Legendary Soviet Dissident: We Need to Put Communism on Trial

Legendary Soviet Dissident: We Need to Put Communism on Trial
Vladimir Bukovsky at a book signing in front of the Sakharov Center in Moscow in 2007. (Courtesy Vladimir Bukovsky)
Celia Farber
In March, The Epoch Times interviewed Vladimir Bukovsky, the author of “Judgment in Moscow: Soviet Crimes and Western Complicity,” about his life and work.
The Epoch Times: What are your thoughts about “Russiagate,” the probe into whether our president colluded with Russia, with Putin, to win the election?
Vladimir Bukovsky: My first reaction was to laugh because probably the majority of your countrymen don’t realize, but the Soviet Union was always involved in the elections and manipulations even before computers were invented. So there is nothing new here. Of course, they’ve always wanted to influence American elections, but usually it was very marginal and laughable. The most noticeable result was when Ronald Reagan was elected and Carter was defeated—the Soviets manipulated the Iranians not to release these hostages until the elections. And now they got Ronald Reagan. That shows you how short their judgment was in these feuds.

They were always good at machinations but their knowledge of American realities was always very poor. They had no idea how America lives, how it is governed, what is going to prevail, what will be the result of this or that action. Because of Marxism, they always saw the concept of American politics as a huge conspiracy, big businesses having everyone in their pocket and things like that. That was an operational concept. It was so far from reality that whatever they achieved in a tactical sense defeated them strategically.

The Epoch Times: The American left today, because it is an attack point against President Donald Trump, is wildly anti-Russian, Russo-phobic. Now. Suddenly.
Mr. Bukovsky: Yeah. The fact that Russia today is much weaker than the Soviet Union used to be, and therefore less dangerous, does not influence American opinion. They now perceive the danger very seriously. And for the first time in the history they actually applied sanctions and things like that, which we hoped would have been applied to them right after World War II, but they’ve never been applied. And now they are applying all these sanctions when the influence of Russia is considerably smaller.
The Epoch Times: So much of your life work has been about trying to wake up the West that communism was an abomination. They say 55 percent of millennials in the United States are proud to call themselves socialist. What hope is there?
Mr. Bukovsky: Very little hope. Mind you, don’t forget communism is still very powerful in places like China, Vietnam, countries like that, and when these countries are discussed you seldom hear anything about communism. As if China is not the biggest communist country in the world. They recently had the Communist Party Congress in China and they announced the figures: 84 million Chinese are members of the Communist Party. 84 million. It’s just ridiculous. So communism is growing and growing. They still control everything. The threat as such did not pass. Changes in geography, but it didn’t disappear.
The Epoch Times: Does the UK, where you live, feel like a socialist country?
Mr. Bukovsky: Look at the political composition. The No. 2 party, standing to win the next election, is headed by a Marxist. In our day and time—a Marxist to lead Britain? That’s ridiculous. But all the structures are still the same. The socialism they achieved in the post-war years is still here.
The Epoch Times: When you refer to the EU as a monster, what is the worst of it? What makes the European Union appear to you as a monster?
Mr.Bukovsky: Well I made this comparison 15 years ago when speaking at the British Parliament, and it is still on YouTube.

I still would not correct a single letter in it. Everything I said was correct and it still is. I predicted that if Britain was ever given a chance of referendum they would vote to leave the European Union. That was 15 years ago, and it’s become even worse. The control from Brussels, the bureaucratic procedures which make life very difficult, are still always strengthened. It becomes tougher and tougher.

