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I. F. Stone Reports: Betrayal by Psychiatry

Let History Judge

by Roy A. Medvedev
Knopf, 584 pp., $12.50

A Question of Madness

by Zhores Medvedev, by Roy Medvedev
Knopf, 223 pp., $5.95

A Chronicle of Current Events Republished in English by Amnesty International Publications, Turnagain Lane, Farringdon St., London EC4, England

Journal of the Soviet Human Rights Movement
Published Bi-Monthly in Samizdat in Moscow. Issues No. 16 to 21, $10.00 a year

The essence of the struggle, in my view, is the struggle against fear—the fear that has gripped the people since the time of Stalin and which has still not left people and thanks to which this system continues to exist.

—Vladimir Bukovsky

I

The voices of dissent filtering through from the Soviet Union should have a double interest in the West. They are the beginnings of a struggle to achieve a synthesis of socialism with freedom. They are also a warning of what can happen elsewhere. For what the non-conformists in the Soviet bloc are up against is more than a reflection of Russian backwardness and Marxist degeneration.

The habits and mentality bred by bureaucracy and by any secret political police are universal phenomena; technology has improved the means of surveillance and repression everywhere; new methods for dealing with nonconformists, like the Soviet practice of committing them to insane asylums, may spread from their society to ours. The theory that communism and capitalism will converge was put forward by optimists in the hope that the former would become more liberal and the latter more socialistic. But the convergence—unless the independent-minded everywhere are on their guard—may develop less happily. The capitalist and soviet forms of industrial society may borrow the worst rather than the best from each other. The struggle to reform society there is linked with the struggle to prevent its deformation here. This is a common, a planetary, cause.

Fifty years of experience with communism have demonstrated that socialism without freedom, whatever its declared intentions, turns into a suffocating nightmare. Yet a third of the human race lives under it and the Third World is moving in the same direction. The full mobilization of productive resources in the under-developed countries seems unattainable without some form of socialism and—to be honest about it—some form of coercion of the labor force, the most important resource of all. Many of the features of Stalinism reappear under Mao in China and Castro in Cuba. The problem of achieving a synthesis of socialism and freedom is matched only by racism among the urgent problems of mankind.

The underground discussion in the Soviet Union may contribute to a solution at two different stages of social development. How does a communist society find its way back to free expression and the rule of law after its industrial plant, the substructure of a better life, has been built up? How can a developing society learn from the Stalinist era to avoid the pitfalls in which so much human energy, idealism, and labor power may be destroyed or squandered by the easy acceptance of stereotypes about the dictatorship of the proletariat?

Law and freedom exact a price and may indeed slow development. But the story of the Stalin years, as told by Roy A. Medvedev in Let History Judge, shows that official lawlessness and lack of freedom exact a price, too, and a heavy one. Perhaps the heaviest of all is that law and freedom, once lost, are difficult to regain. This is implicit in A Question of Madness by Roy and his twin, “Zhores,” i.e., Jaurès.1 The experience they relate is another warning of the drift into neo-Stalinist habits within the Soviet Union. The Chronicle of Current Events, now available in English thanks to Amnesty International, is the underground samizdat publication—impressively sober and factual—of a heroic little army of dissenters trying to combat this undertow and establish human rights in the Soviet Union. They are writing one of the great chapters in the history of the struggle for freedom, and their ultimate success or failure will have worldwide repercussions.

Intellectuals in the West can and must help. In A Question of Madness one can see how important protest and publicity abroad are to the embattled handful of Soviet nonconformists. Letters and telegrams from foreign scientists—and publicity on the BBC and other foreign broadcasts—helped win the release of Jaurès Medvedev from the mental hospital to which he had been railroaded for his book attacking Lysenkoism and for his efforts to increase contacts between Soviet scientists and foreign colleagues.2

The book is itself an extraordinary narrative, as tense as a good novel, in which the twin brothers, Jaurès inside a mental hospital, Roy outside it, describe in alternate and contrapuntal chapters how the fight to free Jaurès was won. Unfortunately no other dissident has had the energy and prestige, and a twin, to marshal so large a sector of the Soviet scientific elite and of scientists abroad. Clearly the Medvedevs even split the bureaucracy. Foreign protest made it possible for wiser and more conciliatory elements to argue intramurally that the continued incarceration of Jaurès was making an impression abroad the Soviet Union could ill afford.

