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Speech to the House of Commons, June 8, 1982.
We're approaching the end of a bloody century plagued by a terrible political invention -- totalitarianism. Optimism comes less easily today,
not because democracy is less vigorous, but because democracy's enemies
have refined their instruments of repression. Yet optimism is in order
because day by day democracy is proving itself to be a not at all fragile
flower. From Stettin on the Baltic to Varna on the Black Sea, the regimes
planted by totalitarianism have had more than thirty years to establish
their legitimacy. But none -- not one regime -- has yet been able to risk
free elections. Regimes planted by bayonets do not take root.
The strength of the Solidarity movement in Poland demonstrates the
truth told in an underground joke in the Soviet Union. It is that the Soviet
Union would remain a one-party nation even if an opposition party were
permitted because everyone would join the opposition party....
Historians looking back at our time will note the consistent restraint and
peaceful intentions of the West. They will note that it was the democracies
who refused to use the threat of their nuclear monopoly in the forties and
early fifties for territorial or imperial gain. Had that nuclear monopoly
been in the hands of the Communist world, the map of Europe--indeed, the
world--would look very different today. And certainly they will note it was
not the democracies that invaded Afghanistan or suppressed Polish Solidarity
or used chemical and toxin warfare in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia.
If history teaches anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant
facts is folly. We see around us today the marks of our terrible
dilemma--predictions of doomsday, antinuclear demonstrations, an arms race in
which the West must, for its own protection, be an unwilling participant. At
the same time we see totalitarian forces in the world who seek subversion and
conflict around the globe to further their barbarous assault on the human
spirit. What, then, is our course? Must civilization perish in a hail of
fiery atoms? Must freedom wither in a quiet, deadening accommodation with
Sir Winston Churchill refused to accept the inevitability of war or even that
it was imminent. He said, "I do not believe that Soviet Russia desires war.
What they desire is the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their
power and doctrines. But what we have to consider here today while time
remains is the permanent prevention of war and the establishment of
conditions of freedom and democracy as rapidly as possible in all countries."
Well, this is precisely our mission today: to preserve freedom as well as
peace. It may not be easy to see; but I believe we live now at a turning
In an ironic sense Karl Marx was right. We are witnessing today a great
revolutionary crisis, a crisis where the demands of the economic order are
conflicting directly with those of the political order. But the crisis is
happening not in the free, non-Marxist West but in the home of Marxism-
Leninism, the Soviet Union. It is the Soviet Union that runs against the
tide of history by denying human freedom and human dignity to its citizens.
It also is in deep economic difficulty. The rate of growth in the national
product has been steadily declining since the fifties and is less than half
of what it was then.
The dimensions of this failure are astounding: a country which employs
one-fifth of its population in agriculture is unable to feed its own people.
Were it not for the private sector, the tiny private sector tolerated in
Soviet agriculture, the country might be on the brink of famine. These
private plots occupy a bare 3 percent of the arable land but account for
nearly one-quarter of Soviet farm output and nearly one-third of meat
products and vegetables. Overcentralized, with little or no incentives,
year after year the Soviet system pours its best resources into the making
of instruments of destruction. The constant shrinkage of economic growth
combined with the growth of military production is putting a heavy strain
on the Soviet people. What we see here is a political structure that no
longer corresponds to its economic base, a society where productive forces
are hampered by political ones.
The decay of the Soviet experiment should come as no surprise to us. Wherever
the comparisons have been made between free and closed societies --
West Germany and East Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, Malaysia and
Vietnam -- it is the democratic countries that are prosperous and responsive
to the needs of their people. And one of the simple but overwhelming facts
of our time is this: of all the millions of refugees we've seen in the
modern world, their flight is always away from, not toward the Communist
world. Today on the NATO line, our military forces face east to prevent a
possible invasion. On the other side of the line, the Soviet forces also
face east to prevent their people from leaving.
The hard evidence of totalitarian rule has caused in mankind an uprising of the
intellect and will. Whether it is the growth of the new schools of economics
in America or England or the appearance of the so-called new philosophers in
France, there is one unifying thread running through the intellectual work of
these groups -- rejection of the arbitrary power of the state, the refusal to
subordinate the rights of the individual to the superstate, the realization
that collectivism stifles all the best human impulses....
Chairman Brezhnev repeatedly has stressed that the competition of ideas and
systems must continue and that this is entirely consistent with relaxation of
tensions and peace.
Well, we ask only that these systems begin by living up to their own
constitutions, abiding by their own laws, and complying with the international
obligations they have undertaken. We ask only for a process, a direction, a
basic code of decency, not for an instant transformation.
We cannot ignore the fact that even without our encouragement there has been
and will continue to be repeated explosion against repression and
dictatorships. The Soviet Union itself is not immune to this reality.
