Boris Oreshene (publisher), 1992

Interview of Boris Vasilyvich Oryeshene in Moscow, July 1992
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

M. I’ve interviewed about 50 people in the last two months. I’ve just came from the interview with Mr. Shakhnazarov which was interesting and I’ve interviewed several other people in this Foundation and a number of academics. A number of people began to tell me about how ideas changed within the elite even in Brezhnev’s period. I’ve heard about the series of white books. Mr. Simonia for example mentioned to me that he used to work in a private office in the Central Committee that belonged to someone else. He found the collections of books and he used to slip around and read them though he was not supposed to. He told me that only about 300 copies of those books were published of any one title but that there was quite a list of books. And Mr. Smirnov suggested that he thought that some of these books were particularly important in changing the elite. The fact that they were restricted to such a small list meant that many people were eager to read them and paid particular attention to them. And at parties and gatherings the content of those books was the subject of conversation.So I decided to make an effort to find out the list of those books, the titles, the authors of those books, and if possible I would like to have a list of people who received them. And Mr. Simonia told me that you would have very interesting things to say about whole period and about the way in which these books contributed to changing the political opinions.

ORESHENE: Certainly I can tell you something about that, though I was never directly involved in the publication. On the one hand we published some books for scientific libraries — that’s not the kind of books Mr. Simonia told about — these were the books by respectable foreign authors, there were published in restricted pre-prints not more than 3.000 copies intended for special libraries. The access to them was very limited but nevertheless the intelligentsia had an opportunity to read these books. And those books were even more important than those books you are talking about. Even before perestroika a company published lots of books for scientific libraries. In particular, our company introduced a new series titled “Western Economic Thoughts”. The editor in chief of that series was academician v———-, the Director of IMEMO, where Mr. Simonia worked at the time. We published such classical works as Mill, Schumpeter some others. It was a pretty large series, there were discussions about whether it should be published at all. Anyway we did publish the books regularly and our economists got a lot of knowledge about the classical heritage of economics.

M. Excuse me, this is the second series, not the one you mentioned first.

ORESHENE: No, this series had a run of 3 to 5,000 copies, and besides the company had a department of special publications that published numbered books. We had the so-called “first” department headed by retired colonel. There was a list of people for whom these books were printed — members of Politburo, candidates in the members of Politburo, a few members of the Party Central Committee, a few directors of science institutes — in total, 2 or 3 hundred people. Mainly these were political books by prominent Western Sovietologists. Lots of translations of Seweryn Bialer and a thematic series “Political power in the USSR,” “problems in the USSR”, “Social conflicts in the USSR”, “Political elite”, so a wide range of issues that the Westerns were investigating and that were absolutely inaccessible for readers. That books were kept in special storages in the libraries like in the Lenin library, Historical library. These books in foreign languages were also kept there. Since our leaders didn’t know any languages as a rule, these books were translated into Russian by qualified translators very quickly. Very often we got the special orders to translate this or that book. Certainly for the evolution of elite perception of the world these books contributed a lot because the translation was sensitive and they had an opportunity to read these books, there were people in their staff who made reviews on these books. The perceptions of the elite were roughly ideological and the leaders believed in that ideological dogmas and the acquaintance with the original sources, with the methods of arguments and proof made people hesitate if the whole picture is actually as it was depicted by the propaganda. Therefore quite a few people knew these books. When I was working in the magazine “Problems of Philosophy” the editor-in-chief received those books on the list. It was in the early ’70s. Some of the editors also could read these books and not only read but even have some copies. I have a set of these books at home. Not only the elite but a wider range of people could read these books though they were handed out on the basis of a list and you had to sign in that list that you had received it. When I began to work in “Progress” for several years I also had a possibility to receive these books. Even when perestroika started these books still were existing. This special department was eliminated only 3 years ago.

M. Well, fascinating. How did a person get on that list?

ORESHENE: Obviously, it was made up above. The Chief of our First Dept had a secret file of those people

M So, you don’t know who made the list? Presumably somebody in Politburo.

O I think it was in the ideological secretary of the party Central Committee. That’s my assumption that most of these lists were initiated in the office of Ponomaryov, who was a Secretary on Ideology at that time.

