Samizdat: Russia’s Underground Press (1970)

By Albert Parry

CENSORSHIP existed even be fore literature, say the Russians. And, we may add, cen sorship being older, literature has to be craftier. Hence, the new and re markably viable underground press in the Soviet Union called samizdat. The word is a play on Gosizdat, which is a telescoping of Gosudarstvennoye Izdatelstvo, the name of the monopoly‐wielding State Publish ing House. The sam part of the new word means “self.” The whole samizdat—translates as: “We publish ourselves”—that is, not the state, but we, the people.

Unlike the underground of Czarist times, today’s samizdat has no print ing presses (with rare exceptions): The K.G.B., the secret police, is too efficient. It is the typewriter, each page produced with four to eight carbon copies, that does the job. By the thousands and tens of thousands of frail, smudged onionskin sheets, samizdat spreads across the land a mass of protests and petitions, secret court minutes, Alexander Solzhenit syn’s banned novels, George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984,” Nicholas Berdyayev’s philosophical essays, documents of the Czech Spring, all sorts of sharp political discourses and angry poetry.

The impudence of the movement, even at this time of heightened per secution, reaches a point where in vitations to an evening get‐together include whispered lures that “a poet published by samizdat will be present” Of late, samizdat publications have percolated even into the high schools, where some of the authors and typists are the youngsters them selves. The popularity of samizdat with the younger generation is at tested by this widely told Moscow story:

A Soviet official strides into his wife’s room. “Nastasha, you _have been typing for five straight days,” he says. “What takes so long?” “Oh, Ivan, don’t you know? —I am typing Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina,’ that’s what” “But why? There is the book. It’s perfectly legible, you can read it in print” “Yes, but the children won’t read anything unless it’s typed.”

A. WESTERN Sovietologist cannot study samizdat on the spot. The K.Q.B. would quickly net him. But comprehensive channels of informa tion do thrive between samizdat and its Western sympathizers. I have just returned from a swing through sev eral European centers of such infor mation.

In January, Munich’s Institute for the Study of the U.S.S.R. ran in London a three‐day symposium, en tirely in Russian, at which recent Soviet defectors, mostly writers (headed by Anatoly Kuznetsov and Arkady Belinkov), but also musicians, film directors and professors now living in England, Germany, France and the United States, discussed the problem of Soviet censorship and the ways of eluding it: I was invited to attend and listen. In London, at the conference and in numerous private interviews, and later also in Munich, Frankfurt, Paris, Zagreb, Belgrade and New York, I met these and other experts on samizdat. Files and piles of the most diverse underground publications were placed before me. Facts, rumors, personal experiences, ideologies were offered by old West ern hands in Kremlinology and the latest Russian perebezhchiki (“cross ers‐over,” as defectors call them selves). In this report, necessarily, not all the sources of my data can be identified.

In Frankfurt, a proud collector showed me the earliest underground Soviet‐era item known to have sur vived: a hand‐written, solidly bound book on religious themes done in Moscow in 1925. At Leyden Univer sity, Prof. Karel van het Reve has one of the best collections of samizdat books, brochures, and leaflets of the late nineteen‐sixties. The count, he told me, is 140 entries, and it is fast growing. The freshest 1970 speci mens are just beginning to come in.

The starkest paucity of such pub lications occurred in Stalin’s long period between, say, 1927 and his death in 1953. His terror was too embracive to allow much, if any, underground literature. Khrushchev meant a glimpse of hope, and thus rather few people protested in the mid‐fifties and early sixties. Then Khrushchev’s fall in October, 1964, dimmed the timid light. Still, the new Brezhnev ‐ Kosygin terror was not so complete as Stalin’s, and so underground typing and copying be gan to spurt in 1965–66.

The year 1965 was marked by the appearance of the clandestine jour nals Russkoye Slovo (Russian Word), Kolokol (The Bell), both named for anti‐Czarist periodicals of a century earlier, and Sfinks (Sphinx). They contained essays of socio ‐ political protest, but the emphasis was mainly on free‐spirited poetry.

