Soviet Men and Soviet Defectors
Major Sergei Ahkromeyev walked down Gorki Street in Moscow. He was on vacation and would be meeting his wife in a few days. In anticipation of that event, he was feeling even better than usual. Noticing a large sign which extolled the virtues of the "new Soviet man," he imagined himself in the muscular and triumphant pose of the hero on the sign. While the resulting image afforded him considerable amusement, he had, in fact, been made a Hero of the Soviet Union for his service in the siege of Leningrad. Even though he was slight of stature and bookish in appearance, that automatically qualified him as a New Soviet Man with a good deal left over.
A little further on, there was another sign, a brightly colored bar graph depicting sugar production from 1947 to the present, 1957, and also projecting it into the future. Like all the other such graphs, the plateau for each year was higher than the one before, and, again like the others, it soared upward into the wild blue yonder of the future. Major Ahkromeyev actually laughed out loud when it occurred to him that the same graph might be mass produced, some instances being labelled "sugar production," others "artillery production," others "production of musical geniuses," and so on.
Such a graph could also have been taken to represent his own promotion from private to major, in which case he would ultimately become a general, perhaps a field marshal. His friends considered that a likely outcome, but the major was himself a little sceptical of the mass produced graph.
On the other hand, Major Ahkromeyev didn't doubt the general upward tendency of everything, even after allowing for a certain amount of official hyperbole. The very street on which he was walking was, together with all its buildings, almost brand new. Stalin, whatever his shortcomings, had had the old Tverskaya Street pulled down, almost in its entirely, and Gorki Street put in its place. Moreover, the major had just come from Kharkov, which had been almost entirely destroyed in the war. There was a bright new Kharkov now, and the same thing was true of most of the other cities in western Russia. The western Europeans had rebuilt their countries with the aid of the American Marshall Plan. The Soviet Union had refused it, and had still built more faster.
Major Ahkromeyev was distracted by a stand-up cafe which served tea with bread and caviar. He would be eating dinner with some friends later, but that was hours away. He placed his order and considered his situation. As a staff officer now on assignment at a special institute, what in the west would be called a defense think tank, he knew a bit more than most officers. One thing he knew was that the Americans were due for some unpleasant surprises in the area of rocketry. They might then think twice about starting a nuclear war. The major had seen quite enough combat in the Great Patriotic War, and he had no desire to go through it again, much less a war with nuclear weapons.
Even more important were the true economic figures, not the ones that were released. No one on either side paid much attention to the official figures concerning the Soviet gross national product and the like. But his institute had access to the true figures, and they were closer to the published ones, and to the Americans, than most people would guess.
It was actually a bit of a puzzle to the major that the capitalist economies, with their lack of planning, had done as well as they had. He knew from his military experience that planning is everything. The battle may never go quite according to plan, but there has to be a plan to modify. To confront the enemy while allowing each soldier to do as he wished would certainly be disastrous. Some men would run, and others would attack foolishly. A few might improvise and cover each other, but even such arrangements would collapse in the ensuing rout.
The Red Army had been defeated by the German one in the early stages of the war because Stalin had interfered in the planning and confused it. What would those German generals have done to an army that didn't even believe in planning? And yet, capitalism amounted to that! A worker could work wherever he pleased. A mine owner could sell coal to anyone, and so on throughout the entire economy. The major felt that the Soviet economic generals would soon do to the Americans what the German army generals had done to them.
Sergei enjoyed his caviar. He didn't so much mind being a New Soviet Man. It was good, not only to have history on one's side, but to be alive at a time when Russia would finally take her rightful place at the top.
Some hours later, Tom Williams was just getting up in Bethesda. He was soon off for the National Gallery, but, this time, he took a gym bag with his newly purchased soccer kit. Checking it at the cloakroom, he spent the morning alternately wandering around the galleries and reading by one of the fountains. Mac Hollins had said to him,
"If you really want to understand any country, and its relation to others, not to mention the motivation of its leadership, you have to understand its economy."
That was a recommendation that he could hardly ignore, and he had found a couple of books and a collection of articles on the economy of the Soviet Union. Between programming and studying the Cold War, he hadn't had much chance to work on them during the week, but this was his opportunity.
