Laurama Pixton (Quakers), 1994

Laurama Pixton interview, about March 1994
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

She mentions that in 1982 Andrei Melville had been part of their seminar. In 1985 it included Nikita Zagladin. Always thought it was as important for Americans to get to understand Soviets as vice versa.

British Quakers went on missions of concern in the time of Peter the Great, to speak for peasants. We began in 1918-21 and had relief workers who stayed on, were still there working in the early 30s, finally were kicked out by Stalin. We began in 1955 to send goodwill missions and to write it up. We began to pick up particularly when the UN was founded in late 40s. The UN came to Lake Success. The Soviet delegates to the UN were completely ignored so we did a lot of work with meetings, particular Sov/American. We are always sending missions who come back and write pamplets. For a long time in the ’50s Soviets participated in conferences in Europe for diplomats. We had conferences both for diplomats and youth seminars. From 1951-61 we exchanged teachers of English and Russians for 10 weeks. We do something for ten years and then look it and if they can second it to someone else, we do that. So we seconded the teachers’ exchange to the American Field Service, who have continued it ever since except when the Soviets went into Afghanistan. We would never shut down our exchanges for any reason.

In 1962 we decided to have work camps for young people, with Brits and Russians. Met every summer, rotating in the three countries. The Soviet committee decided in the ’70s that it was not appropriate anymore to send white kids to areas where you need to empower the people living in those areas. But the Tri-partite went on until 1976. It came to my desk in 1970. From ’62 to ’70 it was administered by our youth division, but that was shut down and the projects given to others, so since I was already doing the Soviet seminars, I got that. The Soviets always tried to send at least half women as delegations that were supervising youth. It also took a long time to convince them to send half women. I ran a traveling seminar. Also one in California in the redwood forest. We went to San Quentin, and a rehab program in SF for drug addicts. So we changed it from simply work aspects to learning and dialoguing. The Soviets said in 1978, that they would have to think about it. I was in Moscow with Alan Davies, my British counterpart, They wanted to send 50 young people, not just 10, but never mind including the British. That would be a zoo, so that was the end of the Tri-Partite. They wanted 50 or nothing. They were having good luck sending large groups of students abroad. Our seminars was a fantastic opportunity because kids — there were …(tape turns over)

These were mid-career people, residential for one week, then in each country another week of visits to colleges, institutions, etc. This started in 1966. Richard Falk went to that one.There were 8 Americans, 8 Soviets, no british. This rotated between the two countries.

M: Tell me more about your graduates who went on to do something interesting.

Vikenti Medveyev. Spartak Viedlov from Inst of US, IMEMO, Inst of Africa, Oriental Studies. Our main opposites for the first few years. Then in 1974-75 we concentrated on the mIddle East. In 1976, we looked after a 10 year period again. For a long time, except for the Dartmouth Conferences, we were the only organization doing dialogues. We tried to do middle level people.

Two weeks every year. Reciprocates. It is always residential. We always went outside of Moscow. We had some seminars at the Endicott house, the MIT house at Dedham [Massachusetts]. Otherwise we had them at Pendle Hill. But after 10 years, there were more other things opening up and we discovered that the Soviets who had been in our seminars were coming to many other kinds of things. So we decided to do a different format. In 1979 we sent 9 americans for two weeks on a special disarmament trip and then the next year Soviets returned here, just after the invasion of Afghanistan. They were bombarded with questions.

We also had Oleg Bogdanov in 1981 from Inst of State and Law, lecturing on issues of disarmament. In 1982 we sent Randall Forsberg as a reciprocal disarmament specialist. They set up intensive meetings for her in various institutes. She would give interviews, she was on TV, talking about her expertise, disarmament. I represented the Quakers in 1982, a world religious conference in Moscow. It was just about then when Reagan was talking about the evil empire. Billy Graham was the featured speaker from the US. He stayed a whole week, made a marvelous talk. The only thing that was said in our papers was that he had been in Moscow being used by the authorities. It was the beginning of the explosion of grass roots contacts and studies. People wanted to find out about this evil empire. So there were so few of us who could be of any help. Carol Pendell was one. I was going around with a slide show, saying what a wonderful speech Billy Graham had given. People began to want pen pals, to exchange pictures. We want to put on a bumper sticker, “Have you hugged a commie today?” and then the problem would be solved!

I used to send out a newsletter suggesting reading, etc. Other things were poppig up. At was an explosion. It was then that I contacted Harriet Crosby. She thought along the same lines, trying to develop initiatives for Americans. That is when she started her magazine, “Surviving Together.” It still is going on but she has got into environmental things since the end of the Cold War. They have gotten really involved in all kinds of environmental reciprocal things and they are now, on behalf of a large coalition of environmental NGOs. They will be administering a grant program to support joint projects in the two countries. Lake Baikal. Women, nature and society. Get onto their mailing list. In 1985 these very interesting people came to tell us about Gorbachev.

Who had been in your seminar as a youth and then went on?

The most dramatic was Gerasimov, Yury Zamoshkin, Andrei Melville. In the mid ’80s Melville became a particular friend of Harriet Crosby. she has kept in close touch with a lot of people because her bosom friend was the wife of Arthur Hartman, who was ambassador under Reagan. She used to go over all the time, stay at the Embassy. She also kept in close touch with Nikita Zagladin.

Edward Arab-Ogly, I don’t know where he is now, he was at Institute of International Labor movement.

M: Mendlovitz mentioned him.

Yeah, he must have been with us when Mendlovitz came and spent a day or so with us. Beglov, Vizkenti Medveyov we kept in close touch with. Arab-Ogly did not come often. Vitaly Zhurkin. Yury Shvedkov at Institite of USA. One interesting guy was Georgy Mirsky, specialist in Middle East. Also Alexander Kaliavin.

My British counterpart after Alan Davies retired, they want a little center. Janet Chapin in Electrosol has started an exchange of position. There is a lot of Quaker concern. One may who has become iterested in this process was Alexander Kaljavin, who was with us early on and is now a thoughtful person. He became a disarmament specialist in Geneva. He has become involved with the Quaker group. My bias is that you cannot just go somewhere and become a Quaker. We do not try to make people Quakers. I goal is to encourage dialogue and find out what we have in common and how we can make a better world or all of us. Our intention was never proselytizing.

Some of the Soviets in our seminars we lost track of. Edward Khozen, whose specialty is space, environmental concerns, I have kept in close touch with.

M: In these seminars, I suppose they talked about issues that divided them. Can you remember feeling that somebody’s attitudes changed as a result?

That of course was our hope, and that they would change on both sides. When we were first doing this, I would come back and talk to people who asked, Did you change their minds? That was the only thing they were interested in. The hope is that they will learn from each other and in their writings, it will change the way they write, particularly academics in the US who also teach. It is especially important for people in the Institute of USA and Canada, whose main scholarly activity is looking at our society. The Soviets and Americans quickly found they could always relate. In their opening statements the Soviets had to give the party line (in the early years) but then they would quickly get to real discussions. It is very difficult to show when they changed. I can only see what the experiences meant to the Soviets I have kept in close touch with, particularly in the early years when the only opportunity they had was to talk with people on their own academic and professional level.

M: Was it ever clear that they privately departed from the party line?

Oh, sure. They were paying lip service to the official foreign policy, but soon you could tell exactly what they really believed.

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