Roy Medvedev was even told by an informant he identifies only as “R” that inside the Ministry of Health the chief psychiatrist, Dr. Andrei V. Snezhnevsky, angrily told the doctor in charge of Jaurès’s commitment, “In a year’s time there is going to be an international psychiatric congress in Mexico City. How do you think this is going to make our delegation look!”3 We shall meet Dr. Snezhnevsky again.

II

The Mexico City congress has been inadequately reported in the West, but it turned out to be a sequel to A Question of Madness. The outcome may dishearten Soviet dissidents unless psychiatrists organize independently to act on their appeal. On the eve of the congress (November 28—December 4, 1971) there were two messages to it from the Soviet Union. One, signed by Andrei Sakharov and three other Soviet scientists, was from the Human Rights Movement which has been publishing the Chronicle since 1968 and is trying to create a Soviet equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union. In an open letter which was published in The Times of London last October 23, they asked the congress to launch an inquiry into “the complex of questions concerning the rights of people ruled to be mentally ill,” adding pointedly, “It should not be forgotten that such abuses can be practiced as a means of political persecution.” It made no direct reference to the commitment of dissenters to mental institutions and special prison “hospitals” in the Soviet Union but asked that commissions be set up “in various countries” to study the problem.

The other appeal originated with Vladimir Bukovsky, a hero of the struggle for freedom in the USSR, a young man who has spent seven of his twenty-nine years in lunatic asylums, “corrective labor” camps, and prisons. He was first arrested in 1963 for having copies of Djilas’s book The New Class in his possession. He was declared insane and spent a year and a half in the Leningrad prison hospital. In December, 1965, he was again arrested and sent to the Serbsky Institute for Forensic Psychiatry, which is notorious in the growing underground literature of protest as a KGB institution.4

Bukovsky’s offense that time was organizing a demonstration of 200 people in Moscow who unfurled a banner reading “Respect the Constitution” and asked for an open trial for the writers Sinyavsky and Daniel. He was held in the Serbsky until the following August and released without explanation after Amnesty International sent a representative to Moscow and threatened an inquiry into the affair. In January, 1967, he was arrested again and this time given three years in “corrective labor” camps after organizing another demonstration in defense of other arrested writers. After his release in January, 1970, this intrepid young man sent abroad 150 pages of documentation including copies of the diagnostic reports made by psychiatrists who committed six Russian civil liberties crusaders to mental hospitals. Among them was the report on the famous Major General Grigorenko. With the documents, he sent a letter appealing to psychiatrists abroad.

I realize,” Bukovsky wrote,5 “that at a distance and without the essential clinical information it is very difficult to determine the mental condition of a person, and either to diagnose an illness or assert the absence of any illness. Therefore I ask you to express your opinion on only this point: do the above-mentioned diagnoses contain enough scientifically based evidence not only to indicate the mental illnesses described in the diagnoses but also to indicate the necessity of isolating these people completely from society?” Bukovsky said he would be happy if the matter could be placed on the agenda of the Mexico City congress for discussion. He appealed to psychiatrists to give some time to the problem of this abuse of their science, “just as physicists find time to combat the use of their science in ways harmful to mankind.”

Two weeks after the news of these documents and the letter were published last March in The Times (London), Bukovsky was again arrested. But the materials he sent abroad were translated and last September forty-four British psychiatrists sent a letter to The Times summarizing their study of the documents. They declared themselves “impelled to express grave doubts about the legitimacy of compulsory treatment for the six people concerned, and indefinite confinement in prison mental hospital conditions.”6 They declared that four of the six “do not appear to have any symptoms at all which indicate a need for treatment, let alone treatment of such a punitive kind.” In the case of the other two, Gobanevskaya and Fainberg, the official diagnostic reports showed they had had symptoms of mental illness earlier in their lives. But the illness had occurred in one case seven years and in the other eighteen years before their arrest for taking part in a protest in Red Square August 25, 1968, against the occupation of Czechoslovakia. The records showed no recurrence in the intervening years.

