle, communism had an edge in the struggle for the hearts and minds of the inexperienced new leaderships in AfroAsia. From John Foster Dulles to Zbigniew Brzezinski, the prophets of U.S. foreign policy have continued to sound the alarm that the third world's elites could be shifted from a capitalist development path to a socialist route as if they were sitting on a mental teeter-totter, needing just an ideological conversion to push them one way or the other.
The Soviets have done nothing to still Western anxieties. Leonid Brezhnev, as much as Nikita Khrushchev, has preached that only communism could rescue the ex-colonies from their grinding plight. Backing words with deeds, the Soviet government has established a network of institutes to study the developing countries' problems according to the lights of Marx and Lenin. A substantial third-world research industry now operates in the U.S.S.R., pouring out studies that offer "scientific socialist" prescriptions for rapid industrialization through economic planning, controlling foreign aid and directing the class struggle.
To publish applied communist theory is one thing; to influence the thinking of foreign populations is quite another. After interviewing over 100 political, bureaucratic, intellectual and business leaders in India (the country on which the Soviets have expended the greatest research effort and published the most studies), I found to my surprise that the impact of their hundreds of books and thousands of articles pushing communist ideology has been next to nil. From the radical academic to the conservative civil servant, the typical members of the Indian elite turn out to be favorably inclined toward the Soviet Union only because they appreciate its supportive diplomatic and aid policy. What's impressed them is not rhetoric, but hardware. They are quite unswayed by the Soviet intellectual "line," whether this be the Marxist-Leninist position on agrarian reforms or the Russians' thinking on U.S. investment.
India's leading journalists are a bellwether for the country's English-speaking elite: They are self-confident and isolated from foreign thought. They are not hostile toward the Soviet Union, but they have little interest in Soviet ideology. That the Russians had proven themselves in action as India's best friends was a point repeatedly made by editorial writers who expressed no fear of the Soviets nor any concern that India's military dependence would lead to improper behavior by the U.S.S.R. Politically pro-Soviet attitudes coexisted with ideologically anti-Marxist-Leninist views.
I found a similar consensus concerning Soviet ideological writings among Indian academics from the moderate center to the far left of the ideological spectrum. The attitudes of those intellectuals who could be expected to be most familiar with Soviet thinking can be summarized in one word: ignorance. The lack of knowledge about Soviet doctrine on India's development problems does not reflect disinterest in Soviet relations with India. On the contrary, the academic world is greatly interested in the Soviet Union's performance as a major force in the complex drama of Asian affairs. Economists want to compare the efficiency of Soviet aid projects with that of Western grants. Political scientists follow the relations that the various Indian communist parties have with Moscow. But the question whether communist theoreticians have anything relevant to say about India is a non-starter.
The crux of the problem came up time after time in my research. Soviet scholarship suffers from an extraordinary credibility gap among Indians. What little material Indian scholars have read is called by them "turgid," "monotonous," "unreadable." Worse than the poor style is the preceived low quality of the writing, dismissed time after time as "only propaganda," "jargon" or "rhetoric." Soviet scholars are considered not to be free to write what they want.
While liberal intellectuals ignore Soviet writing out of disinterest, Indian Marxists reject Soviet "hacks" with the contempt of jilted lovers. Soviet intellectuals are not searching for the truth, they say; they are dogmatic, sterilely using a pre-formed analytical framework so that it is futile to study what they write. Even within the Communist Party of India, the regard for Soviet theory on India is not perceptibly higher. None of the CPI's leading intellects reads Russian. As Mohit Sen, the party's leading theoretician, put it to me, Indian communists have been misled too many times by the errors of judgment and analysis made by Moscow for Soviet writing to enjoy the authority it had under Stalin. Once analytically bitten, twice ideologically shy.
The negligible intellectual and political impact in India seems typical of the effect throughout the third word. That Marxist vocabulary has found its way into the speeches and writings of many African leaders does not indicate they have fallen under the influence of the U.S.S.R., China or any other Communist power. True, Fidel Castro declared himself a communist and was formally admitted to the socialist camp, but this had far more to dow with raison d'etat than with raison ideologique. Others, such as Nasser, practised the "non-capitalist path" preached by the Soviets but invoked Allah, not Lenin, as authority. In Latin Ameria, each independent country's national intelligentsia considers itself best suited to work out the solutions to its own problems.
Although Soviet development writings continue to burgeon and to circulate in dramatically increasing volume around the world, there seems to be no rational basis to the subliminal fear still lurking in our cold warrior subconscious that the communists will lure the naive elites of the third world into their camp like some international Pied Piper. When future revolutions occur, they will be for reasons and with ideologists of their own.