Alexander Dolitsky: Smuggled typewriters and the parallels between Soviet socialist regime and America in 2021 - Must Read Alaska
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Alexander Dolitsky: Smuggled typewriters and the parallels between Soviet socialist regime and America in 2021

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By ALEXANDER DOLITSKY

Many of my friends during my upbringing in the former Soviet Union were students from various academic institutes, striving for knowledge, wisdom, academic curiosity and freedom of intellectual expression. We constantly challenged each other during our passionate discussions about new discoveries in science and creations in literature, art, music and other spheres of academic endeavors. 

Many topics of our discussions — especially related to creative writing and dissident literature — were forbidden and harshly punishable by Soviet authorities. Indeed, we all realized the danger of our involvement in these freedom–spirited activities. But a desire for a democratic liberty and truth was stronger than fear and cowardliness.

Across the socialist countries in the Eastern Block, samizdat (Russian for self-publishing) was a form of forbidden literary activity in which individuals reproduced uncensored and underground publications and passed the documents from one liberal–minded reader to another. The practice of manual reproduction was done via typewriters because printing devices required official registration and permission to access. This grassroots practice to evade official Soviet censorship was dangerous and came with threats of harsh punishment, including expulsion from the universities, loss of employment and even imprisonment. 

All Soviet–manufactured typewriters and printing devices were officially registered by the government. Their typographic samples were collected right at the factory and stored in the government directory for further identification, when needed.

Because every typewriter has unique micro features, which are as distinct as human fingerprints, it allowed KGB investigators to easily identify the device that was used to type the text in question and, subsequently, apprehend its user. However, the typewriters that were smuggled into the Soviet Union by rebel Soviet citizens from abroad, mostly in the nearby socialist countries (e.g., German-made Erica), skipped the sample collection procedure which made it significantly more difficult for KGB agents to trace the devices.

The smuggled typewriters typed Cyrillic text via Latin characters. To prevent capture by the authorities, the forbidden texts were often bound and concealed within ideologically approved books (e.g., Maxim Gorky, Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Pushkin, etc.).

In the Russian samizdat (self-publishing) process, writers or typists commonly typed four to eight carbon copies of uncensored and underground material at once. It was then widely multiplied, retyped and distributed among intellectuals, political activists, rebel youth and trusted friends. In absence of a typewriter, several copies were made by hand using carbon paper—a very laborious process.

Mikhail Bulgakov (1891–1940) was a Russian writer, playwright, and physician in the first half of the 20th century. His father was a professor of theology and a prominent Russian Orthodox essayist, thinker, and translator of religious texts. His mother was a teacher, and his grandparents were clergymen of the Russian Orthodox Church. Thus, Bulgakov’s writing and ideological beliefs reflected his upbringing and orthodox Judeo-Christian faith and moral values. His most renown literary work is The Master and Margarita, presumably the best masterpiece of the Soviet time (1918–1991).

Samizdat copies of Bulgakov’s satirical novel were passed around among trusted and liberal–minded friends. His novel describes a visit by the devil to the officially atheistic Soviet Union; it combines supernatural elements with a satirical dark comedy and Judeo-Christian moral values.

Unfortunately, his novel was never published during his lifetime. The publication of his work, in a censored and abridged state, happened 26 years after Bulgakov’s death. Although the censorship had removed some 60 typed pages (about 15,000 to 20,000 words), nearly 150,000 copies were sold out in a few hours in the former Soviet Union.

However, prior to its official (censored) publication in 1966–67, the complete version of the book was self–published by samizdat and secretly passed along from one avid and courageous reader to another. In fear of getting caught, rebellious readers would read it in one day (often in one night) and hurriedly rid themselves of the forbidden literature. I did not have a chance to read a samizdat version due to my secondary school age and lack of access to the source, samizdat, at that time.

Officially, the novel saw publication in its entirety (uncensored and published in full) in 1973, 33 years after Bulgakov’s death. Eventually, it was translated into many languages. In fact, my cousin Janet from Canada revealed to me, in the course of our private correspondence, that she had a chance to read Bulgakov’s uncensored novel in English in 1974. I read the uncensored Russian version several years later in the Soviet Union.

Boris Pasternak (1890–1960) was one of Russia’s foremost poets and literary translators of Goethe, Schiller, Calderón de la Barca and Shakespeare. But his novel, Doctor Zhivago, had a very unfortunate fate. The manuscript was first approved by the government publishing house, but sometime later, because of the anti-revolutionary sentiments in the book, the Soviet government reversed its decision. Fortunately, Pasternak had sent a copy of his novel to an Italian publisher who published the book in 1957; and later it was translated and widely published in many languages. 

