Memorandum for the Minister

The document that follows is an analysis of the Soviet Union written in August 1932 by George F. Kennan, then a twenty-eight-year-old member of the Foreign Service, stationed in Riga, Latvia. Mr. Kennan has supplied the background to the document in the following note written for The New York Review.


In August 1932, American recognition of the Soviet Union and the establishment of an American embassy in Moscow were still about one and a half years in the future. For reporting on conditions in Russia the State Department then relied upon a special section of the American legation at Riga, staffed by officers who had had some special training in Russian matters, and who sent in reports based almost exclusively on careful study of the Soviet press and other legitimate sources of information.

Having received years of academic training in the Russian field, I was a member of this subordinate unit of the Riga legation. In response to some sort of request from the chief of the mission for an estimate of how the first Soviet Five-Year Plan, then just recently announced, would affect Soviet opinion, I offered the document in question. In it, as will be readily perceived, I not only brought forward my own view of Russian communism as it then existed, but sketched out my vision of what Russia, and particularly the state of its youth, would be like when, as I confidently expected, the Soviet regime, having exhausted its resources, would come to an end.

For seventy years this document slumbered, peacefully unnoted, in State Department files that were only recently made available to scholars. The credit for unearthing it belongs to Professor David C. Engerman of Brandeis University, who came across it in the pursuit of his own scholarly inquiries, recognized its significance, and had the courtesy to bring it to my attention. (I had by this time lost all memory of it.) It is, of course, now in the public domain.

The writing of this paper came at a time when the last of the Leninist leaders of the Russian Communist movement were in process of being removed by Stalin, and when the many horrors of the remaining twenty years of his life were about to be inaugurated. The full extent of these horrors I was, of course, unable to foresee. But the wording of the document suggests that, under scholarly scrutiny, certain of the fundamental deficiencies of radical Soviet policies were already apparent at this early date, and that these deficiencies were bound, in the long run, to persist and gradually to weaken the dictatorship. The paper’s importance as I now see it lies in the evidence it brings that, in the view of at least one reasonably qualified American observer of the year 1932, an ultimate failure and collapse of the Russian-Communist system, while perhaps long in the coming, was inevitable.

Enclosure No. 4 to despatch No. 650 of Aug. 19, 1932, from the legation at Riga, Latvia

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