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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

After returning to Russia from exile in 1994.
Born December 11, 1918(1918-12-11)
Kislovodsk, Russian SFSR
Died August 3, 2008 (aged 89)
Moscow, Russia
Occupation Novelist, soldier, teacher
Ethnicity Russian, Ukrainian
Citizenship USSR, Russian Federation
Alma mater Rostov State University
Notable work(s) One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The First Circle, The Cancer Ward, The Gulag Archipelago, The Red Wheel
Notable award(s) Nobel Prize in Literature

Templeton Prize
Laureate Of The International Botev Prize

Spouse(s) Natalia Alekseevna Reshetovskaya (1940–52; 1957–72)
Natalia Dmitrievna Svetlova (1973–2008)
Children Yermolai Aleksandrovich Solzhenitsyn (b. 1970), Ignat Aleksandrovich Solzhenitsyn (b. 1972), Stepan Aleksandrovich Solzhenitsyn (b. 1973) (all by Natalia Svetlova)
Official website

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (English pronunciation: /soʊlʒəˈniːtsɨn/[1] Russian: Алекса́ндр Иса́евич Солжени́цын, pronounced [ɐlʲɪˈksandr ɪˈsaɪvʲɪtɕ səlʐɨˈnʲitsɨn]) (December 11, 1918 – August 3, 2008)[2] was a Soviet[3] and Russian[3]Army officer, primarily known as a novelist, dramatist, and historian. Through his writings he helped to make the world aware of the Gulag, the Soviet Union's forced labor camp system – particularly The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, two of his best-known works. Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. He was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974 and returned to Russia in 1994. Solzhenitsyn was the father of Ignat Solzhenitsyn, a conductor and pianist.


In the Soviet Union


Early years

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born in Kislovodsk, RSFSR (now in Stavropol Krai, Russia) to a young Ukrainian[4] widow, Taisiya Solzhenitsyna (née Shcherbak), whose father had apparently risen from humble beginnings, as something of a self-made man, and acquired a large estate in the Kuban region by the northern foothills of the Caucasus. During World War I, Taisiya went to Moscow to study. While there she met Isaakiy Solzhenitsyn, a young army officer, also from the Caucasus region (the family background of his parents is vividly brought to life in the opening chapters of August 1914, and later on in the Red Wheel novel cycle).

In 1918, Taisia became pregnant with Aleksandr. Shortly after this was confirmed, Isaakiy was killed in a hunting accident. Aleksandr was raised by his widowed mother and aunt in lowly circumstances; his earliest years coincided with the Russian Civil War. By 1930 the family property had been turned into a collective farm. Solzhenitsyn recalled that his mother had fought for survival and that they had to keep his father's background in the old Imperial Army a secret. His educated mother (who never remarried) encouraged his literary and scientific leanings and raised him in the Russian Orthodox faith;[5] she died in 1944.[6]

As early as 1936 Solzhenitsyn was developing the characters and concepts for a planned epic work on the First World War and the Russian Revolution, which eventually led to the novel published as August 1914 – some of the chapters he wrote then still survive.[7] Solzhenitsyn studied mathematics at Rostov State University, while at the same time taking correspondence courses from the Moscow Institute of Philosophy, Literature and History (at this time heavily ideological in scope; as he himself makes clear, he did not question the state ideology or the superiority of the Soviet Union until he spent time in the camps). On April 7, 1940, while at the university, Solzhenitsyn married a chemistry student Natalia Alekseevna Reshetovskaya.[8] They divorced in 1952 (a year before his release from the Gulag); he remarried her in 1957[9] and they divorced again in 1972. The following year (1973) he married his second wife, Natalia Dmitrievna Svetlova, a mathematician who had a son from a brief prior marriage.[10] He and Svetlova (b. 1939) had three sons: Yermolai (1970), Ignat (1972), and Stepan (1973).[11]


During World War II Solzhenitsyn served as the commander of a sound-ranging battery in the Red Army,[12] was involved in major action at the front, and twice decorated. A series of writings published late in his life, including the early uncompleted novel Love the Revolution!, chronicle his WWII experience and his growing doubts about the moral foundations of the Soviet regime.[13]


In February 1945, while serving in East Prussia, Solzhenitsyn was arrested for writing derogatory comments in letters to a friend, Nikolai Vitkevich,[14] about the conduct of the war by Joseph Stalin, whom he called "Oosatiy" ("the whiskered one,")[15] "Khozyain" ("the master"), and "Balabos", (Odessa Yiddish for "the master").[16] He was accused of anti-Soviet propaganda under Article 58 paragraph 10 of the Soviet criminal code, and of "founding a hostile organization" under paragraph 11.[17] Solzhenitsyn was taken to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow, where he was beaten and interrogated. On July 7, 1945, he was sentenced in his absence by Special Council of the NKVD to an eight-year term in a labor camp. This was the normal sentence for most crimes under Article 58 at the time.[18]

The first part of Solzhenitsyn's sentence was served in several different work camps; the "middle phase," as he later referred to it, was spent in a sharashka (i.e., a special scientific research facility run by Ministry of State Security), where he met Lev Kopelev, upon whom he based the character of Lev Rubin in his book The First Circle, published in a self-censored or “distorted” version in the West in 1968 (an English translation of the full version was eventually published by Harper Perennial in October 2009).[19] In 1950, he was sent to a "Special Camp" for political prisoners. During his imprisonment at the camp in the town of Ekibastuz in Kazakhstan, he worked as a miner, bricklayer, and foundry foreman. His experiences at Ekibastuz formed the basis for the book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. While there he had a tumor removed, although his cancer was not diagnosed at the time.

In March 1953 after the expiry of Solzhenitsyn's sentence, he was sent to internal exile for life at Kok-Terek in southern Kazakhstan, as was common for political prisoners. His undiagnosed cancer spread until, by the end of the year, he was close to death. However, in 1954, he was permitted to be treated in a hospital in Tashkent, where his tumor went into remission. His experiences there became the basis of his novel Cancer Ward and also found an echo in the short story "The right hand." It was during this decade of imprisonment and exile that Solzhenitsyn abandoned Marxism and developed the philosophical and religious positions of his later life; this turn has some interesting parallels to Dostoevsky's time in Siberia and his quest for faith a hundred years earlier. Solzhenitsyn gradually turned into a philosophically-minded Christian as a result of his experience in prison and the camps.[20][21] He repented for some of his actions as a Red Army captain, and in prison compared himself to the perpetrators of the Gulag: "I remember myself in my captain's shoulder boards and the forward march of my battery through East Prussia, enshrouded in fire, and I say: 'So were we any better?'" His transformation is described at some length in the fourth part of The Gulag Archipelago ("The Soul and Barbed Wire"). The narrative poem The Trail (written without benefit of pen or paper in prison and camps between 1947 and 1952) and the twenty-eight poems composed in prison, forced-labor camp, and exile also provide crucial material for understanding Solzhenitsyn's intellectual and spiritual odyssey during this period. These "early" works, largely unknown in the West, were published for the first time in Russian in 1999 and excerpted in English in 2006.[22][23]

After liberation

After Khrushchev's Secret Speech in 1956 Solzhenitsyn was freed from exile and exonerated. After his return to European Russia, Solzhenitsyn was, while teaching at a secondary school during the day, spending his nights secretly engaged in writing. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech he wrote, "during all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime, but, also, I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared this would become known."[24]

In the 1960s while he was publicly known to be writing Cancer Ward, he was simultaneously writing The Gulag Archipelago. The KGB found out about this.[7]

Finally, when he was 42 years old, he approached Alexander Tvardovsky, a poet and the chief editor of the Noviy Mir magazine, with the manuscript of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It was published in edited form in 1962, with the explicit approval of Nikita Khrushchev, who defended it at the presidium of the Politburo hearing on whether to allow its publishing, and added: "There’s a Stalinist in each of you; there’s even a Stalinist in me. We must root out this evil."[25] The book became an instant hit and sold-out everywhere. During Khrushchev's tenure, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was studied in schools in the Soviet Union as were three more short works of Solzhenitsyn's, including his acclaimed short story Matryona’s Home, were published in 1963. These would be the last of his works published in the Soviet Union until 1990.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich brought the Soviet system of prison labor to the attention of the West. It caused as much of a sensation in the Soviet Union as it did the West—not only by its striking realism and candour, but also because it was the first major piece of Soviet literature since the twenties on a politically charged theme, written by a non-party member, indeed a man who had been to Siberia for "libelous speech" about the leaders, and yet its publication had been officially permitted. In this sense, the publication of Solzhenitsyn's story was an almost unheard of instance of free, unrestrained discussion of politics through literature. Most Soviet readers realized this, but after Khrushchev had been ousted from power in 1964, the time for such raw exposing works came quietly, but perceptibly, to a close.


