Monday, August 04, 2008

The Solzhenitsyn No One Knows

The orgy of mourning for Alexandr Solzhenitsyn particularly on conservative sites is saddening as it is understandable. Like Gandhi, Solzhenitsyn elevated himself virtually to the status of a mythical figure, achieving more fame abroad than he ever had at home.

To Russians, Solzhenitsyn was an oddball eccentric figure, his compulsive egotism and need to be worshiped made all too obvious by his train journey home done in the style of the Czars. Solzhenitsyn's last years were fairly pleasant, hobnobbing and accepting awards from Putin, while carrying on propaganda for the Putin regime. This of course included attacks on America, NATO and delegitimizing the rights of a sovereign Ukraine independent of Russia, ironic for the man who had championed Holodomor history.

Those who thought of Solzhenitsyn as a democrat in the same breath as Sakharov were naturally baffled by the image of the so-called "Conscience of Russia" getting into bed with ex-KGB tyrant Vladimir Putin. But Solzhenitsyn had never been a great fan of democracy, his great aspiration, a strong nationalist Russia that would smack around America and Western Europe, with a strong religious component, had been mostly fulfilled in the era of Putin.

Reagan knew better, which was why on the advice conveyed by Russian writer Lev Navrozov, Reagan chose not to meet with Solzhenitsyn. It was why Solzhenitsyn became increasingly marginalized in the United States, despite his increasingly bitter tirades.

While many conservatives insist on thinking of Solzhenitsyn as a fighter for freedom in the American sense, his actual politics were far closer to the European far right. Little wonder from a Monarchist whose first pamphlet actually called for the forcibly expulsion of the Jews from Russia and who to his dying day conducted a historical agenda of blaming most of Russia's problems on the Jews.

But it's not his anti-semitism that distinguishes Solzhenitsyn. Bigotry is a commonplace part of Russian politics. His hypocrisies on the other hand are another matter.

Most obituaries of Solzhenitsyn mention his service in WW2. Few mention that he served in a safe position, so safe that his wife was able to come and visit him. While it's no crime to be out of the fire, his subsequent comments that "I never buried a Jew" combined with suggestions that Jews did not serve on the front line, make this hypocrisy quite repugnant.

Most obituaries of Solzhenitsyn mention his arrest and imprisonment in a Gulag for a letter mocking Stalin. None will mention that during his arrest he turned informant and signed a letter agreeing to continue informing on his fellow inmates under the code name "Vetrov", receiving extra food and comfort in exchange for this. This agreement made Solzhenitsyn's prison life far milder than that of many of his compatriots. The prisoner uprising at the Ekibastuz camp in Kazakhstan which was brutally suppressed with a massacre had supposedly been informed on by that same "Vetrov". Shortly thereafter Solzhenitsyn was moved by special order to fairly comfortable living conditions working in a scientific collective as a librarian, a position usually reserved for people with academic degrees.

In the camps, Solzhenitsyn generally worked in supervisory positions avoiding hard labor. Other Gulag prisoners have stated that he rarely if ever worked on actual hard labor. Later when writing "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich", Solzhenitsyn assigned his role working as a privileged supervisor in the Gulag to that of the Jewish character, Caesar or Tzezar, once again linking bigotry with hypocrisy.

(Later however Solzhenitsyn would accuse a wide range of people of working for the KGB, including his first wife. He admitted to signing a paper that he would inform on other prisoners, but claimed he never did.)

While many people are familiar with "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" on his supposed experiences in a labor camp. Few Americans are aware that "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" was no underground classic but was published in an official Soviet literary magazine overseen by the Communist regime.

Anyone who seriously thinks "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" was an explosive expose of life in the Gulag might want to ask himself, if so why it was published under the aegis of the USSR as early as 1962. The answer of course was that "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" was a "safe" means of addressing the Stalin years by someone the authorities considered tame and under control. And indeed "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" is actually fairly mild by comparison to such genuinely horrific accounts of Gulag life as were penned by Varlam Shalamov, whose narrative Solzhenitsyn attempted to suppress, both domestically and by discouraging Western publishing houses from printing it.

Solzhenitsyn was so close to Soviet authorities during the publication of "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" that a transcript exists of a message from him to Khrushchev, thanking him in flattering tones for its publication.

