You searched for solzhenitsyn - Page 2 of 8 | Acton PowerBlog


“During all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced that I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime, but, also, I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared that this would become known. Finally, at the age of 42, this secret authorship began to wear me down. The most difficult thing of all to bear was that I could not get my works judged by people with literary training. In 1961, after the 22nd Congress of the U.S.S.R. Communist Party and Tvardovsky’s speech at this, I decided to emerge and to offer One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s momentous decision to publish his slim volume on Gulag life (he feared not only the destruction of his manuscript but “my own life”) ended his period of “secret authorship” and put him on the path of a literary career that earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. But his work meant so much more than that. Solzhenitsyn, who died yesterday in Moscow at the age of 89, did more than any other single figure to expose the horrors of Soviet communism and lay bare the lies that propped it up. His life was dedicated to chronicling and explaining the Bolshevik Revolution and the tragic effects it wrought for Russia during the 20th Century. His was a first-person account.

In “Solzhenitsyn & the Modern World,” an essay on Solzhenitsyn published by the Acton Institute in 1994, Edward E. Ericson Jr. predicted that Solzhenitsyn’s influence would continue to expand. With his passing, there is good reason to hope, with Ericson, that Solzhenitsyn’s “world-historical importance” will be appreciated on a deeper level. “His most direct contribution lies in his delegitimizing of Communist power, and especially in the eyes of his surreptitious Soviet readers,” Ericson wrote.

At the publication of the Gulag Archipelago, Leonid Brezhnev complained: “By law, we have every basis for putting him in jail. He has tried to undermine all we hold sacred: Lenin, the Soviet system, Soviet power – everything dear to us. … This hooligan Solzhenitsyn is out of control.” A week later, the newspaper Pravda called him a “traitor.” On Feb. 12, 1974, he was arrested and charged with treason. The next day, he was stripped of his citizenship and put on a plane to West Germany. He would spend the next 20 years in exile.

When summoned for deportation in 1974, he made a damning written statement to the authorities: “Given the widespread and unrestrained lawlessness that has reigned in our country for many years, and an eight-year campaign of slander and persecution against me, I refuse to recognize the legality of your summons.

“Before asking that citizens obey the law, learn how to observe it yourselves,” Solzhenitsyn wrote. “Free the innocent, and punish those guilty of mass murder.”

The Gulag Archipelago was described by George F. Kennan, a former ambassador to the Soviet Union and the chief architect of postwar U.S. foreign policy, as “the greatest and most powerful single indictment of a political regime ever to be leveled in modern times.”

In my review of the “Solzhenitsyn Reader,” edited by Ericson and Daniel J. Mahoney, in the Spring 2007 issue of Religion & Liberty, I wrote that the Solzhenitsyn “could only understand what happened to Russia in terms of good and evil. Those who engineered and imposed the Bolshevik and Soviet nightmare were not merely ideologues, they were evildoers.” A former communist, the writer returned to his Russian Orthodox Christian roots after his experience of the Soviet prison camps. In the review, I said:

Ericson and Mahoney state simply that, “Solzhenitsyn was the most eloquent scourge of ideology in the twentieth century.” The editors are right to remind us of that. And any news account, biography or political history of the twentieth Century that talks about who “won” the Cold War—a complicated historical reality for sure—and does not include Solzhenitsyn with Reagan, Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II is not only incomplete but wrong. Solzhenitsyn was the inside man.

In an editorial published today, the editors of National Review Online said this of Solzhenitsyn: “There was no greater or more effective foe of Communism, or of totalitarianism in general.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Solzhenitsyn “one of the greatest consciences of 20th century Russia” and an heir to Dostoevsky. Mr Sarkozy added: “He belongs to the pantheon of world history.”

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wrote in a telegram to Solzhenitsyn’s family that the Soviet-era dissident, whose books exposed the horrors of the Communist Gulag, had been “a strong, courageous person with enormous dignity.”

“We are proud that Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was our compatriot and contemporary,” said Putin, who served in the same KGB that persecuted the author for “anti-Soviet” activities.

