on love, death and cigarettes.
A collection of introductions to books by friends and colleagues.
Foreword to Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
by Vladimir Bukovsky
Those terrible years are recalled by eye-witnesses with a shudder of horror. Their children look upon the time with indignation and perplexity, wondering how such things could have happened in their country. The grandchildren see it all as a kind of nightmarish fairy-tale which has no real connection with their own lives. The Rubashovs and Ivanovs have long been posthumously rehabilitated. The Gletkins have grown old and have long been picking up their “merited pensions”, they grow strawberries at their dachas outside Moscow and sigh about the past. Their successors in the offices of the Lubianka are cynical young careerists dressed in expensive foreign suits; these young men are so colourless that no matter how much they might wish to do so they could never achieve Ivanov’s level of discourse. Anyway, Ivanov’s arguments would no longer make any impression on today’s prisoners. You will not nowadays find a convinced Marxist in a cell at the Lefortovo Prison, indeed you will not find one among the sixteen million members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The dictatorship and terror of the Party bureaucracy, requiring nothing but submissiveness and obedience, has replaced ideological dictatorship and terror. But to understand how this happened and to trace the logical inevitability of this change we must gain and again return to the thirties, to the events described in this book.
Arthur Koestler’s book is strikingly up-to-date and topical. Is it hard to believe that it was written almost forty years ago, and it is quite clear that this book will always remain forbidden reading in communist countries.
The behaviour of the victims at the Moscow show trials of the thirties is an enigma which will continue to excite the curiosity of historians for a long time to come. Indeed, how was it that “steadfast revolutionaries”, who had experienced hard labour and torture, suddenly acknowledged in public outlandishly absurd accusations and repented, humbly asking for mercy without any apparent constraint? Acclaimed leaders of revolution, who had devoted their whole life to the cause, suddenly turned out to be “conspirators who had sold themselves to the enemy”. Why did they not at least die in silence? Anyway nobody would have been able to keep them quiet during the actual trials. Only two or three cases are known of victims trying to exculpate their guilt, and even then not very forcibly.
Of course it would be naive to endorse the opinion of Gletkin and the majority of Marxists in the West that all this can be attributed to “physical constitution”. Torture affects people who want to live, not those who are ready to die at any given moment for their cause. This is an extremely important problem, and not only for psychologists. The dark years of the thirties are a kind of watershed in the thinking of contemporary Marxists, for up to that period everything would appear to have been proceeding in accordance with theory, and only afterwards did things contradictory to theory happen. Marxists hold that Stalin was to blame for all this because he supposedly enforced a volte face in the state and in the Party. How was it that wicked Stalin all on his own swayed a good Party? Why was it that the entire Party, including those leaders who were arrested, actively assisted him in this task? When exactly was it that things started to go wrong?
Koestler demonstrates the indissoluble link between Marxist theory and practice in the thirties with implacable logic. Anyone who considers social benefit and the collective aim to be higher than the individual, who considers that the individual must be sacrificed to this aim and who, moreover, has sacrificed many individuals to the aim must recognise the fact that he too has to be treated accordingly. Anyone who has sacrificed his I for the good of a WE must be constant and courageous in his struggle with the enemy, but if he suddenly finds himself in a position where he is an enemy of the WE he at once loses strength and becomes an unwonted I. All he wants is to once again become part of the WE; and if this means that he must publicly renounce his own beliefs and acknowledge absurd accusations then he must do so. If honour has been replaced by expediency, what further obstacles remain?
The supreme idea of general happiness and of an ideal society justifies any means leading towards this idea. The harder it is to achieve an end, the greater the number of sacrifices which have to be made and the more terrible are the means justified. It is difficult to grasp this simple truth in its abstract form, for everyone thinks, “Well, I’d never begin to justify bad means for a good aim.” But just imagine yourself in a situation where you have to decide whether one hundred or one thousand people will die. Imagine even that you are driving a car and are going to have to run over either one person, or two. The decision seems to be obvious. And here you are already applying “laws of arithmetical operations to human lives.”