Most of the authors showed a tremendous respect for Russian achievements. They had rebuilt the devastated part of their country, and they had, by far, surpassed their pre-war level of development. It was true, of course, that they somewhat exaggerated their progress. The Soviet authors in one volume filled even fairly serious articles with bar graphs trumpeting the increased production of almost everything. One of the western authors wondered out loud why they didn't also boast of having the largest number of horse- drawn wagons in the world.
Still, quite apart from such sniping, no one doubted that the Soviets had the world's second largest economy. It was also generally accepted that it was growing faster than the US economy. The great question was whether it would catch and surpass it.
Tom was reading one of the more specialized articles when he came on the passage,
"The backbone of the Soviet system is constituted by thousands of managers of plants and other enterprises. The manager is always the man on the spot. He must meet his production quotas. If he does not, he will be demoted and disgraced, and it may even be alleged that he has engaged in deliberate sabotage. If he meets his quota and goes a bit beyond it, he will get a bonus and favorable notice. But, then, his quota will be raised. If he keeps exceeding it, it will continue to be raised. Then, when something goes wrong, and he misses it, no excuses will make any difference. He must therefore, in the nature of things, be an exceedingly cautious person."
In a different place, Tom read that the manager's other great problem was the procurement of materials. He couldn't produce his quota of tractors if he didn't get his steel. He would thus insist that he needed twice as much steel as he really did, and hope that he would actually get a little more than half of what was promised. If so, he would hoard the extra against a rainy day. Similarly, if he produced enough tractors to get his production quota raised too much, he would hide some of them away in a secret warehouse in case he needed them for next year's quota.
According to the same writer,
"At the heart of the system is Gosplan, the central planning agency. All the material resources of the country, all the means of transportation, and all the means of production are organized in such a way that the materials are sent where they are needed in time to produce the greatest quantity and highest quality of goods, whether they be military or civilian."
It really sounded rather good. Nothing was left to chance or the vagaries of the market. Wherever there was an over-supply or an under-supply, the system could be fine-tuned. Eventually, the managers would learn that they didn't have to hoard to meet their quotas.
Tom had had his quota of Soviet economics by game time. He was the first on the field, having changed in the men's room of the Gallery, and, when John and Charles arrived, the former said,
"At least he looks more like a football player this week."
"I've been a football player most of my life. I'm trying to look like a soccer player."
Before John could reply, Charles said,
"That's all right, Tom. This isn't the game I count as football either."
"We've become embroiled in the English class system here. Nobs like Charles play Rugby, and call that football. Yobs such as myself play soccer and call that football."
Charles added helpfully,
"It's sometimes said that Rugby is a roughneck's game played by gentlemen, and that soccer is a gentleman's game played by roughnecks."
"I didn't realize I was making a class decision by coming out here."
It was Charles who said,
"One nice thing about America is that there are some acts which don't have social meaning."
After the game started, it had to be stopped once or twice so that it could be explained to Tom that he couldn't do such things as block opponents with his body. When he apologized, John said,
"It's all right. American footballers always seem to begin by doing those things. We let it go last week, but we'll bring you up to proper form soon."
Tom found, in this game, that he could begin to weave himself into the offensive patterns, receive passes, and pass the ball back. As before, he made up for lack of experience and expertise by running a lot and playing the ball all over the field on defense.
After the game, they again adjourned to the lemonade stand. When the others found that Tom proposed to go to dinner without first returning home to take a shower, there was some amusement. He pointed out,
"The interesting restaurants are all down here, and it'd take me a good two hours to return to Bethesda, shower, and get back here."
"I recall that there's a good deal of shrubbery about the foundations of the bridge near here. You could wade into the Potomac, bathe, and dry yourself by spinning and jumping around. No Russian would hesitate to do that."
It was, however, not clear whether America extended the freedom to act in quite that way. Carlos suggested,
"Go buy a bottle of after shave lotion and turn it over your head. Then go to a men's room and put on your clean clothes."
"I have the impression that American mores don't allow one to stand naked in front of a sink in a public lav in order to wash. But you could go into a stall and wash yourself by scooping up water from the toilet bowl. You could flush several times first, and the resulting water would probably be fairly clean."
Not content to plan Tom's return to cleanliness, the others searched his bag to see what clothing he had brought. As John said,
"We can't have you disgracing the diplomatic corps by wearing something outre to a respectable restaurant."
