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I. F. Stone Reports: Betrayal by Psychiatry

If Judge Bazelon and his colleagues reject the task of examining these records, then an ad hoc group of American psychiatrists should do what the forty-four psychiatrists did in Britain and make their own report. The fact is that at Mexico City the undemocratic practices customary in dealing with public complaint in the Soviet Union spread to the psychiatric congress. The bureaucracy of the world organization and of the American Psychiatric Association in effect helped the Soviet bureaucracy to shelve and hush protest. They claimed that the world congress had no procedural basis on which to act.

It would be more honest to phrase this in the obverse. Those who went to Mexico City to raise the question found that the procedural setup was beautifully designed to make effective protest by rank-and-file psychiatrists impossible. I talked by phone with two American psychiatrists, Dr. Alfred Bloch of Los Angeles and Dr. Richard S. Green of Sands Point, Long Island, who went to Mexico City with resolutions of protest (the latter authorized by an overwhelming vote in the Nassau County Psychiatric Association) only to find the doors of the so-called “General Assembly,” as distinct from the congress itself, closed to them.

They were told that the General Assembly was open only to the official delegates of the sixty-seven nations participating, and they did not succeed in getting the official US delegation to introduce their resolutions. The doors were also closed to the press. The whole procedure, including just how successive delegations to these congresses are chosen, is enveloped in a thick bureaucratic fog. The world congress seems to be run by self-perpetuating cliques.

Other psychiatric organizations have acted on the appeals from the Soviet Union. The board of directors of the Canadian Psychiatric Association last January endorsed the findings of a British Columbia Medical Association team on the abuse of psychiatry for political purposes in the Soviet Union. It asked for further study by the World Health Organization and the World Psychiatric Association. The sixty-member executive board of the World Federation for Mental Health, meeting in Hong Kong last November 25, passed a resolution of protest and a call for further study with but one dissent. But the World Psychiatric Association, which runs the world congress, has been unresponsive.

So has the American Psychiatric Association. The British Journal of Psychiatry ran an analytic article last August on the Bukovsky documents by Dr. Derek Richter, one of the forty-four. I asked Robert L. Robinson, editor of Psychiatric News, the official publication of the American Psychiatric Association, whether it had ever published anything about the Sakharov appeal from the Soviet Human Rights Committee or the Bukovsky documents. He said it had not. After the world congress, perhaps as one way to appease protest within the APA, its trustees, on December 9, voted 14-4, according to Robinson’s story in the January 5 issue, to

…put the Association firmly on record as “opposing the misuse of psychiatric facilities for the detention of persons solely on the basis of their political dissent no matter where it occurs.” The resolution as passed was formulated by the APA’s Committee on Public Information.

But this innocuous formulation is a far cry from setting up a committee to study the materials now available on the situation within the Soviet Union.

Behind the scenes a great deal of discussion seems to have gone on at the congress. Those friendly to the Soviet Union begged Soviet psychiatrists to still criticism by supporting a resolution with the very same wording as that later adopted by the APA. But the Soviet representatives refused to support a resolution of any kind. Those at the levers in command of the General Assembly gave in to Soviet wishes. Robinson’s account in the January 5 Psychiatric News is illuminating. After referring to the opening address by the presiding Mexican, Dr. Ramon de la Fuente,18 and his declaration that the matter could not in all conscience be ignored, Robinson’s account said:

Not only did WPA have no constitutional provision or mechanism for adopting a position on the issue, but it also became clear as the week progressed that its leaders had no desire to take an action that would have alienated the Soviet delegation and would quite likely cause them to “walk out” and break off communications for some time to come.

Robinson went on to report, “That their concern was justified was evidenced by comments made to this reporter by Dr. Boris Lebedev, prominent Leningrad psychiatrist. He said, simply enough, that Soviet psychiatrists are just as supportive as any others of the principle expressed in APA’s resolution, but that they were not about to support any resolution that would be seized upon by the Western press as an attack on the USSR.” Nor by dissidents at home in their attack upon the abuse of psychiatry by the secret police.