Solzhenitsyn did not give in but tried, with the help of Tvardovsky, to get his novel, The Cancer Ward, legally published in the Soviet Union. This had to get the approval of the Union of Writers, and though some there appreciated it, the work ultimately was denied publication unless it was to be revised and cleaned of suspect statements and anti-Soviet insinuations (this episode is recounted and documented in The Oak and the Calf).

The publishing of his work quickly stopped; as a writer, he became a non-person, and, by 1965, the KGB had seized some of his papers, including the manuscript of The First Circle. Meanwhile Solzhenitsyn continued to secretly and feverishly work upon the most subversive of all his writings, the monumental The Gulag Archipelago. The seizing of his novel manuscript first made him desperate and frightened, but gradually he realized that it had set him free from the pretenses and trappings of being an "officially acclaimed" writer, something which had come close to second nature, but which was becoming increasingly irrelevant.

After the KGB had confiscated Solzhenitsyn's materials in Moscow, during 1965–1967 the preparatory drafts of The Gulag Archipelago were turned into finished typescript in hiding at his friends' homes in Estonia. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had befriended Arnold Susi, a lawyer and former Estonian Minister of Education in a Lubyanka Prison cell. After completion, Solzhenitsyn's original handwritten script was kept hidden from the KGB in Estonia by Arnold Susi's daughter Heli Susi until the collapse of the Soviet Union.[26][27]

In 1969 Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Union of Writers. In 1970, Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He could not receive the prize personally in Stockholm at that time, since he was afraid he would not be let back into the Soviet Union. Instead, it was suggested he should receive the prize in a special ceremony at the Swedish embassy in Moscow. The Swedish government refused to accept this solution, however, since such a ceremony and the ensuing media coverage might upset the Soviet Union and damage Sweden's relations with the superpower. Instead, Solzhenitsyn received his prize at the 1974 ceremony after he had been deported from the Soviet Union.

The Gulag Archipelago was composed during 1958–1967. This work was a three-volume, seven part work on the Soviet prison camp system (Solzhenitsyn never had all seven parts of the work in front of him at any one time). The Gulag Archipelago has sold over thirty million copies in thirty-five languages. It was based upon Solzhenitsyn's own experience as well as the testimony of 256[28] former prisoners and Solzhenitsyn's own research into the history of the penal system. It discussed the system's origins from the founding of the Communist regime, with Lenin himself having responsibility, detailing interrogation procedures, prisoner transports, prison camp culture, prisoner uprisings and revolts, and the practice of internal exile. The Gulag Archipelago’s rich and varied authorial voice, its unique weaving together of personal testimony, philosophical analysis, and historical investigation, and its unrelenting indictment of communist ideology made The Gulag Archipelago one of the most consequential books of the twentieth century.[29] The appearance of the book in the West put the word gulag into the Western political vocabulary and guaranteed swift retribution from the Soviet authorities.

During this period, he was sheltered by the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who suffered considerably for his support of Solzhenitsyn and was eventually forced into exile himself.

In the West

On February 12, 1974, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and on the next day he was deported from the Soviet Union to Frankfurt, West Germany and stripped of his Soviet citizenship. The KGB had found the manuscript for the first part of The Gulag Archipelago and, less than a week later, Yevgeny Yevtushenko suffered reprisals for his support of Solzhenitsyn.

U.S. military attache William Odom managed to smuggle out a large portion of Solzhenitsyn's archive, including the author's membership card for the Writers' Union and Second World War military citations; Solzhenitsyn subsequently paid tribute to Odom's role in his memoir "Invisible Allies" (1995).[30]

In Germany, Solzhenitsyn lived in Heinrich Böll's house in Cologne. He then moved to Zurich, Switzerland before Stanford University invited him to stay in the United States to "facilitate your work, and to accommodate you and your family." He stayed on the 11th floor of the Hoover Tower, part of the Hoover Institution, before moving to Cavendish, Vermont in 1976. He was given an honorary Literary Degree from Harvard University in 1978 and on Thursday, June 8, 1978 he gave his Commencement Address condemning, among other things, materialism in modern western culture.

Over the next 17 years, Solzhenitsyn worked on his cyclical history of the Russian Revolution of 1917, The Red Wheel. By 1992, four "knots" (parts) had been completed and he had also written several shorter works.

Despite spending two decades in the United States, Solzhenitsyn did not become fluent in spoken English. He had, however, been reading English-language literature since his teens, encouraged by his mother[citation needed]. More importantly, he resented the idea of becoming a media star and of tempering his ideas or ways of talking in order to suit television. Solzhenitsyn's warnings about the dangers of Communist aggression and the weakening of the moral fiber of the West were generally well received in Western conservative circles, alongside the tougher foreign policy pursued by U.S. President Ronald Reagan. At the same time, liberals and secularists became increasingly critical of what they perceived as his reactionary preference for Russian patriotism and the Russian Orthodox religion. Solzhenitsyn also harshly criticised what he saw as the ugliness and spiritual vapidity of the dominant pop culture of the modern West, including television and much of popular music: "...the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today's mass living habits ... by TV stupor and by intolerable music."

Despite his criticism of the “weakness” of the West, Solzhenitsyn always made clear that he admired the political liberty which was one of the enduring strengths of western democratic societies. In a major speech delivered to the International Academy of Philosophy in Liechtenstein on September 14, 1993, Solzhenitsyn implored the West not to "lose sight of its own values, its historically unique stability of civic life under the rule of law—a hard-won stability which grants independence and space to every private citizen."[31] In a series of writings, speeches, and interviews after his return to his native Russia in 1994, Solzhenitsyn spoke about his admiration for the local self-government he had witnessed first hand in Switzerland and New England during his western exile.[32][33]

Return to Russia

In 1990, his Soviet citizenship was restored, and, in 1994, he returned to Russia with his wife, Natalia, who had become a United States citizen. Their sons stayed behind in the United States (later, his oldest son Yermolai returned to Russia to work for the Moscow office of a leading management consultancy firm). From then until his death, he lived with his wife in a dacha in Troitse-Lykovo (Троице-Лыково) in west Moscow between the dachas once occupied by Soviet leaders Mikhail Suslov and Konstantin Chernenko.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn called for a restoration of the Russian monarchy.[34] The writer, however, deplored what he considered Russia's spiritual decline, increasingly adopting Western materialistic values, but in the last years of his life he praised President Vladimir Putin for Russia's revival.[citation needed]

After returning to Russia in 1994, Solzhenitsyn published eight two-part short stories, a series of contemplative "miniatures" or prose poems, a literary memoir on his years in the West (The Grain Between the Millstones) among many other writings.

All of Solzhenitsyn's sons became U.S. citizens. One, Ignat, has achieved acclaim as a pianist and conductor in the United States.


Solzhenitsyn died of heart failure near Moscow on August 3, 2008, at the age of 89.[35][36] A burial service was held at Donskoy Monastery, Moscow, on Wednesday, August 6, 2008.[37] He was buried on the same date at the place chosen by him in Donskoy necropolis.[38] Russian and world leaders paid tribute to Solzhenitsyn following his death.[39]


Solzhenitsyn with Vladimir Putin.

The most complete 30-volume edition of Solzhenitsyn’s collected works is soon to be published in Russia. The presentation of its first three volumes, already in print, recently took place in Moscow. On June 5, 2007 then Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree conferring on Solzhenitsyn the State Prize of the Russian Federation for his humanitarian work. Putin personally visited the writer at his home on June 12, 2007 to present him with the award. Like his father, Yermolai Solzhenitsyn has translated some of his father's works. Stephan Solzhenitsyn lives and works in Moscow. Ignat Solzhenitsyn is the music director of The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.

