Samizdat update, December 1969 (11.14)

«No 11 : 31 December 1969»


Andrei Amalrik, “An open letter to Anatoly Kuznetsov”

Amalrik decided to write to Kuznetsov after hearing his “Appeal to all people” on the radio and reading his article, “The Russian writer and the KGB”. Kuznetsov makes frequent reference to the absence of freedom in the USSR, but, as Amalrik points out, the prerequisite for “freedom round about us” is “inner freedom . . . the authorities may do a great deal to a man who has this but they are powerless to deprive him of his moral values”. Kuznetsov avoids this problem. “You keep writing”, Amalrik continues, “I was summoned … I was ordered, … the censorship always forced me to my knees … and so on. It seems to me, that if you constantly made compromises and did things which, in your heart, you condemned, then you did not deserve any better treatment from the KGB or the censorship.”

Amalrik‘s aim is not so much to reproach Kuznetsov personally, as to condemn “the philosophy of impotence and self-justification”. He writes,

“No form of coercion can be effective without those who are prepared to submit to it. Sometimes it seems to me that the ‘creative intelligentsia’ in the Soviet Union, i.e. those people who are accustomed to think one thing, say another and do yet another, represents a phenomenon that is on the whole even more unpleasant than the regime which engendered it.”

“In general it is better to keep silent than to tell lies, better to refuse to have one of your books published than to let it appear saying the opposite to what you originally wrote, better to refuse trips abroad than to turn informer for the sake of going on them or to ‘report’ in the form of a facetious poem, better to refuse to attend a press conference than to state publicly that creative freedom exists in our country.”

Amalrik notes that the state of dependence on the KGB, in which Kuznetsov placed himself, makes him exaggerate the might of that organisation and its ability to crush any kind of protest. In particular, Amalrik rejects Kuznetsov’s assertion that the KGB could stamp out samizdat in two hours and is merely playing with it like a well-fed cat with a mouse. “Perhaps the KGB could arrest dozens of those who are circulating samizdat in the space of just two hours … but the fact that the KGB does not do this is indicative of the uncertain situation in which the KGB and the regime as a whole find themselves.”

Amalrik does not consider that Kuznetsov, by remaining abroad, is letting his colleagues in Russia down. “I do not think that the position has worsened. The trouble is not that they will not publish the latest pseudo-liberal doggerel or allow its author to travel abroad, but that many talented writers are completely deprived of the possibility of proving their worth. Some of them give up writing altogether, others take the path of pathetic conformity. As far as this is concerned your failure to return will not change anything, either for better, or for worse.”


The letter is dated 1 November 1969. On 2 November it was reproduced in full in the Daily Telegraph (London) and excerpts were later printed in other Western newspapers and magazines. [Full translation in 1980 second edition of Will the USSR survive until 1984? ed.]

Andrei Alekseyevich Amalrik is 31 and lives in Moscow. He is the author of the following books: The Normans and Kievan Russia, Involuntary Journey to Siberia [Commentary 11], and Will the USSR survive until 1984? and of a collection of poems and five plays, one of which, East and West, is now being performed at the Globus Theatre in Amsterdam.


Heinrich Boll, “World in bondage”

An article by one of the most important writers of our time (published in Merkur No. 55 May 1969, pp. 474-483), on Solzhenitsyn’s novel, The First Circle. In this brief article the author gives a glowing appraisal of Solzhenitsyn’s novel and can find nothing in the past decades of Western literature to equal it, Boll concentrates on the way in which the problem of freedom and bondage is resolved in the novel. There is no freedom for anyone in an enslaved society, but prisoners are sometimes freer than their gaolers and executioners. He cites the dialogue between the formidable minister, Abakumov, who trembles with fear in the presence of his patron [Stalin], and the courageous prisoner Bobynin.

Boll thinks that the content of the novel goes beyond the theme of Stalinism, and that it gives profound expression to the basic features of the twentieth century, which, whatever other distinctions it may have, is above all “the century of camps, prisoners and captives”.


Letter from a group of prisoners

written by Leonid Borodin, Yury Galanskov, Alexander Ginzburg, Yury Ivanov, Victor Kalnins, Vyacheslav Platonov and Mikhail Sado, and addressed to leading figures on the Soviet cultural scene: Irakly Abashidze, Chingiz Aitmatov, Rasul Gamzatov, Ernst Genri, Leonid Leonov, Alexander Tvardovsky and Georgy Tovstonogov.

