Vladimir K Bukovsky, Judgment in Moscow: Soviet Crimes and Western Complicity.
Ninth of November Press, May 2019, 728 pages.
Judgment in Moscow is not a new book. It was published in 1995, in Russian, Polish, French, German, Italian, and Romanian -- but never in English. This new edition by Ninth of November Press marks its English-language debut.
The backbone of the book consists of top-secret documents from Soviet archives that dissident Vladimir Bukovsky brazenly took out of Russia in 1992. The documents themselves, while valuable primary source material (available online here), are only half of the allure. What propels this book out of mere historical documentation and into the realm of gripping narrative is the fact that Bukovsky is an excellent writer who lived through much of the history. His autobiographical commentary (along with insights into the psychology and social dynamics of a totalitarian society) is unparalleled, and should be required reading for anyone who cares about freedom and individualism.
Judgment in Moscow covers major historical events such as détente, disarmament, Soviet funding of peace movements in the west, censorship and crackdown on protests in the USSR, Soviet influence in Nicaragua and El Salvador, the invasion of Afghanistan, Polish Solidarity, and European unification. He provides hard proof of what the Soviets were actually up to, including detailed accounts of exactly how western leaders and media outlets have supported, enabled, covered for and even colluded with the Soviets. He names names, from American public figures to European heads-of-state. And he is not afraid to judge those individuals, even if the rest of the world won’t.
Bukovsky’s Years in the Gulag
As a dissident who spent over a decade in Soviet prisons, mental hospitals, and the labor camps that composed the gulag, Bukovsky is in a unique position to explain how the Soviets regarded their ideology, their enemies, and their mission in the world. He was first imprisoned as a high-school student in the early 1960s during the crackdown on political demonstrations in the post-Stalin era. Later, he was attacked by the KGB for helping to organize poetry readings in Mayakovsky Square in Moscow. Eventually, the Soviets expelled him to Switzerland in exchange for the Chilean communist Luis Corvalán. Bukovsky settled in Cambridge, England (where he still resides). For a quarter century, he has argued that the world must hold the Soviets to account for their horrible crimes in the same way the Germans were held to account for their crimes during the Third Reich.
Judgment in Moscow aims to do just that. The book’s title is a variation on the title of the 1961 movie Judgment at Nuremberg starring Spencer Tracy and Burt Lancaster. The movie is a dramatized version of the actual Nuremberg trials that were held immediately after the Second World War. Those trials attempted to balance the scales of justice by convicting (and sometimes executing) the most notorious architects of Third-Reich atrocities. When Bukovsky saw the movie as an adolescent, it made a profound impression on him. He argues throughout Judgment in Moscow (and in subsequent interviews reprinted in the appendix of the book), that the failure to put communists on trial for their crimes means that the Cold War is not really over. Russia and other communist countries cannot morally cleanse themselves -- and the world will not be free of communism -- until everyone faces up to the immense evil and suffering that is an inevitable outcome of communist ideology.
Computer Scanners and “Russian Savages”
Bukovsky’s access to the Communist Party archives -- and the treasure trove of documents he was able to obtain – was a stroke of luck combined with cunning strategy. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Bukovsky was summoned to Moscow as an expert witness in a court case that centered on whether the Communist Party of the Soviet Union should be outlawed. Those who wanted the CPSU outlawed were seeking examples, in the secret Soviet archives, of unconstitutional activities of the former party leadership. Bukovsky’s task was to find those examples. He took advantage of this to gather thousands of pages that later became the basis of this book.
Knowing that bureaucratic inertia and outright hostility would jeopardize his ability to get copies of the documents he wanted, Bukovsky recounts how he got around this (p. 90):
I took the precaution of acquiring a miracle of Japanese technology: a portable computer with a handheld scanner. At that time  this piece of technology had only just appeared in the West, and was completely unknown to our Russian savages. Because of this, I was able to sit right under their noses and scan piles of documents, page after page, with no worries about the curious, who kept coming up to admire my machine.
After about six months, the “Russian savages” did figure it out, but by then it was too late. Bukovsky had amassed “thousands of priceless pages of our history” – the history of the Soviet Union and its activities at home and abroad, memos written by the architects of the horrors that the Soviets had perpetrated with ruthless determination. He also had documented proof of the extensive complicity -- and outright collusion -- of the west in helping the Soviet Union to advance its objectives at home and abroad.
