By Arnold Beichman

       The problem of determining whether to trust the Soviet Union under the Gorbachev leadership is that few people remember what President Gorbachev and his underlings said yesterday. In the light of the present Soviet crisis amnesia is dangerous.

             For an example of amnesia, let me cite the December 11 issue of Time Magazine. Strobe Talbott, one of its top author-editors, closes his essay with a quote from the omnipresent if not omniscient Georgi Arbatov, director of the Institute for the Study of the USA and Canada. Following President Gorbachev's United Nations speech a year ago, says Mr. Talbott, Mr. Arbatov told American visitors to Moscow:

       "We are going to do a terrible thing to you--we are going to deprive you of an enemy."

             How jolly, how sardonic. How useful it would have been had Mr. Talbott asked Mr. Gorbachev the following question:

       "Georgi, you wrote an article in the official magazine, The Communist, in which you said: 'There can be no question as to whether the struggle between the two systems would or would not continue. The struggle is unavoidable.' You were saying that we were doomed to be enemies. True, you wrote this in February 1973, and things have changed since. Yet a number of American scholars, Adam Ulam, Donald Kagan, Robert F. Byrnes and my friend, Arnold Beichman, have quoted this statement of yours as raising questions about the true attitude of the Soviet Union towards the United States.


       "So the question I would ask you is this: If you now think that 'the struggle between the two systems' is avoidable then what has changed since 1973? When and why did the inevitable struggle become avoidable? Lenin, of course, said that the struggle between the two systems was inevitable. I take it you now disagree with Lenin and that we are no longer doomed to be enemies. Could you let me have 1000 words explaining why this struggle is avoidable and, perhaps, you could so inform Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega?"

            Then there's the ominous statement made by President Gorbachev in an interview with the French Communist daily, L'Humanite, in 1986 which so far as I can find out he has never been asked to explain. President Gorbachev was asked whether the vestiges of Stalinism had been overcome in the Soviet Union? This was his answer:

       "Stalinism is a concept thought up by the enemies of communism to discredit socialism as a whole."

       That this was an accurate rendition of the interview can be seen in the fact that it was reprinted in Izvestia February 8, 1986, page 2. When a Soviet journalist was recently asked about the meaning of Gorbachev's statement, his only reply was that the questioner was a "dogmatist."

       But President Gorbachev still has to explain what this defense of Stalin means. His silence on Stalin and Stalinism may explain why former President Nixon wrote in his book, "1999: Victory Without War":

       "To a man [Stalin] who killed tens of millions of Soviet citizens Gorbachev gave a pat on the back and a slap on the wrist."

       President Gorbachev was sneering about the concept of "Stalinism" at a time when Soviet social scientists were competing with each other as to how many Soviet citizens had been actually killed by the man whose name is synonymous with genocide.

                Sociologist Igor Bestuzhev-Lada has suggested in an article in the Soviet journal Nedelya that 38-50 million people were repressed under Stalin. Nineteen to 25 million of the 150 million peasants had died or had been left "semi-living" during collectivization. As many people had been repressed or killed during the purges from 1935 to 1953, the year of Stalin's death.

Historian Roy Medvedev in an article in the Soviet journal, Argumenty i fakty, estimated that approximately 40 million people were repressed by Stalin. About 20 million of these died in labor camps, through executions, forced collectivization and famine.

               Isn't it time that experts like Strobe Talbott and other correspondents began to ask real questions and stopped accepting the pap that is handed out by President Gorbachev and the likes of Georgia Arbatov?


Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution Research Fellow, is a Washington Times columnist. His book on Soviet treaty diplomacy will be published next year.