Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (11 December 1918 – 3 August 2008) was a Russian novelist, historian, and short story writer. He was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and communism and helped to raise global awareness of its Gulag forced labor camp system. He was allowed to publish only one work in the Soviet Union, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962), in the periodical Novy Mir. After this he had to publish in the West, most notably Cancer Ward (1968), August 1914 (1971), and The Gulag Archipelago (1973). Solzhenitsyn was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature “for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature”. Solzhenitsyn was afraid to go to Stockholm to receive his award for fear that he would not be allowed to reenter. He was eventually expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974, but returned to Russia in 1994 after the state’s dissolution.
Solzhenitsyn was born in Kislovodsk, RSFSR (now in Stavropol Krai, Russia). His mother, Taisiya Zakharovna (ne Shcherbak) was of Ukrainian descent. Her father had risen from humble beginnings to become a wealthy landowner, acquiring a large estate in the Kuban region in the northern foothills of the Caucasus. During World War I, Taisiya went to Moscow to study. While there she met and married Isaakiy Semyonovich Solzhenitsyn, a young officer in the Imperial Russian Army of Cossack origin and fellow native of the Caucasus region. The family background of his parents is vividly brought to life in the opening chapters of August 1914, and in the later Red Wheel novels.
In 1918, Taisiya became pregnant with Aleksandr. On 15 June, shortly after her pregnancy was confirmed, Isaakiy was killed in a hunting accident. Aleksandr was raised by his widowed mother and aunt in lowly circumstances. His earliest years coincided with the Russian Civil War. By 1930 the family property had been turned into a collective farm. Later, Solzhenitsyn recalled that his mother had fought for survival and that they had to keep his father’s background in the old Imperial Army a secret. His educated mother (who never remarried) encouraged his literary and scientific learnings and raised him in the Russian Orthodox faith; she died in 1944.
As early as 1936, Solzhenitsyn began developing the characters and concepts for a planned epic work on World War I 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.
World War II
During the war, Solzhenitsyn served as the commander of a sound-ranging battery in the Red Army, was involved in major action at the front, and was twice decorated. He was awarded the Order of the Red Star on 8 July 1944 for sound-ranging two German artillery batteries and adjusting counterbattery fire onto them, resulting in their destruction.
A series of writings published late in his life, including the early uncompleted novel Love the Revolution!, chronicles his wartime experience and his growing doubts about the moral foundations of the Soviet regime.
While serving as an artillery officer in East Prussia, Solzhenitsyn witnessed war crimes against local German civilians by Soviet military personnel. The noncombatants and the elderly were robbed of their meager possessions and women and girls were gang-raped to death. A few years later, in the forced labor camp, he memorized a poem titled “Prussian Nights” about these incidents. In this poem, which describes the gang-rape of a Polish woman whom the Red Army soldiers mistakenly thought to be a German, the first-person narrator comments on the events with sarcasm and refers to the responsibility of official Soviet writers like Ilya Ehrenburg.
In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn wrote, “There is nothing that so assists the awakening of omniscience within us as insistent thoughts about one’s own transgressions, errors, mistakes. After the difficult cycles of such ponderings over many years, whenever I mentioned the heartlessness of our highest-ranking bureaucrats, the cruelty of our executioners, I remember myself in my Captain’s shoulder boards and the forward march of my battery through East Prussia, enshrouded in fire, and I say: ‘So were we any better?'”
