The following article appeared in the October 1999 issue of Liberty, as "Investigation: The Search for Ayn Rand's Russian Roots." It serves as an introduction to "The Rand Transcript," an essay detailing Chris Matthew Sciabarra's original historical research on Ayn Rand's college transcript from the University of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), published in the premier Fall 1999 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. A follow-up to this investigation is appended below as a postscript. And on the tenth anniversary of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, "The Rand Transcript, Revisited" was published.
IN SEARCH OF THE RAND TRANSCRIPT
By Chris Matthew Sciabarra
"All anyone knew about Rand's education in Leninist Russia was what Rand told her friends -- until the Soviet Union collapsed and its archives became available. But there are still those who want to keep her years in Russia secret . . ." -- Liberty
In the early 1990s, my research for Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical was aided by an extraordinary historical opportunity. As the Soviet Union collapsed, its archives were slowly opening to the eyes of scholars. In my efforts to probe these archives, I was fortunate to find--and gain the cooperation of--such historians as Boris and Andrew Lossky, sons of the distinguished philosopher, N. O. Lossky, with whom Ayn Rand claimed to have studied in her first year at Petrograd University. Boris, in particular, had close contacts with high officials at the Academy of Science Library for Scripts and Rarities. In July 1992, the Leningrad State University records were searched by the director of the archive administration and the vice director of the department dealing with the exchange of documents. N. T. Dering and L. V. Guseva discovered the college dossier of the young Ayn Rand--sealed with the official university stamp of the Archive Administration for the Committee of the Peoples Council of the Leningrad Region, the State Central Archive of the October Revolution and the Building of Socialism in Leningrad!
For all its fancy inscriptions, however, the document did not include any information on Rands coursework, grades, or teachers, but it did provide some interesting facts: I discovered, for instance, that Rands full name was Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum. It had been reported by Barbara Branden, in her biography The Passion of Ayn Rand, that Rands fathers name was Fronz. My discovery of Rands patronymic, "Zinovievna," indicated that her fathers real name was Zinovy. The dossier also detailed the year of Rands birth (1905), and her enrollment in the three-year program of the obshchestvenno-pedagogicheskoe otdelenie or Department of Social Pedagogy in the College of Social Sciences. That department contained the historical and philosophical disciplines, and often prepared students for careers as social science teachers. The document listed Rands date of entrance as 2 October 1921, and her date of graduation as 15 July 1924.
I was dismayed that no information existed on Rands actual courses or professors. Hence, it was incumbent on me to reconstruct the historical record by my own effort in an attempt to resolve certain paradoxes concerning her education. The results of that reconstruction appear in the book, but some of my conclusions created controversy. For example, Rand recollected to Barbara Branden that she had studied with Lossky in her freshman year (1921-22). I discovered, however, that Losskys life had been shattered when the Soviets had allegedly barred him from teaching at the university during that very academic period. In addition, Lossky suffered from ill health in the fall semester, and it seemed unlikely that he could have taught any courses at that time.
Before receiving the dossier, I had written Leonard Peikoff about this historical problem. Contrary to the public assertions of John Ridpath (Intellectual Activist, January 1996), that Peikoffs response was "dismissive," I received what I believed to be a promise from the Estate. Peikoff explained that the Estate was compiling Rands biographical data and that if anything relevant turned up with regard to the Lossky-Rand connection, he would notify me. Hardly dismissive. I remained hopeful.
As my explorations continued, I discovered two interesting facts. Rand had claimed to have befriended Olga Nabokov, the sister of Vladimir, Russian writer of Lolita fame. Boris Lossky was also friends with the Nabokovs. He suggested that for Rand to have been classmates with Olga, she would have had to have attended the Stoiunin gymnasium, a school founded by his maternal grandparents, N. O. Losskys in-laws. Lossky actually taught logic and philosophy courses at the gymnasium from 1898 to 1922.
Eventually, I was led by Vladimir Nabokovs biographer, Brian Boyd, to Olgas surviving sister, Helene Sikorski. Helene confirmed that she and her sister Olga had attended the Stoiunin gymnasium during the period in question. My conclusion was that Rand had also attended this school, and that she most likely learned of the famous Lossky while enrolled there.
