“It is difficult, truly, to be reconciled to sky-high injustice.” —Zbigniew Herbert, “The King of The Ants”
Now and then a book comes along that renders all that have come before it on the same subject superfluous.
If the subject is how exactly we (the “West”) were enmeshed with our supposed enemy, the USSR, during the Cold War, this is the only book you truly need to read: “Judgment in Moscow: Soviet Crimes and Western Complicity,” by Vladimir Bukovsky, published for the first time in English this May by Ninth of November Press.
Bukovsky is arguably the greatest living titan of resistance to both Soviet communism and Vladimir Putin’s post-USSR, criminal-hybrid nation. The New York Times once referred to Bukovsky as “a hero of almost legendary proportions.” In 1976, ABC Evening News called him “the acknowledged leader of the Soviet dissident movement,” and to novelist Vladimir Nabokov, he was simply “that courageous and precious man.”
His life has been a monument of perfect integrity, though we love to say such people don’t really exist. Bukovsky was locked up in several psychiatric institutions (“psikhushka”) where he spent the time finding ways to document the abuses and smuggle out the proof. (150 pages of psychiatric files on six dissidents, leading to global outcry. Bukovsky was returned to prison.)
While in a psychiatric institution, Bukovsky was offered the chance to recant and escape prison; he refused and was instead sent to labor camp. All in all, he endured 12 years in the gulag, including labor camp, prison, and psychiatric prisons—all starting at the young age of 19, the first time he registered opposition to the Komsomol (a Communist Party-controlled youth organization).
His memoir, “To Build a Castle: My Life as a Dissenter,” became a best seller and classic of the genre.
As for “Judgment,” it has had a more turbulent journey to finally, after a 24-year delay, be published in the United States in English, within weeks of the Mueller report, which sent Americans into incoherent babble about “Russian collusion,” with no historical anchor.
But now it’s here. Our parochialism, pink-ish sentimentality, and downright offensive refusal to grasp our own history can be cured—if we just start by admitting we know next to nothing.
The Cold War’s True History
The 700-page corrective history/expose/commentary is freighted with extensively quoted top-secret documents from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and narrated to often hilarious effect by the sardonic, take-no-prisoners Bukovsky.
It lays bare the raw, true history of the Cold War, and—drawing on CPSU documents—shows how the tentacles of the Russian communist apparatus reached into every facet of our society, media, political system, educational system, and Hollywood.
“It was de rigueur in those times to write only enthusiastic babble about the USSR, to the extent that it was surprising that the paper on which it was written did not go up in smoke from shame,” Bukovsky writes.
Bukovsky—who abhors not only communism, but also post USSR “Gorbymania,” and Putin himself (bearer of a KGB mentality, and responsible for blackmail and murder)—calls the depravity of the Soviet Communist Party “boundless” and our (Western) gullibility and complicity “appalling.”
“It was in fact, a conveyor belt of death, working non stop and according to plan, just like Soviet industry in its entirety,” he writes of the Stalin era. “It is one thing to know about something, quite another to see a careless note from Stalin sentencing 6,600 people to death with a casual stroke of the pen (31 December 1938.)”
To sum up, and perhaps oversimplify: During the Cold War, we in the West remained largely blind and deaf to the nature of our Soviet opposition, developing instead neurotic traditions of accusing other Americans of “red-baiting” if ever they got anything right.
In the post-USSR early 90s, we got even worse, going completely belly-up to the party-line psy-op surrounding Mikhail Gorbachev, as well as the euphoria of “Glasnost” and “Perestroika,” designed to disarm us and make us forget the last century of horror.
Bukovsky exposes Perestroika and Glasnost as cynical CPSU frauds, which only served to destroy any hope of reconciliation or redemption for the countless millions of victims. In the biography on Bukovsky’s website (vladimirbukovsky.com), Paul Boutin said Bukovsky refers to the ostensibly genial Mikhail Gorbachev as a “sock puppet on the cruel, cold hand of the KGB.”
‘Socialism With a Human Face’
Both post-communist Russia and the (establishment) West conspired to wave a wand of renewal and amnesia over the whole graveyard, while obscenely pushing new spells like “socialism with a human face.” Socialism, both sides agreed, must not die.
And now look at us, with socialism newly resurgent, despite the best efforts of our anti-globalist (if not anti-communist) president.
How did this madness take hold?
“Imagine for a moment Nelson Mandela,” Bukovsky writes bitterly, “released as the result of a lengthy public campaign, facing this question at his first press conference. ‘How do you feel about apartheid with a human face?’”
He goes on: “Moreover, imagine that every television appearance by Mandela was to include a moderate ‘apartheidologist’ from an American university—for balance. Or even better, a collaborationist from Pretoria: after all, you cannot show the public only extremist views, you must have balance!”
Bukovsky is refreshingly horrified, and the tone he strikes in the book is one of abject lament. Most distressingly, he sets us straight on this: The Cold War didn’t end, we did not win it, and communism did not “die”—it only morphed, then metastasized. The reason for all this is that the entire world colluded in letting the Soviet communists off the hook of history.
Bukovsky devoted years in a relentless campaign to set up Nuremberg-style trials in post USSR Russia, but it failed, and the autopsy results are detailed in this book.
“The regime was doomed,” he writes, “but before breathing its last it still had time for a final villainy: it turned the country into a whore through the false promise of easy recovery without effort or sacrifice.”
“It was as if the Allies at the end of the Second World War had not demanded the unconditional capitulation of Nazi Germany, but contented themselves with its perestroika, namely a certain liberalization of the regime. Had that been so, what would Europe be like today?”
