The Russian Collection

Hard Times at the Russian Research Center

It is not so much a center as a collection: from David E. Powell, who quit teaching Defense Department seminars largely because senior officers' talk of "nuking the Chinks" offended him; to Vladimir I. Toumanoff '46, the son of Russian nobility and author of the original SALT memorandum; to Gilbert S. Doctorow '67, who says that his present monograph on pre-revolutionary Russia may succeed in "reducing the tarnish" on the tsarist regime.

Adam B. Ulam, the center's director and professor of Government, has an office in 106, at the middle of a long corridor on the first floor of 1737 Cambridge Street. The room resembles the kind of scholar's study that would appear in a Victorian novel: papers are everywhere, ashtrays are full of the professor's pipe tobacco and cigarette butts and books lie in every manner of arrangement--books with fifteen bookmarks, books face-down on their binding, and books lying fallow--most of them with the dull dark red covers of the University libraries.

There is a rumor around the center that a couple of years ago, one of Ulam's research assistants found the documents and materials Ulam had used to wtite his first books, roughly 25 years before. At any rate, Ulam's den is heated like a greenhouse, with the windows closed and the director sweating it out in rolled-up sleeves and undone collar.

Ulam was one of the center's original members, finishing his Ph.D. dissertation on the British Labor Party in 1948, when the center was founded with anthropologist and Freudian Clyde Kluckhohn as its first director. (Even then, Ulam says now, the center was sensitive to charges that it was a Cold War front for U.S. imperialism. Thus, Kluckhohn--an expert on the Navajo Indians--was apparently chosen in part because he seemed so utterly non-political.)

Down the long corridor from Ulam, the center's premier figure, is Doctorow, who has yet to earn his academic spurs. Like most institutions, a favorite word describing many topics is used at the center--"deplorable--and Ulam, the veteran, and Doctorow assails the present Soviet regime as "deplorable." He claims that the recent inability of doctoral programs in history and Soviet studies to find jobs for their graduates is "morally deplorable." And when asked about the center's present financial condition, the director focuses on his pipe and responds "it's deplorable."

But Ulam is a European, old-world scholar, while Doctorow says he is typical of a new generation of academics. Contrasting his approach with that of graduate students of the 1960s, Doctorow says, "My generation is no longer so political. We didn't go into Russian studies to learn about revolution." He is severe: precisely dressed and pressed, with a neatly clipped dark beard and a habit of gnawing on the ends of his wire-rimmed glasses while thinking, his passion is "unearthing unknown documents" and his impressions of the present Soviet regime "unequivocably negative."

Doctorow is equally blunt about his own future: "I don't want to teach at a small college. I don't want to end up at some third-rate place in Mauritania." With a shortage of acceptable teaching jobs, however, Doctorow is understandably grateful to the center: it occasionally provides paper and shelter for young, unemployed scholars.

Doctorow is less intent than many other scholars at the center on praising the institution as a community of scholars. There are group seminars at the center, he says, but he doesn't participate. "I've been rather busy and the programs don't deal with my specialty"--the tsarist bureaucracy between 1905 and 1907. As far as attending infrequent meetings on the center's financial situation, Doctorow says, "They bore me."

Whether the problem is boring or not, the center is in financial trouble, and if something big is not quickly forthcoming, neither Ulam nor Doctorow nor any of the other 100 or so scholars affiliated with the center will have a spiritual or physical home next year. In July 1976 the Ford Foundation will cease to provide about 80 per cent of the center's annual operating budget--as Ford has since the '50s--and the center, consequently, is going public this year, with industries doing Soviet business and other foundations as the main foci of a $1 million fund-raising effort.

As in New York City and London, however, there are no visible signs of crisis at 1737 Cambridge--the phones still work, the paint isn't peeling and the mid-morning coffee hour, at which Ulam is said to regale fellow members with recitations of Polish poetry, is still going strong. Few of the center's members are familiar with the annual budget and its determination--it is in the vicinity of $150,000 and is worked out by Ulam and Edward Keenan '57, associate director and professor of History, then submitted for pro forma ratification to a group of Harvard senior faculty called the Executive Board.

One person who is concerned about the center's finances is Toumanoff, an owlish, genial and relaxed man who occupies an office set far back from the scholars' corridor that Ulam and Doctorow inhabit. On Toumanoff's desk and shelves there are no dusty volumes, but a clipped article from the New York Times Week in Review section called "Can the World Organize to Save Itself?" (on food and resources), the latest Club of Rome report on dwindling world resources, and a two volume policy-oriented study entitled Rapid Population Growth

The only research Toumanoff is involved in now is for the snaring of State Department contracts, and all those population and resources materials are feeding into grant proposals. This will be, says Toumanoff, "short-term stuff"--money to help tide the center over until an endowment can be built up with corporate and foundation support. Still, Toumanoff's future offers to State--if ultimately accepted--will mark something of a new direction for the center, involving some of its members in pragmatic research on Soviet environmental and urbanization problems.

Already there has been some success--but a steady trickle, not a deluge. In June 1974 State contracted with the center for a set of studies and Washington seminars to be prpared by five of the center's Scholars, Ulam and Keenan among them. This year, Toumanoff says, State has accepted a contract extension that will engage about five more scholars on issues like U.S.-Soviet trade, Soviet agriculture and long-range economic thinking, and guesses on Soviet succession (Kremlinology--who's sitting next to Brezhnev at what state dinners, and so on).

This hasn't brought in all that much money--$90,000 with the contract and its extension, but most of that, Toumanoff says, is absorbed by costs. The center's scholars seem hardly thrilled by the lure of government power Ulam seems to speak for the center's members when he says "We don't want to study for the twentieth time the Soviet succession." Doctorow, typically, puts it more harshly: "The center can't get money precisely because of their isolation from the 'evil' centers of power, which I don't think are particularly evil. We ought to be more plugged into the areas of power."

Toumanoff is perfectly suited to act as the go-between with the government. A clinical psychologist by training and a Foreign Service officer in Washington and Moscow for 25 years, he seems to express the reverence the practical, experienced man holds for intellectuals. He speaks of Harvard's research facilities, which have been the center's main bait in drawing Soviet scholars from most U.S. state universities and many European schools: "In terms of source material, it's better than anything outside of the Library of Congress--and it's more accessible."