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Solzhenitsyns Troubled Prophetic Mission

Published: August 8, 2008 (Issue # 1397)




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Alexander Solzhenitsyn, viewed as a political figure, was very much in the Russian conservative tradition a modern version of Dostoevsky. Like the great 19th-century writer, Solzhenitsyn despised socialism and yet had no use for Western culture with its stress on secularism, freedom and legality.

I recall very well the commencement address that he delivered 30 years ago at Harvard University. The audience of students and their families, aware of Solzhenitsyns anti-communism, expected a warm tribute to the West and especially to the United States, which had granted him asylum. Instead, they were treated to a typical Russian conservative critique of Western civilization for being too legalistic and too committed to freedom, which resulted in the weakening of human beings in the West while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger. At the bottom of this censure lay a wholesale rejection of the course of Western history since the Renaissance.

Solzhenitsyn blamed the evils of Soviet communism on the West. He rightly stressed the European origins of Marxism, but he never asked himself why Marxism in other European countries led not to the gulag but to the welfare state. He reacted with white fury to any suggestion that the roots of Leninism and Stalinism could be found in Russias past. His knowledge of Russian history was very superficial and laced with a romantic sentimentalism. While accusing the West of imperialism, he seemed quite unaware of the extraordinary expansion of his own country into regions inhabited by non-Russians. He also denied that Imperial Russia practiced censorship or condemned political prisoners to hard labor, which, of course, was absurd.

In some of his historical writings, there are strong hints of anti-Semitism, a common vice of writers of the conservative-nationalist persuasion in Russia. In his 1976 book, Lenin in Zurich, Solzhenitsyn depicts Helphand-Parvus as a slimy character who tries to persuade Lenin to return to Russia to start a revolution. In August 1914, published in its expanded form in 1984, he explains the assassination of Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin by Dmitry Bogrov, a thoroughly assimilated Jew, on the alleged grounds that Stolypins plans for a better Russia promised nothing good for the Jews. Fortunately, in his last book published in 2003, Two Hundred Years Together, an ambitious history of Jews in Russia, Solzhenitsyn unequivocally exonerated the Jewish people of responsibility for the Russian Revolution.

It is difficult to envisage what kind of a Russia Solzhenitsyn wanted. He was not unhappy about Russias loss of its imperial possessions, yet he did not favor a state based on law and democracy. He disliked what he saw after his return to Russia in 1994, during Boris Yeltsins rule, but, strangely enough, he came to terms with then-President Vladimir Putin and his restrictions on both democracy and the free market. Although Solzhenitsyn vehemently rejected communism, in many ways he retained a Soviet mind-set. Anyone who disagreed with him was not merely wrong but evil. He was constitutionally incapable of tolerating dissent.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Sept. 24


AmChams Human Resources Committee meets this morning to discuss Labor Market Trends in their office in the New St. Isaac Office Center on Ulitsa Yakubovicha. The meeting begins at 9 a.m.



Thursday, Sept. 25


Learn more about tax controls on prices at AmChams Taxation Committee Round Table Meeting this morning at 9 a.m. Vladimir I Golishevsky, Acting Head of the Transfer Pricing Department of the Federal Tax Service of Russia, will be in attendance to discuss amendments to the Russian Tax Code. Register in advance if you wish to attend by emailing all@spb.amcham.ru.


Today is the last day to check out Inventing Everyday Life. Part III: Street exhibition one of Manifestas parallel programs on at 36 Morisa Toreza Prospekt until 8 p.m.



Friday, Sept. 26


Feel yourself Spanish for a little bit at Spain Day, a celebration of all things Iberian this evening at the Derzhavin Mansion in the city center. Speak Spanish during the open classes, practice your footwork on the dance floor to the sounds of flamenco music or chow down on paella while learning more about the countrys culture.



Saturday, Sept. 27


Local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg welcomes Vityaz from the Moscow region this afternoon at 5 p.m. in a Western Conference showdown. Tickets are still available to the match and can be purchased on the teams website, at the arena or in their merchandise shop on Nevsky Prospekt.


Let Biblioteka restaurant on Nevsky Prospekt teach your children how to be proper gentlemen and ladies during Etiquette for Children, a class for children five to 11 years of age that promises to help them become the cream of society. The class starts at 5 p.m. and costs 600 rubles ($15.60). Call 322 2526 to reserve a spot for your child.



Sunday, Sept. 28


For something different, head to the African Pride Event being held by Nicks Walkabout Tours, who have also helped bring African tribal leaders for the celebration. Check Vkontakte for more information.



Monday, Sept. 29


Experience Baltic culture through the medium of drama during the Baltic House Theater Festival, which starts on Sept. 25 and continues through Oct. 13. Not only are some of the regions most famous dramatic works planned for production but the event acts as a creative laboratory for a future generation of dramatists. Check the events website for more details about the festival.



Tuesday, Sept. 30


Local neo-pagans invite all worshipers to the dedication of a new Heart Tree in Sosnovka Park, Gods Wood. 4 p.m.


The second MIFIC Expo begins today at Lenexpo, providing an interactive platform for industry experts and manufacturers. Accessories, surfaces and interior decoration materials are just some of the things that will be available for perusal at the expo, which runs through Oct. 2.



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