Mikhail Gorbachev told Interfax: “Until the end of his days he fought for Russia not only to move away from its totalitarian past but also to have a worthy future, to become a truly free and democratic country. We owe him a lot.”

Indeed, we all do.

From the new Solzhenitsyn Reader, which I highly recommend (especially if you are behind on your Christmas shopping):

Human society cannot be exempted from the laws and demands which constitute the aim and meaning of individual human lives. But even without a religious foundation, this sort of transference is readily and naturally made. It is very human to apply even to the biggest social events or human organizations, including whole states and the United Nations, our spiritual values: noble, base, courageous, cowardly, hypocritical, false, cruel, magnanimous, just, unjust, and so on. Indeed, everybody writes this way, even the most extreme and economic materialists, since they remain after all human beings. And clearly, whatever feelings predominate in the members of a given society at a given moment in time, they will serve to color the whole of that society and determine its moral character. And if there is nothing good there to pervade that society, it will destroy itself, or be brutalized by the triumph of evil instincts, no matter where the pointer of the great economic laws may turn.

Blog author: jcouretas
Thursday, November 2, 2006


One word of truth shall outweigh the world. — Russian proverb

ISI Books has released The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005 (650 pages; $30). This single volume compilation includes some of the Russian author’s most significant works, including poems, stories and miniatures (prose poems), essays and speeches in their entirety. There are also excerpts from the novels, memoirs and the extensive political and historical writings.

You can order the book online here.

In their introduction to the reader, editors Edward E. Ericson Jr. and Daniel J. Mahoney put forth the claim that “more than any other figure in the twentieth century, (Solzhenitsyn) exposed the ideological ‘lie’ at the heart of Communist totalitarianism.” Although “widely misunderstood” by journalists and academics, the editors assert that Solzhenitsyn “has been a consistent advocate of the rule of law, economic development fueled by human-scale technology, and a revived local self-government in Russia along the lines of the prerevolutionary zemstvos (local and provincial councils).”

“His writings powerfully capture the nature of an ideological regime built upon lies and maintained through the most hyperbolic violence,” the editors say. To the leftist-progressive mindset this was, in many circles, blameworthy. And one of the reasons that Solzhenitsyn has been so “widely misunderstood” by journalists and academics is his insistence on faith as the bedrock of morality, public and private. In an attempt to explain the “widespread hostility” to Solzhenitsyn in Russia and the West, Ericson and Mahoney point out that the writer “is one of a series of conservative-minded thinkers who brings together a measured critique of ‘anthropocentric humanism,’ with an appreciation of the liberty that is the centerpiece of Western civic life.”

This is from Solzhenitsyn’s June 1978 commencement address at Harvard:

… in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted on the ground that man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding one thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose, simply for the satisfaction of his whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were eroded everywhere in the West; a total emancipation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice.

State systems were becoming ever more materialistic. The West has finally achieved the rights of man, and even to excess, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistic selfishness of the Western approach to the world has reached its peak and the world has found itself in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the celebrated achievements of progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the twentieth century’s moral poverty, which no one could have imagined even as late as the nineteenth century.

Daniel J. Mahoney reviewed Michael Zantovsky’s 2014 book Havel: A Life in the City Journal last week, calling it “a remarkable book about a complex and genuinely admirable human being.”

Václav Havel was a Czech writer, philosopher and dissident who served as the first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia and then the first president of the Czech Republic. Zantovsky’s “moving and intelligent book guarantees that Havel’s monumental achievement will not soon be forgotten,” Mahoney writes.

As Zantovsky shows, Havel was “one of the more fascinating politicians of the last century” even as he was much more than a politician. He ably explores Havel’s multiple roles as writer, dramatist, moralist, dissident, and anti-totalitarian theoretician. The book also captures Havel’s myriad “contradictions,” which were never too far from the surface. …

Havel’s genius was to locate the specific features of the “post-totalitarian regime”—ideological to the core but no longer relying on mass violence in the manner of a classic Leninist-Stalinist regime. Like Solzhenitsyn before him, Havel saw the ideological lie as the glue holding together a totalitarian or post-totalitarian regime. …

The Czechoslovakian dissident movement pursued the path of truth with Charter 77—a courageous document that called upon the authorities to live up to obligations agreed to in the 1975 Helsinki accords and even in Czechoslovakia’s mendacious constitution. Its original signatories were few, but they spoke for the self-respect of a submerged civil society. Its spokesmen, such as Havel and the great Czech philosopher and phenomenologist Jan Patočka, were men of undeniable courage and integrity. Their movement was informed by solidarity, dignity, and resistance to the lie.