It was then that they came on the books about the Soviet economy. Boris exclaimed happily,
"So you're spying on the Soviet Union for the CIA, and you want my secrets! Now we know why you're playing soccer with us."
Tom did just manage to convince them that he wasn't working for the CIA, but they were a very knowing group of young men. They knew that he had some sort of intelligence function, but, as John pointed out affably,
"There are hundreds of intelligence organizations other than the CIA. All of us are used to dealing with them in one way or another."
It was then Boris who proposed,
"I'll tell my people that I'm getting secrets from you, and you tell your people that you're getting secrets from me."
It was a joke, but, then, perhaps not so much of a joke. At any rate, Boris picked up one of the books and initiated a discussion of the Soviet economy. He seemed to assume western economists would make light of the Soviet system and said,
"They think a system can't be efficient unless there's constant bidding for goods and services, and unless the price always reflects the supply and demand. But this western system is itself quite wasteful. The man who can bid the most isn't always the one who has the greatest need. In our system, we have third parties deciding objectively who needs what the most, and then arranging to supply it. Prices are little more than book-keeping devices."
Boris said that he had himself worked for Gosplan and added,
"It's very difficult work because no one requirement can be entirely separated from thousands of others. I'm a fairly smart fellow, but I wasn't quite smart enough for that kind of work. So I became a diplomat instead."
Tom had never heard anyone at that level say of himself that he wasn't smart enough to do a certain kind of work. There was evidently something in American culture which precluded it. It was Pierre who said,
"That's not the real reason. Boris likes being a diplomat because it offers so many opportunities with the ladies."
It gradually came out that Boris and Pierre were unmarried, and that they both took maximum advantage of their status. Tom had known boys who had lots of girl friends, and one of his fellow graduate students at Michigan was quite successful in that area. However, Boris and Pierre were supremely cosmopolitan young men who operated on an entirely different scale. They dallied only with beautiful elegant women who also had an important place in the world. Charles said,
"Boris and Pierre practice diplomacy with, and gather information from, the wives of a variety of well-placed officials, diplomats, and politicians. I keep asking them to have a go at mine so I can divorce her."
Charles seemed not to be joking. Tom was shocked, but none of the others did more than chuckle. It seemed to be assumed that attractive diplomats, whether married or not, would have affairs, and that they would choose their partners with their work in mind. Pierre explained,
"Of course, there's no question of sleeping with anyone who's ugly or lacks chic, but, even among highly attractive women, the choice is so wide that one can do one's country a bit of good and please oneself at the same time."
Boris then added,
"When I go out in the evening with Pierre, I have to take one of my colleagues along, which is a pity, and then we have to find someone for him, too. Pierre's awfully good about it."
"It makes it more interesting. One must, not only charm a woman, but then persuade her to at least be civil to a man who wears a modified boiler suit and speaks only in grunts."
The next Monday, Tom looked up the head security man at DRI. They had been ordered to report any contacts with eastern block people, on pain of being fired if the FBI discovered them independently. The security man replied,
"We aren't usually too much concerned if you meet a Russian diplomat at a party, or even if you play soccer with him every week. But that suggestion he made that you each claim to be spying on the other is a little tricky. It's obviously a joke, but jokes are sometimes rather serious. I know you work with Mac Hollins, so why don't you see what he thinks."
Hollins took the account quite casually and replied,
"We've got your report on record, so you're clear as far as the FBI is concerned. But it sounds interesting. You won't get any secrets from this man, but, far more important, you may be able to get some idea of his general outlook and way of thinking. Even better, you may get some inkling of the way the people above him think. He's senior enough to have contact with people who count."
Hollins then wanted to know as much as possible about Boris. Tom told him what he knew, and, when he suggested telling Boris about Hollins' published work, Hollins looked pleased and provided extra copies of some of his papers.
It was as Tom was leaving that Hollins said, as if in afterthought,
"While this is FBI territory, it's the CIA that delights in playing spy vs. counterspy. They're always encroaching on the FBI, and they could probably tell us something about your friend Boris. I was going to put you in touch with them anyway, and this is a good opportunity."
It took some public transport and a taxi to get to the CIA, and then, when Tom finally arrived, it seemed just like another government office building. Indeed, the part of the CIA that he saw seemed rather like DRI, but with a smaller overt military presence. Within that wing of the building, Tom was first taken to a Mr. D. O. A. Desmond, a friend of Mac Hollins. He was of roughly the same age, shape, and dimensions of Hollins, and was disposed to be jolly.