The authors show how the system of concentration camps established under Stalin and since condemned in words alone, continues to serve as the basis for penal policy in our country, though on a lesser scale.

The existing system of forced-labour camps (which has been preserved only in the Soviet Union and China) is the product of a deliberately fostered policy, which is formulated by experts on the subject and recommended by them in special manuals. Extracts from these manuals quoted by the authors of the letter show only too well the process of physical and moral repression of prisoners.

“Fear of looking into the underlying causes of criminal activity” means, of necessity, that the blame is shifted from society to the “criminals”, and particularly harsh retribution is exacted from them for the imperfections of that society.

The existence of camps for political prisoners (“the maintenance of criminals dangerous to the state in separate establishments”) is a terrible disgrace to our contemporary penal policy. Apart from genuine war criminals (for the most part feeble old men, some of them mentally disturbed, living out the last years of their lives), the inmates of these camps are made up of participants in post-war nationalist movements who were given 20-25 year sentences in Stalin’s camps, and some of whom went through German camps as well; young people sentenced for disseminating propaganda about national self-determination; preachers of various religious sects and movements; and “anti-Sovietists”, sent to the camps for expressing and circulating ideas contrary to official doctrine.

The authors warn the creative intelligentsia, which shapes public opinion, of their responsibility for the anti-national concentration camp policy, and of the sinister turn this policy has taken recently.


losif Kerler, the well-known Yiddish poet

wrote a declaration of protest on 18 December 1969, against the forcible detention in the Soviet Union of Jewish citizens wishing to emigrate to Israel. The absence of any logical pattern in this detention is emphasized in the document: “In the last two and a half years more Jews have been allowed to emigrate than in the period up to the Six-Day War.” Kerler points to the danger of a revival of Stalinist anti-Semitism. He was prompted to write after reading an article (in Izvestiya, No. 292) by L. Berenstein and M. Fridel, in which the authors, while recognizing the right of Jewish citizens to be reunited with their families or to emigrate (‘whoever so desires’), at the same time pose a ‘provocative alternative’ (“Where exactly should the separated family be reunited—on capitalist or socialist soil?”) Kerler feels that this alternative gives full scope for arbitrary action and discrimination against Soviet Jews applying to emigrate to Israel, and insists that the desire to emigrate to Israel is not at variance with Soviet legislation.

This declaration is only one of many protests on the same subject


Alexander Daniel, “An Open Letter to Graham Greene”

The author of the letter is the son of Yuly Daniel, the political prisoner, and Larisa Bogoraz, who is now in exile. He expresses his concern for the fate of his father, the writer, Yuly Daniel, and of V. Ronkin (sentenced for participation in an illegal Marxist circle, “The Union of Communards”), both of whom have been accused of “violating camp regulations” and sentenced to confinement under prison-regime in Vladimir Prison for the rest of their terms of imprisonment, (which in Daniel’s case means ten months, and in Ronkin’s almost three years). Alexander Daniel writes of the injustice of this sentence, and of the prison regime, which is especially harsh for Ronkin in view of the length of his sentence and his physical condition.

“And what do I want from you, Mr. Greene? To tell the truth, I don’t know. I don’t know what you will be able to do, I have no idea what anyone can do in these circumstances.  I, for one, can do no more. After all, I am not yet nineteen … I just hope that you will think it possible and necessary to do something. I am hopeful that publicity will help us, if only a little.”


Aldous Huxley, “Science, Freedom, and Peace”

An essay by the famous English writer published in England in 1947. Huxley writes that science and its discoveries in the modern world are being turned into instruments of totalitarianism, and discusses possible ways of combating centralization and totalitarianism.


Vikenty Gerasimchuk, “Simplicity is worse than theft”

A pamphlet about how in our country:

“an enormous number of conscientious citizens steal things in one way or another, some a little at a time, others by the wagon-load; they steal primitively or with miraculous ingenuity, for friends or for themselves, to get rich or to get drunk. They steal meat and butter, instruments and medicines, planks, semi-conductors, engines, paper, young currant-bushes and cement, bricks and slate and anything under the sun…”

In the first part of the pamphlet, however, only thefts from industrial enterprises, institutes and laboratories are examined in detail.

