An outstanding feature of history is that
all great prophets are initially shunned, particularly when the
Truth they bring is unpopular. The greatest of all prophets was
crucified. When Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian literary genius
and Christian martyr, was first exiled to the West early in 1974,
he was big news. Journalists fell over themselves to interview
this towering moral and intellectual figure. But Solzhenitsyn quickly
ceased to be news when he warned the West that it was gliding into
the same totalitarian abyss which had engulfed the unfortunate
And when he charged in his dramatic New York address on July 9, 1975,
that the West had financed the economic blood transfusions which
had sustained Communism, it was predictable that he would soon be
consigned to a non-person status. And that the smearers would start
a campaign to denigrate this remarkable man. However, before being
banned from the public stage, Solzhenitsyn was interviewed by Michael
Charlton on the B.B.C., March 1, 1976. This interview caused such
widespread interest that Solzhenitsyn was invited to address the
West in general, and the British in particular, on the B.B.C. on
March 26, 1976. This was a moving appeal to the British to re-discover
their soul while there was still time to avoid complete disaster.
The address had a tremendous impact at the time, but subsequently
every attempt was made by the pseudo-intellectuals to show that Solzhenitsyn
was out of touch with the realities of the West. Unfortunately, events
continue to confirm Solzhenitsyn's warnings. That is why those warnings
must be given widespread circulation in permanent booklet form. Solzhenitsyn
is essential reading for those who call themselves educated and cultured.
This booklet contains both the Solzhenitsyn B.B.C. interview and
Ensure that the voice of one of the greatest prophets of this century
is not stilled at this time of deepening peril.
ALL OF US ARE STANDING ON THE BRINK OF A GREAT HISTORICAL
Solzhenitsyn 's B.B. C. address on March 26, 1976.
The B.B.C. has been kind enough to invite
me to give my opinion, as a foreigner and an exile, on the West
as it is today, and in particular on your country. An outside view,
perhaps, may be able to contribute something fresh. My only hope
is that you will not find what I have to say too tedious. I admit
I am not all that well acquainted with the internal affairs of
your country, but like so many Russians I have always followed
Britain's foreign affairs with the keenest interest.
I intend to speak frankly and I shall not try to please you or to
flatter you in any way. I would ask you to believe me when I say
nothing could give me more pleasure than to express only admiration.
A quarter of a century ago, in the labour camps of Kazakhstan, as
we braced ourselves for our hopeless task of stemming the Communist
tanks, the West represented for us the light of freedom. For us the
West was not only the stronghold of the spirit but also the depository
of wisdom. In that very year one of your ministers, Herbert Morrison,
somehow or other managed to persuade the newspaper Pravda to
devote an entire page to his utterances - and without any censorship.
My God, how eagerly we rushed to where the paper was displayed -
a crowd of convicts with shaven heads, filthy, tattered jackets,
clumsy prison-camp boots.
This was it! At last our subterranean kingdom
was about to be pierced with the diamond-bright, diamond-hard,
ray of truth and hope! At last Soviet censorship, held for forty
years in the grip of a bulldog's jaws, was to be relaxed. Now he'd
make them see the truth! Now he'd stand up for us! But as we read
and re-read that feeble, insipid article, so our hopes subsided
slowly with it.
These were the superficial words of someone who had not the slightest
idea of the savage structure, the pitiless aims of the Communist
world - and of course this was precisely why Pravda so generously
agreed to print them.
We had endured forty years of hell - and this British minister could
find no word of hope to say to us.
The years went by. The decades went by. In spite of the Iron Curtain,
views about what was happening in the West, what people were thinking
about, kept coming through to us, thanks mainly to the BBC's Russian
broadcasts, even at the time when they were being most vigorously
jammed. And the more we learned, the more the state of your world
Human nature is full of riddles and contradictions; their very complexity
engenders art - and by art I mean the search for something more than
simple linear formulations, flat solutions, over-simplified explanations.
One of these riddles is: how is it that people who have been crushed
by the sheer weight of slavery and cast to the bottom of the pit
can nevertheless find strength in themselves to rise up and free
themselves - first in spirit and then in body - while those who soar
unhampered over the peaks of freedom suddenly lose the taste of freedom,
lose the will to defend it, and, hopelessly confused and lost, almost
begin to crave slavery?
Or again - why is it that societies which have been benumbed for
half a century by lies they have been forced to swallow, find within
themselves a certain lucidity of heart and soul which enables them
to see things in their true perspective and to perceive the real
meaning of events; whereas societies with access to every kind of
information suddenly plunge into lethargy, into a kind of mass blindness,
a kind of voluntary self-deception?
This is precisely what we have found to be the correlation between
the spiritual development of the East and that of the West.
And, alas, the process of your development is five, if not ten times
swifter than ours, This is what almost robs mankind of any hope of
avoiding a global catastrophe.
For years we refused to believe this. We hoped that our vision of
the West was such, because the information which reached us was inadequate,
A few years ago I spoke of this with considerable alarm in my Nobel
lecture. And yet, until I came to the West myself and spent two years
looking around, I could never have imagined to what an extreme degree
the West actually desired to blind itself to the world situation,
to what an extreme degree the West had already become a world without
a will, a world gradually petrifying in the face of the danger confronting
WEST'S COURAGE LOST
There is a German proverb which runs Mut verloren - alles verloren! - 'When courage is lost - all is lost,'
There is another Latin one, according to which loss of reason is
the true harbinger of destruction.
But what happens to a society in which both these losses - the loss
of courage and the loss of reason - intersect? This is the picture
which, I found, the West presents today. There is of course a perfectly
simple explanation for this process - not the superficial one, so
fashionable in our day, according to which man himself is irreproachable
and everything is blamed on a badly organised society. The explanation
I have in mind is a purely human one.
