Edited by Gerald Boerner
We recently examined the life and trials of Nelson Mandela. A similar pattern of experiences filled the life of today’s feature, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Both experienced long-term imprisonment for their political beliefs. Both lived under régimes that applied oppressive measures against dissonants. They survived to emerge from these experiences to lead a nation (Mandela) and internationally-known author (Solzhenitsyn). And, they both were awarded Nobel Prizes for their efforts.
Solzhenitsyn was born just after the Russian Revolution of 1917, but lived the first half of his life under brutal rule of Joseph Stalin. His writings were unwelcomed by Stalin’s régime and he was placed in one if the gulags, essentially concentration camps. While serving his time, Solzhenitsyn listened to and committed to memory the stories from his fellow inmates. These were fashioned into The Gulag Archipelago. For this, he was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature.
So, let’s get this exploration on the road… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2010 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 4001 Words ]
Quotations Related to SOLZHENITSYN
“In our country the lie has become not just a moral category but a pillar of the State.”
“Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity.”
“For us in Russia, communism is a dead dog, while, for many people in the West, it is still a living lion.”
“Blow the dust off the clock. Your watches are behind the times. Throw open the heavy curtains which are so dear to you — you do not even suspect that the day has already dawned outside.”
“One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the market-place. One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happy too, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to.”
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
“It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes. It may even lie on the surface; but we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions — especially selfish ones.”
“Literature that is not the breath of contemporary society, that dares not transmit the pains and fears of that society, that does not warn in time against threatening moral and social dangers — such literature does not deserve the name of literature; it is only a façade.”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Publishes The Gulag Archipelago
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (1918 – 2008) was a Russian and Soviet novelist, dramatist, and historian. Through his writings he helped to make the world aware of the Gulag, the Soviet Union’s forced labor camp system – particularly The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, two of his best-known works. Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. He was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974 and returned to Russia in 1994. Solzhenitsyn was the father of Ignat Solzhenitsyn, a conductor and pianist.
As early as 1936, Solzhenitsyn was developing the characters and concepts for a planned epic work on the First World War and the Russian Revolution. This eventually led to the novel August 1914 – some of the chapters he wrote then still survive. Solzhenitsyn studied mathematics at Rostov State University. At the same time he took correspondence courses from the Moscow Institute of Philosophy, Literature and History, at this time heavily ideological in scope. As he himself makes clear, he did not question the state ideology or the superiority of the Soviet Union until he spent time in the camps.
On 7 April 1940, while at the university, Solzhenitsyn married a chemistry student Natalia Alekseevna Reshetovskaya. They divorced in 1952 (a year before his release from the Gulag); he remarried her in 1957 and they divorced again in 1972. The following year (1973) he married his second wife, Natalia Dmitrievna Svetlova, a mathematician who had a son from a brief prior marriage. He and Svetlova (b. 1939) had three sons: Yermolai (1970), Ignat (1972), and Stepan (1973).
The Gulag Archipelago
The Gulag Archipelago is a book by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn based on the Soviet forced labor and concentration camp system. The three-volume book is a massive narrative relying on eyewitness testimony and primary research material, as well as the author’s own experiences as a prisoner in a Gulag labor camp. Written between 1958 and 1968 (dates given at the end of the book), it was published in the West in 1973, thereafter circulating in samizdat (underground publication) form in the Soviet Union until its official publication in 1989.
GULag or Gulág is an acronym for the Russian term Glavnoye Upravleniye ispravitelno-trudovyh Lagerey (Главное Управление Исправительно-трудовых Лагерей), or "Chief Administration of Corrective Labour Camps", the bureaucratic name of the Soviet concentration camp main governing board, and by metonymy, the camp system itself. The original Russian title of the book is Arkhipelag GULag, the rhyme supporting the underlying metaphor deployed throughout the work. The word archipelago compares the system of labor camps spread across the Soviet Union with a vast "chain of islands", known only to those who were fated to visit them.
