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Strategic Subversion

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					         Strategic Subversion

Power Through Subversion, by Lau-
  rence W. Beilenson, Washington, D.C.:
  Public Affairs Press, 1972. 312 pp.
  $8.00.

A  FEW FACTS about subversion are known
even to those whose historical knowledge
is limited to a high school course or a
series of popular surveys and novels. For
instance: how the French minister Vergen-
nes aided the American colonies in their
revolt against England, how the German
General Staff moved Lenin in a sealed car
so as to spur a socialist revolution that
would knock Russia out of World War I,
and how Lenin proved himself the classic
master of the revolutionary art. Behind
these are lesser-known facts that are never-
theless essential to an understanding of his-
torical cause and effect: such as the reasons
why Vergennes continued to pour out
 French treasure after the United States had
broken its alliance, the circumstances of the
revolts and revolutions that Lenin studied
in preparing his own, and the conservative
foreign policy that Lenin imposed on the
fledgling Soviet government-thus making
 Stalin rather than Trotsky his true heir.
   These facts, and many others about sub-
 versions promoted by such diverse figures
 as Catherine the Great, Louis XIV,
 Queen Elizabeth I, Pitt, and Palmerston
 are recounted in this book by Laurence W.
 Beilenson, whose earlier book The Treaty
 Trap (Washington, 1969) provided a time-
 ly and documented warning against relying
 on treaties for national safety. But Power
 Through Subversion is not a history of that
 art, much less a collection of cloak-and-
 dagger stories. It is, rather, a systematic
 analysis of the uses and limitations of sub-
 version as a political tool and its relation
 to other forms of political struggle. Despite
 the wealth of historical data used for illus-
 tration, the book belongs in the area of
 political science, to which Beilenson makes
 an original contribution. While popular in        America improved the French power posi-
 style, it is serious in scholarship and is im-    tion, whether or not the United States re-
 portant reading for those who write, teach,       mained true to its French alliance.
 or make decisions in matters of American              It was Lenin who pioneered in the use
 foreign policy and national security.             of subversion as a strategic instrument of
    Beilenson has formulated and demon-            foreign policy rather than as a tactical aux-
 strates a typology of subversion, making it       iliary in war. Under the “Lenin Adapta-
possible to speak precisely about the phe-         tion,” as Beilenson calls it, Communist sub-
nomenon in a total political complex. He           version is global rather than spotty. It does
 also demolishes a notion, dear to the hearts      not merely accept the political situation in
 of “operation” behavioralists, that political     the target country as it develops spontane-
 science can measure the chances that a gov-       ously, but promotes structural changes and
 ernment will be overthrown. Economic and          ideological movements (including those
 social determinists are fond of mustering         with no ostensible connection with Com-
 facts and statistics to prove that a given his-   munism) that erode the target political sys-
 torical event “had to happen.” But an in-         tem and narrow its regime’s freedom of ac-
formed observer in the late eighteenth cen-        tion. Furthermore, the spigot of Communist
tury would have concluded from objective           aid is not turned on and off. The building
facts, as did the Duke of Richmond, that           of revolutionary cadres is recognized as a
revolution was imminent in England, not            long-term task, even though the cadres may
in France. Some may feel that Beilen-              sometimes be sacrificed to immediate goals
son is going too far in declaring that the         of Communist diplomacy, as the Egyptian
overthrow of a government is utterly un-           Communist party was betrayed in favor of
predictable. He does show, however, that           a Soviet power base in the Levant. In a
the factors that lend strength to govern-          country such as the United States, the
ments and to revolutionary movements are           short-run emphasis may be placed on “in’-
far more complex and volatile than is com-         fluencing subversion,” particularly that
monly realized. The political scientist can-       which uses reputable members of the Es-
not escape the dilemma pointed out by              tablishment to defeat adequate defense
Kant that the more manageable (in modem            measures and to spread the euphoric illu-
terms the more computerizable) he makes            sion that Communism is no longer aggres-
his facts, the farther they depart from real-      sive. Yet Communists are constantly pre-
ity.                                               paring for “decisive subversion”-that
    As Beilenson shows, rulers and ministers       which overthrows a target government-
have made wide use of external subversion          secure in the knowledge that although the
-support or cultivation of dissident move-         time and place of opportunities cannot be
ments in rival states-throughout        modem      foreseen, they are as certain to arise some-
history. But they have always used it as an        where as lightning is to strike again.
auxiliary weapon in time of war or in p r e p         A central doctrine bequeathed by Lenin
aration for impending war. Such tradition-         is the rule never to risk the subversive base
al subversion was spotty, being limited to         by adventurous war. Except when attacked,
particular countries; it accepted political        as was Soviet Russia in 1941, Communist
and social conditions in the target countries      states will make war only when sure of win-
without trying to start or accelerate proc-        ning-in the case of war by proxy-sure
esses of change; and it turned subversive          of suffering no direct damage. Communists
aid on and off like a spigot, according to         will not risk damage to their nuclei to avoid
the shortrun interests of the subverting           loss of face. “If you are not inclined to
country. The first important innovator was         crawl in the mud on your belly,” Lenin
Vergennes, who saw that the existence of           once said, “you are not a revolutionary, but
an independent rather than a British-ruled         a chatterbox. ..    .” The Kremlin was not

