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Eye on the News

Claire Berlinski
Closed Minds
A response to Ron Radosh, et al.
May 18, 2010

Selected Responses:

Sent by Vladimir Bukovsky and Pavel Stroilov on 05-21-2010:

One would assume that a historian normally wants to know more, not less, about history; perhaps even to be able to tell the public about it. It should be natural for a historian to complain about important archival documents being unpublished and even unavailable to researchers. That was the main point of Claire Berlinski's recent article in City Journal. Oddly enough, some eminent historians have responded with angry protests against the fuss we make about the secrecy of the archives. They claim to have all the archives they need readily available. They want no more. It is dishonest, they say, to try and publish all these documents as if they contain something new - we (the Eminent Historians) had known all about it all along.

The truth, of course, is quite as bad as we say. But even if not, why should the eminent historians get so angry? Why would they object to more archives being opened and published?

Following Claire's article, we are now getting scores of messages, comments and requests. A few of them are critical; but 9 out of 10 express fascination about the documents and ask to know more about them. This alone suggests that we are right saying that the truth about the Cold War is being denied to the public. The public is interested but is kept in the dark; the academics know everything - but are not interested.

Without exception, all our critics are distinguished historians: Dr. Brent, Professor Radosh, Professor Kramer from Harvard, Dr. Kalinovsky from London School of Economics, Professor Stone from Kansas City University. This eminent chorus quotes each other in a round robin declaring there is nothing new in our archival collections: all these documents are readily available in a number of other archives. If so, our principal question is still the same: why is there no discussion about them? Why nobody questions the notion that the West has won the Cold War? Why no debate on Gorbachev's role in history? Why are Gorbachev, Bush, Kohl, Mitterrand and Thatcher still celebrated as heroes of German unification, while the documents show they were against it? Why is nobody trying to solve the riddles of the 1989 revolutions in East Europe? What about the Soviet roots of European integration? What about the secret deals around the 1990-1991 Gulf War, which had so much effect on the further history of the Middle East? What about the Soviet sponsorship of international terrorism? What about the Soviet fifth column in the West? Why is nobody challenging Joe Biden to answer our accusations of hypocrisy and treachery? How come Lord Kinnock feels free to ignore direct accusations of treason - backed by documents? What about all other Peteins and Quislings of the Cold War, who are still both opinion-makers and decision-makers?

Our critics seem to suggest all those questions are simply not interesting enough for the public to debate, and that is why they are properly left to eminent historians, who already know all about it and are perfectly happy with such access to the archives as they are given. Professor Radosh goes even further and claims the documents are being debated by the public after all: look at this speech in European Parliament where Gerard Batten accused Lord Kinnock of treason- ‘Mr. President, Russian exile Pavel Stroilov recently published revelations about the collaboration between the Labour Party and the Soviet Union during the Cold War…’. Hold on, this is hardly a very good example to demonstrate the irrelevance of our archives.

Anyway, Gerard is special - he is a dissident. His party, UK Independence Party, is marginalised in Britain precisely because they raise issues others are scared of. We did approach other politicians. One high-ranking Conservative (and a good friend, too) told us: ‘This is absolutely fascinating; do make sure you publish it all - and most importantly, keep my involvement completely secret’. A Labour peer - generally known for his integrity, courage and anti-communism - looked at the documents and said only this: ‘Young man, be careful when choosing your enemies’. He looked uncomfortable, poor soul; but he lobbies the government on some really important issues and would not jeopardise his influence because of history. When some of documents did trickle out into the British press, one eminent professor of history cooled down his excited students: ‘Don’t you ever get involved with this stuff and these people. The moment you touch it, you will be on a hundred of different blacklists’.

So it seems to us that the debate is being, should we say, discouraged. There is a consensus among eminent historians not to question the commonly accepted version of history: Gorby is a hero who saved the world, other world leaders deserve some praise for helping him, the Cold War was a regrettable misunderstanding, and communist crimes are neither here nor there; so everybody is in the clear, nobody gets the blame and everybody gets the credit. The majority of those academics are honest and competent people, who try and do some good work even within this straightjacket. And yet, where there is a consensus, you simply have to suppress the facts which do not fit into it.

The Establishment of the East and the West has several lines of defence to guard the truth about history from the nosy public.

The first is, of course, the secrecy of the archives. In the official Russian archives, nearly all secret documents created after Stalin's death are still secret. The Kremlin Archive is closed to independent researchers altogether; so is the KGB archive. In the Gorbachev Foundation, the two most important parts of their collection - transcripts of Gorby's negotiations with foreign leaders and the notes from Politburo meetings - are not available to independent researchers.

There is, indeed, the so-called Collection 89 in the Russian archives, which, like Bukovsky's collection, was formed from the pool of documents selected for the Constitutional Court case of Communist Party vs President Yeltsin in 1992. We know the story of Collection 89 first hand from the people who created it. After Bukovsky smuggled those documents out of Russia and published them on his book Judgement in Moscow and then on the Internet, Russian historians and archivists argued there was no point in keeping those documents secret anymore. Under their pressure, the Kremlin reluctantly authorised selecting and copying the individual documents which had leaked out anyway, and making them available to researchers. The KGB, however, fought for every document to remain secret: Bukovsky's claims were one thing, and an official confirmation was another. As a result, many of Bukovsky's documents - most notably those related to the Soviet sponsorship of international terrorism and subversion - remain officially classified in Russia to the day. So, Collection 89 is a limited version of Bukovsky's collection rather than vice versa (although it does include some less important documents which Bukovsky did not copy). Both catalogues are on-line, so anyone can compare them.

