Between Two Millstones vol 1 (Solzhenitsyn)

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. Between Two Millstones Book 1: Sketches of Exile, 1974-1978. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 2018.

This is a great book, but it is not a happy book.  The eponymous millstones are the KGB/Soviet Dragon and Western liberalism. Let us not miss that point. It is easy to focus on Solzhenitsyn’s anti-communist narrative that we miss the other enemy, decadent liberalism.

He begins with an appreciation for German Culture. As hinted at in other works (August 1914 and In The First Circle) Solzhenitsyn admired high German culture.  Take Hitler away and Germany could have been a noble leader of Europe. He notes: “But I did like Germany…Not for a moment did I connect Hitler with traditional Germany” (Solzhenitsyn 5, 6).

Although it goes without saying that the KGB (and Communism in general) is pure evil, Solzhenitsyn should be credited as one of the first heroes to demonstrate also how wicked and treacherous Western media is, even saying, “You are worse than the KGB!” Of course, the media isn’t worse in the sense that the media, perhaps with a bit of wistful longing, cannot put patriots in jail. Like the KGB, however, the media can erode the moral foundations of a society.

Solzhenitsyn explains the purpose of all his writing: to show the different Russias.  At the time of his writing the book, there was the rich cultural Russia of the emigres and then there were the Communists.  He laments the path that Russia did not take (92).  We see something similar today in Putin’s Russia.  For many years Russia was right to resist Soros and the globalists. Putin, though, descended into paranoia and forced Russia into an anticlimactic, if not doomed invasion of Ukraine.

Before he left for America, Solzhenitsyn took an idyllic tour of rural France. It “struck me as gentle, tender, and natural. If I were to live in Europe there would not have been a better country for me: not because of the formidable cathedrals of Reims, Chartres, Soissons, or the palaces of Versailles and Fontainebleau, but because of the placid flow of life in the forgotten little towns, the soft and noble contours of the fields, the woodlands overgrown with mistletoe, the long gray garden walls, and the simple French manner of using earth-gray stone in buildings (100-101). This is the moral vision that conservatives have always wanted, if not always articulated.

Solzhenitsyn’s sojourn in Switzerland allowed him to see the decentralized nature of the Swiss cantons.  This might be the most virtuous style of republicanism there is.  As he notes, alluding to a speech by the community leader, “Our community never gave itself over to the folly of total freedom…There cannot be a functioning state without a dash of aristocratic and even monarchic elements” (109).

Aside from dodging the KGB assassination teams, Solzhenitsyn spent most of his time responding to lies by the Western media. Complicating this, he had a rather incompetent lawyer, a Swiss man, who seemed as baffled by the Western legal system as Solzhenitsyn was.

Aside from the KGB and the media, his other opponents included Pope Pius VI and Henry Kissinger (187).  His message to America was simply this: “stop aiding the oppressors” (189).  He wasn’t asking the US to go to war with Russia, nor stop its supplies to Russia. That last sentence might confuse some readers. The USSR wouldn’t have continued existing for much of its history if it weren’t for American shipments of food and materiel to it.

He has a touching section on meeting Prince Franz Joseph II of Liechtenstein.  Prince Franz had refused to deliver Russian soldiers to Stalin, who would have had them murdered.  Britain and America, one must point out, did precisely that (194).

Concerning his later fiction, the book does explain the somewhat tortured side plots of the Red Wheel trilogy.  Solzhenitsyn’s own understanding developed during the writing.  He came to understand that the liberalizations didn’t achieve anything. The educated people who were “bitterly opposed to arbitrary rule, now turned cowardly and fell silent or lied” (226).

Even if the West didn’t have the Soviet terror, it was too weak to morally stop it in the long run.  Communism fell because of the contradictions inherent in the system (and because Reagan forced the USSR to spend money it did not have). The West was drowning itself in commerce and litigation.  They did not want to hear the words of a prophet: “When I called out ‘live not by lies’ in the Soviet Union, that was fair enough, but when I called out ‘live not by lies’ in the United States, I was told to take a hike” (287).

Solzhenitsyn also realized, however, that the America of the decadent academics and media was not the true America.  The true America was “one that was small-town and robust, the heartland, the America I envisioned as I was writing my speech, and to which my speech was addressed” (291). This is the America one finds in a Travis Tritt song.