The Epoch Times: Do you think Brexit will ever be completed?
Mr. Bukovsky: No, I don’t think so. I think it’s going to be some kind of sabotage. They will be pretending they are implementing Brexit, but they won’t do anything. But meanwhile, other countries might follow Britain’s example. We have Italy, which is now considering the option of leaving the European Union. And that’s going to be a big blow particularly because Italy is in the eurozone. It’s going to continue. The process of resistance to the European Union in Europe will be growing.
The Epoch Times: It seems the new elements—mutations of socialism and communism—are spreading through media, the new technologies, and Big Tech.
Mr. Bukovsky: Yes. Also don’t forget the younger generations are much more passive politically. They seem to be completely disinterested.
The Epoch Times: Yes. And there’s an absolute mania about Nazis, about the fear of being called a Nazi. No fear of being called a communist or socialist. The next thing will be that it will be a compliment.
Mr. Bukovsky: That’s right.
The Epoch Times: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ran as a socialist. We have Bernie Sanders running for president, who honeymooned in the Soviet Union ...
Mr. Bukovksy: Yeah.
The Epoch Times: How does it feel that “Judgment in Moscow” is coming out in English? How has the response been?
Mr. Bukovsky: It’s a bit too late. It was written 25 years ago. Politically, it’s a bit too late.
The Epoch Times: I disagree, I think it will be a bombshell. It’s perfectly timed given what’s coming to light all over the world. It’s already getting a huge response, I understand.
Mr. Bukovsky: It’s a good response. But I suspect only among specialists will it be very serious. Because the book is very special, very technical, contains lots of documents—it’s not easy reading. It’s going to mostly affect the specialists.
The Epoch Times: Is this a dangerous book to publish in today’s world?
Mr. Bukovsky: Being a small publisher, they are not afraid of it. After all, you still have your First Amendment and things like that. They’re not afraid of the opposition.
The Epoch Times: What do you think is the most controversial thing in your book that caused it to be repressed or thwarted 25 years ago?
Mr. Bukovsky: The reaction here was most strong in connection with certain individuals, not with the documents. That has nothing to do with me; these are Politburo documents, I didn’t invent them. But, certain names being associated with pro-Soviet campaigns and activities, this became a shocker for a lot of people.
The Epoch Times: Names like Francis Ford Coppola?
Mr. Bukovsky: For example. Some in industry, or in politics you know and suddenly—this opens their eyes and shows them the other side, the seamy side of politics. A lot of people became very shocked by this.
The Epoch Times: The story about how Epstein dealt with the manuscript, seeking to bowdlerize it—it seems rather scandalous. Why were you put in this situation?
Mr. Bukovsky: The French publishers we were dealing with them [when it was originally published], I did not approach them. My French publishers offered it to Random House. They were not prepared for this kind of opposition. I was already prepared. I had some experience with Random House before so I knew they were not going to be sympathetic, but my French publisher had no clue what to expect. It’s very typical of publishing houses in the United States. They treat books only as someone engaged in propaganda: “This is a useful book.” “This is not a useful book.”
The Epoch Times: Appealing to the part of the human mind that already knows what it thinks, aiming for that, lulling, and no surprises.
Mr. Bukovsky: Yeah.
The Epoch Times: The things going on now, raging all over in the name of political correctness, censorship, de-platforming, deleting people—are these new forms of the same old beast?
Mr. Bukovsky: The question is: How new? If you look back at the ‘30s, “Brave New World,” it presents more or less that picture. These things were already set. But it didn’t become universal knowledge. People didn’t expect it to happen.
The Epoch Times: It’s taken as an article of faith here on the left that Putin controls Donald Trump and hacked the DNC emails and so on and so on, what would you say to such a person who believes this?
Mr. Bukovsky: It doesn’t make sense at all. (laughs) People don’t realize that their president is very limited in his power. The Founding Fathers talk about this. The president is limited by legislation, by Congress, by whatever. It’s not in his power to change the course of the country as much as they suggest. The president is only an executive officer and that’s it. Mind you, the idea that he was initially somehow in cahoots with Moscow, ridiculous. I mean he is doing his thing, with some limitations in his understanding of Russia. But calling him a Moscow agent is ridiculous. You might like or dislike him. He has strong character, not very critical of himself, and so forth, but to suggest that he is Moscow’s agent is absolutely ridiculous.
The Epoch Times: You have triumphed over your enemies in an extraordinary way. How did you do it? How did you survive, psychologically?
Mr. Bukovsky: I think it all depends on the strength of your character. If it’s strong enough it will become stronger. If it’s weaker, it might break down. So I’m not the only one who benefited, so to speak, from this experience. I knew quite a number of other people who became only stronger.
The Epoch Times: Can you look back on it all now and draw strength and maybe even joy from what you lived through, and were able to bear witness to?
Mr. Bukovsky: Oh, yes. Yes, of course.
The Epoch Times: Good.