This is not to mention the fact that Judgement in Moscow was written in 1993 - years before the Collection 89 was opened to the researchers. Most of the documents in it would have not seen the light of the day if Bukovsky, in his official capacity as an expert at the Constitutional Court, had not found, subpoenaed and copied them. And now Professor Kramer writes dismissively: 'almost the entire Bukovsky collection is just a duplicate of items in Fond 89'. Such a combination of arrogance and ignorance is rare outside Harvard.

Apparently, the same story began in the Gorbachev Foundation after Pavel Stroilov copied their documents and began publishing them. In an attempt the re-seize the initiative, the GF then published several volumes of documents: heavily censored, very selective, but they did publish. They have also shared some of the documents with some foreign archives, such as the National Security Archive in Washington. For some odd reason, however, people from NSA are now writing to us requesting documents, which suggests that Gorby was as selective in sharing his archives as in publishing them.

So, yes, the truth does trickle out - but only if you squeeze it out of them. Critics suggest that our breaking the rules leads to greater restrictions in Russian archives and makes life more difficult for other researchers. In fact, the opposite is true. Once the document is stolen, the archives often release it officially, in order to spin the news and control the damage. If nothing else, this helps to neutralise us by unleashing a horde of eminent historians to claim with faked naivety that the material is not new - it was already published by the proper authorities.

The second line of resistance is held at the doorsteps of publishing houses and academic institutions.

Professor Kramer tells us that Judgement in Moscow was never published in English because 'the commercial prospects are minimal at best'. It is amazing just how knowledgeable - about everything - the Harvard professors are. The fact is that Random House has offered $60,000 for publishing it in 1995. But then one Jason Epstein, a senior editor of the Random House, has wasted nearly 6 months trying to persuade Vladimir to completely re-write the book from the Left-wing political viewpoint. Bukovsky refused, Epstein dropped the contract. All the correspondence is available. Does this sound like a commercial reason?

And this is not the end. A few years later, a British publisher signed a contract, translated the book and even announced it in its catalogue, but at the last moment dropped the contract, too, under pressure from the lawyers (one of whom openly admitted that he represents Random House). A copy of the lawyers' statement, which is in our possession, calls the book "the most libellous book ever considered" by them, and warning the publisher he will be ruined by an avalanche of law suits. Commercial prospects, indeed.

Dr. Brent, then of Yale University Press, comes into the story much later. We met him in London in August 2005 to talk about Pavel's - not Vladimir's - collection. He was very enthusiastic about publishing it. For a start, he wanted a book about the 1990-1991 Gulf War, and wanted it urgently. He asked Pavel to start writing immediately and send it to him chapter by chapter, aiming to publish it soon after Christmas. At no point did he ask to see the documents for verification, which would have been readily provided. However, no sooner did we send him the first six chapters as Dr. Brent mysteriously disappeared. No replies to phone calls and e-mails (except once an automatic reply came from his office informing us that his secretary is unavailable). Frankly, we became worried lest he was being locked in one of those secret CIA prisons, or kidnapped by Middle East terrorists. So much so that we asked our good friend David Satter to try and find him, assuming it must be easier for an American to find an American. Alas, David came back informing us that he, too, got no reply.

Now Dr. Brent seems to get resurrected like Lazar by Professor Radosh, only to lie and to try undermining our reputations by all sorts of innuendo. Professor Radosh takes his turn accusing us of maliciously slandering 'a giant of American publishing' by making the story public. If so, we are eagerly waiting for Brent’s lawsuit. Halloo, Jonathan! Are you still there?

Alas, he has disappeared again, the flying Dutchman. For a giant, he is pretty good at hiding.

There is nothing special about Brent; we both have had dozens of similar stories. And it is not just us. Every researcher who steps beyond that consensus of eminent historians is instantly pushed overboard. Thus, Viktor Suvorov has provided iron-clad proofs that Stalin was the main culprit of the Second World War. His books sell in millions of copies in Russia, Poland and the rest of East Europe, have been at the centre of public debate for a generation and are vociferously denounced by the Kremlin as the very worst example of ‘falsification of history against Russia’s interest’. In the West, however, there has been dead silence throughout this quarter a century. His books would not even be published in the US until very recently, when his single-volume The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II was robustly ignored by the academics and the media.

This is where we disagree not only with eminent historians, but with Claire Berlinski's excellent article as well. There is no lack of public interest in the communist secrets. The public wants to know the truth; but the truth is zealously guarded by the cabal of eminent historians as well as by the KGB archivists in Russia.

The eminent historians prefer to be friendly with the Kremlin, Gorbachev, and other guardians of the secret archives. In return, when the spin-doctors decide it is the right time to release a particular document in full or (more likely) in part, it will be released through a friendly eminent historian. It is a comfortable little world: historic figures supervising the research of their history, bestowing selected documents onto selected historians. Eminent academics eating from the hands of retired dictators - and thanking them for a delicious dinner. Imagine Dr. Goebbels surviving the World War II and orchestrating the research in the Third Reich archives - that will give you the idea of what is on.

