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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Warning to the West

By Editorial Staff
Published March 1, 1990

The Gulag Archipelago is so profound in its insight into the Soviet system of repression that it has caught the attention of politicians in the West. Much of the reform and revolution presently occurring in the Soviet Union has been foreseen by Solzhenitsyn. Considering the accuracy of Solzhenitsyn’s predictions, Americans should take notice of his warning to the free democratic nations of the West.

Mine was, probably, the easiest imaginable kind of arrest. It did not tear me from the embrace of kith or kin, nor wrench me from a deeply cherished home life. One pallid European February it took me from our narrow salient on the Baltic Sea, where, depending on one’s point of view, either we had surrounded the Germans or they had surrounded us, and it deprived me only of my familiar artillery battery and the scenes of the last three months of the war.

The brigade commander called me to his headquarters and asked me for my pistol. Two counterintelligence agents stepped forward and shouted theatrically: “You are under arrest!”

Burning and pricking from head to toe, all I could exclaim was: “Me? What for?”

And even though there is usually no answer to this question, surprisingly I received one! “You have … a friend on the First Ukrainian Front?”

I knew instantly I had been arrested because of my correspondence with a school friend.

“Resistance! Why didn’t you resist?” Today those who have continued to live on comfort scold those who have suffered. Yes, resistance should have begun right there, at the moment of the arrest itself. But it did not begin.

During a daylight arrest there is always that moment when they are leading you through a crowd of hundreds of just such doomed innocents as yourself. You aren’t gagged. You really can and you really ought to cry out – to cry out that you are being arrested. That villains in disguise are trapping people! That millions are being arrested on the strength of false denunciations!

Instead, not one sound comes from your parched lips, and the passing crowd naively believes that you and your executioners are friends out for a leisurely stroll. I myself often had a chance to cry out.

So why did I keep silent?

Every man has handy a dozen glib little reasons why he is right not to sacrifice himself. Some still have hopes of a favorable outcome to their case and are afraid to ruin their chances by an outcry.

As for me, I kept silent for one further reason: because those Muscovites thronging the steps of the escalators were too few for me, too few! Here my cry would be heard by 200 or twice 200, but what about the 200 million? Vaguely, unclearly, I had a vision that someday I would cry out to the 200 million.

The following is an excerpt from “Russia’s Prophet in Exile”, Time, July 24, 1989, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s first interview in 10 years.

From the age of nine, I knew I was going to be a writer, although I didn’t know what I was going to write about. I was raised by my elders in Christianity, and almost through my school years, up to 17 or 18, I was in opposition to Soviet education. I had to conceal this from others. But this force field of Marxism, as developed in the Soviet Union, has such an impact that it gets into the brain of the young man and little by little takes over.

From age 17 or 18, I did change internally, and from that time, I became a Marxist, a Leninist, and believed in all these things. I lived that way up through the university and the war and up until prison, but in prison, I encountered a very broad variety of people. I saw that my convictions did not have a solid basis, could not stand up in dispute, and I had to renounce them.

Then the question arose of going back to what I had learned as a child. It took more than a year or so. Other believers influenced me, but basically it was a return to what I had thought before. The fact that I was dying also shook me profoundly. At age 34, I was told I could not be saved, and then I returned to life. These kinds of upheavals always have an impact on a person’s convictions.

It is quite extraordinary the extent to which I have been lied about. It is remarkable, and it makes me ashamed of journalists. No one ever gives any quotes. The same is true for the charge that I am a nationalist. I am a patriot. I love my motherland. I want my country, which is sick, which for 70 years has been destroyed, and is on the very edge of death, I want it to come back to life. But this doesn’t make me a nationalist. I don’t want to limit anyone else. Every country has its own patriots who are concerned with its fate.

In Western civilizations – which used to be called Western-Christian but now might better be called Western-Pagan – along with the development of intellectual life and science, there has been a loss of the serious moral basis of society. During these 300 years of Western civilization, there has been a sweeping away of duties and expansion of rights. But we have two lungs. You can’t breathe with just one lung and not the other. We must avail ourselves of rights and duties in equal measure. And if this is not established by the law, if the law does not oblige us to do that, then we have to control ourselves.

When Western society was established, it was based on the idea that each individual limited his own behavior. Everyone understood what he could do and could not do. The law itself did not restrain people. Since then, the only thing we have been developing is rights, rights, rights, at the expense of duty.


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