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From Communism to Anti-Communism

Andre Liebich
Svetlana Yakimovich

The Boris Souvarine Archive and Library at the Graduate Institute

Svetlana Yakimovich

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1The Boris Souvarine Library is a true reflection of his intellectual itinerary during the long years of his active life. The wide range of the books and periodicals shows the development of his political views, but the main subject of the library was determined by the area of his particular interest and the name of the Institute he directed – the collection is focused on social and historical studies of contemporary politics.

2Having founded the Institute of Social History in Paris in 1935 as a French branch of the International Institute for Social History of Amsterdam, Boris Souvarine carefully developed the library, often at his own expense, preserving as the core of his collection the documents and correspondence concerning the Comintern and rare published materials, such as first Soviet editions and press clippings. After his return from American refuge in 1948 Boris Souvarine recreated the Paris Institute and ran it single-handedly till his retirement in 1976, continuing the publication of the journal Le Contrat social until 1969 and willingly sharing his experience, knowledge and the library with hundreds of people who were seeking advice in the field.

3In the end of the 1950s his failing health and ever increasing financial burden brought about a critical situation and as a result the Library had to be either dispersed or sold to the highest bidders. At that time the Collection was considered to be the fourth most important library in the field in Europe, after the Moscow Institute of Marxism-Leninism, the one at the Amsterdam Institute (Boris Nicolaevsky, as a Director of the Paris Branch, and Boris Souvarine, as Secretary General of the institution were both responsible for the creation of its library) and the Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Library in Milan. Boris Souvarine considered several ways of saving his collection from dispersal or falling into communist hands and finally proposed it to the Library of the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, which seemed to be an ideal solution. He explained his choice in a letter of 1 February 1960 to the Director of the Geneva Institute at that time, Professor Jacques Freymond, in the following words: “Geneva is a center of international meetings and has long been an academic center for students and professors of all nationalities ... Also Geneva is a haven of peace, neutrality, stability. Geneva precisely combines the advantages of being a Swiss city and a global crossroads”, and later, in a letter of 30 March 1971 to the Geneva Institute, he wrote “in spite of the most tempting propositions that were coming from America I have always wanted all my collection to stay in Europe, and Geneva seemed to be the most suitable place for different reasons, as well as being the most available”.

4In the first stage of the negotiations Michael Josselson, the head of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, an anti-communist advocacy group founded in 1950, petitioned in favor of Boris Souvarine’s Library to the Director of the Geneva Institute and to its Foundation Board, convincing them of the advantages of this acquisition. According to Souvarine’s Memorandum of 4 December 1959, The Paris Institute consisted of a Library of approximately 12,000 volumes on the history of socialism and communism among which there were valuable collections of newspapers and magazines related to revolutions, economic doctrines and social movements. In addition to this, there were several thousand pamphlets of great importance in these fields. There were also a number of documentary files such as the documents which Boris Souvarine kept at the time when he was Secretary of the Comintern; documents, covering the negotiations between France and the Soviet Union about the settlement of tsarist regime debts; as well as some personal files of Sergey Prokopovich.

5From the very beginning Jacques Freymond showed enthusiasm for the idea, as at the time the Institute already had a library of about 30 000 volumes but it did not possess a section on the history of socialism and communism. The project of enlarging the building of the Institute and providing the capacity for the library to house approximately 90 000 volumes was to be finished in spring 1960. Besides, the inclusion of Souvarine’s Library in that of the Geneva Institute would have given Jacques Freymond the possibility to expand his program, to include the study of the history of communism and developments in Eastern Europe. Moreover, Jacques Freymond himself was doing scholarly research on the history of the First International and Souvarine’s Library was particularly well equipped with material on the history of the Internationals. Another important factor was the short distance between Paris and Geneva, which would have made it possible for Boris Souvarine to spend a certain amount of his time in Geneva continuing his work based on the collections and acting as an adviser in the field of the organization of his fund.