In February 1945, while serving in East Prussia, Solzhenitsyn was arrested by SMERSH for writing derogatory comments in private letters to a friend, Nikolai Vitkevich, about the conduct of the war by Joseph Stalin, whom he called “Khozyain” (“the boss”), and “Balabos” (Yiddish rendering of Hebrew baal ha-bayit for “master of the house”). He was accused of anti-Soviet propaganda under Article 58 paragraph 10 of the Soviet criminal code, and of “founding a hostile organization” under paragraph 11. Solzhenitsyn was taken to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow, where he was interrogated. On 9 May 1945, it was announced that Germany had surrendered and all of Moscow broke out in celebrations with fireworks and searchlights illuminating the sky to celebrate the victory in the Great Patriotic War as Russians call the war with Germany. From his cell in the Lubyanka, Solzhenitsyn remembered: “Above the muzzle of our window, and from all the other cells of the Lubyanka, and from all the windows of the Moscow prisons, we too, former prisoners of war and former front-line soldiers, watched the Moscow heavens, patterned with fireworks and crisscrossed with beams of searchlights. There was no rejoicing in our cells and no hugs and no kisses for us. That victory was not ours”. On 7 July 1945, he was sentenced in his absence by Special Council of the NKVD to an eight-year term in a labour camp. This was the normal sentence for most crimes under Article 58 at the time.
The first part of Solzhenitsyn’s sentence was served in several different work camps; the “middle phase”, as he later referred to it, was spent in a sharashka (i.e., a special scientific research facility run by Ministry of State Security), where he met Lev Kopelev, upon whom he based the character of Lev Rubin in his book The First Circle, published in a self-censored or “distorted” version in the West in 1968 (an English translation of the full version was eventually published by Harper Perennial in October 2009). In 1950, he was sent to a “Special Camp” for political prisoners. During his imprisonment at the camp in the town of Ekibastuz in Kazakhstan, he worked as a miner, bricklayer, and foundry foreman. His experiences at Ekibastuz formed the basis for the book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. One of his fellow political prisoners, Ion Moraru, remembers that Solzhenitsyn spent some of his time at Ekibastuz writing. While there Solzhenitsyn had a tumor removed. His cancer was not diagnosed at the time.
In March 1953, after his sentence ended, Solzhenitsyn was sent to internal exile for life at Birlik, a village in Baidibek district of South Kazakhstan region of Kazakhstan (Kok-terek rural district). His undiagnosed cancer spread until, by the end of the year, he was close to death. In 1954, he was permitted to be treated in a hospital in Tashkent, where his tumor went into remission. His experiences there became the basis of his novel Cancer Ward and also found an echo in the short story “The Right Hand”. It was during this decade of imprisonment and exile that Solzhenitsyn abandoned Marxism and developed the philosophical and religious positions of his later life, gradually becoming a philosophically-minded Eastern Orthodox Christian as a result of his experience in prison and the camps. He repented for some of his actions as a Red Army captain, and in prison compared himself to the perpetrators of the Gulag: “I remember myself in my captain’s shoulder boards and the forward march of my battery through East Prussia, enshrouded in fire, and I say: ‘So were we any better?'” His transformation is described at some length in the fourth part of The Gulag Archipelago (“The Soul and Barbed Wire”). The narrative poem The Trail (written without benefit of pen or paper in prison and camps between 1947 and 1952) and the 28 poems composed in prison, forced-labour camp, and exile also provide crucial material for understanding Solzhenitsyn’s intellectual and spiritual odyssey during this period. These “early” works, largely unknown in the West, were published for the first time in Russian in 1999 and excerpted in English in 2006.
Marriages and children
On 7 April 1940, while at the university, Solzhenitsyn married Natalia Alekseevna Reshetovskaya. They had just over a year of married life before he went into the army, then to the Gulag. They divorced in 1952, a year before his release, because wives of Gulag prisoners faced loss of work or residence permits. After the end of his internal exile, they remarried in 1957, divorcing a second time in 1972.
The following year Solzhenitsyn married his second wife, Natalia Dmitrievna Svetlova, a mathematician who had a son from a brief prior marriage. He and Svetlova (born 1939) had three sons: Yermolai (1970), Ignat (1972), and Stepan (1973).
Solzhenitsyn’s adopted son Dmitri Turin died on March 18, 1994, aged 32, at his home in New York City due to a heart attack.