Since the Soviet Union’s collapse and the formation of the Russian Federation, The Gulag Archipelago is included in the high school program in Russia as mandatory reading.
Structure and Factual Basis
Structurally, the text is made up of seven sections divided (in most printed editions) into three volumes: parts 1–2, parts 3–4, and parts 5–7. At one level, the Gulag Archipelago traces the history of the Soviet concentration camp and forced labour system from 1918 to 1956, starting with V.I. Lenin’s original decrees shortly after the October Revolution establishing the legal and practical frame for a slave labor economy, and a punitive concentration camp system. It describes and discusses the waves of purges, assembling the show trials in context of the development of the greater GULag system with particular attention to the legal and bureaucratic development.
The legal and historical narrative ends in 1956, the time of Nikita Khrushchev’s Secret Speech at the 20th Party Congress of 1956 denouncing Stalin’s personality cult, his autocratic power, and the surveillance that pervaded the Stalin era. Though the speech was not published in the USSR for a long time, it was a break with the most atrocious practices of the concentration camp system; Solzhenitsyn was aware, however, that the outlines of the GULag system had survived and could be revived and expanded by future leaders.
Despite the efforts by Solzhenitsyn and others to confront this Soviet system, the realities of the camps remained taboo into the 1980s. While Khrushchev, the Communist Party, and the Soviet Union’s supporters in the West viewed the GULag as a deviation of Stalin, Solzhenitsyn and the opposition tended to view it as a systemic fault of Soviet political culture—an inevitable outcome of the Bolshevik political project. This view, politically unpopular inside and outside the USSR during the Cold War because it ascribed to Lenin the theoretical and practical origins of the concentration camp system, has become the prevalent view of most writers and scholars since the USSR’s demise.
Parallel to this historical and legal narrative, Solzhenitsyn follows the typical course of a zek (a slang term for inmate) through the concentration camp system, starting with arrest, show trial and initial internment; transport to the "archipelago"; treatment of prisoners and general living conditions; slave labor gangs and the technical prison camp system (where Andrei Sakharov and his team of prisoner-scientists developed the hydrogen bomb, among other Soviet scientific breakthroughs); camp rebellions and strikes (see Kengir uprising); the practice of internal exile following completion of the original prison sentence; and ultimate (but not guaranteed) release of the prisoner. Along the way, Solzhenitsyn’s examination details the trivial and commonplace events of an average zek’s life, as well as specific and noteworthy events during the history of the Gulag system, including revolts and uprisings.
Aside from using his experiences as a zek at a scientific prison (a sharashka), the basis of the novel The First Circle (1968), Solzhenitsyn draws from the testimony of 227 fellow zeks, the first-hand accounts which base the work. One chapter of the third volume of the book is written by a prisoner named Georg Tenno, whose exploits enraptured Solzhenitsyn to the extent that he offered Tenno a position as co-author of the book; Tenno declined.
The sheer volume of firsthand testimony and primary documentation that Solzhenitsyn managed to assemble in The Gulag Archipelago made all subsequent Soviet and KGB attempts to discredit the work useless. Much of the impact of the treatise stems from the closely detailed stories of interrogation routines, prison indignities and (especially in section 3) camp massacres and inhuman practices.
There had been works about the Soviet prison/camp system before, and its existence was known to the Western public since the 1930s. However, never before had the wide reading public been brought face to face with the horrors of the Soviet system in this way. The controversy surrounding this text in particular was largely due to the way Solzhenitsyn definitively and painstakingly laid the theoretical, legal and practical origins of the GULag system at Lenin’s feet, not Stalin’s. According to Solzhenitsyn’s testimony, Stalin merely amplified a concentration camp system that was already in place. This is significant, as many Western Communist or Socialist parties in the seventies tended to view the Soviet concentration camp system as a "Stalinist aberration."
