Academia

Commies, Joe Biden, and the Disputed Historical Interest in the Cold War

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Would you publish this man?

In City Journal, Claire Berlinski writes a sad-if-true account of contemporary historical disinterest in the archives of the last totalitarian superpower:

Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile in London, has on his computer 50,000 unpublished, untranslated, top-secret Kremlin documents, mostly dating from the close of the Cold War. He stole them in 2003 and fled Russia. Within living memory, they would have been worth millions to the CIA; they surely tell a story about Communism and its collapse that the world needs to know. Yet he can't get anyone to house them in a reputable library, publish them, or fund their translation. In fact, he can't get anyone to take much interest in them at all.

Then there's Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who once spent 12 years in the USSR's prisons, labor camps, and psikhushkas—political psychiatric hospitals—after being convicted of copying anti-Soviet literature. He, too, possesses a massive collection of stolen and smuggled papers from the archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which, as he writes, "contain the beginnings and the ends of all the tragedies of our bloodstained century." These documents are available online at bukovsky-archives.net, but most are not translated. They are unorganized; there are no summaries; there is no search or index function. "I offer them free of charge to the most influential newspapers and journals in the world, but nobody wants to print them," Bukovsky writes. "Editors shrug indifferently: So what? Who cares?"

Hey, Joe Biden had hair in 1979!

What's in there? Berlinski doesn't speak Russian, and is somewhat skeptical about the defectors' claims. Though she does detail a translated selection of gossipy Soviet dealings with glad-handing western politicians, including a brief Soviet-archives account of a 1979 meeting with Sen. Joe Biden:

Unofficially, Biden and [Sen. Richard] Lugar said that, in the end of the day, they were not so much concerned with having a problem of this or that citizen solved as with showing to the American public that they do care for "human rights."…In other words, the collocutors directly admitted that what is happening is a kind of a show, that they absolutely do not care for the fate of most so-called dissidents.

Berlinski comments:

Remarkably, the world has shown little interest in the unread Soviet archives. That paragraph about Biden is a good example. Stroilov and Bukovsky coauthored a piece about it for the online magazine FrontPage on October 10, 2008; it passed without remark. Americans considered the episode so uninteresting that even Biden's political opponents didn't try to turn it into political capital. Imagine, if you can, what it must feel like to have spent the prime of your life in a Soviet psychiatric hospital, to know that Joe Biden is now vice president of the United States, and to know that no one gives a damn.

Remarkable indeed. But then Ron Radosh, who knows a thing or two about the subject, strongly criticizes Berlinski's conclusion, particularly as it pertains to western scholarly interest in the subject:

Is Berlinski correct? I don't think that the evidence supports her claims. To answer the question, I consulted with major experts familiar not only with Bukovsky's and Striliov's claims, but with what is in the Soviet archives, and what is and what is not available. It was not hard to do. Why did Berlinski not take this easy step?

After publishing the results of those conversations, which you really should go read if you're interested in the subject, Radosh concludes:

That was also the name of this great B&W documentary of WWII that they always showed every day after school when I was growing up, with like the dude from NFL films or someone equally grave narrating. It's pretty much why my brother became a history teacher.

I think it is clear that Claire Berlinski has not only overstated her case; she has also unfairly impugned the reputation of Jonathan Brent, underestimated what is actually available for anyone to see, and uncritically accepted some of the claims made to her by both Bukovsky and Striliov. She did not check with experts who regularly use this archival material to find out whether or not their claims are accurate.

The failure to publish their documents is not an example of the world failing to acknowledge "the monstrous history of Communism," but of a decision by conscientious editors that these particular documents need more work before anyone can publish them. And in the meantime, those who do want to consult them, have every opportunity to do so. Sometimes there is an easy answer to what on first glance looks like a serious academic and political scandal. If large numbers on the Left ignore the lessons of Communism — that is a situation which many of us have long tried to address — it is not the result of failure to publish either Bukovsky's or Stroilov's material in the United States.

Whole City Journal piece here; Radosh response here; first link via Michael Totten.

Reason's Michael C. Moynihan smoked cigarettes with Bukovsky earlier this month, and wrote about the odd historiography of the Cold War in the November 2009 issue, which also included a column from me on "the unknown war."

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  1. They need a Bill Shirer to wade through the mess, just like he did with the voluminous Nazi records. Now, while many of the participants are still alive.

    1. many of the participants are still alive

      I’m sure that has something to do with reluctance to air this stuff out.

    2. I think that’s a huge part of it. I cannot imagine the amount of work Shirer put into The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

      I wonder if the Institute for Humane Studies would be interested in funding a scholar to go over these documents.