When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1989, a public reckoning would’ve been morally imperative, given the bloody history of communist regimes around the world. But the idea of putting communism on trial, Nuremberg-style, has been thwarted for decades -- particularly by westerners, including key figures in the United States. Bukovsky explains why. First, exposing the unsavory relationships between prominent westerners and the Soviets would damage careers and public images. Second, such a trial would be bad for the Left as a whole: the crisis of communism in Moscow would lead to a crisis of the socialist ideal in the west, and the western leftists didn’t want that to happen, particularly in those countries where they were building their careers on socialism.
Unpatriotic, Treacherous Americans
In 1995, when this book first came out in Europe, a senior editor at Random House had serious reservations about publishing Judgment in Moscow in the United States, even though it was being released in other countries without hesitation. The Random House editor was worried that ordinary Americans would be too “surprised” to find out that well-known Americans might be guilty of “unpatriotic -- or even treacherous -- behavior” as he put it (p. 58), specifically mentioning former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola.
When the editor tried to force Bukovsky to rewrite the entire book from the perspective of a liberal leftist, Bukovsky replied: “I am allergic to political censorship.” That ended the publishing contract. Across the Atlantic, a smaller British publisher was ready to move forward with it, but he was threatened with lawsuits and bankruptcy. So for decades, the book was unavailable to English speakers.
Hollywood: “Suffering Heroes Indeed!”
Throughout Judgment in Moscow, Bukovsky takes aim at all strata of western intelligentsia, from journalists to policy-makers, to businessmen and morally self-preening public figures and peace activists who were all too ready to do business with the Soviets, and who disarmed their critics by playing the victim-of-persecution card when anyone questioned their motives.
Along these lines, Bukovsky provides profound commentary on Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s hearings in which notable Hollywood figures, accused of communist activities, were interrogated. To be clear, McCarthy had identified a real problem and threat: namely, communist infiltration in the movie industry. But McCarthy’s tactics were reckless. As David Horowitz has pointed out, McCarthy “ought to have been stopped because the methods of his committee were effectively destroying every safeguard of free speech and free association that the Constitution affords to the individual, every protection for the innocent against an unjust trial.” (Left Illusions: An Intellectual Odyssey, p. 26).
Thus, while McCarthy's concerns were legitimate, his irresponsible behavior damaged the anti-communist cause for decades afterward. Indeed, the Left became wildly successful in using the term “McCarthyism” to smear anti-communists as politically repressive, paranoid, and delusional about the influence of communism on western institutions -- when, in fact, that influence was and continues to be a threatening reality.
This is where Bukovsky’s perspective is especially vital. He doesn’t dwell on the problems of the McCarthy hearings except to note that they were marred by hysteria. (Hysteria is a trait he finds distastefully prevalent among Americans in general, and he goes into more detail about his problems with American culture later in the book.) Instead, Bukovsky’s most acidic comments are aimed at those actors, screenwriters and directors who testified (p. 292):
[A]t a time when [the] spiritual brothers [of the Hollywood communists] were enslaving entire peoples, destroying millions to the benefit of their common ideology, all these people had to face were questions, moreover public ones, in the presence of their lawyers, the press, and with observance of all procedural formalities, such as: ‘Are you a member of any communist group?’
That was all. I remember how glad I was in 1967 to finally say to my judges’ faces everything I thought of their political system, thereby earning three years in the camps. I never thought of myself as a sufferer. They [the Hollywood figures who were forced to testify in the McCarthy hearings] faced no threat of camps, or torture, or destruction. At worst a loss of their jobs. It’s curious how the majority of them broke so shamefully, pointing fingers at their friends and neighbors and lying under oath. Only a few refused to speak. Suffering heroes indeed! . . . Not a word about the tragedy of hundreds of millions who really suffered under the communist yoke.
Here Bukovsky understates the ordeals he and his fellow dissidents suffered. In his memoir To Build a Castle: My Life as a Dissenter, Bukovsky describes the brutality he experienced in Soviet prisons and mental hospitals. For example, he was falsely accused of being mentally ill and then forcefully committed to a psychiatric hospital in Leningrad in the 1960s. The torture and killing of patients was routine. Some of the doctors referred to the place as “our little Auschwitz.” Bukovsky tried to stop the sadistic orderlies from routinely beating up his Ukrainian cellmate, but to no avail; he was beaten up as well. Various torments were inflicted on the inmates, including excruciatingly painful injections and other horrors, both physical and psychological, that were designed to punish and demoralize them.
Viewed through this lens, Bukovsky’s refusal to dwell on some of the abuses of the McCarthy hearings, along with his assessment that the hearings were “fully justified” is completely understandable. His deep contempt for the guilty who testified is also equally understandable.