Historical impact of the text
Solzhenitsyn argued that the Soviet government in fact could not govern without the very real threat of imprisonment, and that the Soviet economy depended on the productivity of the forced labor camps, especially in so far as the development and construction of public works and infrastructure were concerned.
This put into doubt the entire moral standing of the Soviet system. In Western Europe the book came, in time, to force a rethinking of the historical role of Lenin. With The Gulag Archipelago, Lenin’s political and historical legacy became problematic, and the fractions of Western communist parties who still based their economic and political ideology on Lenin were left with a heavy burden of proof against them. George F. Kennan, perhaps the most influential of U.S. diplomats, called The Gulag Archipelago, "the most powerful single indictment of a political regime ever to be levied in modern times."
In an Interview with German weekly Die Zeit British historian Orlando Figes claims that many Gulag inmates he interviewed for his research identified so strongly with the book’s contents that they became unable to distinguish between their own experiences and what they read. Thus, he claims "The Gulag Archipelago spoke for a whole nation and was the voice of all those who suffered".
After the KGB had confiscated Solzhenitsyn’s materials in Moscow, during 1965-1967, the preparatory drafts of The Gulag Archipelago were turned into finished typescript in hiding at his friends’ homes in Estonia. While in the KGB’s Lubyanka Prison, Solzhenitsyn had befriended Arnold Susi, a lawyer and former Estonian Minister of Education. After completion, Solzhenitsyn’s original handwritten script was kept hidden from the KGB in Estonia by Arnold Susi’s daughter, Heli Susi, until the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The KGB seized one of only three extant copies of the text still on Soviet soil. This was achieved by torturing dissident Elizaveta Voronyanskaya, Solzhenitsyn’s typist who knew where the typed copy was hidden; within days of her release by the KGB, she hanged herself on 3 August 1973.
Translated into English by American Thomas Whitney, the English and French translations of Volume I appeared in the spring and summer of 1974. Solzhenitsyn had been in touch with them about the upcoming publication, which he knew he could not put off much longer, but the final decision was taken by the YMCA Press itself with the author’s implicit approval (two years previously, it had published August 1914).
Solzhenitsyn had wanted the manuscript to be published in Russia first, but knew this was impossible under conditions then extant. The international impact of the work was profound. Not only did it provoke a very vivid debate in the West, a mere six weeks after the work had left Parisian presses Solzhenitsyn himself was forced into exile.
Because possession of the manuscript incurred the risk of a long prison sentence for ‘anti-Soviet activities’, Solzhenitsyn never worked on the manuscript in complete form. Due to the KGB’s constant surveillance of him, Solzhenitsyn only worked on parts of the manuscript at any one time, so as not to put the book as a whole into jeopardy if he happened to be arrested. For this reason, he secreted the various parts of the work throughout Moscow and the surrounding suburbs, in the care of trusted friends, and sometimes purportedly visiting them on social calls, but actually working on the manuscript in their homes. During much of this time, Solzhenitsyn lived at the dacha of the world-famous cellist Rostropovich, and due to the reputation and standing of the musician, even with Soviet authorities, he was reasonably safe from KGB searches there.
Solzhenitsyn did not think this series would be his defining work, as he considered it journalism and history rather than high literature. However, with the possible exception of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, it is his best-known and most popular work, at least in the West.
Finished in 1968, The Gulag Archipelago was microfilmed and smuggled out to Solzhenitsyn’s main legal representative, Dr Kurt Heeb of Zürich, to await publication (a later paper copy, also smuggled out, was signed by Heinrich Böll at the foot of each page to prove against possible accusations of a falsified work).
Solzhenitsyn was aware that there was a wealth of material and perspectives that merited to be continued in the future, but he considered the book finished for his part. The royalties and sales income for the novel were transferred to the Solzhenitsyn Foundation for aid to former camp prisoners, and this fund, which had to work in secret in its native country, managed to transfer substantial amounts of money to those ends in the 1970s and 1980s.