IV

The most tragic sequel to the congress in Mexico City was the savage sentence imposed on Vladimir Bukovsky for having sent abroad the psychiatric reports on which it had failed to act. A court from which the Western press (including a correspondent from the British communist daily)19 was barred sentenced him to seven years in “corrective labor” camps and prison and five years exile, the maximum for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.” This, the notorious article 70 of the revised Russian criminal code, is the catch-all which has replaced the older and equally vague law against “counterrevolutionary crimes.”

The International Commission of Jurists in Geneva protested that even under Soviet law the charges Bukovsky made were punishable as slander only if untrue. But, the commission reported, not only were no witnesses allowed for the defense, but the prosecution was not required to submit evidence that the charges were untrue. Thus another blow was struck at the precarious current effort to reestablish “socialist legality” or the rule of law in the Soviet Union. It will be a miracle if Bukovsky, with heart and rheumatic troubles acquired by seven years already spent in Soviet camps, prisons, and “hospitals,” survives this new sentence of twelve years more.20

It may be understandable for Soviet psychiatrists to do the KGB’s dirty work in Mexico City; had they done otherwise they would hardly have been allowed abroad again, and might reasonably fear being thrown into the booby hatch themselves some day for having, in private, been “soft” on the Medvedev case. But there is no such excuse for the psychiatrists from “the free world.”

The cold war was long used to gag dissenters on both sides. It would be shameful if it now became an excuse for intellectuals on our side to gag themselves. The crime of silence about what goes on inside the Soviet Union is inexcusable, especially when abatement of the cold war has in fact been accompanied by a tightening of the screws on dissent in the USSR and the Soviet bloc generally. This acts out the meaning of Soviet doctrine that peaceful coexistence will not be extended to the sphere of “ideology.” Peace may be wonderful but liberalism is still feared as a contagious disease. To chicken out, as the World Psychiatric Association did, on the obligations of mutual aid and on age-old medical principle is to play into the hands of the bureaucracy and the secret police on both sides.

The two Medvedev books and the Chronicle, which we shall subject to fuller scrutiny in a concluding installment, show why resort to psychiatric confinement is on the increase in the Soviet Union and how the copout in Mexico City will encourage this neo-Stalinist trend. They also provide an opportunity to assess the chances of in fact achieving freedom under communism.

THE OBITUARY OF A “MENTALLY ILL” SOVIET NON-CONFORMIST

On 27 February 1971 the eminent Soviet geophysicist Nikolai Nikolayevich Samsonov died of an acute heart attack. Nikolai Nikolayevich was born in St. Petersburg in 1906. On graduating in 1929 from the Physics and Mathematics Faculty of Leningrad University (specializing in astrogeodesics) he began work in the field of exploratory geophysics. In 1931 he headed a group of gravimetric expeditions in the Donets Basin and Baskunchak….

On 6 July 1941 Nikolai Nikolayevich entered the people’s volunteer corps and fought at the Leningrad front. On 15 March 1942, at the request of the Directorate of Northern Sea Routes, he was demobilized and sent to join an expedition at Nordvik in the Arctic, where he worked until 1946…in 1954 he was transferred to the All-Union Institute of Prospecting Technology. He was decorated with the Medal of Honor and other medals. In 1950 N. N. Samsonov and S. A. Poddubny were awarded the Stalin Prize (3rd class) for designing a new type of gravimeter. N. N. Samsonov is the author of fifteen published works, two textbooks on gravimetrics, and four inventions (including the Samsonov density meter [SDM], which is widely used at present). Samsonov’s unpublished works on questions of linguistics and thought processes are of great interest.

In 1956 N. N. Samsonov wrote to the party committee of the October District of Leningrad, and later to the central committee of the party, attaching his notes entitled Thinking Aloud. Here he argues that between 1934 and 1937 Stalin carried out a counterrevolutionary coup, destroyed the Communist Party of Lenin, replaced it by a party of the bureaucratic elite, thus perverting the Leninist concept of the withering away of the state under socialism, and laid the foundations for the creation and consolidation of the bureaucratic state. In his letter N. N. Samsonov urges a return to Leninist democratic principles of governing the country.