KGB operations against Solzhenitsyn

On 19 September 1974, Yuri Andropov approved a large-scale operation to discredit Solzhenitsyn and his family and cut his communications with Soviet dissidents. The plan was jointly approved by Vladimir Kryuchkov, Philipp Bobkov, and Grigorenko (heads of First, Second and Fifth KGB Directorates).[40] The residencies in Geneva, London, Paris, Rome and other European cities participated in the operation. Among other active measures, at least three StB agents became translators and secretaries of Solzhenitsyn (one of them translated the poem Prussian Nights),keeping KGB informed regarding all contacts by Solzhenitsyn.[40]

KGB sponsored a series of hostile books about Solzhenitsyn, most notably a "memoir published under the name of his first wife, Natalia Reshetovskaya, but probably mostly composed by Service", according to historian Christopher Andrew.[40] Andropov also gave an order to create "an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion between PAUK [41] and the people around him" by feeding him rumors that everyone in his surrounding was a KGB agent and deceiving him in all possible ways. Among other things, the writer constantly received envelopes with photographs of car accidents, brain surgery and other frightening illustrations. After the KGB harassment in Zurich, Solzhenitsyn settled in Cavendish, Vermont, reduced communications with others and surrounded his property with a barbed wire fence. His influence and moral authority for the West diminished as he became increasingly isolated and critical of the Western individualism. KGB and CPSU experts finally concluded that he alienated American listeners by his "reactionary views and intransigent criticism of the US way of life", so no further active measures would be required.[40]

Accusations of collaboration with NKVD

In his book The Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn states that he was recruited to report to the NKVD on fellow inmates and was given a code-name Vetrov, but due to his transfer to another camp he was able to elude this duty and never produced a single report.[42]

In 1976, after Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Soviet Union a report signed by Vetrov surfaced. After a copy of the report was obtained by Solzhenitsyn he published it together with a refutation in the Los Angeles Times (published 24 May 1976[42]). In 1978 the same report was published by journalist Frank Arnau in a socialist Western German magazine Neue Politik.[43] However, according to Solzhenitsyn the report is a fabrication by the KGB. He claimed that the report is dated 20 January 1952 while all Ukrainians were transferred to a separate camp on January 6 and they had no relation to the uprising in Solzhenitsyn's camp on January 22. He also claimed that the only people who might in 1976 have access to a "secret KGB archive" were KGB agents themselves. Solzhenitsyn also requested Arnau to put the alleged document to a graphology test but Arnau refused.[42]

In 1990 the report was reproduced in Soviet Voyenno-Istoricheskiy Zhurnal among the memoirs of L.A. Samutin,[44] a former ROA soldier and GULAG inmate who was an erstwhile supporter of Solzhenitsyn, but later became his critic. According to Solzhenitzyn, publication of the Samutin memoirs was canceled at the request of Samutin's widow, who stated that the memoirs were in fact dictated by the KGB.[42]

Views on atheism, history, and politics

Solzhenitsyn on the failing of atheism:

Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened." Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.

Edward E. Ericson, Jr., "Solzhenitsyn – Voice from the Gulag," Eternity, October 1985, pp. 23, 24.

Historical views

During his years in the west, Solzhenitsyn was very active in the historical debate, discussing the history of Russia, the Soviet Union and communism. He tried to correct what he considered to be western misconceptions.

On Russia and the Jews

Solzhenitsyn also published a two-volume work on the history of Russian-Jewish relations (Two Hundred Years Together 2001, 2002). This book stirred controversy and some viewed it as antisemitic.[45][46][47][48] This book became a best-seller in Russia.[49] Solzhenitsyn begins his book with a plea for "patient mutual comprehension" on the part of Russians and Russian Jews. The author writes that the book was conceived in the hope of promoting "mutually agreeable and fruitful pathways for the future development of Russian-Jewish relations."[50]

There is sharp division on the allegation of antisemitism. From Solzhenitsyn's own essay "Repentance and Self-Limitation in the Life of Nations",[51] he calls for Russians and Russian Jews alike to take responsibility for the "renegades" in both communities who supported a totalitarian and terrorist regime after 1917. At the end of chapter 15, he writes that Jews must answer for the "revolutionary cutthroats" in their ranks just as Russians must repent "for the pogroms, for...merciless arsonist peasants, for...crazed revolutionary soldiers." It is not, he adds, a matter of answering "before other peoples, but to oneself, to one's consciousness, and before God."[52]

Similarities between Two Hundred years together and an antisemitic essay titled “Jews in the USSR and in the Future Russia”, attributed to Solzhenitsyn, has led to inference that he stands behind the anti-Semitic passages. Solzhenitsyn himself claims that the essay consists of manuscripts stolen from him, and then manipulated, forty years ago.[53][54] However, according to the historian Semyon Reznik, textological analyses have in fact proven Solzhenitsyn's authorship.[55]

In 1984 Solzhenitsyn was interviewed by Nikolay Kazantsev, a monarchist Russian-Argentinian journalist, for "Nasha Strana", a russophone newspaper in Buenos-Aires. In the interview he said: "We (Russia) are walking a narrow istmus between Communists and the World Jewry. Neither is acceptable for us... And I mean this not in the racial sense, but in the sense of the Jewry as a certain world view. The Jewry is embodied in "Fevralism" (i.e. democracy). Neither side is acceptable to us in the case the War breaks out." He also described the United States as a "province of Israel".[56]

A prominent dissident writer Vladimir Voynovich, interviewed for Radio Liberty on the first anniversary of Solzhenitsyn' death, has stated [57] that Solzhenitshyn harbored antisemitic sentiments all his life, as attested by the 1964 manuscript he later developed into "200 Years Together", and that he deliberately concealed them, because he knew this would have prevented him from receiving the Nobel Prize.

On new Russian "democracy"

In some of his later political writings, such as Rebuilding Russia (1990) and Russia in Collapse (1998), Solzhenitsyn criticized the oligarchic excesses of the new Russian 'democracy,' while opposing any nostalgia for Soviet communism. He defended moderate and self-critical patriotism (as opposed to extreme nationalism), argued for the indispensability of local self-government to a free Russia, and expressed concerns for the fate of the 25 million ethnic Russians in the "near abroad" of the former Soviet Union. He also sought to "protect" the national character of the Russian Orthodox church and fought against the admission of Catholic priests and Protestant pastors to Russia from other countries. For a brief period, he had his own TV show, where he freely expressed his views. The show was cancelled because of low ratings, but Solzhenitsyn continued to maintain a relatively high profile in the media.

The West

Delivering the commencement address at Harvard in 1978, he called the United States spiritually weak and mired in vulgar materialism. Americans, he said, speaking in Russian through a translator, suffered from a "decline in courage" and a "lack of manliness." Few were willing to die for their ideals, he said. He condemned both the United States government and American society for its “hasty” capitulation in Vietnam. He criticized the country’s music as intolerable and attacked its unfettered press, accusing it of violations of privacy. He said that the West erred in measuring other civilizations by its own model. While faulting Soviet society for denying fair legal treatment of people, he also faulted the West for being too legalistic: "A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities."[58]

Shortly after his death, professor Richard Pipes, a history professor at Harvard, wrote of him: "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 Russia’s 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.".[59]

Russian culture

In his 1978 Harvard address, Solzhenitsyn argued over Russian culture, that the West erred in "denying its autonomous character and therefore never understood it "[58]

Communism, Russia and nationalism

Solzhenitsyn emphasized the significantly more oppressive character of the Soviet totalitarian regime, in comparison to the Tsarist Russian Empire. He asserted that Imperial Russia did not practice any real censorship in the style of the Soviet Glavlit,[60] that political prisoners typically were not forced into labor camps,[61] and that the number of political prisoners was only one ten-thousandth of those in the Soviet Union. He noted that the Tsar's secret service was only present in the three largest cities, and not at all in the army. He compared Bolsheviks with Jacobins of the Reign of Terror of France.

He believed that revolutionary violence comes from the teachings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, arguing Marxism is violent. His conclusion is Communism will always be totalitarian and violent everywhere it exists, not just in a specific country.

According to Solzhenitsyn, Russians were not the ruling nation in the Soviet Union. He believed that all ethnic cultures have been oppressed in favor of an atheistic Soviet culture. Russian culture was even more oppressed than the smaller minority cultures, since the regime was more afraid of ethnic uprisings among Russians than among other peoples. Therefore, Solzhenitsyn argued, Russian nationalism and the Orthodox Church should not be regarded as a threat by the West but rather as allies.[62]

Solzhenitsyn said that for every country, great power status deforms and harms the national character and that he has never wished great power status for Russia. He rejected the view that the USA and Russia are natural rivals, saying that before the [Russian] revolution, they were natural allies and that during the American Civil War, Russia supported Lincoln and the North [in contrast to Britain and France, which supported the Confederacy], and then they were allies in the First World War. But beginning with communism, Russia ceased to exist and the confrontation was not at all with Russia but with the Communist U.S.S.R.

World War II

Solzhenitsyn criticized the Allies for not opening a new front against Nazi Germany in the west earlier in World War II. This resulted in Soviet domination and oppression of the nations of Eastern Europe. Solzhenitsyn claimed the western democracies apparently cared little about how many died in the east, as long as they could end the war quickly and painlessly for themselves in the west. While stationed in East Prussia as an artillery officer, Solzhenitsyn witnessed war crimes against the civilian German population by Soviet "liberators" as the elderly were robbed of their meager possessions and women were gang-raped to death. He wrote a poem entitled "Prussian Nights" about these incidents. In it, the first-person narrator seems to approve of the troops' crimes as revenge for German atrocities, expressing his desire to take part in the plunder himself. The poem describes the rape of a Polish woman whom the Red Army soldiers mistakenly thought to be a German.[63]


In his The Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn rejected the view that it was Stalin who created the Soviet totalitarian state. He argued that it was Lenin who started the mass executions, created a planned economy, founded the Cheka which would later be turned into the KGB, and started the system of labor camps later known as Gulag.