The forty-four British psychiatrists concluded that the diagnoses of the six seemed to have been “made purely in consequence of actions in which they were exercising fundamental freedoms—as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and guaranteed by the Soviet Constitution.” They praised Bukovsky for his courage, asked the Soviet government to reconsider his case, and called on colleagues “throughout the world to study the voluminous material now available, to discuss the matter with their Soviet colleagues, some of whom we know to have doubts as grave as our own,” and to raise the issue, as Bukovsky requested, at international conferences such as that of the World Psychiatric Association in Mexico City.

Medvedev had been set free by the time the congress convened. But the other dissidents—and, of course, Bukovsky—were still being held. Yet the congress took no action on these appeals, though Dr. Ramon de la Fuente, president of the congress and president-elect of the Mexican Academy of Medicine, in his opening address said numerous documents had been received about “some places in the world” where political oppositionists were treated as mentally ill. “To keep silent about such an ignominious situation,” Dr. de la Fuente said, “would weigh heavily upon our conscience.”7

But the congress did keep silent. Unnamed “sources suggested” to The Times of London that “efforts to propagandize the psychiatrists”—certainly an invidious and itself propagandistic way to describe the matter—“were judged as ‘an attempt to involve a scientific association in the cold war.”’8 This seemed to echo an interview which Professor Andrei V. Snezhnevsky, chief psychiatrist of the Soviet Ministry of Health and a member of the Soviet delegation at the congress, gave the Mexico City daily, Excelsior. This, of course, was the same Dr. Snezhnevsky who had worried about the effect of the Medvedev case on the Mexico City congress. He called the appeals “a maneuver of the cold war, carried out at the hands of experts.”9

Indeed, according to Dr. Snezhnevsky, the appeals revived a Western calumny well known long before the cold war. He said that at the beginning of the twentieth century in a Russian Congress of Psychiatry, a Professor Bazhenov had stated that the press, especially in Western Europe, often talked of the commitment of sane people to psychiatric hospitals in Russia. “They do this,” Professor Bazhenov said, “for selfish and political motives.”10

The czarist regime had indeed experimented long before the revolution with the therapy of treating radicals as lunatics. There may be a reason Dr. Snezhnevsky found it necessary to whitewash even the prerevolutionary regime as a victim of “selfish” Western political propaganda. Solzhenitsyn, in his public protest June 15, 1970, against the commitment of Jaurès Medvedev, recalled that this is what the Czar Nicholas had done to the philosopher Chaadaev in 1836 after the latter in one of his “Philosophical Letters” criticized the oppression he found in his native land on his return from Western Europe. Even then this was an old Russian custom. Jaurès Medvedev in A Question of Madness11 relates that under Alexander I the cadet Zhukov was declared insane because he wrote a collection of verses about freedom, a branch of poetry still hazardous in the Soviet Union today.

If the Soviet authorities wanted to prove all this was calumny, Dr. Snezhnevsky was the man and the congress the place to do it. A Question of Madness shows that he played a leading role in the Medvedev affair. He emerges as quite a smoothie, adept at playing both sides of a question. At one private meeting with a friend of Jaurès, Dr. Snezhnevsky said he did not doubt that the psychiatric commission which put him away was right in finding him a psychopathic personality, but tried to open the way to his release by adding that he did not think the diagnosis necessitated compulsory hospitalization.

When five of the Soviet Union’s most prestigious Academicians including Sakharov and the famous physicist Peter Kapitsa went to see Petrovsky, the Minister of Health, to ask for the release of Jaurès, they were greeted by Dr. Snezhnevsky. He said that if the psychiatrists who committed Jaurès had erred, the Ministry of Health had enough power to correct the mistake without the interference of “outsiders.” He spoke nevertheless of “obsessive reformist delusions” as a variety of mental illness serious enough to require hospitalization, “and at this point he shot a penetrating professional glance at Sakharov,” as if to let the Academician know that he, too, was under observation.

The Minister of Health, Petrovsky, however, was indisposed to compromise. He contradicted Dr. Snezhnevsky by asserting that the Ministry did not interfere in such matters. He accused Sakharov of “unpatriotic behavior” for raising the question at all, “and somebody even recalled what Pavlov had once said about an earlier case of violation of the law: ‘This is our own Russian shit, and we will sort it out ourselves without any help from abroad.”’12 This was authentic, if inelegant, parteinost.