Any system is inherently unstable that has no peaceful means to legitimize
its leaders. In such cases, the very repressiveness of the state ultimately
drives people to resist it, if necessary, by force.
While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not
hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to
move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not
the sole prerogative of a lucky few but the inalienable and universal right
of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections.
The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure
of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties,
universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their
own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.
This is not cultural imperialism; it is providing the means for genuine
self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes
in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would
be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship
to democracy. Who would voluntarily choose not to have the right to vote,
decide to purchase government propaganda handouts instead of independent
newspapers, prefer government to worker-controlled unions, opt for land to be
owned by the state instead of those who till it, want government repression of
religious liberty, a single political party instead of a free choice, a rigid
cultural orthodoxy instead of democratic tolerance and diversity.
Since 1917 the Soviet Union has given covert political training and assistance
to Marxist-Leninists in many countries. Of course, it also has promoted the
use of violence and subversion by these same forces. Over the past several
decades, West European and other social democrats, Christian democrats, and
leaders have offered open assistance to fraternal, political, and social
institutions to bring about peaceful and democratic progress. Appropriately,
for a vigorous new democracy, the Federal Republic of Germany's political
foundations have become a major force in this effort.
We in America now intend to take additional steps, as many of our allies have
already done, toward realizing this same goal. The chairmen and other leaders
of the national Republican and Democratic party organizations are initiating a
study with the bipartisan American Political Foundation to determine how the
United States can best contribute as a nation to the global campaign for
democracy now gathering force. They will have the cooperation of congressional
leaders of both parties, along with representatives of business, labor, and
other major institutions in our society. I look forward to receiving their
recommendations and to working with these institutions and the Congress in the
common task of strengthening democracy throughout the world.
It is time that we committed ourselves as a nation -- in both the public and
private sectors -- to assisting democratic development....
What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term -- the march of
freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of
history as it has left other tyrannieswhich stifle the freedom and muzzle the
self-expression of the people. And that's why we must continue our efforts to
strengthen NATO even as we move forward with our zero-option initiative in the
negotiations on intermediate-range forces and our proposal for a one-third
reduction in strategic ballistic missile warheads.
Our military strength is a prerequisite to peace, but let it be clear we
maintain this strength in the hope it will never be used, for the ultimate
determinant in the struggle that's now going on in the world will not be bombs
and rockets but a test of wills and ideas, a trial of spiritual resolve, the
values we hold, the beliefs we cherish, the ideals to which we are dedicated.
The British people know that, given strong leadership, time, and a little bit
of hope, the forces of good ultimately rally and triumph over evil. Here
among you is the cradle of self-government, the Mother of Parliaments. Here
is the enduring greatness of the British contribution to mankind, the great
civilized ideas: individual liberty, representative government, and the rule
of law under God.
I've often wondered about the shyness of some of us in the West about standing
for these ideals that have done so much to ease the plight of man and the
hardships of our imperfect world. This reluctance to use those vast resources
at our command reminds me of the elderly lady whose home was bombed in the
blitz. As the rescuers moved about, they found a bottle of brandy she'd stored
behind the staircase, which was all that was left standing. And since she was
barely conscious, one of the workers pulled the cork to give her a taste of it.
She came around immediately and said, "Here now -- there now, put it back.
That's for emergencies."
Well, the emergency is upon us. Let us be shy no longer. Let us go to our
strength. Let us offer hope. Let us tell the world that a new age is not only
possible but probable.
During the dark days of the Second World War, when this island was incandescent
with courage, Winston Churchill exclaimed about Britain's adversaries, "What
kind of people do they think we are?" Well, Britain's adversaries found out
what extraordinary people the British are. But all the democracies paid a
terrible price for allowing the dictators to underestimate us. We dare not
make that mistake again. So, let us ask ourselves, "What kind of people do
we think we are?" And let us answer, "Free people, worthy of freedom and
determined not only to remain so but to help others gain their freedom as
Sir Winston led his people to great victory in war and then lost an election
just as the fruits of victory were about to be enjoyed. But he left office
honorably and, as it turned out, temporarily, knowing that the liberty of his
people was more important than the fate of any single leader. History recalls
his greatness in ways no dictator will ever know. And he left us a message of
hope for the future, as timely now as when he first uttered it, as opposition
leader in the Commons nearly twenty-seven years ago, when he said, "When we
look back on all the perils through which we have passed and at the mighty
foes that we have laid low and all the dark and deadly designs that we have
frustrated, why should we fear for our future? We have," he said, "come
safely through the worst."
Well, the task I've set forth will long outlive our own generation. But
together, we too have come through the worst. Let us now begin a major effort
to secure the best -- a crusade for freedom that will engage the faith and
fortitude of the next generation. For the sake of peace and justice, let us
move toward a world in which all people are at last free to determine their own