Treasures from the Archives

Saturday, January 30, 1999

One of our most exciting current projects at the Hoover Institution involves microfilming a large collection of the records of the Communist Party of the former Soviet Union. In 1992, we negotiated an important exchange with the Russian government—copies of our own Russian archives for copies of Soviet Communist Party documents, including the records of Stalin’s secret police. Since 1992, we have produced 12,000 reels of microfilm amounting to eleven million images, or ten million pages of information. If stacked in a pile, it would amount to ten Hoover Towers—approximately a half mile high.

When we launched this partnership with Russia back in 1992, we commemorated our agreement by organizing an exhibit in Moscow showcasing original archival treasures from both the Soviet and Hoover collections. My favorite from the Russian collection is a memo (reproduced on the following pages) dated October 18, 1921, from Lev Kamenev to fellow members of the Politburo in response to a proposal by the American Relief Administration (of which Herbert Hoover had been director-general two years earlier) to render food relief to Russia. In handwritten notations in the margin of this memo, the three leading figures of the Russian Revolution—Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky—offered their assessments as to how the Soviet state should respond to the offer of aid.

Click on graphic for translation.

Trotsky simply wrote “agreed” and signed his name. Underneath, Stalin wrote, “The issue is obviously trade and not charity.” He recommended charging the ARA for transportation and storage of the gift food parcels. Beneath Stalin’s notation, Lenin weighs in. Lenin disagrees with Stalin’s suggestion that the ARA be charged for its food gifts, but his notation goes on to call for the appointment of a “supervisor for this ARA operation as would be able to bring together reliable individuals with the ability to control everything.”

This brief memo offers a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of the Soviet leadership—and a telling insight into the disparate personalities of the three Soviet leaders.