Once it was proclaimed and accepted that above man there is no supreme
being, and that instead man is the crowning glory of the universe
and the measure of all things, then man's needs, desires - and indeed
his weaknesses - were taken to be the supreme imperatives of the
universe. Consequently the only good in the world - the only thing
that needs to be done - is that which satisfies our feelings.
It was in Europe that this philosophy came to life several centuries
ago; at the time its materialistic excesses were explained away by
the previous excesses of Catholicism. But in the course of several
centuries it inexorably swamped the whole of the Western world, and
led it confidently on to colonial conquests, to the seizure of African
and Asian slaves. And all this side by side with the outward manifestations
of Christianity and the flowering of personal freedom.
By the beginning of the twentieth century this philosophy seemed
to have reached the height of civiisation and reason. And your country,
Britain, which had always been the core, the very pearl, of the Western
world, gave expression to this civiisation in both its good and its
bad aspects with particular brilliance.
110 MILLION LIVES
In 1914, at the beginning of our ill-fated twentieth century, a storm
broke over this civilsation, a storm the size and range of which
no one at that time could grasp. For four years Europe destroyed
herself as never before, and in 1917 a crevasse opened up on the
very edge of Europe, a yawning gap enticing the world into the abyss.
The causes of this crevasse are not hard to find: it came about as
the logical result of doctrines that had been at large in Europe
for ages and had enjoyed considerable success. But the crevasse has
something cosmic about it, too, in its unplumbed, unsuspected depths,
in its unimaginable capacity for growing wider and wider and swallowing
up more and more people.
Forty years previously Dostoevsky had predicted that Socialism would
cost Russia one hundred million victims. At the time it seemed an
improbable figure. Let me recommend the British press to acquaint
its readers with the impartial three-page report of the Russian statistician,
Professor Ivan Kurganov. It was published in the West twelve years
ago, but, as is so often the case with matters of social significance,
we only take cognizance of things that do not run counter to our
own feelings. From Professor Kurganov's analysis we learn that if
Dostoevsky erred, he erred on the side of understatement.
From 1917 to 1959 Socialism cost the Soviet Union a hundred and ten
When there is a geological upheaval continents do not topple into
the sea immediately. The first thing that happens is that that fatal
initial crevasse has to appear in some place or other. For a variety
of reasons it so happened that this crevasse first opened up in Russia.
It might have been anywhere else. And Russia, which people considered
a backward country, had to leap forward a whole century, overtaking
all the other countries in the world. We endured inhuman experiences,
experiences of which the Western world - and this, includes Britain
- has no real conception and which the West is frightened even to
It is with a strange feeling that those of us who come from the Soviet
Union look upon the West of today. It is as though we were neither
neighbours on the same planet, nor contemporaries - and yet we contemplate
the West from what will be your future, or look back seventy years,
to see our past suddenly repeating itself. And what we see is always
the same, always the same as it was then: adults deferring to the
opinion of their children; the younger generation carried away by
shallow worthless ideas; professors scared of being unfashionable;
journalists refusing to take responsibility for the words they squander
so profusely; universal sympathy for revolutionary extremists; people
with serious objections unable or unwilling to voice them; the majority
passively obsessed by a feeling of doom; feeble governments; societies
whose defensive reactions have become paralysed; spiritual confusion
leading to political upheaval.
What will happen as a result of all this lies ahead of us. But the
time is near, and from bitter memory we can easily predict what these
events will be.
In the years which followed the world-wide upheaval of 1917 that
pragmatic philosophy on which present-day Europe was nourished, with
its refusal to take moral decisions, has reached its logical conclusion:
since there are no higher spiritual forces above us and since I -
Man with a capital M - am the crowning glory of the universe, then
should anyone have to perish today let it be someone else, anybody
but not I, not my precious self, nor those who are close to me.
The apocalyptic storm was already raging over the land which used
to be Russia when Western Europe speedily extricated itself from
that terrible war in its haste to forget it and to bring back prosperity,
fashions and the latest dances.
Lloyd George actually said: 'Forget about Russia. It's our job to
ensure the welfare of our own society.'
In 1914, when the Western democracies needed help, they were not
averse to appealing to Russia. But in 1919 those Russian generals,
who for three years, straining Russian resources to the very limit,
had fought to save the Marne, the Somme and Verdun, were refused
either military aid or even an alliance by their Western allies.
Many a Russian soldier lay buried in French soil; others who had
gone to Constantinople were charged for their rations and even had
their underwear confiscated in lieu of payment. They were then cajoled
into returning to Russia, only to be dealt with by the Bolsheviks,
or into embarking for Brazil, only to become semi-slaves on the coffee
Unseemly deeds are usually accompanied by high-sounding, even brilliant,
justifications. In 1919 no one said openly: 'What have your sufferings
got to do with us?' Instead people said: 'We have no right to support
even the authority of an ally against the wishes of the people.'
(Note, however, that in 1945, when millions of Soviet citizens had
to be handed over for despatch to the Gulag Archipelago, this argument
was conveniently twisted: 'We have no right to carry out the wishes
of these millions,' it was said, 'and to ignore our obligations towards
the authorities of an allied country.' How easily one's egosim can
be satisfied by a handy formula!)
But there were even nobler justifications than these: what was happening
in Russia was nothing more than a continuation of all that had happened
in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Europe, a repetition of the
general transition from liberalism to Socialism. This tendency of
ideas to continue on their natural course made people admire them.
And so all the aggressive elements, all the influential elements
in society - and this was especially the case in Britain - admired
what they called the 'unprecedented progressive experiment taking
place in the USSR,' while we were being strangled by the cancerous
tentacles of the Gulag Archipelago, while millions of hardworking
peasants were being sent to die in Siberia in mid-winter.