Solzhenitsyn made an unsuccessful attempt, with the help of Tvardovsky, to get his novel, The Cancer Ward, legally published in the Soviet Union. This had to get the approval of the Union of Writers. Though some there appreciated it, the work ultimately was denied publication unless it was to be revised and cleaned of suspect statements and anti-Soviet insinuations (this episode is recounted and documented in The Oak and the Calf).
"Every time when we speak about Solzhenitsyn as the enemy of the Soviet regime, this just happens to coincide with some important [international] events and we postpone the decision."
— Andrei Kirilenko, a Politburo member.
The publishing of his work quickly stopped; as a writer, he became a non-person, and, by 1965, the KGB had seized some of his papers, including the manuscript of The First Circle. Meanwhile Solzhenitsyn continued to secretly and feverishly work upon the most subversive of all his writings, the monumental The Gulag Archipelago. The seizing of his novel manuscript first made him desperate and frightened, but gradually he realized that it had set him free from the pretenses and trappings of being an "officially acclaimed" writer, something which had come close to second nature, but which was becoming increasingly irrelevant.
After the KGB had confiscated Solzhenitsyn’s materials in Moscow, during 1965–1967 the preparatory drafts of The Gulag Archipelago were turned into finished typescript in hiding at his friends’ homes in Estonia. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had befriended Arnold Susi, a lawyer and former Estonian Minister of Education in a Lubyanka Prison cell. After completion, Solzhenitsyn’s original handwritten script was kept hidden from the KGB in Estonia by Arnold Susi’s daughter Heli Susi until the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In 1969 Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Union of Writers. In 1970, Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He could not receive the prize personally in Stockholm at that time, since he was afraid he would not be let back into the Soviet Union. Instead, it was suggested he should receive the prize in a special ceremony at the Swedish embassy in Moscow. The Swedish government refused to accept this solution, however, since such a ceremony and the ensuing media coverage might upset the Soviet Union and damage Sweden’s relations with the superpower. Instead, Solzhenitsyn received his prize at the 1974 ceremony after he had been deported from the Soviet Union.
The Gulag Archipelago was composed during 1958–1967. This work was a three-volume, seven part work on the Soviet prison camp system (Solzhenitsyn never had all seven parts of the work in front of him at any one time). The Gulag Archipelago has sold over thirty million copies in thirty-five languages. It was based upon Solzhenitsyn’s own experience as well as the testimony of 256 former prisoners and Solzhenitsyn’s own research into the history of the penal system. It discussed the system’s origins from the founding of the Communist regime, with Lenin himself having responsibility, detailing interrogation procedures, prisoner transports, prison camp culture, prisoner uprisings and revolts, and the practice of internal exile. The Gulag Archipelago’s rich and varied authorial voice, its unique weaving together of personal testimony, philosophical analysis, and historical investigation, and its unrelenting indictment of communist ideology made The Gulag Archipelago one of the most consequential books of the twentieth century. The appearance of the book in the West put the word gulag into the Western political vocabulary and guaranteed swift retribution from the Soviet authorities.
During this period, he was sheltered by the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who suffered considerably for his support of Solzhenitsyn and was eventually forced into exile himself.
In the West
On 12 February 1974, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and on the next day he was deported from the Soviet Union to Frankfurt, West Germany and stripped of his Soviet citizenship. The KGB had found the manuscript for the first part of The Gulag Archipelago and, less than a week later, Yevgeny Yevtushenko suffered reprisals for his support of Solzhenitsyn.
U.S. military attache William Odom managed to smuggle out a large portion of Solzhenitsyn’s archive, including the author’s membership card for the Writers’ Union and Second World War military citations; Solzhenitsyn subsequently paid tribute to Odom’s role in his memoir "Invisible Allies" (1995).