Mikhail Sholokhov

Solzhenitsyn was the most prominent of the Nobel Laureate Mikhail Sholokhov's many detractors. He alleged that the work which made Sholokhov's international reputation, And Quiet Flows the Don was written by Fyodor Kryukov, a Cossack and Anti-Bolshevik, who died in 1920, possibly in retaliation for Sholokhov scathing opinion re One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.[64] Solzhenitsyn claimed that Sholokhov found the manuscript and published it under his own name.[65] These rumors first appeared in the late 1920s, but an investigation upheld Sholokhov's authorship of And Quiet Flows the Don and the allegations were denounced as malicious slander in Pravda[66].

A 1984 monograph by Geir Kjetsaa and others demonstrated through statistical analyses that Sholokhov was indeed the likely author of Don. And in 1987, several thousand pages of notes and drafts of the work were discovered and authenticated.[67][68]

During the second world war, Sholokhov's archive was destroyed in a bomb raid, and only the fourth volume survived. Sholokhov had his friend Vassily Kudashov, who was killed in the war, look after it. Following Kudashov's death, his widow took possession of the manuscript, but she never disclosed the fact of owning it. The manuscript was finally found by the Institute of World Literature of Russia's Academy of Sciences in 1999 with assistance from the Russian Government. An analysis of the novel has unambiguously proved Sholokhov's authorship. The writing paper dates back to the 1920s: 605 pages are in Sholokhov's own hand, and 285 are transcribed by his wife Maria and sisters.[68]

The Sino-Soviet Conflict

In 1973, near the height of the Sino-Soviet conflict, Solzhenitsyn sent a Letter to the Soviet Leaders to a limited number of upper echelon Soviet officials. This work, which was published for the general public in the Western world a year after it was sent to its intended audience, beseeched the Soviet Union's authorities to

Give them their ideology! Let the Chinese leaders glory in it for a while. And for that matter, let them shoulder the whole sackful of unfulfillable international obligations, let them grunt and heave and instruct humanity, and foot all the bills for their absurd economics (a million a day just to Cuba), and let them support terrorists and guerrillas in the Southern Hemisphere too if they like. The main source of the savage feuding between us will then melt away, a great many points of today's contention and conflict all over the world will also melt away, and a military clash will become a much remoter possibility and perhaps won't take place at all [author's emphasis].[69]

Vietnam war

Once in America, Solzhenitsyn urged the United States to continue its involvement in the Vietnam War.[70]

In his commencement address at Harvard University in 1978 (A World Split Apart), Solzhenitsyn alleged that many in the U.S. did not understand the Vietnam War. He rhetorically asks if the American antiwar proponents now realize the effects their actions had on Vietnam: "But members of the U.S. antiwar movement wound up being involved in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in a genocide and in the suffering today imposed on 30 million people there. Do those convinced pacifists hear the moans coming from there?"[58]

During his time in the West, Solzhenitsyn made a few controversial public statements: notably, he characterized Daniel Ellsberg as a traitor.

Kosovo War

Solzhenitsyn strongly condemned the bombing of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War, saying "there is no difference whatsoever between NATO and Hitler."[71]

The Holodomor

Solzhenitsyn has stated that the ongoing Ukrainian effort to have the 1930s famine, the Holodomor, recognized as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people is in fact historical revisionism. According to Solzhenitsyn, the famine was caused by the nature of the Communist regime, under which all peoples suffered. As such it was not an assault by the Russian people against the Ukrainian people, and the wish to represent it as such is only recent and politically motivated.

Solzhenitsyn's views on this matter are in line with those of several historians of the period (such as Dmitri Volkogonov and Aleksandr Bushkov) as well as the official stance of the Russian Government. This view suggests that policies of collectivization and mass seizure of property that lead to the Ukrainian famine of the 1930s were a result of the political (communist) and economic (favoring rapid industrial growth over consumption) policies of the Soviet Union, and not racial hatred against the Ukrainians. [72]

Western culture

...there also exists another alliance — at first glance a strange one, a surprising one—but if you think about it, in fact, one which is well-grounded and easy to understand. This is the alliance between our Communist leaders and your capitalists. This alliance is not new. The very famous Armand Hammer, who is flourishing here today, laid the basis for this when he made the first exploratory trip into Russia, still in Lenin's time, in the very first years of the Revolution.

And if today the Soviet Union has powerful military and police forces—in a country which is by contemporary standards poor—they are used to crush our movement for freedom in the Soviet Union—and we have western capital to thank for this also.

Testimony to the U.S. Congress, July 8, 1975.[73]

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 had actually become a world without a will, a world gradually petrifying in the face of the danger confronting it...All of us are standing on the brink of a great historical cataclysm, a flood that swallows up civilization and changes whole epochs.

Modern world

He described the problems of both East and West as "a disaster" rooted in atheism and Dechristianisation. He referred to it as "the calamity of an autonomous, irreligious humanistic consciousness."

It has made man the measure of all things on earth—imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now paying for the mistakes which were not properly appraised at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility.[58]

Published works and speeches

  • The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005, edited by Edward E. Ericson, Jr. and Daniel J. Mahoney, ISI Books (2009)
  • A Storm in the Mountains
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962; novella)
  • An Incident at Krechetovka Station (1963; novella)
  • Matryona's Place (1963; novella)
  • For the Good of the Cause (1964; novella)
  • The First Circle (1968; novel)
  • Cancer Ward (1968; novel)
  • The Love-Girl and the Innocent (1969; play), aka The Prisoner and the Camp Hooker or The Tenderfoot and the Tart.
  • Nobel Prize delivered speech (1970)The speech was delivered to the Swedish Academy in writing and not actually given as a lecture.
  • August 1914 (1971). The beginning of a history of the birth of the USSR in an historical novel. The novel centers on the disastrous loss in the Battle of Tannenberg in August, 1914, and the ineptitude of the military leadership. Other works, similarly titled, follow the story: see The Red Wheel (overall title).
  • The Gulag Archipelago (three volumes) (1973–1978), not a memoir, but a history of the entire process of developing and administering a police state in the Soviet Union.
  • Prussian Nights (Finished in 1951, first published in 1974; poetry)
  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1974
  • Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, A Letter to the Soviet leaders, Collins: Harvill Press (1974), ISBN 0-06-013913-7
  • The Oak and the Calf (1975)
  • Lenin in Zürich (1976; separate publication of chapters on Lenin, none of them published before this point, from The Red Wheel. They were later incorporated into the 1984 edition of the expanded August, 1914.)
  • Warning to the West (1976; 5 speeches (translated to English), 3 to the Americans in 1975 and 2 to the British in 1976)
  • Harvard Commencement Address (1978) link
  • The Mortal Danger: Misconceptions about Soviet Russia and the Threat to America (1980)
  • Pluralists (1983; political pamphlet)
  • November 1916 (1983; novel in The Red Wheel sequence)
  • Victory Celebration (1983)
  • Prisoners (1983)
  • Godlessness, the First Step to the Gulag. Templeton Prize Address, London, May 10 (1983)
  • August 1914 (1984; novel, much-expanded edition)
  • Rebuilding Russia (1990)
  • March 1917 (1990)
  • April 1917
  • The Russian Question (1995)
  • Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr (1997). Invisible Allies. Basic Books. ISBN 9781887178426. 
  • Russia under Avalanche (Россия в обвале,1998; political pamphlet) (Complete text in Russian:[74])
  • Two Hundred Years Together (2003) on Russian-Jewish relations since 1772, aroused ambiguous public response.[75][76][77]