Another interesting fact that I uncovered pertained to Losskys status at the university. Apparently, he had not been barred from teaching. He had simply been transferred to a university annex, the Institute for Scientific Research. The Soviets were disturbed by Losskys anti-materialism and anti-communism, but their censure of him did not preclude him from continued lecturing. Unfortunately, any courses that Lossky may have taught at the annex were untraceable in the Lossky family "red-book." Boris suggested that this lack of evidence in his familys archive raised doubts about Rands claims. Still, some of Rands recollections were in accord with Boriss formal records. In the end, I gave Rand the benefit of the doubt, and accepted her version of the story as the best available explanation.
The reactions to this historical conclusion were mixed. Some praised my detective work and meticulous scholarship, while others condemned the results as fiction. A few of my critics had an ideological ax to grind: they simply could not accept that Rand had actually learned anything of value from her teachers, and if this required them to damn Rands own recollections of the period, so be it. After all, I had offered Lossky as a symbol of a profoundly dialectical tradition in Russian scholarship, and I had insisted that virtually all the professors in the Leningrad history and philosophy departments of the period were of the same tradition. In essence, I declared, dialectics--with its contextual analysis of dynamic structured wholes--was in the intellectual air, and Rand had breathed its insights, absorbing its organic methodological techniques, even as she rejected the entire mystic, collectivist, and statist substance to which these were wedded.
But just as my critics were unsatisfied, so was I. I knew that somewhere more information existed, and it was only a matter of time for this information to surface.
Nearly two years after the publication of my book, I came upon an item in the May 1997 issue of Impact, newsletter of the Ayn Rand Institute. In discussing the possible origins of Rands chosen name, "Ayn," the newsletter reported: "Last month, Michael Berliner was looking at a copy of Ayn Rands university diploma and transcript from St. Petersburg (recently acquired by our Archive)." I was both stunned and ecstatic. Could it be that the long lost transcript of Ayn Rand had finally surfaced?
I had benefited from some dealings with the ARI in the past. In fact, in the aftermath of my books publication, I received several letters of appreciation from ARI associates, who were impressed with the seriousness that I brought to Rand scholarship, even though they disagreed fundamentally with my approach. I even arranged for their use of a photograph of N. O. Lossky taken from my book, facilitating Boris Losskys permission for such use in the Paxton documentary, "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life." I was pleased to see both of us acknowledged in the credits of that Oscar-nominated film. Moreover, in the April 1997 issue of Impact, the Institute posted notification of my 16-page "objective" Rand biographical entry in the 1996 American Writers encyclopedia (though they never actually mentioned who wrote the entry). I was hopeful that further contact with the ARI could be fruitful.
I called the Institute and spoke with an individual connected to the archive project. Yes, the ARI had secured two versions of the transcript, with not much difference between them. I explained to the Institute archivist that the transcript was of enormous historical value because it would help us to substantiate whether Rand had actually studied with Lossky. But the archivist did not notice any listed courses on the history of ancient philosophy, the Lossky class that Rand claimed to have attended. And it did not appear that Losskys name was even in the document, he said. In fairness, however, all of the professor signatures, allegedly inscribed after each course listing, were illegible, I was told. If Losskys signature was actually on the transcript, it could not be deciphered. Perhaps I was correct in my thesis that this course was untraceable, the archivist suggested.
He seemed persuaded, however, that, with the Institute providing me with a copy of the document, I could marshal my own resources to probe its mysteries so as to gain important insight into Rands college education. I told him that time was of the essence. I knew that both Boris and Andrew Lossky were in the twilight of their years, and that the former was now ill, residing in a Russian nursing home in Paris. I was blunt: "When these individuals die, a world dies with them." I proposed to act as a scholarly liaison, to work with the Losskys and with several other colleagues, including the distinguished philosopher George Kline, in an effort to preserve the integrity of the historical record.
Nevertheless, the Institute was concerned that I would publish my work on the transcript prior to the publication of its authorized Rand biography, for which my research would be used. I assured them that if they wanted to make the "big splash" with this information, I would wait for them to publish it first. In any event, I explained, anything that I might publish--whether as an article or as an appendix to an extended second edition of Russian Radical--would be more of an interpretive, rather than a purely journalistic, essay on the transcripts contents.
It took weeks for us to hammer out the terms of a formal agreement. I sought no compensation for my work. I stipulated that I wished to retain the right to publish my own reflections on this material at a later date. I also insisted on an acknowledgment, in print, in their projected biography, for any material that I might specifically uncover.
Literally minutes before faxing me the document, the Institute wanted one last assurance. I was asked to sign a written guarantee that neither I nor George Kline nor Boris Lossky would publish the transcript or any articles about it. I was puzzled. My colleagues had never expressed any interest in publishing anything about this transcript. Yet, since I was not their agent, I could not bind either of them legally on such grounds. I assumed that the Institute wished to prevent publication of transcript information prior to the release of its authorized biography or an alternative negotiated date. My assumption was incorrect.