Despite his criticism of the "weakness" of the West, Solzhenitsyn always made clear that he admired the political liberty which was one of the enduring strengths of western democratic societies. In a major speech delivered to the International Academy of Philosophy in Liechtenstein on 14 September 1993, Solzhenitsyn implored the West not to "lose sight of its own values, its historically unique stability of civic life under the rule of law—a hard-won stability which grants independence and space to every private citizen." In a series of writings, speeches, and interviews after his return to his native Russia in 1994, Solzhenitsyn spoke about his admiration for the local self-government he had witnessed first hand in Switzerland and New England during his western exile.
Return to Russia
In 1990, his Soviet citizenship was restored, and, in 1994, he returned to Russia with his wife, Natalia, who had become a United States citizen. Their sons stayed behind in the United States (later, his oldest son Yermolai returned to Russia to work for the Moscow office of a leading management consultancy firm). From then until his death, he lived with his wife in a dacha in Troitse-Lykovo (Троице-Лыково) in west Moscow between the dachas once occupied by Soviet leaders Mikhail Suslov and Konstantin Chernenko.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn called for a restoration of the Russian monarchy.
After returning to Russia in 1994, Solzhenitsyn published eight two-part short stories, a series of contemplative "miniatures" or prose poems, a literary memoir on his years in the West (The Grain Between the Millstones) among many other writings.
The most complete 30-volume edition of Solzhenitsyn’s collected works is soon to be published in Russia. The presentation of its first three volumes, already in print, recently took place in Moscow. On 5 June 2007 then Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree conferring on Solzhenitsyn the State Prize of the Russian Federation for his humanitarian work. Putin personally visited the writer at his home on 12 June 2007 to present him with the award. Like his father, Yermolai Solzhenitsyn has translated some of his father’s works. Stephan Solzhenitsyn lives and works in Moscow. Ignat Solzhenitsyn is the music director of The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.
The Nobel Prize in Literature, 1970
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1970 was awarded to Alexandr Solzhenitsyn "for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature".
In December 1973 the first parts of Arkhipelag Gulag (The Gulag Archipelago) were published in Paris after a copy of the manuscript had been seized in the Soviet Union by the KGB. (Gulag is an acronym formed from the official Soviet designation of its system of prisons and labor camps.) The Gulag Archipelago is Solzhenitsyn‘s attempt to compile a literary-historical record of the vast system of prisons and labor camps that came into being shortly after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia (1917) and that underwent an enormous expansion during the rule of Stalin (1924-53). Various sections of the work describe the arrest, interrogation, conviction, transportation, and imprisonment of the Gulag’s victims as practiced by Soviet authorities over four decades. The work mingles historical exposition and Solzhenitsyn‘s own autobiographical accounts with the voluminous personal testimony of other inmates that he collected and committed to memory during his imprisonment.
YouTube Presentation of Images and Sayings of
Please take time to further explore more about ALEKSANDER SOLZHENITSYN,
GULAG ARCHIPELAGO, STALINIST RUSSIA, and the LABOR CAMPS
by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below…
Other Events on this Day:
Vice President John C. Calhoun resigns from office over differences between himself and President Andrew Jackson. An avid defender of slavery and states’ rights, Calhoun will fill a vacant seat for South Carolina in the U.S. Senate.
Iowa becomes the twenty-ninth state.
Thomas Woodrow Wilson, the twenty-eighth president, is born in Staunton, Virginia.
Congress officially recognizes the Pledge of Allegiance and encourages its recitation in schools. Although the oath of loyalty to the United States and its flag was originally written by Francis Bellamy in 1892, the words “under God” will not be added until 1954.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn publishes The Gulag Archipelago in Paris. The three-volume work exposes the repressive Soviet police state and, although it is an instant success in the West, the inflammatory nature of the book leads to Solzhenitsyn being stripped of his citizenship and deported from the Soviet Union.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn…
Wikipedia: The Gulag Archipelago…
Wikipedia: Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr (Isayevich)…
Wikipedia: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (YouTube Video)…
Wikiquote: SOLZHENITSYN Quotes…
Other Posts on this Topic:
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Nelson Mandela — Wins Real Democracy for South Africa…