But Marxists tell us that we all continually find ourselves in similar kinds of situations. For hundreds of years exploitation has been reducing the proletariat to an animal state. Who counts how many animals perish? And what about wars which, it is well known, are the products of capitalism, and which waste millions of lives? Our entire history is nothing but a chain of suffering. Can we not then justify the annihilation of exploiters and imperialists in order to rid humanity once and for all of all this suffering?
However, the successful accomplishment of this unbelievably difficult task demands the the individual I be subordinated to the general WE of the like-minded. The vileness and cruelty of class enemies can be overcome by people who are themselves even more vile and more cruel. Their victory will justify them.
It is hardly surprising that the accused in the Moscow show trials were no longer naive victims, they were arch-criminals and inveterate liars. If in that atmosphere all views which did not express the right class attitude were considered as counter-revolutionary activity, and all non-communist views were considered not to express the right class attitude, then it had to be acknowledged the deviation from the Party line was a crime. The butchers of yesterday became the victims of tomorrow; and the whole country was forced into complicity with the crime by publicly approving it.
Indeed, the approach towards the thirties was steady and designed. These years followed from the ideology itself with implacable logic. Thus Rubashov’s guilt was proven by his own theoretical formulae. This infernal merry-go-round grew out of the theories originated by “the bearded philosophers in the group photograph”.
Nowhere is this clearer than in Lenin. The state, he says, is always a force. It represents the coercion of one class by another. Thus the use of force in the case in question, that is in the name of the proletariat, is justified and necessary. Here is the justification of terror for you.
Literature and art are always class based, he says, they are always the weapon of the ruling class and ruling culture, and therefore we shall directly continue cultural traditions if we authorize only proletarian art in our workers’ state. Here is censorship for you.
Private property is that which has been stolen from the workers, so take what has been stolen! Consequently, according to Leninist reasoning, why not justify murder? After all man is mortal, why not kill him now? He has got to die sometime.
We need only recall Lenin’s reaction to the revolt in Shuya on 10 February 1922, when he issued the following instructions in a note to the Politburo. Are they not a scenario of the later trials?
“Whatever this involves it is now imperative for us to conduct the withdrawal of church valuables by the most decisive and speedy means possible; by doing this we can secure for ourselves an archive of several hundreds of millions of gold rubles. (We must bear in mind the enormous wealth of some of the monasteries and lavras). Without this archive no government work in general and, in particular, no building up of the economy is conceivable.
“Now and only now when people are being eaten in places where there is famine and hundreds, if not thousands, of corpses are lying on the roads we can (and therefore we must) conduct the withdrawal of church valuables with the greatest and most relentless energy, undaunted by any form of opposition in our path.
“We must send to Shuya one of the most energetic, intelligent and efficient members of the VTsIK, or other representatives of the central power (one person is better than several), and we must give him verbal instructions through one of the members of the Politburo. Essentially these instructions must indicate that the more members of the local clergy, local petty-bourgeoisie an bourgeoisie he arrests in Shuya on suspicion of direct or indirect participation in violent opposition to the decree of the VTsIK about the withdrawal of church valuables the better. As soon as he has completed this work he must come to Moscow and personally give a report at a full meeting of the Politburo for this purpose. On the basis of the report the Politburo gives a detailed directive, again a verbal one, to the judicial powers saying that the proceedings against the people in Shuya who are revolting and opposing aid to the starving should be carried out with the maximum speed and completed only with the shooting of a large number of the most influential and dangerous members of the Black Hundreds in Shuya; and wherever possible similar situations in Moscow and other spiritual centers should be treated accordingly.
“The larger the number of members of the reactionary bourgeoisie and reactionary clergy we are able to shoot under the auspices the better.
“We must be sure to appoint the best and responsible workers to carry out this measure in the richest lavras, monasteries and churches.