Mr. Bukovsky: (Laughs.)
The Epoch Times: What do they mean when they say “globalism” and what does the word “globalism” mean to you?
Mr. Bukovsky: They usually mean global governments. A single governing structure over the whole world.
The Epoch Times: Why do they want this? Why do they want one government and why do they hate nations?
Mr. Bukovsky: Nations—if you look at the history of leftism—nations were always perceived as the enemy because they make people unequal. The basic idea of the left from very old time is the equality of people. Anything which makes people different is bad. So, for example, private property, incomes, abilities—it’s all bad. People are supposed to be equal, meaning the same. Therefore, nations are always bad. Nations have different histories, different privileges, different traditions. You can’t make them equal so leftism was always against nations.
The Epoch Times: Why do they love mass immigration in Europe and in the United States? Open borders ...
Mr. Bukovsky: Precisely for the same reason, because that helps them to eliminate traditions, the habits accumulated by nations. And make them more and more similar.
The Epoch Times: And what is the relationship between Islamization and communism? Communism keeps morphing—many heads. The Democratic Party here is radical socialist now, openly. But when pressed what they stand for they say, you know, Denmark.
Mr. Bukovsky: Yeah.
The Epoch Times: Is George Soros a communist?
Mr. Bukovsky: No, George Soros is not a communist, but he’s very close to socialism. He’s genuinely in favor of left-wing theories, in general. His understanding of the world is more primitive—open society and things like that, but in reality they’re all kind of left-leaning. Soros wasn’t that left-leaning earlier. He became so later. I used to know him in the ‘80s. We saw each other quite often. He was changing. He was drifting toward the left very rapidly.
The Epoch Times: Why?
Mr. Bukovsky: I think it’s only logical.
The Epoch Times: That’s the way the elite world was going?
Mr. Bukovsky: Yeah.
The Epoch Times: In this country, the socialists are not interested in the worker. It’s all about political correctness, and sexuality, gender identity. It’s very different from the “socialism” for example I was reared on in Sweden in the late ‘70s growing up. No more talk of the proletariat. What does sexuality have to do with Marxism?
Mr. Bukovsky:  In the Soviet history, there was an early period in the early ‘20s, after the revolution when they experimented with these ideas—free sex and so on and so forth. There was a lady called [Alexandra] Kollontai who was propagating the idea of free love. She was quite influential. In the beginning she was ambassador to Sweden, Sweden being one of the few countries that recognized the Soviet Union.
The Epoch Times: Do you think the Soviet Union planted seeds in this country for what we are seeing today, for communism to eventually rise here?
Mr. Bukovsky: I think the seeds existed long before the Soviet Union. The left-wing movement in the world is older than the Soviet Union. In the 19th century, you will find it prospering. The big push for it happened during the French Revolution.
The Epoch Times: Do you think Brexit will succeed? That Britain will get out of the European Union?
Mr. Bukovsky: I think they will be leaving the European Union for the next 100 years.
The Epoch Times: That bad? You knew this already when the referendum took place?
Mr. Bukovsky: Yeah. I kind of predicted it 15 years before it happened. But the European Union is going to collapse painful as it may be for many countries, and it will be painful for many, it will still happen anyway.
The Epoch Times: Why?
Mr. Bukovsky: Because it’s kind of doomed. It’s stillborn, the whole idea.
The Epoch Times: Is political correctness as we call it the same thought collective that was what you lived through, but the Western version?
Mr. Bukovsky: Yes, but the definition of left wing has changed, it’s moved into all these private, even intimate, relations. Then it was all about class relations. Now it’s much more personal and even intimate. That was not the definition of the left before. It was still unclear. About equality of sexes, family, and so on. The dispute was not over in the ‘20s. It was kind of frozen. And then, it renewed again. It renewed in the ’60s, it’s renewed now. It renews every now and then, the mainstream left enters crisis or trouble, and goes back to its roots and these problems are resurrected.
The Epoch Times: Is communism a bodiless parasite that never dies?
Mr. Bukovsky: The basic idea probably would never die. Communism was a much more detailed program. As such it is already half dead. The program itself assimilated by Marx and others, it became bankrupt. Therefore theoreticians of the left today don’t want to remember the basic positions of the left at the time. With industrial relations, class relations, they don’t want to think about it right now, they don’t want even to discuss it. But they moved into a more general field, of equality in general and formulated their policies from that viewpoint. Therefore, political correctness today become more and more involved with personal affairs, private affairs of people, which didn’t happen before.
The Epoch Times: Did you ever dream that America would become a surveillance society like it is today?
Mr. Bukovsky: Some people did predict it in the ‘30s, if you remember “Brave New World,” the model of the future included that total control, total surveillance so on and so forth. Same if you read Orwell. This element was perceived as inevitable in the future model and it has become real now, much quicker than I expected because of the development of technology.