214                                                                                Spring 1972
ready to fight about the Communist mis-         United States to regain the political of-
siles in 1962, despite Khruschev’s saber-rat-   fensive: something sorely needed for our
tling. (Beilenson might have added that it      own morale as well as to shift the balance
would not have fought in 1962 and would         of world power once more in our favor.
not fight now about a United States inva-
sion of Cuba, which is an important but by                      Reviewed by    KURTGLASER
no means vital interest of the USSR.)
   Communist global subversion cannot be
overcome, Beilenson concludes, by hoping
it will go away or ritually repeating that it          The Anatomy of Silence
has done so. While the Sino-Soviet split
-which like any other may end without
warning-inhibits outright military attack       The Dismemberment of Orpheus:
on the West, warfare has never been the           Toward a Postmodern Literature,
preferred Communist weapon anyway. Sub-
version is actually on the increase in Asia,      by Ihab Hassan, New York: Oxford
Africa, and Latin America, and it never            University Press, 1971. x     +
                                                                             297 pp.
was dependent on monolithic direction. Nor         $8.50.
can any comfort be had from the “conver-
 gence” theory: what Communists want is          IHAB HASSAN remarked in an essay pub-
power, not socialism.                           lished in the Winter 1970 Virginia Quarter-
   The Lenin adaptation gives the Com-          ly Review : “Finally, criticism, weighted by
munists many advantages in the global           its own skepticism, lags still behind the lit-
power struggle. One is that subversion, or      erature of its day.” He went on to point out
even effective countersubversion, does not      how much critics--especially academic crit-
fit the political style of Western liberal-     i c e r e m a i n tied down to the concepts of
ism. Another is that the nuclear stalemate      organic form and fail utterly to manage
prohibits offensive war against the Com-        any “sense of discontinuity.” Hassan has
munist bases. But these bases are them-         tried very hard in the past few years to
selves vulnerable to subversion, if Western     come to terms with the critical perform-
statesmen will make up their minds to           ance, to make it accommodate the radical
grasp the weapon and to approach the            changes experienced in the arts. Thus he
problem as Lenin did: analyzing the target      goes so far as to suggest that criticism
political system from the inside out rather     “should offer the reader empty spaces, si-
than from the outside in. Beilenson lists the   lences, in which he can meet himself in the
conditions that make internal subversion        presence of literature.”
feasible and, in the long run, likely in both       In some of his more recent essays Hassan
the Soviet Union and China.                     has begun to experiment with a form which
   The final chapter of Power Through Sub-      he has labeled paracriticism. There is
version outlines plans for an “American         something narrative and dramatic about it
Adaptation,” that is, for systematic aid by     as well as didactic. It comes dangerously
the United States to dissidents in Com-         close to being discontinuous and to rival-
munist-ruled countries. The details of Beil-    ling the condition of art. Hassan remarked
enson’s program need not be summarized          in the “Prologue” to his 1967 book, The
here: suffice it so say that the “American      Literature of Silence: Henry Miller and
Adaptation” would not involve the use of        Samuel Beckett that the critical act should
American troops abroad and would be rela-       “endanger itself, as literature does, and
tively moderate in cost. It would not, fur-     . . . testify to our condition.” This is what
thermore, do violence to republican politi-     paracriticism is all about. Hassan uses it to
cal ethics. What it would do is enable the      superb advantage in his Virginia Quarterly


Modem Age                                                                                 215

				
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