After Khrushchev’s Secret Speech in 1956, Solzhenitsyn was freed from exile and exonerated. Following his return from exile, Solzhenitsyn was, while teaching at a secondary school during the day, spending his nights secretly engaged in writing. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech he wrote that “during all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced 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 this would become known.”
In 1960, aged 42, he approached Aleksandr Tvardovsky, a poet and the chief editor of the Novy Mir magazine, with the manuscript of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It was published in edited form in 1962, with the explicit approval of Nikita Khrushchev, who defended it at the presidium of the Politburo hearing on whether to allow its publication, and added: “There’s a Stalinist in each of you; there’s even a Stalinist in me. We must root out this evil.” The book quickly sold out and became an instant hit. In the 1960s, while he was publicly known to be writing Cancer Ward, he was simultaneously writing The Gulag Archipelago. During Khrushchev’s tenure, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was studied in schools in the Soviet Union, as were three more short works of Solzhenitsyn’s, including his short story “Matryona’s Home“, published in 1963. These would be the last of his works published in the Soviet Union until 1990.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich brought the Soviet system of prison labour to the attention of the West. It caused as much of a sensation in the Soviet Union as it did in the Westnot only by its striking realism and candor, but also because it was the first major piece of Soviet literature since the 1920s on a politically charged theme, written by a non-party member, indeed a man who had been to Siberia for “libelous speech” about the leaders, and yet its publication had been officially permitted. In this sense, the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s story was an almost unheard of instance of free, unrestrained discussion of politics through literature. Most Soviet readers realized this, but after Khrushchev had been ousted from power in 1964, the time for such raw exposing works came to an end.
Later years in the Soviet Union
Solzhenitsyn made an unsuccessful attempt, with the help of Tvardovsky, to get his novel 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.
After Krushchev’s removal in 1964, the cultural climate again became more repressive. Publishing of Solzhenitsyn’s 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 well-known of all his writings, 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 1965-67 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, he 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 because such a ceremony and the ensuing media coverage might upset the Soviet Union and damage Swedish-Soviet relations. Instead, Solzhenitsyn received his prize at the 1974 ceremony after he had been expelled from the Soviet Union.
The Gulag Archipelago was composed from 1958 to 1967. It 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 one time). The book 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 Russian penal system. It discussed the system’s origins from the founding of the Communist regime, with Vladimir Lenin having responsibility, detailing interrogation procedures, prisoner transports, prison camp culture, prisoner uprisings and revolts, and the practice of internal exile. The Gulag Archipelago has sold over thirty million copies in thirty-five languages.
According to fellow gulag historian Anne Applebaum, 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 influential books of the 20th century.
Even though The Gulag Archipelago was not published in the Soviet Union, it was extensively criticized by the Party-controlled Soviet press. An editorial in Pravda on 14 January 1974 accused Solzhenitsyn of supporting “Hitlerites” and making “excuses for the crimes of the Vlasovites and Bandera gangs.” According to the editorial, Solzhenitsyn was “choking with pathological hatred for the country where he was born and grew up, for the socialist system, and for Soviet people.”
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 August 1971, the KGB allegedly made an attempt to assassinate Solzhenitsyn using an unknown biological agent (most likely ricin) with an experimental gel-based delivery method. The attempt left him seriously ill but was unsuccessful.
Expulsion from the Soviet Union
In a discussion of its options in dealing with Solzhenitsyn the members of the Politburo considered his arrest and imprisonment and his expulsion to a socialist country. Guided by KGB chief Yury Andropov, and with encouraging statements from Willy Brandt, it was decided to deport the writer directly to West Germany.
In the West
On 12 February 1974, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and deported the next day 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 attach 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).
