In the Spring 2010 issue of City Journal, I described an archive of documents from Soviet government agencies smuggled to the West by the Russian researcher Pavel Stroilov and the Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky. These documents, I noted, were available to anyone who wanted to consult them. But nobody did. Publishers were indifferent. Only a fraction of the documents had been translated into English. This was, I argued, a symptom of the world’s dangerous indifference to the enormity of Communist crimes.
Within weeks of the article’s appearance, I received hundreds of e-mails. Many came from victims of Soviet Communism—there is no shortage of them—appalled that the documents were not better known. They volunteered to translate them. Thanks to their efforts, more have become available in English, and many of them are very much worth reading.
It is one thing to know abstractly, for example, that the Soviets sponsored terrorism in the Middle East. It is another to read a newly translated memorandum from longtime KGB head Yuri Andropov to Communist Party general secretary Leonid Brezhnev requesting authorization to fund a detailed plan by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) to kill civilians around the world:
In a confidential conversation at a meeting with the KGB resident in Lebanon in April this year, [PFLP official] Wadia Haddad outlined a prospective program of sabotage and terrorism by the PLFP [sic]. . . . The PLFP is currently preparing a number of special operations, including strikes against large oil storage installations in various countries, . . . the destruction of oil tankers and super-tankers, actions against American and Israeli representatives in Iran, Greece, Ethiopia, Kenya, an attack on the Diamond center in Tel Aviv, etc. . . . We feel it would be feasible, at the next meeting, to give a generally favorable response to Wadia Haddad’s request.
“W. Haddad,” Andropov notes archly, “is fully aware of our opposition to terrorism in principle.” Unstated but implied: “He is fully aware of our enthusiasm for terrorism in practice.”
The Soviet Union is gone; the PFLP survives. It recently issued a statement denouncing the Middle East peace talks and the “surrender to the imperialist demands of the U.S. and Israel.” One of the newly translated documents might give pause to those inclined to see in the PFLP a consistent champion of anti-imperialism, however. It records the Politburo’s decision to provide the PFLP with “special equipment to the sum of 15 million rubles in exchange for a collection of art objects of the Ancient World.” The Soviet Ministry of Culture was charged with appraising the collection and determining a suitable place to house the “golden store.” Given the PFLP’s supposedly principled anti-imperialism, it is odd that nowhere in this document do we see plans for returning these art objects to the “ancient world.”
Also interesting is a document suggesting the pains taken by the KGB to ensure the eruption of “spontaneous” global demonstrations against Israel. According to the KGB’s estimates, spontaneously outraged Muslims cost approximately a quarter-rupee apiece: “The KGB station in India is capable of organizing a protest demonstration at the U.S. Embassy to India, with up to 20,000 Muslims participating. The expenses for organizing the demonstration would amount to 5,000 Indian rupees and be covered from the funds allocated by the CPSU Central Committee for special measures in India in 1969–1971.”
It would not quite be fair to interpret the Soviet Union’s anti-Israel agitation as an expression of ideological anti-Semitism, though. After all, the documents show the Soviets’ willingness—eagerness, even—to put Israeli Communists on the bankroll:
FROM THE CONVERSATION with the Secretary General of the Communist Party of Israel M. Vilner, 11 Aug. 1980
In the course of the conversation, M. VILNER (who was visiting the USSR for vacation and health treatment) said that in Jan. 1981 D. VILNER, who is currently entrusted with the Israeli Communist Party security, will be visiting Helsinki for the “International Forum of Youth and Students for Peace and Disarmament.” The Party management would like to use the occasion of his passing Moscow for advanced special training and asks CC [the Party’s Central Committee] to help.
That there was scarcely a miserable group of miscreants on the planet that the Soviets did not, in some fashion, fund, train, and encourage is vaguely known now by some; it should be widely known by all. It is endlessly averred, for example, that the United States supported authoritarian anti-Communist regimes in Central America simply out of paranoia. Our support may have been unwise, but there was no paranoia at work, as we can see in a 1980 document in which the secretariat of the Central Committee resolves “to grant the request of the leadership of the Communist Party of El Salvador and task the Ministry of Civil Aviation with arranging, in September–October 1980, a shipment of 60–80 tons of small arms and ammunition of Western manufacture from Hanoi to Havana, for the Cuban comrades to transfer it to our Salvadoran friends.”
Above all, the documents suggest that the most enduringly pernicious fruit of the Soviet Union was its propaganda. The cliché view of the United States as a nation whose foreign policy may best be understood as an expression of racism—an interpretation that continues to hinder American efforts to do the world any good—largely emerged thanks to the Soviet Union’s energetic efforts, as a 1970 document details:
Because the rise of negro protest in the USA will bring definite difficulties to the ruling classes of the USA and will distract the attention of the Nixon administration from pursuing an active foreign policy, we would consider it feasible to implement a number of measures to support this movement and to assist its growth.
Therefore it is recommended to utilize the possibilities of the KGB in African countries to inspire political and public figures, youth, trade union and nationalist organizations to issue petitions, requests and statements to the UN, U.S. embassies in their countries and the U.S. government in defense of the rights of American negroes. To publish articles and letters accusing the U.S. government of genocide in the press of various African countries. Employing the possibilities of the KGB in New York and Washington, to influence the “Black Panthers” to address appeals to the UN and other international bodies for assistance in bringing the U.S. government’s policy of genocide toward American negroes to an end.
Even had they no modern relevance, these archives should receive wide dissemination and readership; the world owes the victims of Communism that respect. But clearly, they are also of immediate relevance to the contemporary world. Among other things, they draw, as Stroilov writes, “quite an impressive picture of a world-wide terrorist network, and leave one in no doubt that the Soviet Union deserves all the discredit for the emergence of international terrorism as a major factor in global politics.”
To assign all the discredit to the Soviets is overly generous; there is plenty to go around. The newly translated documents do confirm that the Soviet Union deserves much of it, however, and show clearly the many ways a tree of malice may continue to bear fruit long after the gardener’s demise.