See also


  1. ^ See inogolo:pronunciation of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
  2. ^ В Москве скончался Александр Солженицын, (Russian)
  3. ^ a b "Solzhenitsyn | Definition of Solzhenitsyn at". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  4. ^ "Александр Солженицын: человек и архипелаг | СЕГОДНЯ | Мир Кризис Світ". 2009-12-02. Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  5. ^ O'Neil, Patrick M. Great world writers: twentieth century, p.1400. Marshall Cavendish, 2004, ISBN 0761474781. Scammell, Michael, Solzhenitsyn, a biography, p. 25-59. W. W. Norton ISBN 0393018024
  6. ^ Scammell p 129
  7. ^ a b Blundy, Anna. "Interview with Dr. Michael Nicholson". The Browser. Retrieved 2009-10-29. 
  8. ^ Terras, Victor. Handbook of Russian Literature, p.436. Yale University Press, 1985, ISBN 0300048688.
  9. ^ Scammell 1984 p 366
  10. ^ Cook, Bernard A. Europe Since 1945: An Encyclopedia, p.1161. Taylor & Francis, 2001, ISBN 0815340583.
  11. ^ Aikman, David. Great Souls: Six Who Changed a Century, p.172-3. Lexington Books, 2003, ISBN 0739104381.
  12. ^ Scammell, p. 119.
  13. ^ Solzhenitsyn, Proterevshi glaza: sbornik (Moscow: Nash dom: L’Age d’Homme, 1999).
  14. ^ "Koka", a boyhood friend and fellow officer. Scammell, p. 76-77, 153.
  15. ^ Current Biography, 1969.
  16. ^ Moody 1973, p. 6.
  17. ^ Scammell 1986, p. 152-154. Björkegren 1973, Introduction.
  18. ^ Moody, p. 7.
  19. ^ Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I. (2009-10-13). "retrieved Jan 06, 2010". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  20. ^ GA, part IV, Daniel J. Mahoney, “Hero of a Dark Century”, National Review, September 1, 2008, pp. 47–50
  21. ^ “Beliefs” in Ericson-Klimoff, The Soul and Barbed Wire: An Introduction to Solzhenitsyn, ISI Books, 2008,pp. 177–205).
  22. ^ Solzhenitsyn, Proterevshi glaza: sbornik, Moscow: Nash dom—L’age d’Homme, 1999
  23. ^ Edward E. Ericson, Jr.- Daniel J. Mahoney eds., The Solzhenitsyn Reader:New and Essential Writings, 1947–2005, ISI Books, 2006.
  24. ^ "Nobel Prize in Literature". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  25. ^ Peter Benno, "The Political Aspect", in Max Hayward and Edward L. Crowley, eds., Soviet Literature in the Sixties (London, 1965), 191.
  26. ^ Rosenfeld, Alla; Norton T. Dodge (2001). Art of the Baltics: The Struggle for Freedom of Artistic Expression Under the Soviets, 1945–1991. Rutgers University Press. pp. 55, pp.134. ISBN 9780813530420. 
  27. ^ Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr (1997). Invisible Allies. Basic Books. pp. 46–64 The Estonians. ISBN 9781887178426. 
  28. ^ GA, Ekaterinburg: U-Faktoriia
  29. ^ Anne Applebaum’s 2007 “Foreword” to Harper Perennial Modern Classics editions of GA
  30. ^ Michael Robert Patterson. "William Eldridge Odom, Lieutenant General, United States Army". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  31. ^ The Solzhenitsyn Reader, p. 599
  32. ^ "Russia in Collapse" in The Solzhenitsyn Reader, pp. 480–481
  33. ^ "The Cavendish Farewell" in The Soltzhenitsyn Reader, pp. 606–607
  34. ^ "The End of Art - Speech" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  35. ^ "Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Is Dead at 89". Associated Press in New York Times. August 3, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-03. "Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize-winning author whose books chronicled the horrors of the Soviet gulag system, has died of heart failure, his son said Monday. He was 89. Stepan Solzhenitsyn told The Associated Press his father died late Sunday of heart failure, but declined further comment." 
  36. ^ "Alexander Solzhenitsyn dies at 89". BBC News. 2008-08-03. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
  37. ^ "Russia to pay tribute to Solzhenitsyn". RIA Novosti. 2008-08-04. Retrieved 2008-08-05. 
  38. ^ "Solzhenitsyn is buried in Moscow". BBC. 2008-08-06. Retrieved 2008-08-06. 
  39. ^ "Russia to pay tribute to Solzhenitsyn". RIA Novosti. Retrieved 2008-08-06. 
  40. ^ a b c d Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin (2000). The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West. Gardners Books. ISBN 0-14-028487-7, pages 416–419.
  41. ^ KGB gave Solzhenitsyn a code name "PAUK", which means "a spider" in translation
  42. ^ a b c d Solzhenitsyn, Alexander (October 22, 2003). "Потёмщики света не ищут" (in Russian). Komsomolskaya Pravda. Retrieved 2009-12-17.
  43. ^ Frank Arnau "Solzhenitzyn — Vetrov" in "Neue Politik" (№2, 1978. Hamburg)
  44. ^ "Ме Янрбнпх Йслхпю" (in (Russian)). Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  45. ^ "Dimensional Spaces in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Two Hundred Years Together | Canadian Slavonic Papers | Find Articles at BNET". 2009-06-02. Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  46. ^ "VOstrovsky1.htm". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  47. ^ "22". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  48. ^ Cathy Young from the May 2004 issue. "Traditional Prejudices: The anti-Semitism of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. – Reason Magazine". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  49. ^ Dvesti let vmeste, Moscow, Russkii put’, 2001 and 2002
  50. ^ The Solzhenitsyn Reader, p. 489
  51. ^ The Solzhenitsyn Reader, pp. 527–555
  52. ^ The Solzhenitsyn Reader, p. 505
  53. ^ Cathy Young: Traditional Prejudices. The anti-Semitism of Alexander Solzhenitsyn Reason Magazine May, 2004.
  54. ^ Cathy Young: Reply to Daniel J. Mahoney in Reason Magazine, August–September 2004.
  55. ^ "Семён Резник: Лебедь Белая И Шесть Пудов Еврейского Жира [Win]". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  56. ^ «НАША СТРАНА», №2850. Buenos-Aires, 8/23/2008
  57. ^ Юрий Васильев. "Спор с Солженицыным продолжается – Радио Свобода © 2009 RFE/RL, Inc". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  58. ^ a b c d A World Split Apart Harvard Class Day Exercises, June 8, 1978. Also here [1] and here [2]
  59. ^ Richard Pipes: Solzhenitsyn's Troubled Prophetic Mission The Moscow Times August 7, 2008. Also in The St. Petersburg Times August 8, 2008.[3]
  60. ^ A brief history of censorship in Russia in 19th and 20th century Beacon for Freedom.
  61. ^ Andrew Gentes: Katorga: Penal Labor and Tsarist Siberia in The Siberian Saga: A History of Russias Wild East, ed. Eva-Maria Stolberg, Frankfurt am Main 2005, Peter Lang.
  62. ^ For Solzhenitsyn's connections with Russian nationalism, see e.g. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Russian Nationalism by David G. Rowley in Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Jul., 1997), pp. 321–337
  63. ^ Norman Davies, God's Playground. A History of Poland (Columbia University Press,1982. vol.II.
  64. ^ Izgarshev, Igor (May 25, 2005). "Михаил Шолохов: жизнь не по лжи" (in Russian). Argumenty i Fakty. Retrieved 2009-12-17.
  65. ^ "Студенты ЮФУ против Солженицына! – Новость дня –". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  66. ^ "Михаил Александрович Шолохов / Mihail Aleksandrovich Sholohov: Михаил Шолохов: жизнь не по лжи". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  67. ^ "Ф. Кузнецов. Рукопись "Тихого дона" и проблема авторства (F. Kuznetsov. Rough drafts of ''And Quiet Flows the Don'' and the problem of authorship) (Russian)". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  68. ^ a b "Труд: Ру Кописи Вправду Не Горят!". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  69. ^ Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. Letter to the Soviet Leaders. Harper & Row, NY. p.18.
  70. ^ "Mark Steel: A reactionary called Solzhenitsyn – Mark Steel, Commentators – The Independent". 2008-08-06. Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  71. ^ Solzhenitsyn compares NATO to Hitler Associated Press June 3, 1999.
  72. ^ Nobel winner accuses Ukrainian authorities of 'historical revisionism' Russia Today Retrieved on April 10, 2008
  73. ^ Congressional Record, Proceedings of the 94th Congress, Volume 121, Part 17, July 8 -14, 1975, pp. 21453.
  74. ^ "Title Unknown". Archived from the original on 2009-10-25. 
  75. ^ Solzhenitsyn breaks last taboo of the revolution The Guardian January 25, 2003.
  76. ^ [4]
  77. ^ Interview with Solzhenitsyn about "200 Years Together" Lydia Chukovskaya, January 1–7 2003.


  • Björkegren, Hans, and Kaarina Eneberg Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: A Biography, Henley-on-Thames: Aiden Ellis, 1973. ISBN 0-85628-005-4.
  • Daprà Veronika: "A.I. Solzhenitsyn: The Political Writings." Università degli Studi di Venezia, 1991; Prof.Vittorio Strada, Dott.Julija Dobrovol'skaja;
  • Ericson, Edward E. Jr. and Klimoff, Alexis, The Soul and Barbed Wire: An Introduction to Solzhenitsyn, ISI books, 2008.
  • Guardian (London). August 3, 2008.
  • Mahoney, Daniel J., Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Ascent From Ideology, Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.
  • Moody, Christopher. Solzhenitsyn. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1973. ISBN 0-05-002600-3.
  • Nivat, Georges, Le phénomène Soljénitsyne, Fayard, 2009.
  • Pontuso, James F., Assault on Ideology: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Political Thought 2nd ed. Lanham, Md. Lexington Books, 2004. ISBN 978-0739105948
  • Scammell, Michael Solzhenitsyn: A Biography. London: Paladin, 1986. ISBN 0-586-08538-6.
  • Thomas, D.M.: Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century in his Life. New York 1998, St. Martin’s Press. ISBN 0312180365
  • Victor A. Pogadaev. Solzhenitsyn: Tanpa Karyanya Sejarah Abad 20 Tak Terbayangkan – "Pentas", Jil. 3, Bil. 4 Oktober-Disember 2008. Kuala Lumpur, hlm. 60–63