In West Germany, Solzhenitsyn lived in Heinrich Bll‘s house in Cologne. He then moved to Zrich, Switzerland before Stanford University invited him to stay in the United States to “facilitate your work, and to accommodate you and your family.” He stayed on the 11th floor of the Hoover Tower, part of the Hoover Institution, before moving to Cavendish, Vermont, in 1976. He was given an honorary Literary Degree from Harvard University in 1978 and on Thursday, 8 June 1978 he gave his Commencement Address, condemning, among other things, anthropocentrism in Western culture.
Over the next 17 years, Solzhenitsyn worked on his dramatized history of the Russian Revolution of 1917, The Red Wheel. By 1992, four “knots” (parts) had been completed and he had also written several shorter works.
Despite spending almost two decades in the United States, Solzhenitsyn did not become fluent in spoken English. He had, however, been reading English-language literature since his teens, encouraged by his mother. More importantly, he resented the idea of becoming a media star and of tempering his ideas or ways of talking in order to suit television. Solzhenitsyn’s warnings about the dangers of Communist aggression and the weakening of the moral fiber of the West were generally well received in Western conservative circles (e.g. Ford administration staffers Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld advocated on Solzhenitsyn’s behalf for him to speak directly to President Gerald Ford about the Soviet threat), prior to and alongside the tougher foreign policy pursued by US President Ronald Reagan. At the same time, liberals and secularists became increasingly critical of what they perceived as his reactionary preference for Russian nationalism and the Russian Orthodox religion.
Solzhenitsyn also harshly criticised what he saw as the ugliness and spiritual vapidity of the dominant pop culture of the modern West, including television and much of popular music: “…the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits… by TV stupor and by intolerable music.” 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 lawa 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. He “praised ‘the sensible and sure process of grassroots democracy, in which the local population solves most of its problems on its own, not waiting for the decisions of higher authorities.'” Solzhenitsyn’s patriotism was inward-looking. He called for Russia to “renounce all mad fantasies of foreign conquest and begin the peaceful long, long long period of recuperation,” as he put it in a 1979 BBC interview with Janis Sapiets.
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). From then until his death, he lived with his wife in a dacha in Troitse-Lykovo in west Moscow between the dachas once occupied by Soviet leaders Mikhail Suslov and Konstantin Chernenko. A staunch believer in traditional Russian culture, Solzhenitsyn expressed his disillusionment with post-Soviet Russia in works such as Rebuilding Russia, and called for the establishment of a strong presidential republic balanced by vigorous institutions of local self-government. The latter would remain his major political theme. Solzhenitsyn also 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. Once back in Russia Solzhenitsyn hosted a television talk show program. Its eventual format was Solzhenitsyn delivering a 15-minute monologue twice a month; it was discontinued in 1995.
All of Solzhenitsyn’s sons became US citizens. One, Ignat, is a pianist and conductor.. Elder son Yermolai works for the Moscow office of McKinsey & Company, a leading management consultancy firm, where he is now a senior partner.
Solzhenitsyn died of heart failure near Moscow on 3 August 2008, at the age of 89. A burial service was held at Donskoy Monastery, Moscow, on Wednesday, 6 August 2008. He was buried the same day in the monastery in a spot he had chosen. Russian and world leaders paid tribute to Solzhenitsyn following his death.
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. Unhappy with the economic and social malaise of the Yeltsin era, Solzhenitsyn expressed his admiration for President Vladimir Putin‘s attempts to restore a sense of national pride. Putin signed a decree conferring on Solzhenitsyn the State Prize of the Russian Federation for his humanitarian work and personally visited the writer at his home on 12 June 2007 to present him with the award.
The Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Center supports explorations into the life and writings of the author and hosts the official English-language site dedicated Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The center strives to advance the legacy of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the English-speaking world through the promotion of a better understanding of his life, thought, and works.
