Last week I linked to an article by Claire Berlinski in City Journal decrying the dearth of access, interest, and translations of old Soviet archives. It appears, according to Ron Radosh — author of Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony’s Long Romance with the Left — that Berlisnki’s article was inaccurate and unfair to publishers and academics who have been publishing histories of Soviet Communism as well as continuing access to Soviet archives at The Gorbachev Foundation, The Library of Congress, and other sites. From Radosh at Pajamas Media:
In conclusion, I think it is clear that Claire Berlinski has not only overstated her case; she has also unfairly impugned the reputation of Jonathan Brent, underestimated what is actually available for anyone to see, and uncritically accepted some of the claims made to her by both Bukovsky and Striliov. She did not check with experts who regularly use this archival material to find out whether or not their claims are accurate.
The failure to publish their documents is not an example of the world failing to acknowledge “the monstrous history of Communism,” but of a decision by conscientious editors that these particular documents need more work before anyone can publish them. And in the meantime, those who do want to consult them, have every opportunity to do so. Sometimes there is an easy answer to what on first glance looks like a serious academic and political scandal. If large numbers on the Left ignore the lessons of Communism — that is a situation which many of us have long tried to address — it is not the result of failure to publish either Bukovsky’s or Stroilov’s material in the United States.
The only scandal is why City Journal, one of the most important and distinguished journals in the United States, printed such a weak and misleading article that is far below its usual quality.
I like the work of both Berlinski and Radosh, and as Michael Totten said over at Instapundit… I’d hate to choose sides both because they’re both right so often and I’m no Soviet expert. Go read the whole thing and as a bonus there are mentions of a lot of interesting books on Soviet history.
UPDATE: I got an e-mail from Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal, pointing me to a response to Radosh’s article by Claire Berlinski. My first thought… “Holy sh!t! — someone’s actually reading us!”. Anyway… judging by the crickets on this post I think the damage was minimal. Nevertheless because I love City Journal and want to do right by Ms. Berlinski here is here response from City Journal. Here’s a bit,, go read the whole thing:
In the latest issue of City Journal, I published a story about a large cache of Soviet-era documents smuggled out of Russia by Pavel Stroilov, a Russian researcher now exiled in London, and a similar collection of smuggled documents held by the former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky. I wrote that the world was incurious about these papers; this, I argued, was symptomatic of a dangerous indifference to the history and horrors of Communism.
The historian Ron Radosh issued a disgruntled response. My piece, he wrote, was overstated, unjust, slanderous, weak, lazy, irresponsible, poorly informed, and misleading. (I assume he otherwise liked it.)
I thank Radosh for taking the time to consider my article. I note that we are in agreement about the key point: particularly since the publication of The Black Book of Communism, there are no excuses for not knowing the truth about Communism. I would go further and say that there have been no excuses since the liquidation of the kulaks.
As for the rest of Radosh’s comments, I wish I could simply ignore them. A vain academic spat is surely as dispiriting to readers as a long-haul flight with nothing but a volume by Joyce Carol Oates in the seat pocket. But if we must make a big display of our small differences, let’s at least get it over with quickly.
Welcome Mr. Anderson if you are still lurking. Pay no attention to mentions of “man boobs”. Our netizens like to make things up.