NEW YORK - Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who died this week aged 89, will rank with literary immortals Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as a great chronicler of Russia’s soul and its profound suffering.
Solzhenitsyn’s epic works `Ivan Desinovich’ and `the Gulag Archipelago’ are literary monuments for all mankind. After years as a political prisoner in the Soviet gulag, Solzhenitsyn declared, `a writer’s goal is to fight the lie’ – meaning propaganda, historical distortion, and perversion of facts.
Thanks in good part to Solzhenitsyn and fellow dissident writers, the world finally learned the Soviet Communists had murdered over 30 million people and imprisoned millions more.
At the 1945 Yalta Conference, Stalin boasted to Winston Churchill that Commissar Lazar Kaganovitch, who had supervised the murder of at least seven million Ukrainians and sent 2 million to concentration camps, `is my Adolf Eichmann,’ referring to the Nazi official responsible for killing millions of Jews.
In 1945, the Soviet Union – the close wartime ally of Britain, Canada and the United States – had 5.5 million prisoners in its prison system, the gulag, of whom 25% died annually from cold, hunger, exhaustion and disease.
Though Stalin’s worst crimes were committed before World War II, the full horror of his system of industrialized murder and slave labor were barely known outside Russia until the 1980’s. To this day, the world is constantly reminded of Germany’s crimes during the National Socialist era. But Stalin’s victims, who surpassed those of Hitler by a factor of three times, are almost forgotten. Why?
History is the propaganda of the victors. Few photographs of the gulag have survived, evidence was destroyed, and witnesses have died. Churchill and Roosevelt could not admit they were allied to the greatest mass killer since Genghis Khan, and complicit in his crimes. Or reveal that Communist agents of influence had shaped White House policy. The feeble-minded Roosevelt even hailed Stalin as `Uncle Joe.’
The world’s Communist and Socialist parties managed to suppress the full scope of Stalin’s crimes even after Nikita Khrushchev denounced him in 1956. Solzhenitsyn warned that socialism, and big sister communism, inevitably led to totalitarian states.
Many Western liberal intellectuals were infatuated with Stalin’s brute power and didn’t want to know about their idol’s crimes. The French leftist thinker Jean-Paul Sartre even refused to admit the gulag existed.
Revealing the truth about the Allies’ role in supporting Stalin and his crimes would undermine the whole bogus mythology of World War II that has become the state religion for the political right in North America, Britain and Australia.
Those who considered the Jewish Holocaust a unique historical crime were not eager to bring attention to Stalin’s genocide lest it diminish or dilute their own people’s suffering.
The Soviet Union punished Solzhenitsyn by making him into a `non-person.’ He was exiled to the United States, where he was at first hailed as a hero. But the uncompromising Solzhenitsyn, ever the Old Testament prophet, fulminated against the `soulless’ capitalism system’ and `mindless’ western consumerism.’
Then he published a book about a hitherto taboo subject, the prominent role of Russian Jews in the Communist party and secret police. The book provoked a storm of criticism in North America. Solzhenitsyn was branded anti-Semitic and quickly became a non-person for the second time.
Solzhenitsyn returned to the new Russia after the fall of Communism and became the leading exponent of the revived cult of reactionary 19th-century pan-Slav nationalism. He championed Russia’s Orthodox Church as guardian of the nation’s soul, proclaimed Russia’s manifest destiny, and advocated a form of modern czarism that looks remarkably like today’s Kremlin run by Vladimir Putin and Dimitri Medvedev.
Being a prophet in the wilderness is a hard, thankless profession. But Solzhenitsyn’s dauntless courage and tenacity shone the light into some of the darkest cellars of Russia’s tortured history. He influenced a generation of writers, including this humble one, whose goal, like his, has always been to `fight the lie.’