Not very far from where you live, in the Ukraine and the Kuban, some
six million peasants, including children, old men and women, died
of famine - and this was in peacetime - swollen with hunger and writhing
And not a single Western newspaper printed photographs or reports
of the famine - indeed, your great wit Bernard Shaw even denied its
existence. 'Famine in Russia?' he said. 'I've never dined so well
or so sumptuously as when I crossed the Soviet border.' For whole
decades your rulers, your members of Parliament, your spokesmen,
your journalists, your writers, your leading thinkers managed not
even to notice the fifteen-million-strong Gulag Archipelago!
Up to thirty books on the Gulag were published in Europe before mine
and hardly one of them was even noticed.
There is a border line, beyond which the natural cause of 'progressive
principles', of 'the dawn of a new era' becomes nothing more than
calculated conscious hypocrisy; for this makes life more comfortable
to live. There was, however, one great exception over the last hundred
years or so, and that was your struggle with Adolf Hitler, when Britain
cast overboard the philosophy of pragmatism, or utilitarianism -
the philosophy of recognizing any group of gangsters, any puppets,
as heads of a country so long as they were in control of its territory.
With Hitler, Britain assumed a moral stance and it was this that
inspired her to one of the most heroic acts of resistance in her
history. A moral stance, even in politics, always safeguards our
spirit; sometimes, as we can see, it even protects our very existence.
A moral stance can suddenly turn out to be more far-sighted than
any calculated pragmatism. Your war with Hitler, however, was not
tragic in the Aristotelian sense of the word. Your sacrifices, sufferings
and losses were justified; they did not run counter to the aims of
the war. You defended - and successfully defended - precisely that
which you intended to defend.
But for the peoples of the USSR the war was a tragic war. We were
forced to defend our native land with all the strength we could muster (and with infinitely greater losses: Kurganov's figures are indisputable:
forty-four million), and in so doing to strengthen all the things that we most loathed
- the power of our own executioners, our oppression, our destruction
and, as we can see today, ultimately your destruction too. And when
those millions of Soviet citizens dared to flee from their oppressors
or even to initiate national liberation movements, then our freedom-loving
Western allies - and not least among them your British - treacherously
disarmed them, bound them, and handed them over to the Communists
to be killed. They were sent to the labour camps in the Urals where
they mined uranium for the atom bombs to be used against you yourselves!
Nor did you shrink from using the butts of your rifles on seventy-year-olds,
those very men who had been Britain's allies in the First World War,
and who were now being hastily handed over to be murdered. From the
British Isles alone one hundred thousand Soviet citizens were forcibly
repatriated while on the Continent the number was more than a million.
But the most remarkable thing of all was that your free, independent,
incorruptible press, your famous Times, Guardian, New Statesman and
all the rest of them, all wittingly shared in the covering up of
this crime and would have kept silent to this very day had not Professor
Epstein from America so tactlessly started his investigations into
the Fascist techniques which democracies are capable of employing.
The conspiracy of the British press was only too successful: indeed
there must be many people in Britain today who have not the faintest
idea about this crime committed at the end of the Second World War.
But it was committed, and it has left a deep and painful mark on
the Russian memory. Twice we helped save the freedom of Western Europe.
And twice you repaid us by abandoning us to our slavery.
It is clear what you wanted. Once again you wanted to extricate yourself
as quickly as possible from this terrible war, you wanted to rest,
you wanted to prosper. But there was a price to pay. And the noble
philosophy of pragmatism laid down that once again you should close
your eyes to a great many things: to the deportation of whole nations
to Siberia, to Katyn, to Warsaw - in that same country for whose
sake the war had started; you should forget Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania;
you should hand over six more of your European sisters into slavery
and allow a seventh to be cut in two; at Nuremberg you should sit
amicably side by side with judges who were every bit as much murderers
as those on trial, and never let this disturb your British sense
Whenever a new tyranny came into existence, however far away - in
China, say, or Laos - Britain was always the first to recognise it,
eagerly pushing aside all competitors for the honour. All this required
great moral fortitude - and your society was not found lacking. All
one had to do was to repeat again and again the magic formula: 'The
dawn of a new era'. You whispered it. You shouted it. And when you
grew sick of it and decided to reaffirm your valour in the eyes of
the world and recover your self-respect, then your country manifested
incomparable daring - against . . . Iceland, against . . . Spain,
countries which could not even answer you back.
Tank columns in East Berlin, Budapest and Prague declared that they
were there 'by the will of the people', but not once did the British
Government recall its ambassadors in protest from any of these places.
In South East Asia unknown numbers of prisoners have been killed
and are still being killed in secret; yet the British ambassadors
have not been recalled. Every day in the Soviet Union psychiatrists
murder people with their hypodermic syringes merely because they
do not think along accepted lines or because they believe in God
- again the British ambassador is never recalled. But when five terrorists
- who had actually committed murder - were executed in Madrid, then
the British ambassador was recalled and the din reverberated throughout
the world. What a hurricane burst forth from the British Isles!
You have to know how to protest. It's got to be done with a great
deal of anger - but only so long as it does not run counter to the
spirit of the age, and presents no danger to the authorities of those
protesting. If only you could make use of your British scepticism
for a moment - it can't have deserted you entirely - and put yourselves
in the position of the oppressed peoples of Eastern Europe - then
you can view your unseemly behaviour through our eyes!
The Prime Minister of Spain was murdered and all cultured Europe
was delighted. Some Spanish policemen, even some Spanish hairdressers,
were murdered - and the countries of Europe went wild with joy, as
if their own police were insured against the Terrorist International.
Not a single family driving to an airport can be sure that it won't
be gunned down by some 'fighter' for someone or other's 'freedom'.
No one can be sure that he'll get to the end of the street safe and
sound. But terrorists can be sure public opinion guarantees that
their lives will be safe, that their cause will be given publicity
and that they will be held in decent confinement - until such time
as other terrorists come and rescue them.
A society for the protection of terrorists indeed!
There was such a society in Russia before her collapse: we too have
trodden this fatal path.
