Brian Benoit


About Author: 

Brian Benoit has indexed maps, newspapers, and government documents at Readex’s Chester, Vermont office since 2002. For five years he worked with rare performing arts material at Harvard College’s Houghton Library. He is author of the recently published Crustacean Vacation (Islandport Press, 2012).

Posts by this Author

Americans-looking-at-Russians-looking-at-Americans: The ‘USSR Report. USA: Economics, Politics, Ideology’ Series from JPRS

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In highlighting this month’s release of Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, we shift our focus from monographs and shorter individual reports to a single series, USSR Report. USA: Economics, Politics, Ideology. This will allow us to indulge in the meta-perspective of Americans-looking-at-Russians-looking-at-Americans across a broad range of issues.

Along with the shift in focus, we’ll travel forward in time as well, from the 1960s of our most recent releases, to 1980. Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev was in the last years of his life, the Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan, and the economy stumbled along at the tail end of what has been called the Era of Stagnation.

Meanwhile, the United States was boycotting the Moscow Summer Olympics in protest against the Soviet-Afghan War, Ronald Reagan was elected President, and the Iran Hostage Crisis was fresh in the nation's memory. Three Mile Island was still hot. It wasn't quite “morning in America’ (from Reagan’s 1984 campaign), but the Reagan presidency hinted at resurgence. What did the Soviets make of that?


Shift to the Right—Imaginary and Real

SSHA: Ekonomika, Politika, Ideologiya, Moscow, No. 12, December 1979. 17 pages

Americans-looking-at-Russians-looking-at-Americans: The ‘USSR Report. USA: Economics, Politics, Ideology’ Series from JPRS

Cooperatives and Cooperation: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

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Two of the fundamental tenets of communism at the international level were that communist countries worked together to achieve their mutual ends, and that their economic and political development was peaceful rather than imperialistic.

From 1957 to 1960, as the dust settled from uprisings in Hungary and Poland, things were relatively tranquil within the Eastern Bloc. At a greater remove—and especially with regard to China—fraternal relationships and a unified front were a bit more difficult to maintain. Still, prior to 1960 the Sino-Soviet argument over communist “peaceful coexistence” with capitalist countries had not yet reached a critical point.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a few years off, the U2 Incident (May 1960) was just over the horizon, the echoes of Secretary Khrushchev’s 1956 threat to “bury” the West had largely subsided, and he had not yet pounded a UN podium with his shoe. So in this month’s highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, we’ll witness communist countries generally playing nicely on the international stage.


The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, Charter and Convention

Vedomosti Verkovnogo Soveta Soyuza Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik (Gazette of the USSR Supreme Soviet), Moscow, Vol. XXIII No. 15, April 1960. 19 pages

Cooperatives and Cooperation: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

The Russia Connection: Historical Proposals to Reestablish a Land Link across the Bering Strait

There’s general agreement that as recently as 11,000 years ago the Asian and North American continents were connected by a land bridge over which hominids and other animals crossed. Today, the Bering Strait is only about 50 miles wide at its narrowest point, and less than 200 feet deep.

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Two small islands are situated midway between the continental land masses. Big Diomede Island belongs to Russia; Little Diomede Island belongs to the United States. The islands are separated by approximately two miles—and the International Date Line.

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For reference, the English Channel, between the United Kingdom and France, is about 20 miles wide and similar in depth to the Bering Strait. An undersea tunnel was proposed there during the 19th century, and has since been completed. The Suez Canal, linking the Mediterranean Sea with the Indian Ocean, was built in 1869. The Panama Canal was completed in 1914. In keeping with these ambitious projects, some structure across or beneath the Bering Strait has long been suggested as both practical and possible.

The Russia Connection: Historical Proposals to Reestablish a Land Link across the Bering Strait

The Culture of Communism: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

State_Emblem_of_the_Soviet_Union_svg.pngSo much of communism is given over to building more and better widgets—collectively, of course, according to a centralized plan stretching over a number of years. Beyond the tractors and satellites, it’s worth noting that the communists were also building their people by exercising strict control over the national culture. Indeed, the real flavor of communism can more readily be experienced through its cultural expressions rather than its production schedules.