  2. “I offer them free of charge to the most influential newspapers and journals in the world, but nobody wants to print them,” Bukovsky writes.

    I wonder if that’s because a lot of it would be indistinguishable from our situation today?

    1. It may also have something to do with those responsible for crimes and their collaborators having never had to pay any price for their actions, many are still in power today.

  3. I’d love to study those documents. Just for the sake of history, I mean.

    1. I could teach you a lot more than those dusty old archives could, David.

      1. My secret? Use a pressure cooker to speed up the frying process.

    2. I understand perfectly.

  4. People always think of Biden as some kind of amiable dunce. But he really is a nasty fellow as well as being a dunce.

    1. Pretending to be a complete imbecile worked well for Carter, why not Biden?

      1. Because it didn’t work for Quayle.

        1. Biden makes Quayle look good.

    2. People always think of Biden as some kind of amiable dunce.

      Not me John, I am from Delaware originally.

    3. The story about Biden is pretty weak tea. An anonymous Soviet bureaucrat paraphrased Biden as saying something that implied his visit was some sort of show.

      Of all the things the GOP could have used against Biden, that’s pretty close to the bottom of the barrel. Plus, they would be tarring Senator Lugar with him.

      1. No disagreement on the weak case, but what in the world would ever cause you to automatically reduce it to some kind of team sports GOP v. Democrat idiocy. Have you no sense of right and wrong?

        The whole issue here is another political structure equally evil to German National Socialism has unwillingly shed it’s archives and there is no interest in revealing the contents here in the west. A big part of the reason why may very well be all the dirt that may surface about elites here among our own. Lugar and Biden having been mentioned in unflattering light merely is given as an example of that possibility.

        The Soviets, as were the Nazis, were obsessive record keepers, what is contained in those files must be revealed regardless of who is exposed.

        It has nothing to do with partisan politics. Yet, I suspect your reaction reveals more than you intended. Democrats very well could make up the majority of double agents here in the US, nevertheless, I couldn’t care less if every Republican falls by it, the contents of those documents must be known.

  5. This has been a big issue for me for many years, I’ve had the page with Claire’s article open here on my computer for a couple days now trying to think of a way I could get people to read it, and along comes Matt Welch to save the day.

    Well, I can’t express how pleased I am right now.

    Thanks you.

    1. You linked the article on a different thread a couple days ago, and I read it.
      I agree that these documents need more attention.
      The historical significance is far more important than any political fallout or ammunition, IMO.

  6. Radosh concludes his article with the following statement: “The only scandal is why City Journal, one of the most important and distinguished journals in the United States, printed such a weak and misleading article that is far below its usual quality.”

    So maybe Biden and Lugar didn’t say what Berlinski said someone said they said?

    1. And maybe Clinton didn’t work as a propaganda tool for the KGB as the Czech secret police files indicate either.

  7. This is nothing new whatsoever. With some rare exceptions, the liberal internationalist elite that has run America for several decades and the scum in the media have NEVER cared about the victims of the Soviet Bolshevik revolution.

    1. Agreed!

      Unless a topic deals with the mysterious 6 million of the chosen ones, no one in the anglosphere can be bothered.

      Question is why?

      There is no money in it.

      1. Troll begone!!

        1. +1. I thought we ran that Wolff troll off already.

    2. Which is a very sad commentary, Mike. Some of us have cared a great deal. I wish the average American could hear many of the first hand accounts, given by survivors and those who were lucky enough to flee communist socialism with their lives, most often leaving many of their murdered family members behind, that have been told to me. Heart wrenching, and clear warning of the gruesome and horrific dangers presented by political statists. These people should never be taken lightly. Even they have no idea what they are getting us into. Never be so naive to believe it can’t happen here, because it can, and it will if Americans don’t wake up and learn the truth.

  8. I am reading this book right now. It is fantastic. It has some the best writing about the evils of the state and the twin evils of communism and fascism you will ever read. I highly recommend it.

    http://www.amazon.com/Life-Fat…..amp;sr=8-1

    It ought to be required reading in every AP High School English class in this country. Instead it languishes in obscurity.

    1. The first pages bound my attention, it looks like well worth read.

  9. I’ve emailed IHS about Pavel Stroilov, and if they’re interested in funding a scholar to translate his documents. If they respond, I’ll post it here or on a later thread.

  10. where’s Dan Rather when you need him…?

  11. After reading The Forsaken, which someone here recommended, I am very interested in seeing what comes out of these documents. It’s disgusting that there’s such an apathy towards the horrors and atrocities committed by the Soviets.

