Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Got a strange cease and desist order through Google-- no identifying information for the person or persons making the copyright claim on Bezmenov/Schuman's World Thought Police, Love Letter to America, and Black is Beautiful. All Google did was put them into Draft status, but as I know that other requests were made for PDFs of these documents to be removed from file sharing websites, and then subsequently not defended when it was pointed out that "J. Schuman" (the name given to those sites) is not a real person and that there is no copyright on these texts, I am going ahead and re-publishing them. On second thought, I'll keep them in Draft status until Google resolves my counter-complaint. I have a good feeling that whoever made the claim will not respond if asked, and so Google will allow it to be republished.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Review: The Education of Lev Navrozov

Subtitled A Life in the Closed World Once Called Russia, this book is an autobiographical novel, but it's just as much a political history of the Soviet Union. The Education was published in 1975 by Harper's Magazine Press, and, as far as I can tell, was never reprinted.

The first thing to know is that Lev Navrozov, as he admits, comes from one of the highest "castes" of Soviet society. This caste system, as Navrozov describes it, is first territorial and then based on occupation or usefulness to the regime (ultimately to Lenin or Stalin, whom Navrozov calls "pseudo-tsar-god I" and "pseudo-tsar-god II," respectively).

Navrozov was born and lived in Moscow, the highest of the territorial castes, the center of Soviet government and bureaucracy, out from which the territorial castes successively got lower and lower. The author uses this language of "castes" throughout the book, explicitly rejecting the notion that the Soviet Union is in any way a socially advanced society. He likens it to ancient Eastern despotism, a new barbaric totalitarianism that threw off 1,000 years of development in law, politics, and economy; and called it a "revolution." Such language is strong for one who was paid handsomely by the regime, did not suffer in a labor camp, defect from the KGB or GRU, or personally experience (direct) political repression.

But like many Russian dissident writers, Navrozov dismisses the claim that Lenin's pure revolutionary idealism was corrupted by the power-hungry Stalin. Navrozov writes:
Privileged enough to spend his childhood in the last residual enclave or afterglow of Russian culture, the author found Bolsheviks like Ulyanov-Lenin, Bukharin, Trotsky or Lunarcharsky cheap vulgarians of the most unpleasant kind.
He often refers to the Bolsheviks and their Soviet successors as "megacriminals."

The second thing to know is that remarkably, Navrozov seems really to be innocent, an actual freelance writer who survived physically by not being political and survived spiritually by turning down all government positions requiring Communist Party membership, and all positions as a journalist or writer for official publications, which amounts to the same thing. Mostly he translated older Russian works into English.

One of the book's major topics is the inability of the West to comprehend the world's Eastern despots, its naive eagerness to proclaim the Soviet Union and Communism great accomplishments of civilization, its willingness to trade with and sustain totalitarianism-- a form of "government" antithetical to its own-- and its almost total incomprehension of the form and structure of Soviet society.

In this way the author broaches another major topic: the difference between behavior and speech. Navrozov writes of useful idiots in the West verbally praising socialism while behaviorally acting as capitalists, free individuals enjoying free expression in a free society. He implicitly compares these Western leftist fellow travelers with the "revolutionary" activities of the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, social revolutionaries, anarchists and others in the relatively free post-serfdom tsarist Russian government of 1861-1917. He also uses this device to explore the actions of Western diplomats in post-1917 Russia; as well as the mundane lives of Soviet citizens.

All of this is framed within an account of the author's childhood (when he was 6-7 years old), sharing a nice apartment building in Moscow with several families. Navrozov writes somewhat about a collective school he attended, a "creative house" he went to with his father and mother, and several other personal anecdotes.

The book is extremely well-written and very literary. It is also a well-sourced history of "revolutionary" Russia, with many quotes from the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda and biographies of "revolutionary" figures.

It is strange, having read this book, to read Navrozov's current articles. His constant theme is still totalitarian government (now of the Chinese variety) and the inability of the West to comprehend it, but I think that in later years his writing has lost the flair and life of this semi-autobiographical historical novel.

What made Navrozov the author of so brilliant a book seems then to be his natural irritability. The curmudgeon, reflexively dismissive of grand projects and noble-seeming objectives, cannot accept even the Iraq War; nothing less than formal recognition, on the part of the United States, that China is evil and means us harm, will sate him. Not that he is wrong, necessarily, but to say something in opposition: George W. Bush was a duly elected public servant who faithfully tried to execute the duties of his office, not one of the "humorless, pompous, intellectually illiterate megacriminals," as Navrozov characterized Lenin and his cohorts. Sometimes, in Navrozov's current writing, it is hard to tell the difference.

