THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO 1918 – 1956. by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. 660 pages. (Collins & Havill Press). £3.
A leading dissident authoress, Lydia Chukovskaya, was recently expelled from the Soviet writers’ union. At the end of a two-hour meeting to condemn her works, she was allowed to speak and told the literary bureaucrats that Russian literature could not be murdered in this fashion. She concluded: “I can tell you in advance that an Alexander Solzhenitsyn Square and an Academician A. D. Sakharov Avenue are inevitable in Moscow, the capital of our common homeland.”
After reading The Gulag Archipelago, one feels that Chukovskaya’s words are not a naive dream, but a distant reality. This is not an ordinary book. It is neither a political work of merit nor a literary masterpiece. It is a momentary ray of light into a darkness that engulfed millions.
It can best be described as a catalytic collection of injustices that hurt and amaze the reader who will ask why it happened, why it was allowed to happen. Solzhenitsyn goes much deeper than expressing liberal indignation at lack of human rights. For not only does he elucidate the terror unleashed under Stalin, he also attacks the murderous tendencies of the Cheka under Lenin.
It is precisely this that the KGB feared when they read the first confiscated pages of The Gulag just over a year ago. When many young people of the left today read this, even though they may be anti-Stalinist, they will become so bitter at this legacy of deception and cruelty the Russians have left behind them that it is bound to cause profound rethinking within the ranks of progressives throughout the world.
The book goes beyond de-Stalinisation: it begins de-Stalinisation. In this sense, it is a political catalyst It points to harrowing pictures of a time when today’s Soviet leaders were willingly doing their masters’ bidding in the slaughter business. It is also a lesson in categorising the hypocrisy of today’s world and some of the people who run it.
It should be compulsory reading for all thinking people. Let us hope that the time is near when it becomes compulsory reading for all Soviet citizens, too.
Jewish Observer 19 July 1974