Serendipity and Today’s Russian Collusion Narrative
The 50thanniversary edition of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago was published in November, with a foreword by Jordan B. Peterson. Now, just six months later, Judgment in Moscow is available for the first time in English, and it contains discussions of Bukovsky’s fellow dissidents (including Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov) and the challenges they faced in bringing their message to the world. Bukovsky details how he and Solzhenitsyn were routinely dismissed -- and openly persecuted -- by western leftists. The oppression of dissidents under the Soviet regime did nothing to change Left’s favorable view of the USSR. Warnings from Bukovsky that the Soviet leaders were not to be trusted went unheeded. Bukovsky and Solzhenitsyn (and other dissidents) were accused of being delusional and biased, unable to appreciate the noble goals of détente.
Judgment in Moscow deserves a prominent place in the canon of dissident literature. It also belongs to the genre of documentary history and journalism that has mapped the alliances between western institutions and the Soviet Union. Ex-communist spy Whittaker Chambers sounded the alarm of communist infiltration when he published his memoir Witness in 1952, but his book has been largely ignored. David Horowitz has been writing on the dangers of communism in the West for decades, and has been relentlessly attacked. The same is the case with Ron Radosh and Lloyd Billingsley, who have published historical accounts of communism’s extensive influence in Hollywood.
To be sure, the evidence for dangerous and illegal Soviet-western relationships is already considerable. Judgment in Moscow provides yet more hard proof that all this documentation points to something real, and cannot be dismissed.
Despite the decades-long habit by the mainstream to ignore all this evidence, things may be changing for the better. Three years ago, the American Left advanced a sinister narrative about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections. They accused President Trump and others in his administration of colluding with the Russians. Interestingly, those making the accusations were not dismissed as “McCarthyites” (although they have been accused of conducting a witch-hunt). This is significant. In the past, the point of contention between left and right had been whether Russian/Soviet infiltration was in fact real. Since 2016, that point of contention has changed. It’s no longer whether collusion with Russians is real, it’s whether any particular Americans have in fact colluded. As Attorney General William Barr summarized it in his press conference on April 18:
As the Special Counsel’s report makes clear, the Russian government sought to interfere in our election. But thanks to the Special Counsel’s thorough investigation, we now know that the Russian operatives who perpetrated these schemes did not have the cooperation of President Trump or the Trump campaign -- or the knowing assistance of any other Americans for that matter.
So the framework has now shifted.
At this juncture, it would be vital to stress when and where real Russian collusion has actually taken place. Historian Paul Kengor, for instance, has documented and discussed a 1983 memo written by Viktor Chebrikov, then-head of the KGB, to the Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov. The memo was retrieved from the Soviet archives by a London Times reporter shortly before Bukovsky harvested his material from those same archives in the early 1990s. The KGB head describes how then-senator Ted Kennedy approached him through an intermediary with a provocative offer: Kennedy wanted to help the USSR polish its image in the United States in order to sway the American public in the direction of disarmament, and thereby thwart Ronald Reagan’s anti-Soviet strategies and chances for re-election in 1984. Of course, accusations of “collusion” and “conspiracy” were never mentioned in connection with Kennedy’s proposal because the American media (with a few exceptions) completely ignored it. And they continue to ignore this Democrat-Russian collusion to this day.
In terms of the Left's failed attempt to trap the Trump administration in a false Russian collusion narrative, It would be ironic if this whole narrative results in a conceptual shift that sees Americans finally being able to accept -- without being accused of McCarthyism or delusion -- one of the central findings of Judgment in Moscow: namely, that communist infiltration and influence in the U.S. and around the world has been happening for decades. Once that fact is widely recognized, perhaps the serious journalists and historians who correctly identify the players, using real evidence, won’t be ignored or accused of exaggeration anymore. Bukovsky’s book provides important source material in this quest.
Of course, there is little hope that the Left will embark on this path. And most of its faithful certainly won’t concede the logical outcome of the ideology of which they’re so enamored. As Bukovsky points out on p. 306:
The unwillingness of the Left to admit, even now, the simple fact that there can be no ‘moral equivalence’ with the totalitarian monster, that the only result will be the gulag and destruction, is indicative in itself.
But perhaps there is hope among those who are not on the Left. Perhaps the weight of Bukovsky’s evidence and commentary will facilitate the kind of judgment of Moscow -- and of communism in general -- that should have occurred decades ago when the Soviet Union dissolved. We’ll see. In the meanwhile, readers with an interest in 20th-century history -- especially Soviet and Russian history -- will find Judgment in Moscow a valuable addition to their library.
Christine Silk holds a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University. She is the author of Chase the Sun: Nine Short Stories of Passion, Betrayal, and Revenge.