In giving autobiographical information, I hope to put an end to false rumors with respect to facts which have frequently been misrepresented in the press, because of ignorance or sensationalism.
I was born in 1921 in Moscow, into a cultured and close family. My father was a teacher of physics and the author of several widely known textbooks and popular-science books. From childhood I lived in an atmosphere of decency, mutual help and tact, a liking for work, and respect for the mastery of one’s chosen profession. In 1938 I completed high school and entered Moscow State University, from which I was graduated in 1942. Between 1942 and 1945 I worked as an engineer at a war plant, where I developed several inventions having to do with methods of quality control.
Between 1945 and 1947 I did graduate work under the guidance of a well-known Soviet scientist, the theoretical physicist Igor Evgenevich Tamm. A few months after defending my dissertation in the spring of 1948, I was included in a research group working on the problem of a thermonuclear weapon. I had no doubts about the vital importance of creating a Soviet superweapon—for our country and for the balance of power throughout the world. Carried away by the immensity of the task, I worked very strenuously and became the author or co-author of several key ideas. In the Western press I have often been called “the father of the hydrogen bomb.” This description reflects very inaccurately the real (and complex) situation of collective invention—something I shall not discuss in detail.
In the summer of 1950, almost simultaneously with the beginning of work on the thermonuclear weapon, I.E. Tamm and I began work on the problem of a controlled thermonuclear reaction; i.e., on the use of the nuclear energy of light elements for purposes of industrial energetics. In 1950 we formulated the idea of the magnetic thermoisolation of high-temperature plasma, and completed estimates on the parameters for thermonuclear synthesis installations. This research, which became known abroad from the paper read by I.V. Kurchatov at Harwell in 1956 and from the materials of the First Geneva Conference on the Peaceful Use of Atomic Energy, was recognized as pioneering. In 1961 I proposed, for the same purposes, heating deuterium with a beam from a pulse laser. I mention these things here by way of explaining that my contributions were not limited to military problems.
In 1950 our research group became part of a special institute. For the next eighteen years I found myself caught up in the rotation of a special world of military designers and inventors, special institutes, committees and learned councils, pilot plants and proving grounds. Every day I saw the huge material, intellectual, and nervous resources of thousands of people being poured into creating the means of total destruction, a force potentially capable of annihilating all human civilization. I noticed that the control levers were in the hands of people who, although talented in their own way, were cynical. Until the summer of 1953 the top boss of the atomic project was Beria, who ruled over millions of slave-prisoners. Almost all the construction was done with their labor. Beginning in the late Fifties, one got an increasingly clearer picture of the collective might of the military-industrial complex and of its vigorous, unprincipled leaders, blind to everything except their “job.”
I was in a rather special position. As a theoretical scientist and inventor, relatively young and (moreover) not a Party member, I was not involved in administrative responsibility and was exempt from Party ideological discipline. My position enabled me to know and see a great deal. It compelled me to feel my own responsibility; and at the same time I could look upon this whole perverted system as something of an outsider. All this prompted me—especially in the ideological atmosphere which came into being after the death of Stalin and the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU—to reflect in general terms on the problems of peace and mankind, and in particular on the problems of a thermonuclear war and its aftermath.
Beginning in 1957 (not without the influence of statements on this subject made throughout the world by such people as Albert Schweitzer, Linus Pauling, and others) I felt myself responsible for the problem of radioactive contamination from nuclear explosions. As is known, the absorption of the radioactive products of nuclear explosions by the billions of people inhabiting the earth leads to an increase in the incidence of several diseases and birth defects because of so-called sub-threshold biological effects; for example, because of damage to DNA molecules—the bearers of heredity. When the radioactive products of an explosion get into the atmosphere, each megaton of the power of a nuclear explosion means thousands of unknown victims. And each series of tests of a nuclear weapon (whether they be conducted by the US, the USSR, Great Britain, China, or France) involves tens of megatons; i.e., tens of thousands of victims.
