Solzhenitsyn and the Russian Question

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The death of
Alexander Solzhenitsyn produced predictable reactions from Western
commentators. Yes, they said, he was a moral giant for so bravely
exposing the evils of the Soviet penitential system in The
Gulag Archipelago
; but he later compromised his moral stature
by failing to like the West and by becoming a Russian nationalist.

A perfect example of this reasoning was Anne Applebaum’s piece
in The Guardian. Herself the author of a history of the Gulag,
she wrote,

In later
years, Solzhenitsyn lost some of his stature …thanks to his
failure to embrace liberal democracy. He never really liked the
west, never really took to free markets or pop culture.

Such comments
reveal more about their author than about their subject. We are
dealing here with something I propose to call geo-ideology: the
alas now widespread prejudice that “West” and “democracy”
are identical concepts. In the minds of such commentators, moreover,
the “West” is also identical with “free markets”
and “pop culture.” The “West,” apparently no
longer means “the Christian religion” or even that body
of inheritance from the magnificent treasure-house of the cultures
of Athens and Rome. Instead it means MTV, coke and Coke.

At every level these assumptions are false. Let us start with “free
markets,” the endlessly repeated shibboleth of the globalisers.
By what possible criterion can Russia be said to have a less free
market than the United States of America, or than the majority of
European Union member state? One of the key measure of the freedom
of a market is the amount of private income consumed by the state.
The income tax rate in Russia is fixed at a flat rate of 13% –
a fraction of the 25% or so paid in the US, 33% of so paid in the
United Kingdom and the 40% or more paid in continental Europe. As
for pop culture, Russia unfortunately has plenty of it. Her youth
are just as imbued with it, unfortunately, as the youth of Europe
and America.

The comments also fail to present the reader with any serious analysis
of Solzhenitsyn’s political position. The author makes vague
and disparaging references to the unsuitability of Solzhenitsyn’s
“vision of a more spiritual society” and to his “crusty
and old fashioned nationalism” – judgements which appear
to owe much to the Soviet propaganda she says she rejects. But she
fails to allow the reader to know just what she means. Surely, on
the occasion of a man’s death, it might be opportune to tell
people about what he thought.

Anyone who reads Solzhenitsyn’s astonishing essay from 1995,
The Russian Question at the End of the Twentieth Century,
will see that this caricature is nonsense. There is nothing irrational
or mystical about Solzhenitsyn’s political positions at all
– and he makes only the most glancing of references to the
religion which, we all know, he does indeed hold dear. No, what
emerges from this essay is an extremely simple and powerful political
position which is easily translated into contemporary American English
as “paleo-conservatism.”

Solzhenitsyn makes a withering attack on three hundred years of
Russian history. Almost no Russian leader emerges without censure
(he likes only the Empress Elizabeth [1741–1762] and Tsar Alexander
III [1881–1894]); most of them are roundly condemned. One might
contest the ferocity of Solzhenitsyn’s attacks but the ideological
coherence of them is very clear: he is opposed to leaders who pursue
foreign adventures, including empire-building, at the expense of
the Russian population itself. This, he says, is what unites nearly
all the Tsars since Peter the Great with the Bolshevik leaders.

Again and again, in a variety of historical contexts, Solzhenitsyn
says that Russia should not have gone to the aid of this or that
foreign cause, but should instead have concentrated on promoting
stability and prosperity at home.

While we
always sought to help the Bulgarians, the Serbs, the Montenegrins,
we would have done better to think first of the Belorussians and
Ukrainians: with the weighty hand of Empire we deprived them of
cultural and spiritual development in their own traditions…
the endless wars for Balkan Christians were a crime against the
Russian people… The attempt to greater-Russify all of Russia
proved damaging not only to the living national traits of all
the other ethnicities in the Empire but was foremost detrimental
to the greater-Russian nationality itself … The aims of a
great Empire and the moral health of the people are incompatible
… Holding on to a great Empire means to contribute to the
extinction of our own people.

There is literally
nothing to separate this view from the anti-interventionist anti-war
positions of Pat Buchanan (author of A
Republic not an Empire
) or Ron Paul.

After dealing with both the horrors of Communism, Solzhenitsyn of
course turns his attention to the terrible chaos of the post-Communist
period. Here again, his concern for the Russian people themselves
remains consistent. He writes,

The trouble
is not that the USSR broke up – that was inevitable. The
real trouble, and a tangle for a long time to come, is that the
breakup occurred along false Leninist borders, usurping from us
entire Russian provinces. In several days, we lost 25 million
ethnic Russians – 18 percent of our entire nation –
and the government could not scrape up the courage even to take
note of this dreadful event, a colossal historic defeat for Russia,
and to declare its political disagreement with it.

Solzhenitsyn
is right. One of the most lasting legacies of Leninism, which remains
after everything else has been swept away or collapsed, was the
decision to create bogus federal entities on the territory of what
had been the unitary Russian state. These entities, called Soviet
republics, contributed only to the creation of bogus nationalisms
and of course to the dilution of Russian nationhood. They were bogus
because the republics in question did not, in fact, correspond to
ethnic reality: Kazakhs, for instance, are and remain a numerical
minority in Kazakhstan, while “Ukraine” is in fact a collection
of ancient Russian provinces (especially Kiev) and some Ukrainian
ones. This bogus nationalism allowed the Soviet Union to present
itself as an international federation of peoples, rather like the
European Union today, but it was exploited by Russia’s enemies
when the time came to destroy the geopolitical existence of the
historic Russian state. This happened when the USSR was unilaterally
dissolved by three Republic leaders in December 1991.

And this is the key to the West’s hostility to Solzhenitsyn.
The man the West exploited to destroy Communism refused to bend
the knee to the West’s continuing attempts (largely successful)
to destroy Russia herself. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Anne
Applebaum, an American citizen, is the wife of the Foreign Minister
of Russia’s oldest historical enemy, Poland.

This article
originally appeared in The
Brussels Journal
.

August
12, 2008

John
Laughland’s [send him
mail
] latest book is A
History of Political Trials: From Charles I to Saddam Hussein
.

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