A social and moral vision emerges from Solzhenitsyn’s memoirs.  The healthy society is one that eschews both Communist terror on one hand and decadent modernity on the other.  Few modern conservatives would disagree.  That analysis, though, might be too superficial. A life as a cog in the machine and always threatened by a ubiquitous legal system, is not much better.  It might be more comfortable (what with no Gulags and all), but it doesn’t allow any human flourishing.

Important points to note:

~Solzhenitsyn supported American involvement in Vietnam (99).

~He correctly noted that General Franco of Spain saved his country from Communist enslavement (206ff).

November 1916: Node 3, the monarchy

513gTs1m+HL

We are continuing Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “nodal analysis” of the Russian Revolution.

The hero of the story is Vorotyntsev.  He’s home from the front.  Through him we see that the Germans weren’t so much the bad guys.  Russia and Germany had more in common with each other than with England and France. Vorotyntsev knows the Tsar is incapable of correcting society, but it would be far worse to throw one’s lot with the forces of revolution.

We see the true genius in Solzhenitsyn’s writing in that he is capable of giving air-tight cases for and against monarchy.  We will resolve this antimony at the end.

Against the Monarchy

1) Tsar Nicholas allowed himself to get played by entering the war.  The terms of the war were dictated to him by Britain and France (207).

2) Nicholas smarted from his defeat in the Japanese War, where he was perceived as not taking an active enough role.  He decided to assume full command of the military in this war.  That was a big mistake.

Nodal Point: The Russian army was defeated in the West in 1914-1915.  “One of the most destructive consequences of our defeat in the West was the flood tide of refugees.  The waters had risen and no governmental channel could control them” (220).

Another problem was Russia’s size and army: it was too big.  It fought upon old Napoleonic principles.  What was needed was “an army of crack troops” (278). Russia’s supply lines were unwieldy.  She was still doing logistics for moving huge numbers of horses in a railway age.

Of all people a female history professor gives a moving defense of monarchy.  

For the Monarchy

A female professor, Olda Andozerskaya, gives a most unprogressive defense of the monarchy.  It’s romantic, far-fetched, but quite beautiful (and no worse than 2020, or 2016 or 2012 or 2008 or…you get the idea).

1) Monarchy does not mean stagnation.  “A cautious approach to the new, a conservative sentiment, does not mean stagnation.  A farsighted monarch carries out reforms–but only for those whose time is ripe.  He does not go at it mindlessly, as some republican governments do, maneuvering so as not to lose power” (340).

2) An established line of succession saves a country from destructive rebellions. Political strife is reduced. We might respect a republican government because of Romans 13 (JBA), but we don’t actually respect it.  We know they probably lied to get to office and even if they do fulfill their promises, it’s only to pay off a debt.

3) Persuading a monarch is no more difficult than a republican government.  A republican government has to persuade the public, and that public is often at the mercy of ignorance, passion, and vested interest (341).

4) A monarchy doesn’t necessarily make slaves of the people.  A commercial republic is just as likely to de-personalize them.  Why is subordinating myself to a faceless electorate (and the unelected bureaucracy behind them) preferable to a monarch?

5) Solzhenitsyn faces the biggest objection to monarchy: what happens when you get an idiot?  His answer is probably the best in the literature: “”The accident of birth is a vulnerable point, yes.  But there are also lucky accidents.  But a talented man at the head of a monarchy, what republic can compare?  A monarch may be sublime, but a man elected by the majority will almost certainly be a mediocrity” (342).

Solzhenitsyn goes on to list that republican governments have their own Achillees’ heels: ambitious politicians, a morass of red tape hampering reform, etc.   And his interlocutor asks a very uncomfortable question: why should we suppose equality and freedom to be preferable to honor and dignity?  Maybe they are, but we rarely hear arguments to the point.

Anytime a republican points out that monarchies make tyrants possible, the monarchist should reply that a republic is just as likely to descend into anarchy and civil war.

So, who is correct, the monarchist or the revolutionary?  In terms of argument and greatness, the monarchist clearly wins.  Unfortunately for the monarchist (and humanity), Tsar Nicholas is too little, too late.

