Judgement in Moscow (contents)

3.1 The Stalinist void

3.2 Our “Thaw”

== “TOO FEW” ==

3.3 Rebellious youth

3.4   Expediency and the Law

3.5   Glasnost


3.6   “Without the latter’s consent …”

3.7   What to do about Solzhenitsyn?

3.8   External costs

3.9   The psychiatric Gulag


For a long while I did not think such a turn of events was possible. Until Gorbachev appeared with “his” glasnost I had assumed the Communist system would collapse towards the end of the 20th century. Then, however, the change would be far more radical than what occurred. The inevitability of collapse was beyond doubt – but when would it happen, and how?

In the 1970s the question appeared largely theoretical. I recall the discussions prompted by Andrei Amalrik’s essay, Will the Soviet Union survive until 1984? Logically and, as we were to see, quite rightly, he described a scenario in which the USSR disintegrated into separate countries. He predicted that a war against China would set this collapse in motion, but that was not significant. Far more important was his main argument: the regime was increasingly sclerotic, the opposition (which included various nations and ethnic groups) was growing and, consequently, the Soviet Union would not survive a major crisis. Many of the books published around that time, Solzhenitsyn’s The Oak and the Calf and my memoirs, To Build a Castle, were essentially about the same subject.

That this idea was far more contentious to others, I only realised after I arrived in the West. What to us in the Soviet Union was obvious, thanks to our own experiences, was considered by most Westerners to be not merely debatable but the absurd and quite possibly dangerous ravings of émigrés. It was comparable, in their eyes, to the hubris of Cuban anti-Communists in the spring of 1961, confident that they would easily triumph over Castro at the Bay of Pigs. The West did not want to treat us seriously. At best, we were regarded as a curiosity. In Amalrik’s apt comparison, it was as though an ichthyologist suddenly heard a fish speak: it was curious, but the specialist remained sure he knew far more about the fish than the creature itself could tell him.

Western policy towards the Soviet bloc turned on this issue, however. If our description of the regime’s growing decrepitude was right, and we were correct in asserting that it could not withstand a serious challenge, the West should deliberately pile on the pressure, forcing the regime to squander its remaining resources. That, in part, was what happened in the early 1980s. The tougher policies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, coinciding with the crises in Afghanistan and Poland, forced the Soviet regime to over-reach itself, something it could not sustain. Ten to fifteen crucial years had meanwhile been lost. If in the early 1970s the West had followed our advice and ratcheted up the pressure rather than relaxing it under “détente” and, most important of all, if the West had mastered the tactics of ideological struggle, the Soviet Union would have collapsed in the early 1980s. The result would have been quite different. Then, at least, there would have been no doubt as to who the victor was and who, the vanquished. The healing process in Russia might have been as successful as in the Czech Republic.

In the 1970s one could only dream of such an outcome. We were afraid that the very opposite might occur – the West’s total capitulation to the Soviet monster. On this issue, Russian émigrés were more or less united and we did all we could to bolster the fainthearted West. How the Soviet regime would collapse, on the other hand, was a subject of debate among us. When Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Letter to the Soviet Leaders” was published in Paris early in March 1974 (he sent it to the Soviet leadership in September 1973, but received no reply) it provoked a storm of protest. Influenced to some degree by Amalrik’s book, his “Letter” first raised the problem of the transition from totalitarianism to democracy. Looking back, it is amusing to recall how Solzhenitsyn was attacked merely for suggesting that such a period of transition was unavoidable: after a total lack of liberty for so many decades it was unrealistic, in his view, to hope for the immediate triumph of democracy. In Western and certain émigré circles he was denounced as a demagogue – a supporter of monarchy, theocracy, and (almost) of a coup d’état. Immersed in his study of the 1917 February and October Revolutions, Solzhenitsyn wanted simply to warn against a repetition of a similar scenario in post-Soviet Russia. Today we can see he was much nearer the truth than his opponents.

My participation in this debate was largely accidental and involuntary. By 1976, when I was released from prison and expelled from the USSR, the discussion had degenerated to the point where Solzhenitsyn was being openly persecuted. I did not like speculating about the future. Such an occupation, in my view, was not only pointless: it was also harmful since it would further divide our very modest forces. What was the point in arguing about who might replace the Communists? They had no intention of stepping down and continued to starve our friends in their camps and prisons while the rest of the world, to borrow a phrase from biology, adopted “a submissive posture” in its dealings with the Soviet Union.

Having embarked on such a debate, the participants had reached the point where they began impugning each other’s motives. Each speaker swathed himself in the mantle of nobility, crushing his opponent with the moral superiority of his own goals. Let the intelligentsia talk about the future and it would inexorably conclude, with the lofty wisdom of all chatterboxes in history, that “nothing should be done now, because it might make things worse in the future”. That was the outcome on this occasion, although anything worse than the Communist dictatorship could hardly be imagined. Having argued ad nauseam and accused Solzhenitsyn, in passing, of all mortal sins, our intellectuals reached agreement that nothing should be done – God forbid: Communism might otherwise turn into a yet more terrifying beast, the National Bolshevism towards which the wily Solzhenitsyn was leading us. Professor of logic Alexander Zinoviev declared, with the incontrovertible manner of his discipline: “If I had to choose tomorrow between the Soviet regime and being ruled by Solzhenitsyn I would prefer the former.” Such a conclusion, it hardly needs saying, was very welcome to the Western establishment, which constantly stoked the fires of this quarrel. As a result, the Soviet regime appeared not so very bad after all: it was unnecessary to fight it – indeed it would be harmful to do so! Best of all, the dissidents had fallen out among themselves. They themselves didn’t know what they wanted, so it was not worth paying attention to what they said.

I tried to avoid getting involved but purely practical considerations demanded that I intervene, if only to end a squabble that had done us so much harm. It was like withdrawing troops from the front at the height of a war in order crush a rebellion at home. Leafing through my 1979 article, “Why are Russians quarrelling?” [1] I was curious to remind myself what I thought then about the transitional period.

Undoubtedly, predictions of an imminent revolution in the USSR are absurd, and it is as criminal to promote such a revolution as it is to promote terror. Only sentimental writers claim that revolutions happen because people are impoverished and have no rights, and take place now when the common people have been driven too far. No one fully knows why revolutions take place, but when a person is hungry and destitute he is more inclined to steal, riot, commit acts of insubordination or display a dull-witted subservience. When someone has no rights, he does not know what his rights might be and he is too humiliated to demand them. A competent government can always bribe the most gifted and energetic among this mass of atomised and embittered people. This leads to stagnation and degeneration, as we can see in the USSR today. In these conditions, were some magical external force to remove the existing administrative structures the result would be a catastrophe, leading to anarchy and mutual destruction.

Revolutions most often happen when true poverty and lack of rights lie far behind but the accumulated popular hatred and mistrust of the regime make any reform detestable and inadequate. In such circumstances an indecisive or incompetent government is a guarantee that revolution will occur.

It is extraordinarily naïve to expect that revolution will bring justice and liberty. Any social upheaval mobilises the dregs of society and then, in the words of the Internationale, they “who were nothing, shall be all!” Revolution promotes the most cruel, deceitful and bloodthirsty individuals, those with strong despotic characters who lead gangs of thugs. After a determined struggle the most cruel and crafty person among them will concentrate absolute power in his own hands. A revolution, in other words, always ends in tyranny, it does not lead to liberty and justice.

Could the same happen in the USSR? Regrettably, it could, but it is unlikely to occur soon. For the time being the regime is still strong enough to reject any reforms: the emasculated Kosygin reforms were not implemented as originally intended – and with good reason. The authorities realise that the present clumsy bureaucracy could not cope with the forces unleashed by any significant reforms. There are no more fearless young men waving Mausers who know how to combat chaos. The Communist regime in the Soviet Union is, probably, the most conservative regime on earth today. It found Khrushchev too revolutionary. Thus far, no significant social forces independent of the regime and capable of forcing it to reform have emerged in the USSR.

It may take any length of time for such forces to appear. It depends on the behaviour of the Soviet authorities, the international situation and yet other factors. Sad as it may seem, we should not expect rapid improvement, let alone radical change. In the present circumstances, economic difficulties will not force the regime to carry out significant reforms. All we can count on is the slow growth of independent forces in society against a background of stagnation and degeneration. So far, the contours of these growing forces have only been outlined: the national and religious movements, the civil rights movement (for the most part based on the intelligentsia) and the beginnings of a workers’ movement.

As I then conceived it, this “transitional” or preparatory period was represented by the struggle of social forces within the country “for autonomy”, a struggle that would result in “less and less totalitarianism and more and more democracy until a point has been reached when revolution is no longer needed. That transitional period, in my view, has already begun.” Consequently, our task was to widen and strengthen this movement and its non-violent traditions, and to secure its recognition and support by the West. When the final crisis of the Communist system arose, there would be a force capable of ensuring a transition that was the least painful and shed the least blood. All our efforts within the USSR and in emigration were directed to this end. Naturally, no one could then foresee all the alternatives, every twist and turn, but knowing the subsequent course of events I cannot find any serious flaw in my argument. Apart from a peaceful revolution there was no other civilised way to resolve this problem: it would allow us to avoid, on the one hand, appalling bloodshed and, on the other, the slow degradation and death of the country together with the Communist system. Yet for such a scenario to succeed homo sovieticus had to cease, at least for a moment, to be homo sovieticus. He had to reject the temptations of servile acquiescence and overcome his fear of punishment: he had to make an effort, to reach his own choices and simply become a human being.


Probably that is what would have happened, despite all the repressive measures, had not Gorbachev’s “perestroika” intervened. And we must suppose that the Central Committee, in its wisdom, invented this alternative as a way of avoiding such a denouement. Hoping that the system could be saved by such overdue and half-hearted reforms, the Central Committee then found itself faced by the prospect of just such a loss of control. The Communist regime ended as dishonourably as it had begun, caught up in conspiracies and plunged into putsches, dooming the country to collapse and disorder. For the Gorbachev “reforms” were aimed at preventing, at all costs, the emergence of the independent social forces that could have secured stability during the transitional period.

The regime was doomed. Before gasping its final breath, however, it did people one last bad turn when it dangled before them the illusion that the country could be cured without effort or sacrifice. Ordinary people, it should be said, put very little faith in Gorbachev’s trickery. The Communists, confident as always, believed it would take only a little manipulation to get the economy working, to fool the people, to rewrite history and enter paradise before anyone realised what was going on. When I saw, however, how easily and willingly the intelligentsia believed in the possibility of salvation “from above” I was stunned. The success of this deception, especially amongst the intelligentsia, was far more depressing than all the perestroika posturing of the Soviet leaders. Was there anyone who failed to see that renewal could not have emerged from the depths of a Party that, for the past fifty years, had energetically recruited all the country’s careerists and scoundrels? Surely it was clear that a country they had driven to catastrophe must be saved, in the first instance, from them – not with them!

Of course, it was clear. It had been discussed and agreed, sitting around Moscow’s kitchen tables as far back as the 1960s. The intelligentsia was, however, the most corrupted and compromised of all social groups in the USSR. Like Professor Zinoviev it “preferred” the Soviet regime, while complaining about it in every way. Now (what joy!) the Master had finally allowed freedom of expression in the press. How could they resist? How could they fail to praise the Master? The Soviet leaders deserve credit for adroitly conjuring up, on the very brink of disaster, the latest version of the “bloc of communists and non-Party members”, and they did so, moreover, on the basis of anti-communist sentiment. At the same time, contrary to Chekhov’s behest, it was evident that the intelligentsia had not spent the intervening decades, squeezing out the serf within them, by drops or trickles. The intelligentsia proved as easy to trap and entangle with Gorbachev’s carefully dosed “glasnost” as the country’s ignorant masses in 1917, which followed Lenin after he incited them to “seize what was theirs” (to expropriate the expropriators). In both cases, the phoney threat that the “former masters” might return made the masses, and the intelligentsia, an obedient weapon in the hands of the Communist manipulators. The Original Sin of Gorbachev’s “liberties”, after all, was that they were a gift. And that which is given, not won, has this in common with stolen goods, that it may always be taken back: what’s more, you may be punished for its temporary possession. What alternatives were there in such circumstances? Only to pray that the Master would not return and send you to the stables for a whipping.

Gorbachev’s “glasnost” corrupted and subverted the intelligentsia far more than Brezhnev’s censorship. However foul things may have been before 1986, certain criteria of decency and rules of moral hygiene had survived. Consequently, there were morally healthy people, while those who had become infected understood their condition and it was noticeable to others. The coming of perestroika and glasnost introduced a particularly loathsome era when there was no way of distinguishing the sick from the healthy, and any criteria were sacrificed to “save perestroika” from imaginary “conservatives”. The intelligentsia all began to sound and behave like the ageing “rebel” Yevgeny Yevtushenko; the entire country began to think and write like court dissident Roy Medvedev. Suddenly they were all politicians while decent people were nowhere to be seen; going against one’s conscience was grandly termed “political compromise”. They marched together. Yesterday’s oppressor was moved by his new-found liberalism, while yesterday’s liberal discovered he was not averse to a little repression.


This was greatly helped, of course, by the West’s unconditional support for Gorbachev. The situation within the Soviet Union, by no means easy, became hopelessly complicated as a result. At that moment of crisis “Western opinion”, in reality the views of the Western establishment, was just as infallible for vast numbers of people in the Communist world (unaccustomed to thinking for themselves) as Holy Writ was for practising Christians. If the “West” had proclaimed Gorbachev a hero and his “perestroika” democracy, then who in Russia would dare dispute it?

There were plenty in the West who wanted to believe Gorbachev’s nursery tales or, at least, thought it was reasonable to support the hard work of those implementing perestroika. They indeed appeared to be making an effort. The Berlin Wall came down; Soviet troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan; Article 6 of the 1977 Constitution, which gave a leading role to the Communist Party, was repealed; Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago was published; and nobody was imprisoned for political offences. What more could one want? “You suffered too much at their hands,” people told me. “That’s why you’re incapable of being objective. There must be some point beyond which the Soviet regime ceases to be Soviet and the Communists cease to be Communists, and then our hostility should be replaced with friendship.”

What could I say? How could I explain to people who had never lived under Communism that it was not so much a political system or a criminal regime as a mass contamination comparable to an epidemic, like bubonic plague? You cannot take personal offence at what plague does to people, nor can you argue or reach agreement with it. Either you fall ill or you do not. Consequently, there is no way in which this plague can undergo “perestroika” or reform. You must tackle the disease with all your determination. The person who has ceased to fight the plague and becomes apathetic, as a rule, does not survive.

The unthinking euphoria in the West undermined the last opportunity to defeat Communism and, in so doing, removed the remotest chance of Russia’s recovery. It was as if at the end of World War Two the allies had demanded not the “unconditional surrender” of Nazi Germany but made do with the country’s “perestroika”, a certain liberalisation of the regime. Where would Europe be today if that had happened? There would certainly be no democracy but, to use an elegant phrase about former Communist countries, Europe would find itself in a “post-totalitarian period”. Marshal Petain would be the hero who saved France, unlike the irresponsible opportunists of the Resistance whose extremism obstructed the reasonable “reformers” in Vichy.

The results in the USSR were disastrous. Among other consequences, it made possible an emerging split within our movement, pushing one part headed by Sakharov into a suicidal union with the leaders of perestroika. Former political prisoner Father Gleb Yakunin called on people to vote for former KGB General Oleg Kalugin, who had organised the murder of dissidents. How could one know a true democrat from one of Gorbachev’s fakes? I shall never forget how Gorbachev opened the Congress of People’s Deputies, his imitation of a parliament, in the spring of 1989, by inviting Sakharov, with a broad gesture, to address the assembly. He thereby gained a screen for all his own deceit and for the manipulation and falsification of the dying regime. “Andrei Dmitrievich, please take the stand…”

That scene rises before my eyes today. It reduced almost thirty years of stubborn work to build up independent forces within society to nothing. To be fair, Sakharov understood his mistake. Not long before his death in December 1989, he tried to create an opposition party and called for a campaign of civil disobedience against the Gorbachev regime. By then, however, it was too late.


History has pronounced its verdict. The Communist regime collapsed despite the entire world’s efforts to save it, thereby confirming what the fish had tried to tell the ichthyologist. It was decrepit and could not be reformed; it should and it could have been dismantled. The threat of nuclear war would disappear only with the disappearance of the Soviet Union. The Communist reformers, so beloved of the West, left the scene without creating a “socialist model of the market”. What was left in the 1990s was a ruined country without a future or any hope of salvation, where gangsters ran the show and millions of impoverished inhabitants wandered, apathetic and downcast, past the ruins of their homes.

3.1 The Stalinist void

I copied hardly any archival documents about the repressive measures of the Stalin period; just a few that particularly astonished me by their cynicism. It was a conveyer belt of arrests and executions that, like all Soviet industry, had to meet its plan targets and never stopped working. We already knew most of these stories from books and what others had told us. The everyday inhumanity of certain documents, however, made an impression even on me. Knowledge is one thing: seeing a scrap of paper with Stalin’s pencilled note condemning several thousand people to death at a stroke of his pencil, is quite a different matter (31 December 1938*): “Permit Krasnoyarsk Region 6,600 additional ‘1st category’ arrests. Stalin, I.V.”

The scale of the country’s transformation was so great that the Soviet leaders took no interest in individuals. People were also counted in thousands and tens of thousands, and divided into “categories”. When the Republics and Regions of the USSR met their target for “Enemies of the People” they reported back to Moscow, just as they did about grain harvests or milk production. Then, as was the custom under Socialism, they asked permission to demonstrate their ardour by “over-fulfilling” the plan (4 February 1938*, No 95/ch):

The troika has completed its work within the targets set for the Region and convicted 9,600 kulak, SR, rebel and other anti-Soviet elements. In addition, kulak-White Guard elements who were carrying out subversive work have been uncovered, giving a total of up to 9,000 kulak-anti-Soviet elements throughout the Region.

The Regional Party Committee requests that an additional “first category” target of 3,000 be established and a “second-category” target of 2,000, with an extended deadline of 20 March.

Regional Committee Secretary, Yu. Kaganovich.

After consultations, the Soviet leadership in Moscow agreed that the executions (“first category”) and arrests (“second category”) should continue and, we may imagine, went out to enjoy an evening at the Bolshoi Theatre. Or consider this Politburo decision (17 February 1938*, Pb 58/67): “Permit the Ukraine NKVD to arrest additional kulak and such like anti-Soviet elements and examine their cases before the troika, raising the target for the Ukraine … to 30,000.” The special troika in any Region usually consisted of the first secretary of its Party Committee, the head of the local NKVD and the chief procurator. Naturally, there was no way they could cope with such a volume of work. During 1938 alone the targets were raised several times, deadlines were extended, and the entire murderous process threatened to run out of control. Finally, in the autumn of that year Stalin, ordered the troikas to be wound up and any new cases transferred to the courts (15 November 1938, P64/22).

It is hard to believe that anyone who lived through that period, as either executioner or victim, remained normal. Could the one be distinguished from the other? A year before, for instance, an NKVD officer informed Yezhov, then head of the secret police, that the machine was not running smoothly in the Kuibyshev Region (31 October 1937*):

Several days ago, the workers at one of the collective farms of the Kuznetsk district complained to a visiting official of the Party’s Regional Committee that a mass murder had been committed during the night not far away. On investigation, it proved that eight Enemies of the People had been shot dead in the woodland during the night on orders of the special troika. The head of the NKVD in the district was expelled from the Party the night before for having been linked to the unmasked Enemies of the People. He committed a provocative, hostile act by not taking measures to ensure that those shot were buried.

He was arrested. The executed Enemies of the People were buried.

Because of poor security at the investigation offices of the Kuibyshev Region NKVD there were two cases when Enemies of the People who were being interrogated jumped out of the window. One jumped onto the street and was killed.

How many did they murder? I did not come across a figure for those who were shot. From a February 1939 report to Stalin by NKVD chief Beria and Procurator-General Vyshinsky it follows that, from 1927 onwards, the troikas and special boards of the NKVD (and its predecessor, the OGPU) sentenced two million, one hundred thousand people to terms of imprisonment and internal exile (5 February 1939, 530/B). This does not take into account the regular courts and tribunals that were tirelessly at work, nor does it include the mass expulsion of “kulaks” during the collectivisation of agriculture in the early 1930s.

Of course, the years 1937 and 1938 became particularly notorious because the Communist leadership was itself affected. For ordinary people, other times were little better. The beginning of war in June 1941 did not ease their burden. Entire nations were deported and millions of prisoners of war were transferred from German to Soviet concentration camps. It is less well known that the warlike spirit of the troops was also sustained through repression. “From the beginning of the war to 10 October 1941 657,364 soldiers who left their units and deserted from the front have been arrested by NKVD Special Sections entrusted with protecting the rear of the army,” the deputy head of the Special Sections, Commissar Milstein, informed his boss Lavrenty Beria (31 October 1941*):

Among those imprisoned by the Special Sections are:

Spies          1,505

Saboteurs ……          308

Cowards ……     2,621

Deserters ……    2,643

Scare-mongers ……    8,772

Those spreading provocative rumours ……  3,987

Self-mutilators ……  1,671

Others …..       4,371

Total:  ……     25,878

In accordance with the decrees of the Special Sections and the verdicts of the military tribunals 10,321 individuals were shot, 3,321 of them before their fellow soldiers.

That was only at the front during the first three months of the war. For the NKVD, the front extended across the entire territory of the Soviet Union. The cruel ingenuity of their methods was taken to absurd extremes. Many of their so-called operations were made public only in 1956 during the “Thaw”, when the Party Oversight Committee re-examined the cases of Party members imprisoned or executed without having committed any crime. One case may serve as an illustration (4 October 1956*, St 1061):

… it has been established that in 1941, with the permission of the NKVD in Moscow, the Khabarovsk Region NKVD set up near the border with Manchuria, a fake Soviet border crossing, a “Manchurian border police post”, and “a local Japanese military mission”, all in the area of the Kazakevichi village. NKVD officers referred to this in correspondence as “the Mill”. It was their idea to use the simulated Soviet border crossing, Japanese border and intelligence-gathering organisations to test Soviet citizens they suspected of being engaged in hostile activities.

… The ordeal at the so-called Mill began with a suggestion to the person suspected of espionage or other anti-Soviet activities that he carry out a mission for the NKVD across the border. After obtaining the agreement of the “suspect” there was a staged transfer of the individual onto Manchurian territory from the phoney Soviet border crossing followed by his capture by Japanese border authorities. The “arrested” person was then transferred to the premises of the Japanese military mission where he was interrogated by NKVD officers posing as officials of Japanese intelligence and Russian White Guard émigrés. The task of the interrogation was to make the “person being tested” confess to the “Japanese authorities” that he had links with Soviet intelligence. To this end exceptionally tough conditions were created, aimed at breaking the individual psychologically, using various threats and forms of physical pressure.

… At the end of the interrogations, which sometimes continued for days or weeks, the “arrested” person was recruited by representatives of “Japanese intelligence” and sent into Soviet territory to carry out a mission. This provocative game concluded with the arrest by the NKVD of the “person being tested”. He was then sentenced by the NKVD special board to a lengthy term of imprisonment or execution.

From 1941 to 1949 (inclusive) 150 people were processed by this “Mill”. They were subsequently rehabilitated, for the most part posthumously. This entire undertaking was condemned during the Khrushchev period as an “anti-State” operation, but none of the officers involved suffered serious punishment. Most were pensioned off and General Fedotov, the man who invented this hellish “Mill” and oversaw its operation, merely faced “Party discipline”. There is nothing surprising in this. Almost the entire leadership of the Soviet Union was implicated, one way or another, in the so-called Stalin repressions – starting with General Serov, who now headed the KGB and had been directly involved with the Khabarovsk “Mill” (12 September 1956*) [2], and ending with Khrushchev himself.

Brezhnev’s career began comparatively late, but he also managed to participate in this nationwide annihilation during the last years of Stalin’s rule. On becoming first secretary of the Moldavian Communist Party in 1950, he asked if he might be given additional targets for the expulsion of hostile elements (6 October 1952, No 10931). By then the “class struggle” had become much less heated. A few pitiful remnants, by some miracle, had survived the previous purges: 735 “kulak” families (2,382 individuals); 735 individual “kulak” farmers; and members of various sects (Jehovah’s Witnesses, 850 families; and 400 families of Innokentievites, Archangelists, Subbotniki [3], Pentecostalists and Seventh-Day Adventists): in all, some six thousand individuals. Not a very good catch, but vigilance must be maintained.

These were Stalinist officials and one could not expect them to be particularly strict in their condemnation of “individual violations of socialist legality during the Cult of Personality”. Especially since they did not intend to end political repression as such. Contrary to common opinion, the “Thaw” did not go very deep. The style and scale changed, but not the essence. It is curious, much later, to note how KGB head Yury Andropov excused himself before the Central Committee in 1975. Frustrated by our campaign to defend human rights in the Soviet Union, Andropov said that many more had been imprisoned under the “liberal” Khrushchev than he himself had managed to send to prison or the camps since 1967 (29 December 1975*, 3213-A):

As concerns criminal charges against the so-called “dissidents”, by which the West usually means persons prosecuted under Articles 70 (Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda)[4] and 190-1 (Circulation of knowingly false fabrications, denigrating the Soviet system)[5] of the RSFSR Criminal Code, the figures are as follows. For the period from 1967 (Article 190-1 was introduced in September 1966) up to and including 1975, 1,583 persons were convicted under these Articles. During the previous nine-year period (1958-1966) 3,448 persons were convicted of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda. Incidentally, in 1958, i.e. during a time, as it happens, that the West frequently refers to as the “period of liberalisation”, and when N.S. Khrushchev made his statement (27 January 1959) about the lack of “prosecutions for political crimes”, 1,416 people were convicted under Article 70, i.e. almost as many as in the past nine years [1967-1975].

