"THE WEST LOST the Cold War."
That's what Vladimir Bukovsky recently told me in our e-mail correspondence, as he pointed out how the communists still hold power in Russia, and how the Left still molds the boundaries of debate in Western society.
Bukovsky, a former Soviet dissident who spent twelve years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for his fight for freedom, made this point while criticizing my recent piece, Russia and its Heroes. He reprimanded me for the credit I gave Alexander Yakovlev, the former Soviet Politburo member, who is now leading an effort to put a spotlight on the horrors of Soviet history. My main emphasis was that Yakovlev was by no means a hero, but that he was doing something noble in exposing Soviet crimes. Vladimir countered:
Yakovlev does not deserve your polite acknowledgement. He was in charge of Agitprop [agitational propaganda] at the time of our trials and it was he who invented the "open trials" behind closed doors.
Indeed, Yakovlev was the head of the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee in the 1960s, and his task was to orchestrate Soviet propaganda around the trials of dissidents. He started with the famous Sinyavsky-Daniel trial and worked out a scheme on how to do it successfully ever after. Vladimir was among those whom Yakovlev was complicit in persecuting.
I told Bukovsky that I agreed with him that Yakovlev was a criminal -- just as Khrushchev had been a criminal despite his revelation of Stalin's crimes in the 20th Party Congress in 1956. Nonetheless, I still maintained that Yakovlev was doing a good thing in bringing a spotlight to the horrors of the Soviet past. Bukovsky responded:
Would you like Dr. Goebbels to be appointed a Chairman of a Commission on rehabilitating victims of the Nazis? Would you have given him such a chance in 1946 to make up for his earlier wrongdoings? How about allowing him the privilege of seeing and using, at his discretion, secret archives of his former colleagues, while his former victims would be denied such a chance?
I pretty well shut up after this exchange. I realized that I had been blinded, and had fallen into a naïve and lethargic trance -- from which only a Vladimir Bukovsky could have awakened me.
And so, why isn't it someone like Bukovsky, instead of a former Soviet official, who is now leading the effort in Russia to expose past Soviet crimes against humanity? Because, as Vladimir explains, the West lost the Cold War. He writes to me:
There were no Nuremberg-type trials in Moscow. Why? Because while we won the Cold War in a military sense, we lost it in the context of ideas. The West stopped one day too soon, just like in Desert Storm. Just imagine the Allies in 1945 being satisfied with some kind of Perestroika in Nazi Germany -- instead of unconditional surrender. What would have been the situation in Europe then, to say nothing of Germany? All former Nazi collaborators would have remained in power, albeit under a new disguise.
This is exactly what happened in the Soviet Union in 1991.
Bukovsky is, of course, right, and he substantiates this argument in his book, Judgement in Moscow, which is based on secret Politburo documents that he cunningly copied in Russia in 1992. The story of how he accomplished that particular trick is worth recounting. Bukovsky tells me:
By the Spring of 1992, the communists sued Yeltsin in the Constitutional Court of Russia for acting unconstitutionally when banning their party in August 1991. At this point, Yeltsin and his team got scared: they stood a real chance of losing the case. So, Yeltsin's right-hand man called me and asked for help. I agreed to help on the condition they open the archives. So they did, but only for the needs of the Constitutional court case, and only for its duration. I was appointed officially an Expert at the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation. In this capacity, I had access to the secret documents. Manipulating their ignorance, I brought a lap-top with a hand scanner and scanned quite openly about 7,000 pages. As soon as the hearings were over, the documents were re-classified again with a secrecy period of 30 years.
The documents that Bukovsky copied tell the story of how the survival of communism in Russia did not happen by accident or default, but, as he tells me in another e-mail,
...because of the Left's damage control operation. The result was staggering: Communism might have been dead, but the communists remained in power in most of the former Warsaw bloc countries, while their Western collaborators came to power all over the world (in Europe in particular). This is nothing short of a miracle: the defeat of the Nazis in 1945 quite logically brought a shift to the Left in world politics, while a defeat of communism in 1991 brought again a shift to the Left, this time quite illogically.
Bukovsky also points out that the Left itself does not even conceal the fact that this was their operation. Bogdan Denitch, for instance, the former official of the Socialist International, openly boasts about this in his book The End of the Cold War.
It is no surprise, therefore, that despite the defeat of communism, the radical Left in the West still arrogates the moral highground to itself, a bizarre fact that is substantiated by the way in which conservative author and activist David Horowitz is repeatedly censored on American university campuses for his politically incorrect views. When the Nazis lost the Second World War, racial hatred was discredited. When the Soviets lost the Cold War, the tenet of class hatred remained as popular as ever - especially in the West.
Thus it only makes sense that a former Soviet official such as Alexander Yakovlev today heads an effort to examine the Soviet past. And while he does so, I can't help but reflect on the experiences of a dissident such as Bukovsky. In his masterpiece, To Build a Castle, Bukovsky writes of how, during his persecution, he went on a hunger strike:
...they started force-feeding me - through the nostrils....they straightjacketed me, tied me down to a bed, and sat on my legs so that I wouldn't jerk. The others held my shoulders and my head....The feeding pipe was thick - thicker than my nostril - and wouldn't go in for love or money. Blood came gushing out of my nose and tears down my cheeks....But they kept pushing until the cartilages cracked and something burst - enough to make you howl like a wolf....but she [the doctor] kept on shoving the pipe farther and farther down - you'd choke if it came back up....There had just been time for everything to heal during the night and the blood to stop flowing when the brutes came back and did it all over again.... Everything swelled up until it was agony to touch...As they say in the Soviet Union – like a razor across your balls.
And while Volodya shed his blood for the possibility of freedom in Russia, Alexander Yakovlev was busy making sure that people like him suffered the way they did. And while Volodya had tubes violently shoved through his bloody nose, Yakovlev enjoyed the privileged and comfortable life of the nomenklatura. Must have been nice. And now, decades later, when it's safe to speak without being sent to Siberia, Yakovlev all of a sudden wants us to know how much he cares for the truth. I have a better idea for you, Alexander, and I have a feeling that I can speak on Volodya's behalf as well: f*ck your concern for the truth, and f*ck you too.