    1. Read Life and Fate. It is very journalistic in style. Really gives a great feel of the horror that was Stalinist Russia. Had the book not been confiscated, Grossman would have been as big of a deal as Solzhenitsyn

  12. This is off topic but if anyone is interested there’s a Drew Carey A&E Biography video up on Hulu for a couple more days, the last segment features Nick Gillespie/Reason TV.

    1. Thanks. It was actually really good, and it was pretty cool seeing Gillespie speak and seeing reason.tv and libertarianism get some love.

  13. The reason the left doesn’t want anyone to know how bad it was is because that is where they are trying to take us now. Also, there are probably tons of top Democratic officials that were compromised in the documents.

    1. Unfortunately they are starting to die (as Ted Kennedy has) before they can be called to account for their actions. There’s still a long way to go, first Americans have to understand why it’s important, then they can comprehend the value of the revelations.

    2. The left is comprised of mostly useful idiots who function as tools.

      An Iranian born friend of mine now living here in the U.S. defined the Useful Idiot as follows:

      Useful Idiots are na?ve, they are foolish, they are ignorant of facts, they are unrealistically idealistic, they are dreamers and they are willfully in denial or deceptive. They hail from the ranks of the chronically unhappy. They are anarchists, they are aspiring revolutionaries, they are neurotics who are at war with life, the disaffected alienated from government, corporations, and just about any and all institutions of society. The Useful Idiot can be a billionaire, a movie star, an academe of renown, a politician, or from any other segment of the population. Arguably, the most dangerous variant of the Useful Idiot is the “Politically Correct.” He is the master practitioner of euphemism, hedging, doubletalk, and outright deception.

      The Useful Idiot derives satisfaction from being anti-establishment. He finds perverse gratification in aiding the forces that aim to dismantle an existing order, whatever it may be: an order he neither approves of nor feels he belongs to.

      The Useful Idiot is conflicted and dishonest. He fails to look inside himself and discover the causes of his own problems and unhappiness while he readily enlists himself in causes that validate his distorted perception.

      Understandably, it is easier to blame others and the outside world than to examine oneself with an eye to self-discovery and self-improvement. Furthermore, criticizing and complaining?liberal practices of the Useful Idiot?require little talent and energy. The Useful Idiot is a great armchair philosopher and “Monday Morning Quarterback.”

      The Useful Idiot is not the same as a person who honestly has a different point of view. A society without honest and open differences of views is a dead society. Critical, different and fresh ideas are the life blood of a living society?the very anathema of autocracies where the official position is sacrosanct.

      Even a “normal” person spends a great deal more energy aiming to fix things out there than working to overcome his own flaws and shortcomings, or contribute positively to the larger society. People don’t like to take stock of what they are doing or not doing that is responsible for the conditions of which they disapprove.

      But the Useful Idiot takes things much farther. The Useful Idiot, among other things, is a master practitioner of scapegoating. He assigns blame to others while absolving himself of responsibility, has a long handy list of candidates for blaming anything and everything, and by living a distorted life, he contributes to the ills of society.

      The Useful Idiot may even engage in willful misinformation and deception when it suits him.

      Of course, Amil is dead on, the man is very intelligent and keenly aware.

      Little difference though whether or not the majority of the left know where they are taking us or not, those pulling their strings know very well.

      It’a all about power, and no system ever devised can give a mortal god-like powers the way socialism can. It’s the authoritarian master-planner’s dream, and the liberty prizing freeman’s nightmare.

      1. Amil sounds a lot like Eric Hoffer in his insightful “The True Believer.” I recommend it highly.

      2. Your friend is no fool. That is great stuff.

  14. the liberal internationalist elite that has run America for several decades

    Whee!

  15. Much of academia constituted fellow travelers, then and now. I think that pretty well explains the scholarly disinterest.

    As for popular disinterest, much of the evil the Soviets perpetrated happened behind closed doors, so to speak, and didn’t feature such cartoonish villains as Hitler, Goering etc. The Cold War ended with a quiet whimper, not with a triumphant occupation of Moscow. There just isn’t much for the popular imagination to grab onto, and it was striking even in the early ’90s how quickly the USSR was forgotten in the West.

    1. What, can’t a twisted evil dwarf count as a cartoonish villain?

  16. Just to be fair, Ms. Berlinski has responded to Mr. Radosh in which she claimed she did at least some of the things Mr. Radosh claimed she did. She also claims she could have cleared things with Mr. Radosh if he had only contacted her, similar to one of the accusations he made about her. Anyway, here is the link, http://www.city-journal.org/2010/eon0518cb.html

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  18. It’s too early

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