It is curious that after many years of association these philosophers had no illusions about the morality of their comrades-in-arms. When Kamenev and Zinoviev were accused of murdering Kirov, Bukharin said, “Well? They are what they are. Maybe there was something…”
Just as the “bearded philosophers” brought up Stalin, the Chekist Ivanov brought up the Chekist Gletkin who shot him; every time the new generations was more cruel and more unprincipled. “Neanderthal men of the new era.” And the “old guardsmen” could only wonder, “Where on earth have these people come from?” On the posters youth is always radiant.
One theorist in the French Communist Party told me that class enemies were far more to blame for the cruelty of the Bolsheviks than the Bolsheviks were themselves. The Red terror would never have emerged if it had not been for the opposition of the Whites. This man seriously appears to believe that nobody in France is going to oppose the building of communism, thus “communism with a human face” is feasible there. The more sincere and constant is a man in his belief, the more vileness and cruelty is he capable of exercising. When he is eventually brought to the “Revolutionary tribunal”, where the remnants of his sincerity must bring him, there is no human face any more. The young smiling neanderthals, brought up on a new morality will easily find him guilty.
It is hardly surprising that people failed to understand all this at the beginning of the century when the system was first being worked out. What is surprising is that since then the very same thing has been happening in scores of countries all over the world, in places which have the most varied history, culture and religion. But this fact still does not seem to be sufficiently instructive. Marxism remains a fashionable pastime for rich idlers and university professors in all developed countries. For their pupils in Vietnam and Cambodia it has turned into a blood-stained tragedy.
Man’s ability to remain unconcerned is limitless. Even cigarette packets have to display printed warnings about health hazards. Why then has it not become obligatory for the covers of Marxist literature to have the following statement printed on them, “The theories set out here have in practice over the last sixty years brought tens of millions of people to death?” Should not professors be obliged to tell the truth about this practice? Not likely! But you have only to mention this to discover that the right to contaminate the mind of the student is thought to be the inalienable right to the teacher.
The rights of man, about which everyone who is not idle has begun to do a great deal of talking (and this includes Marxists), are inextricably involved with human duty and individual responsibility for everything that happens in the world around us. In a prison camp I once met an old man who had been convicted for his participation in the mass murder of Jews during World War Two. He thought that his sentence was extremely unfair. “I didn’t kill anyone. All I had to do was open the door into the gas chamber. I didn’t even have to close the door. Someone else had to do that.” If during the course of sixty-two years we have become wise enough to condemn the Khmer Rouge and terrorists, then is it not time that we also condemned those who only “opened the door” to these crimes in our world?
I believe the Koestler’s book will remain topical not only for as long as there exists at least one communist party in the world, but also for as long as man strives towards the revolutionary transformation of society; after all, communist ideology is only the most consistent and the most extreme form of this striving.
As if wanting to emphasise this thought without going into the details, Koestler takes the epigraphs for this chapters from very different authors who lived in very different ages, from Dostoyevsky, Saint-Just, Machiavelli and the fifteenth-century Bishop Dietrich von Nieheim.
One could ask what the anarchical ideas of Dostoyevsky’s heroes, the idea of the unification of Italy, the striving of Jacobins towards equality and brotherhood, or the idea of the Kingdom of God on earth have in common? A familiar motif still rings in all these ideas. Efforts towards the violent reconstruction of life recur in history with striking persistency. This striving towards justice is to all appearances one of man’s strongest emotions, which is why reason has the greatest difficulty in controlling it. Surely then the blowing up of the dictators in the Kremlin could be justified? Fortunately this idea is not widespread and I hope it never will be. The results of the last upsurge of justice are evidently still too fresh in peoples’ minds. The results are still too graphic. Perhaps it is for this reason that in the Soviet Union people have begun with exactly that point on which Rubashov ended, a conversation with the “silent interlocutor”. They have realised that totalitarianism cannot exist in a vacuum, but is supported by blood-stained complicity and so, since the early sixties, more and more of them have been refusing to be a party to the Soviet system.