The West always preferred to think in stereotypes and make a liberal of each new Soviet leader. No one escaped this praise: neither Stalin, nor Khrushchev, nor Brezhnev, nor Andropov – not to mention Gorbachev. This, one must suppose, was an expression of the constant Western dream that the Communist threat would somehow vanish of its own accord, without struggle or risk.

And the people who nursed this dream were not the worst. The worst proposed to choke the Soviet python “with kindness”, surrendering to it body and soul. I remember how the British intelligentsia turned on me in 1978, after the appearance of my book To Build a Castle, because I was insufficiently respectful towards Khrushchev and his “Thaw “. There was no limit to their indignation, especially in The Guardian, which has always known, better than us, about life in the Soviet Union. If Khrushchev did differ in some way from all the other Soviet leaders since Lenin it was in his rather naïve belief in the rapid triumph of Communism. While the West was getting ready to award him the laurels of a liberal, he was energetically preparing for that victory. A Top Secret (Special File) document (3 September 1953**) contained a Central Committee Resolution for setting up a “special section” within the Second (Intelligence) Directorate of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs. Its tasks were

… sabotage at the major military-strategic and communication installations on the territories of the main aggressive States, the USA and Britain, and on the territories of other capitalist countries being used against the USSR by the main aggressors.

… carrying out acts of terror [crossed out by hand and replaced by “active measures”] against the most active and ill-intentioned enemies of the Soviet Union among individuals in capitalist countries, especially dangerous foreign intelligence agents, the heads of anti-Soviet émigré organisations and traitors to the Motherland.

All measures of this new special section were to receive “preliminary examination by and sanction from the Presidium of the CPSU Central Committee”, and the Resolution was authorised by “N. Khrushchev, Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee”. A fine liberal, wasn’t he? For those of us imprisoned during his “Thaw”, this document is no revelation. The murder and abduction of émigré leaders was a well-known practice at that time, as was the Khrushchev innovation of incarcerating people in psychiatric hospitals.

The course of partial de-Stalinisation after the Leader’s death was inevitable and, as we can now see from the documents[6], the first person to propose it was not Khrushchev but Beria. Naturally, it was not his kindly nature or a striving towards the purity of Leninist ideas that led him in this direction: it was a fierce power struggle. At Stalin’s death Beria headed both the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of State Security. He had access to the archives of both organisations and used them against his opponents. Beria began the process of rehabilitation for those convicted in cases where his rivals, but not himself, had been involved. In so doing, he set the terms for the entire post-Stalin struggle for power. Khrushchev and his supporters could do nothing but eliminate Beria and adopt his methods. The genie had escaped from the bottle and it was now impossible to put it back.

It is curious to note that Beria, who is remembered in history only as Stalin’s secret police chief and a pathological murderer, was, it seems, an imaginative politician. His struggle for power was not limited to a campaign of selective rehabilitation. He also foresaw a new course of destalinisation for the Party. He proposed that agreement be reached with the West to reunify Germany as a neutral State in return for 10 billion dollars, something the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Gorbachev achieved far less successfully 35 years later. It is easy to imagine how the West would have idolised Beria if he had won the struggle for power in the USSR. The post-Stalin period would have been called the “Beria Thaw” and no one today would remember Khrushchev.

The campaign of rehabilitation under Khrushchev was far less honest than most people then imagined. Almost until the end of Khrushchev’s time as Party leader, for example, the families of those executed on the orders of the troikas were told lies about the fate of their loved ones. A note provided to the Central Committee by KGB head Semichastny (25 December 1962*, 3265‑S) showed that an instruction had been issued in 1955 that citizens interested in the fate of persons executed by the decision of extra-judicial bodies were to be told that their relatives had been “sentenced to 10 years in a corrective labour camp and died in a place of detention”. The reason for establishing this practice, he explained,

… was that many individuals were unjustly convicted during the period of mass repression, and information about their real fate, therefore, might have a negative effect on the position of their families. Furthermore, it was considered that informing the members of the families of those who had been shot of the true fate of their relatives might be used by certain hostile elements to the detriment of the interests of the Soviet State.

The existing practice of giving out fictitious information for the most part concerns those Soviet citizens who were innocent and shot on the decision of extra-judicial bodies during the period of mass repression.

As a result of the re-examination of criminal cases from 1954 to 1961 about half of the total numbers shot by extra-judicial decisions have been rehabilitated. Relatives of most them have been told details of their deaths, which supposedly occurred where they were detained, and these details do not correspond to reality.

Semichastny did not suggest that the Central Committee admit it had been lying and tell people the whole truth. He merely recommended that those who now requested information “be told in person the real circumstances of death”. In any case their number, he wrote, was decreasing year by year. Henceforth “the registry office record of their death would indicate the date of execution without specifying the cause of death, as the Military Board of the USSR Supreme Court does when recording deaths of persons shot after a verdict in court”.

In other words, we did not then know the whole truth about that horrific period. We possessed fragments, incidents and stories about those “secretive, almost legendary times”, as Vysotsky so aptly put it. Soon people began digging up the once concealed mass burials. You could not reconstruct the truth from those scattered bones, but did we really want to know the truth? I am afraid that insane era will always remain a black, frightening void in the popular consciousness, no matter how many new documents we may find.

3.2 Our “Thaw”

Probably that is why I put more trust in the legends and songs, the pictures and sounds of my childhood. They provide, in my view, a more accurate reflection of that time. While the pictures in my memory are invariably a dirty grey with coarse-grained images, like old photographs or the cinema newsreel of those years, the sound of my childhood is a steady, tense hum of engines, disquieting and alarming, somewhere beyond the horizon. It was as if my childish ear could detect what adults constantly engrossed in their own concerns did not hear: the hellish machine of the State in operation.

It was a period of anguish, almost hysteria. There were the pompous Stalinist parades, with salvoes of fireworks and May Day demonstrations in which half Moscow took part. Meanwhile, we lived a wretched beggarly existence in barracks and communal flats, with endless fights and drunken abuse, the cripples always round the beer stalls and young hooligans who gathered down the side passage into the courtyard. The less appealing life became, the greater the heroic spirit projected through the loudspeakers, out on the street and inside each flat. Everyone was supposed to be a hero, that’s what the famous song said: “When the country orders us to be heroes / each one of us a hero will become”.

The liberated man of socialist society must become a Superman, conquering nature, turning back the rivers and transforming deserts into blooming orchards. There was an implacable logic at work. To create heaven on earth, after all, we had to achieve miracles every day. They were “made-to-order” heroes. Always half-starved, always in workmen’s padded jackets or military uniform (I can remember no other clothes from my childhood), while Soviet pilots stormed the heavens and our explorers conquered the North Pole. With little but their bare hands these “heroes” dug canals, erected dams and built the largest industrial complexes in the world. The triumphant proletariat strode from victory to victory, demonstrating the unshakable power of collective labour.

This State romanticism, naturally, did not tally with the realities of our existence. Mayakovsky was a gifted writer and, no matter how much he wanted to glorify the feat of those who built a “garden city” in the impenetrable forests, he could not help conveying the crazy nature of the situation: “The workers sit in the mud / chewing their rain-soaked bread “. You can just imagine that picture. His emotional, not to say hysterical, conclusion carries no conviction:

I know the city will rise
I know the orchards will bloom
when such people are to be found
in the Land of the Soviets!

Of course, “such people” will not build any “garden city” if they cannot build themselves a clean canteen and protect their bread from the rain, but prefer to sit submissively in the mud. These are not heroic warriors and conquerors of chaos, they were zeks in all but name.

Heroism is a cruel concept for it is based on the idea of self-sacrifice. When raised to the level of a State ideology it also becomes absurd. Nature does not provide us with many heroes, and in any epoch no nation possesses many. What then is meant by “mass heroism”, something so stubbornly exalted by the system, if it is not a mass and by no means voluntary form of self-sacrifice? Put simply, it means mass murder, just as the “conquest of nature” means its barbarous destruction. It was only much later that the people of that time, looking back, saw that the superhuman and the inhuman were identical. A few were inflamed with enthusiasm. The rest trembled with fear while the most cynical demagogues rose to positions of power and died in the successive purges. It was a generation that burned itself out, exhausted by work beyond its strength, perishing in the camps, sacrificing itself in “class struggle”, and all for no good reason. The sacrifice proved pointless. The magnificent canals and dams transformed the rivers into putrid bogs while the gigantic industrial complexes turned once flourishing regions into desert. It was as if nature, that eternal “Enemy of the People”, had decided to wreck the Party’s grandiose plans.

A further absurdity is that, like any emotional outburst, a heroic impulse may be easily stirred but quite impossible to regulate, let alone direct for the exclusive benefit of the State. The system tried to create “Soviet Man” but this was as impossible as an obedient rebel, a conformist revolutionary or a cowardly hero. This explains, on the one hand, the intoxicated anguish, the fights and the crime waves and, on the other hand, the endless and fantastic lies. The country cannot order you to be a hero only at certain hours of the day and in certain circumstances. If you have been brought up since childhood on the example of someone who used his own body to block the enemy’s machine gun, or of a girl who was tortured to death by the SS rather than give away her comrades, it is hardly possible to reconcile yourself to the atmosphere of lies and secret denunciations in which you are forced to live.

In any case, this romantic propaganda must have greatly complicated the work of State Security. It is astonishing to learn, for instance, that there were individuals processed by the NKVD “Mill” near Khabarovsk who did not give in either to the “Japanese” or to the “Soviet” side. After many weeks of torture the State Security officers had to shoot them without trial to conceal what they were up to. One astonishing act at that hellish “Mill” sends shivers up and down the spine (4 October 1956*, St 1061, p. 5): “On 21 November 1947 a Soviet citizen, Yan Lin Pu, who worked as a cook at the phoney border post (the official name of the fictional “Japanese military mission”), was incensed by the treatment handed out there. He broke the plates and destroyed all items of Japanese manufacture. Fearing that Yan Lin Pu might flee across the border, section head Popov and underground agent Chu Tsin Lin shot him”.

The unfortunate individual who jumped out of the NKVD investigations office window in Kuibyshev and died from the fall onto the street below also performed a feat of courage, exposing at the cost of his own life the lawless behaviour of State Security. How many were they, those who did not give in, who were not broken and who died, scratching and biting, without a hope that later generations would remember them with thanks? History has not preserved their names. Only the legends have survived, but they ensured that evil did not swamp the entire world and become a generally-accepted norm.

Strange as it may sound, the war introduced a certain normality after the paranoid ravings of the 1930s. A quite real enemy appeared, as did a genuine threat to the lives of one’s family and, therefore, a quite understandable need to risk one’s life to save them. For the same reason, however, Stalinist patriotic propaganda so successfully infected the wartime and post-war generations with the virus of heroism. We grew up without knowing anything other than war, destruction and death, and from an early age thought how we could most dearly sell our lives: “While in the basements small boys longed to hurl themselves at tanks” [7]. Evidently, it was not just a matter of propaganda. Sometimes I think we were simply born with some mysterious goal implanted in our genes. In its last desperate effort to survive, it seems, the nation gave the earth a generation of kamikazes who, if Hitler had ever reached Siberia, would still have torn his hordes to shreds. Europe was very lucky that the war ended before we grew up. Still, the war came to an end and the tearful Soviet kamikazes were deeply disappointed (“there wasn’t a bullet for me”), and already proved incapable of doing anything but fight.

The consequences for the Soviet regime were alarming. The country was swept by a wave of criminal romanticism and, no matter how the regime fought against it, it would remain the dominant “ideology” among the young and, in the end, outlived the Communist ideology. When allowance has been made for post-war disruption, a fatherless generation and so on, the opposition to the State behind this impulse is obvious. These romantics emerged from the unlit courtyard side-passage (“from the gutter”). They were not drawn from among the Komsomol volunteers on the construction sites of Communism who, if they found themselves in the camps, suffered the most ferocious retribution. By 1956 “juvenile” offenders formed almost 40% of the camp population and the 22 commissions, sent out across the country by the frightened Central Committee to investigate this phenomenon, testified that they could not be tamed (22 August 1956, St 21/4).

Wartime heroism also stirred a spirit of resistance in the nation. There were uprisings in the camps, and outside the camps, which shook the very foundations of the system. Change had become unavoidable, even if Stalin had lived longer. His death was a turning-point, of course. The wave of uprisings in Eastern Europe, and especially the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, were undoubtedly linked to his demise, and they electrified the atmosphere in the Soviet Union itself. We did not have to throw ourselves at tanks. That fell to our contemporaries in Budapest and earned them our admiration. I suspect that most the 1,416 arrested in 1958 for anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda[8], were imprisoned “for Hungary”, as the phrase then was. Leaflets, arson attacks or simply the refusal to take part in Soviet elections were common occurrences (5 March 1957, 465‑S).

The intelligentsia also revived, especially those surrounding the country’s major physicists for whom the microbe of free thought had never been fully exterminated, even under Stalin. “Landau has gathered around him a group of theoretical physicists from among anti-Soviet and nationalistic scientists of Jewish ethnicity,” KGB head Serov reported to the Central Committee (19 December 1957*). It was curious to read that report in 1992. Seventeen pages long, it was composed for the most part of remarks, very typical for the intelligentsia at that time, uttered by Lev Landau[9] and overheard by State Security:

Identifying the rebels with the Hungarian nation and working class, he characterised the events in Hungary as ‘the Hungarian Revolution’, a ‘very good, joyful event’ in which ‘the warrior-nation was fighting for its freedom.

“… The Hungarian Revolution means that almost the entire Hungarian nation has risen against its enslavers, i.e. against a small Hungarian clique and mainly against our clique.

“… They are the true descendants of the great revolutionaries of all times… What they have now demonstrated is worthy of emulation. I am ready to get down on my knees before Hungary.”

Talking of the policy of the Soviet government on this issue, he declared:

“… They have decided to bespatter themselves with blood.

… The people running our country are criminals.”

On 12 November 1956 Landau was asked, during a conversation at his apartment, about our actions in Hungary, whether “if Lenin came back, his hair would stand on end”. He replied:

“… Lenin also got his hands dirty. Remember the Kronstadt Rebellion. That was a filthy business. The working class in Petrograd and the sailors at Kronstadt rebelled. They put forward the most democratic demands and were answered with bullets… It’s a fascist system.

“The first thing they did as early as October 1917, in the space of a few months, was to seize power and transfer it wholly into the hands of the party apparatus. Without delay they established the Party principle of expropriating the expropriators. They did all that for sound reasons.

“… It was no mistake, it was what they believed. That was how they carried out the revolution.”

When asked, “So, the whole idea is flawed?” Landau replied, “Of course.”

“I consider that as long as this system exists there will never be any hope of it leading to something decent. The very idea is comical. I’m not counting on it.

“… Now the possibility, which I had never entertained, of a revolution in this country has arisen. Only a year ago it would have seemed laughable to think of a revolution here but it isn’t laughable. It will happen, it’s not inconceivable”.

That is exactly how we thought and felt then, from a teenager to a member of the Academy of Sciences. It was that belief, and certainly not faith in the “liberalism” of the Soviet leaders, that accounted for the “Thaw “. It gave rise to our movement and our struggle against the sudden return of winter. Those who have not lived in perpetual anguish, who haven’t heard with their own ears the hum of the hellish machine of State, those who have not prepared from childhood to hurl themselves at a tank, will not be able to grasp the meaning of our struggle.

As for the country’s leaders, from Khrushchev to Gorbachev, they tried to extinguish this spark of hope, rightly seeing it as a threat to their own power. For them the Stalin period forever remained a “golden age”, about which they wished to remember nothing apart from the official legends. Thirty years later, as the following Politburo exchanges show, their only regret on the eve of “perestroika” (12 July 1984*, Pb) was that Khrushchev had rocked the boat too hard during the struggle for the succession. How they wanted to rewrite history and cross out all the zigzags of the “Thaw “. How they missed the clear vision of the Leader and Teacher, with his steady hand and his eagle eye, fixed on the future! How they sympathised today with Stalin’s elderly comrades-in-arms …

CHERNENKO. In addition to today’s agenda I would like to inform you about certain letters I have received.

As you know, we have taken a decision in response to one of these letters. It was a request from Molotov[10] to be re-admitted to the Party. I saw Molotov and talked to him. He received our decision with great joy and almost shed a tear. Molotov said this decision marked his second birth. He is now 93 but looks quite sturdy and speaks firmly. He declared that the Politburo has preserved and continued with determination the work which the Party had conducted. It’s just bad, he said, that you work until late at night as we did. Molotov says he takes an interest in the newspapers and reads the periodicals. You are managing things properly, he declared, and that is why the people support you.

USTINOV. That’s an important assessment on his part.

CHERNENKO. Molotov said he does not understand people who would be in opposition because of their grudges. He realises his mistakes, he declared, and has drawn the necessary conclusions. After our conversation, Victor Grishin at the Moscow Party Committee gave V.M. Molotov his Party card.

TIKHONOV. All in all, we have behaved correctly in restoring him to the Party.

CHERNENKO. However, after this the CPSU Central Committee received letters from Malenkov and [L.M.] Kaganovich. There was also a letter from Shelepin in which he declared that he was “a consistent opponent of Khrushchev” and he sets out certain requests. Let me read out the letter from Kaganovich. (Reads letter.) A letter of similar content, with an acknowledgement of his mistakes, was sent by Malenkov.

TIKHONOV. Perhaps we won’t do anything about these letters?

CHERNENKO. For the meanwhile we may do nothing about these letters and agree to return to their consideration after the 27th Congress of our Party [due to be held in 1986, tr.].

USTINOV. In my view, Malenkov and Kaganovich should be allowed back into the Party. They were important figures, leaders. Let me speak plainly. If it had not been for Khrushchev the decision to expel these people from the Party would not have been taken. There would not have been the scandalous outrages that Khrushchev permitted in relation to Stalin. Whatever you may say, Stalin is our history. No enemy did as much harm to us as Khrushchev, with his policy towards the past of our Party and State, and towards Stalin.

GROMYKO. In my view, this pair ought to be allowed back into the Party. They were among those who ran the Party and State and for many years were in change of particular areas of work. I doubt that they were unworthy people. For Khrushchev, the main task should have been to select people for particular jobs and not to expose the mistakes made by certain individuals.

TIKHONOV. Perhaps we could return to this issue at the end of this year, or the beginning of next?

CHEBRIKOV. I would like to inform you that Western radio stations have already been reporting for some time that Molotov has been allowed back into the Party. Moreover, they claim that the toiling masses of our country and our Party know nothing about it. Perhaps we should put an announcement in the Information Bulletin of the Central Committee that Molotov has been re-admitted to the Party?

As for the re-admission to the Party of Malenkov and Kaganovich I would ask that we be given a little time to draft a report about the resolutions they wrote on lists of the repressed. If they are allowed back into the Party we may expect quite a few letters from those who were rehabilitated in the 1950s and, of course, will be opposed to their readmission to the Party, especially Kaganovich. We must be ready for this. I think the Politburo should have such a note to hand when it takes a final decision.

TIKHONOV. If it hadn’t been for Khrushchev they would not have been expelled from the Party. He discredited and disgraced us and our policies in the eyes of the whole world.

CHEBRIKOV. Furthermore, a number of people were unlawfully rehabilitated in Khrushchev’s time. They had been punished quite correctly. Take, for example, Solzhenitsyn.

GORBACHEV. I think we could manage without publishing an announcement that Molotov has been re-admitted to the Party in the Central Committee Information Bulletin. The section for organisational and party work could inform the Party regional committees about this in its regular briefing.

As concerns Malenkov and Kaganovich, I am also in favour of re-admitting them to the Party. The time of their readmission, moreover, does not need, evidently, to be linked to the forthcoming Party Congress.

ROMANOV. Yes. They are already elderly and could die.

USTINOV. In my assessment of Khrushchev’s activities, I am ready, as they say, to fight to the death. He did us a great deal of harm. Just think what he did to our history and to Stalin.

GROMYKO. He did irreparable damage to the positive image of the Soviet Union in the eyes of the outside world.

USTINOV. It’s no secret that the Westerners never loved us. But Khrushchev gave them arguments and materials that discredited us for many years.

GROMYKO. It was thanks to this, in fact, that so-called “Eurocommunism” came into being.

TIKHONOV. And what he did to our economy! […]

GORBACHEV. And to the Party, dividing it into industrial and agricultural organisations!

USTINOV. […] In connection with the 40th anniversary of the Victory over fascism I would suggest another issue for discussion. Should we not change the name of Volgograd back to Stalingrad? That would be well received by millions of people. But that, as they say, is an idea to be pondered over.

GORBACHEV. There are both positive and negative aspects of this proposal.

TIKHONOV. Recently a very good documentary film, Marshal Zhukov, was released, which provides quite a full and fair depiction of Stalin.

CHERNENKO. I’ve seen it. It’s a good film.

USTINOV. I must make sure to see it.

CHERNENKO. As concerns the letter from Shelepin, he requests that his material provision finally be raised to the level of former Politburo members.

USTINOV. In my view, what he has received since he retired is quite sufficient. There’s no point in him bringing up such matters.

CHERNENKO. I think that we shall limit ourselves, for the time being, to an exchange of opinions on these issues. But as you yourselves understand we shall have to return to them.

TIKHONOV. We wish you a good rest during your vacation, Konstantin Ustinovich.

CHERNENKO. Thank you.


“There are too few of you,” people always told us: “what can you do?” We would always agree, “Yes, we are few.” Asked how many took part in the democratic movement or the number of political prisoners in the USSR we always preferred to underestimate. Sorry, we explained, that was the kind of society and country we lived in, where no more willing participants could be found. When people in Russia, especially those of my age, posed the same question in the early 1990s, I would add: “If you had joined us, there would have been at least one or two more.” They always found weighty and convincing arguments why they could not possibly have done so.

At the time, we also said it was not a question of numbers, or of practical results. What mattered was the principle of inner freedom and the individual’s moral responsibility, something that should be a normal human need, like the need to breathe, eat or move [11]. No one wanted to hear a word about that, however. There was already a great deal of philosophy in our life while the practical results were few. Why should people give up a normal life, and their careers, and go to prison – for their own good? What good did that do? With so few hopes for the future, and so many past decades of terror that (one might think) had uprooted any normal human impulses, there were more of us than we could have believed. Our influence on the regime, meanwhile, was of greater significance than we ourselves suspected. A superficial acquaintance with Central Committee documents was enough to convince me of this. The sheer quantity of material was astonishing.

The KGB reported literally everything, describing every trivial aspect of our movement to the Central Committee. Each time the Central Committee, and sometimes the Politburo, had to take a decision: the fifteen busy men who ruled the Soviet Union were informed not just about the searches, arrests, trials and terms of exile we endured. As this report by KGB head Andropov (31 July 1967*, 1931-A) to his Central Committee colleagues shows, they were briefed on the minutest detail:

“… according to information received, Zhores Medvedev, a Biology PhD who lives in the town of Obninsk (Kaluga Region), and his close acquaintance Valery Pavlinchuk, have begun making copies on typewriters of A. Solzhenitsyn’s unpublished novel “The First Circle”, with the intention of circulating the book among the scientific staff of Obninsk. Pyotr Yakir, a research associate at the USSR Academy of Sciences’ Institute of History, who is known as a participant in several anti-social actions and has made politically harmful statements, is planning to visit Obninsk for the same purpose. Bearing in mind that Solzhenitsyn’s novel “The First Circle” is a politically harmful work, it would seem necessary if Yakir goes to Obninsk and obtains copies of the novel to arrest him and confiscate those manuscripts and, as concerns Zh. Medvedev, to instruct the Obninsk Party committee to take measures to halt his anti-social activities. I request authorisation.”

They gave it their thought. Then, in the margins, below the word “Agreed”, there followed the signatures of Suslov, Ponomarev, Kirilenko… An amazing sight. Andropov forwarded our samizdat, our underground literature, to them, for example, the first issue (11 June 1968*, 1372-A) of what became the Chronicle of Current Events[12]: “Our sources have established that Litvinov, Gorbanevskaya, Yakir and certain of their like-minded acquaintances have prepared and are distributing a document entitled “Human Rights Year in the Soviet Union” (copy attached). This gives a defamatory account of the trials in Moscow and Leningrad with a summary of letters and appeals that discredit Soviet executive and administrative bodies. For your information.”

Just try to get a member of the Politburo to read your complaint. It was hopeless. Everything became caught up in the bureaucracy and returned to those you were complaining about. Yet they were not only reading our texts but reached decisions after reading them. It was miraculous, and a most effective way of making the authorities think twice. This refers to samizdat and the reports of their undercover informers. When it came to our arrests, trials and convictions they sometimes disagreed: they deferred a decision until the matter had been further examined, and returned to their discussion several times. They gave it some thought and took decisions. They did not just add their signatures. I was touched to see that the entire Politburo, apparently, met to decide whether to publish a small item about my 1967 trial in the Moscow evening newspaper. Andropov informed them (4 September 1967*, Pb 1393):

“Bukovsky, […] the main organiser of an anti-social demonstration, tried during his speech in court to give the trial a political aspect. He declared that the authorities and the courts were acting in an unconstitutional way. His behaviour in court showed a clear wish to be reported in the foreign press not as an anti-social criminal but as a person accused of a political crime. […] Since reports, distorting the nature of this trial, have appeared in the West it would seem expedient to publish a short note (attached) in the “Vechernyaya Moskva” newspaper.”

The draft, a fourteen-line note headed “In the Moscow City Court”, was enclosed. Its only purpose was to report that, supposedly, I had admitted my guilt and so all rumours about my speech in court were entirely fabricated by bourgeois propaganda. That was all; just the latest little lie in the cause of socialism. Yet gather they did, to discuss and vote, and the results of the vote were recorded: “Brezhnev, for; Voronov, for; Kirilenko, for; Kosygin, on holiday; Mazurov, no comment; Pelshe, agreed; Podgorny, on vacation; Polyansky, for; Suslov, on vacation; Shelepin, for; Shelest, on vacation”.

