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"Oases of Creative Thought"

"Gorbachev Factor"

New trends connected with the rise of informal interest groups began to affect also the applied social sciences and, to some extent, the study of philosophy. Some of the more substantial adjustments of Soviet political, social, and economic thought during Brezhnev’s times occurred, in particular, in the fields related to the study of international relations and world economy. During the 1960s, when the CPSU had to engage in a fierce ideological dispute with the Chinese Communist Party, or in the 1970s, when Brezhnev sought to normalize relations and ease tensions with the West through the policy known as détente, the Soviet leadership felt a growing need for specialist information and expert advice to help elaborate its policies in the international arena.  

 
Georgy Arbatov 

As a result, foreign policy–oriented research institutes and regional and area studies think tanks within the USSR Academy of Sciences, such as the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (better known by its Russian abbreviation IMEMO), the USA and Canada Institute, and the Asia and Africa Institute, were allowed to engage in relatively unfettered research and were soon transformed into “oases of creative thought” (to use the phrase coined by Georgy Arbatov, the former director of the USA and Canada Institute).  

Scholars from the academic think tanks were often required to do policy-relevant work for state and party agencies, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the KGB, and the Central Committee. This ranged from a short briefing paper to a detailed forecast of possible developments in a specific country, region, or area of international relations to drafting official party documents and writing speeches for Soviet leaders. Such cooperation of the party-state leadership with specialists flourished under Brezhnev. As coordinating procedures were steadily refined, a division of labor between the party-government apparatus and the think tanks evolved. The party set the parameters of intellectual discourse by promulgating certain ideological axioms; the scholars could debate with relative freedom their specialist issues as long as they kept within those general parameters.

Foreign affairs specialists exploited the sanctioned leeway to describe the outside world in new ways, foreshadowing some of the ideas that would later inform Gorbachev’s “new thinking.” Readers of Soviet specialized journals were presented with a more rational picture of the West, no longer automatically militaristic and predatory. Scholars conducted debates on a number of important international relations issues, including the third world problems, regional conflicts, global issues, and arms control. The concepts of globalization and interdependence, which would become key themes of Gorbachev’s policies, were also popular with Soviet foreign policy experts and some economists, who argued that international cooperation was essential if humankind was to survive.

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