22 March, 1963

"I am deeply excited by the speech of Nikita Sergeyvich Khrushchev, and bring him my deep thankfulness for his extremely kind treatment to us and to myself personally, for the high assessment of my humble work. My phone call is explained by the following, Nikita Sergeyvich had said, that if our writers and artists become fixated on a Gulag theme, this will provide material for our enemies and to this material as on offal will fly great fat flies. Employing my acquaintance with you and recollecting our conversation on Sparrow Hills during the meeting of our leadership with the writers, I ask you a kind word of advice. I only ask that you not consider my request as an official query, but as a comradely advice of a Communist in whom I trust.

Only nine years ago I wrote a play about camp life which is called Alleyn I Sholoskovka, it does not repeat Ivan Denisovich and it has a different grouping of character types. In it the prisoners do not stand against the Gulag authorities but against the shameless prisoners from their own ranks. My literary godfather Alexander Tvardovsky having read the play has not recommended that I give it to the theater. But we have differed in our opinions and I have given it to the theater's chief director. But now I am tortured by doubts, considering this special attention and caution which has been expressed by Nikita Sergeyvich during his speech about employing materials from camp life in art, and careful of my responsibilities in this regard, I would like to consult with you whether I and my theater should work further on this play. If you will say the same as Tvardovsky, I will immediately remove the play from the theater and work on it further. It will be very painful for me if in any way I behave other than is expected from us by the Party and by the very dear to me Nikita Sergeyvich.

Note: The writer Solzhenitsyn asked of me, if the opportunity arises to convey his most heartfelt greetings and well wishes to you (Khrushchev) and wishes to assure you again that he fully understood your fatherly concern about the cultivation of our Soviet literature and art and will attempt to prove worthy of the high calling of a Soviet writer."

While Solzhenitsyn is thought of as a dissident, the reality is that he worked to sabotage genuine dissidents beginning with Andrei Sakharov, against whom he spoke out. Whether Solzhenitsyn operated as an agent of the Soviet authorities, as some dissidents have alleged, or whether his egotism drove him to be viewed as the "only dissident", he routinely and repeatedly sabotaged and worked to cut links between other dissidents and the West, as has been chronicled by Russian writer and dissident Vladimir Voinovich in A Portrait Against the Background of a Myth.

Once in Vermont, Solzhenitsyn accelerated this activity attempting to exercise veto power over Radio Liberty to prevent the works of dissident writers from being read over the air. So much so that employees there began to describe his residence as the "Vermont Raikom" (slang for regional Communist Party Committee).

Back in Russia, Solzhenitsyn spurned and insulted Yeltsin, who did make a genuine attempt at moving Russia toward a Democracy, while praising Putin and attacking America and the Baltic Republics over their refusal to bow to Russia.

Along with that Solzhenitsyn continued cultivating his obsession with the Jews that had marked all his literary output, publishing 200 Years Together, a book that in the West was mainly of interest to white supremacists, for its unrelenting anti-semitism and revisionist history, much as his historical writings on the USSR blamed Jews for all of Russia's ills.

But even as Solzhenitsyn continued to be well known abroad, his luster had dimmed in Russia, with one critic describing him as an old coathanger everyone steps around but no one can bring himself to throw away. His vendettas against other writers, the growing revelation of his betrayals in the camps and before, the ugliness of his bigotry and his embrace of the new regime reduced him to obscurity.

While in the West, Solzhenitsyn continued to be remembered for what he had written decades ago, in Russia people were quite aware of what he was writing now. The orgy of mourning in the West at his death would have fulfilled Solzhenitsyn's egotism, even as he would have despised the "soft weak Westerners" who mourned him.


Anonymous said...

What do you do all day? You frequently write some of the best thought provoking material. Any favorite sources that you can sare with us?

Sultan Knish said...

well for news in general i browse a variety of news sources, for this article in particular the sources are mostly foreign language and often in books

you can see some of the blogs i read on the sidebar on the right, but a search of google news in general will often turn up interesting things

as for what I do all day, various freelance work, also some caretaking for a sick family member

Magdeburger Joe said...

I work with Russian and Ukrainian Jews who are well read and concur with what you say. You have succeeded in wiping away whatever vestiges of respect I had for Solzhenitsyn. Your post is valuable in calculating the distortion factor in his works

Lemon said...

