August 4, 2008


Solzhenitsyn at Work (JOHN McCAIN, August 4, 2008, NY Sun)

He was a writer with unusual gifts, utterly devoted to his art, brilliant and exacting, producing work that would stun not just literary worlds but the entire Cold War political world, and he was resigned to being unread until "this secret authorship began to wear me down." Following Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 denunciation of Stalin at the Twentieth Communist Party Conference and the cultural thaw, Khrushchev encouraged at the Twenty-second Congress in 1961, [Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn mustered the courage to send One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a fictitious account of one day's suffering in a poor peasant's life in a labor camp, to the literary journal Novy Mir. The magazine's gifted editor, Aleksandr Tvardovsky, recognized it as a work of genius, compared it to Tolstoy, sent it to Khrushchev for the premier's permission, and published it. Tvardovsky said that while reading the manuscript late at night "he was so moved by its power that he got out of bed, put on a suit and tie and sat up the rest of the night reading ... because it would have been an insult to read such an epic in his pajamas."

Solzhenitsyn decided to write, in seven parts, a history of the gulags, which were not first conceived, as popular opinion held, in Stalin's malevolent paranoia, but by Lenin himself, who in the earliest days of Bolshevik rule provided the legal justification for strengthening the party's hold on power by establishing slave-labor camps. Stalin, of course, had expanded the system beyond Lenin's vision.

Therein lies the key to why Gorbachev failed to save the USSR. Being a true believer, he mistakenly thought that if you allowed some criticism of the system that the dissidents would rip into Stalin for corrupting the Revolution. Instead, they went after Lenin and showed the Revolution to be evil from its inception, at which point the system was completely delegitimized. Thus the title of David Remnick's great account of the era: Lenin's Tomb.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 4, 2008 8:56 AM
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