Man’s simple desire to be innocent of guilt, direct or indirect, in the eye of both his descendants and his contemporaries has given birth to what is now well-known as the human rights movement in the USSR. It proved to be invincible in front of the most oppressive system in the world. It proved to be more powerful than any plots or political intrigues. But is it necessary to go through so much blood and torture to understand this?
I read this remarkable book in the Russian edition intended for illegal import into the Soviet Union, where it will be read by hundreds of thousands of people. I read it in Italy in a small town while some noisy communist fiesta was taking place, everyone in the town was enjoying the occasion. “Where,” I asked myself, “will the crash come first, here or there?”
Folio Society, London, 1980.
Foreword to Russia’s Political Hospitals: the Abuse of Psychiatry in the Soviet Union
by Sidney Bloch and Peter Reddaway
by Vladimir Bukovsky
The problems which the authors analyse in this book are exceptionally complex.
The peculiar features of the Soviet political system, the Communist ideology, the uncertainties and difficulties of the science of psychiatry, the labyrinths of the human conscience — all these have weirdly woven themselves together to create a monstrous phenomenon, the use of medicine against man.
Paradoxical though this phenomenon seems, it is, apparently, symptomatic of our times, times in which the highest achievements of human thought, science, and technology have suddenly boomeranged against man, putting his very existence in doubt. The rapid development of technology threatens to break down our ecology, and the discovery and exploration of atomic energy have made possible the complete destruction of life.
When Pinel first removed the chains from the mentally ill and thereby freed them from punishment as criminals, who would have guessed that two centuries later prisoners would look with fear at Pinel’s successors, preferring chains to their “care”?
These pernicious phenomena have unexpectedly brought to the fore such apparently old-fashioned concepts as human conscience and man’s moral and ethical principles. Evidently a profound and lengthy reconsideration of habitual values will be needed, a re-thinking of accepted ideas, if we are to find a way out of the situation which has come about. Serious, fundamental research is essential, which will make it possible to examine every facet of these complex and dangerous phenomena.
One such piece of research is this book. For many years I studied the question of psychiatric abuse in the Soviet Union, and can therefore judge accurately the enormous amount of work performed by the authors. Without doubt, Bloch’s and Reddaway’s book will be a kind of encyclopaedia, an indispensable source for all those interested in the problem of psychiatric abuse. Among its merits are the impeccable documentation, the detachment of the analysis, and the combination of a scientific method and a fluent, readable style. I believe that all this will ensure for the book a wide readership will also assist, ultimately, in the cleansing and resurrection of Soviet psychiatry.
For most Western people it is psychologically difficult to grasp the atmosphere of a country in which phenomena described in this book have become routine. I often see looks of incomprehension when I describe life in the Soviet Union. Sometimes I deduce from the questions put to me that no understanding exists at all. Occasionally I am overwhelmed by despair and lose faith in the power of the human word. It is virtually impossible to explain the degree to which life in the USSR is unreal. It is not, there, theories and conclusions which develop out of the raw material of life, but, on the contrary, the raw material of everyday life is created to fit in with the ruling theory. Life does not develop normally and naturally in accordance with its inner laws, but is created artificially in ways calculated not to undermine the basic principles of the ideology.
The ruling doctrine asserts that being determines consciousness. As Socialism has been built in the USSR, and Communism is being built, the consciousness of people must be exclusively Communist. Where, then, can belief in God appear, if for 60 years atheism has been propagated and the preaching of religion outlawed ? And from where does an opponent of Communism come—in a Communist society?
Within the confines of Communist doctrine there are only two possible explanations: the cause must lie either in subversive activity directed from abroad—i.e. every dissenter has been bought or recruited by the imperialists; or in mental illness: dissent is just a manifestation of pathological processes of the psyche.
As life in the USSR does not develop freely, but is “interpreted” by the party, these two principles mean that every dissenter whom it is difficult or inconvenient to pursue under the first heading is automatically assigned to the second.
