Claire Berlinski on Soviet Espionage: A Misleading Article Appears in City Journal

A few days ago, City Journal posted an important article on its website. It was written by Claire Berlinski, an American journalist who lives in Istanbul, and titled “A Hidden History of Evil: Why doesn’t anyone care about the unread Soviet archives?” We all know that since the fall of Communism, the world’s response to Soviet totalitarianism was quite different than that which occurred after the end of Nazism in 1945. The Nuremberg trials put the leaders of the defunct Third Reich on trial for war crimes, and in so doing, told the world the extent of how the entire Hitler regime was based on illegality, murder, genocide, and criminal behavior.  Berlinski writes:

In the world’s collective consciousness, the word “Nazi” is synonymous with evil. It is widely understood that the Nazis’ ideology—nationalism, anti-Semitism, the autarkic ethnic state, the Führer principle—led directly to the furnaces of Auschwitz. It is not nearly as well understood that Communism led just as inexorably, everywhere on the globe where it was applied, to starvation, torture, and slave-labor camps. Nor is it widely acknowledged that Communism was responsible for the deaths of some 150 million human beings during the twentieth century. The world remains inexplicably indifferent and uncurious about the deadliest ideology in history.

There is nothing exceptional about this argument.  Indeed, these points are the entire basis of the famous The Black Book of Communism published in 1997 in France and two years later in the United States, and the major book by the late Francois Furet, The Passing of an Illusion:The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century, a best seller in France that was translated into thirteen languages and published in our country in 2000.  And in her Pulitzer Prize winning book, Gulag:A History, Anne Applebaum addresses herself to the very issue of why the Soviet camps did not make the same impact on the West as those which killed the Jews in the Nazi Holocaust. The message of these three books and others like it may not be “widely acknowledged” by some on the Left, but enough has been written to leave few others with any excuses by now not to know the truth.

Communism saw no Nuremberg trials, and the world Left continued to argue that there was an essential difference between Communism and Nazism: the former supposedly emerged from Enlightenment philosophy and a well-meaning search for a more humanitarian and equal social order for the people of the world; the latter emerged from volkish ideology, espousal of war as a philosophy, and the espousal of evil and extermination of the Jewish people as a necessary basis for a new Aryan order. One could argue that in fact, Communism and its leaders killed more people numerically than Hitler’s fascist order. But no matter, the Left believes that anti-fascism was essential for progress, while anti-Communism was morally and politically wrong.

Berlinski  addresses the issue of what she says are “unread [and by implication unknown] Soviet archives,” compiled in London by one Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile living in London, and yet another archive put together by the famed Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who possesses “a massive collection of stolen and smuggled papers from the archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.” On the Stroilov archive, Berlinski claims that the originals remain classified in Russian archives.

The Bukovsky collection, copied by the dissident illegally during the short lived trial of the Communist Party in the early years of the Yeltsin post-Soviet government, was also potentially quite explosive, since his documents, as do Stroilov’s material,  reveal much of Soviet activity in the regime’s waning years that casts Mikhail Gorbachev in “a darker light than the one in which he is generally regarded.”  Berlinski proceeds to give examples from both collections.

The documents, she argues, also reflect badly on Western and U.S. leaders, all anxious to achieve détente with the Soviets and hence willing to get “far too close to the USSR for comfort.” She points to material that compromise Kenneth Coates, a British member of the European Parliament whom she says “sought to extend Soviet influence in Europe"; Spain’s Francisco Fernandez Ordonez, who sought “success of the socialist revolution in contemporary conditions” in Europe; and France’s Premier Mitterand, who sought along with Gorbachev to get Germany united as a “neutral, socialist entity under a Franco-Soviet condominium.” And Britain’s Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, she writes, sought to end Britain’s Trident nuclear missile program with Gorbachev’s help.

Her own essay, however, acknowledges that in fact these documents were available, and that  political figures did address their implications.  For example, she writes that one Gerard Batten, a British political figure, publicly wrote that if true, it meant that Kinnock had approached “one of Britain’s enemies” to gain approval for Labour’s defense policy.  So if they were buried, how did Batten know about them? How was he able to tell this to the European Parliament in a speech given last year? Berlinski never answers that question.