Solzhenitsyn – The Gulag Archipelago – with foreword by Jordan Peterson
In my view this book should be on every school curriculum. If we do not know our history we will be condemned to repeat it. Imagine if young people, celebrities, academics and politicians boasted that they were ‘literally Nazis’ and that, although Hitler was a bit extreme and got some things wrong, nonetheless National Socialism had a lot of good things! Yet that is what happens with communism. Solzhenitsyn asks why the West rightly commemorates the six million killed by Hitler but not the 15 million killed by Stalin? The Gulag Archipelago is a classic work of the 20thCentury. This abridged version is made even better by the stimulating introduction from Jordan Peterson. Peterson gets what happened to Solzhenitsyn – “In Solzhenitsyn’s case, the moral vision grows organically from a religious commitment. Passages in Gulag describe his move from Marx to Christ during his years of incarceration, a change of heart amplified in subsequent writings. Because religious faith is his bedrock conviction, the greatest impediment to appreciating and appropriating Solzhenitsyn has been the error of listening to his sad music of Russia with ears attuned solely to secular wavelengths.”
The account of the conditions in the Gulag is shot through with Solzhenitsyn’s amazement at how the Believers were able to cope better than anyone else. There are also reflections on many aspects of life. Forget about this book being on every school curriculum – it should be read by any one with an interest in history, politics, humanity and Christianity…
I was deeply provoked, moved and challenged by reading this amazing book. I have over 18 pages of highlights from my Kindle! Highly recommended – even essential reading.
Here are a few of the Highlights.
The simple act of an ordinary brave man is not to participate in lies, not to support false actions! His rule: Let that come into the world, let it even reign supreme—only not through me. But it is within the power of writers and artists to do much more: to defeat the lie! For in the struggle with lies art has always triumphed and shall always triumph! Visibly, irrefutably for all! Lies can prevail against much in this world, but never against art.… One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world. –From the speech delivered by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to the Swedish Academy on the occasion of his acceptance of the Nobel Prize for Literature
Teaching Children Religion
A person convinced that he possessed spiritual truth was required to conceal it from his own children! In the twenties the religious education of children was classified as a political crime under Article 58-10 of the Code—in other words, counterrevolutionary propaganda!
You can’t hurt the Believer
At first the interrogators took turns, and then they went after her in groups. They shook their fists in the little old woman’s face, and she replied: “There is nothing you can do with me even if you cut me into pieces. After all, you are afraid of your bosses, and you are afraid of each other, and you are even afraid of killing me.” (They would lose contact with the underground railroad.) “But I am not afraid of anything. I would be glad to be judged by God right this minute.”
Power is not fatal to tbe Believer
Power is a poison well known for thousands of years. If only no one were ever to acquire material power over others! But to the human being who has faith in some force that holds dominion over all of us, and who is therefore conscious of his own limitations, power is not necessarily fatal. For those, however, who are unaware of any higher sphere, it is a deadly poison. For them there is no antidote.
The Dividing line between good and evil
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
Ideology—that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination.
The English turned over to the Soviet army command a Cossack corps of forty to forty-five thousand men which had fought its way to Austria from Yugoslavia. The extradition was carried out with a perfidy which is characteristic of British diplomatic tradition.
We forget everything. What we remember is not what actually happened, not history, but merely that hackneyed dotted line they have chosen to drive into our memories by incessant hammering. I do not know whether this is a trait common to all mankind, but it is certainly a trait of our people. And it is a vexing one. It may have its source in goodness, but it is vexing nonetheless. It makes us an easy prey for liars.
Own nothing! Possess nothing! Buddha and Christ taught us this, and the Stoics and the Cynics. Greedy though we are, why can’t we seem to grasp that simple teaching? Can’t we understand that with property we destroy our soul? Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag. Use your memory! Use your memory! It is those bitter seeds alone which might sprout and grow someday.
Oh, “what an intelligent, farsighted humane administration from top to bottom,” as Supreme Court Judge Leibowitz of New York State wrote in Life magazine, after having visited Gulag. “In serving out his term of punishment the prisoner retains a feeling of dignity.” That is what he comprehended and saw. (The West’s apologists for Communism have still not learned their lesson)…
The Soul and Human dogma
How could it be anything but hard! It was more than the human heart could bear: to fall beneath the beloved ax—then to have to justify its wisdom. But that is the price a man pays for entrusting his God-given soul to human dogma.
Fleeing from Christ
And does the impartial reader not find that they flee from Christ like devils from the sign of the cross, from the bells calling to matins? And that is why our Soviet regime can never come to terms with Christianity!
Free of Meetings!