The Soviet psychiatrist is a part of the Soviet system. He cannot say, “I find no symptoms of illness in this person”. He cannot reach his conclusions inductively, he must follow the prescribed deductive method. He cannot regard dissent as a normal phenomenon generated by the realities of Soviet existence: if he did, he would become a dissenter himself. And not everyone is capable of that: family, children, professional career and the quiet life are automatically put at risk. Ahead lies nothing but harassment, persecution, condemnation, quarrels and lack of understanding in his family — relatives accusing him of selfishness, and of indifference to his children. Also the incomprehension of those around him, his colleagues — what’s the point of it all? Do you really think you can change anything like that? You can’t shift a mountain with a shovel! And in truth, one has to be decidedly “different” to become a dissenter in the USSR.
Now, when I hear from all sides so many high-sounding words and assurances of sympathy and support, when I hear condemnation of dishonest Soviet psychiatrists, when I see amazement in people’s eyes—“How could doctors be so venal?” — I involuntarily find myself wondering: who among if you, if you suddenly lived in the Soviet Union, would choose the freedom to be different? Would many of you be so eccentric as want to be persecuted for the sake of an abstract honesty before your conscience?
I fear that not many would prove capable of acting out in such conditions the righteous incomprehension which they voice now. Evidence for this view is the outcome of the world psychiatric congress in Mexico in 1971, when the question of Soviet abuse was simply swept under the carpet. A sad episode, which, I trust, will not be repeated this year in Honolulu.
Bonn, 22 January 1977
Vladimir Bukovsky on Richard Klein's Cigarettes Are Sublime
by Vladimir Bukovsky
“This book does not aim to praise cigarettes chiefly for their utility,” writes Richard Klein,
but rather for what Theodore de Banville calls their “futility.” It is their uselessness that ensures the aesthetic appeal of cigarettes—the sublimely, darkly beautiful pleasure that cigarettes bring to the lives of smokers. It is a pleasure that is democratic, popular, and universal; it is a form of beauty that the world of high as well as popular culture has for more than a century recognized and explicitly celebrated, in prose, poetry, in images both still and moving. So widespread is this understanding of the beauty of cigarettes that this book can seem to argue in favor of making them seriously, as among the interesting and significant cultural artifacts produced by modernity.
One has to have considerable courage to write such a book today, in our time of crusading crackpots and universal conformism. No sooner had the big, all-embracing utopia of Communism died in front of us, than myriads of tiny utoplets sprang up in its place, as if to fill the void left in the ives of the Utopians. Humanity is overwhelmed; accustomed as we may be to placating our crusaders, we still cannot reconcile all their demands. Lest we be branded an “enemy of the people,” we must attempt to be green, blue, and color-blind, all at once. We expected to deny that there is any difference between the sexes, and yet are obliged to believe that God Almighty is a woman. Animals’ rights have become superior to ours, except AIDS research. And smoking… smoking is the worst crime of all, unless you smoke marijuana.
Indeed, the current anti-smoking campaign is so universal, so vicious that one wonders: What kind of secret Politburo is behind it? Clearly, it is well coordinated and well funded, and must have a hidden agenda as well. After all, despite the smoke-screen concern for our health, we are “consenting adults” and entitled to decide for ourselves.
Yet the utopians righteously push us out of one refuge after another. So we smokers are, a new oppressed and exploited minority. While homosexuals can serve in the army and women can become priests, we cannot have even a tiny smoking compartment on the publicly subsidized trains we pay for through (among other means) growing “sin” taxes on cigarettes. I sometimes wonder who won the Cold War.
But I am convinced the worst is yet to come. Nor shall we have to wait very long: last year in Britain a man died of a heart attack because his doctor refused to treat him, on the grounds that he was an inveterate smoker who had promised to give up smoking but failed. Did this “doctor” go to jail? Far from it; he was not even reprimanded. Looking boldly into the television camera, he said: “Why should I waste my resources on someone who does not follow my prescription? Smoking as much as he was, he would have died anyway.”
What a neat idea. Come to think of it, why should doctors treat homosexuals? They will die of AIDS anyway. Just let anyone who does not observe the latest fashion in diet and exercise die. Medical costs can be cut without any need to install Bill Clinton’s health reform.
