A book which was popular during the Cold War years.

2233786-413-500There is a book published in 1970 which was very popular when I was a boy but has since disappeared from the libraries. The author was Andrej Alekseevich Amalrik (1938 – 1980) a Soviet dissident and the title of that small book was Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? Amalrik predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union first in 1980 but then the temptation of the Orwellian ‘1984’ proved too strong for him to resist. According to Amalrik, and I am quoting his own words: “Any State forced to devote so much of its energies to physically and psychologically controlling millions of its own subjects could not survive indefinitely.” He compared such State to a soldier pointing a gun at an enemy for a very long time: finally his arms, under the weight of the rifle, will tire and the enemy will escape. Then he added that: “The isolation has not only separated the regime from society, and all sectors of society from each other, but also put the country in extreme isolation from the rest of the world. This isolation has created for all—from the bureaucratic elite to the lowest social levels—an almost surrealistic picture of the world and of their place in it. Yet the longer this state of affairs helps to perpetuate the status quo, the more rapid and decisive will be its collapse when confrontation with reality becomes inevitable.” Amalrik’s predictions on the causes of the ultimate Soviet Empire’s break-up were a disastrous war against China – which was indeed a close call but was fortunately averted – and then ethnical antagonisms. He failed to take sufficiently into account the economy and the unsustainable expenses occurred during the arm race against the United States of America, a factor which in the end proved to be the real killer of the Soviet giant. At the beginning Amalrik’s work was mistaken for a dystopian tale, much like Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, not interpreted as a serious work of political forecasting coming from a far sighted intellectual who knew well the system. It became popular with common readers as a sort of clever oddity but was dismissed by academics and even by American experts working for the CIA. Today we know that some of his predictions proved correct while some were incorrect, to start with the wrong date of the collapse, which occurred seven years later than predicted, in 1991. In 1970 Amalrik was arrested for “defaming the Soviet State” and sentenced to three years in a labour camp at Kolyma. At the end of his term, he received three more years but due to his poor health and protests in the West, the sentence was commuted after one year. Expelled by the Soviet Union he died in a car crash in Spain in 1980. Will the Soviet Union Union Survive Until 1974? is in my opinion a study which could still be read with profit today in Hong Kong.


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