November 1916: Earlier Nodes

This part is complicated.  He interrupts his narrative to explain some of the history that led to the problems.  There was an initial attempt to liberalize (in the good sense of the word) land ownership and put decision-making back into the hands, if not of the people, then of heads of landowning-areas. The problem is that Russian liberalism, like all liberalism, found itself caught between traditionalism and communism (59).

Solzhenitsyn points out that the liberals, while not being revolutionaries, ran interference for them (until the moment the revolutionaries hanged them.  Like weak Christians today, they engage left, punch right.

This is what I try to tell virtue signalers on both Left and Right.  You want to appease the mob and show them how virtuous you are.  The revolutionaries will dialogue with you until the moment they cut your throat.

This leads to the Russian idea of the zemstvo. It is a “social union of a given district” (60). At its best it provided a social shield between the lower class and other classes.  Tsar Aleksandr II sought to empower the zemstvos and give them more autonomy.  This would have functioned as a pressure valve on society, allowing the legitimate criticisms of the monarchy, that it didn’t allow for representation, to find its voice in the land.  As as result, “we might have had, with the monarchy intact, a self-governing society, ethical in complexion, and free of party politics.”

It was never to be.  Later tsars considered zemstvo “networking” to be revolutionary activity, and so cut their own legs out from under themselves. The socialist outsiders soon moved in. Solzhenitsyn here introduces one of his heroes, Shipov.  Shipov came up with a brilliant networking system that would have staved of socialism, if it were to be realized (69). Rural districts elect county “zemstvo assemblies,” which elect provincial assemblies, and the provinces an all-Russian assembly

November 1916, meditation one

513gTs1m+HL

There is no way to do an adequate review of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s November 1916.  I’ve decided to break it in numerous smaller segments so I can reflect on his teachings.  Every page is Truth.

If August 1914was specifically about the encirclement and defeat of Russia, November 1916 explores more of the causes leading to Lenin. There was no fixing Russia.  Solzhenitsyn is clear.  He outlines several probable courses of action, but there was little chance of their being enacted.

Solzhenitsyn continues his “nodal theory of history,” and in these nodes we see tinier knots within the knot.  One of these sub-knots is the problem of the Old Believers, illustrated in a dialogue between Sanya and a chaplain. The Old Believers were Russian Christians who maintained that their traditions were unchanged from time immemorial.  Consequently, they opposed the reforms of Patriarch Nikon.

The Old Believers specific arguments and praxis were often wanting, but the evidence was on their side.  In any case, the Tsars, otherwise orthodox good men, attacked them and relegated them to the edge of society.  As a result, Russia lost its most pious and monarchical section of society. It also lost a fighting segment whose frenzy in battle could have stopped the Communists.

Unfortunately, the Russian establishment (and church) didn’t simply attack the Old Believers’ bodies.  They targeted their souls as well.  Sanya mused: “If they refuse communion–burn them: that was Sofia’s decree. If they take communion under protest–burn them afterward. Lower jaws were wrenched open and the ‘true host’ stuffed down their throats.  For fear of weakening, of accepting the sacrilegious element, they had sometimes set fire to themselves” (Solzhenitsyn 43).

It isn’t surprising that the Old Believers saw the establishment as the Antichrist. Sanya continued his musing by thinking “Maybe we trampled the finest of our race.  Maybe there was no schism.”

From there the narrative moves to an attack on Tolstoy, which is right and proper to do. After the proper bashing of Tolstoy, the priest explains, quite correctly, that war is not the greatest evil.  Tolstoy said abolishing the state, while entailing smaller evils, would get rid of the greatest of evils.  This is not so. The state was created to protect us from violence (53). 

War isn’t the vilest of evils.  “An unjust trial, for instance, that scalds the outraged heart, is viler…Or the ordeal at the hands of a torturer. When you can neither cry out nor fight back….All these things are spiritually dirtier and more terrible than war” (53).

We choose not between war and evil, but peace and evil. War is just a specialized form of evil, limited in time and space.

In the First Circle (Solzhentisyn)

Image result for in the first circle

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. In the First Circle. New York: Harper Perennial, 2009.

In 1968 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn published an edited version of In the First Circle, titled simply First Circle.  He knew the full novel would never pass Soviet censors.  This is the full novel. This book is the triumph of the human spirit and the expose that scientific and state socialism is pure evil. 