So, first and foremost, we should commend Richard Klein’s bravery, far above and beyond his call of duty as a professor of French at Cornell: some healthiest ayatollah might yet issue a fatwa against him. For let’s make no mistake: it is Cold War II we are living through today, with a new breed of coercive utopians striving to alter our culture, to control our behavior and, ultimately, our thoughts. As Mr. Klein correctly says: “The increase of attacks directed against smoking in the last decades could be seen as the harbinger of the wave of censorship that threatens to engulf America. … Since smoking is wordless, it is a form of expression especially vulnerable to being suppressed by censors who hesitate before banning speech.”
Apart from being a bad habit—this fact no one denies, least of all smokers themselves—smoking is also a statement of one’s philosophy of life, a philosophy upon which our modern culture was based. This was a philosophy of flirting with death, on the one land—which, by the way, moved us to conquer the skies (what an irony that smoking is now forbidden on airplanes) and, on the other hand, philosophy of fatalism, of a soldier “killing time while waiting for death.” A cigarette is like a poem, a love affair, or even life itself—all burning desire and smoke of illusion, leaving us at the end only ashes and a bitter taste in the mouth. But should this predictable end stop us from living, loving, aspiring? What a lie to pretend that anyone ever did not know in advance all the harm smoking can cause. Even in my childhood, some forty years ago, when I tasted my first cigarette, there was a huge billboard across the street: “Smoking is a slow death!”
Sure thing. But someone’s intrepid hand had written underneath in chalk: “And we are not in a hurry.” Professor Klein is quite right: cigarettes are sublime: they seduce you like a femme fatale, all the signs of danger notwithstanding. They are bad for you; that is why they are so good. And the more they are demonized by propaganda, the more seductive they will become. What a stupidity those “warnings” of the surgeon general are! One could not invent better advertising—it makes one’s statement even stronger when puffing into the face of our boring society. “Life itself a progressive disease from which we only recover posthumously; for if health is freedom from disease, then it is only available by dying,” writes Mr. Klein. “Living means choosing your poisons.” And who is the surgeon general to force his choice upon us? A surgeon’s business is to amputate our limbs, to cut out our tumors, to stitch us up again. This is what he should be concerned with, not being a prime judge in a century-long philosophical dispute.
Let alone a supreme censor. If he tries to be, he will, as Mr. Klein’s book shows, find himself against a whole host of poets, philosophers, and cultural figures, from Baudelaire and Byron, Merimee and George Sand, to Sartre and Hemingway.
Like so many writers struggling with censorship before him, Mr. Klein employs subtle irony and taunt rather than a direct attack on his opponents’ position. Contrary to what one might think after reading this review, his is not a book of polemics fueled by indignation; rather, it is an ode to the cigarette, as seen through the eyes of the great poets and thinkers, a paean to a culture that is about to be discarded by the modern barbarians. In a sense, Mr. Klein is like a Roman patrician singing hymns to the old temples and sacred groves even as hordes of Huns are destroying them. In vain does he implore them to think about future backlash:
… repression … often ensures that when the repressed returns, it does so violently, hyperbolically. Whenever what is unhealthy is demonized, it become resistible, with all the seduction and the fiery allure of what ought not come to light. Censorship inevitably incites the very practice it wishes to inhibit and usually makes it more dangerously compulsive, because illicit, in the bargain. Think of masturbation.
Alas! Huns don’t read poetry, and names of old gods mean nothing to them. Mr. Klein’s irony a lints are lost on our own illiterate latter-day barbarians, who know only the ironclad language of political correctness.
Editor's note: "Bukovsky is a professional smoker whose best-known book, To Build a Castle, is a testimony to the fact that even the KGB failed to force him to give up cigarettes despite 12 years of consistent effort."
National Review, August 15, 1994.
