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

Right after this paragraph, Berlinski cites what she calls “the widely ignored” book by Alexander Yakovlev, the architect of Gorbachev’s perestroika, who unlike his boss, broke completely with Marxism, and who says that the Soviet Union murdered over 30 million people. She does not mention that the book was published by none other than Jonathan Brent, who would have been delighted if the book had great sales -- something no press can guarantee. Indeed, her assertion of some perfidy on Brent’s part, that this brave man was somehow scared to publish the Stroilov or Bukovsky material, is more than absurd. It amounts to an unjust and unwarranted slander on the one editor who more than anyone else in the field has worked to get Americans to comprehend the crimes of Communism.

She ends her article with the following clarion cry. Let Berlinski speak in her own words:

We rightly insisted upon total denazification; we rightly excoriate those who now attempt to revive the Nazis’ ideology. But the world exhibits a perilous failure to acknowledge the monstrous history of Communism. These documents should be translated. They should be housed in a reputable library, properly cataloged, and carefully assessed by scholars. Above all, they should be well-known to a public that seems to have forgotten what the Soviet Union was really about. If they contain what Stroilov and Bukovsky say—and all the evidence I’ve seen suggests that they do—this is the obligation of anyone who gives a damn about history, foreign policy, and the scores of millions dead.

The academic world and  publishers, she is alleging, are derelict in their duty to history, truth and to those who died as Communism’s victims. A harsh charge. No wonder it has been picked up and reprinted everywhere. The weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal features it in its “Notable and Quotable” column, which thousands of the paper’s subscribers read. The website “Lonely Conservative” asks “why [do] those who aren’t true believers refuse to expose the truth?” Red State calls it “Inconvenient History” that those who “have academic affinity with the tenets of communism”refuse to accept, and as the days go on, more on the conservative blogosphere will pick it up.

Is Berlinski correct? I don’t think that the evidence supports her claims. To answer the question, I consulted with major experts familiar not only with Bukovsky’s and Stroilov’s claims, but with what is in the Soviet archives, and what is and what is not available. It was not hard to do. Why did Berlinski not take this easy step?

First, I turned to Mark Kramer, editor of the American edition of The Black Book of Communism, and editor in chief of The Journal of Cold War History, published at Harvard University. He responded with the following two assessments.

First, Kramer said that Berlinski “knows very little about the Russian archives.” Kramer has seen Stroilov’s documents, and says that “there is nothing in them that isn’t readily available to researchers at the Gorbachev Foundation archive.” (my emphasis.) Moreover, this material is also available at Harvard’s Cold War Studies collection, as well as the National Security Archive at George Washington University, which has additional material that Stroilov’s archive does not have. He notes that when Stroilov worked at the Gorbachev Foundation and copied its manuscripts, the collection was not yet complete.