Further reading

  • David Burg and George Feifer (1972). Solzhenitsyn: A Biography. New York: Stein & Day. 
  • Leopold Labedz, ed (1973). Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record. Bloomington: Indiana University. 
  • Natal’ia Alekseevna Reshetovskaia (1975). V spore so vremenem. Moscow: Agentsvo pechati Novosti. 
    • Sanya: My Husband Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. translated by Elena Ivanoff. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill. 1975. 
  • A.V. Korotkov, S.A. Melchin, and A.S. Stepanov (1994). Kremlevskii samosud: Sekretnye dokumenty Politburo o pisatele A. Solzhenitsyne. Moscow: Rodina. 
    • A.V. Korotkov, S.A. Melchin, and A.S. Stepanov (1995). Michael Scammell. ed. The Solzhenitsyn Files. translated by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick and others. Chicago: Edition q. 
  • Vladimir Glottser and Elena Chukovskaia (1998). Slovo probivaet sebe dorogu: Sbornik statei i dokumentov ob A. I. Solzhenitsyne, 1962–1974. Moscow: Russkii put’. 
  • Joseph Pearce (2001). Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books. 
  • Nikolai Ledovskikh (2003). Vozvrashchenie v Matrenin dom, ili Odin den’ Aleksandra Isaevicha. Riazan’: Poverennyi. 
Reference works
  • Sergei Alekseevich Askol’dov, Petr Berngardovich Struve, and others (1918). Iz glubiny: Sbornik statei o russkoi revoliutsii. Moscow: Russkaia mysl’. 
    • Sergei Alekseevich Askol’dov, Petr Berngardovich Struve, and others (1986). William F. Woehrlin. ed. Out of the Depths=De Profundis. translated by William F. Woehrlin. Irvine, Cal.: C. Schlacks, Jr.. 
  • Francis Barker (1977). Solzhenitsyn: Politics and Form. New York: Holmes & Meier. 
  • Nikolai A. Berdiaev, S. N. Bulgakov, M. O. Gershenzon, and others (1909). Vekhi: Sbornik statei o russkoi intelligentsii. Moscow: Kushnerev. 
    • Nikolai A. Berdiaev, S. N. Bulgakov, M. O. Gershenzon, and others (1977). Boris Shragin and Albert Todd. ed. Landmarks: A Collection of Essays on the Russian Intelligentsia. translated by Marian Schwartz. New York: Karz Howard. 
  • Ronald Berman, ed (1980). Solzhenitsyn at Harvard: The Address, Twelve Early Responses, and Six Later Reflections. Washington, D.C.: Ethics & Public Policy Center. 
  • Harold Bloom, ed (2001). Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Modern Critical Views. Philadelphia: Chelsea House. 
  • Edward J. Brown, “Solzhenitsyn and the Epic of the Camps,” in his Russian Literature Since the Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1982), pp. 251–291
  • John B. Dunlop, Richard Haugh, and Alexis Klimoff, ed (1975). Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Critical Essays and Documentary Materials. New York & London: Collier Macmillan. 
  • Dunlop, Haugh, and Michael Nicholson, ed (1985). Solzhenitsyn in Exile: Critical Essays and Documentary Materials. Stanford: Hoover Institution. 
  • Edward E. Ericson, Jr. (1993). Solzhenitsyn and the Modern World. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway. 
  • Edward E. Ericson, Jr. (1980). Solzhenitsyn: The Moral Vision. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans. 
  • Kathryn Feuer, ed (1976). Solzhenitsyn: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. 
  • M. M. Golubkov (1999). Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Moscow: MGU. 
  • Alexis Klimoff (1997). One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: A Critical Companion. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press. 
  • Andrei Kodjak (1978). Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Boston: Twayne. 
  • Lev Kopelev (1983). Ease My Sorrows: A Memoir. translated by Antonina W. Bouis. New York: Random House. 
  • Michael Lydon, “Alexander Solzhenitsyn,” in his Real Writing: Word Models of the Modern World (New York: Patrick Press, 2001), pp. 183–251
  • Mahoney, “Solzhenitsyn on Russia’s ‘Jewish Question,’” Society (November–December 2002): 104–109
  • Rufus W. Mathewson, Jr., “Solzhenitsyn,” in his The Positive Hero in Russian Literature (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1975), pp. 279–340
  • Mary McCarthy, “The Tolstoy Connection,” Saturday Review, 16 September 1972, pp. 79–96
  • Modern Fiction Studies, special Solzhenitsyn issue, 23 (Spring 1977)
  • Georges Nivat (1980). Soljénitsyne. Paris: Seuil. 
  • Nivat and Michel Aucouturier, ed (1971). Soljénitsyne. Paris: L’Herne. 
  • Dimitri Panin (1976). The Notebooks of Sologdin. translated by John Moore. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 
  • James F. Pontuso (1990). Solzhenitsyn’s Political Thought. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. 
  • Robert Porter (1997). Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. London: Bristol Classical. 
  • David Remnick, “The Exile Returns,” New Yorker (14 February 1994): 64–83
  • Abraham Rothberg (1971). Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Major Novels. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University. 
  • Mariia Shneerson (1984). Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Ocherki tvorchestva. Frankfurt & Moscow: Posev. 
  • Dora Shturman (1988). Gorodu i miru: O publitsistike A. I. Solzhenitsyna. Paris & New York: Tret’ia volna. 
  • Leona Toker, “The Gulag Archipelago” and “The Gulag Fiction of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,” in her Return from the Archipelago: Narrative of Gulag Survivors (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), pp. 101–121, 188–209
  • Dariusz Tolczyk, “A Sliver in the Throat of Power,” in his See No Evil: Literary Cover-Ups and Discoveries of the Soviet Camp Experience (New Haven, Conn. & London: Yale University Press, 1999), pp. 253–310
  • Transactions of the Association of Russian-American Scholars in the U.S.A., 29 (1998)
  • A. V. Urmanov (2003). Tvorchestvo Aleksandra Solzhenitsyna: Uchebnoe posobie. Moscow: Flinta/Nauka. 
  • Urmanov, ed., “Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha” A. I. Solzhenitsyna: Khudozhestvennyi mir. Poetika. Kul’turnyi kontekst (Blagoveshchensk: BGPU, 2003)
  • Zvezda, special Solzhenitsyn issue (June 1994)
  • Tretyakov, Vitaly (2006-05-02). "Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: "Saving the Nation Is the Utmost Priority for the State"". The Moscow News. Archived from the original on 2006-05-27. 

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I believe that world literature has it in its power to help mankind, in these its troubled hours, to see itself as it really is, notwithstanding the indoctrinations of prejudiced people and parties.

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn [Алекса́ндр Иса́евич Солжени́цын] (11 December 19183 August 2008) was a Russian novelist, dramatist and historian. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, he was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974, returning to Russia in 1994.

See also: The Gulag Archipelago (1973)



They were mistaken, and will always be mistaken, who prophesy that art will disintegrate, that it will outlive its forms and die. It is we who shall die — art will remain.
  • Literature that is not the breath of contemporary society, that dares not transmit the pains and fears of that society, that does not warn in time against threatening moral and social dangers — such literature does not deserve the name of literature; it is only a façade. Such literature loses the confidence of its own people, and its published works are used as wastepaper instead of being read.
    • Open letter to the Fourth Soviet Writers’ Congress (16 May 1967) “The Struggle Intensifies,” Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record, ed. Leopold Labedz (1970).
  • I am of course confident that I will fulfil my tasks as a writer in all circumstances — from my grave even more successfully and more irrefutably than in my lifetime. No one can bar the road to truth, and to advance its cause I am prepared to accept even death. But may it be that repeated lessons will finally teach us not to stop the writer’s pen during his lifetime? At no time has this ennobled our history.
    • Open letter to the Fourth Soviet Writers’ Congress (16 May 1967); as translated in Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record (1970) edited by Leopold Labedz (1970)
  • Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice.
    • Letter to three students (October 1967) as translated in Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record (1970) edited by Leopold Labedz (1970) “The Struggle Intensifies"
  • One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the market-place. One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happy too, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to.
    • Shulubin, in Cancer Ward (1968) Pt. 2, Ch. 10
  • Blow the dust off the clock. Your watches are behind the times. Throw open the heavy curtains which are so dear to you — you do not even suspect that the day has already dawned outside.
    • Letter to the Secretariat of the Soviet Writers’ Union (12 November 1969) as translated in Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record (1970) edited by Leopold Labedz (1970) “Expulsion"
  • It is almost always impossible to evaluate at the time events which you have already experienced, and to understand their meaning with the guidance of their effects. All the more unpredictable and surprising to us will be the course of future events.
  • It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes. It may even lie on the surface; but we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions — especially selfish ones.
    • "Peace and Violence" (1973)
  • If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
  • Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble – and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb too. The imagination and the spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology.
    • The Gulag Archipelago (1973)
  • In our country the lie has become not just a moral category but a pillar of the State.
    • As quoted in The Observer (29 December 1974)
  • For us in Russia, communism is a dead dog, while, for many people in the West, it is still a living lion.
    • BBC Radio broadcast, Russian service, as quoted in The Listener (15 February 1979)
  • At no time has the world been without war. Not in seven or ten or twenty thousand years. Neither the wisest of leaders, nor the noblest of kings, nor yet the Church — none of them has been able to stop it. And don't succumb to the facile belief that wars will be stopped by hotheaded socialists. Or that rational and just wars can be sorted out from the rest. There will always be thousands of thousands to whom even such a war will be senseless and unjustified. Quite simply, no state can live without war, that is one of the state's essential functions. ... War is the price we pay for living in a state. Before you can abolish war you will have to abolish all states. But that is unthinkable until the propensity to violence and evil is rooted out of human beings. The state was created to protect us from evil. In ordinary life thousands of bad impulses, from a thousand foci of evil, move chaotically, randomly, against the vulnerable. The state is called upon to check these impulses — but it generates others of its own, still more powerful, and this time one-directional. At times it throws them all in a single direction — and that is war.
    • "Father Severyan", in November 1916: The Red Wheel: Knot II (1984; translation 1999)
  • The clock of communism has stopped striking. But its concrete building has not yet come crashing down. For that reason, instead of freeing ourselves, we must try to save ourselves from being crushed by its rubble.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962)