Pasternak won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 for his novel, but under pressure from the Soviet government and in fear for his family and friends, he declined the prize. In 1989, however, his descendants were able to accept it posthumously. 

In fact, Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago remained unpublished in the U.S.S.R. until 1987–88, because of its implicit criticism of the Soviet socialist system and brutality of the October 1917 Socialist Revolution in Russia. I did not have a chance to read the Russian version because I left the Soviet Union in March of 1977, before the novel was published. 

Interestingly, in 1977, in Vienna, Austria, three days after my departure from the U.S.S.R. as a political refugee, I happened to watch the film Doctor Zhivago, with English subtitles. It was an inspiring and eye-opening event. There I was,  my third day in the West, and I had no fear of watching a classic film based on the banned book from my former country—the authoritarian socialist U.S.S.R.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008) was a Russian writer, historian and Nobel Prize Winner for Literature in 1970. He was a notorious critic of the Soviet socialist regime. The writer was accused of spreading anti-Soviet propaganda during World War II. As a result, he was imprisoned from 1945 to 1956 in the Gulag, the Soviet Union’s system of forced labor camps.

After Solzhenitsyn’s return from the Gulag, he began writing memories and accounts of the camps, including The Gulag Archipelago, his most renown anti-socialist regime novel. For a while, his stories and books, such as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, published in 1962, were studied in Soviet universities. But after the government leadership changed with the deposal of Nikita Khrushchev in October 1964, his works were no longer welcome. Eventually, he was expelled from the Union of Writers and was unable to receive the Noble Prize for Literature awarded to him in 1970.Soon after, in 1973, Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Soviet Union along with all his works.

After deportation, he lived in Europe for several years, finally settling permanently in the United States in 1975. He visited Alaska the same year in search of permanent residency and a home state. Solzhenitsyn described his trip to Sitka as a “day of quiet spiritual joy and of simple physical rest.” He also visited several other communities in Alaska, including Juneau, where he was hosted by my close friend, the late Bill Ruddy.

I have presented several examples of how a Soviet authoritarian regime treated literary and human rights giants. Indeed, socialist governments believe that fear and rigid discipline of its members is the foundation of any social order. It uses this governing tactic, along with rigid censorship and control of natural, financial and material resources, to indoctrinate social and educational systems with notions of collective representation, collective consciousness, collective responsibility and collective justice. This effectively suppresses individual integrity, identity, freedom, liberty and factual truth. 

Indeed, freedom of speech is the core of American individual and constitutional rights. As my good friend stated in our private correspondence, “If you do not have free speech, how do you know who the jerks are?”

Now, my fellow Americans, Is Soviet–style censorship rearing its head in America? Are there any parallels between the Soviet socialist regime and today’s America? Do any of these governing patterns appear familiar today?

If your answers are YES, then I, and many others, left the authoritarian socialist regime in the Soviet Union at great personal expense for the authoritarian socialist regime in America!

Alexander B. Dolitsky was born and raised in Kiev in the former Soviet Union. He received an M.A. in history from Kiev Pedagogical Institute, Ukraine, in 1976; an M.A. in anthropology and archaeology from Brown University in 1983; and was enroled in the Ph.D. program in Anthropology at Bryn Mawr College from 1983 to 1985, where he was also a lecturer in the Russian Center. In the U.S.S.R., he was a social studies teacher for three years, and an archaeologist for five years for the Ukranian Academy of Sciences. In 1978, he settled in the United States. Dolitsky visited Alaska for the first time in 1981, while conducting field research for graduate school at Brown. He lived first in Sitka in 1985 and then settled in Juneau in 1986. From 1985 to 1987, he was a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist and social scientist. He was an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Russian Studies at the University of Alaska Southeast from 1985 to 1999; Social Studies Instructor at the Alyeska Central School, Alaska Department of Education from 1988 to 2006; and has been the Director of the Alaska-Siberia Research Center (see www.aksrc.homestead.com) from 1990 to present. He has conducted about 30 field studies in various areas of the former Soviet Union (including Siberia), Central Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and the United States (including Alaska). Dolitsky has been a lecturer on the World Discoverer, Spirit of Oceanus, andClipper Odyssey vessels in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. He was the Project Manager for the WWII Alaska-Siberia Lend Lease Memorial, which was erected in Fairbanks in 2006. He has published extensively in the fields of anthropology, history, archaeology, and ethnography. His more recent publications include Fairy Tales and Myths of the Bering Strait Chukchi, Ancient Tales of Kamchatka; Tales and Legends of the Yupik Eskimos of Siberia; Old Russia in Modern America: Russian Old Believers in Alaska; Allies in Wartime: The Alaska-Siberia Airway During WWII; Spirit of the Siberian Tiger: Folktales of the Russian Far East; Living Wisdom of the Far North: Tales and Legends from Chukotka and Alaska; Pipeline to Russia; The Alaska-Siberia Air Route in WWII; and Old Russia in Modern America: Living Traditions of the Russian Old Believers; Ancient Tales of Chukotka, and Ancient Tales of Kamchatka.