Meanwhile the crevasse grows ever wider, spreads even further across
the globe, shifts into other continents. The most populous country
in the world has plunged headlong into it. So too, have numerous
defenceless tribes - Kurds, Northern Abyssinians, Somalis, Angolans
- without the British with their great tradition of freedom showing
the slightest anxiety over such petty matters. Even today you are
lulled into thinking that these fine islands of yours will never
be split in two by that crevasse, will never be blown sky-high. And
yet the abyss is already there beneath your very feet.
Every year several more countries are seized and taken over as bridgeheads
for the coming world war, and the whole world stands by and does
nothing. Even the oceans are being taken over - and need one tell
you British what that means or what the seas will be used for? And
what of Europe today? It is nothing more than a collection of cardboard
stage sets, all bargaining with each other to see how little can
be spent on defence so as to leave more for the comforts of life.
The continent of Europe, with its centuries-long preparation for
the task of leading mankind, has of its own accord abandoned its
strength and its influence on world affairs - and not just its physical
influence but its intellectual influence as well. Dynamic decisions,
major movements have now begun to mature beyond the frontiers of
Europe. How strange it all is! Since when has mighty Europe needed
outside help to defend herself? At one moment she had such a surfeit
of strength that while waging wars within her own boundaries and
destroying herself she was still able to seize colonies.
At another - she suddenly found herself hopelessly weak without even
having lost a single major war.
However hidden it may be from the human gaze, however unexpected
for the practical mind, there is sometimes a direct link between
the evil we caused to others and the evil which suddenly confronts
us. Pragmatists may explain this link as a chain of natural cause
and effect. But those who are more inclined to a religious view of
life will immediately perceive a link between sin and punishment.
It can be seen in the history of every country.
The generation of today has had to pay for the shortcomings of their
fathers and grandfathers who blocked their ears to the lamentations
of the world, and closed their eyes to its miseries and disasters.
Your newspapers may be famous for their traditions, yet they print
a number of articles containing analyses and commentaries which are
shamefully shallow and short-sighted. What can one say when your
leading Liberal paper compares the contemporary development of the
Russian spiritual regeneration...with pigs trying to fly? This
is not just contempt for the spiritual potential of my people. It
is broader than that. It is a kind of fastidious contempt for any
kind of spiritual regeneration, for anything which does not stem
directly from economics but which is based on moral criteria. What
an inglorious end to four hundred years of materialism!
The decline of contemporary thought has been hastened by the misty
phantom of Socialism. Socialism has created the illusion of quenching
people's thirst for justice. Socialism has lulled their conscience
into thinking that the steam-roller which is about to flatten them
is a blessing in disguise, a salvation. And Socialism, more than
anything else, has caused public hypocrisy to thrive; it has enabled
Europe to ignore the annihilation of sixty-six million people on
its very borders.
There is not even a single precise definition of Socialism which
is generally recognised: all we have is a sort of hazy shimmering
concept of something good, something noble - so that two Socialists
talking to each other about Socialism might just as well be talking
about completely different things. And of course, any new-style African
dictator can call himself a Socialist without fear of contradiction.
But Socialism defies logic. You see, it is an emotional impulse,
a kind of worldly religion, and nobody has the slightest need to
study or even to read the teachings of its early prophets. Their
books are judged by hearsay; their conclusions are accepted ready-made.
Socialism is defended with a passionate lack of reason; it is never
analysed; it is proof against all criticism. Socialism - especially
Marxist Socialism - uses the neat device of declaring all serious
criticism 'outside the framework of possible discussion', and one
is required to accept ninety-five per cent of Socialist doctrine
as a 'basis for discussion' - all that is left to argue is the remaining
five per cent.
There is another myth here, too, namely that Socialism represents
a sort of ultra-modern structure, an alternative to dying capitalism.
My friend, Academician Igor Shafarevich, has shown in his extensive
study of Socialism that Socialist systems - systems, that is, which
are being used today to lure us to some halycon future - made up
the greatest portion of the previous history of mankind - in the
Ancient East, in China; and were to be repeated later in the bloody
experiments of the Reformation. As for Socialist doctrines, he has
shown that they emerged far later but have still been with us for
over two thousand years; and that they originated not in an eruption
of progressive thought as people think nowadays, but as a reaction
- Plato's reaction against Athenian democracy, the Gnostics' reaction
against Christianity - a reaction against the dynamic world of individualism
and a return to the impersonal, stagnant system of antiquity.
And if we follow the explosive sequence of Socialist doctrines and
Socialist Utopias preached in Europe - by Thomas More, Campanella,
Winstanley, Morelli, Deschamps, Baboeuf, Fourier, Marx and dozens
of others - we cannot help shuddering as they openly proclaim certain
features of that terrible form of society. It is about time we called
upon right-minded Socialists calmly and without prejudice to read,
say, a dozen of the major works of the major prophets of European
Socialism and to ask themselves: is this really that social ideal
for which they would be prepared to sacrifice the lives of countless
others and even to sacrifice their own?
Socialism begins by making all men equal in material matters only
(this of course requires compulsion: the advocates of all brands
of Socialism agree on this point). However, the logical progression
towards so-called 'ideal' equality inevitably implies the use of
force. Furthermore it means that the basic element of personality
- those elements which display too much variety in terms of education,
ability, thought and feeling - must themselves be levelled out. The
English saying 'My home is my castle' stands in the way of Socialism.
And again, there is that attractive-sounding formula 'Socialist Democracy'
which is about as meaningful as talking about 'boiling ice': for
it is precisely democracy that the dragon (of Socialism) is about
And as democracy grows weaker and weaker, loses more and more ground
in the two continents it partially covers, so the force of tyranny
spreads throughout the globe. Let me remind you that 'forced labour'
is part of the programme of all prophets of Socialism, including
There is no need to think of the Gulag Archipelago
as an Asiatic distortion of a noble ideal. It is an irrevocable
Modern society is hypnotised by Socialism. It is prevented by Socialism
from seeing the mortal danger it is in. And one of the greatest dangers
of all is that you have lost all sense of danger, you cannot even
see where it's coming from as it moves swiftly towards you. You imagine
you see danger in other parts of the globe and hurl the arrows from
your depleted quiver there. But the greatest danger of all is that
you have lost the will to defend yourselves.