In my attempts to explain this problem, I encountered great difficulties—and a reluctance to understand. I wrote memorandums (as a result of one of them I.V. Kurchatov made a trip to Yalta to meet with N.S. Khrushchev in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the 1958 tests), and I spoke at conferences. I remember that in the summer of 1961 there was a meeting between atomic scientists and the chairman of the Council of Ministers, Khrushchev. It turned out that we were to prepare for a series of tests which would bolster up the new policy of the USSR on the German question (the Berlin Wall). I wrote a note to Khrushchev, saying: “To resume tests after a three-year moratorium would undermine the talks on banning tests and on disarmament, and would lead to a new round in the armaments race—especially in the sphere of intercontinental missiles and anti-missile defense.” I passed it up the line. Khrushchev put the note in his breast pocket and invited all present to dine.
At the dinner table he made an off-the-cuff speech which I remember for its frankness, and which did not reflect merely his personal position. He said more or less the following. Sakharov is a good scientist. But leave it to us, who are specialists in this tricky business, to make foreign policy. Only force—only the disorientation of the enemy. We can’t say aloud that we are carrying out our policy from a position of strength, but that’s the way it must be. I would be a slob, and not chairman of the Council of Ministers, if I listened to the likes of Sakharov. In 1960 we helped to elect Kennedy with our policy. But we don’t give a damn about Kennedy if he is tied hand and foot—if he can be overthrown at any moment.
Another and no less dramatic episode occurred in 1962. The ministry, acting basically from bureaucratic interests, issued instructions to proceed with a routine test explosion which was actually useless from the technical point of view. The explosion was to be powerful, so that the number of anticipated victims was colossal. Realizing the unjustifiable, criminal nature of this plan, I made desperate efforts to stop it. This went on for several weeks—weeks which, for me, were full of tension. On the eve of the test I phoned the minister and threatened to resign. The minister replied: “We’re not holding you by the throat.” I was able to put a phone call through to Ashkhabad, where Khrushchev was stopping on that particular day, and begged him to intervene. The next day I had a talk with one of Khrushchev’s close advisers. But by then the time for the test had already been moved up to an earlier hour, and the carrier aircraft had already transported its burden to the designated point for the explosion. The feeling of impotence and fright which seized me on that day has remained in my memory ever since, and it has worked much change in me as I moved toward my present attitude.
In 1962 I visited the minister of the atomic industry, who at that point was in a suburban government sanatorium together with the deputy minister of foreign affairs, and presented an important idea that had been brought to my attention at that time by one of my friends. By then, talks on the banning of nuclear testing had already been going on for several years, the stumbling block being the difficulty of monitoring underground explosions. But radioactive contamination is caused only by explosions in the atmosphere, in space, and in the ocean. Therefore limiting the agreement to banning tests in these three environments would solve both problems (contamination and monitoring). It should be noted that a similar proposal had previously been made by President Eisenhower, but at the time it had not accorded with the thinking of the Soviet side. In 1963 the so-called Moscow Treaty, in which this idea was realized, was concluded on the initiative of Khrushchev and Kennedy. It is possible that my initiative was of help in this historic act.
In 1964 I spoke at a conference of the Academy of Sciences USSR (in connection with the election of one of Lysenko’s companions-in-arms) and publicly touched on the “prohibited” subject of the situation in Soviet biology in which, for decades, modern genetics had been attacked as a “pseudo-science” and scientists working in that field had been subjected to harsh persecutions and repressions. Subsequently I developed these thoughts in greater detail in a letter to Khrushchev. Both the speech and the letter found a very broad response, and later helped to correct the situation to some extent. It was at this time that my name first appeared in the Soviet press—in an article by the president of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences which contained the most unpardonable attacks on me.
For me, personally, these events had great psychological significance. Also, they expanded the circle of persons with whom I associated. In particular, I became acquainted during the next few years with the Medvedev brothers, Zhores and Roy. A manuscript by the biologist Zhores Medvedev, which was passed from hand to hand, circumventing the censor, was the first samizdat work I had read. (Samizdat was a word which had come into use a few years before to denote a new social phenomenon.) In 1967 I also read the manuscript of a book by the historian Roy Medvedev on the crimes of Stalin. Both books, especially the latter, made a very strong impression on me. However our relations may have turned out, and whatever my subsequent disagreements with the Medvedevs on matters of principle, I cannot minimize their role in my own development.