KGB operations against Solzhenitsyn
On 19 September 1974, Yuri Andropov approved a large-scale operation to discredit Solzhenitsyn and his family and cut his communications with Soviet dissidents. The plan was jointly approved by Vladimir Kryuchkov, Philipp Bobkov, and Grigorenko (heads of First, Second and Fifth KGB Directorates). The residencies in Geneva, London, Paris, Rome and other European cities participated in the operation. Among other active measures, at least three StB agents became translators and secretaries of Solzhenitsyn (one of them translated the poem Prussian Nights), keeping KGB informed regarding all contacts by Solzhenitsyn.
The KGB sponsored a series of hostile books about Solzhenitsyn, most notably a “memoir published under the name of his first wife, Natalia Reshetovskaya, but probably mostly composed by Service”, according to historian Christopher Andrew. Andropov also gave an order to create “an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion between Pauk and the people around him” by feeding him rumors that everyone in his surrounding was a KGB agent and deceiving him in all possible ways. Among other things, the writer constantly received envelopes with photographs of car accidents, brain surgery and other frightening illustrations. After the KGB harassment in Zrich, Solzhenitsyn settled in Cavendish, Vermont, reduced communications with others and surrounded his property with a barbed wire fence. His influence and moral authority for the West diminished as he became increasingly isolated and critical of Western individualism. KGB and CPSU experts finally concluded that he alienated American listeners by his “reactionary views and intransigent criticism of the US way of life”, so no further active measures would be required.
Views on history and politics
“Men have forgotten God”
Regarding atheism, Solzhenitsyn declared:
Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”
On Russia and the Jews
In his 1974 essay “Repentance and Self-Limitation in the Life of Nations”, Solzhenitsyn called for Russian Gentiles and Jews alike to take moral responsibility for the “renegades” from both communities who enthusiastically created a Marxist-Leninist police state after the October Revolution. In a November 13, 1985, review of Solzhenitsyn’s novel August 1914 in the New York Times, Jewish American historian Richard Pipes commented: “Every culture has its own brand of anti-Semitism. In Solzhenitsyn’s case, it’s not racial. It has nothing to do with blood. He’s certainly not a racist; the question is fundamentally religious and cultural. He bears some resemblance to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who was a fervent Christian and patriot. Solzhenitsyn is unquestionably in the grip of the Russian extreme right’s view of the Revolution, which is that it was the doing of the Jews“.
Jewish Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel denied this claim and insisted that Solzhenitsyn was not an anti-Semite: “He is too intelligent, too honest, too courageous, too great a writer.” He added he wished Solzhenitsyn were more sensitive to Jewish suffering, but believed his insensitivity to be unconscious.
In his 1998 book Russia in Collapse, Solzhenitsyn excoriated the Russian extreme right’s obsession with anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic conspiracy theories.
In 2001, however, Solzhenitsyn published a two-volume work on the history of Russian-Jewish relations (Two Hundred Years Together 2001, 2002). A bestseller in Russia, the book triggered renewed accusations of anti-Semitism.
Similarities between Two Hundred Years Together and an anti-Semitic essay titled “Jews in the USSR and in the Future Russia“, attributed to Solzhenitsyn, has led to inference that he stands behind the anti-Semitic passages. Solzhenitsyn himself claims that the essay consists of manuscripts stolen from him, and then manipulated, forty years ago. However, according to the historian Semyon Reznik, textological analyses have proven Solzhenitsyn’s authorship.
On Post-Soviet Russia
In some of his later political writings, such as Rebuilding Russia (1990) and Russia in Collapse (1998), Solzhenitsyn criticized the oligarchic excesses of the new Russian ‘democracy,’ while opposing any nostalgia for Soviet Communism. He defended moderate and self-critical patriotism (as opposed to extreme nationalism), urged local self-government to a free Russia, and expressed concerns for the fate of the 25 million ethnic Russians in the “near abroad” of the former Soviet Union.
