Washington, D.C., May 25, 2013 – Today the National Security Archive is publishing — for the first time in English — excerpts from the diary of Anatoly S. Chernyaev from 1973, along with edits and a postscript by the author.
As in the previous installment of the diary, for 1972, Chernyaev, deputy head of the International Department of the Central Committee (and later a key foreign policy aide to Mikhail Gorbachev), continues to marvel at the contradictory and enigmatic person at the pinnacle of the Soviet leadership — General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. On the one hand, Chernyaev is sharply critical of Brezhnev's primitive pompousness, his inability to express himself, and his ossified ideological dogmas. On the other hand, in one instance after another, Brezhnev shows himself as a real champion of peace and détente with the West; a man capable of dispassionate realpolitk. Chernyaev identifies the General Secretary's two irreconcilable driving desires — to preserve the Soviet system intact and to cooperate with the West in order to prevent a world war and develop trade and investment.
Several key members of the Soviet leadership emerge from the pages of the diary looking quite different from their official portraits, described in merciless detail by a very astute observer. The series of diaries donated by Anatoly Sergeyevich to the National Security Archive represent an invaluable source, a keyhole through which we today, forty years later, can look back at the internal politics and decision making of the Soviet Politburo and its supporting apparatus.
In the first half of 1973, the Politburo discusses the upcoming seminal event — Brezhnev's June trip to the United States. The main debate is over the clash between Marxist ideology and détente. How can the official Marxist teachings about the class struggle and eventual victory of socialism over capitalism be taken seriously if the Soviet leader has chosen a course for détente and peaceful coexistence with the imperialists? In his diary, Chernyaev is sharply critical of the positions of chief Politburo ideologist Mikhail Suslov and Sergey Trapeznikov, who oversaw the Academy of Sciences in the Central Committee. Suslov and Trapeznikov believed that détente did not change the nature of the international class struggle and were opposed to any rapprochement with the West. Here, Chernyaev closely watches Brezhnev's visit to the U.S. and his business-like interactions with the Americans, and he gives an extremely high assessment of the results of the visit, comparing it to the victory over Hitler in its impact on the future of Europe.
Another fascinating debate that unfolds throughout the year is over the negotiations within the framework of the Helsinki process, and especially the significance of Basket III, which included provisions on the free movement of peoples, and human rights. It is obvious to Chernyaev's colleagues in the International Department that the Soviet interest is to limit the European Conference to the issues of security and recognition of the GDR. However, the Europeans, including West European Communist parties, were putting pressure on their Soviet counterparts to include the human rights provisions. Chernyaev describes discussions in the Central Committee that indicate that already then, some members of the Soviet leadership understood the danger of including Basket III-that it could be used to challenge Soviet norms both by Western governments and internal dissidents. However, on this issue too, Brezhnev's strong position in favor of détente and cooperation with capitalist democracies took precedence over the concerns expressed, which turned out to be very well founded.
In fact, while the Central Committee debated what the Soviet position should be in the CSCE negotiations, internal dissent was growing and making itself visible. Chernyaev closely followed the reaction in the West, especially in the French and Italian Communist parties, to the Yakir and Krasin trial, and to Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn's publications and interviews. One of Chernyaev's close friends was David (Dez'ka) Samoilov, a dissident poet who argued with Chernyaev about the importance of dissident ideas and who admired Sakharov. Chernyaev himself, expressing the general attitude of the intra-party free thinkers, was very skeptical of open dissent. The diary is full of his doubts and openly critical reflections on the emerging Soviet dissident movement.
As recounted in this extraordinary personal record, 1973 is a very rich year. It is full of domestic politics, disagreements within the Central Committee about substantive policies, petty rivalries, and party gossip. It also covers key international developments — the CSCE negotiations, Brezhnev's visit to the United States, the Middle Eastern crisis and Kissinger's visit to Moscow, Brezhnev's visit to India, the Pinochet coup in Chile, and the development of policy toward China. In 1973, Chernyaev seems to be more involved, at least in his intellectual world, in issues of foreign policy as such, not just in the troubles of the International Communist Movement, which was his particular responsibility as deputy head of the International Department. The diary lets us into the corridors of the Kremlin and into numerous "writing dachas" where Soviet foreign policy was conceived and developed.
NOTES Historian Amy Knight, New York Review of Books, April 6, 2012.
Anatoly S. Chernyaev Diary, 1973