The Soviet Union and Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Solzhenitsyn
DISSIDENT / More and more scientists and artists are arrested, sent to prison or placed in psychiatric clinics as insane, if they have deviated from the "party line". Evensmo takes up Solzhenitsyn here after spending a couple of years reading everything he has written – well over 2000 pages.


This is the time when we find that those in power in the Kremlin prefer Nixon to McGovern as president, and sincerely congratulate Vietnam's executioner when the wish is fulfilled.

This is the time when the Soviet Union, which never before allows its world policy to be determined by the opportunism of the superpower (in competition with China). The only thing that counts is getting allies, preferably reactionaries, often at a bloody cost to the communist parties in the country in question.

This is the time then Kozygin courtes neutral countries such as Sweden and there preaches: Peace is the most important thing in the world.

And this is the time when the same Kremlin internally pursues a neo-Stalinist policy that primarily affects cultural life and begins to remind of the years after 1946 when the party's Central Committee issued decrees for all cultural work, put into practice by Stalin's cultural dictator Zdanov. At the time, Literaturnaja Gazeta, the organ of the Soviet Writers' Union, gave the following excerpt about the invariable duties of writers: "Soviet literature is best called to reflect the best character traits of our contemporaries, their devotion to the socialist fatherland, their struggle against remnants of the past. It is a matter of honor for the Soviet writer to show himself worthy of the trust of the party and the people". The catechism was similar for other arts.

Socialism with "a human face"

Today, 27 years later, more and more scientists and artists are arrested, sent to prison or placed in psychiatric clinics as insane, if they have deviated from the "party line".

So at the same time: Increased economic and cultural interaction with the USA and other capitalist powers with which it pays to do business.

We have experienced far scarier times in the Soviet Union's 56-year history, but never one as grotesque as this.

En Solzhenitsyn not get a bullet in the neck or be killed slowly in prison camps, like many of the artists in the 1930s. But he – and many with him – are deep-frozen so that their countrymen hardly know of their existence, while the rest of the world experiences in Solzhenitsyn one of the greatest poets of all time and one of socialism's humanist rebels of unusual dimensions.

Aleksander Solzhenitsyn [1918–2008] will become a chapter not only in the history of world literature, but in the political history of the Soviet Union. When I write about him, it is not to "review" his many books that have appeared in Norwegian thanks to Tiden Norsk Forlag, but in the certainty that Solzhenitsyn will one day tower over the history of the Soviet Union and then be hailed as the pioneer of socialism with "a human face", a spiritual relative of Czechoslovakia's Dubcek.

It may take many decades, but it will happen, if there is still life on this planet.

Therefore should Orienterings readers find Solzhenitsyn, even if they are not particularly interested in poetry.

For most people, it is difficult to buy the many books, which for the most part are "bricks" at a high price. But through libraries, friends and acquaintances it may be possible to get hold of him, if it takes time. And then a piece of advice: Don't take the one that happens to be on the shelf! After spending a couple of years reading everything Solzhenitsyn has written – and there are well over 2000 pages in the Norwegian editions – I know that one can both gradually read into him and experience all the essential things he stands for, but also feel one of the bricks and mortar novels very heavy, if it is the first one you start with – and some may end up giving up. That is why I dare to give a recipe for reading, considering that as many people as possible can be caught up in the world of thought of socialist humanism – step by step. Both his poetry and his monstrous fate in the Soviet Union concern anyone who wants to know today's Soviet "communism".

A recipe for reading

Read the little book first A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich (1970), which was filmed in Norway and caught on as a work of art on the cinema screen as well. This semi-documentary novel about the slave camps in the Stalin era will stand not only as one of the finest works of poetry since the revolution, but will also have a place in Soviet history due to its political significance. Khrushchev accepted the publication of the book in 1962, two years before he was overthrown.

No humane life can be lived under the compulsion of slogans, be it from the state, the party or other authorities.

It happened in Kretchetovka is also a small book, the only one of Solsjenitsyn's that has not appeared in Tiden Norsk Forlag, but in Det norske Samlaget. It contains two long short stories, both of which are clear, fine expressions of Solzhenitsyn's character and basic views: No humane life can be lived under the compulsion of slogans, be it from the state, the party or other authorities. Everyone must work for themselves in a tireless search for truth and right, and not shy away from the pain of doubt or the harsh consequences of being a "divergent".

After reading these two books, I would like to suggest a small biography of the author, written by the Swedish specialist Hans Birch branch: Aleksander Solzhenitsyn (1973). This one is particularly important, because it factually and shockingly explains the treatment of Solzhenitsyn – the bans on the publication of his works, cunning manipulations to compromise him when published in Western countries, and above all – the treatment of him by the Soviet Writers' Union. To the 4th Writers' Congress in May, Solzhenitsyn wrote a letter that ended like this:

"I am, of course, calm that under all circumstances I will complete my dictation task, yes, more successfully and indisputably from the grave than when alive. No one will succeed in blocking the way for the truth, and in order to promote it I am ready even to die. But should perhaps the many lessons ultimately teach us not to put an end to the author's pen during his lifetime?"

Solzhenitsyn was excluded from the Authors' Association.

