Sunday 18 September 2016

The Gulag Archipelago II - A Book Review

Under the Czars Russia produced many great writers, but under the Soviets there was only one, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. His Gulag Archipelago is a masterpiece, it is literature and a record of one of the most monstrous times in history. The Soviet Union, like Nazi Germany and Japan during the Second World War was a slave empire. Together they were the three slave empires of the Twentieth Century. Solzhenitsyn looks at the life of the Corrective Labour Camps, known as GULAG. And like a chain of islands, known as an archipelago, these camps spread right across the Soviet Union. Hence the title of "The Gulag Archipelago".

He starts off here in his second volume with the birth of the camps right at the start of the Russian Revolution. Then the first camp on Solovetsky, the building of the White Sea Canal and the spread of the camps throughout the Soviet Union. How the camps provided both free labour to build the Socialist economy, and that they also destroyed "through labour" those opposed in word, deed or thought to the Soviet Government. What does destroyed through labour mean? It means these people were worked to death. They were murdered as surely as if they had been shot, which the Soviet Government did as well.

He includes chapters on those loyal Communists sent to the Gulags, on how Gulag influenced the entire society, on the Zeks as the prisoners were known, on women, on the Guards, on the 58's (the political prisoners), on the Thiefs. It is hard to think of anything that has been left out. Throughout there are personal stories, things that he experienced and saw, things that others experienced. He includes stories on both those who survived and those who died. His research is impressive and his knowledge is extensive and he admits when he doesn't know something. How impressive is his research? This was the first real study of the Gulags and 40 years after it was published it is still one of the best. It just covers so many bases.

No book is perfect and it must be admitted that most people who start this book will not finish it, it is a heavy book in every sense of the word. This volume is volume 2 for a start, further it's nearly 700 pages long, thats a lot of reading. It is also about the death and destruction of millions of lives. To quote George Orwell out of context, most people do not want to read 700 pages of " If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever". When it was written the Soviet Union existed, it no longer does. What I found interesting is how many things I found that were still current in the world.

Now let me quote from page 628 (it's a big book) and remember that this is written about Communism, but how it fits Liberalism and the world we live in now:

"The permanent lie becomes the only safe form of existence, in the same way as betrayal. Every wag of the tongue can be overheard by someone, every facial expression observed by someone. Therefore every word, if it does not have to be a direct lie, is nonetheless obligated not to contradict the general, common lie. There exists a collection of ready-made phrases, of labels, a selection of ready made lies. And not one single speech nor one single essay or article nor one single book - be it scientific, journalistic, critical, or "literary", so called - can exist without the use of primary cliche's. In the most scientific of texts it is required that someones false authority or false priority be upheld somewhere and that someone be cursed for telling the truth; without this lie even an academic work cannot see the light of day. And what can be said about those shrill meetings and trashy lunch-break gatherings where you are compelled to vote against your own opinion, to pretend to be glad over what distresses you (be it a new state loan, the lowering of piece rates, contributions to some tank column, Sunday work duties, or sending your children to help on the collective farm) and to express the deepest anger in areas which you couldn't care less - some kind of intangible, invisible violence in the West Indies or Paraguay?

In prison Tenno recalled with shame how two weeks before his own arrest he had lectured the sailors on "The Stalinist Constitution - The Most Democratic in the World." And of course not one word of it was sincere.

There is no man who has typed even one page...without lying. There is no man who has spoken from a rostrum...without lying. There is no man who has spoken into a microphone...without lying."

Things were much much worst then than now, but it is not hard to live in the modern West and not to understand what it is to live like that. That is why we fight!

See also:
Perished Comically - The Gulag Archipelago II
Anarcho-Tyranny in the Soviet Union

Upon Hope - A Traditional Conservative Future
Another Article You Might Like?

Debt, The Options


  1. The interesting thing about Solzhenitsyn is that he had such such a high profile back in the 70s and now he's been pretty much vanished down the memory hole. Criticisms of totalitarianism are no longer in favour, which is rather worrying.

    1. It just be remembered that Solzhenitsyn wrote about Communism and about the Soviet Union. When the Cold War was being waged they were topics of current affairs.

      What I find interesting is how much they reveal about the modern West by showing another time.

  2. " those opposed in word, deed or thought to the Soviet Government."

    Even to be perceived as being so even if you were not so.