This is the opening installment in an occasional series.
I begin this review of Judgment in Moscow: Soviet Crimes and Western Complicity by Vladimir Bukovsky with a confession: I despair of doing justice to this monumental work.
Why? Judgment in Moscow is not a book only. Its very release is a historic event. Its top-secret contents were never supposed to see light of day. Its author is one of the great heroes who ever walked the earth. Such extraordinary attributes call for special treatment; however, that’s not even the end of the book’s special challenges. There is also the perplexing fact that the magnitude of this publication will not be readily evident to most “younger” readers -- say, people under the age of 60. This means that the written equivalent of a crisp, sustained drum roll is not only insufficient by way of introduction, but as the curtain rises, most people are not going to recognize what it is that appears in the spotlight.
The reason for this mass myopia is almost literally atmospheric. There is an all-enveloping “narrative” of our nation’s life and times that most Americans breathe in, internalize, and breathe out again. The resulting miasma hides facts, beclouds perspective, dulls thought, chokes dissent. Judgment in Moscow comes along, throws a lit match, and the whole thing explodes.
Of course, the rubble the book leaves behind is difficult for most people to understand, too.
This has at least something to do with the fact that Judgment in Moscow was supposed to come out in America nearly a quarter-century ago, when even short memories could still connect people to what were then recent events. The book's aborted beginning, however, was very nearly its end. Following a 1995 debut in France, the French edition, Jugement a Moscou, was acquired by Random House for a “considerable” sum. The prestigious American house, however, later dropped the project, thus stopping its revelations, not only as presented but also decoded by Bukovsky, from entering our knowledge-base at a crucial point of potential real-life application.
Why would the publisher do such a thing -- and to such a man? Perhaps Random House didn’t really understand the French edition, Bukovsky joked in a recent radio interview; then again, perhaps they understood it all too well. In any case, Bukovsky’s contract with Random House for Judgment in Moscow was never finalized, never signed. Instead, editor Jason Epstein -- storied gatekeeper of American letters, editor of Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabokov, E.L Doctorow, Philip Roth, and husband of Judith Miller -- embarked on a five-month-long correspondence via fax, as Bukovsky writes in the edition of Judgment in Moscow that now comes to us from Ninth of November Books, “to force me to rewrite the whole book from the liberal left perspective.”
This damning revelation is amply supported by quotations from Bukovsky’s exchanges with Epstein. There is something even indecent in the attempt of the celebrated Manhattan editor to hector the internationally renowned ex-prisoner of conscience into denying and negating his beliefs, his experiences, the documentary evidence he extracted from Soviet archives and presents in his book. In a celebrated, Manhattan, editorial way, it is all very Soviet.
Epstein tells Bukovsky he’s wrong about X, or worries American readers will be “surprised” and “confused” by Y – for example, Bukovsky’s eminently logical argument that America lost the Cold War; or that famous figures and media organizations colluded (as we say, post-2016) with Soviet state monsters throughout the Soviet decades.
Naturally, American readers will be surprised, Bukovsky faxed back to Epstein. Further, he, Bukovsky, would be delighted if they are surprised. The author added: “I could never understand the motivation of an author who writes unsurprising books.” Vintage Bukovsky.
Circa 1995, Vladimir Bukovsky was famous, even among New York literati, for being that rare human being who chose to endure twelve years inside KGB prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals rather than surrender a single principle. His 1979 memoir, To Build a Castle, about his dissident-life up to his 1976 release to the West by the Soviet regime in exchange for Chilean Communist Party leader Luis Corvalan, was widely and well-received. Did Jason Epstein really believe he could just fax Vladimir Bukovsky into surrendering his entire worldview? One has to wonder whether Epstein -- to whom another one of his authors, Saul Alinsky, dedicated Rules for Radicals, and who co-founded The New York Review of Books, nailed by Tom Wolfe as “the chief theoretical organ of Radical chic” – was just slow-walking anti-communist Bukovsky to the break-point that would sever the relationship and deep-six his very dangerous book.
As Bukovsky explains:
In short, I was required, in no uncertain terms, to drop some documents while reinterpreting others in order to show that [quoting Epstein] “…the Soviets failed and their attempts at manipulation seem now, in retrospect, to have been pathetic or even comical. What strikes me in the documents you reproduce – and will strike other American readers as well – is how clumsy, self-deceiving and stupid these Russians were.”
