Les Schaffer schaffer at optonline.net
Wed Jul 16 10:00:19 MDT 2003

     Today I received an hour-long phone call from Moscow. The caller is
an American a generation younger than I, who has been going there -- all
over the USSR when it existed, and all over Russia since it broke up --
for nearly forty years. He taught English there for a year in Soviet
times, is married to a Russian I know, and traveled with me -- just he
and I -- to Siberia five years ago for a stay in the city where my
father worked three-quarters of a century ago.
     Some of the things he told me are of direct interest to all
Americans, like that from which I drew the subject-heading above. There
has just been a huge celebration/exhibition in Moscow devoted to Gen. de
Gaulle, French resistance leader in World War II and subsequently
president. Why? I explain on the last page of my autobiography:
     "When the Yugoslav War was still on, the fifteen member states of
the European Union organized a military force for it. This gave Europe
armed might independent of U.S.-dominated NATO and potentially capable
of confronting Washington. The Union made friendly advances to Russia.
The object was clearly to realize a Europe united from the Atlantic
Ocean to the Ural Mountains, an idea put forth nearly half a century
earlier by French President de Gaulle. Much later, it had advanced to
the stage of an agreement on coordinated economic planning between
France and the Soviet Union in 1966, decades before Gorbachev trumpeted
the idea of 'our common European home.'"
     In conjunction with the celebration, the French and Russian
governments signed an agreement to build a fighter plane combining the
best features of the latest Russian Mig and French Mirage. Considering
that American top-gun fighter pilots and test pilots allowed to fly the
best Mig regard it as already equal to the best we have, and the Mirage
has a world reputation, that is very serious news for a U.S. government
committed to tell the whole world what to do.
     My caller reported a related fact of supreme interest. Both the
huge World War Two memorial begun under Yeltsin and the Historical
Museum right outside Red Square now have immense floor-to-ceiling
portraits of Joseph Stalin and huge displays devoted to him. As
Communist leader? No. As the ruler of Russia who led it to victory over
Hitler in the biggest war humanity has ever fought, in which the number
of men, tanks, planes, and artillery engaged on the Eastern front on
both sides simply dwarfed the largest forces the West ever put into
action, including the landing in Normandy. This is something on which I
can write with authority, because I was the United Press (now UPI)
Expert on Russia during that war, and half the American people daily
read the stories I shaped, usually signed only with the UP "bug."
Occasionally it circulated signed articles of military and political
analysis by me.
     The revived popularity of Stalin led my caller to another
observation. In the Russian heartland, where post-Soviet poverty is
still pronounced, there is widespread cooperation between the Communist
Party and the Russian Orthodox Church, the party supporting the funding
of new cathedrals and the church encouraging people to vote Communist,
which, in terms of that party's present stand, is essentially
Social-Democratic in the European sense.
     But poverty is declining rapidly. Polling is now well-developed and
reliable in Russia. My informant told me that one just published shows
30% of respondents checking off "just fine" [prilichno] in answer to how
they are getting along economically, 39% "all right," and the remaining
roughly 30% "poorly." In response to my question about beggars, he said
they are all over the place. When I asked him if he could describe them,
he found it difficult. I asked if it looked like an organized
undertaking, as in "Threepenny Opera." He brightened and responded:
     Moscow, with 9,000,000 people, has 3,500,000 cars! There were
perhaps a quarter-million at the end of Soviet times. I said everyone
knows that Moscow is a world unto itself, skimming the top off the
economy. What about elsewhere? He said a classmate of his wife's is in
charge of abortion provision throughout the country (Russia remains
centralized as always), and that her local representatives are totally
puzzled by the fact that women coming to abortion providers complain
bitterly of poverty but arrived in their own cars, totally impossible a
decade ago. His wife's son, just out of college, makes $300 a month but
drives his own car.
     My caller and wife invited Russian friends, not bigwigs, to a
farewell dinner at a fine restaurant. The bill came to $200. He took it
for granted that he would pay, but the guests insisted they could pay
their share. He reminded me that, in the Siberian city he and I had been
in five years ago, the principal of the privatized junior college
hosting us had, in true Russian style, thrown a lavish and excellent
banquet for us, and afterward apologetically asked us to foot the bill,
which we did.
     Neither my friend nor I have explanations for the economics of the
past few paragraphs, but I know from the fact that he and I had drawn
identical conclusions from our observations of 1998 that he is a keen
and accurate observer.
     Russia remains Russia in its respect for culture. It is currently
marking the seventieth birthday of superstar poet Yevtushenko, who was
very popular in the U.S. in the Sixties and who, in Moscow in 1990,
phoned me for information about his own country. He knows the difference
between a poet's intuition and a scholar's knowledge.
     Perhaps the note on which to close is present attitudes toward the
United States. I was told we are simply off the radar screen of most
Russians, just as they are currently off ours. They refer to Bush as a
"cowboy" and move on to matters of greater interest to them, although my
friend found, particularly in workingclass beer joints, bitterness to
the U.S. just beneath the surface, based on Clinton's failure to come
through with the lavish aid promised if Russia would turn to capitalism.
     By and large, he found people apolitical. From which I conclude
that Putin is apt to be re-elected, and the policy of increased
association with France and the European Union, ultimately directed
against U.S. hegemony, will continue to be pursued.
				William Mandel

The title of my autobiography, SAYING NO TO POWER (Introduction by
Howard Zinn), is based on my demolition of Sen. Joe McCarthy and later
of HUAC in hearings of 1953 and 1960. It is a history of how the
American people fought to defend and expand its rights since the 1920s
(I'm 86) employing the form of the life of a 30s AND 60s activist, one
who was involved in most serious movements: student, labor, 45 years of
efforts to prevent war with the USSR and Cuba, civil rights South and
North, women's liberation [my late wife appears on 50 pages], 37 years
on Pacifica Radio [where I reinvented talk radio, of whose previous
existence I had been unaware], civil liberties, and opposition to
anti-Semitism and to Zionism. You may hear/see my testimony before the
three different McCarthy-Cold-War-Era witch-hunting committees [used in
six films and a play]) on my website, http://www.billmandel.net  I am
the author of five books in my academic field, have taught at UC
Berkeley, and earlier held a postdoctoral fellowship, by invitation, at
Stanford's Hoover Institution.
 The book may be ordered through all normal sources. For an autographed
copy, send me $24 at 4466 View Pl.,#106, Oakland, CA. 94611

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