Against the Odds: A True American-Soviet Love Story
by Andrei and Lois Frolov
by Vladimir Bukovsky
Why should a superpower take such enormous interest in harassing two people just for being in love with each other? Indeed, after one reads about the twenty-four hour surveillance by specially trained KGB teams, in shifts, with their specially equipped cars and their walkie-talkies, about the twenty-four hour telephone bugging, and the numerous stukachi (informers) in the communal apartment, one is left with a feeling of something unreal, almost nightmarish. And all this trouble, this spectacular police operation, is just to prevent two people from getting married? The sheer cost of such an “operation” must be astronomical, to say nothing of the politically damaging international scandal. Why bother?
This question will undoubtedly come to a reader’s mind after closing this book. And it is a very good question indeed, particularly for those “sophisticated” people who still call “simplistic” any straightforward condemnation of the communist system. Or, better still, for those who are so sure of the peaceful intentions of the Soviets and who advocate a “dialogue” between our nations. If we are to accept their beliefs, why then are the Soviet people forced by their peace-loving government to treat any foreigner from a non-communist country as an enemy? Why is a marriage between an American and a Russian looked upon as high treason? What kind of a dialogue can we have, if only specially trusted informers are allowed to approach a foreigner?
Simplistic or not, the truth of the matter is that in a totalitarian state a man is a property of the state. And a cheap property to boot. He is just a pawn in a dangerous game played by the rulers. A walking function. It is only naive people of the West who believe that they live in a time of peace. From the day of its creation the Soviet Union has been at war with the West, and the people are forced to be soldiers of this war. In this context, a manifestation of simple human feeling is perceived by the state as a mutiny.
The authors of this book know these answers as well as anybody who once has felt the whole weight of the Soviet machine on his or her shoulders. However, instead of generalizations, they give a detailed account of their ordeal, patiently leading us through the jungles of Soviet life with its Kafka-esque absurdity to an unexpectedly happy ending. They describe only the facts they have witnessed. Yet, their book is a real dialogue, the only one possible between an American and a Russian in our time, a dialogue of partners fighting together again the communist slavery.
For an American it is a painful process of losing naivety, of learning to be a responsible and reliable partner in a situation where, unlike back home, life is a very serious business and any careless word may prove to be fatal. For a Russian it is a no less painful process of “squeezing the slave out of oneself drop by drop,” as Chekhov once put it. What seems to be a purely personal affair at the beginning, at the end becomes
a fight for human dignity between two people on one side and the most oppressive regime of modem times on the other. As it happens so often the Soviet Union, an individual’s victory becomes a victory for all serfs of the state. Indeed, the same people who are obliged to condemn the rebel publicly, would secretly congratulate him and express their gratitude. Thus an ordinary Soviet man suddenly becomes a new creature, known in the West under the strange name of “dissident.”
Nobody knows what this word really means. Created by the Western press, it was never used by the “dissidents” themselves, who prefer a more modest name: “pravozashchitniki,” that is, “defenders of law.” In practical terms it simply means that these people appeal to the law as is written in the Soviet constitution or in an international agreement — hardly a revolutionary idea in any country but the communist one. Because the day when the people learn to demand their rights will be last day of the communist regime.
Meanwhile, the original meaning of the word “dissident” was somehow lost.
“Oh, no, I was not a dissident,” says a ballet dancer to the press after defecting to the West. “I simply could not accept the lack of freedom to create according to my tastes.”
“No, we are not dissidents,” says a group of workers at a press inference in Moscow. “We simply decided to organize an independent trade union to protect the rights of workers.”
“We, the Jews in the Soviet Union, were not dissidents,” writes a recent emigrant to Israel in his book. “We were defending the national rights of our people.”
Perhaps that is why the Western press has announced the end of the “dissident movement” in the Soviet Union every year during the last decade, while the number of the “non-dissidents” continues to grow quite steadily.
The authors of this book also are quite sure that they are not dissidents. They simply loved each other, and this human feeling appeared to be stronger that the Soviet regime. In the eternal fight of living against dying, of freedom against slavery, they have scored a small victory for everybody. Well, it is a good enough reason for me to call them "pravozashchitniki”
June 16, 1983