This article examines the impact of the Initiative Group for the Defense of Human Rights in the USSR, the first Soviet human rights NGO. It argues that this group, which functioned for over six years as the principal public platform of Soviet dissidents, made an important contribution both to the subversion of totalitarianism and to the rise of the Soviet rights-defense movement. The Initiative Group overcame a longstanding taboo on the creation of public structures and spearheaded the resistance to the KGB’s most serious crackdown on the movement. It also shaped the methods and the ethics of Soviet rights-defenders. Although its members suffered severe repression, they deserve recognition for their contribution to the global human rights boom of the late 1970s.