Bukovsky had traveled back and forth to Russia from Cambridge, England, in the early 90s after President Boris Yeltsin’s government invited him as an expert witness in a trial before the Constitutional Court in which the communists were suing the government for outlawing them and taking their property.
The West was entirely complicit in the soapy dismissal of the entire Soviet communist death apparatus. Had there been Nuremberg-style trials, many shocks would have emerged, including the vast number of Western media correspondents who were on the Kremlin payroll, and chirping along accordingly.
Both “sides” promoted the cynical carnival of “collapse,” “liberalization,” driven by Perestroika and Glasnost.
“So my idea of a Nuremberg-style trial perished stillborn,” Bukovsky writes mournfully, “and with it the possibility of a fitting conclusion to the biggest war waged by mankind.
“Nobody in our immense country, devastated by that war, was moved by a sense of duty—to history, to truth, to the memory of its victims. Nobody evinced any interest apart from the carrion-crows which appeared from nowhere to tear at the memory of its victims.”
The haute left remains untouched by so much as a speck of spilled blood on its tweeds. True to form, The Times Literary Supplement dismissed Bukovsky’s “Judgment in Moscow,” as a “tirade,” but grudgingly admitted appreciation for the raw documentation, if not the commentary.
“Judgment in Moscow” (the English version) has a Homeric, troubled publishing arc. Twenty-four years ago, Random House denied us this book.
Ninth of November Press—a small West Coast press—deserves enormous credit for raising “Judgment” from the sea floor where it had languished. In 1995, Random House bought the book and then tried to bowdlerize it. Bukovsky recounts that he was strong-armed—by the editorial director, Jason Epstein, no less—to “rewrite the whole book from the liberal-left perspective.”
The primary concern of Random House was to protect the USSR against unfair accusation, and not to “surprise” its American readers.
Bukovsky’s rejoinder, just before the project imploded, was: “I suspect they ought to be surprised quite a lot if they are to learn the truth about the Cold War. In fact, I will be delighted if they are surprised; I could never understand the motivation of an author who writes unsurprising books.”
Bukovsky, having stood down the entirety of the Soviet Union’s death apparatus, rather predictably didn’t roll over to the demands of Jason Epstein. He refused to comply with the subversion of his book, and eventually the contract was canceled. And that was that.
Turn the page, about two decades.
At the persistent urging of the pianist Evgeny Kissin, the vision for an English-version publication of the book was raised again, and eventually picked up by the Ninth of November Press, whose name comes from the day the Berlin Wall fell and whose tagline is: “Dissident books brought back for today’s readers.”
“Judgment in Moscow” had long since been published in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Bulgaria, and even Russia—but not in the United States or the UK. Consider the “and Western complicity” part of the title and you’ll understand immediately why: Skeletons.
“It was resurrected contrary to my expectations,” Bukovsky writes in the preface. Kissin was the quarterback who pushed it across, but there is a whole cast of eclectic characters involved in this publishing feat, including a once 7-year-old boy named Pavel Stroilov, who wrote Bukovsky a letter in 1991 that read:
“Good day, Vladimir Konstantinovich! My name is Pavel and I am 7 years old. I have read in a newspaper that you don’t like communists. I dislike them, too. Let’s keep a company.”
Five years later, Pavel was fluent in English, and at the age of 17, he discovered that “a large body of top-secret Communist Party documents” had become accessible in the archives of the Gorbachev Foundation.
Thus, he became Bukovsky’s “man on the inside” in Russia, eventually assisting with the copying and smuggling out of some 100,000 documents that answer a great many questions about who exactly was “colluding with the Russians,” and to what end. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, it turns out, was correct, but was the wrong messenger, and wound up derailing the cause of anti-communist awareness for half a century.
Translated by the virtuoso Alyona Kojevnikov, and assisted by a fleet of volunteers, “Judgment In Moscow” was published at last, in English, on May 14, 2019.
Asked by The Epoch Times how the response has been so far, Elizabeth Childs, from Ninth of November Press, wrote: “It’s selling like hotcakes.”
It was Childs—a longtime Bukovsky fan—who brought the idea to Paul Boutin, who wound up being the editor of “Judgment.” Boutin, who has written for WIRED, The New York Times, and others, responded to The Epoch Times via email when asked what drew him to the Herculean project.
“What made ‘Judgment’ appealing to me is that underpinning Vladimir’s dyspeptic take on East–West relations are a trove of straightforward Communist Party documents,” Boutin wrote.
“They’re the vintage version of catching politicians on camera: Gorbachev responding to the death toll from Tiananmen Square with, “Three thousand … so what?” The Central Committee agreeing to send powerful Finnish politician Kalevi Sorsa a 50th birthday present in appreciation of his ‘confidential collaboration with us.’ The proposal to fund the Black Panthers … The request starts by touting solidarity with the oppressed, but ends with its real intent to keep Nixon distracted from foreign policy. If you have a cynical sense of humor, it’s Monty Python-like comedy.”
I can’t say it enough: Reading “Judgment,” I laughed, I cried, I highlighted, and I felt delivered of a long and terrible illness. The illness was not being quite sure if my “anti-communism” was “paranoid” in nature, as my friends on the left seemed to feel.
I struggled to pick up the phone to telephone this Mount Everest of a man, but when I did, his voice sounded very human—which is precisely the point of this most human of anti-communist icons.
Guess what had him laughing?
Celia Farber is a Swedish-American writer with a background in magazine reportage and investigative reporting. She has written for Harper’s Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and many more, and is a contributor to The Epoch Times.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.