The full text of Mahoney’s review can be found here.

Mahoney is a professor of political science at Assumption College who has been a faculty member at Acton University and a participant in events hosted both by the Acton Institute and Istituto Acton. Mahoney’s own books, The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings 1947-2005 (2006, ISI Books) and The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order (ISI, 2010) have been reviewed in the Acton Institute’s publication Religion and Liberty.



Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, a high ranking bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, commented on a new poll that showed a growing number of Russians are viewing the rule of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in a positive light. Hilarion’s comments amount to a verbal cup of black coffee for those intoxicated with Stalin (1878-1953), one of the most murderous dictators in history. Stalin, who blew up Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 1931, was described by historian Robert Conquest as a man who combined ruthlessness, deception and terror in the extreme. The historian quoted a Russian scholar who said of Stalin’s dictatorship: “We wiped out the best and brightest in our country and, as a result, sapped ourselves of intelligence and energy.”

Metropolitan Hilarion:

“I think that to sober up, some need to go to the Butovo firing range on the outskirts of Moscow,” Ilarion said during a program aired by Channel One on Monday, according to media reports.

Butovo was the site of the largest number of political executions in the Moscow region under Stalin. “The firing range has a museum, photographs of people, it tells you what was happening there: Every day they brought in and shot 200, 300, 400 people,” Ilarion was quoted as saying. “There were 15-16-year-old children. Why were they shot?” (more…)

There will be some twists and turns here, so hold on. Earlier this month, the BBC highlighted what it called “YouTube sensation ‘I, Russian Occupier'” the hit propaganda film that “feels more like the opening sequence of a big budget Hollywood movie than a homemade political message.” So far, it’s racked up 5.6 million views and more than 31,000 comments. (“likes” are outpacing down votes by a 5-1 margin. The video also “attacks Western values, dropping in visual references to same-sex parenting, and rounds off by ‘sending’ the entire message to US President Barack Obama.”

The BBC identified the creator of the video as Evgeny Zhurov, a 29-year-old motion graphics designer from Russia, who claimed he was not paid for the work. “A full-scale information war is being waged against Russia. I’m just taking part in the war on Russia’s side,” Zhurov told the BBC. “My goal is high-quality pro-Russian propaganda.”

Or were the creators working for Russians at the highest level? The Age, an Australian newspaper, reports that the video was actually funded by the Russian Orthodox Church. Nick Miller, citing Russian website and a broadcast report, identifies producers from a studio called My Duck’s Vision (MDV) who “confessed” it was their work. When pressed, the producer said: “It was an order from [the] Russian Orthodox Church. It was not our idea.” He added that, “it was an order we’ve been paid, but still for us it’s just a stupid script, we’ve made [it] for fun.” (more…)

A Note to Readers: The Acton Institute is presenting a special screening of the film Rockin’ the Wall on November 20 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The event features a talk by Larry Schweikart, who worked closely with the film’s producers and is featured prominently throughout the documentary. To register, click here.

Back in my college days, my friends and I debated the merits of military spending by the then-current administration. As this was the 1980s, featuring two terms of President Ronald Reagan, we took somewhat opposing views on whether the United States could outspend the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics until it – and its odious ideology – collapsed into the dustbin of history. This argument – believe it or not – was adopted by my friend Ron. My friend John – coincidentally named after the president on whose inaugural he was born, John Kennedy – argued that the revolution would come from within the Iron Curtain rather than without. Eastern Europe and the Soviet states wanted Calvin Klein jeans, jazz and rock and roll music, he asserted, and he was convinced that comrades of the Soviet states and its satellites would tear down oppressive regimes to attain artifacts of Western culture. (more…)