President Reagan's Speech to the House of Commons June 8, 1982.
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 totalitarian evil?
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 point.
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
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,
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
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
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 tyrannies which 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
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 well."
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
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 destiny.