The West sees the Russia it wants to see
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.