In one column he mentioned that there was a planned second volume to The Education, but that he switched to writing his weekly column instead. Perhaps that was the wrong idea.

No matter. This book is a gem. It deserves to be up there with Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Review: To Build a Castle

When I picked up Vladimir Bukovsky’s To Build a Castle: My Life as a Dissenter, I didn’t know that he is currently an opposition party leader in Russia. It was better for me not to know this, because it would have been better for Bukovsky to die in GULAG. This gruesome statement is the darker side of the recognition that things are not always what they seem, especially when concerning the Soviet Union and today’s Russia.

This line of thinking, enforced by numerous experiences, leads Useless Dissident to suspect any so-called “dissident,” “opposition leader,” or “moderate voice” coming from Russia, a state obsessed with its image in the West. Thus Mikhail Gorbachev’s “perestroika” is kind of unbelievable, as are any reported divisions within the political leadership, or the Army, or the KGB. Furthermore, so-called dissidents like Andrei Sakharov who call for “peaceful coexistence” between the West and East are to be seen as serving the interests of their totalitarian state.

When we hear the cry of “dissent,” then, from within the Soviet Union (or modern Russia, or China, or other totalitarian states), we must ask, “How does this serve the regime?” That must always be our first question. “Why did they allow this to be published?” Knowing the circumstances of a text’s release is important, but not always necessary. From the book itself we can discern, if we have been paying attention, what its purpose is and whose it is.

But of course, there is real dissent, and word of it will inevitably reach Western shores in authentic expression. What, though, is authentic? Certain writers are so na├»ve and know so little that what is for them authentic and heartfelt opinion is considered so harmless and inconsequential by KGB and Party censors that it is allowed to pass to the West virtually unedited. Some of these may even work for Writers’ Unions, and are paid by the state to write their feckless criticisms, a fact sure to be included in their works. Thus their “dissent” turns into an endorsement of the regime and a backhanded criticism of those who identify more completely the evils of communism.

Bukovsky approaches this subject: “I have even heard the following argument: Your protests are misleading world public opinion: people in the West will think that we are allowed to speak openly here and change things. Therefore you are helping Soviet propaganda.”

Well? It’s true, right? But no excuse, nevertheless, for cowardice in the face of oppression. And that’s Bukovsky’s point, for this “argument” is given in a list—a catalogue—of excuses:
No man can flay a stone.

What can I do? (If everyone acted, so would I.)

If I didn’t, someone else would. (And better me because I’ll do less harm.)

You must make compromises, concessions, and sacrifices for the sake of the main cause. (Thus the Church holds that it must make concessions for the sake of self-preservation, yet there is no end to these concessions…)

We must live for Russia, and the Communists will one day disappear of themselves.
(This argument is a favorite with scientists and the military.)

We must live for posterity, create the eternal values of science and culture, a trivial reoccupation with protests merely distracts us from the main thing.

Never ever protest openly; that is a provocation which merely enrages the authorities and brings suffering on the innocent.

Open protests play into the hands of the hard-liners in the Politburo and prevent the doves from carrying out liberalization. [Russia is fond of using this argument to stifle Western criticism today. –UD]

Open protests hinder liberalization, which can only succeed by means of power politics and secret diplomacy.

To protest about details is merely to expose oneself. The thing to do is to lie down. Then, when the decisive moment comes, okay. But in the meantime we’ll disguise ourselves.

Yes, but not now, this is the worst possible time: my wife’s pregnant, my children are ill, I have to defend my thesis first, my son’s about to go to university… (and so on till the end of a lifetime).

The worse things get, the better. We must deliberately take all the system’s idiocies to their logical and ridiculous conclusion, until the people’s patience runs out and they understand what is happening.

Russia is a land of slaves. The Russians have never had democracy and never will. They don’t have the aptitudes for it, it’s no use trying. There’s no other way for our people.

The people are silent. What gives a handful of malcontents the right to speak out—whom do they represent, whose opinion are they expressing?

Your protests are misleading world public opinion: people in the West will think that we are allowed to speak openly here and change things. Therefore you are helping Soviet propaganda.