No tears on my part for the dead old anti Semite.
He was a wild eyed , badly coiffed fanatic.
One down, many more to go.

Sultan Knish said...

thank you joe, most Russians, jewish or non-jewish, know the score, which is why the media stories on him report rather little mourning or interest in Russia on his death

Anonymous said...

This entry is dynamite! I thought I knew something about AS but I'd never heard most of this. Kudos on your research skills!

Can you mention your sources about that pamphlet calling for expulsion of Jews, and his work as Gulag informant?

Sultan Knish said...

The sources are foreign language, the aforementioned Voinovich book mentioned in the article and Valeri Khodjaev's Why Are Jews Hated, which has won a journalistic award

in English language resources, Richard Pipes, Daniel Pipes' father, has written somewhat on Solz's antisemitism, but only superficially

the second volume of Solzhenitsyn's Two Hundred Years Together also incorporates some elements of that original pamphlet

WomanHonorThyself said...

brilliant always SK!

Magdeburger Joe said...

You got me going yet again on, this tome on one of my own posts.
The following is the exerpt that pertains to your brilliant post.

Sultan Knish wrote an amazing article about Alexander Solzhenitsin that considerably dampened my enthusiasm for him. As my Russian Jewish coworkers tell me, his personal disdain for Jews was projected into his literary output. What was most remarkable was the "deals with the devil" that he is reported to have made in exchange for more lenient treatment. Records from prison show that he was assigned supervisory and academic work details. In an added layer of galling hypocrisy, he portrays Jews in the gulag as having enjoyed the same priveleged treatment he also enjoyed. Sultan Knish also points out that "Ivan Denisovitch" was published officially . Its publication served the interest of Krushchev and company in denouncing the previous leadership of Stalin and company. It is clear that Solzhenitsin's position in history will at best be that of a tarnished icon. It is ironic that he left America to return to Russia with little show of gratitude to the United States for having given him asylum. It is an interesting contrast to Lenin, who hid in Finland before the Russian revolution and repaid their kindness by granting them independence from Russia in 1917.
The history of the Russian/Soviet empire is replete with sanctimonious hypocrisy directed at Jews who are denounced as "rootless cosmopolitans" who are not really a part of Russian life. The Russian royal family was part of the shallow and stagnant gene pool that comprised much of European royalty. Despite being the symbol of Russian identity, they spoke English and French.
Josef Vissarionovich Dhugashvili, more commonly known as Josef Stalin was from the non Slavic republic of Georgia and spoke Russian with a noticeable Georgian accent. The behaviors of Stalin and Nicholas the Second remind me of teams of pickpockets who get on the train and loudly warn the compressed commuters to be wary of pickpockets as they themselves work the crowd....
Keep up your great work.
Magdeburger Joe of Magdeburger and

Sultan Knish said...

thanks for the mention joe, people tend to make icons and false gods out of men who try to portray themselves as spiritual leaders and teachers

russians have long since lost interest in him, but his image still remains strong in the same West that he ironically enough despises

christmasghost said...

Thank you for this article. As I read all the teary eyed reports of this little monster's death I kept wondering "does no one read OR think anymore?"
AS was just as bad as Soros...not much difference, both sold out people and then put a self serving spin on suit themselves....

Sultan Knish said...

yes exactly, thank you

Anonymous said...

I must say, keep up the good work. A very interesting expose on the enigma of ol-Solzhy. Many American Conservatives, especially during the '60s and '70s, continue to this day through Conservative News Talk Radio and Conservative "Right Wing" lecture platforms of upholding Alexander Solzhenitsin as a beacon of Soviet hope toward Socialist dissidence and pro-American/Freedom however I'd suggest a bio of Boris Pasternak would be much more applicable.
Keep up the fabulous work and best regards from Canada.. SRA

Anonymous said...

Happy 2016. After listening to Dr. Savage give a nice sermon for Alexandr Solzhenitsyn it came to my mind that he, like most "heroes" today, are not who they actually were but another invention from the criminal communist schema of political correctness.
I remembered back when this was published your fabulous and truthful account of Solzhenitsyn that I found myself commenting and recommending to other listeners your fabulous article on another intentionally misrepresented individual from Savage's January 5th podcast.
Keep up the fabulous and much needed work. Perhaps you might - if you do not already - delve into radio talk show hosting?
Kind regards..

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