Old Thinking For New Suckers

Claremont Review of Books, Spring 1988.


This offering by the General Secre­tary of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R. reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon of some years back. Company big shots are sitting around the confer­ence table, in the middle of which is a large box. On the box is emblazoned the word “NEW.” A neophyte among those present asks, “But what’s new about it?” To which he receives the re­ply, The NEW is what’s new about it” As far as I can see, Gorbachev’s new thinking and Gary Hart’s new ideas stand about on the same level. The for­mer involved stamping a NEW label on some old Marxist-Leninist garbage, and the suckers are lining up to buy it-with the President of the United States at the head of the queue! It is page after page of the emptiest, windiest-and most God-awfully repetitious-rhetoric, and resembles nothing so much as the text of one of those seven-hour speeches that the Soviet leadership gives to the Su­preme Soviet, or at Party Congresses when they convene. I think I’d rather be tortured by the KGB, in the basement of the Lubyanka, than have to sit through one. If you live in that environment, you learn to sleep through the bulk of such speeches-with your eyes open, however-and to applaud on cue. But you also learn to become wide awake on a sudden when, by one or two words buried in the meaningless muck, hints are given of forthcoming changes in policy or personnel among the top brass.

Claremont Review of Books