The key event is not the phone call to the US attache about the atomic bomb.  Rather, it was when Gleb decides not to join the mathematicians’ “inner ring” in prison.  Truth be told, it really isn’t even that important a decision. However, it is a decision big enough to let him find his humanity.

Each chapter or collection of chapters is about a key character.  In this Solzhenitsyn also describes his historical methodology (i.e., “nodal points”). As Sologdin says, “Think like a mathematician.  Apply the nodal points method….Get an overall view of Lenin’s life, spot the main breaks in gradualness, the sharp changes in direction, and read only what relates to them.  How did he behave at those moments? And there you have the whole man” (181).

One of the key themes in this book is the resistance to reducing everything to material and economic factors. In his intra-novel novella on Stalin, Solzhenitsyn notes Stalin’s problem with language: is language part of “base” or “superstructure?”  In Marxist theology (and it is a theology), the economy is the base. The social phenomena is the superstructure. Language isn’t a mode of production, so it can’t be the base. However, it’s not clear how language functions as a superstructure, since language is more foundational than that. Superstructures change and can be discarded.  Language may adapt, but it never disappears.

Continuing this critique of Marxism, and the Marxist dictum that being (seen as economic forces) determines consciousness, the protagonist Gleb, not yet converted is rebuked: “If that were true, life wouldn’t be worthwhile….why do lovers remain faithful to each other when they are parted?  ‘Being’ demands they be unfaithful! And why do people in exactly the same circumstances, in the same camp even, behave so differently” (333)? The interlocutor goes on to note that we all have an inner essence.

Is Marxism even a science?  Rubin and some other guy have a fun conversation (483). Marxism claims its whole doctrine is derived from the nuclear concept of commodity and stems from the three laws of dialectic.

a) transformation of quality into quantity
b) interpenetration of opposites
c) negation of the negation

A scientific law must give direction and coordinates.  Revolutionary progress does not do this. Key problem: does the Marxist “negation of the negation” always take place in the course of development (489)? How do we know when to expect it?  We don’t. Even the Marxist Rubin admits that you can’t move from “the dialectic themselves to concrete analysis of phenomena.”

Here is the obvious problem with these three laws: there is no evidence they apply in the social realm.  The fact that water changes to steam has nothing to do with the bourgeoisie changing into the proletariat.  Nonetheless, the Marxist lecturer gives a good overview of Marxist metaphysics (and it is a metaphysics). “Matter alone is ultimate” (646-648).

Gleb comes to a different realization.  No ideology can change society. Progress doesn’t mean material progress.  Something else is needed. He comes on the truth almost by accident. He tells his friend Gerasimovich that they need to get the information out.  Ger. counters, “I thought you didn’t believe in radio or progress.”
Gleb: “No. They can jam it.  I’m saying that maybe….a new means will be discovered for the Word to shatter concrete.”
“But that completely contradicts the laws of resistance to materials.”
Gleb: “Not to mention dialectical materialism. So what? Remember ‘In the Beginning was the Word. So the word is more ancient than concrete. The Word is not to be taken lightly” (672).

On Prison Camp Names

“….Ozerlag, Luglag, Steplag, Kamyshlav…:”
“Makes you think there’s some unrecognized poet sitting in the ministry of State Security. He hasn’t got the stamina for whole poems, can’t get it together, so he thinks up poetic names for prison camps” (10).

One of the more moving climaxes of the book is when Gleb Nerzhin realizes that “the People” is an abstraction created by the Party elites.  Only your soul, not Party leadership, not Revolutionary dogma, can admit you to humanity (496).

Another fun development is when Gleb speaks with the half-blind Spiridon.   Gleb wants to see the real people, and not a socialist abstraction. He gets Spiridon, and what a joy Spiridon is. Spiridon’s criteria for morality is fairly simple: “He spoke ill of no one. He never bore false witness. He killed only when at war. He wouldn’t steal a crumb from any person, but he robbed the state whenever opportunity afforded, with a cool conviction that it was right” (505).

August 1914 (Solzhenitsyn)

71RmOsZLjfL

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. August 1914. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972.

