The events of the long struggle in the Soviet Union between the despots and the "dissidents," in which Andrei Sakharov played such a great role, were well described in his Memoirs, which appeared in English in 1990, and in the accounts of his valiant wife, Elena Bonner. But here we have the other side of the story: the long secret records kept by the KGB and submitted to the state and party leadership. And these documents are skillfully put into the larger context by an extensive and useful introduction by Joshua Rubenstein.
The tactics and the strategy of the campaign against Sakharov were organized in detail by Yuri Andropov, who was spoken of in the West as the most intelligent and progressive of the pre-Gorbachev leaders. In fact, he was, within certain restraints, the complete apparatchik, and this book portrays him, when he was head of the KGB and later a member of the Politburo, as a cornered but unrepentant apparatchik, with the fires of Stalinism still destructively smoldering in him over the 1970s and 1980s. Some of this KGB product is couched in a comparatively cool and "objective"-sounding phraseology, apparently thought suitable in such formal papers. Here, to establish the tone, is an excerpt from Andropov's report to the Politburo on December 27, 1979: "In 1970 Sakharov created the so-called 'Human Rights Committee.' Behind the facade of the 'Committee,' Sakharov worked vigorously to consolidate antisocial elements, established and maintained contacts with foreign subversive centers, and directed the realization of extremist and provocative anti-Soviet actions."
In fact, these documents, revealing as they turn out to be, are probably sanitized versions. Sakharov noted about a "conversation" he had with deputy procurator general Mikhail Malyarov that the text as made public was fairly formal, whereas in reality it had been full of abuse. And in that context we note that few of these documents record anything at the level of Politburo discussions. (Michael Scammell's collection of the Politburo reports on Solzhenitsyn are revealingly full of individual leaders' remarks, often idiotically--and irrelevantly--anti-Semitic.) But the exceptions given here are striking enough, as in Foreign Minister Gromyko's remark that "all the anti-Soviet scum, all this rabble revolves around Sakharov."
This article was published in "The New Republic." Read the entire article on the OCNUS website (new window will open).