In September, 1965, Andrei Sinyav sky and Yuli Daniel were arrested in Moscow for having published in the West, for nearly a decade, their pseudonymous antiregime books. They were tried and condemned in February, 1966. The atmosphere of reaction and repression was hotting up.

Nonetheless, the underground press did not abate. Instead, it shifted its accent from poetry and other literary content to politics. The protest of intellectuals against the Sinyaysky Daniel case led to Alexander Ginz burg’s “Belaya Kniga” (“White Book”) of the complete minutes of the trial. In time, Ginzburg and his group—Yuri Galanskov, Alexei Do brovolsky, and Vera Lashkova—were also arrested and, in early 1968, tried. But the 400‐page minutes of their secret trial became also available to samizdat. And it was in 1967–68 that one of the most remarkable docu ments of the underground appeared in samizdat: the call by Academician Andrei Sakharov, one of the fathers of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, for progress, coexistence and intellectual freedom—his warning against the resurgence of Stalinism in the Krem lin.

“Do‐it‐yourself” is the general idea. It means the forbidden writings that circulate among Soviet intellectuals.

IN all the spate of underground writing, only one samizdat periodical, issued on a regular schedule, is known to survive. Called Khronika Tekushchikh Sobytiy (Chronicle of Current Events) it began in April, 1968, and appears every two months.

The Chronicle is strictly an infor mation bulletin, tersely telling its readers the news of protests and arrests, and also of the latest samiz dat publications: what texts, on what themes, when and where, and—if possible—the authors. Laconic yet not acerbic, the news abounds in detail and is of many geographic origins. Correspondents of The Chron icle are everywhere, and the editorial appeal to would‐be volunteers is: If you have news for our pages, give it to the person from whom you got our bulletin, and your communication will reach us. But don’t try to go up beyond that person, to the top of our ladder, lest you be taken for an informer.

The Chronicle’s motto is Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Hu man Rights, which is reproduced in each issue: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expres sion; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart in formation through any medium and regardless of frontiers.”

THE good old liberal dictum (so often and mistakenly credited to Voltaire) of defending freedom of expression even for those with whom you disagree is followed by the Chronicle editors scrupulously. The Fetisov case is an outstanding ex ample. A Moscow economist, A. Feti sov quit the Communist party in 1966 in protest against de‐Staliniza tion (which, ironically enough, was just then becoming a most definite, albeit gradual, re‐Stalinization).

Fetisov gathered around him three friends, all young architects, who accepted his preachment of extreme totalitarianism, chauvinism and anti Semitism. The group wrote and spoke that for 2,000 years Europe had lived in a struggle between order and dis order, and that all the time it was the Jews who were responsible for the chaos. Finally (according to the Fetisov theses), the sturdy Germanic and Slav elements rose against the Jew‐caused bedlam, and this heroic effort was headed by Hitler and Stalin. The two leaders’ work was a historical necessity and a positive phenomenon. But with the giant pair gone, their great contribution has been disrupted. At least in Russia it should be resumed. The Fetisov group’s program recommended a de industrialization of European Russia, a mass shift of factories and workers into Siberia, and a restoration of ancient patriarchal ways among Rus sian peasants. The Kremlin, alarmed by this extremism of the New Right, ordered the Fetisovists’ arrest. The notorious Article 70 of the criminal code, so often used against liberals, was invoked here, too, with the result that the court’s physicians judged all four of the Fetisov group insane, and the quartet are now under an asylum’s lock and key.

A liberal samizdat brochure wrote about the whole affair in high glee, under the title: “They Didn’t Recog nize Their Own Ilk.” But The Chronicle chided the brochure’s authors. You must argue with those fascists, not ridicule them, wrote The Chron icle—argue calmly, objectively, scien tifically. Nor should you rejoice over the imprisonment of anyone for his views, no matter how abhorrent they may be.