See here for a good introduction to Solzhenitsyn’s method. https://aleksandr-solzhenitsyn-center.squarespace.com/his-writings/large-works-and-novels/the-red-wheel/solzhenitsyn-on-method-of-nodes

This is Solzhenitsyn’s counter to Tolstoy’s view of history.  Actually, it’s a counter to everything Tolstoy believed. Solzhenitsyn arranges his philosophy of history around a series of “nodes” or “knots” that describe the fall of Russia.  Particularly fine is his brutal, yet fair and realistic critique of both liberalism and blind monarchism. How do I know he is being fair? If you can find yourself in the critique and say “Ouch,” then you know he is being fair to all sides.

Both liberals and Russian monarchists today think Solzhenitsyn was a pure Russian nationalist.  He might have been in his private life, but that doesn’t come through in his writings. He is very critical of the Tsar and in other writings (e.g., The Russian Question) he thinks every war Russia fought was a bad idea.  

And his take on the Jews is more balanced than people on either side realize.  He mocks the anti-Jewish attitude of conservative Russians just before the Revolution. One of the characters had the name Isaaki (named after St Isaac), so the University thought he was Jewish and wouldn’t let him in.  He proved he wasn’t Jewish and then realized, “His acceptance rested on his having proved that he did not belong to the nation through which Christ had come into the world” (Solzhenitsyn 20).

Solzhenitsyn is aware of the existential danger that Russia faced, and not just from Satanists like Lenin.  Russia had lost two big wars, Crimea and Japan. She could not afford another loss (112). Even worse, Russia had failed to listen to Dostoevsky and form an eternal alliance with Germany.  Such would have protected her against the Bolsheviks (and forever doomed the British banking clans). Neither scenario, however, would be realized. Russia was doomed before the war began.

What Russia Should have Done

1) Tell France to go pound sand.

2) Expand the invasion of East Prussia beyond the Maurian lakes.  Amputate the whole thing (208).

3) Following Dostoevsky’s instructions, Russia should have formed an “eternal alliance” with Germany (114). Indeed, “peace between Germany and Russia was far preferable to this disastrous alliance with those circus artistes from Paris” (348).

Nota Bene:

a) German General Hermann von Francois was of Huguenot descent (214).

b) “It was one of those moments in war when time contracts to an explosion, when action must be instantaneous and nothing can be put off” (191).

c) There is a fun scene where an old man finds out that Sanya and Kotya are Tolstoyan and Hegelian, respectively (399-401).  As someone who used to be a pure Hegelian, I enjoyed this part. It also reveals that a Hegelian affirms the existence of the state.  This means a Hegelian can’t be a Marxist. It’s important to make this basic distinction, otherwise conservatives come off as conceptually inept.

The whole section is a wonderful critique of ideology. We shouldn’t impose a government from top down as a way to “fix” society (409).  Rather, the people of a country should focus on developing its soul. An example of this is the misguided attempt to “make the world safe for democracy.” That is the essence of Revolution and Bolshevism.

d) One is often struck by the similarities of the Russian “intelligentsia” and the “Woke” Americans of today.  Both sneer at the idea of a nation’s history. Indeed, both sneer at the idea of nations. Both are socialistic.  Some characters in the book are accused of being part of the “Black Hundreds,” an ultra-nationalist (and probably xenophobic) paramilitary group in Russia. If someone is a patriot, then he is a Black Hundred by definition.  It’s similar to today when anyone who loves America is an evil nationalist and probably a member of the KKK.

That’s another lesson today’s conservatives should learn from Solzhenitsyn.  Revolutionary socialists want you dead. You cannot reason with them. You cannot tell them “No, I am not a racist or ______.”  They are only waiting to line you up against the wall.

 

The Russian Question (Solzhenitsyn)

219820

The title sounds like a socio-political analysis. Actually, it is a short history book. But upon closer inspection, it is more than that. Solzhenitsyn uses the medium of history to re-tell Russia’s story in a way to call the Russian people back to their spiritual heritage and also to warn Americans of the dangers that their own democratic liberalism offers. Written primarily for Russians, this book is a call for all. The specific question is simple: “Shall our people [Russians] be or not be” (106)? Solzhenitsyn raises points out the obvious double standard: patriotism and nationalism are good only when it is not Russian.

The main body of the book is a survey of the last five centuries of Russian history. Solzhenitsyn’s basic premise is that whenever Russia became imperialistic and sought other territories, the Russian people suffered and the country would lose prestige. Solzhenitsyn’s basic premise is correct, but it is not that simple. He is quick to point out the dangers of pan-Slavism, which makes criticism of him rather odd.  Solzhenitsyn is not a Russian nationalist, if by nationalism you mean what CNN wants you to mean.