  • Here, lads, we live by the law of the taiga. But even here people manage to live. D’you know who are the ones the camps finish off? Those who lick other men’s left-overs, those who set store by the doctors, and those who peach on their mates.
    • Kuziomin, in the Ralph Parker translation (1963).
  • Can a man who's warm understand one who's freezing?

The First Circle (1968)

  • You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything he’s no longer in your power — he’s free again.
    • Bobynin, in Ch. 17
  • For a country to have a great writer ... is like having another government. That’s why no régime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.
    • Innokenty, in Ch. 57
    • Variant translation: For a country to have a great writer is like having a second government. That is why no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.

Nobel lecture (1970)

Lecture prepared for the Swedish Academy, not actually delivered as an address
  • We, holding Art in our hands, confidently consider ourselves to be its masters; boldly we direct it, we renew, reform and manifest it; we sell it for money, use it to please those in power; turn to it at one moment for amusement — right down to popular songs and night-clubs, and at another — grabbing the nearest weapon, cork or cudgel — for the passing needs of politics and for narrow-minded social ends. But art is not defiled by our efforts, neither does it thereby depart from its true nature, but on each occasion and in each application it gives to us a part of its secret inner light.
  • One artist sees himself as the creator of an independent spiritual world; he hoists onto his shoulders the task of creating this world, of peopling it and of bearing the all-embracing responsibility for it; but he crumples beneath it, for a mortal genius is not capable of bearing such a burden. Just as man in general, having declared himself the centre of existence, has not succeeded in creating a balanced spiritual system. And if misfortune overtakes him, he casts the blame upon the age-long disharmony of the world, upon the complexity of today's ruptured soul, or upon the stupidity of the public.
    Another artist, recognizing a higher power above, gladly works as a humble apprentice beneath God's heaven; then, however, his responsbility for everything that is written or drawn, for the souls which perceive his work, is more exacting than ever. But, in return, it is not he who has created this world, not he who directs it, there is no doubt as to its foundations; the artist has merely to be more keenly aware than others of the harmony of the world, of the beauty and ugliness of the human contribution to it, and to communicate this acutely to his fellow-men. And in misfortune, and even at the depths of existence — in destitution, in prison, in sickness — his sense of stable harmony never deserts him.
    But all the irrationality of art, its dazzling turns, its unpredictable discoveries, its shattering influence on human beings — they are too full of magic to be exhausted by this artist's vision of the world, by his artistic conception or by the work of his unworthy fingers.
  • Archeologists have not discovered stages of human existence so early that they were without art. Right back in the early morning twilights of mankind we received it from Hands which we were too slow to discern. And we were too slow to ask: FOR WHAT PURPOSE have we been given this gift? What are we to do with it?
    And they were mistaken, and will always be mistaken, who prophesy that art will disintegrate, that it will outlive its forms and die. It is we who shall die — art will remain. And shall we comprehend, even on the day of our destruction, all its facets and all its possibilities?'
  • Not everything assumes a name. Some things lead beyond words. Art inflames even a frozen, darkened soul to a high spiritual experience. Through art we are sometimes visited — dimly, briefly — by revelations such as cannot be produced by rational thinking.
    Like that little looking-glass from the fairy-tales: look into it and you will see — not yourself — but for one second, the Inaccessible, whither no man can ride, no man fly. And only the soul gives a groan...
  • A work of art bears within itself its own verification: conceptions which are devised or stretched do not stand being portrayed in images, they all come crashing down, appear sickly and pale, convince no one. But those works of art which have scooped up the truth and presented it to us as a living force — they take hold of us, compel us, and nobody ever, not even in ages to come, will appear to refute them.
  • From time immemorial man has been made in such a way that his vision of the world, so long as it has not been instilled under hypnosis, his motivations and scale of values, his actions and intentions are determined by his personal and group experience of life.
  • Mankind has become one, but not steadfastly one as communities or even nations used to be; not united through years of mutual experience, neither through possession of a single eye, affectionately called crooked, nor yet through a common native language, but, surpassing all barriers, through international broadcasting and print. An avalanche of events descends upon us — in one minute half the world hears of their splash. But the yardstick by which to measure those events and to evaluate them in accordance with the laws of unfamiliar parts of the world — this is not and cannot be conveyed via soundwaves and in newspaper columns. For these yardsticks were matured and assimilated over too many years of too specific conditions in individual countries and societies; they cannot be exchanged in mid-air. In the various parts of the world men apply their own hard-earned values to events, and they judge stubbornly, confidently, only according to their own scales of values and never according to any others.
  • The divergent scales of values scream in discordance, they dazzle and daze us, and in order that it might not be painful we steer clear of all other values, as though from insanity, as though from illusion, and we confidently judge the whole world according to our own home values. Which is why we take for the greater, more painful and less bearable disaster not that which is in fact greater, more painful and less bearable, but that which lies closest to us. Everything which is further away, which does not threaten this very day to invade our threshold — with all its groans, its stifled cries, its destroyed lives, even if it involves millions of victims — this we consider on the whole to be perfectly bearable and of tolerable proportions.
  • Who will co-ordinate these value scales, and how? Who will create for mankind one system of interpretation, valid for good and evil deeds, for the unbearable and the bearable, as they are differentiated today? Who will make clear to mankind what is really heavy and intolerable and what only grazes the skin locally? Who will direct the anger to that which is most terrible and not to that which is nearer? Who might succeed in transferring such an understanding beyond the limits of his own human experience? Who might succeed in impressing upon a bigoted, stubborn human creature the distant joy and grief of others, an understanding of dimensions and deceptions which he himself has never experienced? Propaganda, constraint, scientific proof — all are useless. But fortunately there does exist such a means in our world! That means is art. That means is literature.
    They can perform a miracle: they can overcome man's detrimental peculiarity of learning only from personal experience so that the experience of other people passes him by in vain. From man to man, as he completes his brief spell on Earth, art transfers the whole weight of an unfamiliar, lifelong experience with all its burdens, its colours, its sap of life; it recreates in the flesh an unknown experience and allows us to possess it as our own.
    And even more, much more than that; both countries and whole continents repeat each other's mistakes with time lapses which can amount to centuries. Then, one would think, it would all be so obvious! But no; that which some nations have already experienced, considered and rejected, is suddenly discovered by others to be the latest word. And here again, the only substitute for an experience we ourselves have never lived through is art, literature. They possess a wonderful ability: beyond distinctions of language, custom, social structure, they can convey the life experience of one whole nation to another. To an inexperienced nation they can convey a harsh national trial lasting many decades, at best sparing an entire nation from a superfluous, or mistaken, or even disastrous course, thereby curtailing the meanderings of human history.
  • In recent times it has been fashionable to talk of the levelling of nations, of the disappearance of different races in the melting-pot of contemporary civilization. I do not agree with this opinion, but its discussion remains another question. Here it is merely fitting to say that the disappearance of nations would have impoverished us no less than if all men had become alike, with one personality and one face. Nations are the wealth of mankind, its collective personalities; the very least of them wears its own special colours and bears within itself a special facet of divine intention.
  • Woe to that nation whose literature is disturbed by the intervention of power. Because that is not just a violation against "freedom of print", it is the closing down of the heart of the nation, a slashing to pieces of its memory. The nation ceases to be mindful of itself, it is deprived of its spiritual unity, and despite a supposedly common language, compatriots suddenly cease to understand one another
    • Woe to that nation whose literature is cut short by the intrusion of force. This is not merely interference with freedom of the press but the sealing up of a nation’s heart, the excision of its memory.
      • Variant translation, as quoted in TIME (25 February 1974)
  • Let us not violate the RIGHT of the artist to express exclusively his own experiences and introspections, disregarding everything that happens in the world beyond. Let us not DEMAND of the artist, but — reproach, beg, urge and entice him — that we may be allowed to do. After all, only in part does he himself develop his talent; the greater part of it is blown into him at birth as a finished product, and the gift of talent imposes responsibility on his free will. Let us assume that the artist does not OWE anybody anything: nevertheless, it is painful to see how, by retiring into his self-made worlds or the spaces of his subjective whims, he CAN surrender the real world into the hands of men who are mercenary, if not worthless, if not insane.
  • Our Twentieth Century has proved to be more cruel than preceding centuries, and the first fifty years have not erased all its horrors. Our world is rent asunder by those same old cave-age emotions of greed, envy, lack of control, mutual hostility which have picked up in passing respectable pseudonyms like class struggle, racial conflict, struggle of the masses, trade-union disputes. The primeval refusal to accept a compromise has been turned into a theoretical principle and is considered the virtue of orthodoxy. It demands millions of sacrifices in ceaseless civil wars, it drums into our souls that there is no such thing as unchanging, universal concepts of goodness and justice, that they are all fluctuating and inconstant. Therefore the rule — always do what's most profitable to your party. Any professional group no sooner sees a convenient opportunity to BREAK OFF A PIECE, even if it be unearned, even if it be superfluous, than it breaks it off there and then and no matter if the whole of society comes tumbling down.
  • Violence, less and less embarrassed by the limits imposed by centuries of lawfulness, is brazenly and victoriously striding across the whole world, unconcerned that its infertility has been demonstrated and proved many times in history. What is more, it is not simply crude power that triumphs abroad, but its exultant justification. The world is being inundated by the brazen conviction that power can do anything, justice nothing.
  • What then is the place and role of the writer in this cruel, dynamic, split world on the brink of its ten destructions? After all we have nothing to do with letting off rockets, we do not even push the lowliest of hand-carts, we are quite scorned by those who respect only material power. Is it not natural for us too to step back, to lose faith in the steadfastness of goodness, in the indivisibility of truth, and to just impart to the world our bitter, detached observations: how mankind has become hopelessly corrupt, how men have degenerated, and how difficult it is for the few beautiful and refined souls to live amongst them?
    But we have not even recourse to this flight. Anyone who has once taken up the WORD can never again evade it; a writer is not the detached judge of his compatriots and contemporaries, he is an accomplice to all the evil committed in his native land or by his countrymen.
  • I have understood and felt that world literature is no longer an abstract anthology, nor a generalization invented by literary historians; it is rather a certain common body and a common spirit, a living heartfelt unity reflecting the growing unity of mankind. State frontiers still turn crimson, heated by electric wire and bursts of machine fire; and various ministries of internal affairs still think that literature too is an "internal affair" falling under their jurisdiction; newspaper headlines still display: "No right to interfere in our internal affairs!" Whereas there are no INTERNAL AFFAIRS left on our crowded Earth! And mankind's sole salvation lies in everyone making everything his business; in the people of the East being vitally concerned with what is thought in the West, the people of the West vitally concerned with what goes on in the East. And literature, as one of the most sensitive, responsive instruments possessed by the human creature, has been one of the first to adopt, to assimilate, to catch hold of this feeling of a growing unity of mankind. And so I turn with confidence to the world literature of today — to hundreds of friends whom I have never met in the flesh and whom I may never see.
    Friends! Let us try to help if we are worth anything at all! Who from time immemorial has constituted the uniting, not the dividing, strength in your countries, lacerated by discordant parties, movements, castes and groups? There in its essence is the position of writers: expressers of their native language — the chief binding force of the nation, of the very earth its people occupy, and at best of its national spirit.
    • Variant translation: On our crowded planet there are no longer any internal affairs! ...
  • I believe that world literature has it in its power to help mankind, in these its troubled hours, to see itself as it really is, notwithstanding the indoctrinations of prejudiced people and parties. World literature has it in its power to convey condensed experience from one land to another so that we might cease to be split and dazzled, that the different scales of values might be made to agree, and one nation learn correctly and concisely the true history of another with such strength of recognition and painful awareness as it had itself experienced the same, and thus might it be spared from repeating the same cruel mistakes.
  • We shall be told: what can literature possibly do against the ruthless onslaught of open violence? But let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with falsehood. Between them lies the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds. Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence. Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his METHOD must inexorably choose falsehood as his PRINCIPLE. At its birth violence acts openly and even with pride. But no sooner does it become strong, firmly established, than it senses the rarefaction of the air around it and it cannot continue to exist without descending into a fog of lies, clothing them in sweet talk. It does not always, not necessarily, openly throttle the throat, more often it demands from its subjects only an oath of allegiance to falsehood, only complicity in falsehood.
    • Variant translation: Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence. Any man who has once proclaimed violence as his method is inevitably forced to take the lie as his principle.
      • As quoted in Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record (1974) edited by Leopold Labedz
  • Writers and artists can achieve more: they can CONQUER FALSEHOOD! In the struggle with falsehood art always did win and it always does win! Openly, irrefutably for everyone! Falsehood can hold out against much in this world, but not against art.
    And no sooner will falsehood be dispersed than the nakedness of violence will be revealed in all its ugliness — and violence, decrepit, will fall.
  • Proverbs about truth are well-loved in Russian. They give steady and sometimes striking expression to the not inconsiderable harsh national experience: ONE WORD OF TRUTH SHALL OUTWEIGH THE WHOLE WORLD.
    And it is here, on an imaginary fantasy, a breach of the principle of the conservation of mass and energy, that I base both my own activity and my appeal to the writers of the whole world.