The Chronicle’s lean tone leads me to guess that its authors and publish ers are young scientists, used to dry, scholarly economy in language. An other indication of this is The Chron icle’s regard for veracity. It constantly follows up facts it prints; it checks them and, when needed, corrects them in subsequent issues.

The fact that The Chronicle has survived for almost two years sug gests that new editors replace those arrested—or even that none are ever caught, because the editorial office is a letuchaya redaktsiya (literally, “editors on the fly”), with an itiner ary scientifically worked out on some kind of mathematical theory of probabilities of where the police might strike next. If my guess is right, the editorship moves from one Soviet scientific center to another, then another and another — from Obninsk, say, to Dubna to Serpukhov to Novosibirsk. In the Science City (Akademgorodok) of Novosibirsk alone there are some 25 different research institutes. Try to find The Chronicle’s needle in such numerous, far‐flung haystacks!

HAS the K.G.B. proved inept or indulgent In not repressing the samiz dat people and publications more thoroughly? Early last September, soon after his defection in London, Anatoly Kuznetsov declared in his letter to Arthur Miller that “for time, the K.G.B. did indeed pose as a liberal cat that allowed mice to play” —so long as it did not consider the samizdat mice dangerous enough, and inasmuch as it knew who the mice were and where to find them if the decision to catch them was made. “Even now,” wrote Kuznetsov to Miller, “the K.G.B. does not really go after Solzhenitsyn and that kind of samizdat,” which in Kuznetsov’s opinion is not truly radically against the Soviet regime. Samizdat criticizes the details of the system, he insists, not the system itself. “The head of the Moscow K.G.B. once said that he could destroy samizdat in two days,” Kuznetsov worte, “and this is true”.

When I quoted this to another defector, now teaching Soviet litera ture at the Sorbonne, the professor agreed, varying his opinion with an analogy to Mao and his hundred flowers. “You will recall,” this Rus sian said to me, “that Mao encour aged those flowers of opposition to show themselves, to bloom themselves to doom. When he knew exact ly the identity and whereabouts of those flowers he chopped them off.”

Still another of my Europeans pointed out that the samizdat writ ers, copiers and distributors are “a fairly narrow circle” which can easily be watched and periodically thinned. “This is precisely what the K.G.B. is doing,” he said, “but while con stantly pruned, or even stunted, the tree of the opposition can still be useful to the regime as a kind of safety valve, if I may mix a metaphor or two. Samizdat is deliberately al lowed to exist to prevent a far worse explosion of anti‐Soviet feeling.” Some of the samizdat items may, in fact, even be originated by the K.G.B., he went on, either as bait for some poor suspected fish in the under ground stream or, in the larger policy, as a general safety valve.

But, it occurred to me at this point, there is the historical prece dent of Sergei Zubatov, the Czarist police official who had the bright idea of organizing “safe” labor unions so as to thwart revolutionary organizers. The scheme backfired when, in 1903, these police ‐ born unions launched genuine strikes and other resistance to the Czar’s regime.

“Yes, indeed, we should remember this if anyone speaks of the ‘K.G.B. origin’ of any samizdat,” said Prof. Alexei Yakushev, the specialist in the philosophy of science who defected in early 1969. “Besides, how ‘narrow’ are the circles of samizdat? True, they are mostly intellectuals. They very seldom include workers, and less so peasants. The intellectuals, being comparatively few, are easily watchable and controllable. Or so it’s said. But let’s look at this more closely.”

The K.G.B. works with deadly ef ficiency mostly when it deals with organizations. But samizdat baffles the K.G.B. because, with the excep tion of the elusive Chronicle, the samizdat network is nebulous. The samizdat people relate to one another in a loose, chummy way, either as officemates or as friends dropping in at one another’s houses in the eve ning or at dachas for weekends of much tea and endless talk. Once they feel one another out and are sure, they enter the phase of complete mutual trust.

