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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Solzhenitsyn

LI bought the NYT in Ohare yesterday, and the first thing we thought about Solzhenitsyn’s death is – no headline? Truly, we survivors of the Cold War are slowly being forgotten.

Of course, I figured the obituary would be cast in the usual triumphal anti-communist speak. For liberals, Solzhenitsyn posed problems that weren’t apparent at the time the Gulag Archipelago came out. Liberals expect that the exposers of systems, the revealers of mass murder, will be liberals. For a liberal like myself, the Medvedev brothers were the perfect dissidents. Solzhenitsyn, on the other hand, was obviously a reactionary of a certain type – as Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a socialist legislator in France, impoliticly pointed out. But no one is made to be a hero for all occasions. Solzhenitsyn, supporter of the U.S. in the Vietnam war, supporter of Pinochet and nuclear missiles, was politically a disaster. But this doesn’t discredit what he did. That the Soviet government of the Brezhnev era felt that their regime in its entirety was discredited by the Gulag was a sign of their senility and coming fall. However wild Khruschev was, he was right that the only way forward was to thoroughly air out the crimes of the Stalin era. Of course, no country likes to do this. Rightwingers will come up with the most absurd justifications for slavery and apartheid – the British have never reckoned with the crimes of Queen Victoria’s reign, although the terror famines in India are surely the template for Stalin’s policies in the 1930s, just as the concentration camps in the Soviet Union started out in imitation of the French and British penal systems - if one wants to find the roots of mass murder in the Soviet Union, it is pretty easy to find them in the imperialist and penal systems developed by the Europeans and the Americans in the 19th century. Solzhenitsyn's notion that it all sprang from the French revolution is sadly deluded.

Still, one can’t measure the moral import of the denunciation by the moral character of the denouncer – the best denunciation of the British policy of letting Irish die in the potato famine was written by John Mitchel, who valiantly tried to overthrow British rule and was sent to Australia as a political prisoner. But later in his life, Mitchel, escaping to the U.S., became an ardent racist and defender of the Confederacy.

What does get me about the obits is the obligatory comparison to Tolstoy. Solzhenitsyn was never more the Stalinist bred than his notion that to be a great writer, he had to imitate Tolstoy – a notion he shared with Sholakov. In reality, Solzhenitsyn’s politics were nothing like Tolstoy’s – imagine the defender of the Doukhbors and the Chicago anarchists making a defense of the U.S. in the Vietnam war! Solzhenitsyn’s politics were much closer to those of the Holy Synod, who excommunicated Tolstoy in 1901.

Perhaps I should read the proverbially unreadable Red Wheel for my investigation into alienated reactionaries. The Gulag by pure coincidence, sounded in parts like Celine getting in a lather. There is an image in it of being shoved into a pipe, the interior of which is lined with sharp hooks that was so close to Celine... hmm, let’s see if I can find that on the Net...

“The exceptional character which written and oral legend nowadays assigns to the year 1937 is seen in the creation of fabricated charges and tortures. But this is untrue, wrong. Throughout the years and decades, interrogations under Article 58 were almost never undertaken to elicit the truth, but were simply an exercise in an inevitably filthy procedure: someone who had been free only a little while before, who was sometimes proud and always unprepared, was to be bend and pushed through a narrow pipe where his sides would be torn by iron hooks and where he could not breathe, so that he would finally pray to get to the other end. And at the other end, he would be shoved out, an already processed native of the Archipelago, already in the promised land. (The fool would keep on resisting! He even thought there was a way back out of the pipe).”

I don’t know if it is my imagination, but it seems like the cheering even on the right about Solzhenitsyn is muted. Perhaps it is the embrace of Putin – how funny! They loved him when he praised Pinochet, but Putin – because America needs a new cold war, god damn it – has cast old Solzhenitsyn out of the club. But Putin and Solzhenitsyn were bound to converge - the ex KGB chief and the chief denouncer of the KGB.

8 comments:

Dick Durata said...

It's all about Mother Russia, Dostoevsky would have liked Putin, too, I'll bet.

roger said...

Hmm, Dostoevsky did like some shit people. On the other hand, I have a hard time discounting his unexpected psychological insightfulness. So I can't predict so certainly what he would think of Putin.

Solzhenitsyn is, of course, a much lesser writer.

Anonymous said...

200 years together was an eye opener for me. My take on alcohol changed drastically. I am not an interest or nudity banner though.