Sometimes there were also uncomfortable differences of opinion. Take the documents concerning the trial of those who demonstrated on Red Square in August 1968 against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Nothing could be clearer, it would seem. As in our case a year before this was an “anti-social crime”. Send them off to the camps, and have done with it. Yet in this case too it was not that simple. Ivy Litvinov, the widow of the former Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, was evidently an old friend of Mikoyan and appealed to him (4 September 1968*) not to let her grandson Pavel be imprisoned. Mikoyan forwarded the letter directly to Brezhnev, adding by hand:

“Leonid Ilyich! Please give this your attention. To put Litvinov’s grandson and others on trial at the present moment will give our enemies fresh ammunition. They have already spent time in prison. It would be more reasonable to let them off with a warning now. A. Mikoyan, 13 September.”

Below in Brezhnev’s handwriting are the words, “Show to Politburo”, and the signatures of its members. That’s quite something. There was a trial but Litvinov and two more of the five convicted were banished to other parts of the Soviet Union rather than being sent to a corrective-labour camp, although banishment was not an option, under either Article 190-1 or Article 190‑3.

There are many thousands of such documents, representing a great many hours of work. If we achieved nothing else at least we diverted some of the State’s energy away from World Revolution. The exceptional interest the authorities took in our activities was not paranoia. In a totalitarian system one dissident is dangerous, especially if that system has proclaimed itself to be perfect: there can be no dissatisfied people in the socialist paradise. It was not in their interests to become more repressive but it was dangerous to let political opponents operate unpunished when popular dissatisfaction was quite widespread. This accounts for their tactic of reducing the number of political prisoners while increasing pressure on dissenters, something they gave the elaborate title: “prophylactic work to forestall crime”.

The number of political prisoners, therefore, did not in itself represent the mood within the country, it was merely a measure of human determination: those whom they broke were, as a rule, not imprisoned. Bearing this in mind, we were not so very few. From Andropov’s report to the Central Committee (29 December 1975, 3213-A*) it follows that the numbers convicted solely for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda” were: 3,448 from 1958 to 1967 (inclusive); and from 1967 to 1975, 1,583. Later KGB reports to the Central Committee show that despite all their efforts and “prophylactic measures” they could not do much to reduce this level: 905 individuals were convicted between 1977 and 1987 [13] (I was not able to find a total for 1976). These were individuals that the regime had to openly admit as its political opponents. The total does not include those confined to psychiatric hospital s or expelled from the country. The figures do not include individuals convicted of treason or illegal attempts to cross the border; or those found guilty of “religious” crimes or convicted of ordinary crimes in fabricated cases – we simply know nothing about them. During the entire post-Stalin period, therefore, the regime was unable to break the resistance of at least six thousand individuals.

Yet it was not, I repeat, a question of numbers. It was of immense moral significance for the country that there were people who would openly challenge the slavery of totalitarianism and continue to resist, despite the full fury of the State. In the same way, evidently, it is important for a Christian wallowing in the filth of this world to know that somewhere in a monastery there are simple mortals who are living “a righteous life”. At times, it is this knowledge alone that saves him from temptation. In any case, we experienced something of that attitude in prison, both from our jailers and the criminal inmates. I shall never forget the words of the man whom the ordinary criminal offenders in the camp recognised as their boss before he was moved somewhere else: giving his final orders he prodded me, the solitary political prisoner in the camp, and said severely: “And take good care of this fellow. We’re here for what each of us did; he’s doing time for all of us.”

Decades of Communism, astonishingly, had not been able to uproot such attitudes. The jailers, for their part, regarded us with almost superstitious reverence. There was always one among them, at the notorious prison in Vladimir as well, who would agree to post a letter illegally or pass a note to another cell. Given the volume and detail of reports about us in foreign broadcasts one can only guess what effect our presence had on the town’s inhabitants, especially when we went on strike or refused to eat. That was probably why no Party Committee would agree to our being imprisoned in their region. They always thought up a reason to get rid of us and the Central Committee did not know where else we could be sent. The correspondence went on for decades. In 1978, the KGB and the Ministry for Internal Affairs sent a joint memorandum to the Central Committee, supporting the proposal that “especially dangerous State criminals” be transferred from the prison in Vladimir to another corrective labour facility of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (17 March 1978*, 492-Ch). In their view, it was “expedient”

“… to transfer the said criminals (they number between 40 and 60) to prison No 4 of the Tatarstan SSR Ministry of Internal Affairs. Among the considerations was that there are no defence or especially important installations at Chistopol, the town where prison No 4 is located. The town is 144 kilometres from Kazan, at a distance from the country’s major industrial and cultural centres, and is not linked by developed transport connections with other districts. Prison No 4 was built in the 18th century and has no association with the past imprisonment of revolutionaries and progressive figures….

In numerical terms, naturally, this represented only the tip of the iceberg. Some idea of the true scale of the problem faced by the regime in the early 1970s can be obtained from figures about the KGB’s “prophylactic” efforts in a Top Secret (Special File) memorandum (16 November 1972*, Pb 67/XVIII):

“In accordance with the instructions of the Central Committee the agencies of the Committee for State Security have been carrying out extensive prophylactic work: to forestall crime; to suppress attempts at organised subversive activity by nationalist, revisionist and other anti-Soviet elements; and to localise groups of a politically harmful character that have arisen in several places. Over the past five years 3,096 such groups have been uncovered and 13,602 individuals belonging to such groups have undergone prophylactic treatment: 2,196 participants of 502 groups in 1967; 2,870 participants of 625 groups in 1968; 3,130 participants of 733 groups in 1969; 3,102 participants of 709 groups in 1970; and 2,304 participants of 527 groups in 1971.

Such groups were uncovered in Moscow, Sverdlovsk, Tula, Vladimir, Omsk, Kazan, Tyumen, and in Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belorussia, Moldavia, Kazakhstan and other places.

The number of yearly arrests “for anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda” had declined as result of these measures, wrote Andropov and Procurator-General Rudenko. There were still those, however, who did not heed such warnings.

The majority who underwent prophylactic treatment have drawn the correct conclusions. They have actively joined in public life and are working conscientiously in those areas of production and services with which they have been entrusted. Some, however, continue to commit acts that could under certain circumstances become criminal and do substantial harm to the interests of our State.

To strengthen the preventative effect on individuals who are about to follow the path of serious crime, and to ensure the more robust suppression of undesirable behaviour on the part of anti-social elements, we consider it would be sensible to permit the KGB, when necessary, to issue an official written warning on behalf of the authorities with a demand that these individuals cease their politically harmful activities and to provide an explanation of the consequences that could follow its continuation.

In our view this would substantially raise the moral responsibility of those subjected to prophylactic measures and if they then committed criminal acts and were prosecuted this would be of significance for assessing the personality of the criminal by bodies conducting the preliminary investigation and by the courts.

The proposal was approved, of course, and an edict was issued by the USSR Supreme Soviet. Despite all the efforts of the KGB, however, resistance continued to grow within the country. Three years later Andropov reported (29 December 1975*, 3213-A): “Between 1971 and 1974 63,108 individuals underwent prophylactic measures. During the same period 1,839 anti-Soviet groups were suppressed in their formative stages merely through prophylactic treatment.”

The average number of groups uncovered each year, in other words, had not declined while the individuals subject to prophylactic measures had increased roughly fivefold. This was still not the whole story. As Andropov went on to explain in the same report, not all the active enemies of the KGB were treated in this way:

“Alongside the prophylactic measures, we have continued to use investigative and other measures that do not involve criminal prosecution. We have been able to break up several dangerous groups of nationalist, revisionist and other anti-Soviet tendencies when they were just beginning. By compromising authoritative figures who had inspired anti-social behaviour we were able to avert undesirable consequences in several regions. Such measures as depriving certain individuals of their Soviet citizenship and expelling them from the country have also proved their worth (Solzhenitsyn, Chalidze, Maximov, Krasin, Litvinov, Yesenin-Volpin and others). Permitting many extremists to leave the Soviet Union for Israel has also facilitated an improvement in our operational situation within the country.”

So, were we few or many? Andropov believed that among the adult population which had come through the war “such people are numbered in hundreds of thousands”[14]. I think he seriously underestimated their numbers. In his reports, for instance, he hardly makes any reference to the nations “punished” (i.e. deported) under Stalin, such as the Crimean Tatars or the Volga Germans, nor does he refer to religious movements, especially among the prohibited denominations and confessions. Yet they numbered millions for whom the Soviet Union was a prison, and our contacts with them began to develop as early as the 1960s. In 1968 Andropov submitted this brief memorandum to the Central Committee (10 June 1968*, 1342-A):

“The Committee for State Security has received information from its sources that Grigorenko, in conversation with one of his acquaintances, declared that the Crimean “autonomists” intended to prepare an appeal to the United Nations. They would gather the signatures of 250,000 Tatars, appealing for support of their demands. Expressing approval for this action, Grigorenko said that it would have a “colossal impact”. The Committee for State Security is taking measures to prevent possible hostile acts by nationalist-minded individuals from among the Crimean Tatars and other anti-social elements.”

Here is another example of what was going on at that time. Andropov reported, at greater length, about the protests and petitions of “German extremists living in Kazakhstan and Moldavia” (12 June 1975*, 1482-A) who intended

… to incite Soviet citizens of German nationality to refuse collectively to take part in elections on the 15 June 1976 to the Supreme Soviet of the two republics and to the local Soviets of workers’ deputies…. To coincide with the elections an ‘activist’ of the ‘movement for German emigration to the FRG’, Leis (Moldavia) has organised a collective visit (70 persons) by Germans to the republic’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and its KGB committee, demanding that their request to emigrate from the USSR be granted. Extremists from Kazakhstan have prepared several defamatory appeals, signed by many, to international organisations and tried to send their representative to Moscow to present these appeals to foreign correspondents or for transmission abroad through A. Sakharov. Measures were taken on 7 June 1975 at Djambul [in Kazakhstan] to confiscate ‘appeals’ addressed to the UN, the Geneva Conference [CSCE, tr.], the Chancellor of the FRG and to other addresses from a certain Termer on behalf of 900 German families (more than 6,000 individuals). These appeals contained tendentious information about the situation of Germans in the USSR and requests for assistance in their emigration to the FRG.”

In other words, life in the Soviet Union seemed quiet and unperturbed only to Western politicians. The Soviet leaders knew very well what a volcano they were sitting on. The empire was splitting at the seams long before Gorbachev. In the North Caucasus, it was already a matter of murder and mass disturbances (30 December 1980*, St 243/8):

Among a certain part of the native population of the Karachaevo-Cherkessk Autonomous Region negative processes, characterised by nationalistic and anti-Russian feelings have been noted. These provide the basis for anti-social activities and criminal offences. Measures are being taken to anticipate and forestall such acts.

Crimean Tatars and Soviet Germans, Jews and the nations of the Baltic States, Ukrainians and Moldavians, all were struggling, individually and together, by every means available for their right to national self-identity. The threads that linked together all the far-flung parts of that vast country met in Moscow where our channels of communication, our opportunities for contact with the outside world, and our glasnost were all in operation. For such groups we were both an inspiring example and an aid in organisation. Andropov had good reason to be concerned, and the Politburo kept track of our latest activities and publications.

The most “passive” forms of resistance were the most widespread: the banned religious congregations; the various anonymous protests; and the distributors of samizdat. We cannot now estimate how many millions were involved in such activities. The KGB itself could not put any final figure to this category. It is possible to quantify religious persecution, for example: on average two to three hundred individuals, it seems, were imprisoned each year while tens of thousands were subjected to prophylactic “chats” and warnings[15]. It is not possible, however, to establish an exact figure for religious believers. Equally it is impossible to say how many people read samizdat, retyping articles and magazines (entire books!) and passing them on to others. The figure certainly ran into the millions. The Politburo was also therefore obliged to read these materials. Its members had to know what millions in the USSR were reading, a country where not a comma on a price tag could be printed without first being approved by the censors.

The Politburo took these matters seriously, moreover. In 1971, for example, the Central Committee discussed samizdat three times, in January, in April and again in June. Thereafter the Central Committee would return to the subject almost every year. Discussion began with a memorandum from Andropov about the evolution of samizdat (15 January 1971*, St 119/11). “Analysis of the so-called samizdat literature being distributed among the intelligentsia and the student population shows that “samizdat” has undergone qualitative changes over the past years,” the head of the KGB reported to the Central Committee.

Five years ago, it was, for the most part, the circulation of ideologically flawed works of fiction; today, increasingly, documents of a programmatic and political character are distributed. In the period since 1965 more than four hundred different studies and articles have appeared about the [Soviet] economy, and on political and philosophical issues, in which the historical experience of socialist construction in the Soviet Union is criticised from various aspects, examining the domestic and foreign policy of the CPSU, and putting forward various programmes of opposition activity.

… A definite consolidation of like-minded individuals is taking placing around the preparation and distribution of “samizdat” literature, and attempts to create the semblance of an opposition can clearly be traced.

In late 1968, early 1969, approximately, a political nucleus calling itself the “democratic movement” took shape among opposition-minded elements. In their own assessment, this movement possesses three features of opposition: “it has leaders and activists and depends on a considerable number of sympathisers; it does not adopt precisely defined forms of organisation but sets itself certain goals and chooses definite tactics; it strives to achieve legality.”

… The distribution centres for these uncensored materials remain Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Gorky, Novosibirsk and Kharkov. In these and other cities roughly 300 people have been identified, calling themselves ‘anti-Stalinists’, ‘fighters for democratic rights’, ‘participants in the democratic movement’, who produce both individual documents and collections of texts, The “Chronicle of Current Events”, the “Ukraine Herald”, “Social Issues”, and so on. In 1970, a group of Zionist-minded elements in Moscow, Leningrad and Riga began to issue a magazine called “Exodus”.

… The Committee for State Security is taking the necessary measures to forestall attempts by certain individuals to use ‘samizdat’ to spread libel against the Soviet State and social system. They are charged with criminal offences under the existing legislation and prophylactic measures are taken with respect to individuals who have come under their influence.

At the same time, noting the ideological transformation of ‘samizdat’ into a form of expression for oppositionist attitudes and views, and the striving of imperialist reaction to use ‘samizdat’ literature for goals hostile to the Soviet Union, it would seem expedient to instruct the ideological apparatus to study the problem and devise the necessary ideological and political measures to neutralise and expose the anti-social tendencies represented in ‘samizdat’ literature, and also to make suggestions as to the factors that facilitate the appearance and distribution of ‘samizdat materials’.

The regime was already recognising us as a political opposition. Despite its outward imperturbability, it was prepared to adjust but proved incapable of political flexibility. It was six months before the Central Committee adopted a Resolution “On measures to counter the illegal distribution of anti-Soviet and other politically harmful materials” and it was an exceptionally pointless document. Everything was reduced to a combination of repressive, educational and propagandist measures with the one and only concession in its final, ninth paragraph (28 June 1971, St 8/37) [16]:

The Central Committee’s Culture Department, the Press Department at the USSR Council of Ministers, and the USSR Union of Writers are to study the issue and make proposals to the Central Committee about the expediency of publishing certain works by writers in whom some cultural workers and students have shown an interest and whose works that have not been republished in the USSR since the 1920s.

As a result, I seem to recall, they published the poet Nikolai Gumilyov, and in a small print-run. This had no effect on the growth of samizdat. It continued to develop, offering an alternative to the official press and giving Andropov a constant headache. Such unofficial publications began to take new forms: films and tapes were also copied and circulated. An alternative culture came into being, weakening the grip of the Party on the artistic intelligentsia and, especially, on the young. Once again Andropov sounded the alarm (19 May 1975 (1241-A) [17]:

While implementing measures to forestall the hostile activities of the Adversary we have uncovered instances of a striving among the artistically gifted young, or those who are trying to make their mark in this way, to form unofficial groups engaged in literary readings, exhibitions of paintings and drawings, and theatrical performances staged in private apartments and in premises used just for the occasion. A tendency has been noted towards the issuing and distribution of typescript magazines, made up of unpublished works.

Study of the circumstances of such groups in Moscow shows that when the young put on their own shows a part of the artistic youth does not find a socially useful application for its abilities and at times becomes involved in undesirable behaviour that, as a rule, is instigated either by persons engaged in anti-social activities or by foreigners.

… Thus, a danger arises at present that unsupervised associations of artistic young people will be created in parallel with the official creative unions.

This one year, indeed, saw such extraordinary events as the exhibition of non-conformist artists in Moscow in the park at Izmailovo [18], the attempt to create a branch of the International PEN Club in Moscow [19], and the trial of Andrei Tverdokhlebov (12 April 1975, 878-A) who had set up a Moscow section of Amnesty International two years earlier. Soon followed the organisation of the Helsinki Groups in Moscow, Ukraine, Lithuania, Armenia and Georgia to monitor observation of the Helsinki Accords, with all their commissions, committees and working groups. The first independent trade union for manual workers appeared towards the end of 1977 (6 April 1978*, 655-A). The opposition had begun to acquire form and structure and this coincided, evidently, with a loss of control over the young by the authorities, which was especially dangerous for the Soviet regime.

3.3   Rebellious youth

As far as I can recall, control or supervision of young people was never effective in the USSR. It existed, for the most part, on paper, in official reports by Komsomol and Party committees boasting about the scale on which they could mobilise the young and attract them to their propagandist events. By the late 1960s and early 1970s young people in the Soviet Union were becoming notably more political. Most frequently this found expression in anonymous protests: leaflets, slogans written on walls, pre-Soviet national flags in the republics, or anonymous letters sent to the authorities. Any official event – a jubilee, a holiday or elections – usually provoked such “delinquent misbehaviour” by the young.

In 1970, for instance, Andropov informed the Central Committee (27 April 1970*, 1118-A) that the birth centenary of the “founder of the Soviet State”, V.I. Lenin, had been celebrated

… in an organised fashion throughout the country, in circumstances of great activity, and enthusiastic commitment by Soviet people to work and to our policies. It demonstrated, once again, their indissoluble unity and consolidation around the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. At the same time, 155 politically harmful, delinquent acts, connected to the jubilee were reported in certain districts across the USSR during the preparation and the celebration of this event. 55 of these events took place in 1969; 100, in 1970.

Such types of action were noted in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Belorussia, Estonia, Latvia, Moldavia and Turkmenistan; and, [within the RSFSR], in the Maritime and Khabarovsk Regions, the Moscow, Leningrad, Kuibyshev, Rostov and other Regions. Several statues, busts and bas-reliefs of the Leader were destroyed or damaged, as were a significant number of paintings, stands and banners, and portraits, placards, reproductions, wall newspapers and other celebratory decorations…. 70 people have been charged with criminal offences for such politically harmful and delinquent acts; 65 more have undergone prophylactic treatment and 7 are now under observation. In 18 cases the act was particularly brazen and intended to cast a shadow over the celebration of the centenary of Lenin’s birth by Soviet people.

Or consider this wholly typical information from the mid-1970s about the May Day celebrations (4 May 1975*, 1103-A) which were the occasion for “great political enthusiasm” although

… isolated negative incidents were reported in certain parts of the country. In Moscow, Odessa, Kishinev and the Rostov Region leaflets of a hostile content were distributed.

In the administrative centre of the Pustomyty district, Lvov Region [West Ukraine], 13 flags of the Union republics were burned on their masts before the obelisk commemorating the soldier-liberators. Flags were also destroyed in Moscow and Kharkov. In Grodno [Belorussia] it was discovered that a portrait of the Founder of the Soviet State had been defaced. The necessary measures have been taken in response to all the noted incidents. Most those taking part in this hostile behaviour have been identified.

Usually, the authorities did not identify all those responsible. They caught or found half of the culprits, subjecting some to “prophylactic” treatment while the others were convicted, as a rule, of purely criminal offences (delinquent behaviour). When added to the anonymous letters the Soviet authorities received each year these “anti-social” acts reached an annual total of between ten and twenty thousand [20]. Most often the offenders turned out to be young people, teenagers and schoolchildren. Sometimes they had set up an illegal organisation.

At the time we had no idea, of course, of the scale and extent of this phenomenon. We never heard about most of these incidents but any picture of the USSR and its prevailing mood at the time would be incomplete without them. The anxiety of the Soviet authorities cannot be fully understood without this background. Imagine how they felt when they received several of the following reports. The KGB in the Krasnodar Region, bordering the Black Sea, uncovered an illegal “Club to Fight for Democracy” in the town of Tuapse (19 March 1970*, 699‑A):

It is made up of 14 persons, for the most part school-children in the 8th and 9th classes of School No 3 [15-16-year-olds]. Seven of them are members of the Komsomol…. The participants have drawn up a programme and a constitution for the club, published hand-written magazines under the title “Democrat” and “Russian Contemporary” containing verse and articles written by members of the Club based on reports by foreign radio stations. Each member has sworn an oath, has a pseudonym, a membership card, and has paid a subscription.

“The Club’s programme envisaged the creation of a party of “democrats” and seizure of power when the members of that party grow up. Its immediate aim was the preparation and distribution of anti-Soviet documents and attraction of new participants to the organisation. Implementing this programme,… in December 1969 the members wrote anti-Soviet texts in chalk on the asphalt and the fences in various parts of Tuapse to mark the 90th anniversary of Stalin’s birth. In February 1970, they prepared more than 40 leaflets, in the name of the “All-Russian Union of Democrats”, which called for the overthrow of the Soviet regime and the creation of illegal political organisations, and they distributed these texts in Tuapse. “All the participants of the “Club to Fight for Democracy” are juveniles. It was decided, therefore, not to charge them with criminal offences but limit the response to measures of a prophylactic nature.”

In a part of the Soviet Union closed to foreigners and far from any border, the KGB for the Sverdlovsk Region “uncovered an illegal youth group” (12 June 1970*, 1610-A):

“calling itself the “Party of Free Russia” or the “Revolutionary Workers’ Party” …. Using a typewriter, the members of this group produced in two sessions about 700 leaflets, titled “A note to the Soviet government from the Working Youth of the USSR” and “Minus a Future, Plus the Past = Contemporary Socialism”. On 7 November 1969 [anniversary of the October Revolution] a considerable proportion of these leaflets were thrown from the viaduct over Cosmonauts Avenue in Sverdlovsk on the column of workers from the Electric Train Repair Factory and a group of demonstrators from the polytechnic and law institutes.

Meanwhile, in Central Russia (26 August 1970*, 2353-A),

“… seven handwritten leaflets, signed the “Black Angels”, were distributed in February in the town of Ryazan. The authors slandered the Soviet government and called for the organisation of strikes and demonstrations. Measures were taken and established that the leaflets had been prepared and distributed by students of the 9th class in School No 42… They all repented of these acts and, in the presence of their parents, assured KGB agencies that they would not engage in any anti-social activities in the future.”

Such a mood among the young, combined with the growth of an organised opposition, created a highly dangerous situation for the Soviet regime. The authors of an extended report by the KGB “On the Nature and Cause of Negative Behaviour among Schoolchildren and Students” tried to attribute everything, as usual, to the influence of bourgeois propaganda and “subversive centres” in the West (28 December 1976, St 37/14). At the same time, they mention some particularly interesting findings [21]. They analysed over three thousand “anti-social” acts committed by young people in the Soviet Union over a period of three years (see Table One). While more than half of those involved were students in higher education, a little under one in four were still at school. Almost three quarters committed solitary acts of “anti-social” behaviour (3,174); the rest (1,232) were members of 384 groups.

A third of these acts arose from ideological stances hostile to socialism (see Table Two) and were committed by 1,269 individuals (29% of the total). This describes those who could offer a precise formulation of their ideological platform, or who would take the risk of doing so. Those who were “un-ideological” were no better. Groups of “hippy imitators” were found in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Vilnius, Tallinn and Rostov-on-Don. In the words of the study, they favoured a re-examination of the moral and ethical norms of socialist society and, casting doubt on the revolutionary traditions of the past and the spiritual legacy of “conservative” fathers, called for a surmounting of “inertia” and a “struggle for freedom and the democratisation of society based on hippy ideas.”

Table One: Anti-social behaviour among the young, 1972-1975 [22]

Type of behaviour Incidents % Individuals %
Slander and other politically harmful comments 1509 45.4 1598 36.3
Participation as a group in public disturbances 99 3.0 495 11.2
Participation as a group in imitation of “hippies” 152 5.5 382 8.7
Preparation and distribution of defamatory and ideologically harmful documents (excluding leaflets) 252 7.6 323 7.3
Preparation and distribution of leaflets, banners and placards 167 5.5 277 6.3
Desecration of the State crest, flag, monuments or portraits 90 2.7 115 2.6
Verbal and written threats towards Soviet and Party activists 50 1.6 53 1.2
Transmission (attempt to transmit) abroad defamatory and ideologically harmful documents 26 0.8 33 0.8
Preparation and distribution of anonymous letters of a defamatory and ideologically harmful content 33 1.0 32 0.7
Attempt to establish contact with foreign anti-Soviet centres 16 0.4 17 0.4
Preparation and display of nationalist flags 6 0.2 15 0.3
Other types of behaviour 894 26.8 1066 24.2
TOTAL 3294 4406

Of all those who had prophylactic chats with the KGB or received warnings about their behaviour between 1970 and 1974 well over a third were young people below the age of 25[23]. Much the same was true of criminality as a whole: for example, more than half of those convicted in 1971-1973 for the preparation and sale of narcotics were under 29. There were 2,533,443 young people, aged 29 and under, among those who were fined or spent brief periods behind bars in 1973 for drinking hard liquor and appearing drunk in public. In 1974 that total rose to 2,616,708 [24]. On average juveniles, i.e. those under 18 years of age, were responsible for around 100,000 crimes, of which almost half were committed as part of a group.