In 1966 I was one of the signers of a collective letter on the “cult” of Stalin sent to the Twenty-third Congress of the CPSU. In that same year I sent a telegram to the Supreme Soviet USSR about a new law, then being drafted, which would facilitate large-scale persecutions for one’s convictions (Article 190-191 of the RSFSR Criminal Code). Thus for the first time my own fate became intertwined with the fate of that group of people—a group which was small but very weighty on the moral (and, I dare say, the historical) plane—who subsequently came to be called “dissenters” (inakomyslyashchie). (Personally I am fonder of the old Russian word for “freethinkers,” volnomyslyashchie.) Very shortly thereafter I had occasion to write a letter to Brezhnev protesting the arrest of four of them: A. Ginzburg, Yu. Galanskov (who perished tragically in a camp in 1972), V. Lashkova, and Dobrovolsky. In connection with this letter and my previous actions, the minister heading up the department for which I worked said of me: “Sakharov is an outstanding scientist and we have rewarded him well, but he is stupid as a politician.”
In 1967, for a publication which circulated among my colleagues, I wrote a “futurological” article on the future role of science in the life of society, and on the future of science itself. In that same year, for the Literaturnaya gazeta, the journalist E. Henry (Genri) and I wrote an article on the role of the intelligentsia and the danger of a thermonuclear war. The Central Committee of the CPSU did not authorize the publication of the article. But by means unknown to me it got into the Political Diary—a supposedly secret publication, something like samizdat for higher officials. A year later both of these articles, which remained little known, served as the basis for a work destined to play a central role in my activity for social causes.
Early in 1968 I began work on a book which I called Thoughts on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom. I wanted that book to reflect my thoughts on the most important problems facing mankind: thoughts on war and peace, on dictatorship, on the prohibited subject of Stalinist terror and freedom of thought, on demographic problems and the pollution of the environment, on the role that can be played by science and technological progress. The general tenor of the book was affected by the time of its writing—the height of the “Prague Spring.” The basic ideas which I tried to develop in Thoughts were neither very new nor original Essentially it was a compilation of liberal, humanistic, and “scientocratic” ideas based on information available to me and on personal experience. Today I regard this work as eclectic, pretentious in places, and imperfect (“raw”) in terms of form. Nonetheless its basic ideas are dear to me. In it I clearly formulated the thesis (which strikes me as very important) that the rapprochement of the socialist and capitalist systems, accompanied by democratization, demilitarization, and social and technological progress, is the only alternative to the ruin of mankind.
Beginning in May and June of 1968, Thoughts was widely distributed in the USSR. This was the first work of mine which was taken up by samizdat. In July and August came the first foreign reports of my book. Subsequently Thoughts was repeatedly published abroad in large printings and provoked a great flow of responses in the press of many countries. In addition to the content of the work, an important role in all this was undoubtedly played by the fact that it was one of the first socio-political works to reach the West, and that moreover its author was a highly decorated representative of the “secret” and “dread” specialty of atomic physics. (Unfortunately, this sensationalism still envelops me, especially in the pages of the mass press in the West.)
The publication of Thoughts abroad immediately resulted in my being taken off secret projects (in August of 1968), and in the restructuring of my entire way of life. It was precisely at that time that I, acting under the influence of impulses I now consider unsound, transferred almost all my savings to a government fund (for the construction of a hospital for cancer patients), and to the Red Cross. At that time I had no personal contacts with people in need of help. Today, constantly seeing around me people who need not only protection but material help, I often regret my overly hasty gesture.
In 1969 I was sent to work at the Physics Institute of the Academy of Sciences USSR, where I had once done graduate work and then been a collaborator with Igor Evgenevich Tamm. Although this meant a substantial drop in salary and job status, I was still able to continue scientific work in that field of physics most interesting to me: the theory of elementary particles. Unfortunately, however, in recent years I have not been satisfied with my productivity in scientific work. Two things have played a decisive role in this. First, the fact that, as theoretical physicists go, I am well along in years. Second, the stressful—and recently very alarming—situation in which people close to me, my family, and I have found ourselves.