We have refused to play by these rules - and that is why the eminent historians have been unenthusiastic about our documents in the first place and furious now that the truth is out. We have devalued their half-truths. We have invaded their comfortable little world, their consensual version of history, their unearned monopoly of opinion-making.

Let us be fair: a lot of academics are well-meaning and honest people who are trying to uncover the truth as best they can. Furthermore, many of our vociferous critics are also our secret sympathisers. But they must attack us - because they are fully dependant on our enemies in Moscow, and because we threaten their position of eminence. Now the full truth is out, it is evident they had been fed half-truths. They have been, at best, fools; or at worst, accomplices to the cover-up of the century. ‘The more you pay for a fake, the less you are inclined to doubt its authenticity’.

Some time ago, one distinguished scholar criticised us along the very same lines, claiming the Gorbachev Foundation was readily sharing its archives with independent researchers like himself. Now he has written to us complaining that, in fact, they are not, and asking for documents. He admitted he had privately agreed with us all along, but had to attack us in public to soften up Gorby's archivists.

But whatever their private thoughts, there are such things, comrades, as class consciousness and class hatred. So the academics roll up the sleeves of their dignified white robes and man their final line of defence to throw smears, insults and lies.

Dr. Brent, from his bunker in a very secret location, has instructed Professor Radosh to quote him as saying with authority:

- that we were unwilling to produce the documents for verification;

- that the documents might be fakes;

- that we are in it for money.

Oddly enough, it apparently never occurred to Dr. Brent that his claims are very easy to disprove: anyone can contact us, like hundreds of people have already done, and ask for documents. Those we will produce without asking for money, and Dr. Brent will be exposed as a liar which he is (the fact we find rather surprising).

Too late, Professors; you have lost. You have been rightly exposed as a self-serving Mafia who does not care for the historical truth. Now all your lines of defence are broken and the truth is out anyway. You claim to have known all these documents all along and even to have many more documents available to you. If so, it is about time to share them with the public.

Sent by Sergei Cristo on 05-20-2010:

I find it extraordinary that Jonathan Brent found the time to write such a polite, elegant and detailed response to Claire Berlinski’s article and yet thought it was alright to let Pavel Stroilov’s book chapters, which he himself commissioned, "drop" without so much as informing him of the fact, despite numerous reminders.

Such an unattractive lack of grace is also evident in the angry reaction from a number of the so-called historians of the Cold War based in the West. Far from being grateful, they refuse to accept the role that Vladimir Bukovsky played in forcing the Russians to set up Fond 89. They regard the brave Pavel Stroilov with similar disgust, the man whose occasional publications based on about 100,000 documents which he stole from the Gorbachev Foundation have forced it to start their own publications.

But what have these historians done to be so proud of themselves? They have been feeding off the crumbs from their Moscow masters’ table for years - writing books, making their own careers. Now they are terrified that most on which they have built their names will have to be re-examined. Comparisons between the originals taken by Stroilov and the documents released by the Gorbachev Foundation have given rise to the suggestions that not only might Moscow still keep a part of its archives under wraps, but that the "documents" released by Gorbachev over the past 15 years or so might have been filleted!

In their lofty, academic, and let’s be honest, patronizing manner, these career historians try to tell us that it is they who are the real experts about Russia and its history, not the foreign "amateurs" of the likes of the Bukovskys or Stroilovs of this world, who must not be trusted. Well, if these historians knew Russia that well, didn’t they realise who they were dealing with in Moscow?

Sent by Jonathan Brent on 05-19-2010:

Dear Claire Berlinski,

I have been a little puzzled about the controversy that has arisen over your article and your assertion that you had sent me an e-mail to which I didn't respond concerning the documents in the possession of Vladimir Bukovsky and Pavel Stroilov which they showed to me about 5 years ago. Now that you have reproduced that e-mail in your article, I think I can and must explain what happened. In July 2009, I left Yale University Press to take the position of Executive Director of The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York. However, I continued to teach one course a semester at Bard College. My main e-mail is YIVO's, though my accounts remain active at both Bard and Yale. This means I get hundreds of e-mails daily from three sources. Some time ago, I decided to check my Bard account only for student messages. However, the problem was compounded by the fact that when you e-mailed me at Bard I had just returned from arduous travel that took me from Chicago to Houston to Moscow to Vilnius. When I returned, I immediately had to immerse myself in the day-to-day management of YIVO and begin teaching at Bard. Unfortunately, I neglected to check my Bard e-mails for a while and by the time I did I had about a thousand--mostly spam. Yours obviously was among those I deleted. Unfortunately, many conspiracy theories devolve to such banal incidentals.

However, HAD I seen it, I would have written to you what I said to Ron Radosh, which is that as much as I was initially intrigued by the materials sent to me by Vladimir Bukovsky, I could not in the end find a way to present them to my academic board at Yale that would be acceptable. What I saw was not put into historical context; nor, if I recall, were the documents reproduced in full. This was the most difficult problem. KGB documents are notoriously problematic. Provenance is everything, and as the former head of Comintern archives in Moscow said to me, one should always begin with the assumption that KGB documents are false unless proven true through a process of triangulation using credible sources. I was in no position to judge the veracity of these materials and without the full document in front of me the problem was compounded to a point where it seemed to me what was needed was not a scholarly publisher, but a research institute. In other words, the materials in the shape in which they were presented were not publishable at least by Yale, but they should be studied and researched by scholars who could then make them ready for publication. That, however, was not my affair.