In this month’s highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, we’ll explore popular culture, religion, psychology and the communist approach to enforcing orthodoxy in all of the above.


Radio and Television—The Weapons of the Party

Kommunist (Communist), Moscow, No. 5, March 1960. 18 p.

Don’t look for independent journalism here, this is sled-dog journalism—no time for reactionary excursions, and everybody pulling in a line—the party line. And no child is left behind with youth programming about tractor operators, industrial brigades, and the series “Follow the Example of the Communists.” Consider the title of this report: a political elite wielding mass media—as a weapon against the heterodox members of its own social order.


Peculiarities of the Development of Literature in Socialist Countries

Kommunist (Communist), Moscow, No. 12, August 1959. 17 p.

The Culture of Communism: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

Pivot to the East: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

Pyongyang_Arch_of_Triumph.jpgPresident Obama's 2011 “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region refocused American foreign policy away from the intractable conflicts in the Middle/Near East towards the challenge of Chinese hegemony. In this month's highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, as President Trump rebalances U.S. strategic assets to East Asia and seeks to consolidate his diplomatic credibility with China, well turn our attention in that direction as well.


On Party Leadership, Training, and Policy Implementation in North Korea

Inmin Kyoyuk (National Education), Pyongyang, No. 11, November 1959.

Tang Kanbudulege Chunun Chamgo Charyo (Reference Materials for Party Cadres), Pyonyang, Nos. 10-12, October-December 1959. 101 pages

This topical report (multiple authors/sources) touches on industrial development, agriculture, education, and of course, political orthodoxy. Whatever the drawbacks of life in North Korea, one can admire the consistency and perseverance with which they pursue their particular take on the socialist project.


Eulogy on Ho Chi Minh on his 70th Birthday

Lao Dong (Labor) [n.p.] Nos. 746-747, May 1960.

Thoi Moi (Modern Times), Hanoi, No. 2298, 19 May 1960. 30 pages

Pivot to the East: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

Volatile Hydrocarbons, Volatile Politics: The Historical Context of Venezuela’s Economic and Social Crisis

Bandera_de_Venezuela_en_el_Waraira_Repano 2.jpgVenezuela wasn't always burning out of control. Even before the rise of Hugo Chavez nearly twenty years ago and the tangible abundance brought about through his social welfare initiatives, Venezuela had a reasonable claim as a model of economic success in Latin America. Further, it was blessed with an abundance of a key natural resource, petroleum, as can be seen below in maps found in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set.

Detail from Map 24. Hydrocarbon mineral products (petroleum, natural gas, etc.). [Resources and the Caribbean region. January 1, 1905]

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Special map showing producing [oil] fields, Venezuela, 1930.

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Volatile Hydrocarbons, Volatile Politics: The Historical Context of Venezuela’s Economic and Social Crisis

Social Issues, Socialist Countries: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

The propaganda from socialist countries during the Cold War would have the reader believe in fairy tale endings. Revolutions were necessarily unpleasant, but the outcome of full employment, efficient central planning, and a reaffirmation of the dignity of man was held to be worth all the drama. Stalinist purges and peasant starvation were presented as aberrations on the path to an economy and social order that was neither too hot nor too cold, but just right.

However, the reality on the ground often differed from the official narrative. How was the quality of life for the mentally ill? For racial minorities? For religious persons? In this month’s highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, we'll consider the social challenges that persisted in socialist countries.


On the Composition and Disposition of Patients in USSR Psychiatric Institutions

Zhurnal Nevropatologii i Psikhiatrii imeni S.S. Korsakova (Journal of Neuropathology and Psychiatry imeni S.S. Korsakov) Moscow, Vol. 57 No. 1, 1957.

This report relates the status of nearly 100,000 psychiatric patients across 193 institutions in the Soviet Union. Character of debility, morbidity, demographics, and general forms of treatment are given.


Moslems in the Soviet Union and in China

The Country of Iman al-Bukhari: Its Past and Present

[pamphlet] Tehran, 1960.