Table Two. Ideologically motivated anti-social behaviour, 1972-5 [25]

Variety of hostile ideology Act % Individuals %
Bourgeois nationalism (excluding Zionism) 364 33.7 674 43.0
Zionism and pro-Israeli attitudes 188 17.5 242 15.0
Revisionism and reformism 377 35.0 445 28.0
Religious ideology 88 8.2 128 8.0
Fascism and neo-Nazism 60 5.6 80 6.0

Curious data from other studies are cited in the December 1976 report. The Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Sociological Research, for example, examined the audience of “Western radio stations in Moscow”. They found that “80% of students and about 90% of pupils from the older classes in secondary school, vocational and technical colleges listen with greater or lesser regularity. For most these individuals listening to foreign radio broadcasts has become a habit: 32.0% of students and 59.2% of 16-18-year-olds listen at least once or twice a week” [26]. This was our audience, who followed our activities thanks to broadcasts from London, Munich and Washington. Fifteen years later, as a generation of thirty and forty-year-olds, they would join the demonstrations of the late 1980s and early 1990s. “Many of the students who underwent prophylactic treatment”, the researchers wrote [27]

“indicated in their confessions that they recorded ideologically hostile works broadcast over the radio on tape recorders or copied the texts on typewriters. This channel provided them with an idea of several of Solzhenitsyn’s anti-Soviet statements and lampoons, Sakharov’s “Thoughts about Peace, Progress and Intellectual Freedom”, and various “studies”, “appeals” and other documents containing defamatory fabrications that denigrated Soviet reality… The most influential materials are those prepared within the USSR.”

At the same time, notes the report, there was declining interest in Marxist-Leninist theory at institutions of higher education and “passive participation by a sizable number of students in the socio-political life of their collectives.” There is every ground, in other words, for asserting that by the 1970s the regime had effectively “lost” the country’s young people, while our influence over them was growing all the time.

What could the decrepit and bureaucratised Party do to counter this alarming phenomenon? It had nothing to offer, apart from repressive measures, prophylactic chats and warnings (i.e. threatening to apply the same repressive measures), and a further “intensification” of its propaganda, of which all were thoroughly sick and tired by then. Yet in a Top-Secret report only a few years before the collapse of the Communist regime (26 December 1986*, 2521-Ch), KGB chairman Chebrikov, Procurator-General Rekunkov, Minister of Justice Kravtsov and Supreme Court Chairman Terebilov proudly informed the Central Committee (the underlined figures in italics were added, as usual, by hand):

To expose the subversive activities of imperialist special services and hostile elements among Soviet citizens linked to those services we have carried out major work through the media. Over the past 10 years 150 films for cinema and television (mainly short documentaries and newsreel items) have been made with the participation, and using the materials, of the state security agencies. During the past four years 262 books and brochures have been published, 178 magazine and 250 newspaper articles. Staff from the KGB, the Procuracy, the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice constantly give propaganda lectures on these issues. Re-education of offenders in penal institutions is being carried out, with the systematic involvement of the public, and this has yielded positive results.

It was, for them, an object of particular pride that between 1982 and 1986 they had been able to break the resistance of more than one hundred people. Not grudging its precious time, the Central Committee also oversaw this process. When to avoid inevitable disaster, they had to introduce a measure of “glasnost” they began by breaking the spirit of the country’s remaining political prisoners, thereby destroying the core of the opposition. Gorbachev would take personal charge of this process.

3.4   Expediency and the Law

This is a strange day for me,” I told the Constitutional Court in 1992. “For the first time in all my years in Moscow I find myself appearing in court as a witness, not as the accused.” Since I was raising the very same issues as in 1967 – lack of respect for the law, the unconstitutional status of the CPSU and the political repression in which it engaged –  this only enhanced the comical aspect of the event. The continuity was so great that I could have repeated my earlier speech, word for word: no one in court that day would have noticed.

I could not help but recall how I prepared in 1967 for my “last words” in court – previously I had twice been pronounced insane and sentenced in my absence. By threatening a hunger strike, I forced the KGB at Lefortovo to provide me with the Criminal Code and the Criminal-Procedural Code. I also made them go out and buy a copy of the Soviet Constitution: there was not one to be had anywhere in the prison. Then followed the official tedium of the court hearing, and an anxious wait for the end of the proceedings when I was entitled to my last words, the only form of uncensored speech in the country. Who knew what would happen. Sometimes the judge interrupted and did not allow a person to finish. Finally, as the culmination of the entire drama, I managed to speak for almost 90 minutes, waving the KGB’s copy of the Constitution and waiting any moment for the judge to call a halt.

I truly was an expert on the “unconstitutional status of the CPSU”. Then such views were regarded as “slander against the Soviet system”. By 1992 they had become the highest form of wisdom, backed by the authority of the Russian President himself. Should I rejoice or be sad? Be glad that I had been 25 years ahead of my contemporaries, or perplexed that such an obvious truth had not occurred to them during the past quarter century?


The Communist regime’s violation of its own laws was well known, but the idea of demanding that these laws be respected was too complicated for some. “Why demand that everyone keep those laws?” they asked us. “What good would that do?”

“What is it you want?” Soviet people commented sarcastically, usually those who thought us too few to be worth joining: “to make the Soviet regime better?”

“When is your movement going to stop referring to Soviet laws,” demanded Westerners who had never lived under such a regime, “and finally turn to open resistance?”

Our movement’s emphasis on human rights led to countless misunderstandings and criticism. There was no way of explaining to certain people that this was neither camouflage nor a tactical ruse: it was a principled position, like our rejection of violence. The problem with this position did not lie in its complexity. What was so hard to grasp when we had the example of the 1917 October Revolution and its consequences before our eyes every day? Anyone in the Soviet Union of the 1960s surely understood that violence would not result in a State governed by the rule of law, and that underground organisations could not lead to a free society. From a practical point of view, there were clearly not enough people capable of demanding what was theirs by right. Where then would we find enough fearless men and women to take up arms against the KGB, the Party apparatus and a large part of the Soviet army? And supposing, one fine day, so many were to be found, there would be no need for violence.

No, these objections were all excuses and self-justification. Homo sovieticus could not force himself to demand anything from a nuclear super-power. Steal, yes; demand, no. A simple refusal to cooperate with the regime was beyond most people. Yet someone had to do it – in full view, demonstratively – to disperse the mystic, irrational terror Soviet Man felt when faced by the regime’s aura of omnipotence. In that sense, nothing could be more destructive of its power than a demonstration that it was both ineffective and unlawful.

What else could be done? Scattering leaflets or creating an underground “party” of a few friends was for schoolchildren and they had already understood it would change nothing. There had to be forms of legal opposition that would allow independent social forces in the country to unite and grow. “Legal”, however, meant that they observed the law and operated within its framework.


The Soviet regime, meanwhile, had its own problems with the law. It had been unable to solve these problems ever since the revolution. In fact, it never did resolve them because ideology as a whole, and Marxism-Leninism in particular, was incompatible with the concept of law. An ideology is a myth or a legend and therefore inevitably contradictory; the entire meaning of law lies in its internal consistency.

Communist behaviour was a compromise between ideology and reality, and a source of yet more contradictions. What was acceptable at any moment was something known to those at the very top. In practice, law in the Soviet Union existed only on paper while the country was administered through endless orders or decisions issued by ministries, the State and the Party, which often contradicted one another and were, for the most part, secret. To make this all function as a coherent whole was beyond the powers of the Party. “Telephone law” flourished, and a call from the Party boss was the latest legislative act. It was necessary to know how to interpret secret instructions.

The most important reason why law and ideology were incompatible in a totalitarian society, however, was that ideology had to come first. And since ideology could not rule through the law then it must be above the law, ruling somehow from behind its back. In the same way the Party, the bearer of that ideology, ruled from behind the back of all other State structures and was a supra-State formation. Given the global aims of that ideology and the Communist Party the law was simply transformed into a fiction and a branch of propaganda that was intended to create the attractive image of the “world’s most democratic” Socialist State. The 1936 Stalin Constitution, then still in force, made this particularly clear. It had been written exclusively for reasons of propaganda and was, therefore, very well suited to our purposes.

To begin with the law became our weapon of choice simply because the State used this weapon against us. We became so skilled in its use that if any of us was put on trial the proceedings would be a defeat for the authorities. This was so obvious that, unlike the Stalin show-trials, our trials were held in camera and concealed from the public as far as possible. If they were reported in the Soviet press it was only as a response to the “slanders of bourgeois propaganda”. Such an achievement, of course, did not come easy. It required great restraint on our part and behaviour calculated to ensure we were imprisoned “on our own terms”, causing maximum damage to the regime, i.e. forcing them to commit the most extensive violation of their own laws.

In 1967, for example, I did not just organise a demonstration and receive a three-year sentence: I also proved that Article 190-3 of the Criminal Code[28] was unconstitutional. The demonstration and our arguments during interrogation and in court were planned in such a way that the authorities, abandoning any appearance of legality, could only convict us despite the law. In this case, they were violating Article 125 of the 1936 Soviet Constitution, which guaranteed the right to freedom of assembly. I made a very good job of it. The director of Lefortovo himself admitted that we had been imprisoned “unlawfully”; the Procuracy found a plausible excuse not to conduct the case; and my KGB investigator shook his head and gave a sorrowful sigh. There was good reason, therefore, for the Politburo to meet and decide whether to print a mendacious report about the case in the newspapers. It was the equivalent, for me, of a Gold Medal or a doctoral degree.

Younger generations will probably find it hard to understand what purpose this served. Like the Chinese man smashing the Japanese plates at the Khabarovsk “Mill”, we had no practical goals in the narrow utilitarian sense. None of us expected that our trials, our samizdat and our tiny, purely symbolic demonstrations would lead to the collapse of the Soviet regime. Certainly, no one was expecting that regime to become any “better”. The paradox was that although our movement had a considerable political effect it was itself not political but moral. We were driven principally by a desire not to change the system but to reject complicity in its crimes. Everything else was a logical consequence of that position. This stance of “non-participation” was society’s reaction to the horrors of Stalin’s rule or, to be more exact, their partial exposure under Khrushchev. “How could such monstrous crimes have occurred? Who is to blame?” Society, its best part at least, was tormented by these questions. The unavoidable answer was that everyone shared a portion of the blame since, willingly or unwillingly, actively or passively, almost all had been the regime’s accomplices. Not only the executioners and torturers, but also those who at rallies raised their hands in “unanimous approval” of reprisals against others; not just those who gave the orders, but those who preserved an obedient silence as well.

As in post-war Germany, this had a particularly strong influence on the younger generation who were, seemingly, not involved in their parents’ crimes. (Life is so organised that the children always pay for the sins of their fathers.) The Soviet leaders did not sit in the dock at Nuremburg but, in a wider sense, the verdicts of that tribunal applied to us in equal measure. Like our German contemporaries, we were duty-bound to remember that the opinions of the majority, the orders of our superiors, or a threat to our own lives, did not relieve us of responsibility for our choice. For us this meant confronting our still undefeated Reich (and our own SS), a system with which the Western world was striving for “peaceful coexistence “.

We could dream of no practical goals. No one attempted to define what could be qualified as victory. Our task was to set the written law constantly against its unwritten ideological interpretation, forcing the regime to expose its own unlawful nature. It was better not to dwell on what might happen to you as a consequence. You would end up with nothing apart from the longest possible term of imprisonment. Irrespective of the practical results, it was important to do all you could to serve your sentence with a clear conscience. In time, we came to see victory as the right to tell our descendants, “I did what I could.”

3.5   Glasnost

Looking through the Central Committee documents about our cases I was amazed: almost any of them could have been used as evidence in 1992. It was as if we had been preparing for years for the trial at the Constitutional Court. Our movement began, in formal terms at least, with our first demonstration on Pushkin Square in December 1965. Our slogan then was “Respect your Constitution!” and we were demanding glasnost, the public hearing of a forthcoming trial. You could not have made it up! [29]

The occasion was the case of Sinyavsky and Daniel, two writers who had secretly published their books in the West. Their arrest had caused a great stir. The oddness of the situation was that the country, as under Stalin, was expected to “unanimously condemn the renegades and turncoats” without ever having seen what they had written. It was then that the word “glasnost” made its appearance in the Soviet Union. Our chief legal specialist, the mathematician Alexander Volpin, must have come across it when reading the section about trials (Article 18) in the 1958 Criminal-Procedural Code:

“Judicial hearings in all courts are to be open, except for cases when this contradicts the interests of preserving State secrets…. In all cases the verdict of the court is announced publicly.”

The call for public court hearings, for glasnost, did not strike the most well-intentioned Soviet citizens as a threat. You have not allowed us to read their books, but at least give them an open trial so that we can find out everything for ourselves. The regime was caught off balance. Soviet Man had never demanded anything before. They had to invent their own “glasnost”. Six weeks before the trial, KGB chief Semichastny and Procurator-General Rudenko made the following proposals (23 December 1965, 2843‑S) [30]:

“… the KGB, the Central Committee Culture Department and the USSR Union of Writers are jointly preparing reports for the press which will uncover the true character of Sinyavsky and Daniel’s literary activities. To provide the public with more detailed information, and avert similar activities on the part of certain individuals with hostile intentions, it would seem expedient to examine the case of Sinyavsky and Daniel in an open court hearing at the RSFSR Supreme Court and condemn the criminals to imprisonment under Article 70, part 1 of the RSFSR Criminal Code, for preparing and distributing literary works that contain defamatory fabrications against the Soviet State and system.

“It is proposed that the trial be held in early February 1966. The chairman of the RSFSR Supreme Court Comrade L.N. Smirnov will preside, Comrade O.P. Temushkin, aide to the USSR Procurator-General, is to serve as State prosecutor, and the case will be heard in a courtroom of the RSFSR Supreme Court. The room holds one hundred people and we propose inviting Soviet-Party activists and writers to attend the trial…. After the trial is finished the appropriate reports will be issued in the press and on the radio. We request your authorisation.”

The Central Committee agreed, but these were general proposals. The elaboration of the Soviet concept of “glasnost” was entrusted to quite a different person, the man who, twenty years later, would become the main architect of “glasnost” under Gorbachev: Alexander Yakovlev. He was then deputy head of the Department for Propaganda at the Central Committee. Now he is an entirely historic figure and without knowing his past the origins of Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika are incomprehensible. This was how Yakovlev then defined “an open trial” (5 January 1966*, St 132/11) [31]:

“…the judicial hearing will proceed in the presence of workers, Party and Soviet activists, and writers and journalists from Moscow. The procedure for their invitation will be established by the Moscow city committee of the CPSU.

“Regarding the forthcoming trial, we consider it necessary to make these suggestions about its coverage in the press and on radio:

The newspapers “Izvestiya” and “Literaturnaya gazeta” will publish daily accounts of the course of the trial by their own correspondents, and special reports by TASS. The editors of the newspapers “Pravda”, “Komsomolskaya “Pravda”, “Sovetskaya Kultura” and “Sovetskaya Rossiya” can publish items from the courtroom by their correspondents, at their own discretion. All other newspapers are to publish only the official TASS announcements about the trial. Radio will broadcast reports from TASS and individual items from the newspapers.

Novosti, together with the KGB, are instructed to prepare the appropriate articles about the trial for publication abroad.

Correspondents of the aforementioned newspapers and of TASS and Novosti will be admitted to the courtroom (without cameras) on presentation of permits issued by the KGB.

Foreign correspondents are not to be allowed into the trial.”

Yakovlev also suggested that a press group composed of comrades from various Central Committee departments (Culture, Agitation & Propaganda and Administration) and the KGB be set up to prepare official announcements and examine reports about the course of the trial. He had thought of everything, or so it seemed. The carefully chosen public “would greet the court’s verdict with applause”. The press, Party organisers and the KGB also played their part.

Afterwards the KGB proudly reported (16 February 1966, 346-Z): “The conviction of Sinyavsky and Daniel was approvingly received by the Soviet public. During the trial, many letters and telegrams were sent to the court and to newspaper editors by Soviet citizens, demanding that the slanderers be severely punished.” Yet, despite their efforts, the “last words” of the accused were already spreading across the country on thousands of pages of cigarette paper and everyone knew they had not admitted their guilt. Protests grew, and the world was indignant and outraged by this vengeful act. Our glasnost was at work. Yakovlev could do nothing but roar louder, issuing a stream of instructions [32] “to clarify the essence of the judicial proceedings against Sinyavsky and Daniel, and expose the defamatory fabrications of the bourgeois press”.

These involved talks

… at cultural organisations, newspaper and magazine offices, and publishing houses… at the humanities faculties of higher education institutions, in arts colleges, and in research establishments in the humanities, inviting authoritative literary, artistic, scholarly and scientific figures to speak and deliver lectures ….

Publication of the trial materials

to acquaint the Party and cultural activists, and correspondents from newspapers in the socialist countries and the Communist parties in capitalist countries ….

For the audience at home there would be letters, comments and theoretical articles:

– publish a letter in “Literaturnaya gazeta” and “Izvestiya” on behalf of the USSR Union of Writers, which will contain a response to the statements of foreign writers and cultural figures about the trial;

– the editors of “Izvestiya”, “Komsomolskaya “Pravda”, “Literaturnaya gazeta” and “Sovetskaya Kultura” are to publish comments by readers and by leading representative of literature, art, scholarship and science, approving the verdict of the court and condemning the anti-Soviet activities of Sinyavsky and Daniel…;

– the editors of “Pravda”, “Izvestiya”, “Literaturnaya gazeta”, “Komsomolskaya pravda”, and the “Kommunist” periodical are to publish theoretical articles about the Marxist understanding of the issue of freedom and the responsibility of the individual in the conditions of socialist society.

For their audience abroad, meanwhile, the Committee for Radio and Television Broadcasting was to prepare and broadcast to foreign countries:

– statements by representatives of the Soviet public in support of the court’s verdict in the Sinyavsky and Daniel case;

– an interview with a leading Soviet legal specialist, justifying the verdict from the viewpoint of Soviet legislation …

– materials exposing the defamatory nature of Sinyavsky and Daniel’s writings, their calls for terror, malicious anti-Semitic statements, and the wide use of their works for the purposes of waging the Cold War… materials showing the moral turpitude and political double-dealing of Sinyavsky and Daniel;

– commentaries and talks about the freedom of creativity in the USSR and the persecution of progressive cultural figures in the West.”

As under Stalin, meetings were held in all factories and it was demanded that workers “unanimously condemn” the writers without having read their books. Hundreds of thousands of people in the USSR were forced to choose between their conscience and their material well-being. Some refused, the majority agreed – after all those who refused were “too few”. What was the point? To improve the Soviet regime?

That became the prototype for all our subsequent trials. It was the benchmark of Party “glasnost”: open trials held behind closed doors, with a specially chosen public, while a handful of foreign correspondents and friends of the accused waited outside. The deafening roar of Yakovlev’s propaganda followed each trial. Yet it could not drown out our glasnost and, instead, undermined confidence in the official press yet further. Is it surprising that the young preferred to listen to Western radio stations? If our glasnost had some practical aim it was to deprive society of its future peace of mind. None of us believed we had the right to force our decisions on others or to draw them into our activities: that was left to the conscience of each individual. Unlike the Stalin years, however, no one in the West or the East could now claim ignorance as their justification.

Despite the intrinsically philosophical and ethical nature of our stance it had a considerable political impact to begin with. The trials that followed that of Sinyavsky and Daniel, especially the trial of Alexander Ginzburg and Yury Galanskov[33] provoked a storm of protest within the Soviet Union, a “chain reaction”. Direct repressive measures were not only useless: they were harmful to the regime. The greater the number of trials, the more people joined in the protests. The atmosphere also changed in the camps: those sent there no longer vanished from our lives but, on the contrary, joined the protests. Reports about hunger-strikes, strikes, and petitions – even the literary works of zeks – began to find their way out of the camps, as if mocking the idea of the prisoners’ isolation from society. Imprisonment in the camps, moreover, provided a link between different groups in a movement that was emerging all over the country. It was there we got to know one another and, through us, our relatives and friends also became acquainted. Judicial reprisals lost their significance. They aided a growth in the consolidation of a spontaneous and, at first, extremely varied movement, transforming it into a serious political force.

The Soviet authorities never forgot this lesson. The subsequent history of our relations was the story of their search for other ways to fight us and our response to their innovations. Arrests and trials became an extreme measure that was forced on them and very often represented a victory of sorts for us. The regime preferred other means, from incarceration in psychiatric hospital s, to campaigns of slander (“compromising measures”, the KGB called them) and expulsion from the country. In 1977, the authorities tried to “codify” the ideology in a new Constitution, which, for the first time in Soviet history, openly declared in Article 6:

“The leading and governing force of Soviet society, the core of its political system and its State and non-governmental organisations, is the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The CPSU exists for the people and to serve the people.

“Armed with the teaching of Marxism-Leninism, the Communist Party determines the general trend of society’s development, the course of the USSR’s domestic and foreign policy. It directs the great constructive activities of the Soviet people, giving a planned and scientifically-based character to its struggle for the triumph of communism …”

They thereby accepted, in part, the rules of play we had suggested. As if to say, “You won’t be able to quote the Constitution to us now! It’s all legal.” Yet this was no help to them either. We had already begun referring to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the United Nations’ Pact on Civil and Political Rights (1968); now we appealed to the 1975 Helsinki Accords. With time, curious to relate, the defence of human rights became extremely popular in Soviet society. It was apparently the most difficult aspect of our philosophy for people to assimilate but looking at samizdat documents from the late 1970s I was astonished at the skill with which manual workers referred in their petitions to all the nuances of the law. It had suddenly become very fashionable to “assert one’s rights”.


When the Soviet regime was on the brink of collapse it also tried to exploit this fashion. Somehow the “Party elite” must be saved. It was then, in 1986, that the “liberal” Yakovlev, the architect of perestroika, appeared. Suddenly our demands and definitions of twenty years before (a State governed by the rule of law, the “era of stagnation” and, of course, glasnost) were everywhere in Soviet newspapers.

Entire sections of our samizdat works were reprinted in the official press and included in the Party’s own decisions – though without inverted commas or any indication of their authors. What curious fellows those “reformers” were. Who did they think they were fooling? History? Logic? Themselves? Without our names glasnost could not be kept under control and the law remained incompatible with ideology. All it required was a few years without repression, a few years of comparatively free exchange of views, for the Soviet regime to collapse.

By early 1990, like an avalanche in the mountains, a growing wave of strikes and mass demonstrations swept across the Soviet Union from one end to the other. People were not demanding bread or money, although neither was easily available. No, the demand was for the abolition of Article 6 of the Constitution, which confirmed the CPSU’s domination of every public structure in the country. It was something I had talked about in court in 1967, waving the KGB’s copy of the previous (1936) Constitution. Watching the striking miners, covered in coal like devils, those half-starved people, entire families with the old and the young, demanding not vengeance but a change in the Constitution, I must confess I was ready to weep. Images from three decades passed before my eyes as if in a film, running inside my head: camp barracks, the cells of Vladimir Prison, the corridors of psychiatric hospital s smelling of carbolic, and the Moscow alleys where I grew up, feeling that I had been abandoned since childhood behind enemy lines. Suddenly this all acquired meaning and found its place in an ordered symphony of image, sound and scent … It would now take one or two years at most. The collapse of the regime, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, was just the logical conclusion. As if it had been waiting for this moment, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation sent me two certificates confirming that my convictions in 1967 and in 1972 had both been revoked for lack of a corpus delicti. The two papers bore the same date, Constitution Day (5 December 1991*) – the day we had organised our first demonstration 26 years before.

Alexander Yakovlev retired from politics and became head of the Presidential Commission for the Victims of Political Repression. As if in 1945 Goebbels had been put in charge of rehabilitating the victims of the Nazis …


Most of the Central Committee documents concerning our trials held no surprises. We knew a certain amount at the time. We guessed about other aspects, and some things became known later. Nevertheless, they made a strong impression. Guessing was all very well. It was quite another matter to see the document, with all its signatures and stamps, and examine the subject of your past speculation expressed in their unspeakable officialese. All these matters were decided by the Party, that was clear. It would have been immodest until then, however, to suppose that the Central Committee, let alone the Politburo, were involved.

Remembering the evasive euphemisms that the Nazi leadership adopted in their documents, I never expected such frank and cynical disregard for legal norms. Long before a trial, sometimes several weeks’ earlier, the Soviet leaders themselves decided who should be imprisoned and who should be pardoned: they were unperturbed by the principle, inscribed in the Constitution, of the independence of the judiciary. Search warrants were obtained from the Central Committee, not from the Procuracy. The Party and its leaders were above the law: they did not let legal concerns get in their way and daily adjusted legislation at their own discretion. All other institutions merely rubber-stamped their decisions. Soon after the Ginzburg-Galanskov trial, for instance, the Politburo decided to take reprisals against those of our friends who had been too active in defending the accused (15 April 1968, Pb 79/XI) [34]:

“Acting as the accomplices of the most reactionary part of the bourgeois press and radio, they systematically supply them with defamatory materials; they try to hold private press conferences for foreigners; they incite anti-social elements to engage in politically harmful activities; they inspire the preparation and distribution of letters, declarations and “protests” that are hostile in content; and they act in a provocative way towards the authorities.”

What was the problem? Why not put them on trial? They had already committed more offences than Ginzburg and Galanskov by petitioning on their behalf. The document itself notes: “The behaviour of this group of individuals is increasingly reckless and the lack of punishment for their actions prompts disbelief among many citizens.” However, the Central Committee was not ready to put them on trial and imprison them at that moment because “this measure might prompt a new wave of demagogic demands from anti-social elements inside the country, and provocative acts by bourgeois propaganda.”

