Sakharov’s “Memorandum”, June 1972 (26.17)

<<No 26 : 5 July 1972>>

On 5 March 1971, Academician A. D. Sakharov sent a Memorandum to L. I. Brezhnev. “It has remained unanswered. I do not feel I have the right to defer its publication any longer,” says A. D. Sakharov in a “Postscript” written in June 1972.

As in his previous works – “Reflections on Progress”, summer 1968 (see CCE 5.1, item 6); and the “Letter to Party and Government Leaders”, March 1970 (see CCE 13.9, item 1; written jointly with Valentin Turchin and Roy Medvedev) – the author’s basic thesis is that consistent and profound democratization is essential to Soviet society.

Andrei Sakharov, 1921-1989

Pointing out that the Memorandum “lists questions which vary in importance and their degree of self-evidence”, Sakharov formulates, in the first section, his proposals with regard to urgent problems. (From here on underlined sub-headings correspond to those in the Memorandum.)

Concerning political persecution

A general amnesty for political prisoners is essential; this includes, for instance, persons convicted on religious grounds and those confined in psychiatric institutions. Really free access and publicity [glasnost] are essential in the hearing of judicial cases, as is the review of judicial verdicts delivered when these principles have been violated. There must be a law to protect the rights of persons subjected to compulsory psychiatric hospitalization. There must be acts of legislation concerning openness, freedom of information exchange and freedom of conscience.

The solution of problems of the nationalities and of the problem of leaving our country would be furthered by laws restoring in full the rights of peoples deported under Stalin, and laws ensuring that citizens may without hindrance exercise their right to leave the country and freely to return to it.

Concerning international problems

There must be a unilateral declaration of our refusal to be the first to use weapons of mass destruction, and we must allow inspection teams to visit our territory for effective arms control. We must alter our political position in the Middle East and in Vietnam, seek a peaceful settlement on a compromise basis, and propose that UN troops be widely used to secure stability in these areas.

The author’s more general theses and proposals are expounded in the second section of the Memorandum. Having remarked on the positive changes in the country since 1956, Sakharov notes the deviations, inconsistency and sluggishness in the implementation of the new line, and the need for a clear-cut and consistent programme of further democratization. Amongst the difficulties in social development the author notes are: the aggravation of the nationalities problem; the complexities of the inter-relationship between the Party-State apparatus and the intelligentsia; and also of their mutual relations with the majority of the working masses. The latter have become disillusioned with the “fine words” of the privileged group of “bosses”, whom the more backward sectors of the population, by virtue of traditional prejudices, frequently identify chiefly with the intelligentsia.

A. D. Sakharov characterizes the society towards the realization of which urgent State reforms and the efforts of citizens should be directed. The chief aim of the State must be to protect and safeguard the rights of its citizens. “The defence of Human Rights is higher than other aims”. The actions of State institutions must be based entirely on laws that are stable and are known to and binding for all citizens. “The happiness of the people must be guaranteed, in particular, by their freedom in their work, in their consumption, in their private life, in their education and in their cultural and social activities, by their freedom of beliefs and conscience, and by their freedom regarding information exchange and movement”.        

Public control over the legality, justice and rightness of decisions as they are taken would be assisted by openness [glasnost], which would promote progress, prosperity and national security. Competition, openness and the absence of privileges would ensure a suitable encouragement of hard work and a development of people’s potential and initiative.

The country and the public would always be ready for international cooperation and aid on the basis of universal brotherhood, but would have no use for “a foreign policy that is a means of internal political stabilization, or one that seeks to extend its sphere of influence or export its ideas; messianism, delusions about the uniqueness and exclusive merit of our path, and rejection of the paths of others would be alien to our society …”

Proceeding from this concept of a rational society, the author sets out his observations and proposals on fundamental aspects of State and public life.

Foreign Policy

The main problem is relations with China. Always leaving China the possibility of cooperation and progress together with the USSR along the path of democracy, we must simultaneously show an especial concern for the security of our country, avoid all other possible foreign and domestic complications, and take into account relations with China when implementing our plans for the development of Siberia.