Meantime, events in society and an inner need to oppose injustice continued to urge me toward new actions. Early in 1970 another open letter to the leaders of the state was published by Valentin Turchin (the physicist and mathematician), Roy Medvedev, and myself. The subject of the letter was the interdependence of the problems of democratization and techno-economic progress. In June I took an active part in the campaign to free the other Medvedev brother—the biologist Zhores—from illegal confinement in a psychiatric hospital. About that same time I joined in a collective supervisory protest1 to the Procurator’s Office USSR on the case of General P.G. Grigorenko, who by decision of a Tashkent court had been sent for compulsory treatment to a special prison-type hospital of the MVD2 USSR in the town of Chernyakhovsk.
The reason for this was the fact that Grigorenko had repeatedly made public appeals in defense of political prisoners and in defense of the rights of the Crimean Tatars, who in 1944 had been resettled from the Crimea with great cruelties under the Stalinist tyranny, and who today cannot return to their homeland. Our appeal, which pointed out the many patent violations of the law in the Grigorenko case, was never answered (which is also a crude violation of the law). Thus even more closely than in 1968, I was brought into contact with what is perhaps one of the most shameful aspects of present-day Soviet reality: illegality and the cynical persecution of persons coming out in defense of basic human rights. But at the same time I got to know several of these persons, and subsequently many others. One of those who joined in the collective protest on the Grigorenko case was Valery Chalidze, with whom I became very close.
I became even more familiar with the problems of defending human rights in October, 1970, when I was allowed to attend a political trial. The mathematician Revolt Pimenov and the puppet-show actor Boris Vail had been charged with distributing samizdat—giving friends books and manuscripts to read. The items named in their case included an article by Djilas, the Czech manifesto “Two Thousand Words,” Pimenov’s personal commentaries on Khrushchev’s speech at the Twentieth Congress, etc. I sat in a courtroom filled with “probationers” of the KGB, while the friends of the defendants remained in a hallway on the ground floor throughout the trial. This is one more feature of all political trials, without exception. Formally, they are open. But the courtroom is packed in advance with KGB agents specially designated for the purpose, while another group of agents stands around the court on all sides. They are always in civilian clothes, they call themselves druzhinniki,3 and they are allegedly preserving public order. This is the way it was (with negligible variations) in all cases when I was allowed to enter the courtroom. As for the passes enabling me to attend, they were apparently issued in acknowledgment of my previous services.
Pimenov and Vail were sentenced to five years of exile each, despite the fact that Vail’s lawyer, at the appellate hearing, had argued convincingly that he had taken no part at all in the incidents incriminating him. In his concluding remarks Boris Vail said that an unjust sentence has an effect not only on the convicted person but on the hearts of judges.
From the autumn of 1971 on I was outside the line formed by the druzhinniki. But nothing else had changed. At the trial of the well-known astrophysicist Kronid Lyubarsky (who was charged with the same thing: distributing samizdat), a very significant and tragic show was put on. We were not allowed in the courtroom. And when the session began, the “unknown persons in civilian clothes” used force to push us out from the vestibule of the court into the street. Then a big padlock was hung on the door leading into the people’s court. One has to see all these senseless and cruel dramatics with one’s own eyes to feel it to the fullest. But why all this? The only answer I can give is that the farce being performed inside the courthouse is even less intended for public disclosure than the farce outside the courthouse. The bureaucratic logic of legal proceedings looks grotesque in the light of public disclosure, even when there is formal observance of the law—which is by no means always the case.
The sentence received by Pimenov and Vail, so harsh and unjust from the viewpoint of natural human standards, is relatively lenient compared to the decisions of Soviet courts in other cases of a similar nature, especially in recent years. Vladimir Bukovsky, known to the whole world for his protests in defense of people incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals for political reasons, was sentenced to twelve years: two years of prison, five years of camp, and five years of exile. K. Lyubarsky was sentenced to five years of imprisonment. The sentences passed outside of Moscow are even harsher. The young psychiatrist Semyon (Samuel) Gluzman was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment. I once happened to see Semyon for a few minutes at a railroad station, and I was astounded by the purity of his countenance—by a kind of effective goodness and directness. At the time I had no way of suspecting that such a fate was in store for him! It is generally supposed that the reason for the reprisal against Gluzman was the assumption that he was the author of “Expert Examination in Absentia in the Grigorenko Case.” But at the trial this charge was not brought. V. Morozov and Yu. Shukhevich, both authors of memoirs about their terms in camp, were sentenced by a Ukrainian court to fourteen and fifteen years, respectively, of imprisonment and exile. And the number of similar reprisals has grown rapidly.