In a 2007 interview with Der Spiegel, Solzhenitsyn expressed disappointment that the “conflation of ‘Soviet’ and ‘Russian’, against which I spoke so often in the 1970s, has not passed away in the West, in the ex-socialist countries, or in the former Soviet republics. The elder political generation in communist countries is not ready for repentance, while the new generation is only too happy to voice grievances and level accusations, with present-day Moscow a convenient target. They behave as if they heroically liberated themselves and lead a new life now, while Moscow has remained communist. Nevertheless, I dare hope that this unhealthy phase will soon be over, that all the peoples who have lived through communism will understand that communism is to blame for the bitter pages of their history.”
Delivering the commencement address at Harvard University in 1978, he called the United States spiritually weak and mired in vulgar materialism. Americans, he said, speaking in Russian through a translator, suffered from a “decline in courage” and a “lack of manliness.” Few were willing to die for their ideals, he said. He condemned both the United States government and American society for its “hasty” capitulation in the Vietnam War. He criticized the country’s music as intolerable and attacked its unfettered press, accusing it of violations of privacy. He said that the West erred in measuring other civilizations by its own model. While faulting Soviet society for denying fair legal treatment of people, he also faulted the West for being too legalistic: “A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities.” Solzhenitsyn also argued that the West erred in “denying autonomous character and therefore never understood it”.
Communism, Russia, and nationalism
Solzhenitsyn emphasized the significantly more oppressive character of the Soviet totalitarian regime, in comparison to the Russian Empire of the House of Romanov. He asserted that Imperial Russia did not practice any real censorship in the style of the Soviet Glavlit, that political prisoners typically were not forced into labor camps, and that the number of political prisoners and exiles was only one ten-thousandth of those in the Soviet Union. He noted that the Tsar’s secret police, or Okhrana, was only present in the three largest cities, and not at all in the Imperial Russian Army.
Shortly before his return to Russia, Solzhenitsyn delivered a speech in Lucs-sur-Boulogne to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Vende Uprising. During his speech, Solzhenitsyn compared Lenin’s Bolsheviks with the Jacobin Party during the French Revolution. He also compared the Vendean rebels with the Russian, Ukrainian, and Cossack peasants who rebelled against the Bolsheviks, saying that both were destroyed mercilessly by revolutionary despotism. However, he commented that, while the French Reign of Terror ended with the toppling of the Jacobins and the execution of Maximilien Robespierre, its Soviet equivalent continued to accelerate until the Khrushchev thaw of the 1950s.
According to Solzhenitsyn, Russians were not the ruling nation in the Soviet Union. He believed that all the traditional culture of all ethnic groups were equally oppressed in favor of an atheism and Marxist-Leninism. Russian culture was even more repressed than any other culture in the Soviet Union, since the regime was more afraid of ethnic uprisings among Russian Christians than among any other ethnicity. Therefore, Solzhenitsyn argued, Russian nationalism and the Orthodox Church should not be regarded as a threat by the West but rather as allies.
In “Rebuilding Russia,” an essay first published in 1990 in Komsomolskaya Pravda Solzhenitsyn urged Russia to grant independence to all the non-Slav republics, which he claimed were sapping the Russian nation and he called for the creation of a new Slavic state bringing together Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of Kazakhstan that he considered to be Russified.
In 2006, Solzhenitsyn accused NATO of trying to bring Russia under its control; he claimed this was visual because of its “ideological support for the ‘colour revolutions‘ and the paradoxical forcing of North Atlantic interests on Central Asia”. In a 2006 interview with Der Spiegel he stated “This was especially painful in the case of Ukraine, a country whose closeness to Russia is defined by literally millions of family ties among our peoples, relatives living on different sides of the national border. At one fell stroke, these families could be torn apart by a new dividing line, the border of a military bloc.”