M I have spoken with someone who used to make summaries of foreign books for a list, I think, of 200 or 250. The names would be the same?


M. In his case it was up to him to decide what he thought should be summarized. But I assume obviously you have not make a decision on what of these books to produce. How were those decisions make?

ORESHENE: As a rule the decisions were made at a level of Party Secretariat. There was a staff at the Secretariat who provided information on such and such books that could be useful. Our company played a purely technical role.

M How did you hire people to make the translations?

O It was an editorial department of special publications. Its activity was advertising and a few people really knew who would be checked by authorities. The Chief of the Special Department was responsible for non-dissemination of any information about the published literature.

M I suppose the translators were supposed not to identify themselves to their families as translators of these publications.

ORESHENE: They certainly were not supposed to, but that was different time already (end ’60s — early 70s). It was impossible to keep that at the level of secrecy that was prevalent in Stalin’s time. There is also the Institute of Information of the Academy of Sciences [JK: that’s the place (INION) where Sasha was working and I’m working until nowadays] which actually made a much bigger contribution to the publication of small editions — summarized publications and translations on sociology, political science, culture, psychology etc. Each of these collections of summarized publications had a run about 900 to 1000 copies. The publications were very popular among intellectuals. I _____ a number of these publications. A year and a half ago we published the translation of Max Weber’s selected works. “The Protestant Ethics and Spirit of Capitalism was translated 15 or 20 years ago. Jaspers, Heidegger were translated — lots of other philosophers, sociologists.

M. 15 years ago a sociologist would have had permission to read Max Weber?

ORESHENE: Well, many people just did not know; you had to order that book in the library, but often it was borrowed by somebody else. And it was necessary to have it on the desk to study it carefully. INION published not only the translations but very substantial summarized collections. They had excellent summary collections on war and peace problems by foreign scholars. Most scholars had no access to this publications.

M. Somebody told me that in the catalogue of the library there were little squares on the cards indicating that this book is in a closed stack. And I asked him about how many of them were designated that way and he answered that something maybe one fifth of the collection. Is that your impression also?

O I guess it was not that much. It depends on the area of knowledge.When it comes the political literature — yes, of course.

M. So there are two series: one is up to a thousand of copies and then the smallest series that was a special list of two hundred or so. My friend who was one of the persons who summarized articles said that sometimes it seemed to him inexplicable — you could not understand why some things were open and other things were closed. It seemed that the difference was just in the author’s name rather than the actual content of the book. Can you give me any understanding of the criteria on deciding what was supersecret and what was just the closed stack.

ORESHENE:I think that different criteria were used. On one hand — just the names that were categorically rejected by the authorities. But if it would be the only person it would be a very limited list. Sometimes books landed in the special storage for incomprehensible reasons. Bureaucratic stupidity affected it sometimes. I can describe my own experience. I read some English language publications on the problems of social conflicts and the books like “Anthropology of social conflicts” were in the special storage — purely scientific book , not a trace of politics — but yet it was in the special store. There were many such books.

M. What was the punishment — if someone breaks the rule of the game — as a translator telling about the book or [____?] what kinds of punishment might result?

ORESHENE: I don’t have such experience, unfortunately.

M. Well, maybe it did not happen?

O I think that the punishments certainly existed, even rather severe up to firing people from their job.

M Someone told me that list of these books had been published in the newspaper. perhaps also the list of the recipients was published in that newspaper. Is that true or is there any other source in which I can find that list of special publications?

ORESHENE: I have not come across that publication. A few months ago Sovetskaya Kultura newspaper published some information about the KGB, that was material about not only about the shadowing of scientists but also about some of the books, including one of ours. Two years and a half ago we published a book untitled “50×50” — so called “glossary of glasnost” prepared jointly with French scholars. So an article “unemployment”, “social conflict”, “Gulag” and other terms were explained by Russian and French scholars. Many of the Soviet authors were democratically oriented, French scholars were mostly anti-communists. So we read that there had been a denunciation to KGB that the publishing house “Progress” is preparing such an edition and people known for their anti-government activity involved and the book would be very anti-soviet. We do [not?] know for sure who sent the letter but we can guess that our first Department was interested in our books and some of our authors. The book was published both in Russian and French and it had quite a wide response. So recently we learned that there was a denunciation in KGB about the publication.

