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Washington, DC, May 25, 2014 – Today the National Security Archive is publishing — for the first time in English — excerpts from the diary of Anatoly S. Chernyaev covering the year 1974, along with edits and a postscript by the author. This is the ninth set of extracts the Archive has posted covering selected critical years from the 1970s through 1991 (see links at left).
Anatoly Chernyaev, the deputy head of the International Department of the Central Committee (and later the senior foreign policy aide to Mikhail Gorbachev), started keeping a systematic diary in 1972, in which he recorded the highlights (and low points) of his work at the International Department, his attendance at Politburo meetings, participation in speech — and report — writing sessions at state dachas, as well as his philosophical reflections on daily life in the Soviet Union from the point of view of a high-level Soviet apparatchik.
Today, Anatoly Sergeyevich remains a champion of glasnost, sharing his notes, documents and first-hand insights with scholars seeking a view into the inner workings of the Soviet government, the peaceful end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 2004, he donated the originals of his detailed diaries, covering the years 1972 through 1991, to the National Security Archive in order to ensure permanent public access to this record – beyond the reach of political uncertainties in contemporary Russia.
In his diary for 1974, Chernyaev continues to write about his work in one of the Central Committee’s key departments, documenting and reflecting on the preparations for the European Conference of Communist Parties, relations within the international Communist movement, the revolutions in Chile and Portugal, the crisis in the Middle East and the ongoing Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) negotiations that would lead to the Helsinki Final Act the following year. The year 1974 brings about the resignation of President Richard Nixon, who in the three previous years has been Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s respected partner in détente.
On the domestic front, Chernyaev follows the internal dynamics of Brezhnev’s leadership and the concentration of power in the General Secretary’s hands. On several occasions in 1974, Chernyaev provides a fascinating glimpse of the personal struggle that his boss, International Department head Boris Nikolayevich Ponomarev, experiences in connection with Brezhnev’s growing cult of personality; and illustrates Ponomarev’s own smaller personality cult. The little details of everyday Soviet politics — such as worrying about how many times to include the General Secretary’s name in a report — show the progression of the cult and the internal mechanisms of Soviet bureaucracy under a microscope.
The theme of ideology is a leitmotif for Chernyaev in 1974. A deep thinker, Chernyaev constantly analyzes the trends he observes in the leadership, in the apparatus, and in Soviet society. In 1974, the author is attempting to reconcile the bureaucratic reality of the ossifying Soviet apparatus with the fact that ideology is still a major part of the Soviet Union’s identity. The ideology of class struggle is an obstacle to Brezhnev’s détente and the CSCE negotiations, and yet Chernyaev sees that the Soviet Union cannot afford to back down ideologically: “Europe is a case in point. We already have détente and security in Europe. But in response they launched a counterattack. They demand an ideological détente. This is unthinkable for us.”
Chernyaev notes that the Soviet Union is “an ideological superpower” and thus it needs ideology to maintain its following and sustain its domestic and international legitimacy. This role as an ideological hegemon is exemplified in the diary by Chernyaev’s descriptions of financial support the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) provides to other fraternal parties, which come to Moscow as supplicants.
The subject of European Communist parties and the international Communist movement is at the core of Chernyaev’s work in 1974. The USSR’s dominance as an ideological authority is eroding as European Communists and Socialists look to establish independence from Soviet influence. At the same time, Chernyaev realizes that “the real work that Brezhnev does every day will push us to tone down our ideology above all in our international relations. And our connection to the Communist movement will feel more and more like an impediment.” The balance between maintaining authority over the Communist movement and moving forward on the world stage is closely reflected in Chernyaev’s diary during this period.
In 1974, Chernyaev visits for the first time the city that would become his favorite — London. He describes his meetings with Labour Party members and their internal politics. On his trips abroad, he makes comparisons between the standard of living in the West (including some fraternal countries in Eastern Europe) and in the Soviet Union, where shelves are empty and even Party bureaucrats have to stand in lines hunting for decent clothes and shoes. Chernyaev’s personal experiences, astutely recorded in his diary, sharply illustrate the paradoxical dissonance of the ideological superpower with empty store shelves.
Anatoly Chernyaev’s diary for the year 1974 presents a rich portrayal of the last year of Brezhnev’s détente, depicting the political nuances of the Soviet government, the social atmosphere in Moscow’s intellectual and cultural circles, and the author’s insights into the superpower’s uncertain future.