Social Issues, Socialist Countries: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

Secular and Religious Contradictions during the 'Age of Anxiety' as Found in Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

Age of Anxiety.jpgIn 1947, the poet W.H. Auden published a book-length poem entitled “The Age of Anxiety,” which later inspired a symphony by Leonard Bernstein and a ballet by Jerome Robbins. It includes these lines spoken by Rosetta, the Jewish protagonist: “Lies and lethargies police the world/ In its periods of peace.”

This couplet could be a fitting characterization of the Cold War, a time when each superpower tried to bluff and coerce the other into accepting its socioeconomic hegemony and credo—all the while loudly proclaiming its benevolent, apolitical intentions. Were we at war? Not quite. At peace, then? No, something in between.

Whether framed as detente, containment, peaceful coexistence or mutually-assured destruction, the governing ideologies of the Cold War carried the spiritual weight of established religions, sometimes exerted against religious practice itself, or set in opposition to the breathless consumerism attendant upon late-stage capitalism, even as a foil to  communism's categorical insistence upon no religion at all.

The reports that follow—all found in Joint Publications Research Service Reports, 1957-1995—span that range. We have communist critiques of mainstream Christianity and mysticism, Islamic pushback against communism in Indonesia, and two secular examples of intractable bourgeois tendencies in the Soviet Union and in America.


What is the Harm of Baptism?

Agitator (Agitator), Moscow, No. 20, November 1960 

Secular and Religious Contradictions during the 'Age of Anxiety' as Found in Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

‘Paper Tigers’ and the Hair of the Dog that Bit You: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

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In this month's release of newly digitized JPRS Reports, we have sympathetic American and Yiddish-language commentaries on Chinese communism—including a first-hand account of the origin of the term “paper tiger.” We have a pointedly anti-communist pamphlet penned by Russian émigrés. And we have an extensive exploration of the often-discounted problem of alcoholism in the Soviet Union, with one report discussing specifically the phenomenon of curing a hangover by having yet another drink.


A Great Truth of the Present Era

Shih-chieh Chih-shih (World Knowledge), Peiping, No. 22, 22 November 1960. 18 pages

American journalist, author and progressive activist Anna Louise Strong certainly lived up to her surname. Born in Nebraska in 1885 and educated at Bryn Mawr, Oberlin and the University of Chicago, Strong travelled the world, met many world leaders of the day, and wrote a number of books. Here we have her interviewing and dining with Mao Zedong at his home in Yenan in the summer of 1946. During the course of their conversation Mao used the term “paper tiger” to describe the impermanent nature of imperialism:

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This fascinating report is but one chapter in the legacy of this remarkable woman.

‘Paper Tigers’ and the Hair of the Dog that Bit You: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

Mishin Control: The Political Turbulence that Grounded the Soviet Manned Lunar Program

Lunar 9.jpgThe conspiracy theory that the United States falsified the Apollo moon landings in order to score points on the Russians is well-known. What is less well-known is that following America’s realization of President Kennedy’s vision for a human presence on the Moon, the Soviet Union officially disavowed any research or intention to effect their own manned lunar landings. This attitude may have contributed to the persistent notion that the Apollo program was a hoax since at the time there was nothing to which it could be compared, and the Soviets diminished the practicality and purpose of the Apollo program at every turn. On the American side, reconnaissance information about the Soviet effort couldn’t be released without compromising national security. So the true nature of Soviet ambitions in space were not revealed until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In two complementary reports from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995“Mishin Monograph on Failure of Soviet Manned Lunar Program”by V.P. Mishin (JPRS-USP-91-006, 11/12/1991, 21 pages), and “Development of Soviet Spacecraft for Manned Missions” by I.B. Afanasyev (JPRS-USP-92-003, 5/27/1992, 29 pages), we discover that not only were the Soviets working feverishly on a lunar landingthey were designing spacecraft for a manned orbital rendezvous with Mars. It’s no coincidence that these monographs only came to light during the “glasnost/perestroika” (openness/restructuring) period in the early 1990s.

Mishin Control: The Political Turbulence that Grounded the Soviet Manned Lunar Program

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