Before proceeding further, I should like to say a few words about why I attach so much importance to the matter of defending political prisoners—defending the freedom of one’s convictions. In the course of fifty-six years our country has undergone great shocks, sufferings, and humiliations, the physical annihilation of millions of the best people (best both morally and intellectually), decades of official hypocrisy and demagoguery, of internal and external time-serving. The era of terror, when tortures and special conferences4 threatened everyone, when they seized the most devoted servants of the regime simply for the general count and to create an atmosphere of fright and submission—that era is now behind us.
But we are still living in the spiritual atmosphere created by that era. Against those few who do not go along with the prevalent practice of compromise, the government uses repression as before. Together with judicial repressions, the most important and decisive role in maintaining this atmosphere of internal and external submission is played by the power of the state, which manipulates all the levers of economic and social control. This, more than anything else, keeps the body and soul of the majority of people in a state of dependence.
Another major influence on the psychological situation in the country is the fact that people are weary of endless promises of economic flowering in the very near future, and have ceased altogether to believe in fine words. The standard of living (food, clothing, housing, possibilities for leisure), social conditions (children’s facilities, medical and educational institutions, pensions, labor protection, etc.)—all this lags far behind the level in advanced countries. An indifference to social problems—an attitude of consumerism and selfishness—is developing among the broad strata of the population. And among the majority, protest against the deadening official ideology has an unconscious, latent character. The religious and national movements are the broadest and most conscious. Among those who fill the camps or are subjected to other persecutions are many believers and representatives of national minorities.
One of the mass forms of protest is the desire to leave the country. Unfortunately, it must be noted that sometimes the striving toward a national revival takes on chauvinistic traits, and borders upon the traditional “everyday” hostility toward “aliens.” Russian anti-Semitism is an example of this. Thus a part of the Russian opposition intelligentsia is beginning to manifest a paradoxical closeness to the secret Party-state doctrine of nationalism, which in fact is increasingly replacing the antinational and antireligious myth of Bolshevism. Among some people the same feeling of dissatisfaction and internal protest takes on other asocial forms (drunkenness, crime).
It is very important that the façade of prosperity and enthusiasm not conceal from the world this real picture of things. Our experience must not come to nothing. And it is equally important that our society gradually emerge from the dead end of unspirituality, which closes off the possibilities not only for the development of spiritual culture but for progress in the material sphere.
I am convinced that under the conditions obtaining in our country a position based on morality and law is the most correct one, as corresponding to the requirements and possibilities of society. What we need is the systematic defense of human rights and ideals and not a political struggle, which would inevitably incite people to violence, sectarianism, and frenzy. I am convinced that only in this way, provided there is the broadest possible public disclosure, will the West be able to recognize the nature of our society; and that then this struggle will become part of a world-wide movement for the salvation of all mankind. This constitutes a partial answer to the question of why I have (naturally) turned from world-wide problems to the defense of individual people.
The position of those who, beginning with the trials of Sinyavsky and Daniel, Ginzburg and Galanskov, have struggled for justice as they understand it can probably be compared with the position of the world-famous apolitical organization Amnesty International. In any democratic country the question of the legality of such activity could not even arise. In our country, unfortunately, such is not the case. Dozens of the most famous political trials, and dozens of prisoners in psychiatric hospitals of the prison type, provide a graphic demonstration of this.
