(July 2018; revised November 2019)
In 1992, for a period of five months, Vladimir Bukovsky was given access to the archives of the CPSU Central Committee in Moscow.
The new Russian government of Boris Yeltsin asked him to speak as a witness on its behalf at the forthcoming “trial of the Communist Party” (the CPSU or Communist Party of the Soviet Union). As a condition of his participation and support, Bukovsky required access to the internal documents of the Central Committee, the highest administrative body of the Communist Party and, therefore, of the USSR.
This might well prove the only opportunity, Bukovsky knew, for an outsider to read and record what those classified records said about Soviet activities at home and abroad. With a hand-held scanner, he copied several thousand pages of Secret and Top Secret documents, including KGB reports to the Central Committee, and brought them back to England before the trial ended on 30 November 1992.
Years later, when doubts were raised about the authenticity of certain documents, Bukovsky described how he set about copying them in the Central Committee archive.
Selected by a prominent Soviet-era dissident and a veteran opponent of the regime, this archive is a unique source on the post-Stalin years in the USSR. Moreover, it takes the story up to and including the short and ambivalent period of “glasnost” and “perestroika” under the country’s last Communist leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.
The documents found and copied by Bukovsky were analysed in his fundamental work, Judgment in Moscow: A Dissident in the Kremlin Archives (1st edn. 1995). It was published in French, Russian and German during the 1990s, but not in English. An expanded English edition finally appeared in May 2019.
This website is based on the pioneering work of Julia Zaks (1937-2014) and Leonid Chernikhov. Early in 1999 they made the most legible of the copied documents available online at bukovsky-archives.net and in the years that followed volunteer translators helped to make English versions of many of the documents.
The original documents have gradually found their way into Western archives.
1. Documents cited as evidence during the 1992 Trial of the CPSU, are today held at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, USA (Record Group or Fond 89, hereafter “1992 Trial”).
2. In 2006, the texts of 55 documents about Dissidents and the Soviet Regime (hereafter “DSR 2006”) were published in Moscow. Passed to the revived Moscow Helsinki Group by the National Security Archive at Georgetown University (Washington DC, USA), the collection was issued to mark the founding of the original MHG in 1976, thirty years before.
3. In 2017, Bukovsky entrusted his personal archive, including all the texts he copied in 1992 at the Central Committee in Moscow, to the Hoover Institution at Stanford.
To make effective use of the documents in this archive, it is important to appreciate how it was organised by Vladimir Bukovsky and Julia Zaks. (For specific detail, see “Using this Archive“.)
1. Soviet decision-making
As Bukovsky explains, in Chapter One of Judgment in Moscow, the Politburo and the Central Committee Secretariat reached decisions after considering various reports and recommendations: “Nothing was ever done on the spur of the moment.”
The organisation of this archive reflects that description.
The dated entries in the archive often contain a single document, reflecting the decision reached by the highest levels of the Communist Party.
Other entries may include a sequence of related documents, leading up to the formal decision and, in some cases, providing a follow-up on the consequences.
Example — One entry (10 September 1976*, 2066-A) contains no less than eight separate documents, spanning a period of three months. They concern reactions abroad to the abuse of psychiatry for political purposes in the USSR, and record the efforts of various Soviet organisations to deflect and neutralise that criticism.
2. The status of translations in the archive
One in five of the Russian documents in the online archive has been translated into English and uploaded to this website. Since many documents cover one and the same subject, e.g. Soviet subversion in Latin America, there is little point in translating each and every document.
Translations thoroughly checked against the original, and against others of a similar kind, are denoted by a single asterisk following the date, e.g. 5 January 1966* (St 132/11). Other translations await such checks and comparisons: they are distinguished by two asterisk after the date, e.g. 10 January 1975** (55-A/ov). Many short but important documents will be translated over the coming months. Their status is denoted by the suffix “tbt” (to be translated).
Whilst volunteer contributions, naturally, are welcome — many more can be found on the original 1999 Zaks-Chernikhov version — the translations offered on this website all conform to certain requirements. They repeat the bureaucratic formulations of the original Russian; they preserve the standard layout and form of words used on the specially printed blanks of the Central Committee; and a minimal annotation is provided for terms, organisations, events etc. that may not be easily understood or established by non-specialists.