"Anyone with my name and initials is bound to be known as 'Dead on Arrival Desmond,' so I try to show enough life to at least dispute the imputation."
It was necessary to say something in reply, and Tom murmured indistinctly in the hope of indicating that he did find Mr. Desmond quite satisfactorily alive. Desmond then opened a file and announced,
"You've met a Russky, and he's suggested that you spy on each other."
Desmond looked over the tops of his glasses, and Tom surprised himself by replying,
He hadn't actually addressed anyone as 'sir' since prep school. The reputation of the CIA was apparently getting to him. Desmond nodded and said,
"You know, there are such things as jokes. This is one. As far as we know, your friend Boris is a genuine diplomat, not an intelligence agent operating under diplomatic cover. He gets in trouble with women now and then, which may eventually cause his head of mission to send him home, but we don't have any particular concern about him. There's just one thing."
Tom managed not to say 'sir' this time, and Desmond went on,
"You're what, twenty three and hardly out of college? Boris is some fifteen years older, and he's a man of the world. Don't try to play games with him. You know what you're not supposed to reveal, and, in the unlikely event that he presses you, drop him immediately. That's all."
It looked for a moment as if the interview were over. Just before Tom made to get up, Desmond went on,
"Now for the hard part. Mac's told me about your assignment. What sorts of information are relevant if one is trying to predict the date of a Soviet attack?"
Tom assented, and Desmond replied,
"In one way or another, half the people here are concerned with that question. Who, of all these people, should I send you to see?"
It wasn't clear whether he was asking himself or Tom, but Tom answered,
"I've learned a few things, but, of course, I've only scratched the surface."
Desmond was a methodical man, and a rational one. He set to finding out exactly what Tom did know. After the best part of an hour, he said,
"You don't need facts, you need to have contact with ways of thinking. I agree with Mac's suggestion that you cultivate Boris. You already know him, and Russians love prolonged and passionate political arguments. Debate capitalism versus communism with him. There's no reason why either of you shouldn't do that, particularly with your British friends in attendance."
When Tom again thought that the interview might be at an end, Desomond added,
"The area in which we can help is to provide you with a contrast to Boris. Let's have you talk with some defectors. They'll share more basic assumptions with Boris than you might think, and the ones we'll pick out for you will have had some sort of access. Between Boris and them, you might begin to get some feel for the way in which a high level official in the Soviet Foreign Ministry might react when he hears that there's a new crisis over Berlin."
That turned out to be it. Desmond turned Tom over to a very pretty secretary who guided him down practically endless corridors to the office of a man who dealt with defectors.
Mr. A. L. Seiss struck Tom as the prototypical smiling Nazi. He even spoke with a German accent as he said,
"You are from ze outside? Ve haf ze torture chambers in ze next room."
Mr. Seiss laughed at his joke with considerable gusto, and then welcomed Tom in more conventional terms. It turned out that he didn't really speak with a German accent. He did remark pleasantly,
"I'm doing my time in Siberia here. No one cares about defectors who've already been de-briefed and have nothing left for us. But someone has to hide and care for them. And then, there's sometimes a person like yourself who wishes to pick through the ragbag."
While the accent wasn't German, there was something in the intonation, the gestures, and the attitudes that was. Tom replied,
"Mr. Desmond thought I might be able to learn something about the attitudes of the Soviet ruling class by talking with some of these people."
Seiss nodded with approval and replied,
"You must realize that most of the people who interrogate defectors are stupid and short-sighted. Above all, they want information about the Soviet intelligence services. Failing that, they want performance data on aircraft, tanks, and ships. Anything else is ignored."
"Well, one of my objects is to discover the perception of the likeliness of war on the part of the Soviet leadership under various conditions. It isn't going to help me much to know either the top speed of the latest MIG or the dispositions of the NKVD."
"But it might help to know who Khruschev trusts the most. I do have one person, a woman, who might know, not quite that, but things of that sort. Our people totally underestimated her, and hardly listened to what she had to say. I told them they were making a mistake, but they ignored me."
"I'm not exactly an interrogator myself. I could hardly ..."
