Monday, August 04, 2008

Solzhenitsyn passes away

The Gulag Archipelago, the harrowing tale of life in one of Stalin's notorious Siberian death camps is what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn will be known best for, and he passed away on 3 August aged 89, but it started with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich essentially his story of life in the gulag.

Both should be essential reading for historians and give a flavour of the heartless inhumanity at the heart of Marxism-Leninism, a murderous cruelty that run roughshod over human beings for the pursuit of the socialist dream of equality. Equality in that you all sacrificed yourselves to the great "other", whether your bones were crushed or not, you all feared they would be, if you were smart.

Solzhenitsyn had a brief flourish with freedom and fame in the USSR under Khrushchev who used him to point at the brutality of Stalinism, before the Stalinists took Khrushchev himself, and crushed him and Solzhenitsyn again under the slow long death of Brezhnev.

No, he was no great supporter of capitalism, he was a devout Orthodox Christian and he was saddened that his books were more often read outside Russia than within. He saw the growing kleptocracy of post-Soviet Russia as disappointing, as smart men pillaged the state for what was worthwhile, and bought the government and the law at the same time as generations were left in a drunken stupor, without any spirit, as the great experiment of lies and crushing equality collapsed.

He bravely told the tale that tens of millions would never survive to do so -a tale that is still less well known than the Holocaust, yet cost more lives. Less well known perhaps because for so long the Soviet state couldn't really reveal what it was all about - it was, after all, still locking up and executing dissidents until the late 1980s - and after perhaps a decade of respite, has returned somewhat to its old ways.

He damned the view that Stalin was the root of the evil in the USSR, pointing out that Lenin started the executions and the secret police (Cheka). He rejected the evils of the communist system and ideology and embraced Western determination to fight them, but he also had little time for much Western popular culture (head banging caterwauling methinks). He was lauded by Vladimir Putin as a staunch Russian nationalist, which, along with his Orthodox Christianity, no doubt blinded him enough to describe NATO as no better than Hitler when it bombed Serbia in retaliation for its brutality in Kosovo.

Perhaps he didn't know quite what was best after communism, but he suffered and paid heavily for recording for us all about what was worst. It is also worth remembering some of those who miss the Soviet Union, glossing over the inhumanity of it all. Yes, that's you too Chris Trotter.

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