And Great Britain - the kernel of the Western world as we have already
called it - has experienced this sapping of its strength and will
to an even greater degree, perhaps, than any other country. For some
twenty years Britain's voice has not been heard in our planet; its
character has gone, its freshness has faded. And Britain's position
in the world today is of less significance than that of Romania,
or even . . . Uganda.
British common sense - so lucid, so universally acknowledged - seems
to have failed her now. Contemporary society in Britain is living
on self-deception and illusions both in the world of politics and
in the world of ideas. People build rickety structures to convince
themselves that there is no danger and that its irrevocable advance
is nothing more than the establishment of a stable world.
We, the oppressed peoples of Russia, the oppressed
peoples of Eastern Europe, watch with anguish the tragic
enfeeblement of Europe. We offer you the experience of
our suffering; we would like you to accept it without
having to pay the monstrous price of death and slavery
that we have paid.
But your society refuses to heed our warning voices. I suppose we
must admit, sad though it is, that experience cannot be transmitted:
everyone must experience everything for himself.
Of course, it is not just a question of Britain; it is not just a
question of the West - it concerns all of us, in the East as well
as in the West. We are all, each in his own way, bound together by
a common fate, by the same bands of iron. And all of us are standing
on the brink of a great historical cataclysm, a flood that swallows
up civilisation and changes whole epochs.
The present world situation is complicated still more by the fact
that several hours have struck simultaneously on the clock of history.
We have all got to face up to a crisis - not just a social crisis,
not just a political crisis, not just a military crisis. And we must
not only face up to this crisis but we must stand firm in this great
upheaval - an upheaval similar to that which marked the transition
from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.
Just as mankind once became aware of the intolerable and mistaken
deviation of the late Middle Ages and recoiled in horror from it,
so too must we take account of the disastrous deviation of the late
Enlightenment. We have become hopelessly enmeshed in our slavish
worship of all that is pleasant, all that is comfortable, all that
is material - we worship things, we worship products.
Will we ever succeed in shaking off this burden, in giving free rein
to the spirit that was breathed into us at birth, that spirit that
distinguishes us from the animal world?
"I AM A CRITIC OF THE WEAKENING OF THE WEST"
The text of Michael Charlton 's B.B.C. London, interview with Solzhenitsyn
on March 1, 1976
Q. Aleksandr lsa'ich, when Mr. Brezhnev and the Politburo took the
decision to exile you abroad, rather than send you once more to a
concentration camp, they must have believed that you would do less
damage to the Communist state outside the Soviet Union than inside
it. I wonder if you believe that time will prove that judgement to
A. In the way you put that question there is a certain false assumption.
It assumes that the Politburo is all-powerful and independent in
the decisions it makes, that it was free to decide one way or another.
I must say that at the time of my exile the situation was very unusual.
In the autumn of 1973 the support of Western public opinion for Sakharov
and myself in our head-on confrontation, as I have called it, was
so powerful, so unyielding, support such as the West had not demonstrated
for a long time, that the Soviet Politburo simply took fright. It
did not have complete freedom of choice either to keep me in prison
or to exile me, they simply took fright at this anger, this storm
of indignation in the West, and were forced to give way. This was
a forced concession. For that reason, I think that now, even if they
regret it - and I imagine they do regret it - we must remember that
they, in effect, had no choice.
That was a rare moment when the West demonstrated unprecedented firmness
and forced them to retreat. On the other hand, they would be right,
wouldn't they, if you felt that your warnings, or your beliefs, fell
upon deaf ears in the West? You would then cease to be relevant,
and that presumably is what they hope? Yes, if one looks at it from
this point of view, you are right.
My warnings, the warning of others - Sakharov's very grave warning
directly from the Soviet Union - these go unheeded, most of them
fall, as it were, on the ears of the deaf - people who do not want
to hear them. Once I used to hope that experience of life could be
handed on from nation to nation, and from one person to another .
. . But now I am beginning to have doubts. Perhaps everyone is fated
to live through every experience himself in order to understand.
Q. You are in a unique position to watch, now, a debate in both East
and West, which to a large extent has been inspired, or has been
focused, by your own experiences and your writings. How important
is the experience of the Russian people for the West?
A. When I use the word "Russian" I always differentiate it from the
word "Soviet" - I have in mind here even pre-Soviet experience, pre-Revolutionary
experience. In actual fact our Russian experience is vitally important
for the West, because by some chance of history we have trodden the
path the West is taking seventy or eighty years before the West.
And now it is with a rather strange sensation that we look at what
is happening to you, when many social phenomena are repeating what
happened in Russia before its collapse. Our experience of life is
of vital importance to the West, but I am not convinced that you
are capable of assimilating it without having gone through it right
to the end yourselves.
Q. Give me an example of what you mean by the Russian experience
being repeated in the West.
A. One could quote here many examples: for example, a certain retreat
by the older generation, yielding their intellectual leadership to
the younger generation. It is against the natural order of things
for those who are youngest, with the least experience in life, to
have the greatest influence in directing the life of society. One
can say then that this is what forms the spirit of the age, this
current of public opinion, when people in authority, well-known professors,
scientists, are reluctant to enter into an argument even when they
hold a different opinion. It is considered embarrassing to put forward
one's counter-arguments less one becomes involved. And so there is
a certain abdication of responsibility, which is typical here where
there is complete freedom.