Prussian Nights (Solzhenitsyn)

This isn’t exactly autobiography, nor is it pure poetry.  Russian linguists will have to judge the translation quality.  It’s readable, thus making it superior to 100% of modern poetry.  On the surface level it is Solzhenitsyn’s account of the Red Army’s invasion into eastern Germany.  It’s not pretty, but Solzhenitsyn never gets graphic. He leaves the details to your imagination.

The first thing that strikes the reader is the theme of burning.  This is literally quite true, as the Red Army is torching German villages.  The movement of the meter, however, also suggests the chaotic nature of burning.

On a deeper level, Solzhenitsyn sees the Red Army’s invasion as undoing the inept Russian invasion of 1914 (Solzhenitsyn 19).  The year 1914 is key for Solzhenitsyn’s works.

“Evil and good, fears and delights
The silver of Prussian noons
The crimson of Prussian nights” (67).

The poem can be read in one or two sittings.  It isn’t pretty, but neither is it graphic. It also alludes to the time and place where Solzhenitsyn was arrested (think Bernie’s Amerika).

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Image result for one day ivan denisovich

This is a stark vision for Bernie’s America.  True, Solzhenitsyn couldn’t have known that, but it fits nonetheless. This book doesn’t have the raw,electric force of Gulag Archipelago.  To be fair, Gulag is a near-perfect read. Solzhenitsyn was a fair writer when he wrote Ivan. He was a perfect writer when he wrote Gulag.  I would probably start here, but you can mostly understand Gulag without Ivan.

You can find freedom or prison in any circumstance. Alyosha the Baptist, because he has been raised with Christ, isn’t given over to despair like other prisoners.  Elsewhere, while they are slaving (and remember, socialism is slave labor) in the snow, Shukhov actually enjoys his work. It is a routine. The routine is what gives you the ability to endure.

Nevertheless, the Gulag is dehumanizing. Men are reduced to caring more for an extra crumb of bread than they are for their fellow men.  I think that is deliberate.

The last two pages are worth the entire read.  Shukhov asks Alyosha why he doesn’t pray for freedom.  Alyosha counters “Why should he?” God is testing him, and Shukhov would probably waste his freedom on trash, anyway.

Gulag Archipelago

the-gulag-archipelago

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. The Gulag Archipelago: A Literary Investigation I-II. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1974 [1973].

Few books are written with raw, electric energy. Solzhenitsyn’s work can only be labeled as a testimony to the 20th century and its postmodern politics. His work is a triumph of the human spirit. As is commonly noted of classics, this book is quoted yet rarely read. You will see blue-pilled virtue cons quote it about “human dignity” (and liberals ignore it altogether), but few will follow his reasoning out (and definitely shy away from what he says about Churchill).

I don’t think even Solzhenitsyn anticipated how accurate his words would describe 21st century social science, particularly “social engineering.” Social engineering is when a scientific and/or ruling elite engage in various practices to “shock” a people, thus manipulating them towards a pre-planned goal. He gives numerous examples

  • [people not accused of anything were arrested] simply to terrorize or wreak vengeance on a military enemy or population (Solzhenitsyn, I:29).
  • In the rear the first wartime wave was for spreading rumors and panic…”This was just a trial of bloodletting in order to maintain a general state of panic and tension” (78).
  • “All that was required in order to heighten the general consciousness was to arrest a certain percentage” (82).

I should probably clarify one point. You might see well-meaning authors describe the above as “The Hegelian Dialectic.” It is nothing of the sort. Hegel didn’t believe in such a dialectic. For him every thesis contains its own antithesis. Hegel wasn’t saying that we should create a problem in order to deliver our pre-planned solution. That’s what the Deep State does, but that’s not what Hegel said.

We might be tempted to say that the Soviets elites are simply stupid. There is some plausibility to that. Most Communists are stupid. But I think it is deeper. They are engaged in social alchemy. They are “changing” a population from leaden kulak into golden proletariat. They aren’t stupid. They are quite shrewd.

bank

On How to Survive the GULAG

“From the moment you go to prison you must put your past firmly behind you…”From today on, my body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and my conscience remain precious and important to me” (130).

In other words, a strong doctrine of man’s soul.