I do not regard your article as hostile, though others have seen in it an implication of some kind of malfeasance. The fact is that NO commercial publisher could have made use of the materials Bukovsky and Stroilov sent to me either because the way they appeared was so disorganized or they could not envision a book that would be commercially successful. I had my hands full with numerous other projects--including the volume on KATYN and The History of the Gulag--and so let this drop.

Now let me come to the larger point: the questions you raise in your article are of great moment in the world today, but I feel they are a bit misplaced. Why we don't care about crimes of the Stalin or post-Stalin period--about which I have written and published extensively--are nothing in comparison to the engines of religious and race hatred, nationalism, and criminality of all sorts that are coming back to life today in Eastern/Central Europe and Russia. Why does The New York Times not cover THAT? Why are so few Americans aware of the great revival of these poisonous products of 20th Century European history? How or why the Cold War ground to a halt--the crimes of Gorbachev, Yeltsin and their predecessors are matters of great historical importance, but the intellectual inertness of the West in the face of the recurrence of precisely those evils that gave rise to those crimes in the first place is incomprehensible to me. I speak of the revival of Stalin's image in Russia on the one hand and the revival of nationalistic, crypto-Nazi movements across Eastern Europe on the other. What this signifies must be taken seriously in the West, but so few people are able to take it seriously because it is so rarely put into the proper historical/political context and the facts of it get muddled in political agendas that slyly redirect attention from criminality and responsibility to victimhood. This to me is the great story unfolding in Europe at present and one Americans ought to know more about.


Jonathan Brent

Sent by Mark Kramer on 05-19-2010:

To preclude further confusion, I need to explain the background. In late 1991 and 1992, more than 3,000 documents were gathered for a trial of the Soviet Communist Party before the Russian Constitutional Court. The trial made little headway and soon ground to a halt. Bukovsky was on an official commission that reviewed these documents, and, using a handheld scanner, he copied around 900 of them, which, to his great credit, he made fully available online in the late 1990s. At the time he scanned the documents, there was no guarantee that the Russian government would ever make any of the items accessible, and he therefore admirably wanted to have copies of them in case the collection was subsequently sealed. But as it turned out, the Russian government *did* make photocopies of nearly all of the formerly secret documents available to the public, starting in late 1992. Some 3,000 declassified documents are stored in Fond 89 of the Russian State Archive of Recent History (Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Noveishei Istorii, or RGANI), covering the whole Soviet period. In addition to the items declassified for the trial, photocopies of a small number of other documents (mostly ones turned over by the Russian authorities to foreign leaders during state visits) were subsequently added to Fond 89. Because the various items were released in batches, they were arranged and initially catalogued somewhat haphazardly, with only sporadic attempts at thematic coherence and chronological order. But fortunately in 1995 an excellent item-level finding aid appeared in Russian, organized chronologically and extensively cross-indexed. The finding aid covered nearly 80 percent of Fond 89, and the remaining 20 percent was covered in a comprehensive English-language finding aid compiled by Lora Soroka of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution in the late 1990s. The Fond 89 holdings were microfilmed in the mid-1990s by the British publisher Chadwyck-Healey (which has since been taken over by the ProQuest Information and Learning Company) with funding and support from the Hoover Institution. The 25 reels of microfilmed Fond 89 documents were then made available for purchase in the West and have been acquired by numerous university and public libraries.

Given the common provenance of the Bukovsky collection and Fond 89, it is hardly surprising that there is a very high degree of overlap between them. The large majority of documents in the Bukovsky collection are also in Fond 89, as anyone who has used the two collections can attest. To give a quick example: the Bukovsky collection contains 31 documents about Poland in 1980-1982 and 42 documents pertaining to the Soviet war in Afghanistan. All of these documents appear in Fond 89. The Bukovsky collection does contain some documents (especially about repression of dissidents) that are not in Fond 89, but only a relatively small number, whereas Fond 89 contains a large number of documents (more than 2,000) that are not in the Bukovsky collection. It is good to have both collections, but the reason that scholars and students primarily use Fond 89 is that the collection is far more extensive and has very useful finding aids. (I should note, however, that Berlinski’s description of the Bukovsky collection as “unorganized” is incorrect. In fact, the collection is organized both topically and chronologically.)

Berlinski claims that the documents in Fond 89 (she is referring to the Bukovsky collection, but, as I noted, there is a very high degree of overlap) "are largely unknown, undiscussed, and ignored by the media" and says that "they have certainly not been translated in full." In fact, many documents in Fond 89/Bukovsky have been described and analyzed by journalists over the past 18 years. Among others, Michael Dobbs in THE WASHINGTON POST and Serge Schmemann in THE NEW YORK TIMES published numerous articles in the 1990s discussing items in Fond 89/Bukovsky. Many documents have been discussed in the British and German and French press as well. The collection has by no means been "ignored by the media." It is true that the documents have "not been translated in full," but Berlinski fails to mention (and apparently is unaware) that a vast number of translations of Fond 89 documents have been published over the past 18 years by the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) in its BULLETIN and Working Papers and on its website. Many translations have also been made available by the National Security Archive and by other organizations. To cite an example, let me return to the Poland and Afghanistan documents in the Bukovsky collection. All of these, every single one, were translated in the 1990s and published by the CWIHP. I know for sure because I was the one who translated them, but much the same could be said about other parts of the collection. The CWIHP and the National Security Archive have done invaluable work in making translations of Russian documents available (including thousands of documents in addition to those in Fond 89), but Berlinksi seems unaware of what has been done. To be sure, both the CWIHP and my own program at Harvard and the National Security Archive would welcome having all of the documents translated, but translation entails expense and priorities have to be set. Bear in mind that many scholars who use these materials are apt to use the originals instead of translations. Rather than complain that the Fond 89 documents have "not been translated in full," Berlinski might consider helping the CWIHP and NSArchive obtain the funding to translate all of the remaining documents.

