December 26, 2005


Review of Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World New York (Richard B. Speed, December 17, 2005, HNN)

As Andrew explains, Soviet interest in the “third world” went back to Lenin who had called for “world revolution,” and to the Congress of the Peoples of the East held at Baku in 1920. But Soviet hopes for revolution in the “east” had been disappointed until after the Second World War, when European empires in Asia and Africa began to crumble. With Joseph Stalin’s death and the emergence of Mao’s China as a competitor for worldwide revolutionary leadership, Nikita Khrushchev began to turn Soviet attentions to the former colonies. During the famous 1956 speech in which he denounced the crimes of Stalin, Khrushchev also asserted that “The new period in world history which Lenin predicted has arrived, and the peoples of the East are playing an active role in deciding the destinies of the world . . . .”

The successful revolution in Cuba a few years later seemed to demonstrate that even the nations of Latin America which Stalin had written off as a series of American puppet states, might follow Fidel Castro’s lead into the Soviet camp. This achievement, combined with the necessity to fend off the growing Chinese challenge for revolutionary leadership fired Khrushchev’s endorsement of KGB Chairman Alexander Shelepin’s 1961 proposal to “promote armed uprisings against pro-Western reactionary governments” in the “third world.” Khrushchev’s departure in 1964 did not diminish Soviet support for the strategy of third world revolution. Indeed it was enthusiastically supported by Leonid Brezhnev and his successor, the former KGB chief, Yuri Andropov. It wasn’t seriously questioned until the Afghan quagmire absorbed the attention of Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid-1980s.

According to Andrew, the KGB conducted an aggressive campaign against the “Main Enemy” in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which began in 1960-61 and lasted until the mid-1980s. As one young intelligence officer put it, “we were guided by the idea that the destiny of world confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, between Capitalism and Socialism, would be resolved in the Third World.” The Soviet Foreign Ministry however was never enthusiastic about this new turn. Under Andrei Gromyko, the Foreign Ministry continued to focus on the competition in Europe. Thus it fell to the KGB to lead Soviet policy in the “third world.” As Andrew writes, “The initiative for ‘global struggle’ came from the KGB rather than the Foreign Ministry.”

The book is organized into four major sections corresponding to Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Each section has several chapters dealing with KGB activities in the major nations and some of the lesser countries in each region. China and Japan are each treated in separate chapters. India, the “the Third World country on which the KGB eventually concentrated most operational effort during the Cold War,” is covered in two chapters as is Afghanistan, the nation where Soviet policy suffered its final defeat. KGB involvement in Middle Eastern terrorism is likewise covered in a separate chapter.

The general reader will find innumerable stories about such events as Indian diplomats seduced by Soviet “swallows” into turning over the embassy’s codebooks. Among other things, the book reveals that “Fear of a pre-emptive Soviet strike seems to have been a major reason for the Chinese decision to enter the secret talks . . . which led to . . . Sino-American rapprochement . . . .” In short, just as Richard Nixon was playing the “China card,” Mao was playing “the United States card.”

In the fifteen years or so since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, historians have been revising their understanding of that conflict in the light of new revelations from behind what was once known as the Iron Curtain. The World Was Going Our Way contributes to that process by demonstrating the centrality of the KGB to the “third world” struggle which dominated so much of the thirty year period after 1961. It also serves as a counterpart to the numerous works dealing with the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency which have appeared since the Church Committee hearings in 1975. Overall Andrew concludes that despite numerous tactical successes, often attributable to its “active measures,” the KGB’s effort to win the Cold War in the “third world” was a strategic failure.

Those of bus of a certain age spent decades being lectured by the Left about how the Marxism of the Third World was popular and entirely indigenous and how our attempts to help governments there defeat it was naught but Imperialism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 26, 2005 12:00 AM

When have they stopped lecturing us?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at December 26, 2005 11:09 AM

"In the post 9/11 world in which Americans wonder why they are so often reviled, it is worth noting that the Soviets and their allies fostered anti-Americanism whenever they could, often building upon older resentments. Andrew quotes a Czechoslovak agent as saying that Anti-American propaganda campaigns are the easiest to carry out. A single press article containing sensational facts of a new American conspiracy may be sufficient. Other papers become interested, the public is shocked, and government authorities in developing countries have a fresh opportunity of clamour against the imperialists while demonstrators hasten to break American embassy windows.

"The Soviets and their allies" included leftwingers of every form and shape and their inheritors today populate much of the Democratic party and the MSM. Their work is carried on, sans the USSR.

Posted by: Genecis at December 26, 2005 1:18 PM

Yes, but. . ..

Indications are strong that Boxer-Leninism has followed its parent into the ashheap of history.

Recall that the canard about "imperialism" was the Communists' attempt to capitalize (chuckle) on anti-white and anti-Christian reaction among those who felt themselves diminished by their neighbors' successes.

It failed. Santa Claus is riding Indian elephants now.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 26, 2005 1:29 PM