Western notions about the Soviet Union reflect the West's own state of mind. Various myths are fabricated which have nothing to do with Soviet reality. For example, many years ago the Soviet Union was held to be a paradise of equality, brotherhood, freedom and the like. Now the opposite myth dominates. It presents the Soviet Union as some kind of hell on earth.
Incidentally, the paradise myth took hold in the West during the repressive Stalin years. Yet the hell myth gained wide acceptance during the most liberal years of Khrushchev's regime.
What is going on here? Change in Western attitudes toward the Soviet Union is not a result of increased knowledge about the Soviet Union but rather an effect of changes taking place on a worldwide scale. The balance of power has shifted. The Soviet Union has emerged as an awesome world power which poses a threat to the West's existence. The hell myth became preferable for reasons of psychological and ideological self-defense.
Now all attempts to seek an objective understanding of the Soviet Union meet with distrust, indifference, and even reproach.
Real and primary traits of Soviet society are disregarded or underestimated, whereas imaginary and secondary traits are intently scrutinized and exaggerated. The desired picture is projected as reality.
Of course violent force and deceit do have their roles to play in Soviet society. Of course the Soviet people are discontented. Then again, can you name any society in which force and deceit have no part - in which everyone is perfectly satisfied with his living conditions?
The Soviet regime is not a political body forced upon the population from above. The people themselves constitute and uphold the regime. It is impossible to sever those in power from the general population. Try to reckon how many ministers, generals, professors, officers, managers, party officials, etc. exist in this society. Their numbers are so great that they and their immediate relations alone would suffice to form a state comparable in size to France, England, or West Germany.
Let us consider, for example, the small group in which I worked for 20 years. Ten people belonged to this group which was comprised of a director, one deputy, one party secretary, one trade union group leader, one member of the institute's party council, one delegate to the district Soviet, and so forth. In short, each of us fulfilled at least two functions of power.
Take any Soviet institution and look into its underlying organization; you will see just what the Soviet regime actually is. There are thousands of such institutions. They form a united whole. To unite them into one social body, millions of special representatives of power and control are needed. Moreover, each individual taken separately possesses some share of collective power, which means that every member of the society has some control over his colleagues.
Many Western experts point to the inefficiency of the Soviet economy - food shortages, catastrophic conditions in agriculture, technological backwardness, corruption, etc. They see therein indications of the Soviet system's failure.
This is a frivolous conclusion, however. If criteria adequate to animals living where water is plentiful are applied to the camel, the camel will seem to be an impossible absurdity. Yet it exists, nonetheless.
To understand how the Soviet Union manages to exist despite conditions such as those just mentioned, you must completely recast your system of categories and criteria. You must work out a system adequate to the nature of Soviet society. Then you will see, for example, that corruption is an integral part of the Soviet system of distribution. It becomes a crime only if it exceeds certain practically recognized norms. The majority of Soviet factories are not profitable to the Western way of thinking. Yet they continue to exist because they fulfill a certain vital function to this society. Seen in this light, they are in fact profitable.
Recently a conference on finding ways to spead democracy to communist countries took place in Washington. Here are some of its ideas as reported in the press.
* Recent developments in communist countries testify that a new era of democratic reforms and revolution for freedom has begun.
* The ''weaknesses of communist societies are becoming increasingly apparent.''
* ''The concessions that communist regimes make to popular sentiment and to economic necessity may sow the seeds of their transformation.''
* In short, communist regimes are moving in the direction of Western democracy with its attributes of pluralism, independent trade unions, free press , etc.
Those who hold such opinions can be compared to a man who concludes that the law of gravity is invalid after observing leaves being carried upward by the wind.