Regarding the Stroilov documents, I mentioned before that based on what I had seen thus far, there is nothing in them that is not readily available to researchers at the Gorbachev Foundation Archive. I can judge only by what Stroilov has chosen to release thus far. Last September he made available to Michael Binyon of the London TIMES some documents pertaining to Margaret Thatcher’s position on German unification and Soviet policy toward Germany, especially notes from a conversation that Thatcher had with Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow on 23 September 1989. Binyon published an article in the TIMES on 11 September 2009 describing the record of Thatcher’s comments as "explosive" and "likely to cause [an] uproar." The TIMES on its website posted translations of this document and of some other documents provided by Stroilov regarding Soviet policy toward Germany. When I checked these, I found that I already had copies of them from Opis’ 2 of Fond 2 at the Gorbachev Foundation Archive. I also found that Svetlana Savranskaya of the National Security Archive had already put out translations of most of the documents, including the full record of the Gorbachev-Thatcher conversation on 23 September 1989. I also found that Thatcher herself, on p. 792 of her DOWNING STREET YEARS memoir (published in 1993), had accurately recounted this meeting, including the points that Binyon deemed to be "explosive." I came away from all this with a degree of skepticism about Stroilov’s claims to have obtained documents that are not available to any other researchers.

But because I have not seen Stroilov’s full collection, I cannot offer a final judgment about it. If Stroilov wants his collection thoroughly used and appraised, he should provide it to the CWIHP or National Security Archive so that it can be made available in full to experts, who can then compare it with the materials they have acquired from the Gorbachev Foundation Archive. Short of that, his claims have to be assessed on the basis of the selective items he has made available thus far.

Let me turn finally to Berlinski’s contention that there is "a dangerous indifference to the history and horrors of Communism." This is an accurate characterization of large parts of the former Soviet Union, especially Russia, but it is certainly not an accurate assessment of the situation in the United States, which is what Berlinski is talking about. When I published THE BLACK BOOK OF COMMUNISM in the late 1990s, I looked on it as a work that built on a good deal of top-notch scholarship that was being done in the 1990s. In the eleven years since THE BLACK BOOK appeared, an immense amount of first-rate scholarship has been published on almost every aspect of the atrocities and crimes of Soviet Communism--the wanton destruction of peasants, the bloodshed and mass famines caused by forced collectivization, the purges, the mass terror (including the so-called mass operations), the deportations of entire nationalities, the Gulag, and numerous other topics. Other scholarship of this sort is in the pipeline, such as Norman Naimark’s book STALIN'S GENOCIDES, which is due out soon from Princeton University Press. Berlinski says nothing about any of this work, nor does she mention Yale University Press’s "Annals of Communism" series, which has made available large numbers of translations of documents pertaining to these topics and numerous others. Fortunately, future generations of students will have no problem learning about the horrors and crimes of the Soviet regime. There is ample room for more to be done (and indeed more *is* being done), but what has been produced thus far is worthy of praise, not a blithe condemnation.

Mark Kramer

Sent by Ron Radosh on 05-19-2010:

Dear Claire Berlinski,

You are correct that we agree on your main point. There are far more important battles to fight in the present, both that of radical Islam and the dire threat it poses to the West, and the situation in Russia to which Jonathan Brent refers in his letter to you. But history makes its own demands when it comes to accuracy in understanding the past. Much of our dispute, and that of those who have taken part in the response to your article, deals with specific questions regarding what is available from the Russian archives.

Therefore, CJ readers should be made aware that I have posted on my PJM blog a detailed response to these questions from both Mark Kramer, and another one from Prof. Mikhail Tsypkin of the Naval Postgraduate College. Those who know the importance of having the public alerted to what is available to learn about the Soviet past should read both these entries, and then decide for themselves who has the more sound argument.

Hopefully, rather than both of us coming off as two writers who are "defensive, petty windbags," as you put it, the debate will lead to more involvement with this issue, and to many more people exploring the sordid truth about the Soviet past.


Ron Radosh

Claire Berlinksi responds:
I'm pleased that Ron Radosh agrees with me that "at present, when the main challenge to the West is the rise of radical Islam, much of our dispute is about past history." I'd be more pleased still were that what I'd said or even what I think. But in fact I argued that understanding this history is vital precisely because it is not past. This, in fact, is what I wrote:

"Indeed, many still subscribe to the essential tenets of Communist ideology. Politicians, academics, students, even the occasional autodidact taxi driver still stand opposed to private property. Many remain enthralled by schemes for central economic planning. Stalin, according to polls, is one of Russia's most popular historical figures. No small number of young people in Istanbul, where I live, proudly describe themselves as Communists; I have met such people around the world, from Seattle to Calcutta."