Take the press: writers, journalists who enjoy great freedom (and
incidentally Russia enjoyed great freedom - the West has a completely
false view of Russia before the Revolution) lose their sense of responsibility
before history, before their own people. Then there is now this universal
adulation of revolutionaries, the more so the more extreme they are!
Similarly, before the Revolution we had in Russia, if not a cult
of terror in society, then a fierce defence of the terrorists.
People in good positions, intellectuals, professors, liberals, spent
a great deal of effort, anger and indignation in defending terrorists.
And then the paralysis of governmental power. I could give you many
Q. It is this West, as you say though, which has made it possible
for people like you to survive and you acknowledge that. But how
would you say that your two years in the West, in view of what you
have just said, have reshaped your views? You are obviously more
pessimistic now than you were when you came.
A. I am not going to speak only about myself personally, and when
I say my generation, I have in mind people who shared my fate, that
is to say the soldiers of the Second World War and then the prisoners
- this was, after all, the common fate of so many. My generation
went through several stages. In the Fifties, after the end of the
war, we literally worshipped the West. We looked upon the West as
being the sun of freedom, the fortress of the spirit, our hope, our
ally. We all thought that it would be difficult to liberate ourselves,
but that the West would help us to rise from slavery. Gradually,
in the course of decades and years, this faith began to waver and
to fade. We received information about the West only with difficulty,
but we learned to listen through even the fiercest jamming to, for
example, your B.B.C.
We realised with bewilderment that the West was not showing that
firmness and that interest in freedom in our country as well. It
was as if the West was separating its freedom from our fate and,
before I was exiled, I had already strong doubts whether it was realistic
to look to the West for help. It is precisely on this that my opinions
differ from those of Sakharov. Sakharov considers that help from
the West is of decisive importance for our liberation, while I believe
that we can obtain freedom only by relying upon ourselves, and that
one can place practically no hopes on the West.
When I came here my doubts unfortunately increased very rapidly.
But the point is, of course, that during these two years the West
itself has gone through a good deal, it has become much weaker in
relation to the East. The West has made so many concessions that
now a repetition of the angry campaign which got me out of prison
is practically impossible. I would say that the campaign to get Sakharov
to Stockholm was almost as strong, but it didn't help, because the
West itself has become weak over this period. Moscow now takes infinitely
less note of the West.
Q. Can I suggest that perhaps one of the difficulties in your own
case is this. You are no longer the quiet tourist in the West. You
are in some respects an impassioned critic. I think that the people
in the West who criticise you - and, of course, not all do - believe
that you are asking for a return to something in Russia that is plainly
impossible - a return to a patriarchal kind of Russia, a return to
Orthodoxy. Are those criticisms that you accept?
A. You know, that is one of the consequences of the weak sense of
responsibility of the press. It makes judgements and sticks on labels
with the greatest of ease. Mediocre journalists simply make headlines
of their conclusions, which suddenly become the general opinion throughout
the West. You have just enumerated several propositions and practically
all of them are not true. Firstly, I am not a critic of the West.
I repeat that for nearly all our lives we worshipped it - note the
word "worshipped". I am not a critic of the West, I am a critic of
the weakness of the West. I am a critic of a fact which we can't
comprehend: how one can lose one's spiritual strength, one's will-power,
and possessing freedom not value it, not be willing to make sacrifices
A second label - just as common - was pinned on me, that I wanted
to return to a patriarchal way of life. Well, as I see it, apart
from the half-witted, no normal person could ever propose a return
to the past, because it's clear to any normal person that one can
only move forwards. That means that choice lies only between those
movements which go forwards, and not backwards. It is quite easy
to imagine that some journalist writing mostly about women's fashions
thought up this headline, and so the story gets around that I am
calling for a patriarchal way of life.
I'll just cite one more example: take the word "nationalist" - it
has become almost meaningless. It is used constantly. Everyone flings
it around, but what is a "nationalist"? If someone suggests that
his country should have a large army, conquer the countries which
surround it, should go on expanding its empire, that sort of person
is a nationalist. But if, on the contrary, I suggest that my country
should free all the peoples it has conquered, should disband the
army, should stop all aggressive actions - who am I? A nationalist!
If you love England, what are you? A nationalist! And when are you
not a nationalist? When you hate England, then you are not a nationalist.
Q. You make very eloquently the point that you're not going back
in the sense of a return to the old Russian imperialism, but I'm
not sure how you go forward as you claim you would. What is the way
out of this world of tensions and oppression in the Soviet Union
that you describe? If the West cannot help, what is the way forward
for the Russian people?
A. Two years ago and three years ago this question was topical, that
is to say, it was possible to believe that we inhabitants of the
Soviet Union could sit down and consider our future. The Soviet leadership
was experiencing so many difficulties, so many failures, that it
had to seek some way out, and indeed I thought that the way out was
to seek the path of evolution, certainly not the revolutionary path.
Not an explosion. And this is where Sakharov and I agree. An evolutionary
smooth path which would offer a way out of this terrible system.
However, today all these suggested solutions have lost their practical
value. Over the last two years, terrible things have happened. The
West has given up not only four, five or six countries, the West
has given up all its world positions. The West has given everything
away so impetuously, has done so much to strengthen the tyranny in
our country, that today all these questions are no longer relevant
in the Soviet Union. Opposition has remained, but I have already
said many times that our movement of opposition and spiritual revival,
like any spiritual process, is a slow process. But your capitulations,
like all political processes, move very quickly. The speed of your
capitulations has so rapidly overtaken the pace of our moral regeneration
that at the moment the Soviet Union can only move along one path:
the flourishing of totalitarianism. It would be more appropriate
if it were not you asking me which way Russia - or rather the Soviet
Union, let us not get the two mixed - will go, but if I were to ask
you which way the West is going? Because at the moment the question
is not how the Soviet Union will find a way out of totalitarianism,
but how the West will be able to avoid the same fate. How will the
West be able to withstand the unprecedented force of totalitarianism?