You have to get on quietly with your career, get to the top, and try to change thins from there; you won’t achieve anything from the bottom.

You have to gain the trust of the leaders’ advisers and teach and educate them on the quiet, there’s no other way of influencing the government’s course.

You protest; I’ll stay out of it. Someone has to survive to bear witness. (I heard this in the labor camp just before a hunger strike.)

If only there were a new theory to replace Marxism and carry people away; you can’t build anything on sheer negation.

Communism has been visited upon Russia in retribution for her sins; to resist God’s retribution is equally sinful.

And so everyone, from members of the Politburo, academicians, and writers down to collective-farm laborers and factory workers, manages to find a justification. Moreover, most people sincerely believe that these are their true feelings. Very few realize that they are pretexts and excuses. And hardly anybody will admit openly and honestly that he is simply afraid of reprisals.
Though To Build a Castle contains many fine passages, I believe that none is more representative than this one. Bukovsky and his fellows are principled dissidents, who will not compromise. In this passage we see that he can see through the justifications that everyone uses to get ahead and get along in the evil communist state. And surely that is why he cannot but be a dissident.

But his group also has its pitiful side. Many of the “dissidents” still are ideologically-believing socialists/Marxists/Leninists who just want to return Russia to its glorious, righteous pre-Stalin roots. One man is obsessively focused on the Constitution and the law (in the USSR), and goes about teaching other dissidents their “rights” so that they will know them when they are arrested, even though they won’t be respected. The title thus becomes apt in a presumably unexpected way: the dissidents are no more realists than those who delude themselves with excuses for not resisting, and the author’s “life as a dissenter” as he describes it is compared to life “for hundreds of years in [a] castle... I built it between interrogations in Lefortovo, in the camp lockup, and in the Vladimir punishment cells. It saved me from apathy, from indifference to living. It saved my life.” But, of course, it’s imaginary.

These dissidents are often students who have been kicked out of universities and/or their positions because of their disagreements with the regime. They had to exhibit courage to get to even this point. And then they do whatever small things they can do, like distributing samizdat, organizing underground art shows, and meeting for silent protests (sometimes holding banners) in public places.

These are small things, but they did have an impact on the West. To some extent one has to suspect that the Communist Party and KGB laughed at these protestors, because they were showing the West that protest could happen in the USSR and thus reinforced their wishful thinking about how the Communist giant couldn’t really be that bad. But on the other hand—if one denies the Golitsyn thesis about the complicity of the Eurocommunists with the Russians in fabricating their own dissent—even Western leftists sympathized with the Soviet dissident movement.

Revelations from this time period like Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago—about the labor camps—and Bukovsky’s To Build a Castle—about the dissident movement and the use of psychiatric hospitals to incarcerate and debilitate those dissidents, did much to awake the West from its partially self-induced and partially propaganda-induced stupefied thinking about how the Cold War was a waste of time and money, how the world needed a convergence of the two systems (a “peaceful coexistence”), how the West should work with “liberal reformers” in Moscow instead of approaching the country aggressively.

Of course, the West soon forgot all about this. It has deluded itself again into thinking it “defeated Communism” and that labor camps, propaganda, brutal civic repression, and heinous things like state manipulation of churches and psychiatric hospitals are things of the past. They’re not.

To Build a Castle is very much worth reading, but it is hardly a timeless book in the way that Gulag Archipelago is. It strikes me that the author has insufficient sense of the dissident movement’s place in Russian history, its scope of influence in the West, and its meaning in relation to the Russian state. Gulag is not only solid on all of these points but is also a story of the spiritual value of suffering and the way of forgiveness and redemption. These lofty heights To Build a Castle aspires to but does not attain, but it is nevertheless a beautiful and important memoir.

