Alexander Solzhenitsyn, RIP

Alexander Solzhenitsyn has died. More than anyone else, he demolished the belief that a pure Leninism had been debased by Stalinism, and furnished plentiful examples of the future’s discreditable past. Mr. Solzhenitsyn was a great man. Some select quotes from his masterpiece, Gulag Archipelago:

You are arrested by a religious pilgrim whom you have put up for the night “for the sake of Christ.” You are arrested by a meterman who has come to read your electric meter. You are arrested by a bicyclist who has run into you on the street, by a railway conductor, a taxi driver, a savings bank teller, the manager of a movie theater. Any one of them can arrest you, and you noticed the concealed maroon-colored identification card only when it is too late. p10

…that prisoners would have their skulls squeezed within iron rings; that a human being would be lowered into an acid bath; …that a ramrod heated over a primus stove would be thrust up their anal canal (the “secret brand”); that a man’s genitals would be slowly crushed beneath the toe of a jackboot; and that, in the luckiest possible circumstances, prisoners would be tortured by being kept from sleeping for a week, by thirst, and by being beaten to a bloody pulp… [W]hat normal Russian at the beginning of the century… could have believed, would have tolerated, such a slander against the bright future? …[W]hat had already been regarded as barbarism under Peter the Great… [and] totally impossible under Catherine the Great, was all being practiced during the flowering of the glorious twentieth century– in a society based on socialist principles, and at a time when airplanes were flying and the radio and talking films had already appeared– not by one scoundrel alone in one secret place only, but by tens of thousands of specially trained human beasts standing over millions of defenseless victims. -p93-94

Here is one vignette from those days as it actually occurred. A district party conference was underway in Moscow Province. It was presided over by a new secretary of the District Party Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall echoed with “stormy applause, rising to an ovation.”
For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the “stormy applause rising to an ovation” continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin.
However, who would dare be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform and it was he who had called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who’d been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first.
And in that obscure, small hall, unknown to the leader, the applause went on—six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks. At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly—but up there with the presidium, where everyone could see them?
The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter …
Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a business-like expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.
That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed the Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him:
“Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!” p69-70

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