The Oak and the Calf (1975)

The Oak and the Calf (1975; translation 1980)
  • I was in a state of witless shock, as though flames had suddenly enwrapped and paralyzed me so that for a moment I had no mind, no memory.
  • I can say without affectation that I belong to the Russian convict world no less … than I do to Russian literature. I got my education there, and it will last forever.
  • Ivanov came to quite the same conclusion, though life supplied him with quite different material to think about. He puts it like this: many lives have a mystical sense, but not everyone reads it right; more often than not it is given to us in cryptic form, and when we fail to decipher it we despair because our lives seem meaningless… the secret of a great life is often a man’s success in deciphering the mysterious symbols vouchsafed to him, understanding them, and so learning to walk in the true path.
  • Call no day happy 'til it is done; call no man happy til he is dead.
    • Solzhenitsyn here seems to be paraphrasing Sophocles who expresses similar ideas in Oedipus Rex. This is also a direct reference to Plutarch's line, "call no man fortunate until he is dead," from his "Parallel Lives."

Harvard University address (1978)

Commencement address at Harvard University (7 June 1978)
  • Harvard's motto is "Veritas." Many of you have already found out and others will find out in the course of their lives that truth eludes us if we do not concentrate with total attention on its pursuit. And even while it eludes us, the illusion still lingers of knowing it and leads to many misunderstandings. Also, truth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter. There is some bitterness in my speech today, too. But I want to stress that it comes not from an adversary but from a friend.
  • I have spent all my life under a Communist regime, and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either.
  • Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century, and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press.
  • A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society. There are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.
    Political and intellectual functionaries exhibit this depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in their self-serving rationales as to how realistic, reasonable, and intellectually and even morally justified it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And the decline in courage, at times attaining what could be termed a lack of manhood, is ironically emphasized by occasional outbursts and inflexibility on the part of those same functionaries when dealing with weak governments and with countries that lack support, or with doomed currents which clearly cannot offer resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.
    Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?
    • Variant translation: A loss of courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days...
  • Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life. There is a dangerous tendency to form a herd, shutting off successful development.
  • Should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours.
  • But the fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of Evil have begun their decisive offensive, you can feel their pressure, and yet your screens and publications ae full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about?
  • On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections.
  • If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President's performance be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.
  • Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction. We cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man's life and society's activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?
    If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.
    This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but — upward.

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Aleksander Solzhenitsyn
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn late in life.
Born Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn
December 11, 1918
Kislovodsk, RSFSR
Died August 3, 2008 (aged 89)
Moscow, Russia

Nobel Prize in Literature

Templeton Prize

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (December 11, 1918August 3, 2008) was a Russian writer of novels, dramatist, and historian. With his works, the Gulag, a Soviet labor camp, became well known. Due to this, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, but also was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974. In 1994, Solzhenitsyn went back to Russia. Later in his life, his health was bad, and he died on August 3, 2008. He received state funeral.

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