Today Vladimir Bukovsky lives in exile in Britain from his native Russia. He is a strong ally of conservatism and national sovereignty. He is a critic of internationalist schemes and extremely skeptical of all new “glasnosts” and progressive reforms. He was not and is still not taken in by the Mikhail Gorbachev’s “perestroika.” He has, however, been taken in by some of the ridiculous exaggerations and accusations of “torture” surrounding the United States’ military detention facilities. This is unfortunate, but somewhat understandable.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

David Kahane

If you're not reading David Kahane, how can you call yourself a paranoid, right-wing anti-communist lunatic?
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I’m currently working on yet another sequel to The Manchurian Candidate and I’ve come up with this crazy notion that, seven years after 9/11, the American people elected a man they had not even heard of a few years before, a man whose campaign was handled by a red-diaper baby, a man who was part Arab-African, the son of a Muslim, the circumstances of whose nativity are still unclear, whose college applications and transcripts have never been seen, who appears to have no friends from his days at Punahou, Occidental, Columbia, and Harvard. Heck, Hussein even went to Georgetown and made them cover up Jesus. And yet the enchanted Washington press corps finds Michelle’s bare arms and the Obamas’ new puppy — oddly enough, named BO — of far more journalistic interest. Talk about the dogs that don’t bark in the nighttime, the daytime, or any time!

Or, to put it another way, if BHO II actually were the nutbag Right’s worst nightmare, a crypto-Muslim Marxist bent on the destruction of the Principal Enemy, as our friends the Soviets used to call us, how would he act any different?
Grab your shotgun and get with the program!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Review: Abel

Abel is a perfect example of how terrible some books about the Cold War can be. This account, written by Louise Bernikow, covers a relatively narrow subject in the intelligence battle between the Soviet Union and the United States, yet it widely misses the mark.

In the book's epilogue, the author and her main source, Rudolph Abel's "friend" Burt Silverman, go to Moscow in an attempt to meet Abel. This is ten years after the trial, and Abel has since been exchanged for an American pilot. They never get to meet him, but Silverman writes a letter to Abel:
The book about you will, I think, be a truthful and honest one. It will try to explain why you are remembered so [d]early by many of the people you met. Certainly all my friends have that memory and think of you affectionately.
He is, of course, talking about a man who lived in the United States under false pretenses and spied on it for a hostile foreign power. Yet, he is thought of "affectionately."

Bernikow, Silverman, and their ilk think that they have a sophisticated and nuanced view of the world, not like those reflexive "McCarthyist" anti-communists who are somehow the villains of this story. Yet their idiocy-- their useful idiocy-- is manifest. Here is a book in which a Soviet illegal's legend-- a man who never really existed-- is held up as a charming and beautiful human being, worthy of adoration and respect. Even after he was revealed to be a spy for the KGB! Instead of facing reality, the author and her accomplice Silverman chose to believe that it was the legend, Emil Goldfus, who was real, and the spy Rudolph Abel who was the legend. One could excuse them for thinking this way, but to write a book with this as the premise is just incredible.

The story is a good one, to be sure. The man known to Burt Silverman and his group of New York intellectual, liberal, Jewish artists as "Emil Goldfus," to his fellow KGB illegal and incompetent subordinate Reino Hayhanen as "Mark," to those who inspected his travel documents for his journey to the US as "Yurgesovich Kayotis," to different people in New York as "Martin Collins," and to those who investigated him for espionage as "Colonel Rudolph Abel, KGB," was in fact none of these; he was Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher, born in England but raised in the Soviet Union.

The name Fisher never appears in Abel, as it was unknown to the author and pretty much everyone else. Nevertheless, Bernikow knew the extent to which Abel's life was a deception and yet chose to believe that Emil Goldfus, painter and musician, friend of liberal intellectuals, was the real man. Why? Because it is more convenient and comfortable to believe it, despite all the evidence. Because to admit otherwise would be to challenge a catalog of presumptions that Bernikow would prefer unchallenged.

Still, it's interesting why Fisher maintained such a legend. In The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB, Christopher Andrew writes, "The Centre [KGB] instructed Fisher not to seek employment for fear that his employer would make inquiries which would blow his cover. Instead, he was told to open an artist's studio and claim to be self-employed."

Bernikow would argue that, despite the determination of the outward appearance of Fisher's life by the KGB, in his inward life Abel really was a thoughtful and sensitive artist and intellectual. The alternative, that liberal intellectual types are easily deceived and naturally sympathetic with political systems that are the antithesis of our own, is apparently too much for the author.

Bernikow spends most of the time with the trial arguing that the case being made in the press, that Abel was a 'master spy' and connected to all sorts of illegal KGB activity in the country, is ludicrous. In her understanding, Abel was a professional who did what he was asked but didn't do very much, while his subordinate Hayhanen (who testified against Abel), was an incompetent, drunken philistine.