Daniel J. Mahoney, however, has accused those who paint Solzhenitsyn as an uncritical adherent of Tsarism of “traducing” his real philosophy. Mahoney has written, “…if one opens almost any page of Solzhenitsyn’s 1994 essay “The Russian Question” at the End of the Twentieth Century” one finds Solzhenitsyn attacking the cruelties and injustice of serfdom, faulting Tsarist authorities for their blindness about the need for political liberty in Russia, and for their wasting of the nation’s strength in unnecessary and counterproductive foreign adventures. Moreover, he attacks Pan-Slavism, the idea that Russia had a mission to unite Slavic peoples and to come to the defense of the Orthodox wherever they were under threat, as a ‘wretched idea’.”
Solzhenitsyn gave a speech to AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., on 30 June 1975, where he mentioned how the system created by Bolsheviks in 1917 caused dozens of problems in the Soviet Union. He described how this system “in time of peace, artificially created a famine, causing 6 million people to die in the Ukraine in 1932 and 1933.” Following this, he stated that “they died on the very edge of Europe. And Europe didn’t even notice it. The world didn’t even notice it6 million people!” Solzhenitsyn opined on 2 April 2008 in Izvestia that the 1930s famine in the Ukraine was no different from the Russian famine of 1921 as both were caused by the ruthless robbery of peasants by Bolshevik grain procurements. He claimed that the “provocatory shriek about a ‘genocide’ was started in the minds of Ukrainian chauvinists decades later, who are also viciously opposed to ‘Moskals.'” The writer cautioned that the genocidal claim has its chances to be accepted by the West due to the general western ignorance of Russian and Ukrainian history.
World War II
Solzhenitsyn criticized the Allies for not opening a new front against Nazi Germany in the west earlier in World War II. This resulted in Soviet domination and oppression of the nations of Eastern Europe. Solzhenitsyn claimed the Western democracies apparently cared little about how many died in the East, as long as they could end the war quickly and painlessly for themselves in the West.
Once in the United States, Solzhenitsyn urged the United States to reconsider its attitude towards the Vietnam War (which had ended in April 1975). In his commencement address at Harvard University in 1978, Solzhenitsyn alleged that many in the U.S. did not understand the Vietnam War. He rhetorically asked if the American Anti-War Movement ever realized the contemptuous laughter which, he said, their actions had always provoked among the elderly men in the Soviet Politburo. Solzhenitsyn also accused American anti-war activists of moral responsibility for the political repression that followed the Fall of Saigon: “But members of the U.S. antiwar movement wound up being involved in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in a genocide and in the suffering today imposed on 30 million people there. Do those convinced pacifists hear the moans coming from there?”
Published works and speeches
- Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr Isaevich, A Storm in the Mountains .
- (1962), One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (novella) .
- (1963), An Incident at Krechetovka Station (novella) .
- (1963), Matryona’s Place (novella) .
- (1963), For the Good of the Cause (novella) .
- (1968), The First Circle (novel), Henry Carlisle, Olga Carlisle (tr.) .
- (1968), Cancer Ward (novel)
- (1969), The Love-Girl and the Innocent (play) , a.k.a. The Prisoner and the Camp Hooker or The Tenderfoot and the Tart.
- (1970), Laureate lecture (delivered in writing and not actually given as a lecture), Nobel prize, Swedish academy, retrieved ;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Abook&rft.genre=book&rft.btitle=Laureate+lecture&rft.series=Nobel+prize&rft.pub=Swedish+academy&rft.date=1970&rft.aulast=Solzhenitsyn&rft.aufirst=Aleksandr+Isaevich&rft_id=http%3A%2F%2Fnobelprize.org%2Fliterature%2Flaureates%2F1970%2Fsolzhenitsyn-lecture.html&rfr_id=info%3Asid%2Fen.wikipedia.org%3AAleksandr+Solzhenitsyn” class=”Z3988″> .
- (1971), August 1914 (historical novel) . The beginning of a history of the birth of the USSR. Centers on the disastrous loss in the Battle of Tannenberg in August 1914, and the ineptitude of the military leadership. Other works, similarly titled, follow the story: see The Red Wheel (overall title).