In recent years I have learned a great deal about Soviet juridical practice by attending trials and receiving much information about the course of similar trials in other cities [besides Moscow]. I have also learned a great deal about conditions in places of confinement: about malnutrition, pitiless formalism, and repressions against prisoners. In several statements I called the attention of world public opinion to this problem, which is vitally important for the 1.7 million Soviet prisoners and indirectly has a deep influence on many important aspects of the moral and social life of the whole country. I have appealed, and I again appeal, to all international organizations concerned with this problem—and especially to the International Red Cross—to abandon their policy of nonintervention in the internal affairs of the socialist countries as regards defending human rights, and to manifest the utmost persistence.
I have also spoken out on the institution of “conditional release with obligatory assignment to labor,” which in a political sense represents a vestige of the Stalinist system of mass forced labor, and which is very frightening in a social sense. It is difficult even to imagine the nightmare of the barracks for the “conditionally released persons,” with almost general drunkenness, fist-fights, and throat-slitting. This system has broken the lives of many people. The preservation of the camp system and forced labor is one of the reasons why extensive regions of the country are off-limits for foreigners. It would appear that the realization of any successful international cooperation in developing our very rich resources is impossible without the abolishment of this system.
Another problem which has claimed my attention in recent years is that of the psychiatric repressions used by organs of the KGB as an important auxiliary means of stifling and frightening dissenters. There is no doubt of the tremendous social danger of this phenomenon.
I feel that I owe a debt too great to be repaid to the brave and good people who are incarcerated in prisons, camps, and psychiatric hospitals because they struggled to defend human rights.
In the autumn of 1970, V. N. Chalidze, A. N. Tverdokhlebov, and I joined in founding the “Human Rights Committee.” This act on our part attracted great attention in the USSR and abroad. From the day of the committee’s founding, A. S. Volpin took an active part in its work. This was the first time that such an association had made its appearance in our country; and its members did not have a very precise idea of what they should do and how they should do it. Yet the committee did a great deal of work on several problems, particularly in studying the question of compulsory confinement in psychiatric hospitals for political reasons. At the present time the work of the committee is being carried on by I. R. Shafarevich, G. S. Podyapolsky, and myself. As was true of the “Initiative Group” created somewhat earlier, the very existence of the committee as a free group of associates independent of the authorities has a unique and very great moral significance for our country.
The second article in my forthcoming collection5 is a Memorandum written in the first months of 1971 and sent to L. I. Brezhnev in March of that year. In form, the memorandum is a kind of synopsis of an imaginary dialogue with the leadership of the country. I am not convinced that this form is literarily successful, but it is compact. As for the content, I endeavored to set forth my positive demands in the political, social, and economic spheres. Fifteen months later, not having received any reply, I published the Memorandum, adding an Afterword which stands on its own.
In publishing the Memorandum I did not make any changes in the text. In particular, I did not change the treatment of the problem of Soviet-Chinese relations—something I now regret. I still do not idealize the Chinese variant of socialism. But I do not regard as correct that evaluation of the danger of Chinese aggression vis-à-vis the USSR which is given in the Memorandum. In any case, the Chinese threat cannot serve as a justification for the militarization of our country and the absence of democratic reforms in it.
I have already said something about those documents in the collection which are associated with the defense of the rights of individual people. During those years I learned of an increasingly large number of tragic and heroic fates, some of which have been reflected in the pages of the collection. For the most part, the documents of this cycle require no commentary.
In April of 1972 I drew up the text of an appeal to the Supreme Soviet USSR to grant amnesty to political prisoners and abolish capital punishment. The documents were timed to coincide with the Fiftieth Anniversary of the USSR. I have already explained why I attribute such prime importance to the former of these questions. As for the latter, the abolishment of capital punishment is an extremely important act, both morally and socially, for any country. And in our country, with its very low level of legal consciousness and widespread animosity, this act would be especially important. I succeeded in gathering about fifty signatures for the appeals. Each of them represented a very thoughtful moral and social act on the part of the signer. I felt this with particular force while I was gathering the signatures. Many more people refused [than signed], and the explanations offered by some of them told me a good deal about the inner reasons for the thoughts and acts of our intelligentsia.