Thus, there is not much about this book that is "truthful and honest" as Silverman claims. The reader does not learn practically anything about Fisher/Abel/Goldfus's actual activity in the United States. For example, from Sword and the Shield:
In 1949, as the basis of his illegal residency, Fisher was given control of a group of agents headed by Morris Cohen (codenamed LUIS and VOLUNTEER), which included his wife Lona (LESLE). Following Elizabeth Bentley's defection, the Centre had temporarily broken contact with the Cohens early in 1946, but renewed contact with them in Paris a year later and reactivated them in the United States in 1948. The most important agent in the VOLUNTEER network was the physicist Ted Hall (MLAD), for whom Lona Cohen had acted as courier in 1945 when he was passing atomic intelligence from Los Alamos.
Andrew writes later that "in recognition of the VOLUNTEER group's success, Fisher was awarded the Order of the Red Banner in August 1949." Yet Bernikow in Abel makes it sound like any connection between Abel and Cohen is highly spurious.

Nevertheless, it is true that the American media made the spy out to be much more than he actually was. (Later, the KGB did the same thing.) Andrew writes:
In reality, Fisher never came close to rivaling the achievements of his wartime predecessor, Iskhak Akhmerov. During eight years as illegal resident, he appears never to have identified, let alone recruited, a single promising potential agent to replace the VOLUNTEER network. Unlike Akhmerov, however, he did not have the active and enthusiastic assistance of a well-organized American Communist Party (CPUSA) to act as talent-spotters and assistants. Part of the reason for Fisher's lack of success was the post-war decline and persecution of the CPUSA.
So perhaps there is something to Berniknow's account. Did Abel fall in love with his life as a layabout New York artist and intellectual? Despite his professionalism, was his heart just not in recruiting agents in his adopted country? We can't really know, but Bernikow's highly impressionistic and naive book doesn't help us, either.

Here's an example of how terribly wrong Bernikow's book is:
What you learned about the craft of intelligence was elaborate, but wrong. You learned that it was the "Enemy's" craft. The New York Times printed stories of other spy rings that had been "exposed" and a historical rundown of the KGB. It was, of course, terrible one-sided. Although reporters knew enough to liken the KGB to the CIA, they went no further. There was no indication at all that we operated the same way or that we, too, had intelligence networks set up around the world. It was the pre-U2 era and no one spoke of the American craft of intelligence; comparing KGB with CIA only made it more mysterious.
This is the kind of snide assumption that irks me and anyone else who knows anything about the history of the intelligence war between the Soviet Union and the United States. Because the KGB should not be likened to the CIA. It's comparing apples and orchards.

Perhaps the media reports didn't include parenthetical remarks about how, of course, we operated this way too because they were reflexively pro-American. That is the way Bernikow repeatedly presents it. But perhaps they didn't include such remarks because the CIA did not and does not operate in the same way as the KGB. We certainly never had illegal residencies in the Soviet Union; they have had many in the US.

It is Bernikow who is ignorant and blinded by prejudice, yet she and her kind will assume to the end that it is those patriotic, God-fearing Americans who are ignorant and prejudiced. She takes it on faith that of course we do this stuff too, and a lot worse! (as the applause line goes at the leftist universities).

In reality, the KGB and CIA were and remain incommensurable. The KGB is many, many times the size, has far, far more responsibilities and infinite resources to perform them-- it was in fact the most important organization in the Soviet Union, along with perhaps the Party and the Army. And it remains very important in Russia today. The CIA, on the other hand, is quite small in comparison and marked by repeated failure. And at the time of Abel's trial, it was barely a decade old. And in a liberal democracy it is by necessity scarred by constant exposure of its methods and practices, it cannot keep its files secret for long, and it is prevented by law from defending itself in the press against media and public abuse.

And most importantly (in my opinion), the KGB has always made disinformation and propaganda a top priority, and the CIA is a preferred target of those attacks. The CIA's efforts at disinformation and propaganda on the other hand, have been stilted and comical. Yet-- and this is the remarkable thing-- in common perception KGB propaganda and disinformation are regarded as comical and ineffective, while the CIA is seen as devious and conspiratorial. What has caused this but the continued effort from one side and non-effort from the other, to influence public opinion?

Thus for all the tough work and thinking that must have informed the writing of Abel, it might as well have been written by KGB disinformation specialists for the terribly skewed picture it paints of the intelligence world. A definite pass.