800.01B11 Registration/1598

The Embassy of the Soviet Union to the Department of State 30


In the course of 1941 and 1942 the Embassy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics more than once made representations to the State Department in connection with non-delivery, destruction and return to the senders by the American postal authorities of Soviet newspapers and books, sent from the Soviet Union and addressed to American scientific, cultural and other organizations and persons. It must be stated regretfully that these representations were of no avail, as printed matter from the Soviet Union is even now not delivered to the addressees. At the same time, neither private persons nor organizations are in a position to get printed matter from the Soviet Union through American bookshops. The “Four Continent Book Corporation”31 which specializes in sale of Soviet books and newspapers is prevented from using American mails for carrying out the orders it receives, and it has been demanded by the Department of Justice that not only the corporation should register as an agent of foreign government but Soviet publishing houses on the territory of the Soviet Union as well.

In addition, the bookshop is demanded in case of registration to label all Soviet printed matter as “propaganda not approved by the American Government.”

An analogous demand was made by the Department of Justice also to the Inter-Continent News, a telegraph agency supplying a number of American periodicals with telegraphic information from the Soviet Union and transmitting information from the United States to Soviet papers.

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According to the information received by the Embassy, a demand to register as agents of a foreign government was made also to some periodicals printed in the United States in languages other than English (Polish, Lettish, Jewish (Yiddish), Finnish, etc.) if they desire to be allowed to receive telegraphic information from the Soviet Information Bureau in Moscow.

The above-mentioned rulings and demands are usually upheld by the State Department and the Department of Justice by references to the existing laws on subversive propaganda and to The Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938. However, these acts do not and cannot give concrete definitions as to what printed organs exactly may be included in the category of subversive propaganda and what persons exactly should in given cases be regarded as agents of foreign governments. In this respect the competent American authorities have ample scope for their own interpretation, judgment and classification. Unfortunately, almost in all cases concerning the circulation in this country of Soviet printed matter or information even of the most innocent kind, the most unfavorable judgments are passed.

As criteria by which the most competent authorities are evidently guided may be taken the following remarks contained in a letter of the Department of Justice to the above-mentioned “Four Continent Book Corporation”, under the date of November 23, 1942, signed by Mr. Lawrence M. C. Smith, Chief of Special War Policies Unit, War Division and Mr. James R. Sharp of Foreign Agents Registration Section, a copy of which letter is in the possession of the Embassy.

Putting into the category of political propaganda an album of postcards with reproductions of pictures and photographs, the authors of the above-mentioned letter write:

“Many of the photographs in the ‘Moscow Album’ are of Soviet political leaders and the identifying material praises them in strong terms. The general effect of the book is obviously to produce a sympathetic attitude toward the Soviet Union and its Government.”

Further, putting into the same category of propaganda a book entitled Land of the Soviets the above letter reads: “With respect to the Land of the Soviets, it appears to be a geographic survey of the Soviet Union, its industrial resources and accomplishments. The official point of view seems to be largely reflected, and the Government’s achievements are stressed. The book contains no criticism of any possible weaknesses in the Government program. Here again it would appear that the obvious intent is to produce a sympathetic attitude for the Government of the U.S.S.R.”

From these remarks it clearly follows that printed matter on the Soviet Union may be allowed for circulation in the United States only [Page 832] if it does not contain any data or if it does not even allow any inferences favorable to the Soviet Union or its Government; or when it contains criticism and adverse information about the Soviet Union, its leaders and organizations. Bearing in mind such criteria, it is not surprising that the post office does not allow into the United States perfectly innocent scientific books and even books of fiction, and that such publications as History of the Ukraine, History of Byzantium and Encyclopaedia of Literature had been destroyed as testified by Assistant Postmaster General Mr. Smith W. Purdum, in his letter of August 6, 1942, to the People’s Commissariat of Communications.

A similar tendency is patent in the attitude taken in regard to persons and corporations engaged in the distribution of Soviet publications, telegraphic agencies and even newspaper editors who are demanded to register as foreign agents. The “Four Continent Book Corporation” may serve as an example. It is neither an agent or an employee of the Soviet Government, it receives no remuneration from it, it is not subject to its regulations and laws, being a purely commercial organization getting commission on each book or paper it sells. Nevertheless it is demanded to register as a foreign agent, in spite of the fact that other American bookshops trade in books printed abroad, including official publications, without being forced to register as foreign agents.

In addition to the above it seems appropriate to cite the following fact. During the last twenty years the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (Tass) has had correspondents in New York and Washington. In the course of all these years there was never a doubt raised of their bona-fide activities as correspondents of a newspaper agency, and they enjoyed the position and privileges granted to all similar agencies. Tass agency has agreements with the Associated Press and the United Press providing that the correspondents of the contracting agencies should be bona-fide correspondents. Nevertheless, the Department of Justice is now inclined to cast doubt on their bona-fide status submitting the only Soviet Telegraph agency in this country to very serious consequences in connection with the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.

The above-described judgments and actions of the American authorities cannot but be regarded as discriminatory with regard to the Soviet Union and creating obstacles to the maintainance of cultural relations and mutual information between the two countries and as incompatible with the present relations between the two countries, and are brought by the Embassy to the notice of the State Department under instructions of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs.

  1. Left at the Department on March 4 by the Soviet Ambassador, Maxim Maximovich Litvinov.
  2. A New York outlet for Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga, International Book Company, the central distributor for Soviet publications in Moscow.