Of course, I didn’t expect it to be all recording and saved for the future—these kind of details. Surveillance. We thought about it in more general terms. Now it’s really very personal and very precise but otherwise as a concept it always was a part of the left-wing ideologies.

The Epoch Times: In the yellow-vest protests in France, the uprising against Macron and the EU elites, we nevertheless see Che Guevara placards among them.
Mr. Bukovsky: Yeah. Che Guevara seems to get stuck in the posters forever. Not many people actually know what he was involved with, what actually he was doing. But the image was very romantic. He was a mass murderer. But that no one remembers now.
The Epoch Times: Did the architects of communism truly believe in communism?
Mr. Bukovsky: It very much depends. Lenin was the first to realize that he miscalculated. By 1921, he saw that the world revolution did not follow, and he was kind of banking on it. It was his main idea that a socialist coup in Russia would precipitate the world socialist revolution. By 1921, it was obvious that the world socialist revolution does not follow. And he had to admit it. You can find this in his writings. He was quite frank about it. He was disillusioned. It was “postponed” he said. And therefore he switched his policies into the New Economic Policy, NEP. Allowing the country to breathe a bit. But he also said it was temporary, it was not for a long time. He was the first to understand that it was a basic miscalculation.

Stalin realized the same thing when Germans attacked him in 1941 and the Soviet Union started collapsing, splitting into different parts. He suddenly realized that the whole thing is a big miscalculation. The new entity, as they called it, the Soviet people, was not born. And the Red Army was running like mad. They didn’t want to fight. So that was the collapse of his ideas, including collectivization and things like that.

Kruschev realized that only after he was pensioned off, was sitting in the dacha thinking it over and over again. He said a bit about it in his memoirs but not much. But you could see that he was very much in doubt of the main concepts. As far as people after Kruschev are concerned, I doubt they ever believed in anything. They believed in power, in their right to distribute wealth, and to be a kind of permanent elite. Most of them perceived ideology as something that actually hampered their movement forward. Makes it more difficult. And they got rid of ideology. But it’s still a communist mentality. In Brezhnev time I don’t think they believed in anything, except their right to be the nomenklatura [elite members of the Soviet bureaucracy].

The Epoch Times: Can you address the mass murder element in communism, that so many Westerners have a blind spot for?
Mr. Bukovsky: That was the result of introducing their ideology, which deliberately replaced human values with class values and therefore “liberated” them from responsibility. That was what they called “historic inevitability” and therefore no one was guilty. The old classes were supposed to die anyway and therefore murdering them was not a crime and so it went. Until it was not perceived anymore as murder. It was perceived as an aspect of class struggle. The question is, of course, how easy is it to dehumanize human beings? Apparently it’s very easy.
The Epoch Times: What is the difference ultimately between Nazism and communism?
Mr. Bukovsky: Well, Nazism essentially is a more narrow concept of one nation being above others, representing the masters, and others being subjugated. In the Soviet version we’re talking about classes—one class being the master, not one nation being the master, like in the Nazi version. But that’s the only difference; Otherwise both of them were socialist. Let’s not forget that the Nazi party was called National Socialist Workers Party so they were on the same line with creating a paradise, only for their own nation at the expense of others. That’s the only difference.
The Epoch Times: The average Western person says consistently that Nazis were extreme right wing, while communists were left wing. That’s why people like communists.
Mr. Bukovsky: (Laughs. )That’s very naive. Nazis were never right wing they were always left wing. They were socialists. It’s a version of socialism.
The Epoch Times: Defined how?
Mr. Bukovsky: Everything, including the social policies. If you look at labor legislation under Hitler, you will discover that they introduced huge, massive labor legislation in favor of working classes. Restrictions on the rights of the so-called capitalists. The difference between our version of socialism and the so-called northern socialism that the Germans implemented is that they would not nationalize the enterprises. They would cut the profits with huge taxes, cut them to the bone—that’s the difference in technical terms.
The Epoch Times: My experience of growing up in radical socialist Sweden in the late 70s was that the central idea was to build a new person, the new Swede, who would have only selfless, collectivist impulses, and have all human error drained off. A highly functional human being who could be predicted, you might say, like a robot. Tell me about the Soviet version of this.
Mr. Bukovsky: Same as with us. We were also told that they were creating a new historic entity called “Soviet People.” The New Man has all these qualities you mentioned—collectivist and so on and so forth and having no nationality, no ethnic belonging.
The Epoch Times: What became of Russian nationalism?
Mr. Bukovsky:  There was a very brief period in the late years of Stalin when we suddenly had this nationalism. Russian nationalism suddenly taking control. It was very unusual for the whole history of the Soviet Union. If you look in the ‘20s and ’30s and so on there was no nationalism. Nationalism was always perceived as an enemy. Suddenly Stalin’s last years were marked with very clear Russian nationalism initiated from the top, not from the bottom.