This explains the comprehensive response that, in the Russian saying, left the sheep whole and the wolves fed. Pyotr Grigorenko would be sent for psychiatric assessment. Alexander Volpin would receive permission to attend a mathematics symposium in the USA (it was not the first time he had been unsuccessfully invited there) and then, if “he compromised himself with unworthy behaviour” abroad, he would be deprived of his Soviet citizenship and “refused entry to the USSR”. Yakir, Litvinov and Bogoraz-Bruchman were to be summoned to the Procuracy. A “categorical demand” would be made that they immediately stop their “anti-social activities” [35] or else they would be “deprived of their residence permit and removed from Moscow”. To implement this threat, it was necessary

“… to make an addition to the 15 August 1966 decree (No 658-211) of the USSR Council of Ministers “Concerning a strengthening of the passport regime in the cities of Moscow and Leningrad and the Moscow Region” (draft attached);

To instruct the Moscow Soviet (if the warning does not have the [necessary] effect) to take a decision, based on the addition to the said decree, to deprive Yakir and Litvinov of their Moscow residence permit for a period of two years;

to instruct the Ministry for the Maintenance Public Order to remove Yakir and Litvinov from Moscow, having established a place of residence for Yakir in the Tyumen Region and for Litvinov in the Guryev Region of the Kazakh SSR;

to consider the removal of Bogoraz-Bruchman’s residence permit and her removal from Moscow, depending on her behaviour after the application of the said sanctions to Yakir and Litvinov;

to prepare an announcement about this matter and publish it in the “Sovetskaya Rossiya” newspaper on the day that the sanctions are implemented against Grigorenko, Yesenin-Volpin, Yakir, Litvinov and Bogoraz-Bruchman.

The addition was immediately made to the law on residence permits. Now city soviets had the right “without issuing preliminary administrative reprimands, to cancel the residence permits of individuals who are engaged in anti-social activities, manufacturing defamatory fabrications, provoking anti-social elements to engage in politically harmful activities, and behaving in a provocative fashion towards the authorities … The expulsion of the individuals indicated in the present decree is to be effected within 24 hours after a decision is taken to cancel the residence permit.”

Not one of these measures was legal at the time, but what did they care? Without pretending to consult anyone else, the Politburo ordered that all should be made ready within ten days[36]. The Leningrad and Moscow Soviets had no idea as yet of the new and unlimited power they had gained over the millions residing in their cities; the leadership of “sovereign” Kazakhstan did not know that Litvinov would be exiled to their republic; the editors of Sovetskaya Rossiya had no inkling about the announcement to be made in their pages; and the USSR Council of Ministers, supposedly the lawful government of the Soviet Union, would obediently sign the draft of its “decree”. A new era was about to begin when anyone, without warning, investigation or a court order, could be expelled from his home within 24 hours – and all because it was inconvenient at that moment for the regime to put three people on trial.

I have quoted this example not because it was the most outrageous or cruel. On the contrary, it was among the “gentler” acts of its kind. Furthermore, these measures were not implemented. Within a month, the fuss in the West died down. The Politburo could now imprison the citizens who had so infuriated it and a decision was taken, again without informing the interested parties, to withdraw the Resolution (16 May 1968, Pb 81/XVI) [37]. Duly signed and stamped, these “laws” never saw the light of day. Six months later Litvinov and Bogoraz were indeed exiled from Moscow but for a quite different reason and after a “lawful” trial. In 1972 Volpin was allowed to travel to the USA and speak at a symposium. Five years later Yakir was exiled from Moscow, again for a different reason. This example is astounding in its absurdity and the appalling indifference of the highest Soviet authorities to the most elementary legal standards. This was what they called “socialist legality”.

The same day, curiously, the Politburo took a decision about two other people, Anatoly Marchenko and Ilya Gabai (15 April 1968*, Pb 79/XII). It proposed that they be deprived of their Soviet citizenship and expelled from the country (the formulation of the edict and the accusations against them were virtually identical). The decision was taken and the edicts of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet were signed. After a month, the Politburo had second thoughts. Soon an excuse was found to arrest them and send them to the camps. Formally and legally speaking, they had already been deprived of their Soviet citizenship but no one remembered that. Later the two men died in tragic circumstances. Gabai committed suicide in 1973 and the imprisoned Marchenko died on hunger strike in December 1986, when “perestroika” had already begun. Fate played its hand. If they had been deported from the USSR they would probably still be alive.


Of course, this was just the beginning. In time the regime learned to be more careful in its use of the law and to prepare its “measures” more thoroughly. This memorandum from Andropov and Rudenko (20 January 1977, 123-A) [38], for instance, shows how the Central Committee prepared its reprisals against the Helsinki Groups, set up in Moscow, Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia and Armenia between 13 and 15 May 1976. It would be best, they suggested, to halt the “criminal activities” of the most active Helsinki Group members “by a variety of means”

“With regard to Yu. F. Orlov an investigation should be conducted into the criminal case opened earlier by the Moscow Procuracy so as to charge him under Article 190 of the RSFSR Criminal Code… During the investigation Orlov is not to be arrested unless his actions force us to do so.

“A.I. Ginzburg should be arrested and charged under Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code. The investigation is to be carried out in the Kaluga Region, in accordance with his place of residence.

“N.D. Rudenko, who lives in Kiev, is to be arrested and charged under Article 6 2 of the UkSSR Criminal Code (it corresponds to Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code). The investigation is to be carried out not in Kiev but in Donetsk, for which there are procedural grounds.

“Since T.A. Venclova (b. 1937), a former research associate of the Lithuanian SSR Academy of Sciences’ Institute of History, has petitioned for a temporary trip on a private invitation to the USA, permission for such a trip is to be granted. The future fate of Venclova will be decided in accordance with his behaviour abroad.”

Preparations for putting them on trial were yet more carefully considered and with even less regard for the law. For purely propaganda reasons, for instance, all the political trials in 1977 were postponed for almost a year (1 April 1978*, 785-A).

“The completed investigations into these criminal cases should have been sent to court. Bearing in mind the very important political events then taking place within the country (discussion and adoption of a new Soviet Constitution, celebration of the 60th anniversary of the October Revolution), however, and the situation surrounding the Belgrade Conference, it was recognised to be inexpedient to hold these trials in 1977.”

Approval was sought in this way from the Central Committee not by the scribblers of Pravda or the agitprop head Alexander Yakovlev, but the three main legal authorities in the USSR: Procurator-General Rudenko, Chairman of the Supreme Court Smirnov, and head of the KGB Andropov. What could we expect of the Politburo or the Central Committee if those who bore the responsibility for upholding the law understood it to be merely an appendage of ideology? For them the term “lawful” did not exist, but there was the concept of expediency, meaning what suited the goals of ideology.

Of course, they knew the law. It was not a question of ignorance. For instance, there arose a legal complication in the case of Anatoly Shcharansky. The KGB had tried a little too hard in accusing him of espionage [39] and wanted to square this by legislating an exception:

“In accordance with Article 9 of the Statute concerning Military Tribunals this case should be examined by a military tribunal. However, this circumstance could lead to an intensification of the anti-Soviet campaign that reactionary circles in the West are now conducting in connection with Shcharansky’s case. In view of this, we consider it would be expedient to make an exception and change the jurisdiction of the case, examining it before the Judicial Board for Criminal Cases of the RSFSR Supreme Court. A draft decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet is attached.”

Any legal specialist would regard the proposed decree of the highest legislative body in the country as absurd: “By way of exception, permit the Judicial Board of Criminal Cases of the RSFSR Supreme Court to examine, as the court of first instance, the criminal case of Anatoly Shcharansky, who is accused of treason in the form of espionage.” Yet the lawmakers acted as requested by the executive, in accordance with “socialist legality”, and without objection since they all knew that the accusation of espionage was framed in terms of “expediency”. The real “guilt” of Shcharansky was (25 December 1977) that he had

“… systematically provided the West with defamatory information about the Soviet Union that has been actively used by US special services under the guise of the “defence of human rights” in the USSR. These data were also used by pro-Zionist congressmen when adopting the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the “1974 Law on Trade”, which discriminates against the USSR.”


The regime’s most ludicrous violations of the law occurred when it did not wish to imprison us or, at least, punish us “with the full force of the law”. The search for alternative forms of reprisal led to a malfunctioning of the Soviet punitive system. Ideological expediency could not be combined with legality, and this led to extraordinary paradoxes obvious to those with no knowledge of the law. Was there anyone, for example, who did not know when we were expelled from the USSR, “exchanged” for Soviet spies, or deprived of our citizenship? No one doubted these were politically-motivated reprisals without any foundation in law.

3.6   “Without the latter’s consent …”

Anatoly Marchenko and Ilya Gabai had been formally expelled from the country, as we have seen, when the authorities had second thoughts. No trouble was taken to revoke the edict depriving them of their Soviet citizenship. The decision was no less arbitrary in other cases. Valery Tarsis was the first person in the post-Stalin period to be deprived of his citizenship for political reasons. Having let him travel to Britain the Politburo was undecided what to do next. Then the KGB reported: it had managed to discredit Tarsis in the West (8 April 1966, Pb 238/132):

“The KGB is continuing its measures to further compromise Tarsis as a mentally ill person. As concerns the defamatory anti-Soviet statements made by Tarsis abroad, and the positive reaction of Soviet citizens to the measures taken against him, we do not consider it expedient to permit his return to the Soviet Union, and propose that Tarsis be deprived of his Soviet citizenship and denied entry to the USSR.”

The Politburo agreed and the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet issued the appropriate edict. Yet what if Soviet citizens had expressed a “negative reaction” to these measures: would Tarsis then have retained his citizenship? And how should such reactions find expression? More fantastic still, from a legal point of view, were the “exchanges”, especially when certain Soviet citizens were exchanged for others (23 May 1979, 1012-A) [40]:

“On 27 April 1979 the KGB, in accordance with Central Committee Resolution No P129/44 (16 November 1978), deported the criminals Vins, [Eduard] Kuznetsov, Dymshits, Moroz and [Alexander] Ginzburg (who have been deprived of their citizenship by the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet), to the USA in exchange for Soviet intelligence agents Comrades Chernyayev and Enger, who were convicted by the American authorities. At the same time the Jewish nationalists Altman, Butman, Zalmanson, Penson and Khnokh[41] quit the USSR, having been given permission to leave in view of the operational situation within the country as it prepares for the Olympic Games in Moscow.”

As if this were insufficiently comic, the head of the KGB added [42] that his organisation had received information

… that the expulsion from the USSR of the above-mentioned persons is assessed by anti-Soviet groups abroad and anti-social elements within the country as a serious blow to their plans to “weaken socialism from within”. In commentaries made abroad it is emphasised that in Vins, Kuznetsov, Altman and other anti-Soviets the West has lost “reliable executors” of the hostile schemes of secret services and subversive centres, and sources of spiteful defamation of Soviet reality and the domestic and foreign policies of the Communist Party and the Soviet government…. The deported individuals themselves give a similar assessment. Ginzburg and Vins, for example, have declared that it would have been better for them if they had not been expelled and remained in prison so as to maintain contact with the milieu in which they were working.”

This was written at a time when tens of thousands were trying unsuccessfully to leave the Soviet Union. Many of those “expelled” were imprisoned precisely because they wanted to go to Israel. A contemporary cartoon in The New York Times showed two foreigners in fur coats and hats, chatting on Red Square: “Well, everything’s clear now,” says one to the other: “those who want to go, are not allowed out; those who don’t, are forced to leave.” In fact, all those “expelled” were, at the moment of the exchange, being held in camps or prison. If a radical improvement to the “operational situation” was the true explanation they should have been expelled immediately, without bothering the investigators or the courts. All the other “reliable executors of hostile schemes” (and all political prisoners, why not?) could also have been added to their number. Especially since the “subversive centres” declared that this would be a “serious blow” to their work.

It’s amusing in retrospect but that, roughly speaking, was the situation. In 1970-1, before my last arrest, I recall how I helped several Jewish activists, whom the Soviet authorities would not release, to emigrate. Legends began circulating among the refuseniks about my special skills but I did not divulge my methods. They were very simple. Taking pity on one such refusenik I proposed to make him my “accomplice” and put on a little show for the KGB. He was to ring me up regularly and repeat certain mysterious phrases; or he would come and visit me, secretly, at home. Sometimes he would show up with me in company, we would talk about something with a business-like air, and then, having received his instructions, he would rapidly disappear. Usually only a month of these games were needed before my accomplice received permission to leave the USSR ahead of the queue, although he might have waited years until then. That was how the KGB and I worked to create “a healthier political situation” in the country.

Another example of the Central Committee’s legislative ingenuity (30 September 1986, 1942-Ch) was the expulsion of Yury Orlov after perestroika had already begun:

“Orlov, Yu. F., b. 1924, former corresponding member of Armenian SSR Academy of Sciences, was sentenced in 1978 under Article 70, part 1 of the RSFSR Criminal Code, to 7 years’ imprisonment and five years of exile. Presently, he is in exile in the Yakut ASSR and his sentence finishes in February 1989…. To resolve the issue of Zakharov and N. Daniloff on a mutually acceptable basis we consider it possible to expel Orlov from the country, releasing him from the remainder of his sentence and depriving him of his Soviet citizenship.”

Not the slightest effort was made to give this decision the semblance of legality. The Central Committee needed to resolve another issue that had nothing to do with Yury Orlov and he served as a makeweight in the deal, like so much loose change from a large bank note.

In my case, the reverse happened. They “forgot” to deprive me of my Soviet citizenship or annul my conviction. When they expelled me from the USSR I was given a Soviet passport valid for the next five years. My exchange was discussed by the Politburo at least three times, the final occasion being only three days before I was swapped for the Chilean Communist Corvalan. An edict was issued by the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet, it seems, but not published. A proposal under the imposing title, “Measures linked to the release of Comrade L. Corvalan” was put to the Politburo by Andropov, Gromyko and Ponomarev 14 December 1976 (2816‑A) [43]:

“The Soviet ambassador in Washington reports that the Chilean authorities have agreed to transfer Comrade L. Corvalan and his family to Geneva. The idea is that we shall hand over Bukovsky and his mother there as well.

“The Chileans propose to make the exchange on 18 December this year (telegram No 3130 from Washington). We consider it expedient to give our agreement to this date.

“It is desirable to send a representative of the Central Committee International Department to Geneva and a doctor. A special plane should be provided to transport Comrade Corvalan from Geneva to the USSR. Bukovsky will be sent to Geneva on the same plane.

“An edict concerning Bukovsky’s deportation from a penal institution to a place beyond the borders of the USSR should be adopted by the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet before he is handed over to the Chilean side. This will permit Bukovsky’s transportation in custody to Geneva without his agreement.”

And there you have it. It was to “avoid asking Bukovsky’s agreement”, and to have the pleasure of transporting me in handcuffs, that a separate edict was passed. In that case, however, they could neither annul my conviction nor withdraw my Soviet citizenship: a non-citizen, especially one no longer convicted of a crime, could not be kept in custody. Sixteen years were to pass before I set eyes on this edict. When I did, I threw up my arms in amazement and burst out laughing. When had they become so fastidious as to ask our permission before taking reprisals against us? And why had they done it? Did they imagine I would start fighting them?

All the same, the humour was distinctly limited: there is little to laugh about in such lawless and arbitrary conduct. This was how the Soviet Union “rid itself” in the 1970s and 1980s of the best, often the most gifted, and certainly the most honest, figures in the worlds of science, scholarship, art and literature. The Central Committee was informed, for example, that Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya (14 March 1978*, 459-A)

“… have been engaged in anti-social activities for the entire period of their time abroad since 1974, denigrating the Soviet State and social system and committing other acts unworthy of the title of Soviet citizen.

“By their provocative actions and defamatory statements Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya have repeatedly provided material for inciting anti-Soviet insinuations in the West, including malicious attacks on the USSR over the notorious issues of “human rights” and “creative freedom” in our country…. Such behaviour by Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya creates a precedent for imitation by other politically immature representatives of the creative intelligentsia. Following their example, several musicians, directors, writers, artists and sportsmen have already submitted applications for extended visits abroad.

“In view of the above we consider it expedient to deprive M.L. Rostropovich and G.I. Vishnevskaya of their Soviet citizenship, and to publish an edict of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet in the News of the USSR Supreme Soviet and a short item about this issue in “Izvestiya “.”

The same file, it is curious to relate, contained earlier Central Committee documents about its treatment of Rostropovich. There was the ban on his touring the USSR late in 1977 [44] with the Washington National Symphony Orchestra of which he was then conductor. There was also the following memorandum and proposal (12 May 1977*, 958-A):

“According to information received, the Association of International Gatherings in Contemporary Art intends to hold a “Rostropovich Competition for Young Cellists” in Paris from 27 June to 3 July 1977 and has announced this as one of the events to mark his 50th birthday. Preparations for the competition are being accompanied in the West by a raucous advertising campaign.

“In the present situation, it seems expedient to instruct the USSR Ministry of Culture to inform the cultural bodies of Bulgaria, Hungary, the GDR, Cuba, Mongolia, Poland and the Czechoslovak SSR, that it would be undesirable for representatives of the socialist countries to take part in the above-mentioned competition.”

All these documents were considered in deciding what to do about Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya. The couple had more than sufficient grounds to speak of systematic persecution, not just violations of their human rights. The Politburo organised this persecution and then, taking offence at their reaction, deprived them of their Soviet citizenship. What, one wonders, did its members expect? Gratitude?

As if driven by a self-destructive urge, the Politburo took no account of others. It did not matter how famous someone might be or what honours and awards he had earned, in the USSR or elsewhere: if he would not bend to their wishes, he was thrown out of the country. The sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, Yury Lyubimov, director of the Soviet Union’s most famous theatre, and the renowned film director Andrei Tarkovsky were all driven into exile. Tired of the Party’s supervision, others fled the country or refused to return from trips abroad. They became “traitors” and “turncoats” who could not be mentioned in the Soviet press. Their books were withdrawn from libraries and mention of their names was removed from the encyclopaedias. Suddenly scientists, chess-players, ballet dancers and writers were the main enemies of the regime. Nuclear physicists, whom Stalin preferred to leave alone, were not spared (6 November 1978):

“The Ministry of Medium Machine Engineering has put forward a proposal that S.M. Polikanov, a senior research associate of the Combined Institute for Nuclear Research, should be deprived of his Soviet medals and orders, his title as Lenin-Prize winner, his doctorate in physical-mathematical sciences and be excluded from among the corresponding members of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

“The reason for this proposal is that S.M. Polikanov has established ties with foreign correspondents and provided them with defamatory materials that are used by the Western press for anti-Soviet purposes. He has also joined a group of individuals, well-known for their anti-social activities, and takes part in their hostile acts …

“A decree of the Central Committee, dated 25 August 1978, gives permission for Polikanov and his family to leave for permanent residence in a capitalist country.”

The only person they did not summon the determination to expel was Andrei Sakharov. Instead, he was exiled to Gorky, without a court decision, and with no recollection of the “legislation”, invented in 1968 for Yakir, Litvinov and Bogoraz. To prevent Sakharov’s “hostile activities”, “criminal contacts” with citizens from capitalist States, and the resulting damage to the “interests of the Soviet State” the Politburo decided (8 January 1980*, Pb 177/X):

“… to take no other step but to exile Sakharov, Andrei Dmitriyevich, in administrative order, from the city of Moscow to a part of the country that is closed for visits by foreigners. A residential regime is to be established for A.D. Sakharov that excludes contacts with foreigners and anti-social elements, and journeys to other parts of the country without the permission of the appropriate body within the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs. Monitoring to ensure that Sakharov A.D. observes the established regime is entrusted to the KGB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs.”

Can anyone explain to me why the Soviet regime could do nothing in accordance with the laws it had itself invented?

3.7   What to do about Solzhenitsyn?

How the minds of the Politburo worked when resolving such issues is revealed by the minutes of the meeting on 7 January 1974, as they decided what to do about Solzhenitsyn [45]:

BREZHNEV. According to reports from our embassies abroad and in the foreign press, a new work by Solzhenitsyn, “The Gulag Archipelago”, is to be published in France and the USA. Comrade Suslov tells me that the Secretariat has taken a decision to deploy articles in our press, exposing the writings of Solzhenitsyn and bourgeois propaganda linked to the publication of this book. No one has yet read this book but the contents are already known. It is a crude, anti-Soviet lampoon. Today we must discuss what we do next. Our laws give us every right to send Solzhenitsyn to prison because he has offended against all that is most sacred – Lenin, our Soviet system, the Soviet regime, everything that we hold dear.

In the past, we sent Yakir, Litvinov and others to prison; they were convicted and that was an end of it. [Anatoly] Kuznetsov, Alliluyeva and others moved abroad. For a time, it caused a stir, then all was forgotten. Then this delinquent element Solzhenitsyn went on the loose. He takes a swing at everything and shows no respect. What should we do with him? If we penalise him, will that be to our advantage? How will bourgeois propaganda use it against us? I am raising this issue for discussion. I just want us to exchange opinions, talk it over and reach the right decision.

KOSYGIN. We have a note from Comrade Andropov on this matter. It contains the suggestion that Solzhenitsyn be deported from the country.

BREZHNEV. I have talked with Comrade Andropov on this issue.

ANDROPOV. I consider Solzhenitsyn should be deported from the country without his consent. In an earlier period, Trotsky was deported from the country, without asking his consent.

BREZHNEV. Obviously, Solzhenitsyn himself will not agree to that.

KIRILENKO. He can be removed without his agreement.

PODGORNY. Can a country be found that will take him without his consent?

BREZHNEV. Remember that Solzhenitsyn did not go abroad even to receive the Nobel Prize [in 1972].

ANDROPOV. When it was suggested that he go abroad to receive the Nobel Prize, he asked for guarantees that he could return to the USSR.

I have been raising the problem of Solzhenitsyn since 1965, comrades. He has now reached a new level in his hostile activities. He is trying to create an organisation within the Soviet Union, made up of former prisoners. He is speaking out against Lenin, against the October Revolution, and against the socialist system. His composition “The Gulag Archipelago” is not a work of art but a political document. That is dangerous. There are tens of thousands of Vlasovites, members of OUN[46] and other hostile elements within the country: hundreds and thousands of people among whom Solzhenitsyn will find support. Now everyone is watching to see how we deal with Solzhenitsyn, whether we take legal measures against him or leave him in peace.

Comrade Keldysh [president of USSR Academy of Sciences] recently rang me and asked why we are not taking any measures against Sakharov. If we do nothing about Sakharov, he says, then Academicians like Kapitza, Engelgardt and others will start behaving the same way.

This is all very important, comrades, and we must resolve these issues, even though the European Conference[47] is now under way [CSCE] I think we must put Solzhenitsyn on trial and apply the Soviet laws to him. Many foreign correspondents and other dissatisfied people are coming to visit Solzhenitsyn. He talks to them and even holds press conferences. There might be a hostile underground organisation in the USSR that the KGB has overlooked. Solzhenitsyn, however, is acting openly and brazenly. He exploits the humane attitude of the Soviet regime and conducts his hostile work with impunity. Therefore, we must take all the measures of which I wrote to the Central Committee, and deport Solzhenitsyn. First, we shall ask our ambassadors to sound out the governments of the countries where they are serving to see if they can take him. If we do not deport him today, he will continue his hostile activities. You know that he wrote a hostile novel “August 1914”, the lampoon “Gulag Archipelago” and now he is writing “October 1917”, a new anti-Soviet composition.

Therefore, I propose that we deport Solzhenitsyn by administrative order. Let us instruct our ambassadors to make the necessary enquiries about receiving Solzhenitsyn in the countries named in my memorandum. If we do not take these measures, all our propaganda work will have no effect. If we place articles in the press and talk about him on the radio, but take no measures that will be just words. We must decide how we are going to deal with Solzhenitsyn.

BREZHNEV. What if we deported him to a socialist country?

ANDROPOV. It’s unlikely, Leonid Ilych, that socialist countries will be receptive. We would be making a gift of such an unwelcome character. Perhaps, we could ask Iraq, Switzerland or some other country? He can live comfortably abroad, he has 8 million roubles in European banks.

SUSLOV. Solzhenitsyn has grown insolent. He has insulted the Soviet system and the Communist Party, and raised his hand against the Holy of Holies, against Lenin.

It is a question of time, how we deal with Solzhenitsyn: whether we deport him, or try him according to our Soviet laws, something must be done. To implement one measure or another against Solzhenitsyn, we must prepare our people and that must be done by deploying wide propaganda. We acted correctly towards Sakharov when we carried out the necessary propaganda work. There are no more bad-tempered letters about Sakharov. Millions of Soviet people listen to the radio and hear broadcast about these new compositions [by Solzhenitsyn]. This all has an effect on the people. We must issue a series of articles and expose Solzhenitsyn. That most certainly must be done.

In accordance with the decision taken by the Secretariat, it is intended to publish one or two articles in “Pravda” and “Literaturnaya gazeta”. The people will learn about this book by Solzhenitsyn. Of course, we must not start a campaign about it but print several articles.

KIRILENKO. That will only draw attention to Solzhenitsyn.

SUSLOV. But we cannot keep quiet.

GROMYKO. Solzhenitsyn is an enemy and I shall vote for the most severe measures against him. As concerns propaganda measures, these should be on the right scale. They require careful forethought. Neither, however, can we reject the steps proposed by Comrade Andropov. If we deport him by force, against his will, we must be aware that this could turn bourgeois propaganda against us. It would be good to expel him with his agreement, but he will not give his consent. Perhaps, we should be patient for a little while longer, whilst the European Conference is still under way? If some country did agree it would not be expedient to expel him now because this might lead to a wide propaganda campaign against us, and that will not help us when the European Conference comes to an end. I suggest waiting 3-4 months but, let me repeat, in principle I favour severe measures. Solzhenitsyn should now be cordoned off so that he is isolated for those months, and cannot receive people through whom he can wage his propaganda.