It is a good thing to think in prison, but it is not bad in camp either. Because, and this is the main thing, there are no meetings. For ten years you are free from all kinds of meetings! Is that not mountain air? While they openly claim your labor and your body, to the point of exhaustion and even death, the camp keepers do not encroach at all on your thoughts. They do not try to screw down your brains and to fasten them in place. And this results in a sensation of freedom of much greater magnitude than the freedom of one’s feet to run along on the level.
Prison brings Patience
Once upon a time you were sharply intolerant. You were constantly in a rush. And you were constantly short of time. And now you have time with interest. You are surfeited with it, with its months and its years, behind you and ahead of you—and a beneficial calming fluid pours through your blood vessels—patience. You are ascending…. Formerly you never forgave anyone. You judged people without mercy. And you praised people with equal lack of moderation. And now an understanding mildness has become the basis of your uncategorical judgments. You have come to realize your own weakness—and you can therefore understand the weakness of others. And be astonished at another’s strength. And wish to possess it yourself. The stones rustle beneath our feet. We are ascending….
Why did Believers Survive in Camp?
And how is it that genuine religious believers survived in camp (as we mentioned more than once)? In the course of this book we have already mentioned their self-confident procession through the Archipelago—a sort of silent religious procession with invisible candles. How some among them were mowed down by machine guns and those next in line continued their march. A steadfastness unheard of in the twentieth century! And it was not in the least for show, and there weren’t any declamations. Take some Aunt Dusya Chmil, a round-faced, calm, and quite illiterate old woman. The convoy guards called out to her: “Chmil! What is your article?” And she gently, good-naturedly replied: “Why are you asking, my boy? It’s all written down there. I can’t remember them all.” (She had a bouquet of sections under Article 58.) “Your term!” Auntie Dusya sighed. She wasn’t giving such contradictory answers in order to annoy the convoy. In her own simplehearted way she pondered this question: Her term? Did they really think it was given to human beings to know their terms? “What term! … Till God forgives my sins—till then I’ll be serving time.” “You are a silly, you! A silly!” The convoy guards laughed. “Fifteen years you’ve got, and you’ll serve them all, and maybe some more besides.” But after two and a half years of her term had passed, even though she had sent no petitions—all of a sudden a piece of paper came: release! How could one not envy those people?
Finding faith in Prison
And how can one explain that certain unstable people found faith right there in camp, that they were strengthened by it, and that they survived uncorrupted?
Corruption without Spirituality
Those people became corrupted in camp who before camp had not been enriched by any morality at all or by any spiritual upbringing. (This is not at all a theoretical matter—since during our glorious half-century millions of them grew up.) Those people became corrupted in camp who had already been corrupted out in freedom or who were ready for it. Because people are corrupted in freedom too, sometimes even more effectively than in camp.
Political Freedom and Morality
Such were the circumstances in which Tolstoi came to believe that only moral self-improvement was necessary, not political freedom. Of course, no one is in need of freedom if he already has it. We can agree with him that political freedom is not what matters in the end. The goal of human evolution is not freedom for the sake of freedom. Nor is it the building of an ideal polity. What matter, of course, are the moral foundations of society. But that is in the long run: what about the beginning? What about the first step?
His theodicy, that is to say his justification of the existence of evil in the world, he formulated like this: Does God, who is Perfect Love, allow This imperfection in our lives? The soul must suffer first, to know The perfect bliss of paradise…. Harsh is the law, but to obey Is for weak men the only way To win eternal peace.
The Problem of the 20th Century
This is surely the main problem of the twentieth century: is it permissible merely to carry out orders and commit one’s conscience to someone else’s keeping? Can a man do without ideas of his own about good and evil, and merely derive them from the printed instructions and verbal orders of his superiors? Oaths! Those solemn pledges pronounced with a tremor in the voice and intended to defend the people against evildoers: see how easily they can be misdirected to the service of evildoers and against the people!
All that the downtrodden can do is go on hoping. After every disappointment they must find fresh reason for hope.
Stalin’s Disciple – Hitler
This was the nub of the plan: the peasant’s seed must perish together with the adults. Since Herod was no more, only the Vanguard Doctrine has shown us how to destroy utterly—down to the very babes. Hitler was a mere disciple, but he had all the luck: his murder camps have made him famous, whereas no one has any interest in ours at all.
Pay Attention Left Wing Thinkers
All you freedom-loving “left-wing” thinkers in the West! You left laborites! You progressive American, German, and French students! As far as you are concerned, none of this amounts to much. As far as you are concerned, this whole book of mine is a waste of effort. You may suddenly understand it all someday—but only when you yourselves hear “hands behind your backs there!” and step ashore on our Archipelago.
‘We’re living on the corpse of our ancestors’: Jordan Peterson is right about the secular West