That is the problem.
Q. Why, though, do you think that people in the West have begun to
feel uneasy with you? After this enormously varied experience that
you've had - you've been a teacher, a decorated war hero, an officer
in the Soviet army, you have been a cancer patient, you've been a
political prisoner in concentration camps - what is the central point,
in all that you say, that you stand for?
A. I would say that my outlook on life has been formed largely in
concentration camps - that part of my life which is reflected in
"The Gulag Archipelago." I don't know whether, as you put it, Western
listeners would find my words embarrassing - it is difficult for
me to judge this kind of reaction. But I would say this: those people
who have lived in the most terrible conditions, on the frontier between
life and death, be it people from the West or from the East - they
all understand that between good and evil there is an irreconcilable
contradiction, that good or evil are not one and the same thing,
that one cannot build one's life without regard to this distinction.
I am surprised that pragmatic philosophy consistently scorns moral
Nowadays, in the Western press, we read a candid declaration of the
principle that moral considerations have nothing to do with politics.
They do not apply and should not so to speak be applied. I would
remind you that in 1939 England thought differently. If moral considerations
were not applicable to politics then it would have been quite incomprehensible
why on earth England went to war with Hitler's Germany.
Pragmatically, you could have got out of the situation, but England
chose the moral course and experienced and demonstrated to the world
perhaps the most brilliant and heroic period in its history. But
today we have forgotten this; today the English political leaders
state quite frankly that they not only recognise any power over any
territory regardless of its moral character, but they even hasten
to recognise it - even try to be the first to do so. Freedom has
been lost in Laos, China or Angola. Tyrants, bandits, puppets have
come to power, and pragmatic philosophy says: that doesn't matter,
we have to recognise them.
One should not consider that the great principles of freedom finish
at one's own frontiers, that as long as you have freedom, let the
rest have pragmatism. No! Freedom is indivisible and one has to take
a moral attitude towards it. Perhaps this is one of the main points
Q. You mention "The Gulag Archipelago" - your famous document of
life in Stalin's prison camps. Those books are so full of an overwhelming
anger and bitterness. Is the aim of them simply the destruction of
the Communist ideology, the destruction of at least its myths, or
are they meant to be something else than that? Do you want to go
A. A work of art always consists of many parts, it has many facets,
it has many sides, and that means many aims. The artist cannot set
himself political aims, the aims of changing a political regime.
It may come out as a byproduct of it, but to fight against untruth
and falsehood, to fight against myths, or to fight against an ideology
which is hostile to mankind, to fight for our memory, for our memory
of what things were life - that is the task of the artist. A people
which no longer remembers has lost its history and its soul. Yes,
the main thing is to recreate. When I sit down to write these books,
my only task is to recreate everything as it happened. That's my
main aim. And naturally many deductions follow. If today the three
volumes of "Gulag Archipelago" were widely published in the Soviet
Union and were freely available to all, then in a very short space
of time no Communist ideology would be left. For people who had read
all this and understood it would simply have no more room in their
minds for Communist ideology.
Q. In one of your most recent books you paint a portrait of Lenin
in Zurich. Many people, I think, have noted a similarity between
the two of you. The portrait you paint of a forceful character, Lenin,
powerless to influence events inside Russia, cut off isolated, impatient
- that does sound rather like you. Would you, like Lenin, be surprised
at a profound change in your country taking place in your lifetime?
A. You know, I have been working on the image of Lenin for forty
years. From the moment I conceived this series of books, I thought
of Lenin as one of the central characters - if not "the" central
character. I gathered every grain of information that I could, every
detail, and my only aim was to recreate him alive, as he was. But
in attacking Lenin, of course, you attack the legitimacy of the whole
Soviet government, of the Bolsheviks themselves.
Q. Are you saying that there will be this spiritual revival which
will in time overthrow the Communist system?
A. I don't attack Lenin. I describe him as he is, and for what he
is worth. So much incense has been kindled around him, in your country
as well. He has been raised to such summits...I show how, in
reality, he was often shortsighted, how he treated his allies, collaborators,
how weak were his ties with his own country. I don't attack him,
but his ideology. The spiritual renaissance of our country lies in
our liberation from this deadening, killing ideology.
Q. Is it valid to suggest a strong comparison between yourself and
Lenin? There was he, waiting in Zurich. He couldn't do anything about
the internal situation and was quite surprised when the change came,
he, the great revolutionary. Would you be surprised if change came?
A. He was surprised because of his short-sightedness. You can see
from my book that because of the narrowness of his party view he
had lost sight of the simplest facts, he didn't know that the war
was about to start - he was taken unawares by the First World War
and in the same way by the Revolution. Two years ago, I didn't expect
any explosion in the Soviet Union, I expected a slow process and
it was already taking place. Today, yes, I would be surprised, but
I wouldn't be surprised at something else: I wouldn't be surprised
at the sudden and imminent fall of the West. The situation at the
moment is s uch, the Soviet Union's economy is on such a war footing,
that even if it were the unanimous opinion of all the members of
the Politburo not to start a war, this would no longer be in their
power. To avoid this would require an agonising change from a monstrous
war economy to a normal peace economy.
The situation now is such that one must think not of what might happen
unexpectedly in the Soviet Union, because in the Soviet Union nothing
will happen unexpectedly. One must think of what might happen unexpectedly
in the West. The West is on the verge of a collapse created by its
own hands. This quite naturally makes the question one for you and
not for us.
Q. You say this from the moral standpoint of a devout Christian,
I know, and truth for you is more important than consequences. But
what alternatives are there to treating with the Devil, as you would
say, if the purpose of that is to avoid nuclear catastrophe?