Leonid Ilych will be making a visit to Cuba in the near future. This is also not entirely favourable to us because it will be hindered by many kinds of material against the Soviet Union. We must take the necessary propaganda measures within the country to expose Solzhenitsyn.

USTINOV. I think we should begin work on the proposals made by Comrade Andropov. At the same time, we must publish propaganda materials exposing Solzhenitsyn.

PODGORNY. I would like to pose the question as follows. What administrative measure are we to take towards Solzhenitsyn: are we to convict him under Soviet law and make him serve his sentence here, or, as Comrade Andropov proposes, are we to deport him? It is beyond doubt that Solzhenitsyn is an insolent and vehement foe, who is leading the turncoats behind him. Everything he is doing goes unpunished, and that’s also clear to all of us. Let’s see which measure will be most advantageous to us: a trial or deportation. In many countries, in China, they hold public executions; in Chile, the fascist regime shoots and tortures people; in Ireland, the English take repressive measures against the working people. Meanwhile we are faced by a vehement foe and look the other way, when everyone and everything is being smeared with filth.

I consider our law humane but, at the same time, merciless towards enemies, and we should try Solzhenitsyn according to our laws in our Soviet court and make him serve his sentence in the Soviet Union.

DEMICHEV. Of course, there will be a fuss abroad but we have already published several items about Solzhenitsyn’s new book. We must further expand our propaganda work. We cannot remain silent. If Solzhenitsyn said in his “Feast of the Victors” that he wrote such things because he is infuriated by the Soviet regime, he is still more insolent and open in his opposition to the Soviet system and the Party in “The Gulag Archipelago”, which he wrote in 1965. Therefore, we must offer sharply-worded articles in our press. In my view, this will not affect the relaxation of international tension or the European Conference.

SUSLOV. Party organisations are waiting, and the socialist countries are also waiting, to see how we react to Solzhenitsyn’s actions. The bourgeois press is now promoting this book of Solzhenitsyn as loudly as it can. We must not remain silent.

KATUSHEV. We all share the same assessment of Solzhenitsyn’s actions. This is an enemy and we must treat him accordingly. Evidently, we cannot avoid resolving the problem of Solzhenitsyn now. However, we must find a comprehensive solution. On the one hand, we shall use all our propaganda against Solzhenitsyn and, on the other, we must take measures in accordance with Comrade Andropov’s memorandum.

Obviously, we can deport him with a decree from the Supreme Soviet and announce it in the press. He has assaulted our sovereignty, attacked our freedoms and our laws, and he must be punished for doing so.

Negotiations about Solzhenitsyn’s deportation, obviously, will take 3-4 months. However, I repeat, we must find a comprehensive solution and the sooner we deport him, the better.

As concerns our press, we must issue articles.

KAPITONOV. I would like to pose this issue as follows: if we deport Solzhenitsyn, what will our people think? They may respond, of course, without any reservations, gossip and so on. What are we showing by this action: our strength or our weakness? I think that, no matter what, we shall not be demonstrating our strength. So far, we have not yet exposed him ideologically and have told the people nothing about Solzhenitsyn. Yet that must be done. We must begin our work, first and foremost, by exposing Solzhenitsyn, turning him inside out, and then any administrative measure will be understood by our people.

SOLOMENTSEV. Solzhenitsyn is a hardened enemy of the Soviet Union. If it was not for the current foreign policy operations of the Soviet Union we could solve the problem, of course, without delay. How will one decision or another reflect on our foreign policy operations? In any case, obviously, we must say everything that should be said to our people about Solzhenitsyn. We must give a critical assessment of his actions and his hostile activities. Of course, the people will ask, Why are no measures being taken against Solzhenitsyn? In the GDR, for example, they have already printed an article about Solzhenitsyn, and in Czechoslovakia as well. I say nothing about the bourgeois countries, but our press is silent. Over the radio, we hear a great deal about Solzhenitsyn and his “Gulag Archipelago”, but our radio keeps quiet and says nothing.

I believe that we should not be silent. The people expect decisive action. Critical material exposing Solzhenitsyn should be printed in our press. Obviously, we should reach agreement with the socialist countries and the communist parties of capitalist countries about propaganda measures that they might take in their countries.

I think Solzhenitsyn should be convicted according to our laws.

GRISHIN. Comrade Andropov, obviously, needs to find a country that would agree to accept Solzhenitsyn. As concerns the exposure of Solzhenitsyn, that should begin without delay.

KIRILENKO. Whenever we talk about Solzhenitsyn as an anti-Sovietist and a malicious enemy of the Soviet system this always coincides with some other important events and we defer a solution to the problem. In the past this was justified, but now we cannot postpone a decision on this issue. What has been written about Solzhenitsyn is good but, as comrades have already said here, it must be more soundly and critically expressed and argued. For instance, the Polish writer Krolikowski has written a very good exposé of Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn is becoming more and more insolent. He is not alone but is in contact with Sakharov. Abroad he has contacts with the NTS[48]. Therefore, the moment has come to grapple seriously with Solzhenitsyn and then deport him or take other administrative measures against him.

Andrei Andreyevich [Gromyko] is concerned that this measure might rebound on us. However that may be, the problem cannot be left as it is. Enemies are hampering us and we cannot keep silent about it. Even bourgeois newspapers are now writing that Solzhenitsyn will be tried under Soviet law and has already violated the copyright convention which we have joined.

I support Comrade Andropov’s proposal.

Articles should be provided in the newspapers but very well argued and detailed.

KOSYGIN. We share a common opinion, comrades, and I fully support what has been said.

For several years, Solzhenitsyn has been trying to win over the minds of our people. For some reason, we are afraid to touch him and yet the people would welcome all our actions regarding Solzhenitsyn.

If we speak about public opinion abroad we should consider what will do least harm: to expose him, convict him and send him to prison or to wait several months and then deport him to another country.

I think that we shall face the least costs if we act decisively towards him now and convict him according to Soviet laws.

Obviously, articles about Solzhenitsyn must be provided in the press, but they must be serious. Solzhenitsyn has been bought by Western companies and agencies, and he is working for them. The book “Gulag Archipelago” is an out-and-out anti-Soviet work. I talked with Comrade Andropov about this problem. Of course, the socialist countries will not accept Solzhenitsyn. I am in favour of Comrade Andropov trying to sound out capitalist countries to see which of them might take him. On the other hand, we should not be afraid to apply the harsh measures of Soviet justice to Solzhenitsyn. Look at Britain. They are killing hundreds of people. Or Chile, it’s the same thing.

We must put Solzhenitsyn on trial and tell everyone about him, and then he can be sent to Verkhoyansk to serve his sentence. No foreign correspondent will travel there: it’s too cold. We have nothing to hide from the people. Articles must be published in the newspapers.

PODGORNY. Solzhenitsyn is actively carrying out anti-Soviet work. In the past, we deported or put on trial less dangerous enemies than Solzhenitsyn yet we still cannot approach him, we keep looking for a way to do so. Solzhenitsyn’s last book gives no excuse for any concessions.

It is necessary that this measure, of course, does not harm other operations. Solzhenitsyn has quite a few followers but we cannot ignore his actions.

I believe that the people will support any action we take. Articles should be published in the newspapers, but they should be very well argued and convincing. Many know about him and about the latest book. The Voice of America, Free Europe and other radio stations are transmitting broadcasts about him. At home and abroad people are waiting to see what measures the Soviet government takes against Solzhenitsyn. He is not afraid, of course, and assumes that nothing will happen to him.

Despite the European Conference I believe we cannot back down and take no measures against him. Although the European Conference is taking place we must put Solzhenitsyn on trial and let everyone know that we are following a principled policy in this respect. We shall show our enemies no mercy.

We shall do great damage to our cause if we do not take measures against Solzhenitsyn, although there will be an outcry abroad. There will be all kinds of talk, of course, but the interests of our people, and the interests of our Soviet State and our Party come before everything else. If we do not take these decisive measures, we shall be asked why we are not doing so.

I am in favour of putting Solzhenitsyn on trial. If we deport him this will show our weakness. We must prepare for a trial, expose Solzhenitsyn in the press, bring charges against him, conduct an investigation and transfer the case, via the Procuracy, to the courts.

POLYANSKY. Can he be arrested before the trial?

ANDROPOV. He can. I consulted Rudenko.

PODGORNY. As concerns deportation to another country, that’s no good without the country’s agreement.

ANDROPOV. We shall begin working on deportation, but, at the same time, we shall open a criminal case against Solzhenitsyn and isolate him.

PODGORNY. If we deport him he will do us harm abroad.

GROMYKO. We must concentrate, obviously, on the alternative of dealing with him here.

ANDROPOV. If we drag things out with regard to Solzhenitsyn I think that will be worse.

PODGORNY. We can spin out Solzhenitsyn’s case, say, by dragging out the investigation. But let him be held in prison during that time.

SHELEPIN. When we met at Comrade Kosygin’s three months ago and discussed what measures should be taken towards Solzhenitsyn, we concluded that administrative measures should not be taken. That was right at the time. Now a different situation has developed. Solzhenitsyn has openly turned against the Soviet regime and the Soviet State. Now, I believe, it would be advantageous if we resolved the problem of Solzhenitsyn before the end of the European Conference. This will show our consistent and principled approach. If we carry out this operation after the European Conference we shall be accused of being insincere when we reached agreement and that we are now beginning to violate those decisions, etc. We have a clear and correct policy. We do not allow anyone to break our Soviet laws. Deportation to a foreign country is not a suitable measure. In my view, we should not involve foreign States in this matter. We have judicial bodies, let them investigate and then hold a trial.

BREZHNEV. The problem regarding Solzhenitsyn, of course, is not simple but very complex. The bourgeois press is trying to link the Solzhenitsyn case with the conduct of our major operations to reach peaceful solutions. How shall we deal with Solzhenitsyn? I consider that the best way is to proceed in accordance with our Soviet laws.

ALL. Agreed.

BREZHNEV. Our Procuracy can begin the investigation, draw up the charge sheet, and explain in detail what he is guilty of.

In the past, Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned. He served his sentence for a gross violation of Soviet legislation and was rehabilitated. Yet how was he rehabilitated? He was rehabilitated by two people, Shatunovskaya and Snegov. According to our laws he should be deprived of the opportunity to be in contact with [people] abroad, while the investigation is under way. The investigation must be conducted openly and show the people his hostile, anti-Soviet activities. The people must be shown how he has defiled our Soviet system, slandered the memory of our Great Leader, V.I. Lenin, the founder of the Party and the State, defiled the memory of the victims of the Great Patriotic War [1941-1945], justified counter-revolutionaries, and directly violated our laws.

In the past, we did not fear to confront counter-revolution in Czechoslovakia. We did not fear to let Alliluyeva leave the country. We survived all that and, I think, we will also survive this. We must provide well-argued articles, and give a strict and precise response to the writing of a journalist such as Olson, and publish articles in other newspapers.

I have talked with Comrade Gromyko about the influence our measures towards Solzhenitsyn will have on the European Conference. I do not think it will have a great influence. Obviously, it is not expedient to deport him because no one will accept him. When [Anatoly] Kuznetsov and others fled the country, that’s one thing; it’s another matter when we are deporting someone as an administrative measure.

Therefore, I consider it necessary to instruct the KGB and the USSR Procurator-General’s office to draw the procedure for bringing Solzhenitsyn to trial and, considering everything said at this Politburo meeting, to adopt the appropriate judicial measures.

PODGORNY. He should be arrested and charged.

BREZHNEV. Let Comrades Andropov and Rudenko draw up the procedure for charging him, keeping everything in accordance with our legislation.

Comrades Andropov, Demichev and Katushev must be instructed to prepare information for the secretaries of the fraternal communist and workers’ parties in the socialist countries and other leaders of fraternal communist parties about our measures towards Solzhenitsyn.

ALL. Agreed.

The following decree has been adopted:

On measures to halt the anti-Soviet activities of Solzhenitsyn, A.I.

For malicious anti-Soviet activities, as expressed by the transfer to foreign publishers and information agencies of manuscripts, books, letters and interviews: that slander the Soviet system, the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and their foreign and domestic policies; that defile the radiant memory of V.I. Lenin and other leaders of the CPSU and Soviet State, and the victims of the Great Patriotic War and the German-fascist occupation; that justify the actions both of internal and of foreign counter-revolutionary and elements and groups hostile to the Soviet system; and also for gross violation of the rules for publishing literary works in foreign publishing houses, laid down by the World (Geneva) Copyright Convention, Solzhenitsyn A.I. is to stand trial.

Instruct Comrades Andropov and Rudenko to determine the order and procedure for conducting the investigation and the trial of Solzhenitsyn, in accordance with the exchange of opinion at the Politburo, and to submit their suggestions on this matter to the Central Committee.

Instruct Comrades Andropov, Demichev and Katushev to prepare information for the first secretaries of the Central Committee s of Communist and Workers’ Parties of the socialist and certain capitalist countries about the measures we are taking with regard to Solzhenitsyn, bearing in mind the exchange of opinions at the Politburo, and present this information to the Central Committee.

Instruct the Secretariat to determine the deadline for sending this information to the fraternal parties.


The Soviet leaders, as we can see, were not at all concerned about legality and if they did recall the law then it was only in reference to its “harsh” implementation. They sincerely believed, one gains the impression, that whatever they decided would be lawful. Not one of them suspected, for example, that by law only the Procuracy could instigate criminal proceedings while the “procedure for the conduct of the pre-trial investigation and the judicial process” was laid down in the RSFSR Criminal-Procedural Code. Neither the head of the KGB nor the Procurator-General could decide how interrogations and court hearings were to be conducted. Yet what did the law matter when the members of the Politburo had a defective relationship with reality? Just consider their conviction that “hundreds of workers are being killed in England”; the assertion that they “had not been afraid to let Alliluyeva leave the country”; not forgetting their quite unfounded certainty that ordinary people in the USSR supported their repressive measures.

The Western press was then full of Sovietologists’ discussions about a conflict between “doves” and “hawks” within the Politburo. Worse still, Western politicians believed these myths: detente, the most idiotic period in post-war history, was in the ascendant. Yet from the minutes quoted above it is easy to see that the only “dove” in the leadership was Andropov, and it was not the kindness of his heart that made him prefer deporting Solzhenitsyn to putting him on trial. It was all very well for the Politburo to decide what others should do. They bore no responsibility for implementing the decision: Andropov knew that the negative consequences of arresting and prosecuting Solzhenitsyn would be laid at his door. Naturally, he found a way of reversing the Politburo decision or, to be more precise, he found a country that would take Solzhenitsyn against the writer’s will.

For Andropov and for Gromyko, to some extent, the Politburo decision to prosecute Solzhenitsyn was extremely unwelcome. The other Soviet leaders did not agree with them and rejected their recommendations. Such a defeat was not a good omen: far more serious, it put all their cunning detente games at risk. What could they do but turn to their Western partners in detente? The German Social Democrats did not let them down. We shall return to the subject in Chapter Four (“Betrayal”). Here we may simply note that within a month a solution was found. On 2 February 1974, the West German Chancellor Willy Brandt suddenly announced that Solzhenitsyn could live and work without hindrance in the Federal Republic. As Solzhenitsyn would later write in The Oak and the Calf, “he spoke and it was done”. Andropov reported immediately to the Central Committee (7 February 1974*, 350-A/OV): “This declaration by Brandt gives every justification for deporting Solzhenitsyn to the FRG, after adopting the necessary edict of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet depriving him of his citizenship. This decision will also be lawful, bearing in mind the existence of materials concerning Solzhenitsyn’s criminal activities.”

To be quite sure of getting his way, Andropov did two more things. He instructed his subordinates Chebrikov and Bobkov to compose a memorandum about popular attitudes towards Solzhenitsyn, implying that the writer had more than a few followers in the USSR among manual workers who believed he was in favour of lowering prices and ending “aid to Cuba and developing countries” so as to increase the well-being of ordinary people. Then Andropov sent a personal letter to Brezhnev to accompany the memorandum (7 February 1974*). The Solzhenitsyn affair, he wrote, was “no longer a criminal matter and had become a considerable problem of a definitely political character” and concluded

“Dear Leonid Ilych, before sending this letter we at the Committee once again most thoroughly weighed up all the possible costs that could arise (to a lesser degree) from deportation and (to a greater degree) from the arrest of Solzhenitsyn. There will indeed be such costs. Unfortunately, however, we have no alternative since letting Solzhenitsyn’s behaviour go unpunished is already causing us much greater costs within the country than those which will arise in international terms if Solzhenitsyn is deported or arrested.”

Andropov, in short, got what he wanted and, of course, he was right. The costs to the USSR of deporting the writer were far fewer. This is why that form of political reprisal became so common by the end of the 1970s. This raises another question, however, about the internal costs of the “unpunished behaviour” of any one of us and, note well, no one in the Politburo disputed that these were greater than the other costs to the regime. The high value placed on the effectiveness of our activities is intriguing and explains a great deal. The system could survive only by sustaining the Party’s monopoly of power, and the precedence of ideology over law, logic and common sense. That, evidently, was what one of the Politburo members meant when he talked, in their discussion of Solzhenitsyn, about a violation of their “sovereignty”. They had been conscious of such a “violation” since our movement began. As far back as 1968, after the Ginzburg-Galanskov trial, Andropov wrote (26 January 1968*, 181-A): “It has become quite obvious that Western propaganda and a group of the above-mentioned individuals, acting as an instrument in the hands of our adversaries, are trying to make it legal to carry out anti-Soviet work in our country and attain impunity for hostile actions.”

For the KGB chief our emphatically open and legal activities and our appeal to the law were far more dangerous than any underground conspiracy or terrorist act. After the Helsinki Groups emerged in May 1976, Andropov warned (15 November 1976*, 2577-A): “In recent years the special services and propaganda bodies of the Adversary are trying to create the semblance in the Soviet Union of an “internal opposition”, and are taking measures to support those who inspire anti-social behaviour and objectively aid the consolidation between the participants of various trends in anti-Soviet activity.” Early in 1977, describing measures to obstruct the activities of prominent Helsinki Group activists, Andropov and Procurator-General Rudenko commented (20 January 1977*, 123-A): “Giving priority at the present level to illegal methods of underground work in the pursuit of anti-Soviet goals, the Adversary is also trying to activate hostile actions in legal or semi-legal forms.”

Arrests and deportation were not the only way the regime reacted to these attempts, of course: it deployed the entire arsenal, from incarceration in psychiatric hospital s and smear campaigns (“compromising measures”), to threats and blackmail. In 1977, as we have already seen, the Party tried to cement its control in the new Soviet Constitution, by openly declaring, for the first time, its monopoly on power. Those were the ways they defended their “sovereignty” against our “assaults”, in part accepting the rules of the game we proposed. It cannot be said that the Soviet regime failed to demonstrate flexibility. It was prepared to bear certain costs, but it could not get by without the usual repressive measures [49]: “At the same time, it is impossible to refrain at present from the prosecution of individuals who are opposed to the Soviet system, since this would lead to an increase in especially serious State crimes and anti-social behaviour”.

That was Andropov, writing in December 1975, when the Helsinki Accords had already been signed. He thereby accepted, as the lesser of two evils, the “external costs” that violations of the agreement would inevitably entail. These costs were significant. For it was not only “bourgeois” public opinion which proved strongly opposed to the USSR – that could have been dismissed as the “intrigues of imperialism”. “Progressive” public opinion was of a similar mind. Western Communist Parties, especially those that were large and therefore more dependent on public opinion within their own countries, had to condemn such practises, though with caveats and against their will. Their words of denunciation may have been only for show. The threat of a split in the communist movement and, yet more worrying, of the USSR’s political isolation, was quite real.

3.8   External costs

Naturally, the Politburo was unsettled by such a turn of events. Andropov began his report (29 December 1975*, 3213-A) by expressing concern about what the leaders of the French and Italian Communist Parties had been saying:

Recently bourgeois propaganda has been making active use in its subversive activities against the Soviet Union and other socialist countries of the well-known statements by the leaders of the French and Italian Communist Parties on issues concerning Soviet democracy… The problems arising from the statements by certain leaders of the French and Italian Communist Parties, apart from their ideological and theoretical aspect, also have an aspect that concerns the security of the Soviet State…. The thesis put forward by “Humanité” that freedom of action should be afforded under conditions of socialism to those who “assert their disagreement with the system devised by the majority” objectively aids the adversaries of socialism in their attempts to create within the Soviet Union and other socialist countries a legal opposition, and to undermine the leading role of the Communist and Workers’ parties.

Drawing, in passing, on a long perspective that included his own involvement in suppressing the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, he continued:

Comrades who have made such statements, even after the events in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, do not want to see that in conditions of developed socialism, despite the monolithic and political unity of society, anti-Soviet behaviour is still preserved in one form or another, to a greater or lesser degree…. The information we possess testifies that the special services and ideological centres of the Adversary are striving to unite the actions of hostile elements of all shades…. From the above we can see it could provoke the most serious negative consequences if we stopped active obstruction of the politically harmful activities of the “dissidents” and other hostile elements, as the French and Italian comrades wish …

It would be desirable at a suitable moment to hold relevant high-level discussions with French and Italian comrades during which we shall explain to them that the struggle against the so-called “dissidents” is not an abstract issue concerning democracy, but vitally important for preserving the security of the Soviet State.”

On several occasions the Politburo sent long messages to the leaders of “fraternal parties “. The first letter to the French Communist Party (18 December 1975, Pb 198/93) adopted a cautious and diplomatic tone:

Comrades! We understand very well that the PCF is waging a stubborn struggle for democracy in France against the attempts of reaction to assail the rights of working people. This is a lawful struggle and it has our full understanding and support. However, you cannot defend freedom in France and, at the same time, permit frequent attacks on the Soviet Union that harm relations between our parties….

Of course, in our country, as in others, there are criminal elements whom the Soviet regime is obliged to isolate in places of confinement and re-education through labour. This has nothing in common with the violations of democratic liberties of Soviet people. We can honestly tell you that a numerically insignificant number of individuals among the 250-million strong population of our country are being convicted by the Soviet courts in full conformity with the Constitution, and observing the norms of the judicial democratic process, and only when they are waging hostile activities against the socialist system and the Soviet State.

A much longer letter to 22 “fraternal parties” (including the PCF) was despatched a month later (14 January 1976, Pb 201/44) and contained an extended rebuttal of the “fabrications of anti-Soviet propaganda”. After three weeks, this message was sent to a further 13 Communist parties, not excluding the smallest and those that were operating underground [50].

Later that year diplomacy gave way to irritation and concern. The International Department informed the Central Committee of reports from Soviet ambassadors about a revival of the campaign in support of the dissidents. More worrying were the attempts by the organisers to “involve progressive organisations” in their protests and link them to statements in defence of “the victims of lawless treatment in capitalist countries” (25 October 1976*, 25‑S‑2025):

In Paris on 21 October a rally was held in support of Bukovsky and, at the same time, of the Uruguayan communist Masser and several other individuals. Representatives of the French Communist Party took part in the rally and, as a result, the Central Committee sent a letter to the PCF leadership (decree No 030/43 of 18 October this year).

We consider it would be expedient to send guidance on these issues to Soviet ambassadors in those capitalist countries where such attempts may be made (Italy, Great Britain, USA, Japan, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway). The text of this telegram to Soviet ambassadors is attached.

That was not the end of the matter, naturally, and in spring 1977 the Politburo again sent a long message to the PCF, which was much sharper in tone than its predecessors. This time it was not just a letter but a substantial theoretical work, intended to explain to the errant French comrades the class nature of both democracy and human rights. The text took more than a month to compose. It was discussed by the Politburo on several occasions, and underwent further revision before being sent to the PCF in mid-March (15 March 1977*, Pb 49/XV); subsequently it went to all the communist parties in the world, but only in late March, early April [51]. They did not neglect us in this letter as the cause of these theoretical disagreements but in place of the usual derogatory comments we were given a more substantial “class-based” definition [52]:

The appearance of an insignificant little group of counter-revolutionaries, who have detached themselves from the very foundations of our system and started struggling against that system and who as a rule are linked with imperialist circles, does not in any way represent a logical result of the Soviet Union’s internal development. In the past, as we know, there were groups of individuals and political parties in our country that openly opposed the Soviet system. They frequently moved from words to deeds, even attempting to kill V.I. Lenin and other leaders of the Communist Party and the Soviet government. Then these groups and parties drew support from the exploitative classes which had not yet been eliminated.

Today there are no such classes in our country and consequently there is no social base for anti-Soviet groups. However, there are individual protests of an anti-Soviet character. This is not surprising. The development of political awareness among the many millions of the popular masses, their upbringing in the spirit of socialist ideology and morality, the transcendence of private-property-owning ideology and spirit, and the elimination of survivals of capitalism in the minds of the people – all these ideological processes, as is well known, proceed far more slowly than the restructuring of society’s material foundations. Moreover, they are proceeding today against a background of sustained, daily, anti-Soviet propaganda and the direct subversive actions of imperialist “centres” which, in recent times, have sharply intensified their level of hostile activity against the countries of socialism. The survivals of capitalism in the minds of certain people are systematically stirred and encouraged from without by imperialist propaganda centres….

Our class adversaries, in their striving to create the impression that there are many opponents of socialism in the USSR, resort to the most varied tricks. One of the most common is to declare as “dissidents” everyone who on a certain issue has a viewpoint differing from that generally accepted in our country, including writers and actors, for example, who have professional differences of opinion within their creative organisation. The total falsity of this tactic is understood….