With a furious gesture, Seiss interrupted,
"It's better if you aren't! These people want to talk. All you have to do is listen. Buy them coffee and be sympathetic. Perhaps, after a while, a very occasional clever question. That's all. Besides, this woman is beautiful. You'll know what to do."
The lady in question turned out to be the former mistress of the head of the Mongolian communist party. Seiss said,
"Of course, Mongolia is a hell of a long way from Moscow, and no one pretends that Khruschev is going to consult with the head guy in Mongolia before he launches his pre-emptive strike. On the other hand, the leaders of the various national parties do form an elite high up in the main party, and, in time, it's the party that decides almost everything. This guy wasn't shy about his mistress. He took her everywhere, and she met everyone. She knows what kind of people they are."
In fact, this particular party leader had taken his mistress, Elizaveta Igorevna Kholmanskaya, to Paris for a meeting of the western communist parties. It was there that she defected. There had been hell to pay. There was even an attempt to kill her by a dissident French communist, perhaps acting under Russian instructions. The CIA had concluded that she must be important, and had brought her to America, where she wanted to come. Only later had her information turned out to be disappointing. Seiss, nevertheless, had her well hidden. As he said,
"She's probably safe enough. We don't kill Russians in Russia, and they don't kill Americans, or even their own defectors, in America. But we don't want them approaching her with any deals. And, anyway, since they tried to hit her once, it's better to be on the safe side."
"What if she doesn't want to talk to me?"
"I think she will. She's getting most of her financial support from us. And, of course, she's used to being obedient."
"Except when she defected."
"Yes. She's unpredictable. Still, there's nothing to lose."
Tom was sent to still a third CIA man to find out how to actually make contact with Madame Kholmanskaya. This man was elderly, with crew-cut white hair. Even though Tom was progressively going down the CIA hierarchy, Colonel D. C. Smith, USMC ret., exuded much more authority than either Desmond or Seiss. Tom didn't ask him whether he was known as 'Direct Current Smith', a name which seemed appropriate. The colonel led off by saying,
"If you aren't careful, you'll get this woman killed. If she's being watched and it's seen that she's visited by someone in your organization, the enemy might deem her dangerous."
Colonel Smith obviously thought that the dangers were much greater than did Mr. Seiss. The colonel might be being melodramatic, but, on the other hand, it was easy to imagine that the Smiling Nazi under-estimated dangers when they concerned other people. Colonel Smith would probably have liked a "Yes sir," but Tom instead gave him a civilian reassurance. The colonel then said,
"I'm one of two people who knows where she is, and that doesn't include Seiss. I'll tell you, but you must memorize everything and be certain not to write anything down."
When Tom returned to Bethesda, he found himself embroiled in still another kind of espionage. Hal Holmes was sitting on the doorstep. When Tom was still fifty feet away, he could tell by Hal's smile that he didn't know that Tom had called his father. Hal was, in fact, very pleased with himself. He said,
"I spent two nights in jail in a place called Silesia. The wife of the jailer did the cooking and it wasn't at all bad."
"Did they charge you with anything?"
"They charged me with all kinds of things. But they gradually discovered that I was a nobody with no money and no connections. It's like Georgia. They only want you if you can pay a hefty fine and help enrich the town. If you can't, they drop all charges and let you go."
Hal was absolutely delighted at having been taken for a Common Man. He had gotten on well with the other two inmates, the wife of the jailer, and even the sheriff. He said,
"The first night, they were a little rough. But, after that, they were very pleasant, both to me and to the other two guys in the jail. I think those small town people kind of identify with criminals."
Tom inferred from Hal's story that his father's agents had bribed half the town. But he was surprised that Hal, normally so suspicious in that area, seemed not to have an inkling of what must have happened. As they headed for the Hot Shoppes for something to eat, Hal said,
"I might go back to Silesia some time and hang out there for a while. It'd be interesting to see the town from a different perspective."
"I definitely wouldn't do that! Those small-town people are very changeable. They might remember some other charge and lock you up again."
"Oh, I don't think they'd do that."
"Don't push your luck. Leave well enough alone."
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
"Damn right I am!"
As they sat down and ordered, Tom wished that he could tell Hal that he would soon be interviewing a beautiful Russian defector. It might conceivably turn out to be a rather humdrum procedure, but Tom's fantasies were already extremely active.