A. You know, there was a time at the beginning of the Fifties when
this nuclear threat hung over the world, but the attitude of the
West was like granite and the West did not yield. Today this nuclear
threat still hangs over both sides but the West has chosen the wrong
path of making concessions. Nuclear war is not even necessary to
the Soviet Union. You can be taken simply with bare hands. Why on
earth, then, should one have nuclear war? If you have raised your
hands and are giving in, why have nuclear war? The most important
aspect of detente today is that there is no ideological detente.
You Western people, you simply can't grasp the power of Soviet propaganda:
today you still remain "British imperialists" who wish to strangle
the whole earth. All this is hidden beneath the thin crust of detente;
to remove this crust will take only one morning: one single morning.
You can't be turned away from detente so simply. To turn you away
from your present position one would need a year or two. But in the
Soviet Union one morning, one command is enough! Newspapers come
out with the news that the British imperialists have become so brazen,
that the situation has become intolerable. And nothing that is being
said against you every day will contradict this.
One can't raise the question of detente without ideological detente.
If you are hated and hounded throughout the press, in every single
lecture - what sort of detente is that? You are shown up as villains
who can be tolerated, well, maybe for one more day. That is not detente.
As for the spirit of Helsinki - may I ask a question in my turn?
How do you explain that, for instance, over the last few months there
has been hardly any news coming out of the Soviet Union of the continuing
persecution of dissidents? If you will forgive me, I will answer
this myself. The journalists have bowed to the spirit of Helsinki.
I know for a fact that Western journalists in Moscow, who have been
given the right of freer movement, in return for this, and because
of the spirit of Helsinki, no longer accept information about new
persecutions of dissidents in the Soviet Union.
What does the spirit of Helsinki and the spirit of detente mean for
us within the Soviet Union? The strengthening of totalitarianism.
What seems to you to be a milder atmosphere, a milder climate, is
for us the strengthening of totalitarianism.
Here I would like to give you a few examples, a few fresh examples
which you will not have heard over the radio or read in the papers.
Someone went to visit Sakharov, he went home by train and was killed
on the way. No, it wasn't you, he was killed, it was a Soviet citizen.
Someone knocks at the door of Nikolai Kryukov, they have come to
fix the gas; he opens the door. They beat him up nearly to death
in his own house because he has defended dissidents and signed protests.
All this happens in a flat. But on a street at five o'clock in the
afternoon on Lenin Prospect - Lenin! - Malva Landa is seized and
dragged into a car. She screamed, "Citizens, I'm being kidnapped!"
Hundreds of people heard, passed by, they were afraid because anybody
can be seized like that. Under the very eyes of passers-by, they
shoved her into a car and took her to prison. That's the spirit of
Helsinki and detente for us. And so it goes on.
In Odessa, Vyecheslav Grunov has been arrested for possessing illicit
literature and put into a lunatic asylum. They've released Plyusch,
but continue to lock up others. There you have detente and the spirit
Q. Aleksandr lsa'ich, there was a very powerful feeling in the West
throughout the Fifties and Sixties, and perhaps now - in fact a great
British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, gave his support to the view "Better
red than dead". Are you saying that this policy of detente was formulated
by the Soviet government expressly for the purpose of preventing
internal liberalisation in the Soviet Union? ln other words, the
Soviet Union can only catch up by importing its technology from abroad
and clamping down internally?
A. Here, forgive me, there are several questions. Yet, it is the
import of technology which is saving the Soviet Union. That's true.
But I return to that terrible statement of Bertrand Russell. I don't
understand at all why Bertrand Russell said "Better red than dead".
Why did he not say it would be better to be brown than dead? There
is no difference. All my life and the life of my generation, the
life of those who share my views, we have all had one standpoint;
better to be dead than a scoundrel. In this horrible expression of
Bertrand Russell there is an absence of all moral criteria. Looked
as from a short distance these words allow one to manoeuvre and continue
to enjoy life. But from a long-term point of view it will undoubtedly
destroy those people who think like that. It is a terrible thought.
I thank you for quoting this as a striking example. But you are asking
as an alternative for a return to something like the Cold War tensions?
Most people, of course, welcome detente as a respite from that. I
would like to emphasise that you think this is a respite, but it
is an imaginary respite, it's a respite before destruction. As for
us, we have no respite at all. We are being strangled even more,
with greater determination. You recall the tension of the Fifties,
but despite that tension you conceded nothing. Today you don't have
to be a strategist to understand why Angola is being taken. What
for? It is one of the most recent positions from which to wage world
war successfully - a wonderful position in the Atlantic. The Soviet
armed forces have already overtaken the West in many respects, and
in other respects are on the point of overtaking. The navy: Britain
used to have a navy, now it is the Soviet Union that has the navy,
control of the seas, bases. You may call this detente if you like
but after Angola I just can't understand how one's tongue can utter
Your Defence Minister has said that, after Helsinki, the Soviet Union
is passing the test. I don't know how many countries have still to
be taken - maybe the Soviet tanks have to come to London for your
Defence Minister to say that the Soviet Union has finally passed
the test! Or will it be sitting the exam? I think there is no such
thing as detente. Detente is necessary, but detente with open hands.
Show that there is no stone in your hands! But your partners with
whom you are conducting detente have a stone in their hands, and
it is so heavy that it would kill you with one single blow.
Detente becomes self-deception, that's what it is all about.
Q. Can I ask you finally, as a great Russian patriot, what view you
take of your own future?
A. My own future is closely linked with the fate of my country. I
work and have always worked only for it. Our history has been concealed
from us, entirely distorted. I am trying to reconstruct that history
primarily for my own country. Maybe it will also be useful for the
West. My future depends on what will happen to my country. But quite
apart from this, the Moscow leaders have, of course, particular feelings
towards me, so my own destiny may be decided before that of my country;
it is possible they may try to get rid of me completely before the
fate of my country changes for the better. I sometimes get news of
that sort. When I came here, I counted on returning very soon because
the Soviet Union then was much weaker and the West was much stronger.
But over these two years mutual relationships have changed greatly
in favour of the Soviet Union.