The methods of stealing public property are classified: concealment in the pockets, next to the stomach, in the groin (the author advises caution in employing this method:  “a case is known, where a man’s scrotum was caught up in the line-control mechanism from a television set’), concealment down the back or by wrapping around the body. The methods of stealing “non-portable” objects are also examined. And the reasons for all this thievery? “People steal because it is much simpler, more convenient and more profitable to do so than to go mad trying to push one’s way through crowds of fellow-shoppers, all driven frantic by the constant shortage of one commodity or another. People steal because it is still considered shameful to steal private property, but an amusing game to take what belongs to the state.” This is the way the lower classes think. And what example of moral behaviour is offered from above?

The second part of the pamphlet deals with this. “The ruling elite insatiably gobbles up all the tastiest morsels of the common cake … High-ranking officials and their families suffer no pangs of conscience in exploiting everything they have ordered for themselves in accordance with their position on the party’s secret table of precedence. The author examines the various grades of privilege. “There are many privileges, desirable and varied. But distinctions are strictly adhered to: no vulgar equality here … One man gets his groceries at half-price, another even more cheaply, one gets personal use of a car, another can use his only for business. Some even get one for the family, for the wife, mother-in-law and the kids.” And so, acting on the slogan “Grab what you can”, “merely leads to a more just distribution of the national income.”


Selected samizdat texts on Social Issues,
compiled by V. N. Chalidze, No 2

The issue includes: G. Pomerants, “The moral make-up of historical personality.”

“There exists not only a continuity of events but also a continuity in the transmission of moral values, which is essential to any tradition.” He goes on to examine the historical process which, by tearing the masses away from their patriarchal environment, makes semi-educated boors of them. ‘”A boor’ is a man with a smattering of education — enough not to be afraid of breaking taboos, but not enough to enable him, through reason and experience, to arrive at moral truths.”

The author shows how Stalin’s dictatorship grew up from the social soil of boorishness, how Stalin exploited the “Asiatic” ideology of backward masses, who desired not freedom of the individual, something unknown to them, but “a master and law and order”, how Stalin played upon the unconscious religious feeling of people, who until recently had been peasants, by setting himself in the place of the abolished God. “To restore respect for Stalin now means to introduce respect for denunciations, torture and executions.”


A.S. Volpin, “The Pact on Civil and Political Rights
and Soviet Legislation”

Two extracts from an unpublished manuscript. The author contrasts the pact of the title with Soviet legislation and practice.


V. N. Chalidze,
“Class discrimination in Soviet law”

A history of the appearance in Soviet law of restrictions according to class affiliation.


Bertrand Russell,
“The Family and the State”

An extract in translation from his book Marriage and Morals. Russell shows how the functions of bringing up and educating children are performed by the modern State, which, by inculcating in them a narrow, bureaucratic, limited patriotism, widens the disastrous division of the world.


Information about
the present situation in Czechoslovakia

A number of articles have appeared in samizdat devoted to the present situation in Czechoslovakia.

1) “Letter from a reader” (published in the journal Tvorba, 24 September 1969)

The anonymous author of the letter, a worker and a communist, and a member of the People’s Militia, states that the majority of Czech people condemns the pro-Moscow line adopted by the present government. The greater the pressure from outside, the stronger the people’s resistance will become.

In their appended “Reply” to the letter, the editors of Tvorba call the author a criminal who is insulting the citizens of Czechoslovakia and the brother-countries of the socialist camp. Noting that they are receiving large numbers of such letters, the editors of  Tvorba suggest that their authors might like to carry on their polemic directly with the “organs safeguarding the rights of citizens of the socialist state” (i.e. with the organs of state security).

2) Extracts from speeches made by A. Dubcek and V. Bilak at the September 1969 Plenum of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, translated from Le Monde (24 October 1969).

Dubcek considers that Husak, in his speech, distorted the events of January to August 1968. He denies the existence in Czechoslovakia of a centre of counter-revolutionary activity supported by the forces of imperialism. He says that the policies pursued by the central committee headed by himself had enjoyed widespread popular support, and refers to the contents of negotiations with the Warsaw Pact allies which, he notes, made no mention at all of the possibility of outside interference in the affairs of Czechoslovakia.