6Long and tiring negotiations started in early 1960 between Jacques Freymond and Souvarine on the conditions of the purchase and the organization of the transfer of the library and the scientific work of the latter for the Geneva Institute. Boris Souvarine eventually accepted Geneva’s offer in early 1961, and started preparing the books for the transfer and simultaneously continuing research for his French publication, Le Contrat social and the promised scientific work for the Graduate Institute based on the history of the Third International. He also took upon himself the obligation to have the brochures and fragile rare books bound at the expense of the Institute and to assure the return of the books that had been borrowed from his collection. The Geneva Institute never specified the exact number of volumes bought, the proposition to purchase dated 16 February 1961 mentions “all the works, brochures, publications, editions, periodicals concerning the field of social history, political and economic movements and doctrines, in which the activities of our Institute specialize, together with the fund of manuscripts and documentation, such as press clippings, and also your personal archives, especially on the Comintern”. Between spring 1961 and until Boris Souvarine’s death almost a quarter century later, books arrived in a series of boxes. The ageing man tried hard to arrange the books in the best manner, to write his comments where necessary, and at the same time to keep apart those publications useful for his own research. Most of the books and all the brochures in Russian contain an insert, a sheet of paper with an author’s surname transliterated and a translation of the book title into French, handwritten by Boris Souvarine. The Institute librarians decided to systematize and catalogue the books delivered from Paris upon their arrival, starting with the most precious editions and collections of surveys. Some of Souvarine’s letters of this period describe the content of the boxes sent to Geneva in simple handwritten lists. The last packages of Boris Souvarine’s personal archives and the rest of the books, carefully prepared and sent by his widow, Madame Françoise Souvarine, arrived in Geneva in September 1985 after his death.

7The meaning of this important “operation Souvarine”, as Mr Yves Collart, the Secretary General of the Graduate Institute, called it in his letter of 22 February 1961 about the outcome of the negotiations to Mr Alfred Borel, Geneva State Counselor, head of the Department of Public Instruction and head of the Institute Foundation Board, is best expressed in his words: “A project, which not only enriches our library by collections of great value but opens new opportunities of great interest for our future research”.

8The Boris Souvarine Archive at the Graduate Institute, Geneva comprises several sections: fourteen folders of his personal documents, vast correspondence, press clippings and historical photographs, dating from 1917-1960, from before the time of his Comintern activity to the period of Khrushchev’s leadership; twelve folders of the archive of Anatole de Monzie, a French political figure and scholar; various donators’ folders, such as that of “George Kagan”, a Comintern delegate from Poland, known as “Constant” and later a French communist; “Andre Marty”, a leading figure in the PCF, Secretary of the Comintern; “Baranès”, a controversial Frenchman, involved in communist and anti-communist activities in the Cold War; “Arthur Raffalovich”, a Russian state financial agent in London; a folder entitled “NKVD” ; also one under the name of “Ernest Vaughan”, an early French journalist and publicist; Paix and Liberté leaflets. A significant part of the collection is represented by numerous folders of the family of Sergey Prokopovich, Russian economist, sociologist, liberal politician, Minister in the Provisional (Kerensky) Government (1917), and his wife, Yekaterina Kuskova, a politician, advocate of social reformism, economist and journalist writing on economics, history and political matters, founder of the “Public Committee for Famine Relief” in 1921 and, a year later expelled with her husband from Soviet Russia for their anti-Bolshevik activity. The family lived in Geneva from 1939 up to their deaths, leaving their forty-eight folders of archive material, containing rare original correspondence, manuscripts and press clippings dated 1900-1954, to Boris Souvarine.

9The collection was highly valued by its holder himself: “As fragmentary, as insufficient as my collection may be, it still represents a real interest in various fields. It denies well established legends concerning the life of the Comintern, its terms of deliberation and action, its relations with national sections, the “money question”, Soviet espionage, etc. It illuminates in general the Executive Committee’s relations with the PCF [French Communist Party], but some aspects of these relationships also apply to the other sections of the Comintern. It contains texts and papers concerning different Communist Parties, various poorly known episodes of international communism. It preserves the letters of Zinoviev, Boukharine, Trotsky, Kuusinen, Lozovsky, Manouilsky, Rosmer, Sadoul, Bordiga, Roland-Holst, Rutgers and the others, which contribute to the comprehension of the people and of the facts. It provides all necessary materials on the PCF for a future true history of this party “in the making”, of its crisis, of its transformation into the instrument of the Soviet state. Due to these diverse titles the collection is irreplaceable and it is worth a publication…” (from B. Souvarine’s letter to J. Freymond of 30 March 1971).


3 folders of documents, concerning the collaboration between B. Souvarine and the Graduate Institute dated from 1959 till 1984.


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