Roy Medvedev writes that “at the very beginning of 1953,” i.e., before Stalin died, Petrovsky made a speech to a group of young doctors in which he urged them “to repudiate outdated ideas about the role of the doctor in society and to master the ideals of ‘Stalinist humanism.”’ He still seems to be that kind of humanist. But so great was the pressure from the scientific elite of the Soviet Union and from influential scientists abroad that Jaurès had to be released in June, 1970, after less than a month of incarceration.

Nobody at Mexico City knew the whole story better than Dr. Snezhnevsky. Nobody was in a better position to defend the Soviet Union if the charges were indeed cold war calumny. As the congress opened, a third appeal to it was released in Moscow and given wide publicity in the Mexican press.13 In this open letter nine members of the Soviet Human Rights Committee called the attention of the delegates to the prominent role Dr. Snezhnevsky had played in the Medvedev case. The Latin-Reuters dispatch also quoted from an interview Dr. Snezhnevsky gave Izvestia in October in which he had denied all charges and said that it was “absolutely impossible” for healthy persons to be committed to mental hospitals in the Soviet Union!

The congress was the place to say this, if true, loud and clear, especially since a pamphlet in English, Spanish, and French containing the findings of the forty-four British psychiatrists was circulating widely among the 7,000 psychiatrists attending and provoked more discussion than any other topic before the congress.

But the day after this appeal, when speakers demanded that the congress go on record against the commitment of dissenters to mental hospitals, Dr. Snezhnevsky and the Soviet delegation at once walked out. They said that they could not discuss the matter because the congress lacked official interpretation into Russian. “Dr. Snezhnevsky,” an aide said, “has no confidence in any unofficial translation.”14 Dr. Snezhnevsky decided instead to give an interview to Excelsior, and this was the only occasion on which he mentioned the subject publicly. “Ask me all you want about this matter,” Dr. Snezhnevsky told his interviewer, “we can talk for many hours.” But the interviewer never asked a single searching question, and Dr. Snezhnevsky was soon vigorously but gratuitously rebutting the charge (made two decades ago) that the Soviets engaged in “brainwashing” American prisoners in the Korean war.

III

Dr. Snezhnevsky ended his interview by saying that not only psychiatrists but judges, above all from the United States, had studied Soviet psychiatric penal procedure. He added that a book on the subject had been published in the United States as a result of these visits and studies, and implied that this really answered all charges. The book, which was cited by defenders of the Soviet Union in behind-the-scenes discussions at the congress, is The Report of the First US Mission on Mental Health to the USSR, which was published in February, 1969, by the US Department of HEW.15 Chief Judge David L. Bazelon of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia was the one lawyer or jurist on the seven-man delegation.16

But the HEW report nowhere discusses or even mentions the possibility that dissenters may be committed as mentally ill. The visit took place in September, 1967, when there had been little publicity in the West about this method of repressing opposition. Since. then “hundreds of mentally healthy workers, students, artists, and intellectuals,” according to a recent AP dispatch from Moscow,17 are reported to have been committed to mental institutions “for disagreement with official doctrine.”

When a representative of the delegation visited the Serbsky Institute in Moscow he seems to have been completely unaware that among dissidents this is regarded as a KGB institution. The HEW report describes it as the most “prestigious examining institution” in the USSR. “It is an old building with an entrance barred by forbidding iron gates. These gates,” the report says, “which slide electrically along tracks to admit visitors, are part of a very tight security system, which includes the use of soldiers as guards.” The unusual electric gates and the presence of soldiers guarding a mental hospital may have struck the visitor as odd because the report goes on to say, “Such elaborate precautions, it was explained, were necessary because the Serbsky examines some of the most difficult cases in the Soviet Union.” It is a pity no one asked whether soldiers were often called in for consultation.

When the American on his first visit was denied permission to observe an expert examination in process, his guide seems to have come up with an explanation of comparable ingenuousness. “The reason,” the report continues, “may have been an overly literal interpretation of a Ministry of Health instruction which threatens psychiatrists with criminal action if they divulge the contents of an examination report in anything other than a judicial context.” Circulated in samizdat, this theory should provide Soviet political prisoners with one of their merrier moments.