This is where samizdat begins— and still there seldom is any definite organization. The first four or eight copies of the original typing quickly disappear—and most if not all of these copies produce their own four or eight copies each. The geometric progression is thus on its way. Can K.G.B. track down all those countless copies and their readers, copiers and distributors? “Absolutely impossible,” says Professor Yakushev. “The au thors and copiers just melt away.”

Besides samizdat, there are tamizdat and radizdat

THE capture of a regular printing press rather than a typewriter has been mentioned by the secret police on rare occasions. Once, years back, the K.G.B. reported finding a printing press run by Jehovah’s Witnesses in a Ukrainian cellar. Another time, only a few months ago, a printing press was seized together with a group of naval officers, serving with an atomic submarine berthed in Tal linn, Estonia, who were using the press for their samizdat literature.

Office duplicators are few in the Soviet Union. Mostly, they are in research institutes, and the K.G.B. watches each machine with top priority zeal. Yet duplicating does occur. And there is at least one known case of microfilm’s large‐scale use: The typescript of the several hundred pages of Zhores A. Med vedev’s “The Rise and Fall of. T. D. Lysenko,” banned by the Soviet Government and circulating for some time in samizdat, was finally reduced to a microfilm and sent to the United States (where an English translation was recently published by the Columbia University Press).

On the other side of the fence, K.G.B. officers — priding themselves on their modernity—use computers to establish the frequency of words or the rhythms of style in a given samizdat text to get the identity of its anonymous author. Officials have boasted that it was a patient employ ment of computers that helped them to trap Sinyaysky and Daniel finally.

Typewriters are hard to trace in the Soviet Union because only a few brands are in use, and there are countless thousands of each make all exactly alike. A unique impression made by a certain letter of an indiv idual typewriter can be tracked only through an original page and perhaps its first carbon copy. The K.G.B.’s difficulty is compounded by the samizdat practice of dividing a manu script among several typists at once, for speed and conspiracy both.

Some editors deliberately open the gate to samizdat when they know that a certain submitted manuscript will not be passed by the censors. The editor will send out copies of the manuscript to, say, 15 regular consultants of his publishing house for their opinion. All 15 reply, “Sorry, it’s too dangerous to be published,” but at least one of them (if not more) lets samizdat people copy the manu script before he returns it.

Even a few cases of K.G.B. officers showing unexpected lenience have been reported. One secret policeman concluded his search of a samizdat fan’s premises by saying: “This item is quite harmless, so I will confiscate it, but this one is really important— take it back and hide it well.” In another case a girl student was busy typing certain religious‐philosophical works at night. Finally caught, her typewriter taken, she was told to be ready for a solemn party meeting at her school during which she would be officially castigated and possibly expelled. The K.G.B. man said: “You will hear from the chairman of your party unit when and where to ap pear.” “But,” said the girl, “I am the chairman.” The man emitted a startled laugh, and, after a moment’s thought, decided: “All right, then, never mind. Just be more careful in the future.” And returned the to her.

The Russian who told me one of these two stories commented: “Such minor officers feel, as we say, ‘more at home with their souls’ when they all of a sudden go soft on their quarry.”

MUCH of samizdat is sent abroad, for reprinting and return to the U.S.S.R. and for translation—for the world to know. Wherever advisable, the Russian émigré editors and pub lishers append a note: “This came to us from the Soviet Union without the author’s knowledge. We print it without his permission.” Which may indeed ease the author’s fate if he is arrested, but does not absolve him entirely.

Five Russian émigré periodicals regularly publish the latest from samizdat: in Frankfurt, the monthly Posey (Sowing) and the quarterly Grani (Frontiers); in Paris, the week ly Russkaya Mysl (Russian Thought); and in New York, the daily Novoye Russkoye Slovo (New Russian Word) and the quarterly Novy Zhurnal (New Review). There are also several pub lishing houses, Russian and non Russian, in Western Europe and the United States specializing in samiz dat. The whole is known among Soviet readers as tamizdat, a Russian word of later coinage and less spread than samizdat. It refers to printed (not typed) material smuggled into the U.S.S.R. from outside; the first three letters, tam, mean “over there” —in this the West.