We must take the initiative in creating an “International Council of Experts on questions of peace, disarmament, economic assistance to needy countries, the defence of human rights, and the protection of the environment” – an international advisory organ composed of authoritative and impartial persons. The recommendations of the “Council of Experts” must be publicized anti well-founded. An international pact should be concluded obliging legislative and governmental organs to examine the Council’s recommendations and make public decisions with regard to them, irrespective of whether or not the recommendations are accepted.

Economic problems, management, personnel

There must be an extension or the 1965 economic reform, an increase in the economic independence of enterprises, and a review of a number of restrictions with regard to personnel selection, wages., etc.

In the sphere of personnel and management there should be increased openness in the work of all State institutions; management personnel at all levels should hold elective office and be subject to replacement if found unsuitable; the system of “elections without choice”, that is, elections without a full complement of candidates, should be abolished. Privileges linked with professional, or Party status should be abolished, as should the system of nomenklatura [Party control over the appointment of personnel]; the pay scales of high officials should be made public.

As measures to promote the expansion of agricultural production on private plots owned by collective farmers, State-farm labourers and individual peasants, the author suggests an increase in the landholdings of these people, changes in fiscal policy, and changes in the system of supplying this sector with agricultural machinery, fertilizers, etc.

The author suggests increasing the opportunities for, and profitability of private enterprise in, for instance, the service industries, the health service, small trading and education.

The gradual abolition of residence regulations is essential, as they violate citizens’ rights and hinder the development of the productive forces of the country.

In the sphere of information exchange, culture, science and freedom of conscience, it is essential to encourage freedom of conscience, the spirit of enquiry and constructive concern. The jamming of foreign radio broadcasts must be halted, the international authors’ copyright system adopted, and more foreign literature imported into the country. There should be a guarantee of the real separation of Church and State, and legal, material and administrative guarantees of freedom of conscience and worship.

In the social sciences and the humanities, we must promote a widening of scope in creative endeavour, an unlimited use of foreign experience, and our own independence of all preconceived opinions.

In the social sphere, the question of perhaps abolishing the death penalty should be explored. Special-regime and strict-regime imprisonment must be abolished, and the prison system improved  utilizing UN recommendations and foreign experience. The possibility should be considered of setting up a public organ of supervision with the aim of preventing the use of physical coercion against detainees, arrested persons, persons under investigation, and convicts. A drastic improvement in the quality of education is indispensable. To this end the author suggests increased salaries and independence for teachers; a less monolithic educational system; and an increase the salaries of workers in private practice.

In the legal sphere, the abolition of open and concealed forms of discrimination (with regard to national characteristics, beliefs, etc.) is essential; Iegal proceedings must be truly open; the [UN] pacts on human rights must be ratified, and the Optional Protocol to these Pacts signed.

In the sphere of inter-relations between the national republics, a legal elaboration of the problem of the right of republics to secede, and the passing of a law guaranteeing this right, are desirable. The author advances, briefly, legal, political, economic and military arguments in favour of this point of view.


The “Postscript” (dated June 1972) contains the author’s assessment of the current situation in Soviet society. We quote extracts:

“Our society is infected by apathy, hypocrisy, bourgeois egoism and hidden cruelty. The majority of representatives of its upper stratum . . . cling tenaciously to their open and concealed privileges and are profoundly indifferent to violations of human rights … to the security and the future of mankind. “Others, although deeply concerned in their hearts, cannot permit themselves any ‘freedom of thought’ and are condemned to the torment of internal conflict . . .

“The buds of moral regeneration . . . which sprouted after the curbing of the most extreme manifestations of the Stalinist system of blind terror encountered no proper understanding on the part of the ruling circles. The basic class, social and ideological features of the regime did not undergo any essential changes. With pain and alarm, I have to note that after a largely illusory period of liberalism there is once again an increase in restrictions on ideological freedom, efforts to suppress information which is not controlled by the State, persecution of people for political and ideological reasons, and a deliberate aggravation of the nationalities problem …”

Here is another extract, of a rather different nature:

“… As before, I consider that it will be possible to overcome the tragic conflicts and dangers of our epoch only through the convergence and mutual adaptation of capitalism and the socialist system … It seems to me now, more than ever before, that the only true guarantee for the preservation of human values in the chaos of uncontrollable changes and tragic upheavals is Man’s freedom of conscience and his moral yearning for good …”