Bilak accuses Dubcek of political indecisiveness, and of not honouring the firm agreement with the Soviet government. According to Bilak, the Soviet representatives had stated that under no circumstances would Czechoslovakia be allowed to leave the Socialist camp.

3) “Letter from Czechoslovakia“, written anonymously by a Communist who left the party after the events of 1968.

It tells of the present situation in Czechoslovakia, and the mounting extra-judicial persecution of citizens of the republic who protested against troops of the Warsaw Pact being sent in. The letter mentions the circular put out by the Minister of Information, Jaromir Hrbek, which to all intents and purposes re-establishes the universal atmosphere of mutual denunciation. It further mentions the closure of journals and newspapers, the dismissal of scholars and journalists from their posts and other symptoms of the revival of the methods of the Novotny period in Czechoslovakia. The letter analyzes the present situation within the country. In particular, the author makes the following point:

“There is no mass support for the regime established by the occupiers. The creative intelligentsia and the greater part of the scientific intelligentsia, together with the press, continue their opposition. Throughout our history there has never yet been a regime (except under Hacha’s protectorate) which aroused so much revulsion. It has produced a new phenomenon – the emigration of anti-Stalinist communists, I imagine that it was the fear that the numbers and intellectual strength of these émigrés would grow and that they would form the nucleus of an opposition party group abroad, that led to the closing of the frontier at this particular moment, when the progressives have been deprived of any influence they once had at home. Also new is the disagreement of the Western communist parties with the policy of the Kremlin and with its interpretation of internationalism (this did not happen over Yugoslavia, Berlin, Poland and Hungary). Other new features are the unprecedented crisis in the international socialist and communist movements, and the fact that Soviet society thinks and reacts in a new way since the 20th Party Congress.

“We know that we are not alone. This one factor lends us strength as well as bringing many obligations. I think that everyone in Czechoslovakia who asks themselves the question, ‘Where do we go from here?’ will come to the same conclusions.”


Vladimir Gusarov, “My Daddy Killed M[ikhoels]

The hero of the tale is the only son of a high-ranking bureaucrat in the Stalin era. He grows up in an atmosphere of lies and hypocrisy, where every word the Generalissimo utters is proclaimed as a divine revelation, where people have learnt to conceal their thoughts and hide their eyes.

Disillusioned with it all and ignorant of the truth, the hero finishes up in Stalin’s mincing machine: Lubyanka, the Serbsky Institute, the Kazan Special Psychiatric Hospital and Butyrka Prison; people crippled by fate; brief meetings; frank conversations. The tone is one of irony mingled with grief; the author bitterly mocks the absurdity of this inhuman existence.


Representatives of the Crimean Tatars

have handed over to the Central Committee documents which record the initial findings of a referendum now being held among the Crimean Tatars. They were asked two questions: Do they long to return home to the Crimea? And do they want to see the restoration of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic?

The Crimean Tatars were rehabilitated as a people in a decree issued by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet on 5 September 1967 and officially cleared of the unfounded and slanderous accusations which were originally used to justify their deportation. However, the decree also states that the “Crimean Tatars have settled in their present places of residence”, and, even though they have been rehabilitated, they are not being given an opportunity to return to their homeland. The referendum is an attempt to establish once and for all whether the Crimean Tatars really feel that they have ‘settled down” outside the Crimea.

The initial findings have shown that a vast, indeed overwhelming, majority of those asked (with only a few isolated exceptions) yearn to return to their homeland and to see the restoration of their autonomy. The referendum is still going on, in Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan, Kazakhstan, in the Krasnodar Region — everywhere, where Crimean Tatars are living. The poll will include the whole adult population, to a man, and the results of the referendum will be passed on to the highest party and government authorities.


10 December 1969

386 Crimean Tatars composed a document protesting against the arrest of Mustafa Dzhemilev, an active member of the movement for the return of the Crimean Tatars to their homeland. The letter was sent to Brezhnev, Rudenko and to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.


November 1969

The Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR has sent its fourth letter to the United Nations. The letter tells of repressive measures against members of the Action Group and against citizens who supported appeals to the UN. [Commentary 11].