The Secret Files of the Soviet Union

Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky at a press conference after his release from prison and expulsion from the Soviet Union, Zurich, 1976
Keystone Press/Alamy
Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky at a press conference after his release from prison and expulsion from the Soviet Union, Zurich, December 1976

Vladimir Bukovsky, who gained world renown as a leader of the Soviet human rights movement, died of congestive heart failure in Britain on October 27, but his legacy lives on. His book Judgment in Moscow—published in Russian, French, and German more than twenty years ago and now appearing in English for the first time—is an eye-opening account of the ways in which the post-Stalin Communist Party leadership responded to the challenges it faced at home and abroad. Bukovsky expertly analyzes secret documents copied from the Soviet archives to show how the decaying Kremlin regime cynically used coercive psychiatry and incarceration in labor camps to suppress dissent, while pursuing highly effective “active measures” against the West to further its aggressive foreign agenda. The book also tells the story of Bukovsky’s personal struggle against the arbitrary lawlessness of the Soviet system, and later against the Communist bureaucrats and former KGB officials who remained in Boris Yeltsin’s government after the August 1991 coup.

Judgment in Moscow offers a forceful reminder of the destructive power of authoritarian rule, while shedding important light on the nature of Putin’s Russia. Although Bukovsky, in his impatience with those who disagree with his interpretations, sometimes ignores the other side of the story—such as the threat of nuclear war that hung over the West when its leaders so enthusiastically embraced Gorbachev—the documents he presents speak for themselves. This is not dispassionate historical analysis. Bukovsky’s uncompromising views should be seen as a cri de coeur from someone who devoted much of his life to fighting political tyranny.

Bukovsky, who was born in 1942 and grew up in Moscow, always had a strong belief in the power of an individual to be an effective instrument of political change.1 He became a rebel at a young age. In his 1978 memoir To Build a Castle, he recalls that, when he was ten years old, he resigned as class leader of the Young Pioneers (a mass Communist organization for children) after being forced to give a dressing-down to a classmate, whom he had reduced to tears. Four years later, he refused to join the Komsomol, the Communist youth league.2

In the spring of 1963, when Bukovsky was twenty, he was arrested for reproducing copies of anti-Soviet literature. (He had been studying biology at Moscow University, but was expelled in 1961 for writing critically about the Komsomol.) After being forced to undergo a psychiatric examination, he spent almost two years in various psikhushki, or psychiatric hospitals, which had become the KGB’s preferred alternative to traditional incarceration for political offenders. As further arrests followed, Bukovsky galvanized…

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