In September, 1971, I sent a letter to the members of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet USSR on freedom of emigration and unobstructed return. My letter to the US Congress in September of 1973 was another démarche on this same subject. In these documents I call attention to various aspects of this problem, including the important role that its solution would play in the democratization of our country, and in raising its standard of living to the level of the advanced countries. The correctness of this idea can be shown by the example of Poland and Hungary, where today freedom to leave the country and return to it is not so heavily encumbered as in our country.
In the summer of 1973 I was interviewed by Ulle Stenholm, correspondent for a Swedish radio station, who asked me questions of a general character. This interview had a broad response in the USSR and foreign countries. I received several dozen letters expressing indignation at the “slanderous” line I had taken. (It should be borne in mind that letters of the opposite kind usually do not reach me.) The Soviet Literaturnaya gazeta published an article about me entitled “A Supplier of Slander.” Ulle Stenholm, who had interviewed me and published his text without distortions, was recently deprived of his entry visa and the possibility of continuing his work in the USSR. This was an outrageous violation of the rights of an honest and intelligent journalist, who had become a friend of my family. One cannot rule out the possibility that the latter circumstance played its own role in the illegality practiced upon him. The interview was verbal, and neither questions nor answers were discussed in advance. This must be taken into account in evaluating the document, which represents an unconstrained conversation, in a home setting, on very serious, basic problems.
In this interview, as in the Memorandum and the Afterword, I went beyond the limits of the subject of human rights and democratic freedoms, and touched on economic and social problems, which generally speaking require special—and perhaps even professional—training. But these problems are of such vital importance to every person that I am not sorry they came up for discussion. My opponents were especially irritated by my description of our country’s system as state capitalism with a Party-state monopoly and the consequences, in all spheres of social life, which flow from such a system.
Important basic problems of the détente in international tensions in their connection with a proviso for democratizing and opening up Soviet society were reflected in the interview of August-September, 1973.
In recent years I have carried on my activities under conditions of ever-increasing pressure on me, and especially on my family. In September of 1972 our close friend Yury Shikhanovich was arrested. In October of 1972 Tatyana, my wife’s daughter, who was doing very well in her studies, was expelled from the university in her last year under a formal and farfetched pretext. Throughout the year we were harassed by anonymous telephone calls, with threats and absurd accusations. In February of 1973 the Literaturnaya gazeta published an article by its editor-in-chief, Chakovsky, dealing with a book by Harrison Salisbury. In this article I was characterized as an extremely naïve person who quoted the New Testament, “coquettishly waved an olive branch,” “played the holy fool,” and “willingly accepted the compliments of the Pentagon.” All this was said in connection with my Thoughts, which thus after five years was mentioned in the Soviet press for the first time.
In March, likewise for the first time, I was summoned to the KGB for a talk (allegedly because my wife and I had jointly offered to go surety for our friend Yury Shikhanovich). In June Tatyana’s husband was deprived of work in connection with having made application to go and study in the US, pursuant to an invitation. In July the above-mentioned article, “A Supplier of Slander,” appeared. Also in July my wife’s son Aleksey was refused admission to the university, apparently on special orders from above. In August I was summoned by the deputy procurator of the USSR, Malyarov. The basic content of the talk was threats. Then immediately after the interview of August 21, on the problems of détente, Soviet newspapers reprinted items from foreign communist papers and a letter from forty academicians declaring I was an opponent of relaxation of international tensions. Next came a nation-wide newspaper campaign in which I was condemned by representatives of all strata of our society.
In late September our apartment, thoroughly observed by the KGB, was visited by persons who called themselves members of the “Black September” organization. They threatened reprisals not only on me but on the members of my family. In November an investigator who was a colonel in the KGB summoned my wife for repeated interrogations which lasted many hours. My wife refused to participate in the investigation, but this did not immediately put an end to the summonses. Previously she had publicly stated that she had sent to the West the diary of Eduard Kuznetsov, which had come into her hands. But she felt she was entitled not to tell what was done, or how it was done, by way of its distribution. The investigator warned her that her actions made her liable under Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code, with a period of punishment of up to seven years. It seems to me this is quite enough for one family.