… The close link between the activities of the “dissidents” and the development of the international class struggle can also be seen from the following. The first of the people who spoke out as active opponents of the Soviet system made their appearance in the mid-1960s, i.e. at a period when detente was beginning, and imperialism put forward the slogan that socialism “had mellowed”. The accusations they then made against the Soviet Union and other countries of socialism, which they continue to make today, are the same as were and are used by bourgeois propagandists. Their demands were also similar to Western demands concerning the “mellowing” of socialism. Numerous facts show that this is no coincidence and that in a great many cases the so-called champions of an improved socialism receive materials containing defamatory statements from abroad, from bourgeois intelligence agencies. Whenever any of the “dissidents” find themselves in the West, they quickly discard the false mask of “champions of the improvement of socialism” and turn out to be frankly reactionary, a monarchist (like Solzhenitsyn) or an admirer of Strauss and Thatcher (like Bukovsky), and urge Western leaders to engage in a more active struggle against the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. Many fraternal parties have already taken note of this, including communists in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Greece, Finland and several other countries. Their newspapers write on the subject. It is strange that certain leaders of the PCF remain quiet about it. Moreover, they call on us to give such people “unlimited freedom to express their opinions” and to hold “discussions” with them!”

In the main, however, this message was not about us but about the French Communist Party and the position it had adopted. The opening pages of the letter almost took the form of an ultimatum, and came near to declaring a complete breakdown in relations:

The latest statements in a number of interviews, and in anti-Soviet broadcasts on French television, show that some of the PCF leadership have passed from criticism of individual aspects of socialist democracy in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries to attempts to raise doubts about whether the political system in the USSR and other socialist countries reflects the interests of the people. It is openly and publicly suggested that we either reconsider or, in essence, reject the entire system of Soviet democracy in order to give unlimited “freedoms” to all opponents of socialism….

This was not subject to discussion. Anyone who persisted was an enemy of the USSR.


The tense relations with the Italian Communist Party were less noticeable and less public. They were no less dangerous, however, and they were also getting worse. In August 1976, responding to a letter to Brezhnev about my case from Enrico Berlinguer, the PCI general secretary, the Politburo displayed the utmost respect and diplomacy (29 August 1976*, Pb 24/25): “From your letter we may conclude that Italian comrades, apparently, do not have enough information about the anti-Soviet activities of Bukovsky.” After listing the usual “evidence”, the leadership wrote:” … As you see, Comrade Berlinguer, it is not a question of a way of thinking, but of specific anti-Soviet acts by a citizen who bears full responsibility for what he does. He is not in prison for his convictions and opinions. He was convicted not for ideas, but for acts that he has committed, and these have been punished by a court.”

Over time the tone of the exchanges began to change. The PCI continued to participate in various human rights campaigns and the response grew sharper. In September the next year, Boris Ponomarev and Vasily Kuznetsov reported to the Central Committee [53] that

a new wave in the anti-Soviet and anti-socialist campaign is building up in Italy, with the main emphasis on the so-called “dissidents “. Active preparations are under way for the so-called “Sakharov hearings” in Rome (25-27 November), a “discussion about dissidents” in Florence, and an international exhibition of art in Venice (the Biennale) to promote the activities of the dissidents (15 November to 17 December). These demonstrations, organised by imperialist propaganda services, are timed to follow immediately after our main events marking the 60th anniversary of the October Revolution and are aimed at discrediting real socialism. Preparation for these events has the full approval of the Italian authorities, which clearly contradicts the spirit of the Helsinki Agreements. In several instances representatives of the Italian Communist Party are letting themselves be led by the organisers of the said events, joining in certain of them, and the Party press of the PCI includes various materials about “dissidents”, thereby objectively helping to intensify interest in them on the part of Italian society.

The proposed plan of “informational and propaganda events to counteract anti-Soviet operations in Italy” included a wide range of measures. There would be official protests by the Soviet embassy; publications in the Soviet press; talks and presentations by Soviet journalists, writers and cultural figures on Italian TV; a week of Soviet films in Italy; and a delegation of Soviet writers would visit Italy and speak in public.

Subsequent events did not help to improve relations. The trials of the Helsinki Group activists, the invasion of Afghanistan, the exiling of Sakharov to Gorky and the introduction of martial law in Poland, provided new reasons to disagree. By 1980 Moscow was already looking towards a split within the PCI and giving support to a group within the Italian Party “that has adopted positions friendly towards us and is critical of the erroneous actions of the PCI leadership” [54].

This was only part of the costs the regime had to bear, due to its repressive policies, and it indicated how successful our campaign had been in the West. Communist Parties in Western Europe were not keen to sign up, but they could not afford to discredit themselves by standing on the side-lines. The public reaction was too strong for any politician to ignore. Not surprisingly, the campaign very soon became a factor in international relations, as was shown by the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the US Trade Act, and the addition of the “third basket” to the Helsinki Agreement. By the time Jimmy Carter became US President in 1977, human rights had become almost the key issue in relations between East and West.

Such a development was most undesirable for the USSR and threatened the country with political isolation. The Politburo sent instructions to the Soviet ambassador in Washington (18 February 1977, Pb 46/10):

Meet with Vance and tell him that you have been instructed to inform President Carter and the Secretary of State of the following. Such interference in our internal affairs may be made on the pretext of concern about “human rights”, but that does not change the essence of the matter.

Naturally, everyone is entitled to his own view of things, including the state of freedom and human rights in one country or another. We have our own understanding of these issues and their current state in the USA. It is quite another matter, however, to introduce those views in relations between States, thereby complicating them…. It is not hard to imagine what would happen if, drawing on our own moral values, we began to link the development of relations with the USA and other capitalist countries with the real problems that exist in those countries, such as the unemployment of millions, the infringement of the rights of ethnic minorities, racial discrimination, the unequal position of women, the violation of citizens’ rights by State bodies, the persecution of individuals with progressive views, and so on.

My meeting with President Carter took place exactly ten days after this demarche and, evidently, threw the Politburo into a panic. The Soviet leadership did not know how to react or what to tell the people. Finally, TASS produced the draft statement the Politburo had instructed it to prepare (1 March 1977*, St 46/15)

Reception at the White House

Washington, 1 March (TASS). Today US President J. Carter received Bukovsky, a criminal expelled from the Soviet Union, who is also known as an active opponent of the development of Soviet-American relations.

A spokesman for the White House announced that the conversation lasted for an hour and was conducted in a friendly atmosphere (this phrase to be corrected in accordance with the report from the White House, which will be made after 11 pm Moscow Time).

That was how the announcement was printed in Soviet newspapers.

The uproar did not last long. By May of that year the entire Soviet machinery of “ideological warfare” was up and running. All the Friends and fellow-travellers went into action; every kind of blackmail, threat, promise and bribe was put to use. The regime was fighting to the death for its “sovereign right” to send us to prison and psychiatric hospital or, as the mood took the Soviet leadership, to exile us within the country or deport us to another. Instructions about the “hullabaloo in the West over human rights” were sent by the Politburo to every Soviet ambassador and consul, signalling the start of the offensive (19 May 1977*, Pb 56/68):

Recently a wide and coordinated campaign has unfolded in the West concerning the phoney “violations of human rights” in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. Those behind this outcry, which has a frankly provocative and demagogic character, are, as often in the past, first and foremost the reactionary, anti-communist and anti-Soviet forces in the USA and certain West European States. It is to be noted that in this instance official circles in Washington have zealously joined in the campaign, including the highest political echelons of the new American administration.

Soviet embassies and other diplomatic missions must work in a determined and systematic fashion to decisively counteract this hostile campaign, actively exposing its demagogic and defamatory nature, which is a dangerous political trend for the cause of peace, denoting the interference in the internal affairs of other States…. This work must be carried out as an offensive, in close coordination with the embassies of fraternal countries, considering, naturally, the distinctive conditions of the country where you are serving, the position of its government and the political outlook of a certain audience or individual.”

There followed 20 pages of instructions, counter-arguments, specific measures and hidden threats. Those who represented the Soviet Union around the world were to

Emphasise, above all, that such campaigns, naturally, are not capable of shaking to the slightest degree the stability of the socialist system, but can have a negative effect on the relaxation of tension [détente], obstructing the positive processes that have been taking place in international relations over the last few years….

Refute assertions that the campaign about “human rights” which is hostile to the socialist countries and, in particular, public statements on this subject by certain highly-placed official figures in the West, are not interference in the internal affairs of other States but a form of ideological struggle, that the socialist countries themselves supposedly recognise….

Emphasise that we indeed recognise the ideological struggle and the struggle between socio-political worldviews, and that this struggle does not cease in a period of international relaxation. Such a struggle, however, has nothing in common with the methods and tactics of ideological sabotage, and the creation of illegal organisations in other countries….

Bearing in mind that the propaganda campaign inspired by Washington arouses a negative reaction in the ruling circles of several Western countries stress should be laid in all conversations about human rights on exposing what happens within the USA itself. Arguments should be skilfully used to discredit the attempts of the United States to present itself as a model of democratic rights and the supreme world arbiter….

“All the active staff of our embassies and diplomatic missions and our correspondents should be prepared for discussions about human rights, so that they will convey the facts to as many people as possible who have an influence on State policy and the public mood in the country where you are stationed….

“You must work systematically to uncover the weak areas in the policy and practice of Western countries in the field of human rights, paying particular attention to the corresponding legislation and judicial and penal practices of those countries and pass to the Centre suggestions as to how we can strengthen our propaganda counter-attack against Western countries that try to exert political pressure on us using the pretext of “defending human rights”.”

Western politicians could not long withstand such a concerted assault, especially when human rights, contrary to Soviet assertions, were merely a fashion in the West and not a long-term strategy. Some in the West feared a return of the Cold War; others strove to preserve detente; President Carter dearly needed an agreement on a reduction in strategic weapons. If the Western campaign for human rights had not come to a halt by the end of that year it had certainly lost momentum. At the Belgrade Conference, summoned in November 1977 to monitor observation of the Helsinki Accords by the party-signatories, only those who spoke for NGOs were not afraid to criticise the USSR. Governments restricted themselves to generalised and vague formulas.

Why this happened we shall discuss later. For its part, the Soviet regime was ready to face enormous costs abroad to block the emergence of a peaceful and law-abiding opposition at home. It knew it could not endure even a symbolic opposition. There were attempts, naturally, to minimise these external costs. Repressive measures were used only in extreme situations, and reliance was placed on more covert forms of harassment and persecution (the abuse of psychiatry, “compromising measures”, deportation, and so on). Andropov formulated such a policy (29 December 1975*, 3213-A), soon after the signing of the Helsinki Accords:

All the above confirms that our Party is pursuing the correct policy in its decisive struggle “to shield Soviet society from the actions of hostile elements”. Accordingly, State security bodies will continue firmly to obstruct any anti-Soviet activities within our country…. The KGB will be watching closely to make sure the so-called “dissidents” cannot create an organised anti-Soviet underground and carry out anti-Soviet activities, including those pursued from “legal positions” …. It is expedient to pursue the proven policy of a sensible combination of prophylactic and other KGB measures with criminal prosecution in those cases where this is essential.

3.9   The psychiatric Gulag

As I searched through the Soviet archives I most wanted to lay hands on documents about the abuse of psychiatry. They were proving the hardest to find. Was my search being sabotaged – or did such evidence not exist? Time passed and the deadline for my appearance before the Constitutional Court was approaching. I began quietly to panic. This should be my “star turn” and concerned one of the most malevolent crimes of the post-Stalin era, the “Soviet version of the gas chamber”, in Solzhenitsyn’s apt expression.

The subject was especially important to me. I had served my last sentence and been expelled from the USSR for exposing the Soviet abuse of psychiatry; it was a cause for which I continued to fight in the West and, at last, won a victory. I had no thought of ascribing success to myself alone. On the contrary, it was one of our achievements that a vast number of psychiatrists, legal experts, and public figures from all over the world joined the campaign against punitive psychiatry. Whatever the political climate, the campaign continued to grow, reaching its peak in 1977 when the World Congress of Psychiatrists, meeting in Honolulu, condemned Soviet abuses. It did not then fade away as happened with other campaigns, but continued to exert a constant influence on world public opinion. In 1983, the Soviet delegation was expelled from the Congress: or, rather, those representing psychiatry in the USSR left because they realised that expulsion was inevitable.

It was the most convincing victory of our glasnost. I started the campaign and risked my life for it, but I did not know whether my hunches were correct. In 1970, I sent material to the West about six political prisoners held in psychiatric hospitals: there was no doubt they were sane. Yet I did not and could not know whether our treatment was coincidence, a local initiative by the authorities or the KGB, or a deliberate policy of the Soviet regime. All we had was guesswork and indirect evidence. We knew, for instance, that a first wave of “psychiatric” repression took place under Khrushchev, soon after 1959 when he declared that there were no political prisoners in the USSR, only mentally ill people. The confirmation was purely empirical: I was confined to the madhouse in 1963 and saw it functioning for myself. After Khrushchev was removed the wave retreated for a while, only to return in late 1968, early 1969. At least, a fair number of our friends were sent to psychiatric hospitals at that time.

It was easy to guess out why these waves came and went. A growth in popular dissatisfaction and protest met with a reluctance by the Soviet authorities to increase visible levels of repression (and external “costs”) during periods of detente. This made sense and fitted the evidence, but remained no more than speculation. The suggestion that the Politburo had no understanding of psychiatry and simply “trusted the doctors” could not be rejected. What would I do if no documents appeared? Perhaps they did not exist, just as documents directly concerning the “Final Solution of the Jewish problem” were not found in the archives of the Third Reich. In the end, what I found exceeded my expectations.


The response to our Pushkin Square protest on 22 January 1967, for instance, was not entirely straightforward. The day after we were picked up KGB Chairman Semichastny and Procurator-General Rudenko reported to the Politburo (27 January 1967*, Pb 32/5):

“Since 1965 there have been repeated attempts to organise various gatherings and provocative protests in Moscow, in support of Sinyavsky and Daniel, in “memory of the victims of Stalinism”, or making demagogic demands for laws to be reconsidered. … A group of 35-40 people has emerged which is carrying out its politically harmful activities by preparing and distributing anti-Soviet literature and organising various types of demonstration and gathering. The group’s participants transmit an appeal to the Western press, which publishes the materials they prepare, trying to distribute them across the Soviet Union.”

After providing a detailed account of our actions, and a list of our surnames and of those who, in their opinion, had encouraged us to demonstrate, they wrote, as if in passing: “It should be noted that several of these people are mentally ill. The hostile activities of former Major-General Grigorenko, P.G. (b. 1907) and Volpin, A.S. (b. 1924), who were earlier charged with criminal offences and released in connection with their mental illnesses, have also been documented.” They then listed the usual propaganda and prophylactic measures:

Since we believe that bringing criminal charges against the said individuals will provoke a definite reaction within the country and abroad, we suggest it would be expedient to instruct the Central Committee Propaganda Department and the Moscow City Committee of the CPSU to carry out the necessary educational work at industrial enterprises, offices and, especially, among students, including speeches by Party officials, authoritative propagandists, leading officials from the Procuracy and State Security.

The KGB and the USSR Procuracy intend to carry out prophylactic measures at the places of work and study of those individuals who have displayed anti-social behaviour by reason of their political immaturity and lack of sufficient experience of life.

Simultaneously, it would be expedient to prepare an extended report in “Izvestiya”, explaining the measures being taken and instruct the USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the KGB and the Procuracy to inform our correspondents abroad.

Most of all, it seems, the KGB and the Procurator-General’s Office feared a repetition of the outcry only a year before when Sinyavsky and Daniel were convicted. Their inclination was to apply the “psychiatric method”, at least to “certain individuals who are suffering from mental illness”. The Politburo, however, did not agree. An excerpt from the minutes of its 9 February 1967 meeting [55] reads

  1. This matter is not to be included for discussion.
  2. Instruct Comrades Suslov, Pelshe and Semichastny to consider these issues in the light of the exchange of opinions at the Politburo and, if necessary, to make suggestions to the Central Committee (including responsibility of authors for passing their manuscripts for publication abroad, etc.)

No new Politburo decisions were taken on the subject and in June Semichastny was retired and replaced as head of the KGB by Andropov, who had attended the Politburo meeting in February. A few months later we were tried and found guilty. Not one of us was declared insane.

We can only guess what really took place at the Politburo meeting. Why did the Party leaders disagree with their legal authorities? The only explanation that comes to my mind is that the proposals seemed too soft. It is easy to imagine Suslov saying: “What does this mean, comrades? That we have taken fright at bourgeois propaganda? That they won the Sinyavsky-Daniel case and we are nervous about using the full force of the law to punish those who follow in their footsteps, publishing their libels abroad?” It also seems likely that Suslov had long wanted to replace Semichastny, who had held his post since the Khrushchev years, with his own protégé Andropov. Whatever the reason (and we shall not learn it now) “psychiatric measures” did not gain their approval. After Khrushchev was removed they seemed too soft a punishment, perhaps, and too great a concession to the West.

A couple of years later the situation changed considerably. In late 1969 and early 1970 several people were declared insane – Pyotr Grigorenko, Natalya Gorbanevskaya and Victor Fainberg among others. Semichastny was right that our trials would provoke a considerable reaction. Detente with the West was beginning and there was an urgent need to deal with a growing number of protesters in ways that would not attract world public opinion. By 1970 the Politburo was already holding serious discussions about the “psychiatric method” as a powerful means of mass repression. The documents were most intriguing, not least because they were awarded a level of secrecy (cf. Chapter One) I had hitherto not encountered in the archives.

They were marked Top Secret (Special File) and along the margin of this excerpt from the Politburo’s discussion ran the following warning (22 January 1970*, Pb 151/XIII):


A comrade who receives conspiratorial documents may not pass them to another or acquaint anyone else with their contents unless the Central Committee has specifically given permission.

It is strictly forbidden to copy these documents or make notes from them.

A note and date on which they were read is to be made personally on each document by the comrade to whom they are addressed, signed with his own name.

The main text of this “conspiratorial” document was as follows:

Instruct the USSR Ministry of Health, the KGB and the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, with the participation of the USSR State Planning Commission and the Council of Ministers of Union Republics, to present proposals to the Central Committee for the 1st half of 1970 about the detection, registration and organisation of treatment and, in certain cases, the isolation, of the mentally ill within the country.

The initiative, naturally, came from Andropov, who had circulated a report (dated 15 December 1969) from the KGB in the Krasnodar Region to illustrate what was going on across the country, drawing Politburo colleagues’ attention to “… the presence within the region of a considerable number of mentally ill individuals, who are nurturing terrorist and other socially dangerous intentions.” This unique document deserves to be quoted in full:

“The KGB for the Krasnodar Region is in possession of materials showing that a considerable number of mentally ill individuals in the Region are: engaged in socially dangerous and hostile behaviour; nurturing criminal, politically harmful intentions; and introducing demoralising factors into the life of the Soviet people. Over the past two years more than 180 such people have come to the attention of the KGB in the region. Some of them issue terrorist threats, voice an intention to kill Party activists or commit other crimes. G.A. Bychkov and G.B. Mikov made malicious anti-Soviet statements and threats against certain leaders of the Party and the Soviet government. A.P. Vorona also made terrorist threats, drew up a list of Party activists “due for extermination” in the Krymsk district, and tried to set up an anti-Soviet group. S.A. Soin has voiced malicious, crazy intentions to visit Lenin’s mausoleum, bring him back to life with the help of a cinema camera, and then return him to the dead again. G.V. Vatishchev visited the Mausoleum where he committed a brazen and cynical act. O.V. Dmitriev attacked a sergeant in the government’s security force and wounded him. In September 1969, V.M. Pikalov voiced threats of physical reprisals against one of the leading officials of the Anapa city committee of the CPSU, he also prepared, copied and distributed defamatory documents.

A number of mentally ill individuals have committed dangerous crimes on the State frontier, trying to gain access to ships travelling abroad, with the purpose of leaving the country. In 1969 of the 50 persons trying to illegally cross the State border, or gain access to ships travelling abroad on the area covered by border guard No 32, nineteen were mentally subnormal. The most dangerous crimes were committed by: P.A. Skrylyov who seized an AN-2 airplane, flew towards Turkey and was shot down over neutral waters by anti-aircraft battery; N.A. Korotenko who escaped from the conscription centre in the town of Kropotkin to Novorossiysk and tried to board an Italian ship; V.I. Pavlov who prepared to betray the Motherland in a boat with an outboard engine near Sochi in 1968, and had already been detained for similar attempts in Batumi; and V.A. Grekalov who persistently sought for ways to flee abroad.

Certain sick individuals travel to Moscow and try, with a fanatical persistence, to meet with foreigners, gain access to the embassies of capitalist countries with crazy intentions or with requests to be granted political asylum. In November this year, P.L. Rybka visited the French embassy; A.I. Cherep tried several times in 1969 to visit the US embassy; S.V. Rezak tried to gain access to the US embassy; N.I. Leibovsky met with English people at the Inprodmash exhibition, asked them for political asylum, and tried to pass them certain documents.

Many people suffering from mental illnesses try to create new “parties”, various organisations and councils, and they draw up and distribute draft statutes, programmes and laws. N.S. Shevnin nurtured and forced on others the crazy idea of creating “councils to oversee the activities of the CPSU Politburo and local Party bodies” and for this purpose sought to find and persuade fellow-thinkers; he made trips to Moscow to meet with figures from Communist and workers’ parties to “discuss” this issue; and he blackmailed individuals who did not wish to support him and issued threats in a letter to the secretary of the Novocherkassk city committee of the CPSU in the Rostov Region, linked to the well-known events in 1962[56]. V.A. Pak has systematically prepared and distributed documents of a politically harmful content, and demanded the creation of a so-called world government.

Many mentally ill individuals write masses of letters containing defamatory, anti-Soviet fabrications and threats to various regional and central organisations. Among them D.I. Mikhalchuk, who was trying to emigrate, wrote to the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet in 5 April 1969: “Do you want my actions to be just like those near the Borovitsky Gates?” … In a conversation with the chairman of the Belorechensk city executive committee Mikhalchuk said he could not vouch for himself and might commit a crime.

Among the mentally ill quite a few are inclined to commit assault, rape and murder and several have successfully attempted to commit such audacious crimes. For example, during an aggravated period of illness L.G. Buznitsky cut off the head of his ten-year-old son, B.N. Onelyan killed her husband and A.M. Ponomarenko murdered his sister.

According to the information of the mental health clinics in the Krasnodar Region there are many aggressive and malicious individuals among the 55,800 mentally ill, and 700 of them are a danger to society. The largest numbers live in Krasnodar, Sochi, Novorossiysk, Maikop, Gelendjik, and in the Eisk and Krymsk districts.

To prevent dangerous consequences on the part of the named category of individual the State security bodies in the Region are obliged to take the necessary measures, which requires a great deal of effort and funds.

At present, according to the regional health department, 11-12,000 individuals required hospital treatment but the in-patient facilities of the necessary type have beds for only 3,785.

To prevent dangerous behaviour by individuals suffering from mental illnesses, it is our view (and this view is shared by those in charge of the Region’s health services) that further improvement is required in the measures used to identify, register, hospitalise and treat these individuals, and to oversee their behaviour outside treatment centres.

“The Regional Party Committee and the Regional executive committee have been given general information about the issue.”

This is an extraordinary document. There can be no doubt that it was inspired by Andropov. The head of a regional KGB directorate had no reason to write his boss such an extensive memorandum, neither was it the practice to do so. The officer concerned, Major-General Smorodinsky, had certainly informed Andropov about each incident as it occurred. It is inconceivable that the downing of an aircraft “in neutral waters by Soviet anti-aircraft defence” was not promptly reported to Moscow. KGB headquarters were certainly informed about visits by inhabitants of the region to foreign embassies, as and when they occurred, and to the Lenin Mausoleum, especially the “brazen and cynical act” that one of them committed there.

It is also clear that the episodes were deliberately selected to stress the danger of terrorist acts by mentally ill individuals. This was, let us recall, the year which began with the famous attempt on 22 January 1969 to assassinate Brezhnev as he drove into the Kremlin, “the incident at the Borovitsky Gates”. His attacker, Ilyn, was immediately declared insane and locked up for life in the Kazan Special Psychiatric Hospital (he emerged only in the late 1980s, when he was found to display no signs of mental illness). The man behind the report and his readers knew exactly how to interpret “psychiatric illness” and “a danger to the public”: people driven to desperation, for whom the “prophylactic measures” of the KGB were no longer effective. And this explains why the Krasnodar Region on the Black Sea was selected. There were many government resorts in the Region and it was also close to the border with Turkey, a capitalist country. The number of desperate acts was greater there than the average for the USSR as a whole. Andropov was not telling the truth, of course, when he said in his preliminary remarks that a “similar situation may be found in other parts of the country”. This could not be true of the inland regions, far from any border. No one would attempt to seize an airplane in the Ryazan Region because you could not fly to a capitalist country from there. No “ships bound for foreign ports” were to be found there, or other installations that might provoke Soviet people into action. The statistics of “psychiatric illness” would be incomparably lower there.

Finally, let us examine the figures cited in the report. The total number of mentally ill people in the Region was 55,800, of whom 11-12,000 needed to be kept in hospital and of those 700 were “a danger to society”. If the situation was similar everywhere, and the USSR was made up of about one hundred comparable regions, the Politburo members could easily appreciate the scale of the problem. This meant there were approximately 70,000 dangerous patients and 1.2 million who needed to be permanently treated in hospital. What was proposed was the creation of a psychiatric Gulag, no less. The Politburo agreed to its creation, moreover, and urgently. The question must be solved within six months!

