Americans-looking-at-Russians-looking-at-Americans: The ‘USSR Report. USA: Economics, Politics, Ideology’ Series from JPRS
In highlighting this month’s release of Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, we shift our focus from monographs and shorter individual reports to a single series, USSR Report. USA: Economics, Politics, Ideology. This will allow us to indulge in the meta-perspective of Americans-looking-at-Russians-looking-at-Americans across a broad range of issues.
Along with the shift in focus, we’ll travel forward in time as well, from the 1960s of our most recent releases, to 1980. Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev was in the last years of his life, the Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan, and the economy stumbled along at the tail end of what has been called the Era of Stagnation.
Meanwhile, the United States was boycotting the Moscow Summer Olympics in protest against the Soviet-Afghan War, Ronald Reagan was elected President, and the Iran Hostage Crisis was fresh in the nation's memory. Three Mile Island was still hot. It wasn't quite “morning in America’ (from Reagan’s 1984 campaign), but the Reagan presidency hinted at resurgence. What did the Soviets make of that?
Shift to the Right—Imaginary and Real
SSHA: Ekonomika, Politika, Ideologiya, Moscow, No. 12, December 1979. 17 pages
In hindsight it’s easy for Americans to view the dawn of the Reagan era as clearly portending a shift to the right. The Soviet author here parses a number of polls and official actions to describe a time in American politics when conservative elites were predominant despite being in the minority.
Writing of the influence of the Committee on the Present Danger, the hawkish, long-standing lobbying group of which Reagan himself was a member, the author notes “there are only several hundred people, but the majority of them are among the influential members of the ruling elite.” By contrast, the author cites political analysts T. Levitin and W. Miller writing for the American Political Science Association in saying that “the shift to the left occurred among less notable citizens, therefore both politicians and political observers could have easily ignored it.”
United States of America: With Old Burdens into the 1980s
SSHA: Ekonomika, Politika, Ideologiya, Moscow, No. 1, January 1980. 6 pages
Writing from the depths of the Soviet Union’s own economic morass, the author gleefully quotes Fortune magazine as confirming that in America as well, “In the economic sense, the last decade was fairly bad.”
But here as elsewhere in this series, detente was the primary concern. With the more conservative trend in foreign policy noted above and with America recovering from “Vietnam Syndrome,” military adventurism was making a comeback. This was a reasonable position to take in the era of MX missiles, neutron bombs, and the struggle to get the unratified Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II) treaty signed in 1979.
Women’s Equality: The Seventies in Review
SSHA: Ekonomika, Politika, Ideologiya, Moscow, No. 3, March 1980. 11 pages
It wasn’t always politics and plutonium in the pages of SSHA; the Soviets spent ample time on social subjects as well. They were very sympathetic to the goals of the National Organization for Women (NOW), and puzzled by the political intransigence against the still-unratified Equal Rights Amendment.
Although the author faults American society overall for its lack of progress in the class struggle, the tone here is largely favorable to the women’s movement in America: “It is obvious that the feminine consciousness has been elevated and the mass mentality has undergone an evolution.” Like the other authors featured above, she notes a “shift to the right in the attitudes of the ruling strata.”
Election Strategy of the President
SSHA: Ekonomika, Politika, Ideologiya, Moscow, No. 5, May 1980. 9 pages
From the second page: “The Americans have stopped participating in government,” he said in a TIME magazine interview. “They have lost faith in their officials, and the time has come to make some fundamental changes.” This could be any U.S. presidential candidate hoping to run as an outsider. It happens to be Jimmy Carter, whose campaign and presidency the author critiques in detail.
But a more interesting observation comes from the Soviets themselves at the end of this article, almost as an afterthought:
In 2007 the movie-going world would come to recognize this as Operation Cyclone, the beginnings of “Charlie Wilson's War.”
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