It was initiated in the Kremlin— the campaign against so-called cosmopolitanism and the Jewish conspirators—doctors and things like that. But that was a very brief period. As soon as Stalin died, it died, too. And did not continue.

Later the anti-Semitic side was kind of resurrected under the guise of fighting Zionism. Zionism being a code word—you know they wouldn’t say “Jews” they would say “Zionists”—and the campaign was against Zionism, although the implication is very clear. But it didn’t lead to Russian nationalism as such. It generated a certain streak of anti-Semitism, but didn’t lead to Russian nationalism as it did under Stalin. They resurrected it again after the Soviet Union collapsed.

And if you look at today’s policy, internal policy, propaganda, it’s clearly Russian nationalist with a heavy influence of the Orthodox Church, which is very unusual for Russian history. The Orthodox Church never played any important role in formulating Russian policies and now it does. It’s kind of a substitute for communist ideology. So that’s what we have right now.

The Epoch Times: Do young Russians know the history of Soviet communism?
Mr. Bukovsky: No. It’s like everywhere else. Unfortunately only the older generations remember. The younger generations don’t know anything and don’t want to know. You can’t educate them because they just resist any education. They don’t read books. They watch television, and whatever they can glean on computers, and that’s it. The knowledge of Russian history today in the generation under 40 is abysmal. They wouldn’t even always remember who Lenin was.
The Epoch Times: Which of the Russian communist despots was the worst?
Mr. Bukovsky: The history has its own logic—it wasn’t because of human beings and their qualities. Rather, different stages of development required different people. Stalin’s personality cult survived them all, and that’s really surprising. It’s kind of schizophrenic because there is hardly a family in Russia which did not suffer repressions under Stalin, and yet he’s still a symbol of a nation. There are still legends going around that under him there was order in the country which is total nonsense. I remember Stalin’s time although I was just a kid—there was no more order than any other time. Total nonsense. But nevertheless the remarkable phenomenon is that Stalin’s personality cults survived all of the changes in Russian Society.
The Epoch Times: What was it in you as a young man that gave you the strength to turn against it?
Mr. Bukovsky: The turning point for me was precisely the death of Stalin. I was 10 years old when he died and I suddenly realized that he was not a god. We were brought up with the notion that he was a god, and suddenly God has died. That was the type of shock which forced you to think. I suddenly realized that the country continued to live without Stalin which was unthinkable. Nothing could exist or could function without Stalin and yet he died, but life continued. Lots of people will describe the change in their views following the death of Stalin.
The Epoch Times: What was the attitude of your parents?
Mr. Bukovsky: My parents were silent. They wouldn’t say a word. In general, the older generation kept silent. They didn’t trust anyone and they knew it all can change tomorrow, and if you show any emotions or preferences tomorrow, they would remember it. So they kept completely silent. They wouldn’t say a word.
The Epoch Times: Why was it so important to trap people so they couldn’t leave the country?
Mr. Bukovsky: We were always told that under capitalism every nation is starving and we are the lucky ones, because we are not starving. But the Red Army—after visiting Europe at the end of the war—they discovered that other nations are prospering despite the fact of the war. That was the biggest revelation and of course Stalin increased repressions including against those who were abroad with the army because they were a source of knowledge which was undesirable for the machine. Those who were in occupied territories and those who were abroad, they were the carriers of some kind of bacteria under Stalin.
The Epoch Times: You say the West didn’t win the Cold War. Could you elaborate?
Mr. Bukovsky: I perceive the Cold War as an ideological war. Liberal democracy vs communist totalitarianism. In that sense we didn’t win. Instead, liberal democracy became infected with a lot of elements of Soviet ideology and the Soviet ideology did not disappear. It transformed, so there was no great victory. Usually they say that the West has won the Cold War meaning the military confrontation between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. NATO is still around and the Warsaw Pact disappeared, so that was perceived as a victory.