AS neatly interweaves doctrines of man’s soul combined with what Gulag does to you. Although he likely doesn’t intend this, it is a good illustration of the mind-body problem.

The Bluecaps

The Soviet elite also adopted the motto of the criminal underworld, in which they would say to one another, “You today; [perhaps] me tomorrow” (145).

One danger, perhaps the main danger AS warned about in all of his works was ideology. Ideology is what separates the common criminal from the diabolical evil-doer. The criminal knows he is wrong. The Deep State agent has convinced himself that he is doing the Good. As he notes, “The imagination and spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology” (176). As concludes with a chilling observation: “Evidently evildoing also has a threshold magnitude. Yes, a human being hesitates and bobs back and forth between good and evil all his life….But just so long as the threshold of evildoing is not crossed, the possibility of returning remains” (177).

That Spring

AS rightly notes Winston Churchill’s post-WWII actions: “He turned over to the Soviet command the Cossack corps of 90,000 men. Along with them, he also handed over wagonloads of old people, women, and children who did not want to return to their native Cossack rivers. This great hero, monuments to whom will in time cover all England, ordered that they, too, be surrendered to their deaths” (259-260). In a moving, heart-breaking footnote, AS comments,

“This surrender was an act of double-dealing consistent with the spirit of traditional English diplomacy. The heart of the matter was that the Cossacks were determined to fight to the death, or to cross the ocean, all the way to Paraguay or Indochina if they had to . . . anything rather than surrender alive. Therefore, the English proposed, first, that the Cossacks give up their arms on the pretext of replacing them with standardized weapons. Then the officers —without the enlisted men—were summoned to a supposed conference on the future of the army in the city of Judenburg in the English occupation zone. But the English had secretly turned the city over to the Soviet armies the night before. Forty busloads of officers, all the way from commanders of companies on up to General Krasnov himself, crossed a high viaduct and drove straight down into a semicircle of Black Marias, next to which stood convoy guards with lists in their hands. The road back was blocked by Soviet tanks. The officers didn’t even have anything with which to shoot themselves or to stab themselves to death, since their weapons had been taken away. They jumped from the viaduct onto the paving stones below. Immediately afterward, and just as treacherously, the English turned over the rank-and-file soldiers by the train- load—pretending that they were on their way to receive new weapons from their commanders. In their own countries Roosevelt and Churchill are honored as embodiments of statesmanlike wisdom.

To us, in our Russian prison conversations, their consistent shortsightedness and stupidity stood out as astonishingly obvious. How could they, in their decline from 1941 to 1945, fail to secure any guarantees whatever of the independence of Eastern Europe? How could they give away broad regions of Saxony and Thuringia in exchange for the preposterous toy of a four-zone Berlin, their own future Achilles’ heel? And what was the military or political sense in their surrendering to destruction at Stalin’s hands hundreds of thousands of armed Soviet citizens determined not to surrender? They say it was the price they paid for Stalin’s agreeing to enter the war against Japan. With the atom bomb already in their hands, they paid Stalin for not refusing to occupy Manchuria, for strengthening Mao Tse-tung in China, and for giving Kim II Sung control of half Korea! What bankruptcy of political thought! And when, subsequently, the Russians pushed out Mikolajczyk, when Benes and Masaryk came to their ends, when Berlin was blockaded, and Budapest flamed and fell silent, and Korea went up in smoke, and Britain’s Conservatives fled from Suez, could one really believe that those among them with the most accurate memories did not at least recall that episode of the Cossacks?

The Law as a Child

AS notes that a dialectic functioned on the people during this time: “And in the end, the members of the intelligentsia accepted it, too, cursing their eternal thoughtlessness, their eternal duality, their eternal spinelessness” (328).

The Law Becomes a Man

AS surveys a number of key trials between church and Soviet, and notes a number of tactical blunders by the former.

The Law Matures

In these chapters on the Law “growing,” AS notes since there isn’t a stable Law, then there isn’t stable justice. Soviet Justice is quite consistent in this regard, as seen here: “For a thousand years prosecutors and accusers had never even imagined that the fact of arrest might in itself be a proof of guilt. If the defendants were innocent, then why had they been arrested” (394)?

When one is done reading this work, you really can’t say too much more. Perhaps something like what Wittgenstein said,

“What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”