I was told, in essence, that the Institute did not want me to ever write on this subject. In other words, I was supposed to do all the detective work, provide the ARI with the results of my research, and never benefit from it personally. I wondered aloud: "Have you ever heard of the trader principle?" There was no response.
By the end of June 1997, our negotiations collapsed. I was told that since neither Losskys name nor his course appeared to be in the transcript, there was really no reason to pursue this joint project any further. I was disappointed, but not surprised. I told the archivist explicitly that since the Rand transcript was a matter of public record, nothing could stop me from finding it on my own.
Finding it, however, proved nearly impossible. Boris Losskys health had deteriorated, and I was unable to locate his colleagues from the university archives. Several other foreign correspondents could not find the document. Still others were asking for enormous sums of money to move the project forward. Hopeful leads disintegrated. After nearly a year and a half, I still had nothing to show for all my efforts.
And then, suddenly, there was a breakthrough. In October of 1998, with the help of a growing international network of committed individuals, Rands transcript was discovered among the papers of the Central State Archive of St. Petersburg. It took phone calls, faxes, travel, patience, persistence, time, and money to get an official university copy of a document that the ARI had had in its possession for more than 18 months, a document that the Institute was unwilling to share because of my refusal to sign an agreement that would have demanded the abdication of my responsibility as an historian.
In the end, I suppose, some things turn out for the best. I now enjoy regular interaction with colleagues who constitute a model for joint intellectual ventures. By sabotaging our proposed cooperative project, the ARI undermined its own ability to decipher the transcript and its encryptions. Its associates saw no apparent evidence of Lossky or his course because they didnt know what to look for. I am happy to report that the transcript includes additional evidence in support of my historical contentions. My contact with Russian archival and historical specialists today has provided even more evidence, not only of the Lossky connection in particular, but of Rands dialectical education in general. The results of my investigations will be published in the premier Fall 1999 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.
Unfortunately, the lapse in time--from May 1997 to October 1998--had its costs. Andrew Lossky passed away. And Boris Lossky, now in his late nineties, was simply not in a position to offer much additional reflection on the document. This is tragic, for nothing can substitute for the eyewitness accounts of those who were Rands contemporaries at the university, and who may have shed additional light on the transcript.
There are essential issues in Rand scholarship that cannot be avoided. While the Ayn Rand Institute has no moral obligation to share any of its documents with anybody, it remains a repository for most of Rands papers. Its archives include a wealth of material relevant to Rand studies. When I visited the Institute facilities for a brief, but fascinating, tour in April of 1999, I was told that the archives were still not open to the general public or to scholars, and that access to them was restricted to those working on Estate-approved publications. The Institute has yet to enunciate a policy of access for independent scholars in pursuit of legitimate research. Given my own extensive work on Rands education, however, and my discovery of certain alterations in Rands published journals, I expressed to the Institute my concern about the accuracy of the historical record.
More importantly, I am concerned that the Institutes restrictive policies are compelling scholars to expend their time, energy, and money in an effort to get documents that already exist within the Institute archives. How many more lost opportunities will there be? The future of Rand scholarship is at stake. And so is truth.
(Published originally in THE DAILY OBJECTIVIST, 15 October 1999)
AYN RAND INSTITUTE SUDDENLY FLOURISHES RAND TRANSCRIPT
This postscript appeared in the December 1999 issue of Liberty magazine (page 17):
Curiouser and curiouser -- In the October 1999 issue of Liberty, I wrote about my quest to find Rand's college transcript. The Ayn Rand Institute refused to share this document with me, making me go to considerable trouble to uncover it in the archives of the University of St. Petersburg. The results of my findings are published in the premier issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (Fall 1999).
Curiously, the October 1999 issue of an Ayn Rand Institute newsletter reports that a few items have been added to their in-house archives, including Rand's academic records and transcripts. The story is illustrated with a facsimile of "Ayn Rand's diploma from the University of Petrograd," which includes a Russian language listing of 23 of Rand's courses. It doesn't mention that the facsimile is actually only one page of a larger document.
Suddenly, the Institute, which had previously guarded the information so jealously, has revealed it to the world, promising that it and other "materials will eventually be made available to serious scholars." Of course, there's no telling just what their definition of "eventually" is. And there's no telling what their definition of "serious scholars" is.
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