- (ca. 1958-68), The Gulag Archipelago, Henry Carlisle, Olga Carlisle (tr.) (published 1973-78) Check date values in:
|date=(help) (3 vols.), not a memoir, but a history of the entire process of developing and administering a police state in the Soviet Union.
- (1951), Prussian Nights (poetry) (published 1974) .
- (10 December 1974), Nobel Banquet (speech), City Hall, Stockholm .
- (1974), A Letter to the Soviet leaders, Collins: Harvill Press, ISBN 0-06-013913-7 .
- (1975), The Oak and the Calf .
- (1976), Lenin in Zrich ; separate publication of chapters on Vladimir Lenin, none of them published before this point, from The Red Wheel. The first of them was later incorporated into the 1984 edition of the expanded August 1914 (though it had been written at the same time as the original version of the novel) and the rest in November 1916 and March 1917.
- (3 to the Americans in 1975 and 2 to the British in 1976), Warning to the West (5 speeches) (published 1976b) Check date values in:
- (8 June 1978), Harvard Commencement Address, Columbia, retrieved ;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Abook&rft.genre=book&rft.btitle=Harvard+Commencement+Address&rft.pub=Columbia&rft.date=1978-06-08&rft.aulast=Solzhenitsyn&rft.aufirst=Aleksandr+Isaevich&rft_id=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.orthodoxytoday.org%2Farticles%2FSolzhenitsynHarvard.php&rfr_id=info%3Asid%2Fen.wikipedia.org%3AAleksandr+Solzhenitsyn” class=”Z3988″> (Also here with video)
- (1980), The Mortal Danger: Misconceptions about Soviet Russia and the Threat to America .
- (1983), Pluralists (political pamphlet) .
- (1983b), November 1916 (novel), The Red Wheel .
- (1983c), Victory Celebration .
- (1983d), Prisoners .
- (10 May 1983), Godlessness, the First Step to the Gulag (address), London: Templeton Prize .
- (1984), August 1914 (novel) (much-expanded ed.) .
- (1990), Rebuilding Russia .
- (1990), March 1917 .
- , April 1917 .
- (1995), The Russian Question .
- (1997), Invisible Allies, Basic Books, ISBN 978-1-887178-42-6
- (1998), (political pamphlet) (in Russian), Yahoo, archived from the original (Geo cities) on 25 October 2009
- (2003), Two Hundred Years Together on Russian-Jewish relations since 1772, aroused ambiguous public response.
- (August 2011), Kenneth Lantz, Stephan Solzhenitsyn (tr.), “Apricot Jam: and Other Stories“, Counterpoint .
Solzhenitsyn’s philosophy plays a key role in the 2012 film Cloud Atlas, where a character previously kept ignorant and subservient is illegally educated, and is shown reading and quoting his works.
TV documentaries on Solzhenitsyn
In October 1983, French literary journalist Bernard Pivot made an hour-long TV interview with Solzhenitsyn at his rural home in Vermont, U.S. Solzhenitsyn discussed his writing, the evolution of his language and style, his family and his outlook on the future – and stated his wish to return to Russia in his lifetime, not just to see his books eventually printed there. Earlier the same year, Solzhenitsyn was interviewed on separate occasions by two British writers, Bernard Levin and Malcolm Muggeridge.
In 1998, Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov shot TV documentary Besedy s Solzhenitsynym (The Dialogues with Solzhenitsyn) of four parts. The documentary shot in Solzhenitsyn’s home shows his everyday life and covers his reflections on Russian history and literature.
On 12 December 2009, the Russian channel Rossiya K showed the French television documentary L’Histoire Secrte de l’Archipel du Goulag made by Jean Crpu and Nicolas Miletitch and translated into Russian under the title Taynaya Istoriya “Arkhipelaga Gulag” (Secret History: The Gulag Archipelago). The documentary covers events related to creation and publication of The Gulag Archipelago.