On 6 November 1956 he was arrested and placed in the “Big House”—the Leningrad KGB building. He was charged under article 58-10 (now article 70 of the Russian Criminal Code).21 However a visiting commission headed by Professor Torubarov (of the Serbsky Institute) judged Samsonov to be of unsound mind, and on 26 November he was placed in the Leningrad Prison Psychiatric Hospital (LPPH), later renamed the LSPH (Leningrad Special Psychiatric Hospital).

Doctors (L. A.) Kalinin, Kelchevskaya and others, having acquainted themselves with N. N. Samsonov’s works on language and thought processes, considered him to be mentally healthy, but advised him to admit in writing that he was of unsound mind when he composed the letter to the central committee. Such an admission, they told him, would testify to his “recovery.” However, for the eight years he spent in the LSPH, N. N. Samsonov refused to admit that he was of unsound mind and demanded a judicial examination.

In 1958 he was threatened with forcible injections of aminazin, with the candid explanation that in view of his diseased liver, aminazin would result in a worsening of his health. But even this threat did not shake Samsonov’s determination. They began to use aminazin. In 1964, afraid of dying in the LSPH (he was suffering from emphysema and a weak heart), Nikolai Nikolayevich was compelled to write the required declaration.

On 30 September 1964 he was discharged from the LSPH. A year later he was released from guardianship and given a pension. Recently, as the right of a pensioner, he had been working for two months every year at the same place as before—the Institute of Exploratory Geophysics—perfecting the instrument which he created with S. A. Poddubny.

A Chronicle of Current Events, No. 18, “Obituaries,” pp. 142-44. 5 March 1971, Moscow, Samizdat journal of the Soviet Human Rights Movement.

A HAPPY THOUGHT FROM SAIGON FOR NEW YEAR’S DAY

Another point made by military men involved with the air war is that most of the planes flying the [5-day bombing] raids on North Vietnam came from bases outside of South Vietnam—in Thailand or on carriers (in this instance the Constellation and the Coral Sea) in the Gulf of Tonkin.

We had some aircraft from Danang, but we could have gotten along without them,” one officer said. “It shows we could get out of Vietnam and still fight the air war pretty effectively from elsewhere.”

Of the slightly more than 150,000 American servicemen now in South Vietnam, about 28,000 are in the Air Force—with most of them assigned to functions other than flying or servicing supersonic attack aircraft. Not included in the troop totals Washington uses when discussing withdrawals from Vietnam are more than 25,000 airmen in Thailand, assigned to six big bases from where most of the bombing missions are flown, and over 10,000 men assigned to the Navy’s offshore carrier operations.

These are the people who carry the brunt of the air war, and appear certain to continue doing so in the months and perhaps years to come.

—Peter A. Jay from Saigon, “Raids Seen Buying Time for Pullout,” in the Washington Post, January 1, 1972.—IFS

Letters

Zhores, Not Jaures March 23, 1972

  1. 18

    The world congress is always presided over and addressed by a psychiatrist from the country in which it is meeting. Dr. de la Fuente’s passionate concern was thus a local accident the psychiatric bureaucracy may not have foreseen.

  2. 19

    Baltimore Sun, January 6, 1972.

  3. 20

    Wire services from Geneva, January 12, 1972, in The New York Times (late city edition only), Washington Post, and Baltimore Sun. See The New York Times “Op Ed” page, January 13, for Bukovsky’s final statement to the court as smuggled out by friends to Reuters, and also see the comprehensive but gloomy summary of the Bukovsky case in The Times (London), January 10, by its Moscow correspondent, David Bonavia.

  4. 21

    The former dealt with “counterrevolutionary crimes”; the latter replaced it with “anti-Soviet-agitation”—plus ça change.—IFS

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