I wrote that these documents raise questions about the judgment of the leaders of contemporary Europe and the contemporary United States. I would never deny that radical Islam poses a challenge to the West -- I'm well-known for saying so, I believe -- but we hardly have to choose. Both radical Islam and the various species of neo-Marxism that continue to flourish the globe around pose a challenge to the West. As for Mr. Brent's suggestion that we should be concerned about the revival of nationalistic and crypto-Nazi movements, I could not agree more. I've written extensively about this. But to say we should be concerned about the revival of one loathsome ideology does not mean we may therefore be sanguine about the others.

I am beginning to wonder if there's another Claire Berlinski out there writing articles about the Soviet archives, because I never remotely suggested, in my original article, that the author of The Black Book of Communism was unaware of the communist body count. Nor did I argue anywhere that the small cadre of serious Western scholars of the archives are indifferent to communism's horrors. Let me repeat what I did say once again:

"In the world's collective consciousness, the word "Nazi" is synonymous with evil. It is widely understood that the Nazis' ideology--nationalism, anti-Semitism, the autarkic ethnic state, the Führer principle--led directly to the furnaces of Auschwitz. It is not nearly as well understood that Communism led just as inexorably, everywhere on the globe where it was applied, to starvation, torture, and slave-labor camps. Nor is it widely acknowledged that Communism was responsible for the deaths of some 150 million human beings during the twentieth century. The world remains inexplicably indifferent and uncurious about the deadliest ideology in history."

Mark Kramer writes that "dangerous indifference" is "certainly not an accurate assessment of the situation in the United States, which is what Berlinski is talking about." Did the other Claire Berlinski say she was only talking about the situation in the United States? See the passage above: This Claire Berlinski clearly wrote, "the world." One more time, from my original article:

"No small number of young people in Istanbul, where I live, proudly describe themselves as Communists; I have met such people around the world, from Seattle to Calcutta."

The United States is not the world -- although as it happens, my characterization also holds in the United States, because "the world" is not confined to the small handful of scholars Mark Kramer mentions. It is not even confined to academia. My point may be confirmed with a simple experiment: No matter where you are, be it the United States or Equatorial Guinea, step outside and ask the first five people you meet, "Who killed more people in the past century, the Nazis or the Communists?" Don't take my word for it, try it yourself.

Mark Kramer's reply is otherwise helpful, but readers may still be left confused. Let me try to explain this, too, once again. There are two document collections in question, one belonging to Stroilov, one to Bukovsky, as well as two unpublished books: a half-written book Stroilov offered to the Yale University Press and Bukovsky's Jugement à Moscou. There is a debate about the overlap between Bukovsky's collection and that of Fond 89. Bukovsky says it is scant; Mark Kramer says it is not. I can't judge, because I don't read Russian. It's an empirical question, however, and one that would be easy to resolve were the documents translated and properly organized. (We seem to be bickering, too, about the meaning of the word "organized." I suppose my standard for "organization" is higher than Mark Kramer's; I would like to be able to find the documents I'm looking for. My model for this is the online archive of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation. These documents should be organized in a similar fashion.)

As for Stroilov's collection, no one is arguing that it is available in Fond 89. The criticism seems to be that it is probably not as interesting as he claims, but then again, no one is sure what's in it. I myself have argued that his documents about Thatcher are not as explosive as Stroilov believes -- on the pages of City Journal, in fact -- but I would not have known about them had Stroilov not publicized them and provided me with translated copies. No one else did this, and before he did, no one else was debating the point. It was a point worthy of debate: My opinion that the documents should not compel us to revise our view of Thatcher wasn't shared by everyone who saw them. We may argue about the significance of those documents at length, and I already have, but the key point is that unless they are translated and in the public eye, none but a handful of specialist researchers will know about them or care.

"Rather than complain that the Fond 89 documents have 'not been translated in full,'" writes Mark Kramer, "Berlinski might consider helping the CWIHP and NSArchive obtain the funding to translate all of the documents." Although I didn't complain that the Fond 89 documents haven't been translated in full (the other Claire Berlinski must have said that), that's still an excellent idea. Perhaps I should write an article suggesting that Soviet-era documents are of great significance to the world and calling for them to be translated? (And by the way, does no one see the connection between the lack of funding for these documents' translation and the indifference to this history I'm describing? Be honest, now.)

Look, let me make a suggestion. This debate is perhaps entertaining to connoisseurs of the genre, but it now serves no other purpose. We are arguing about a question that can't be resolved--not by me, at any rate, and not by most people--until all of the documents are translated. I would like to think we are all on the same side: We all want all of these documents, those in Fond 89, those in Bukovsky's collection, and those in Stroilov's, to be translated and archived in a way that they may easily be consulted by a wider public. We would all like the world better to understand this period of history and its significance. So I'll take Mark Kramer up on his offer, if he's serious. I will indeed work with CWIHP and NSArchive to get all of these documents translated.

Here is what I propose:

1) I suggest Stroilov and Bukovsky immediately donate copies of all the documents in their possession to CWIHP.
2) We don't need to raise funds for the documents to be translated. We live in 2010, and this is an ideal task for crowd-sourcing over the Internet. Since the publication of my piece, I've received dozens of letters from Russian speakers who are eager to translate the documents. Not surprisingly, many claim to have been victims of communism. There are all too many Russian-speaking victims of communism out there, and they are fanatical in their dedication. A simple website could be established allowing volunteers to work collaboratively to translate and organize these papers. The only cost would be hosting fees. Frankly, it could be done on Facebook. We would not need to apply for grants, supplicate before donors, or wait for funds to be released from bureaucracies.
3) When the documents have all been translated, we can revisit the issue and decide whether there's anything worth reading in the collections we're arguing about. If not, I'll be the first to say so.