Read: Neo-Marxism and utopian Socialism in America

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Read: Beware of activists who manipulate history for their own agenda

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  • Time and time again we hear from people that have escaped repressive regimes, communism, socialism all the “isms”, they all warn us we are going in that direction or have been for some time. The left is made up of two distinct groups – those that know it and hide it and the second group which are the useful idiots which go along with it and drink the kool-aid.
    The “isms” have never worked throughout history and they have killed millions upon millions of there own people in the process. Until we get our school systems back we will continue to follow the same road to our own demise.
    “The American revolution was more than a rebellion against England, it was a rebellion against the whole idea that some special anointed could tell everybody else what to do.” Thomas Sowell

    • Question Everything,
      “The American revolution was more than a rebellion against England”. In fact it is a unique revolution against the concept that individual rights are granted by any form of government.
      Our revolution acknowledges that our rights are God given, and no government instituted among men can claim legitimate authority to abridge or deny them.

  • Suzanne, you are a communist loving hypocrite. You just blocked me for absolutely no reason 3 hours before you put out this story on how terrible censorship is.. you’re a Nazi

    • Apparently, Suzanne is very bad at being a Nazi, seeing as your comment is visible here.
      .
      BAD Nazi, Suzanne, BAD Nazi!!

    • To Dalton: Suzanne did not block your idiotic comment. She is not a communist or Nazi.

  • Suzanne blocks me almost every time. I’ve seen one or two slip by. The comment was on another story. and it magically came back to life. Here’s what she blocked this time:
    “The governor could put an honest representative in each Hospital and the covid boosted numbers and deaths would go back to normal. Except for the vaccine injuries which they could also report. This is the biggest crime in history, that means someone could be the biggest hero in history.. why can’t Republicans see that everyone that worships this virus is a Democrat?”

    Reply To Dalton StokesCancel Reply

    • Dalton, I suspect that you are confusing the lag time between a comment being made by you, and being approved and publicly posted, as being “censored” here. But it happens to EVERY post! Also, after you initially make a post, it will continue to appear to be posted, to YOU, as long as you do not clear your computer’s history. But it may not actually be publicly posted, and be viewable by others, until the next day. So please stop flying off the handle and making baseless allegations against Suzanne —- what you mistakenly see as “censorship” here is most likely just a feature of this forum that EVERYONE has to deal with.

  • With such technology that was available, the Soviets were very effective at suppressing their population.
    Less than 10% of the population was nominally communist, dominating a union of states with 285 million persons.
    Currently in the United States our universities, public schools, government agencies, large corporations, media and mass entertainment entities are dominated by individuals with pseudo Marxist/Maoist world views.
    Registered typewriters are replaced with keyboards connected electronically to servers which are monitored and censored with the same extreme fanatical zeal the Soviet commisars exhibited. The use of AI and algorithms make monitoring and censorship so much more effective, the old comrades are rolling in their graves.
    Big tech companies work in tandem with federal intelligence agencies to gather, monitor and censor all phone, text, Email and social media mediums. The KGB and NKVD had nothing remotely comparative with these modern tools to control society.
    Anyone exhibiting wrong think, or effectively exposing official falsehoods, wokeness or expressing controversial views is canceled, ridiculed and denounced.
    The similarities of destroying livelihoods and reputations and suppressing opposing opinions between the USSR and modern America are sobering.
    Printed and televised mainstream media has been degraded to the extent that Pravda was a less manipulative and more factual and reliable state sponsored news medium.
    The Soviets’ use of gulags or the Lubyanka prison to torture and detain intelectual dissidents was systematic, refined and extreme.
    The severity of oppression does not yet compare with what is happening here. The dual justice system, persecutions by federal authorities of Michael Flynn, Roger Stone and others for political purposes, along with hundreds of political dissidents held without bond in prison in our nation’s capitol indicate we are on a rapid trajectory towards a socialist state.

    • To Brian: Great writing, Brian. And great addition to my essay. Thanks.

  • America is a socialist run country. The politburo (err, Congress) rules the people against their will, but the people are too lazy and cowardly to fight back.