Soon after the coup d’état in Chile, the writers A. Galich and V. Maksimov joined with me in an appeal to the new government expressing fears for the life of the outstanding Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Our letter was not political in nature and had no other aims than strictly humane ones. But in the Soviet press, and in the pro-Soviet foreign press, it provoked an explosion of feigned indignation as allegedly “defending the fascist junta.” Moreover, the letter itself was quoted inaccurately, and two of its authors—Galich and Maksimov—were in general “forgotten.” The aim of the organizers of this campaign—to compromise me at least in this way if it couldn’t be done otherwise—was only too obvious.
But to digress from the subject of patently unscrupulous opponents and turn to opinions which more objectively reflect liberal social opinion in the West, it must be said that this whole story brought to light a typical misunderstanding which merits discussion. As a rule, liberal social opinion in the democratic countries takes an international position, protesting against injustice and violence not only in one’s own country but throughout the world. It was not by accident that I said “as a rule.” Unfortunately, it is very frequently the case that the defense of human rights in the socialist countries, by virtue of an opinion of the special progressiveness of their regimes, falls outside (or almost falls outside) the field of activity of foreign organizations. The greater part of my efforts has been aimed precisely at surmounting this situation, which has been one of the reasons for our tragedies.
But that is not the point at issue here. Instead I should like to talk about that part of the Western liberal intelligentsia (still a small part) which extends its activities to the socialist countries as well. These people look to the Soviet dissenters for a reciprocal, analogous international position with respect to other countries. But there are several important circumstances they do not take into account: the lack of information; the fact that a Soviet dissenter is not only unable to go to other countries but is deprived, within his own country, of the majority of sources of information; that the historical experience of our country has weaned us away from excessive “leftism,” so that we evaluate many facts differently from the “leftist” intelligentsia of the West; that we must avoid political pronouncements in the international arena, where we are so ignorant (after all, we do not engage in political activity in our own country); that we must avoid getting into the channel of Soviet propaganda, which so often deceives us.
We know that in the Western countries there are vigilant and influential forces which protest (better and more effectively than we do) against injustice and violence there. We do not justify injustice or violence, wherever they appear. We do not feel that there is necessarily more of both in our country than in other countries. But at the moment our strength cannot suffice for the whole world. We ask that all this be taken into account, and that we be forgiven the errors we sometimes make in the dust kicked up by polemics.
The general position reflected in the materials in my forthcoming collection is closer to that of Thoughts than might appear at first glance. [There are] differences in the treatment of political or politico-economic questions which are of course immediately apparent. But since I lay no claim to the role of discoverer or political adviser, this is less essential than the spirit of free debate and the concern for fundamental problems which, I should like to think, are found both in Thoughts and in the recent writings.
The majority of my writings are either addressed to the leaders of our state or have a specific foreign addressee. But inwardly I address them to all people on earth, and in particular to the people of my country, because they were dictated by concern and anxiety for my own country and its people.
I am not a purely negative critic of our way of life: I recognize much that is good in our people and in our country, which I ardently love. But I have been compelled to fix attention on negative phenomena, since they are precisely what the official propaganda passes over in silence, and since they represent the greatest damage and danger. I am not an opponent of détente, trade, or disarmament. To the contrary, in several of my writings I have called for just these things. It is precisely in convergence that I see the only way to the salvation of mankind. But I consider it my duty to point out all the hidden dangers of a false détente, a collusive détente, or a capitulation détente, and to call for the use of the entire arsenal of means, of all efforts, to achieve real convergence, accompanied by democratization, demilitarization, and social progress. I hope that the publication of my writings will be of some use in that cause.
Moscow, December 31, 1973
—translated by Guy Daniels
March 21, 1974
I.e., a protest demanding that the procurator’s office intervene (as it is entitled to do under Soviet law) to order a review of a case “by way of supervision.” [Translator’s note.] ↩
Ministry of Internal Affairs. [Translator’s note.] ↩
I.e., members of a druzhina or voluntary auxiliary police detachment. [Translator’s note.] ↩
Special Conferences (or boards) was the designation given, in the Stalin era, to secret drumhead courts. [Translator’s note.] ↩
This article will appear as the foreword to a collection of Sakharov’s recent writings, to be published in May by Knopf as Sakharov Speaks, edited by Harrison E. Salisbury. ↩