While this might have scored Bukovsky smash reviews in all the Radical chic organs, it is simply ludicrous to assert categorically the Soviets “failed” in their unceasing efforts to manipulate. Further, pace Epstein, if any of the Soviet officials in Judgment in Moscow appear “clumsy, self-deceiving and stupid," their targets in the West appear far clumsier, more self-deceiving and more stupid -- at best. Remember, it is these Westerners who intensified and furthered the malign influence of communism as easy marks, or, too frequently, willing accomplices.
There is something else Bukovsky makes vividly clear. This same Soviet manipulation, which I will tease out later, was in no way the purview of Kremlin intelligence agencies only. That is, the colossal mind games played against the West under the rubric of “Active Measures,” often deadly, always damaging, were not played only by the Kremlin’s intelligence agencies. Drawing from records Bukovsky smuggled from the Central Committee of the Communist Party and others that Pavel Stroilov later smuggled from the Gorbachev Foundation, Bukovsky is able to show that the measures of deception usually regarded as the exclusive purview of “the KGB” were the basis, the engine, the modus operandi of the Soviet Union’s demonically sophisticated statecraft. Year by year, decade by decade, the Kremlin's communist rulers, together with their easy marks and wiling accomplices in the West, erected an ever-expanding façade over reality which has turned the world and everyone in it on their heads.
On a personal note, I can’t help but notice in Epstein’s dismissal of Bukovsky’s analysis and documentary evidence of Soviet influence on the life and times of the West a striking similarity to attacks on my own book, American Betrayal, by historians nearly two decades later. (I should note here that Bukovsky and Stroilov have themselves written two essays, here and here, not only extolling but defending American Betrayal from these same sorts of attacks, which, they also note, their own works have come under.) For example, in all of their years of archival research, historians John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr wrote in 2013 in one of several critiques of American Betrayal, they said they encountered “ample documentation of Soviet intelligence obtaining American technical, military, and diplomatic information, but very little indicated successful policy manipulation.” According to their research, in other words, the Soviets stole secrets; but Soviet efforts to influence mindset and policy-making were, just as Jason Epstein earlier insisted to Bukovsky, a big fat failure.
This recurring effort over the decades to negate a very large bear in the room is something to keep in mind.
The fact is, the record abounds with intelligence experts and practitioners, defectors and others bearing witness to, and, in the old days, attempting to debunk and ward off Soviet deception. Worth nothing, however, is that in the aftermath of the dissolution of the USSR, it is Haynes' and Klehr’s assessment, however easily debunked, that is most enthusiastically embraced in the scholarly research. This is the conventional wisdom that Bukovsky’s Judgment in Moscow explodes anew by refocusing our sights on the vital Communist tactic to bore from within, to bombard from without, to create massive campaigns of deception and to project influence.
In his 1952 magnus opus Witness, Whittaker Chambers put the two main prongs of Communist attack, the collection of secrets and the projecting influence, into perspective:
That power to influence policy has always been the ultimate purpose of the Communist Party’s infiltration. It was much more dangerous, and, as events have proved, much more difficult to detect, than espionage, which beside it is trivial, though the two go hand in hand.
The wealth of evidence amassed inside the covers of Judgment in Moscow is brand-new testament to what Chambers recognized so long ago as communism's sought-after “power to influence policy." The numerous Soviet government documents chronicling the acquisition and execution of such power are one of the marvels of the Bukovsky book. These documents include hair-raising, never-before-seen minutes of Politburo meetings -- what Khrushchev said to Gromyko, and what Gromyko said to Andropov, and what Andropov said to Gorbachev, and the rest. It is here, where the top thugs of Soviet history gathered, that the reader is able to see the mind of the Soviet dictatorship at work, and follow the malicious, brutish, communist thinking behind the plans and programs that poisoned the affairs of nations and individuals on a scale almost unimaginably vast and microscopically detailed.
If only these "attempts at manipulation" had been as pathetic and comical as Jason Epstein too much protested they were: Our world would be a far more beautiful, peaceful place. As for Haynes and Klehr, their lifelong failure to find evidence of “policy manipulation" probably came down to relying on documents pre-sifted and pre-approved for public release by government officials in Moscow and Washington both.
Not so Bukovsky.
To be cont'd.