Could you do an item on the many jewish drahtzieher and vanguardians that fled their revo gone wrong, many of which commited suicide in various places like the States Solzh mentions (sorry, no page ref (shame on me). ..... Or were they all offed by commiesionaries????

sadly the lube thing (rockdusts, monies, porns) distracts from light(er) direct(er) diets. Folks like Moray had wizard ways to claim the all permeating black(hole emitted ... woman is a black ho ... oooly) light could be caught in the right frequency arrays (some certain swedish rock ... crunchahunch your meteoric best on that Nordish). Now the Meyer Stanley is dead and not even a thousand hits on some such phrase. I am tired of that google sieve ... zo lek als een mandje. Politics ouigee (fuck the spelling) boarding with jetfuel fired pulltractors (tremendous force for ever deader lock and deeper dig. Arm the Nietzsche type folk with rock polishers and help the chinese purify industrial waters so it aint all in vain too.

read mother s hip landing (blsp blosp blospo bloeisproei) .. 13th of june was an especially fluid restatement of the endlessly repeated hangondownz drewdoo

piet

P.M.Lawrence said...

"Rightwingers will come up with the most absurd justifications for slavery and apartheid – the British have never reckoned with the crimes of Queen Victoria’s reign, although the terror famines in India are surely the template for Stalin’s policies in the 1930s, just as the concentration camps in the Soviet Union started out in imitation of the French and British penal systems - if one wants to find the roots of mass murder in the Soviet Union, it is pretty easy to find them in the imperialist and penal systems developed by the Europeans and the Americans in the 19th century".

Have you so soon forgotten the precept "never ascribe to conspiracy that which can be adequately explained by incompetence"? (I have heard this ascribed to Napoleon.) For instance, "the best denunciation of the British policy of letting Irish die in the potato famine was written by John Mitchel" is in error in one crucial respect: it was not deliberate policy but the outworking of a misguided policy, according to most current analysis (and the same applied in India too, clear up until the Bengal Famine towards the end of the British Raj). These things were worse than a crime, they were a mistake - and such also would be treating them as crime.

roger said...

Nobody ascribes to Stalin the idea of deliberately starting a famine - the terror is all in the treatment of it. When the British refused to intervene to save Irish lives due to the fact that it would contravene a laissez faire ideology, how, tell me, does that differ from Stalin's treatment of Ukrainian peasants? As for India, the set up of famine "relief" under Lytton, for instance, was deliberately punitive, down to the criminally small amount of food given to refugees in the relief and the rule that the refugees had to go not to camps near them, but to trek to those at some distance. Mike Davis's account of the famine and the response to it in 1876-1877, quoting from contemporary sources, makes quite clear that the kind of official response to famine which, when enacted by Stalin's officials in the Ukraine, has been dubbed terroristic, was the norm in India. However, the terror model has an intention. One could perhaps say that surely the British had no intention in so treating the victims of famine? Here the record is a lot clearer. The British officials expressed themselves about the famines as forms of Malthusian relief. In Ireland, the famine not only cleared the land of an excess and useless population, but the thinning of the Irish just happened to coincide with the breaking of Irish resistance to English rule. Similarly, in India, the British had long been eager to transform the countryside economically, monetizing relations between the farmers and their landlords, destroying the older system of exchanges and freeing up foodstuffs as a commodity. And that is how they used the famine.

So you tell me: how can this possibly be any different from Stalin's famine policies? the same ingrediants - punishing the victims, the use of famine to undermine political resistance, and seeing in famine a means of reaching an ideological end - they all come together, here.

Plus, of course, the unwillingness to deal with the subject. Pick up a book written by a British historian about Raj India and see how much is devoted to the issue of famine. You will notice that usually, it is a page or two. Now, if the British were writing about a famine that had struck England and had carried off a million or more Englishmen, I would just guess that maybe, just maybe, there would be more written about it.

piet said...

present for northy:
david calder hardy commenting at universetoday

Don Cox said...

"the British policy of letting Irish die in the potato famine" ____ It wasn't policy. It was a mixture of incompetence and incomprehension. If you read the comments of, for instance, Wellington (who certainly knew Ireland well), it is clear that he simply didn't grasp the scale of the disaster. And even if the government had grasped it, what could they have done? There were no strategic food reserves or famine relief organisations in those days. I think the situation was more like the last famine of the Middle Ages than the first of the 20C.

P.M.Lawrence said...

Further to Roger's and Don Cox's comments, a quick look at wikipedia on famine confirms my reading of these things as flowing from a poor grasp of things and limited resources, all paved with good intentions and coupled with a failure to appreciate that there was more than a short term crisis. In fact, food handouts would have prolonged short term problems by drawing labour away from land, if they had in fact turned out to be merely short term. We do no better these days, with a more humane approach to third world famine relief and none to prevention; we have institutionalised the failure of self sufficiency.