It is easy to understand why Andropov decided to take extra precautions and forwarded the “report” of his subordinate to the Politburo, something he never made a habit of doing before or after this document. Only three years earlier his predecessor Semichastny had been fired, perhaps, because his proposal to use psychiatric hospitals was seen as being soft on the enemy. Where was the guarantee that the Politburo would not shy away from the suggestion a second time? Andropov was now proposing its universal application, moreover, and a shift in the regime’s punitive policies. So, he tried scaring the Soviet leaders with talk of the outrages perpetrated by the insane in the Krasnodar Region.


When I was freed from the camps in January 1970 I had not the faintest idea, naturally, that the Politburo had just taken a decision that would result in my return to prison. Not one of us could have imagined anything of the kind. We simply noticed that the numbers declared insane in our cases had grown noticeably. It was also obvious that Soviet psychiatrists were hard at work on a diagnostic approach that could be conveniently and widely applied to political opponents and anyone dissatisfied with the regime. Dubious terms appeared, such as “reformist delirium” or the “sluggish schizophrenia” of Professor Snezhnevsky, until then a disputed diagnosis. Clearly, psychiatric measures were being prepared for use against us but we had no idea how extensive these preparations were.

Our campaign could not have been more timely. Six months had not passed, and the Politburo had yet to reach a final decision, when my first interviews with the Western press took place, followed that summer by a TV broadcast about the issue of punitive psychiatry. We caught the Soviet leadership at the scene of the crime, so to speak, and we did so quite by chance. It was like a stray shell during a war that hits an arms depot and wrecks a planned offensive. The regime was forced to defend itself in any way it could, and the decision to create a psychiatric Gulag was deferred, at least for the next two years. When the Soviet leaders returned to their discussion in January 1972, soon after my trial (was this a coincidence or not? I was convicted for libelling Soviet psychiatry), the situation was far too heated. There had been too much talk about the abuse of psychiatry for them to return to the original plan without provoking a still greater campaign. What kind of “conspiracy” could there be if all the media in the West were reporting on the repressive use of psychiatry in the Soviet Union?

This time the Politburo discussion was restricted to an analysis of the state of psychiatry in the USSR. A special government inquiry, the “Rakovsky Commission”, was set up to study the matter. Two years later it reported that, apart from any political concerns, the condition of Soviet psychiatry left much to be desired (22 February 1972*, St-31/19):

According to the information of the USSR Ministry of Health a growth in mental illness has been noted within the country. If at the beginning of 1966 2,114,000 were registered at out-patient mental health institutions, by the beginning of 1971 this figure was 3,700,000 and 280,000 were being treated as in-patients.

The number of beds for psychiatric treatment of the country’s population is less than half what is needed. The material conditions in the overwhelming majority of in-patient facilities for psychiatric patients are unsatisfactory. A considerable number of these facilities are in premises that have not been adapted for the purpose, and are unsuitable for the normal accommodation of patients. In many hospitals there is less than 2.0 to 2.5 cubic metres per patient, when the norm is 7 cubic metres. Not infrequently patients are accommodated two to a bed or on the floor. In a number of hospitals two-storey bunk beds have been constructed… Difficulties with placing mentally ill patients in hospitals and their premature release from an in-patient facility leads to the presence of seriously ill and often socially dangerous individuals among the population.

According to the data of the USSR Ministry for Internal Affairs there has recently been an increase in the number of killings, assaults, robberies, thefts and other grave crimes committed by individuals suffering from mental illnesses. In 1970 they committed 6,493 crimes, including 937 murders. Moreover, individual crimes were committed with particular brutality, and were accompanied by large numbers of victims…

The 5 July 1968 decree (No 517) of the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers “On measures to further improve healthcare and the development of medical science in the country” envisaged the building and opening for use before 1975 of no less than 125 psychiatric hospital s, each with 500 or more beds. The 1971-1975 plan for the economy envisages the building and opening for use of 114 psychiatric hospitals with 43,800 beds.

In 1971, the USSR Ministry of Health, together with the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs and the KGB presented a draft decree to the USSR Council of Ministers for measures to further improve the medical care of the mentally ill….”

Nothing more happened for a long while. The subject became one of purely professional concern and lost its political edge. By the end of the 1970s the number of psychiatric hospital s in the country had grown steadily, as planned, but the number of political prisoners incarcerated in them did not keep pace with this expansion. This is not surprising, given the campaign around the world against the abuse of psychiatry (10 September 1976*). As Andropov reported to the Central Committee:

In several Western countries an anti-Soviet campaign is being stirred up, using crude fabrications about the supposed use of psychiatry in the USSR as an instrument in the political struggle against “dissenters”. The ideological centres and special services of the Adversary are widely drawing the mass media into this, using scientific forums as a tribune, and inspiring anti-Soviet “demonstrations” and “protests” … The latest data show that this campaign is a thoroughly planned anti-Soviet operation. The organisers of such defamatory activities are evidently trying to prepare public opinion for an open condemnation of “the abuse of psychiatry in the USSR” at the coming 6th World Congress of Psychiatry (Honolulu, USA) in August 1977, and intend to provoke a negative political reaction on the eve of the celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution …”

This was written, we may note, without a shade of irony, as though it was not Andropov who, only a few years earlier, had sent the Central Committee his materials and suggestions about the psychiatric Gulag. For its part the USSR Ministry of Health was working (22 October 1976, No 2750) [57]

to identify progressive-minded, major psychiatrists in the USA, Britain, France and other capitalist countries and to invite them to the USSR to participate in scientific conferences and symposia, and acquaint them with the achievements of psychiatric care in our country. The idea is to use their positive comments in propaganda work abroad…. The USSR Ministry of Health and the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs have organised inspections of special hospitals where the forced treatment of individuals with mental illnesses is taking place so as to improve the medical care in this category of hospital. Where necessary, it is intended to show certain hospitals of this kind to foreigners.

Naturally, “progressive” Western colleagues would not be shown the ordinary psychiatric hospital s where there were not enough beds and the patients were either doubled up in a single bed or had to lie on the floor. Some of the visitors, incidentally, were so “progressive” that this would not have worried them (16 November 1976) [58]. Yury Zhukov, a deputy of the USSR Supreme Soviet reported to the Central Committee:

During the last day of the Portuguese parliamentary delegation’s visit to the USSR, which I was instructed to accompany, a leading specialist in neuropathology and psychiatry and parliamentary deputy of the Socialist Party, A. Fernandes da Fonseca, confidentially told me the following. According to his information, anti-Soviet American figures are preparing to use the coming World Congress of Psychiatry in 1977 in Honolulu to organise a fierce anti-Soviet campaign linked to the defamatory opinions that have been spread in the West about our supposed imprisonment of “dissenters” in psychiatric hospitals….

In this connection A. Fernandes da Fonseca requested that he be sent the relevant data to prepare his speech at the Congress. In his words, these data would be used to acquaint leading psychiatrists from other countries where people speak Portuguese….

Fernandes da Fonseca emphasised that general statements of a political character proving the absurdity of the American accusations were not needed now, but specific scientific material – diagnoses and evidence about the treatment of such people as Plyushch, Bukovsky and others who are being presented as “innocent victims” ….

I would have liked to meet this A. Fernandes da Fonseca, preferably in the presence of journalists or on television. He would not have had the nerve to face me, however, like all our other opponents of the Cold War era. If he was brought there by force he would still not repent. He would assert, probably, that he “did not know”, that he had “believed” what he was told – and that the Americans were to blame for everything. In any case, neither Leonid Plyushch nor I received any apologies from him.


It hardly needs saying how pleased the USSR’s “plainclothes psychiatrists” were to find such a volunteer who would allow them “in future to use his ability to spread the information we wanted” (13 December 1976, No 3193) [59]. They had altogether too much work to do. Almost every year a “Plan of measures for the exposure of the anti-Soviet defamatory campaign concerning ‘political abuses’ in psychiatry” was put together and approved by the Central Committee. This impressive document contains a detailed presentation of an international counter-campaign which brought all contacts and assets into play: press and television, Soviet diplomacy and KGB operations. Before Soviet psychiatry was condemned in Honolulu, however, the measures were mainly defensive and of a propagandistic character. Thereafter they were a desperate battle for survival.

Condemnation in Honolulu was a cruel defeat for the Soviet regime, with repercussions far beyond the limits of psychiatry. This was, first and foremost, because the most desperate efforts by the Soviet foreign policy machine could not avert it [60]. The men in charge of Soviet psychiatry, justifying their actions before the Central Committee, gave a detailed account of the measures they had taken (21 November 1977, No 3042) [61]:

In preparation for the Congress the USSR Ministry of Health analysed the main anti-Soviet publications and prepared well-founded counter-arguments; a number of symposia were held with the participation of foreign specialists; and Soviet participation in the programmes of the World Health Organisation was increased. Immediately before the Congress Soviet psychiatrists travelled to Bulgaria, Hungary, the GDR and Czechoslovakia to agree the positions of the socialist countries.

An authoritative Soviet delegation prepared for participation in the Congress and on arrival in Honolulu it immediately established active contacts with delegations from socialist and other countries (Mexico, Venezuela, Senegal, Nigeria, India, and so on). These contacts, and the further course of the Congress, confirmed that although the Congress was officially being run by the World Psychiatric Association, the entire practical preparation of the scientific and organisational programme was entirely in the hands of the American Psychiatric Association. …

The premises where the sessions of the Congress took place were overflowing with anti-Soviet rubbish, leaflets with filthy attacks on Soviet psychiatry and some of its representatives. In the corridors scurried “former Soviet psychiatrists” who had been transported to the Congress….

From the very first day the Soviet delegation consistently issued sharp protests.

However, the main clash with the anti-Soviets took place during the two sessions of the WPA General Assembly where the Congress organisers presented for discussion the “Havana Declaration” about the general ethical principles of modern psychiatry (to which the Soviet delegation subscribed) and a provocative Anglo-Australian resolution “condemning the abuse of psychiatry in the USSR” and an American proposal to set up a “Committee to investigate cases of psychiatric abuse”.

The Soviet representative at the Assembly (E.A. Babayan) protested against the inclusion of these proposals in the agenda as clearly defamatory and contrary to the Statutes of the WPA. He also spoke against the proposed procedure for discussing the day’s agenda, because it excluded any serious examination. Categorical protests were also raised against the system of voting, which was based on the number of votes (ranging from 30 to 1-2 votes) allocated in accordance with the funds contributed to the WPA budget by the national associations. No action was taken over these protests, however, due to the open pressure exerted by WPA president H. Romme [62] and references to the WPA statutes…. After this the WPA president grossly violated the procedure for conducting the session and forced a vote with infringements of the elementary demands of procedure….

As was widely noted in the corridors of the Congress and in the press, despite the formal “adoption of the defamatory Anglo-Australian resolution, the moral victory at the Congress went to Soviet psychiatry”.

Such a “victory”, naturally, did not suit the Central Committee and they set to work immediately after the World Congress in Honolulu [63]:

“Soviet psychiatrists (A.V. Snezhnevsky, G.V. Morozov, E.A. Babayan, N.M. Zharikov, M.E. Vartanyan, V.E. Rozhnov and others) travelled to scientific meetings about psychiatry in the FRG, Switzerland, the GDR and the Hungarian People’s Republic, where they met with foreign scientists and informed them in detail about the real nature of events at the past Congress. In Geneva, a press conference was held (E.A. Babayan) about the results of the Congress which received objective coverage in certain Swiss newspapers.”

The plan for the 1978-1979 campaign, as approved by the Central Committee, included a vast number of propaganda measures, use of scientific contacts, publications and tactical approaches such as the following: “To work for a democratisation of the WPA statutes and the procedural rules for its supreme body, the General Assembly …”

Sometimes odd proposals were included. Before and after Honolulu one important measure was (13 April 1978, No 1763) [64]

“Gathering information about the fate of mentally ill persons, former Soviet citizens, who have left the USSR, in order to use these data in an acceptable form (bearing in mind the demands of medical ethics) to expose the defamatory character of the accusations made against Soviet psychiatry.

“Those in charge: USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs, KGB, the USSR Ministry of Health.”

They wanted to find out which of us former inmates of Soviet psychiatric hospital s had subsequently received psychiatric treatment abroad. Such cases could not be found and so they had to be invented. The KGB did not need asking twice. Soon in many Western, left-wing publications reports appeared that one or another of our friends had supposedly been sent to psychiatric hospitals when they were already living in the West. Such reports were published about Alexander Volpin who by then was living in the USA. With little hesitation, he brought a case of libel against these publications. In a panic, Andropov, Kuznetsov, Zamyatin and Tolkunov reported to the Central Committee (26 January 1977*, St 42/18):

For clearly provocative and anti-Soviet purposes, reactionary Zionist circles in the USA have prompted the renegade Yesenin-Volpin to go to the American courts. He has brought a claim for defamation via publication against TASS, APN and the American newspaper “The Daily World” (an organ of the US Communist Party). The formal pretext is the use by “Izvestiya” and “Sovetskaya Rossiya” newspapers of material from the Italian left-wing magazine “Ragione” (May 1976), which exposes the defamatory and reactionary propaganda about the supposed incarceration of healthy people in psychiatric hospital s in the Soviet Union for political reasons. This article refers to Yesenin-Volpin as “that person whom the Western press made such efforts to defend, had barely arrived in Italy before he was again taken to a mental hospital; he is presently being treated by American psychiatrists”.

TASS placed this item in Soviet newspapers, APN placed it in one of its publications in the FRG and “The Daily World” printed its own material based on this item.

The American court has issued summonses to the New York offices of TASS and APN to appear in court. If they fail to appear before 2 February this year TASS and APN will automatically be recognised as guilty and will each have to pay Yesenin-Volpin 200,000 dollars.

The lawsuit itself has been compiled in an anti-Soviet, provocative spirit about the so-called persecution of dissenters in the USSR, their imprisonment in psychiatric hospital s and similar nonsense. This is all intended to fan the latest campaign by US mass media in America against the Soviet Union.

With the purpose of halting this trial the Soviet Ambassador in the USA talked to a deputy of the US Secretary of State, drawing his attention to unacceptable and groundless actions taken by the American court. The US Secretary of State did not give a direct response, claiming that “it was not such a simple case from the legal point of view”.

So that representatives of TASS and APN do not appear in court and will not become deeply entangled in this provocative hearing, the Soviet ambassador has been permitted to employ an American lawyer. Using American legislation, the ambassador will work through the lawyer to end the hearing and have the lawsuit annulled.

The ambassador has also been instructed to continue insisting to the State Department that urgent measures must be taken to end the case raised by Yesenin-Volpin’s lawsuit, since it is without foundation and clearly pursuing political aims hostile to the Soviet Union, as follows from the lawsuit itself. Furthermore, the Soviet ambassador was instructed to let the American side know that we would otherwise take retaliatory measures against American publications and their correspondents in Moscow, who not infrequently publish truly defamatory reports about the Soviet Union and its citizens.

Depending on the response from the American side and the subsequent course of the case we consider it expedient to prepare, through the Committee for State Security, the necessary retaliatory measures. We also consider it expedient to continue the policy we have outlined towards the State Department.

To not get deeply involved in these hearings, as is the intention of the Zionist circles which devised Yesenin-Volpin’s lawsuit, we consider that TASS and APN correspondents should not appear in court either now or in the future. It seems expedient to coordinate our actions with the Friends in the analogous lawsuit against “The Daily World”.

We request authorisation for the indicated course of action.”

The Central Committee, naturally, approved this course of action, shielding the unfortunate KGB which had been taken in by such obvious falsehood. Everything that served the cause of socialism could be justified. The State Department, frightened by the threat of confrontation, also lost its nerve. I do not know how they could intervene in a court case – under American law such interference is a criminal act – but the case was never heard in court.

And that’s a pity. If the West had only shown the courage to not break its own laws and procedures to please the Soviet authorities, Communism would have ended much earlier and caused less suffering. The exemplary behaviour of psychiatrists in most Western countries was the best proof. As a consequence, the Soviet leaders were unable to create a psychiatric Gulag. Their grandiose plan was shelved and until 1989 they were forced to reassure the entire world and carry out endless “inspections”. Until the end, Moscow was unable to remove this taint. Our glasnost proved so effective in this respect that by the late 1970s the KGB was concerned lest a famous dissident be sent to a psychiatric hospital accidentally, without their knowledge. Thanks to this fear, for example, they preferred not to arrest Alexander Zinoviev but deport him to the West. Andropov reported to the Central Committee (28 June 1978, 1311-A) in 1978:

“Materials in the possession of the KGB confirm that all the activities of Zinoviev are unlawful and there are legal grounds for charging him with criminal offences. However, it is not expedient at present, in our view, to apply this measure in halting Zinoviev’s anti-Soviet activities because certain people who know him well say that he was treated earlier for alcoholism and mental instability and suffers from megalomania. If criminal charges were brought against Zinoviev these circumstances might lead the court to declare him mentally ill and send him for enforced treatment. Considering the campaign that has been unleashed in the West about psychiatry in the USSR, this measure of restraint does not seem expedient.”

Only in 1989, however, at the height of the Gorbachev-Yakovlev “glasnost”, when it became profitable for the Soviet regime to admit its past crimes, did the Politburo finally adopt a decree “On improvements to legislation about the conditions and procedures for providing psychiatric care” (15 November 1989, Pb 171/21). It introduced legal guarantees against the abuse of psychiatry. This measure, it is true, was also in part forced on the Soviet leadership, a response to Western pressure.


After the Soviet Union came to an end independent groups of psychiatrists in Russia and Ukraine began monitoring their profession to ensure that the political abuse of psychiatry did not revive. They investigated suspect cases, studied complaints, visited psychiatric hospitals and, if necessary, petitioned the authorities to reconsider doubtful decisions. Such instances, however, were no more frequent now than in other countries.

Unlike many other aspects of Soviet life, the changes in psychiatry were striking. Our epoch was indeed history. At the Leningrad Special Psychiatric Hospital where, once upon a time, I first became acquainted with General Pyotr Grigorenko, they showed visitors our “medical history”, just as tourists at the Peter and Paul Fortress were shown the cell where Bakunin was imprisoned. As I prepared to address the Constitutional Court I went with a Russian TV crew to the Central Institute of Forensic Psychiatry, more commonly known as the Serbsky Institute. At the entrance, we were greeted by its new director, a pleasant looking young woman called Tatyana Dmitrieva. “I read your book,” she said, “and have long wanted to tell you that everything you wrote about our institute and the Special Psychiatric Hospitals is true.” I knew Dmitrieva was not playing a part. She had already said as much to the press.

It was thirty years since I first entered that malevolent institution. Of those who knew me as a patient, only two remained. One was the elderly care assistant Shura. The other was our Doctor Mengele, “Academician” Morozov, who preferred not to visit the Institute these days, it was said. Yet how final were the changes? No one had revoked our diagnoses, no one had yet apologised for the defamation to which we were subjected all those years, by the Soviet press and behind the scenes, in whispers and through “personal contacts”. Not one of those “Academicians” had been charged with crimes against humanity or deprived of their professorial title for violating the Hippocratic oath. On the contrary, many remained in charge of Russian psychiatry, like Vartanyan and Babayan, and continued to represent it abroad.

The present regime had no need of the “psychiatric method” of repression, but it might be required by the next. Would it be so difficult to restore? Fire that pleasant-looking young woman and send the handful of psychiatrists in the independent monitoring groups to the camps: that was all they had to do. Then psychiatry might again be put at the service of a future repressive regime in Russia, and whether its ideology was national socialism or international socialism would be of quite secondary importance.

Chapter Three (iii) …



[1] Kontinent, quarterly (Paris), No 23, 1980.

[2] 4 October 1956* (St 1061), p. 8.

[3] Variety of indigenous, loosely Christian sects.

[4] Article 70 – Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda, “shall be punished by deprivation of freedom for a term of 6 months to 7 years, with or without additional exile for a term of 2 to 5 years, or by exile for a term of 2 to 5 years.”

[5]  Article 190-1 – Dissemination of fabrications known to be false, which defame the Soviet political and social system “- shall be punished by deprivation of freedom for a term not exceeding 3 years, or by corrective labour for a term not exceeding one year, or by a fine not exceeding 100 rubles.”

[6] Yakov Etinger, “The Beria Affair forty years on”, Russkaya mysl, 18‑24 November 1993 (in Russian).

[7] Vladimir Vysotsky, “Ballad of Childhood”, Songs and verse, 1981, pp 16-18.

[8] 29 December 1975*, p. 3.

[9] Lev Landau (1908-1968) became a member of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1946. He received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1962.

[10] Vyacheslav Molotov was Stalin’s Prime Minister (1930-1941) and Foreign Minister (1939-1949). Removed with Lazar Kaganovich and Georgy Malenkov from the Central Committee and Politburo in 1957, all three were expelled from the Party in 1961.

[11] See Andrei Amalrik’s “Open letter to Anatoly Kuznetsov”, Chronicle of Current Events, 31 December 1969 (“Samizdat Update”).

[12] A typescript journal produced every 2 to 4 months in Moscow between 1968 and 1983 by an “anonymous and changing group of human rights activists” (Reddaway).

[13] 11 May 1987 (6/2140), see p. 7 in 1 February 1987* (183-Ch).

[14] 29 December 1975* (3213-A), p. 2.

[15] Peter Reddaway, “Reassessing the Past. Sovietology and Dissidence: New Sources on Protest”, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Report, Vol 6, No 5, 29 January 1993, pp 12-16.

[16] See 21 April 1971 (St 2/2), p. 6.

[17] 19 June 1975 (St 173/4), p. 3.

[18] 20 May 1975 (No 97), p. 9 in 19 June 1975 (St 173/4).

[19] 5 April 1975 (784-A).

[20] Peter Reddaway, “Reassessing the Past”, 29 January 1993, p 15.

[21] 28 December 1976 (St 37/14), p. 10.

[22] 12 December 1976 (2798-A), p. 11 in 28 December 1976 (St 37/14).

[23] 28 December 1976 (St 37/14), p. 17.

[24] See 28 March 1974 (No 34), pp. 3-11 in 16 April 1974 (St 121/23).

[25] 28 December 1976 (St 37/14), p. 13.

[26] 12 December 1976 (2798-A), p. 18 in 28 December 1976 (St 37/14).

[27] 28 December 1976 (St 37/14), p. 21.

[28] Article 190-3 prohibited “violation of public order by a group, either in coarse manner or in disobedience of the lawful demands of representatives of authority”. It was introduced in 1966 to deal with public demonstrations.

[29] KGB head Semichastny reported to the Central Committee (6 December 1965, 2685-S^) that about 50-60 people gathered around the Pushkin monument that day. Thirty years later his report was published in Nezavisimaya gazeta (5 December 1995).

[30] 5 January 1966* (St 132/11), pp. 6-7.

[31] 3 February 1966, pp. 8-9 in 5 January 1966* (St 132/11).

[32] 18 February 1966^, Yakovlev and Chauro note to Central Committee. See Politburo decision of 21 February 1966 (Pb 255)^.

[33] The first issue of A Chronicle of Current Events (30 April 1968) reported on the Galanskov-Ginzburg trial and the protests and numerous petitions that preceded and followed it.

[34] 3 April 1968 (718-A), p. 2 in 15 April 1968 (Pb 79/XI). See also Issue 2 of the Chronicle of Current Events (30 June 1968): “The campaign against those who signed letters”.

[35] No date (Pb 615), p. 7 in 15 April 1968 (Pb 79/XI).

[36] 16 May 1968, Pb 81/XVI, pp. 6-8, Grigorenko activities in response to arrests of Ginzburg and Galanskov.

[37] 16 May 1968, Pb 81/XVI, p. 1, handwritten annulment.

[38] 20 January 1977 (123-A), p. 5.

[39] 11 January 1978 (26-A), p. 5 in 25 December 1977.

[40] 23 May 1979 (1012-A), p. 8 in 24 April 1979 (Pb 150/129).

[41] Participants, with Eduard Kuznetsov, in the 1970 hijackers trial at which several of them received the death sentence See Chronicle of Current Events, Issue 17: “The Leningrad Trial of the “Hijackers” (31 December 1970).

[42] 24 April 1979 (Pb 150/129), pp. 8-10.

[43] 15 December 1976 (Pb 38/46), p. 6.

[44] 19 October 1977 (P78/57).

[45] 7 January 1974 Politburo minutes in Russkaya mysl weekly (Paris), 30 September & 10 October 1993.

[46] “Vlasovite” – a term used to refer to Soviet POWs who agreed to work as unarmed auxiliaries for the German forces from 1942 to 1945; the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) was a controversial body engaged in wartime resistance to the Soviet regime.

[47] A reference to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which ran from September 1973 to July 1975, and culminated in the signing of the Helsinki Accords.

[48] People’s Labour Union of Solidarists, an émigré anti-Soviet organisation (see 3.11 the NTS and the dissident movement).

[49] 29 December 1975* (3213-A), p. 4.

[50] 5 February 1976 (Pb 203/104).

[51] 15 March 1977 (Pb 49/15), pp. 20-23.

[52] Ibid, pp. 6-10.

[53] 27 September 1977 (St 74/6), p. 12.

[54] Cf. Zagladin note, 2 September 1980 (St 226/3).

[55] 27 January 1967* (Pb 32/5), p. 1.

[56] A protest by hundreds of workers over price rises and food shortages in Novocherkassk in early June 1962 was dispersed by soldiers firing into the crowd, wounding dozens and killing 24 (the official death toll).

[57] 10 September 1976* (No 2066-A), pp. 6-7.

[58] 10 September 1976* (No 2066-A), pp. 12-13.

[59] 10 September 1976* (2066-A), p. 17.

[60] Sidney Bloch and Peter Reddaway’s Russia’s political hospitals, Victor Gollancz: London, 1977, formed part of this international campaign.

[61] 21 November 1977 (No 3042), pp. 2-5.

[62] Harold Romme, also President of the US Psychiatric Association.

[63] 21 November 1977 (No 3043), p. 7.

[64] 14 April 1978, p. 4.