I believe this could be accomplished within six months.

Do we have a deal?

Sent by Bob McKenna on 05-19-2010:

I'm surprised at the reaction of Ron Radosh to the article. I can understand how it would upset the "fellow travelers"
who are still lurking in the shadows. This is one of those stories that absolutely needs to be told in its entirety.
Thanks to Claire Berlinski for getting it started, and for answering Radosh and the others whose objections seem, at least to me, specious. She did that with class, as is her wont.

In the latest issue of City Journal, I published a story about a large cache of Soviet-era documents smuggled out of Russia by Pavel Stroilov, a Russian researcher now exiled in London, and a similar collection of smuggled documents held by the former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky. I wrote that the world was incurious about these papers; this, I argued, was symptomatic of a dangerous indifference to the history and horrors of Communism.

The historian Ron Radosh issued a disgruntled response. My piece, he wrote, was overstated, unjust, slanderous, weak, lazy, irresponsible, poorly informed, and misleading. (I assume he otherwise liked it.)

I thank Radosh for taking the time to consider my article. I note that we are in agreement about the key point: particularly since the publication of The Black Book of Communism, there are no excuses for not knowing the truth about Communism. I would go further and say that there have been no excuses since the liquidation of the kulaks.

As for the rest of Radosh’s comments, I wish I could simply ignore them. A vain academic spat is surely as dispiriting to readers as a long-haul flight with nothing but a volume by Joyce Carol Oates in the seat pocket. But if we must make a big display of our small differences, let’s at least get it over with quickly.

I ask readers to go back and read carefully both my article and Ronald Radosh’s reply. Having done so, they will see that the scholars whom he marshals to contradict me are in fact contradicting one another. When they’re not doing that, they’re making incidental points or replying to an article I didn’t write.

Begin with the gravamen of Radosh’s charges. He finds it “most shocking” that I have implicitly “attacked” Jonathan Brent, one of the giants of American publishing. It would be mildly shocking, I suppose, if I had attacked him—but I didn’t. I noted what Pavel Stroilov had said about him, and then did precisely the responsible thing Radosh says I didn’t do: I asked Brent for his side of the story. Here is the e-mail I sent to him:

From: Claire Berlinski ‹›
Date: February 11, 2010 1:10:00 PM GMT+02:00
Subject: Question about the Stroilov/Bukowsky archives

Dear Dr. Brent,

I’m a journalist who is writing a piece for City Journal about Pavel Stroilov and the documents that he smuggled out of the Gorbachev Foundation archives. He tells me that he approached you with these documents, and that you were initially enthusiastic about them. He says that you asked him to write a book, based on the documents, about the first Gulf War, to be followed by more. He says that he wrote the first six chapters, sent them off, and never heard from you again. I expect this isn’t quite the whole story. I wonder if I could get your take on it. Is there any chance I could speak to you about this? I can call you at your convenience, or you can reach me on my Vonage phone: [here I gave Brent my telephone number]. I’m in Istanbul now, 7+ hours ahead of EST.

Best regards,

Claire Berlinski

I reported that Brent did not respond to me, and I dismissed the idea that only a conspiracy to suppress the truth could account for this. Brent’s failure to answer my e-mail meant nothing, I said. He was probably just busy, as are we all. Such a surmise is hardly an attack, no less a shocking one. (By comparison, Alexander Litvinenko, whose books Stroilov edited, was assassinated in the heart of London with polonium 210. Now that’s a shocking attack.) Radosh did not contact me to ask whether I had written to Brent before suggesting, more than implicitly, that I hadn’t. Were this a competition in journalistic probity, I believe judges would award me the round.

Likewise, Radosh proposes that I did not take the “easy step” of consulting with experts familiar with the Soviet archives. Is he quite sure? My e-mail records seem to suggest that I did, though I did not consult the same experts he mentions. There are, after all, more than three. If Radosh wants evidence that I, too, spoke with experts, I’ll cough it up, but I must warn him that if we continue this in public, we will both come off as defensive, petty windbags.

Other experts are of the opinion that there are documents in Stroilov’s and Bukovsky’s collections that are not available in other archives, and that there are significant differences between their documents and those that have been officially released. Particularly, Russian archivists claim that Fond 89 does not contain all of Bukovsky’s documents; they say state security has blocked attempts to declassify them all. Bukovsky maintains that fewer than 30 percent of his documents are housed in Fond 89. He suggests that those who doubt this simply compare Fond 89, published in 2001 by the Hoover Institution Press, with his collection. Since 2003, the Gorbachev Foundation has restricted access to many of the documents Stroilov claims to possess in full. According to Sergei Cristo, a translator who recently compared the official versions with Stroilov’s, those published by the Gorbachev Foundation contain major omissions.

To focus on this question is to miss my larger point, however, which is that the contents of the documents, whether or not they may be found in other archives, are largely unknown, undiscussed, and ignored by the media; they have certainly not been translated in full; and their significance is unappreciated by a wider public.