When Solzhenitsyn had been excluded from the Writers' Union, he wrote to the secretariat:

"Openness, honest and complete openness, is the first prerequisite for the health of every society – including ours. And whoever does not want openness in our country is indifferent to the fatherland and only cares about his own, selfish benefits. He who does not want the fatherland to be open, does not want to heal it from the disease, but wants to repress it so that it becomes an internal decay".

Men authorThe association's secretariat sent out a communique in which Solzhenitsyn, among other things, was accused of "through his actions and statements having actually sold himself to those who go against the Soviet social order" and of having been elevated by the "enemies" in the West to "leader of the political opposition in the Soviet Union". (It was not many years before Nixon met the cordial handshake in the Kremlin.)

The folly of dictatorship

In 1970, Solzhenitsyn was appointed Nobel Prize, and it was the Norwegian journalist Per-Egil Hegge who informed him. Solzhenitsyn could not believe it at first, but he soon came to feel that the award was a fact – which made him even more hated by those in power.

After Bjørkegren's biography, the time has come for the bricks in Solzhenitsyn's dike, and then first the two large volumes of The Cancer Department which is his finest poetic work in large format, still revolving around the fate of the political prisoners. In time, the novel spans the years before and just after Stalin's death in 1953, and combines social criticism with a nuanced
depiction of different types of people. Here, Solzhenitsyn reminds a lot of Gorky.

The difficult novel In the first circuit (1968) is now up for grabs. Again the life of the political prisoners, and here even more grotesque, because this is about a special prison for scientists and technicians who in captivity will serve Great Father Stalin with different kinds of tasks and saboteurs with inexhaustible talent. Only a poet who lived through Solzhenitsyn's many years in captivity and grew with the suffering could convey the dictatorship's folly with such superb irony. The cancer ward is probably richer in its depiction of people, and it happens that Solzhenitsyn "overplays" his irony in some episodes, e.g. in a close-up of the insane Stalin, who seems too crude in his mockery. But In the first circuit tells a lot about the situation right now for "deviant" scientists and other cultural workers in the Soviet Union. With this novel, Solzhenitsyn has presumably completed his semi-documentary prison poetry which covers a hideous part of the history of Stalinism.

Dramatic war story

The giant novel August 1914 came out in Norwegian with the first part last year and is, according to Solshenitsyn's own statement, the introduction to the poetic work that will require the rest of his life. It will be a view of Russia before the revolution and provide an answer to whether the revolution was historically and morally justified.

In Norway and presumably in many other countries, this book has received an erroneous characterization. The work is by many critics compared to Tolstoys War and peace, and perhaps Solzhenitsyn strived towards this goal. He is trying to write a semi-documentary novel about Russiannes catastrophic defeat at Tannenberg in East Prussia during the First World War, when several hundred thousand men were captured or killed. Like Tolstoy in War and peace Solzhenitsyn tries to interweave individual human destinies in the depiction of the war, but unlike Tolstoy, he is unable to fuse the documentary material and the individual people that we are to get to know – most of them appear as insignificant extras, so scattered and indistinct that only a a couple of them stick in the consciousness. August 1914 is not really a novel, but a dramatic war story written by a great poet, and as such it has its value. The fact that this book is also banned in the Soviet Union seems extra insane because it is a national epic about the people's willingness to sacrifice and a revelation of the Tsar's military leaders, who in their infighting and lack of qualifications cause the downfall of hundreds of thousands.

Last year Tiden published Solzhenitsyn's For the best, which is a collection of short stories and "prosaminiatures". It bears the mark of being a collection of fragments from the desk drawer and does not have the same power as the earlier works.

Stalin and Lenin

Solzhenitsyn's poetry

Solzhenitsyn's poetry is particularly useful for anyone who harbors the illusion that human emancipation in the deepest sense takes place within half a century after a communist revolution. A material foundation may have been laid, but liberation will require many generations yet.

People in all countries can stand guard over Solzhenitsyn. Unlike Boris pasternak he seems combative, uncompromising and indomitable (whereas Yevtushenko and other younger ones have faded in recent years). But no one should underestimate the ability of those in power to break even the strongest, and Solzhenitsyn has little or no support from his fellow writers in the Soviet Union.

In August 1966, I accompanied the chairman of the Norwegian Writers' Association, Odd Bang-Hansen, on a journey to a meeting with the chairman of the Leningrad Writers' Association. On behalf of the Norwegian association performed Bang-Hansen with my support the demand for a humane treatment of the writers Daniel and Sinjavskij who were in a prison camp.

A national epic about the people's willingness to sacrifice and an exposure of the Tsar's military leaders.

I have visited Soviet several times in my life, but never been in Sibir in winter time. I thought of this after experiencing the temperature in the writers' headquarters in Leningrad with the aforementioned errand.

At the beginning of April this year, the Soviet Union had many pages of advertisements in Oslo newspapers about the country's progress and excellence. Here, Culture Minister Furtseva was able to talk about an unprecedented cultural exchange between the Soviet Union and a lot of other countries, including 120 foreign ensembles and artist groups will visit the Soviet Union, and approx. 120 Soviet theaters, ensembles and orchestras visit other countries.

It will give many a good opportunity for foreign artists and others to politely inquire about the situation with Solzhenitsyn, and ask the occasional question about the Soviet's cultural policy in their own country. E.g. whether psychiatric clinics fall under the Ministry of Culture.

Subscription NOK 195 quarter