Foremost—and most controversial — of the Western groups engaged in tamizdat is the Posev‐Grani organization, commonly known as N.T.S. The initials stand for Narodno‐Trudovoy Soyuz, or the People’s Toiling Al liance, but its leadership also likes to vary the name as “the National Alliance of Russian Solidarists.” The group was founded in the nineteen thirties by Russian émigrés who frankly admired Mussolini and Hitler. In World War II, it worked with the Nazis.

To some observers it is a puzzle how N.T.S. manages to hold the trust of the samizdat activists in Russia, for even if its past is forgiven (a hard thing to do), the group still lacks an ideology that could be accepted by most of them. A recent N.T.S. policy statement promises “freedom, democracy, and the rule of law” in terms “roughly similar to those of progressive Christian Demo crats and other centrist parties.”

I asked Professor Yakushev, one of the recent defectors who are rather cool to N.T.S., the reasons for the group’s success with samizdat con tacts. He explained: “Some of the samizdat activists just don’t believe those charges about the Nazi past of the Solidarists — because it is the Soviet press that prints such accusations. Many Soviet people generally doubt what they read in their press, and will feel or even do the opposite to what the propaganda office tries to hammer into them.

“But,” Professor Yakushev went on, “even where the samizdat activists do know N.T.S.’s old record, and don’t relish it, they like N.T.S.’s present bravery and ingenuity. They want their output to reach the West at all costs—particularly those many petitions and protests against Brezh nev ‐ Kosygin violations of human rights — and they don’t care what channels are used, so long as their cry reaches the world.

“Don’t forget also that, with all their admiration of the West, the samizdat people are peculiarly patriotic. They would rather accept the help of Russians than of foreigners. N.T.S. agents are Russians, and that is often good enough for samizdat.”

ANOTHER Western group that has come to notice for its contacts with samizdat is the Alexander Herzen Foundation of Amsterdam. Named in honor of the famous Russian émigré who a century ago, in London, pub lished his Kolokol for smuggling into Czarist Russia, the foundation is run by two Dutchmen and one English man: Karel van het Reve and Jan Bezemer, both professors of Russian literature and both former newspaper correspondents in Moscow; and Peter Reddaway, a lecturer at the London School of Economics. Its program is to publish “quickly and responsibly manuscripts written in the U.S.S.R. which cannot be published there be cause of censorship.” It Stands for freedom of expression in works “of literary or documentary value, irre spective of their political, philosophi cal or religious tendency, and with the minimum of editing.” The aim is to publish manuscripts from Russia first in Russian, to safeguard copy right for the authors and for possible smuggling back into the U.S.S.R., and then in translation by whatever good Western publisher may be interested.

Among the achievements of the Herzen Foundation so far are the handling of Anatoly Marchenko’s “Moi Pokazaniya” (“My Testimony”), a chilling firsthand narrative of what goes on in Soviet concentration camps now (Marchenko is still a prisoner); a collection of essays by Pavel Litinov; proceedings of secret political trials, and so on. One self imposed task is to devise the means of providing the Soviet authors with royalties, no mean enterprise since most of them are in prison or Siberian exile.

The foundation’s moving spirit, Dr. van het Reve, is a slightly stooping, 48‐year‐old ex‐Communist (who does not seem to mind a recent description of him in an American news magazine as “a lapsed Stalinist”), low‐keyed in conversation and man ner, but afire with his idea and work. In the summer of 1968, as the Mos cow correspondent of the Dutch daily Het Parool, he was the first to relay to the West the complete text of Sakharov’s memorandum.

The K.G.B. uses computers to try to identify the authors of anonymous texts

“How did you manage to bring it out?” I asked. “I telephoned it, all 10,000 words of it,” he replied. “From Moscow to Amsterdam. Whoever of the Soviet censors was listening in on my call apparently did not know enough Dutch to understand what was doing.”