Radosh’s correspondents seem to be responding to his e-mails, rather than any assertions I actually made. For example, Mark Kramer writes:

I’m not sure precisely what Bukovsky approached Jonathan [Brent] about, but I think it was about putting out an English edition of Bukovsky’s “Jugement à Moscou,” which came out in 1995 from Robert Laffont (the same publisher that later put out “Le livre noir du communisme”) . . .

I don’t know what Kramer is talking about; and neither does he, it would seem. It was not Bukovsky who was in negotiations with Brent, but Stroilov; Bukovsky’s quarrel was with Random House. Kramer then adds, of Bukovsky’s book, that “The reason that no English edition has been published is partly . . . [that] the commercial prospects are minimal at best.” Perhaps this is true, but if so, it would confirm what I’m saying. Why would the commercial prospects be poor? Because there is no market for such books. What does this tell us? That no one cares. Obviously, I do not use the words “no one” in the very literal sense; of course there are people who care, among them the scholars to whom Radosh appeals. I mean “no one” in the sense of, “The commercial prospects for a book by Vladimir Bukovsky are minimal at best.”

Kramer notes that all of the documents have been available for more than a decade as scanned images on Bukovsky’s website. So do I. “These documents are available online at,” I wrote, “but most are not translated. They are unorganized; there are no summaries; there is no search or index function.”

I note moreover that they are available for free. This last is important, for Brent seems to be suggesting that Bukovsky is in this for the money. If so, life under Communist rule has perverted Bukovsky’s entrepreneurial instincts more than even I would have thought possible. As for his suggestion that Vladimir Bukovsky (of all men!) is a mendacious opportunist, I salute him for confessing at last what I’m sure we all secretly feel; these men who languished for years in Soviet prisons do tend to whinge on about it and milk it for cash, don’t they?

For what it’s worth, Stroilov is definitely giving these documents away (or trying to), not selling them. As for the charge that I didn’t contact Random House, I wonder if Radosh has read the correspondence between Bukovsky and his editor. I’ve got that here, too. I’m not sure what Random House could say about it, other than that it’s unfortunate. Please, Mr. Radosh, don’t make me produce it. I’m a Random House author, and I’d like to eat lunch in this town again.

I’ve made it clear that I have no ability to assess these documents. For men and women who seem confident in their ability to do so, however, Radosh’s correspondents certainly do contradict one other. The reason the documents were not worth publishing, says Brent, is that “Bukovsky and his young associate won’t show the originals but only their redactions of the copies they have. There’s no way of knowing what is left out—or what may be put in. . . . If Bukovsky would make the originals available for study by qualified historians, then there would be a chance of real results.” Yet Mark Kramer and Anne Applebaum claim the problem is the contrary: the documents are of no interest, they say, because they’re already available in their entirety in archives around the world. So which is it?

Anne Applebaum continues by objecting to a point I never made: “She is also quite wrong in thinking that US publishers are uninterested in publishing books based on ‘unofficial’ KGB document collections either [sic]. The Mitrokhin Archive and the Vassiliev collection, for example, have both been used to produce excellent books.” Where did I say anything to suggest otherwise? Radosh complains that I failed to note that Brent published Yakovlev’s book. He’s right, I didn’t note that. How this amounts to an attack on Brent—or why it is relevant at all—I have no idea. I said only that the book was widely ignored. I’m not blaming Brent for that; I’m blaming an indifferent world.

Brent seems to understand my point better than Radosh does: “As for why American publishers are wary of such a book as Bukovsky and Stroilov have produced,” he writes, “the reason is hardly that they wish to suppress knowledge, but that they don’t think they can make money.” That’s exactly what I said. (I do note, again, some confusion: Bukovsky produced one book, Stroilov the first part of another; the project on which they collaborated was a pamphlet called EUSSR.) “I am less inclined to believe in complex attempts to suppress the truth,” I wrote, “than I am in indifference and preoccupation with other things.” The reason these books don’t sell is that people don’t care enough to buy them. Are not Brent and I in perfect agreement? So where’s the attack?

A few more points. Gerard Batten knows of the documents not because they have been properly archived, translated, or widely described in the press, but because Stroilov has been shoving them into the hands of anyone who will read them. My complaint is that few do. Only people like Batten—fairly marginal figures—seem particularly interested in them. Radosh notes that it’s “not surprising” to discover that then-Senators Joe Biden and Richard Lugar told their Communist interlocutors that “they absolutely do not care for the fate of most so-called dissidents,” and that many other politicians, of both parties, were similarly unconcerned. I agree, but don’t see why this is a criticism of my argument. My very point is that we are not surprised. I argue that we should be. “Perhaps it doesn’t surprise you,” I wrote, “to read that prominent European politicians held these views. But why doesn’t it? It is impossible to imagine that figures who had enjoyed such close ties to the Nazi Party—or, for that matter, to the Ku Klux Klan or to South Africa’s apartheid regime—would enjoy top positions in Europe today.” This goes for prominent politicians in America, too, whatever their political party.

Applebaum does make one suggestion with which I agree completely. I should be denouncing the Russian government, she argues, “which has slowed down the declassification of secret documents, and which continues to hold back material vital to understanding Stalin and Stalinism.” Done. Consider it denounced.

I could go on at considerable length about other points Ronald Radosh seems to misunderstand, but I’m sure readers would have little patience for it. I’d ask them instead to see whether they have better luck than I did in figuring out just why, precisely, he is so incensed with me. I propose that there is no good reason, and that he and I should return to fighting more important battles.

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