M. I see. So, things still happen from time to time that are rather dangerous.Is there any procedure that I can go through to obtain a list of these closed publications?

ORESHENE: How long are you going to stay here?

M. I’m leaving tomorrow but I have two research assistants who are living here.

ORESHENE: Please call me the next week. I can try and find out something.

M. It would be wonderful.I’m very interested in how the books impact the thinking among the political leaders. What books did Andropov read? What books did Gorbachev read — would anyone know?

ORESHENE: What concerns Gorbachev there is a person who could give much more information that I could even think of — that’s Anatol Chernayev, his assistant. We may publish his book “6 years with Gorbachev”. He is completing this book now. It contains interesting information. But these are the people who were working directly with Gorbachev. Chernayev could tell you a lot.

M. I passed his door an hour ago. Since I’ve been here I’ve spoken with a number of people and I get the impression that Andropov was much more in touch with things that I had assumed. I spoke with Mr.Delusin who seemed to think that he was eager to hear contrary views. Is there a person like Mr. Chernayev who could tell me what books Andropov was reading?

ORESHENE: I think his son. At the time I knew him, he is a highly-educated person. He was an ambassador to Greece. I don’t know what he is doing now. He wrote a book on diplomatic struggle before the World War II. I think he is a person with open eyes and he could tell you. Attitudes to Andropov have changed for the worse now, which is natural. He was a Head of KGB for 15 years. I think his son could tell you.

M. Can you say which of these publications you heard may have had an impact? Do you have any sense at all about what’s going on after one reached its recipient?

ORESHENE: No, the company did not have any feedback on that.

M. That’s too bad, it would be interesting to know. Did you yourself participate in the conversations of the kind Mr. Smirnov described to me — that after someone have read one of these books it became the favorite topic of conversation and some people even had copies, retyped the books and passed it to their friends.

ORESHENE: If you mean those special publications I’ve never had such an experience. I have much more experience in special scientific publications that were published by INION — I have lots of them.

M. You didn’t need such serious precautions for the discussing of that series, did you?

ORESHENE: Well I had an experience with the consequences. In 1970-1973 I was working in the Institute of Sociology. It was called the Institute of Sociological Research. Its first Director was Academician Rumyantsev, who was considered a liberal and then he was discharged from the positions of Vice-President of the Academy of Science and the Director of the Institute. He was removed on Suslov’s initiative. One of the arguments against him was that the sociologists followed bourgeois sociology uncritically. The printed copy of the lecture on sociology by Doctor Levada was published in INION. Two thin volumes with a run of 900 copies and then there was a wide discussion in the Institute of Philosophy and the Institute of Sociology — just the exposition of latest trends in Western Sociology, its main concepts, notions etc. The criticism was awful. The Institute of Philosophy also subjected Dr Levada to scarring criticism. A Commission was organized to check the Institute of Sociology. Rumyantsev was discharged from the Director position. Prof. Rutkevich from Sverdlovsk, famous for his conservative views, was invited and he completely destroyed the Institute. Many well-known scholars left the Institute including Professors Grushin, Levada, Burlatsky. Burlatsky a Deputy Director of the Institute in 1972-73. He was charge of political sciences at that Institute.When Rutkevich came he said they would not do any political science any more, the Department of Political Science was eliminated. Levada was the Head of the Department of Social Changes. All its staff was fired. Practically all the scholars who were acquainted with Western Sociology were fired. At this Institute the above mentioned books were widely discussed.

M. Levada runs the public opinion polls now?

ORESHENE: Yes, Levada and Mr. Grushin also.

M. There were no public opinion polls until Levada and his colleagues began their work six years ago. Am I correct?

ORESHENE: There some public opinion polls were conducted even in previous years. I even read few reports published by the Institute of Sociology. They were criticized harshly as they believed that the questions were asked incorrectly. Like questions were formulated in such a way to push the respondent to give a needed answer. Grushin had a lot of troubles. Certainly, genuine investigations started very recently.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books