In New York and Washington, a group of Americans, both native and of Russian origin, runs a publishing house called Inter‐Language Literary Associates, whose reprints of Osip Mandelshtam’s poetry and other such banned ‐ in ‐ Russia works find their way into the U.S.S.R. In Rome and Paris, two loosely related groups of Americans and some French ‐ born Russians maintain remarkable con tacts with such Russian readers. The Paris group emphasizes religious and philosophical publications, but it was also responsible for bringing out of the U.S.S.R. and publishing in the West some of Bulgakov’s writings.

Last but not least, there is the radizdat—the broadcasting of many of the samizdat protests, petitions, brochures and whole books to the Soviet Union by such outlets as Radio Liberty in Munich.

A degree of American governmen tal aid for all or much of this effort is generally reported to be a fact. “Why not?” say Western pragmatists. “If Moscow finances so much of Communist propaganda the world over, why shouldn’t Washington aid at least tamizdat and radizdat, if not samizdat directly?”

IT is generally agreed that by now, through K.G.B. repression, open dis sidence is dwindling but that samiz dat, by its very nature, is far from ebbing. The 1967 prediction by George Vladimov (writing under his samizdat pen name of Volosevich) addressed to the powers that be of the Fourth Congress of the Union of Soviet Writers has proved valid: “Do spring those mass‐scale searches of yours, do arrest the samizdat authors and distributors. At least one copy will escape undetected — and will multiply, in a yet greater abundance, at that.”

Two imperative tasks are present in the Soviet Union: one facing the K.G.B., the other the dissidents.

The K.G.B. has to discredit samiz dat among intellectuals and not let it penetrate into the masses. The K.G.B. can do this, some of my sources feel, if it convinces the Rus sian public that samizdat is unpatri otic—and not just because of the Western help it receives, but by showing that samizdat publications denigrate the Russian people, that they say all sorts of unflattering things about the nation and not only about the party and the Government — that samizdat predicts Russia’s perdition. That is why some Russian intellectuals suspect that the Hetzen Foundation may have been duped into publishing Andrei Almarik’s sen sational “Will the Soviet Union Sur vive Until 1984?”—duped by the K.G.B., who may be using Almarik as an unwitting agent to drive home its lesson that dissidence leads Rus sia to national catastrophe.

Samizdat’s overriding task is not alone to disprove any such accusa tions, and not just to harp on the regime’s faults, but to offer a con structive program for the Russia of tomorrow. Again, let me quote Pro fessor Yakushev:

“A bone rot has set into the Soviet system deeply. The old ideological foundations of the regime are gone, and the men in power seek new pil ings and pillars. They know that their former stability is lacking, and they are nervous. The complex conglomera tion of modern life contradicts Marx ism‐Leninism as the oldtimers knew it. So many in this unstilled Russia ask: ‘Kuda i kak idyom?’—‘Whither and by which route are we bound?’ The time has come for the dissidents through samizdat and other means to answer this question.”

Programs are beginning to shape up in some of the samizdat publica tions, some neo‐Communist, others anti‐Communist. A Trotskyist organi zation in Paris has put together a book of samizdat essays which may show that some dissidents want to take Russia back to the era of “pure Lenin‐Trotsky” thought and action. But the naval officers arrested in Tallinn had a program that was a non‐Lenin, non‐Trotsky “Communism with a human heart,” an echo of the Czech Spring, if you will. And groups of Leningraders, also now in prison, appear to have issued appeals for a kind of Christian Socialism.

The main question is: What do these intellectuals offer to workers and peasants, the vast masses so far largely unaffected by samizdat, or by political demands, who are moved by economic misery or dis satisfaction only? To clothe their economic aspirations with demands for political change—such is the task thus far unfulfilled by the intellectual dissidents, despite all the success achieved by samizdat among them selves alone.

My Correct Views on Everything: Leszek Kolakowski’s correspondence with E. P. Thompson (1974)