3. Quality of the photocopies
The quality of the photocopies made surreptitiously by Bukovsky in 1992 varies considerably.
Some are clear and easy to read. Others are blurred and indistinct: many pages in the Central Committee archives come not from the original documents, but from their carbon copies. In some cases, an earlier reader has underlined a few or a great many passages.
Example 1 — In some cases, Bukovsky’s scanner copied the document in narrow strips that then had to be pieced together before being rescanned as individual A4 pdf files, e.g. 31 October 1941* see [R 31 October 1941].
Example 2 — In other instances, Bukovsky did not include the text printed vertically along the left-hand side of official Central Committee notepaper, e.g. 5 October 1979* (St 179/32) see [R 5 October 1979, St 179-32].
This makes the transcriptions from 55 original documents, published in 2006 by the Moscow Helsinki Group (A. Makarov, ed., Dissidents and the Soviet regime: what KGB and CPSU archives have to say) particularly helpful. The existence of such transcribed and annotated versions of the original text is noted in the individual files as, e.g. “DSR 2006 — document 14”, where a translation has been made.
4. Levels of Secrecy
The documents in this archive reflect varying levels of confidentiality.
They range from Secret and Top Secret (совершенно секретно) communications, to notes and memoranda that are yet further restricted in their readership: “Special File” (особая папка), “Special Importance” (особой важности), and, highest of all, “For Your Eyes Only” (Лично).
On 14 January 1992, six months before Bukovsky was allowed into the Central Committee archives, President Yeltsin signed a decree “On the Protection of State Secrets of the Russian Federation”. This “reinstated practically all the norms of secrecy of the former USSR” (Bukovsky). The new decree specified that no one might have access to the following:
- Any post-1981 documents;
- Any materials concerning post-1961 resolutions by the Central Committee Secretariat;
- Any materials classified “Special File”;
- Any post-1961 materials concerning the International, Foreign Cadres, International Information, Administrative Bodies, and Defence Industry Departments of the Central Committee, or post-1961 documents of the KGB and GRU.
And that was that, until it became an urgent necessity for Bukovsky to appear as a government witness in the trial of the CPSU. This pressing need, for a time, overcame the new restrictions and opened a brief window of opportunity.
5. The reliability of the documents
Are these documents the “Holy Grail” of Sovietology? Do they, finally, explain everything?
They certainly had a very restricted readership among the decision-makers at the top of the Soviet political system. Yet, as Bukovsky concluded, the 15-20 members of the Politburo or the Central Committee Secretariat were often still deceiving themselves and each other:
“It is impossible … to say what the members of the Politburo ‘actually’ thought. There was no way out of the enchanted circle of socialist realism. … These men were the supreme creators and administrators of that world … , and for them ‘reality’ was what the Party said it was.”
The contents of this archive, in other words, must be approached with the same care and scepticism required by any documentary source. Where necessary, annotations have been added to clarify, and in some cases correct, the content.
Example — Early in 1987, Filipp Bobkov, head of the KGB’s notorious Fifth Directorate, reported to the Central Committee on how Anatoly Marchenko met his death in December 1986 (4 February 1987*, 206-B). Bobkov’s description was brief and uninformative. In the same report he made statements about the attitude and behaviour of religious dissenter Alexander Ogorodnikov. He was now willing to collaborate with the Soviet authorities, or so Bobkov claimed. Other sources reveal this assertion to be a deliberate and defamatory falsehood.
6. Alternative, uncensored sources of information
For much of the same period, the samizdat periodical A Chronicle of Current Events (April 1968-July 1982) and, a little later, the fortnightly, Munich-based USSR News Brief (November 1978-December 1991) offer a refreshing alternative to the stilted language and frequently misleading content of the classified documents in this archive.
The Chronicle, with its numerous references to Bukovsky, is available online in Russian and English. The USSR News Brief is so far only available online in Russian.
12 September 2018
(revised 5 November 2019)