    9-11 opened the door. Covid gave the excuse. We traded freedom for the illusion of security because we were scared. Losing freedom is like losing virginity. You only get to give it away once.

    It’s time for the Great Divorce. Let the freedom loving states separate from the tyranny of the west coast and the northeast communists. Let’s doing it civilly now so we don’t have a civil war later.

    Reagan said freedom was always one generation from being extinct. This is that generation

  • Again, ..she has blocked me before.. And I also have to respectfully disagree with you. If anyone shows the slightest tendency of being a sell-out communist we should all fly off the handle.. we are living in 1939 Germany. They’re going to get Suzanne anyway.

    • To Dalton: Suzanne is an editor-in-chief and founder of MRA. She edits, approves and posts appropriate comments and essays. This editorial process has nothing to do with censorship. Every newspaper, journal, blog, professional journal, news agency or publisher follows this editorial procedure. In the past, she removed one of my comments for a good reason. I understood and agreed.

      Suzanne works very hard 24/7, even on her vacation, to inform Alaskans on real news. Your calling her a “communist and Nazi” is rude and unacceptable. If you want your voice to be heard without interference or copy editing, then create your own news agency, on your own expense.

      • Alexander, I must respectfully disagree. It is true that this is Suzanne’s venue, and she is fully entitled to edit or filter out whatever she chooses. However, to say “the editorial process has nothing to do with censorship” is fundamentally erroneous. Censorship, by definition, is the act of editing out content the censoring authority finds unacceptable. A truly free venue would allow all speech to remain posted–without exception–regardless of how offensive or unfounded it may be. Moreover, the most shrill and ridiculous comments usually have the unique and ironic character of discrediting themselves by their own nature.

        • To Wayne: Wayne, I always find your comments insightful and substantive. On this one—yes and no. I refereed many articles for professional journals—some I recommended for publication and some I did not. Many of my submissions to the professional journals were rejected, often with a painfully critical comments. Over the years, Juneau Empire, Fairbanks Daily News Minor, Anchorage Daily News and various local newspapers in Alaska published many of my essays, and also they rejected some.

          I always appreciate a good copy editing from an experience editor. Suzanne, in my opinion, is a good and experienced editor. I completely trust her edits. I myself edited several books and, on some occasions, corrected a content of the submissions, if I felt necessary to do so.

          Censorship that I was referring to in my article has to do with a deletion of the politically-motivated texts that would go against the political elites of the authoritarian regime, repressive political system, or what the US tech companies recently did to our political leaders.

          In short, if Dalton sent his comments in its present language to any newspapers or blogs in Alaska, they would through his comments into a trash basket. And here it is.

          • Alexander, this is an interesting topic. If we think carefully, we should not be conflating the terms “editing and censoring.” Technically, only government authorities have the ability to censor… which an exertion of force. Media entities such as newspapers, magazines, facebook, etc do not censor but rather edit (or bar) content contained in their privately owned platforms. In summary, I think we agree.

    • Sigh….Dalton, respectfully, of course…

      If Suzanne has ‘blocked’ you, it is most certainly deserved, based not upon your ‘message’ per se, but within how you presented it…

      I myself have been ‘blocked’ once, and looking back unto the original message, was deserved of said ‘block’, as I let my emotional response become ‘ugly’ and not acceptable within this format…even those ‘righteous’ intentions can go beyond an acceptable form of message within this format, and as said format belongs unto Suzanne, she has the right to protect it from messages she determines ‘beyond the pale’, no?

      Perhaps you should learn to ‘temper’ your message, so as to get the true meaning of the message throughout, without breaking through an unacceptable wall…just sayin’….and comparing Suzanne to a sell-out Communist is the same as accusing former President Ronald Reagan as being so, as well….it just ain’t so….

      Anyway, be safe, and be well, Dalton….

      • You are right Randy. Suzanne owns this venue; she is fully entitled to manage and control it as she sees fit. In my opinion, she does an excellent job. That said, Mustreadalaska does not fit the definition of a free-speech platform (like Hyde Park). Parler is the closest thing to that on the internet; however, even it has limits… as do public spaces for actual free speech.
        .
        As you know, the First Amendment (free speech) is only superseded in importance by the Second Amendment (ability to protect all other rights).

        • Thank you Mr. Coogan…first, for using your real name, as do I, and second, for allowing the creator of this forum her due diligence…

          I must admit that I have no experience within either Hyde Park nor Parler, nor any other social media site, if that is what those are, please pardon my ignorance…

          And agreed completely…without the Second Amendment, the First Amendment is for naught…

  • Might be instructive to watch “The Lives of Others”, ask a child, or an adult child, to explain how such a thing could never happen in America.

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