The notion of a delicate, “overly literal” concern for the patient’s rights is ludicrous in the light of what is now known about the way the secret police run the Serbsky Institute. In addition, it hardly seems consistent with what the HEW report itself has to say about the lack of judicial review in civil commitment. “The delegation representative was puzzled,” the report says, “by the failure to provide an appeal to the courts in the civil commitment process. Soviet law provides no judicial review of civil commitment practices.” The report goes on to say that the “Russians explain away this failure in several ways. They contend first of all that the health ministries keep a constant watch over the civil commitment system, to ensure that it is operating correctly…. Next the Russians contend that judicial review is unnecessary because the psychiatrists have no motive to commit or detain a patient unjustifiably.”

This is the quintessence of bureaucratic jurisprudence. It did not go down well with the visiting delegation. For the report commented, in deadpan fashion, “The absence of judicial review in the Soviet Union may reflect a belief that there is no need for the public at large to oversee government officials and ensure that they respect all substantive and procedural rights. Americans would have some difficulty with such a notion. We do not share this faith with respect to our government officials.” Neither, to judge by the Chronicle, do a lot of Soviet citizens.

Since this report is being cited by Soviet apologists in the current controversy over a fundamental question which never arose during their visit, Judge Bazelon and his colleagues owe it to themselves and to the cause of justice to examine the diagnostic reports and the other documents received in England from Bukovsky and to make public their evaluation of them. The New York Review at my suggestion has asked Amnesty International in England to supply the full documentation and we will make it available to Judge Bazelon and his colleages when it arrives.

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. 1

    I think it downright silly to use this transcription into the Latin alphabet of a transcription into the Cyrillic alphabet of the French name Jaurès, and will in the future refer to “Zhores” as Jaurès. He was named for the great French Socialist, as his twin brother was for the Indian Communist leader, M. N. Roy. I notice that the British press refers to the former as Jaurès Medvedev. That is really and understandably his name.

  2. 2

    The Rise and Fall of T.D. Lysenko by Zhores Medvedev was reviewed by David Joravsky in The New York Review, January 29, 1971, and The Medvedev Papers, also by Zhores, by Professor Joravsky in The New York Review, September 23; 1971.

  3. 3

    A Question of Madness, pp. 62-3.

  4. 4

    If the complaints in the Chronicles are correct, the Serbsky is the one place where the secret police can get a verdict of lunacy when psychiatrists elsewhere in the Soviet Union decline to certify dissenters as ill.

  5. 5

    For the text of the letter and background material here summarized see The Times (London), March 12, 1971.

  6. 6

    See The Times (London), September 16, 1971, for the text.

  7. 7

    The Mexico City News, November 30, 1971.

  8. 8

    The Times, December 4, 1971. By some boo-boo the dispatch was datelined Buenos Aires instead of Mexico City. British copy-editors are sometimes a little vague on the Western Hemisphere.

  9. 9

    New York Times, December 3, 1971.

  10. 10

    Excelsior, December 1, 1971. The first Russian Congress of Psychiatry in this century, according to T. I. Yudin’s History of Russian Psychiatry (available in Russian at the Library of Congress), was in 1911. Nikolai Bazhenov (1857-1923) was a leading psychiatrist in czarist days. The phrase he used, “especially in Western Europe,” seems to indicate that there were protests in the Russian press too, and may serve as a sad reminder that under the czars the press had more freedom—restricted though it was—than it does today in the USSR.

  11. 11

    See pages 135-6 for Solzhenitsyn’s letter and pp. 181-2 and 196-7 for other prerevolutionary cases.

  12. 12

    See A Question of Madness, pp. 128-32.

  13. 13

    See Latin-Reuters dispatch from Moscow in Excelsior, November 29, 1971.

  14. 14

    See Excelsior, November 30, 1971, where it was page one news. I want to thank the Mexican Embassy library for kindly making its newspaper collection available to me.

  15. 15

    Public Health Service Publication No. 1893. Superintendent of Documents, $3.50.

  16. 16

    The others were Dr. Walter E. Barton, Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association; Mike Gorman, executive director, National Committee Against Mental Illness; Dr. Alan D. Miller, Commissioner, New York State Department of Mental Hygiene; Dr. Harold M. Visotsky, director, Illinois Department of Mental Health; and Dr. Stanley F. Yolles, director, and Dr. Philip Sirotkin, associate director, respectively, of the National Institute of Mental Health.

  17. 17

    Roger Leddington, New York Post, January 12, 1972.

  18. 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.

  19. 19

    Baltimore Sun, January 6, 1972.

  20. 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.

  21. 21

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

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