But I always perceived this war as much deeper, as a clash of ideologies, and in this clash we didn’t win. Communism has never been condemned internationally as a crime. They were not put on trial. They were not forced to answer for their crimes. Membership in communist organizations have never been perceived as a crime. Since we didn’t have some kind of Nuremberg trial in Moscow, the war’s not over.

The Epoch Times: Is it categorically too late for it to happen now?
Mr. Bukovsky: Don’t forget it’s now 25 years since the Soviet regime collapsed. In these 25 years, new crimes were committed. The incredible corruption, the massive embezzlement and things like that—including political murders. So it’s difficult for the people to be focused on the early events when they could see the new events happening. To make them sufficiently interested in deeper history is getting difficult.
The Epoch Times: Putin. Here in the United States, if we know anything, all we know is that he was a KGB man. How bad was he? What was he part of?
Mr. Bukovsky: He wasn’t really high up. He was actually one of the thousands. Not prominent at all, didn’t achieve anything. His position, his posting, was not important at all. He was in GDR, East Germany, in charge of some kind of friendship society or whatever. He was not successful as a KGB operative, didn’t achieve anything. He was a major most of his career. He was given lieutenant colonel only when he resigned from the KGB, which is usual. He was not significant at all as far as the KGB is concerned but the mentality he acquired is that of KGB and it stayed with him. That is important, the rest is not. He didn’t achieve anything.
The Epoch Times: How then can his rise be explained?
Mr. Bukovsky: He just happened to be in the right place at the right moment. Yeltsin was looking for a successor, from KGB preferably. He wanted a guarantee against prosecution. Once he resigned, his family would become exposed. And he needed a guarantee that he was not going to be prosecuted.

Putin is a small, small fry. He’s a KGB officer and behind him is the entire organization which is quite powerful, but Putin himself is tiny, not very clever, always relying on blackmail. He’s a symptom and not a cause. People should understand the symptom in Russia as it evolves through communism. There’s a kind of legacy of almost 100 years of propaganda.

The Epoch Times: Which candidate would you expect Putin would have wished to win in 2016, Clinton or Trump?
Mr. Bukovsky: Very difficult to say. They knew nothing about Trump. And predicting what Trump will be as a president was very difficult. With Clinton they knew for sure it was going to be a Democratic Party apparatus, with which they already had to deal under Clinton and Obama. They had their own shortcomings with it, they were not quite happy with some of it. So apparently they believed that change will happen. I don’t know, difficult to say. Sometimes to understand their mind is next to impossible.
The Epoch Times: Do you identify as a writer? Dissident? Human rights icon? How much is “writer” important?
Mr. Bukovsky: I became a writer by chance. I am actually a scientist. Simply because I had a contract to write a book when I was released that I agreed to try to write it. I had never written a book before. It was a completely new occupation for me. I never considered myself to be a writer. But you have to try many things in life.
The Epoch Times: [Bukovsky was traded for a Chilean communist in Zurich in 1976.] Do you remember, when you came to the West in the 70s? Do you remember touching down? Did it feel free? Did it feel like the West as you had imagined it?
Mr. Bukovsky: Well, I mean there is a feeling of freedom of course. Once you cross the border, everything is changing, everything is your choice. I remember agonizing over a menu in a restaurant. Which of 16 kinds of ice cream should I order. That was a kind of payment for freedom. We were used to a very simple life. Ice cream was ice cream. With capital I. And that was it. Sixteen varieties. Sixteen!
The Epoch Times: Freedom can be tyranny, too.
Mr. Bukovsky: Yeah. Well, certainly a burden.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.