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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/8377/farewell-to-aleksandr-solzhenitsyn/

Farewell to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

August 6, 2008 by

We will remember Solzhenitsyn as an unyielding champion of freedom who dedicated himself to revealing the horrors of socialism and exposing the ultimate evil of Lenin, Stalin, and their cohort of mass murderers, writes Yuri Maltsev. Once a prisoner of brutal labor camps himself, Solzhenitsyn chronicled the horrors of the Soviet Gulag system and emerged as a one of Russia’s greatest writers. He became a moral and spiritual leader who exposed and condemned the nefarious nature of the socialist ideology that served as the basis for the monstrous communist slave camps established from Siberia to Ethiopia, Cuba to Vietnam, China, and Yugoslavia. He riveted socialists of all countries whose secret ghastly history he exposed. FULL ARTICLE

{ 24 comments }

Keith August 6, 2008 at 6:15 am

And yet the love affair with socialism, democratic or otherwise, still continues.

Barry August 6, 2008 at 7:19 am

While he did a great service to humanity by exposing the evils of the Stalinist state, he was still a stout supporter of communism in his later life. See his Letter to Soviet Leaders for example. I don’t know if he changed his stripes in his latter years to embrace the idea that individuals do have rights beyond submitting the the dictates of the state.

fundamentalist August 6, 2008 at 9:02 am

The world is poorer.

In the Bible, God regularly chastised the Israelis for abusing and murdering the prophets he sent them. We continue in that tradition by abusing prophets such as Solzhenitsyn, Mises and others, and ignoring their message.

Mr.huh? August 6, 2008 at 9:16 am

Whoa, freaky. He died on my birthday. I’ve seen some of the character assassinations that you’ve metioned and they are rather disgusting, coming from your typical Marxist apologist almost.

Ryan August 6, 2008 at 10:32 am

Such staggering numbers regarding those murdered under the regimes of Lenin, Stalin, and the other Soviet leaders. Thanks for the reminder to fight socialism, in all its forms, whenever ideas that support it or would lead to it are present. Collective ownership under the government is the greatest evil ever unleashed upon humanity. It’s a shame more people are not aware of that fact.

David Ch August 6, 2008 at 10:49 am

Keith said:
And yet the love affair with socialism, democratic or otherwise, still continues.
response: sadly, yes. But it seems to be strongest among those well-meaning types whose myopic sense of moral outrage outweighs their understanding of basic economics.

In the same way as it is impossible for anyone to truly understand the science of biological evolution and still accept young-earth creationism, it is impossible for anyone to truly understand economics and still accept socialism of any flavour. The problem in both cases is a fundamental, nay, wilful, ignorance.

newson August 6, 2008 at 11:15 am

ivan denisovich was a masterpiece.

i’d like to have learnt something of yuri maltsev’s view on the putin chapter in solzhenitsyn’s eyes. he seemed quite pleased with contemporary russia’s more muscular foreign policy. this contains clips of an interview in der spiegel:
http://pajamasmedia.com/flemmingrose/2007/07/29/post_4/

Nad August 7, 2008 at 5:01 am

I’d like to second what David Ch has just said. Correct economic insights have ways to go in reaching the public at large.

George August 7, 2008 at 7:30 am

I became an ardent anti-communist when I read his gulag books in the 70′s. It took Von Mises and Austrian economics to put a logical foundation for this enmity and fan my disdain of government in all its forms. The documentation of the cruelty of man as expressed through the malignancy of the state was hard to take for a young boy, but essential.

Yuri N. Maltsev August 7, 2008 at 7:40 am

In response to newson:
In his excellent article “Traducing Solzhenitsyn”, Daniel J. Mahoney wrote: “Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is one of the great souls of the age. He is also among its most maligned and misunderstood figures. It is hard to think of another prominent writer whose thought and character have been subjected to as many willful distortions and vilifications over the past thirty years.” See: http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=368&var_recherche=Solzhenitsyn
Web link provided in the blog above leads us to another willful distortion of Solzhenitsyn’s views that Dr. Mahoney wrote about. Please read the whole interview of Solzhenitsyn in Der Spiegel:
http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,496003,00.html
Only a very biased individual could summarize the content of this interview under the heading: “Solzhenitsyn defends Putin’s regime”.
In the interview Solzhenitsyn said: “… if you take an unbiased look at the situation: there was a rapid decline of living standards in the 1990s, which affected three quarters of Russian families, and all under the “democratic banner.” Small wonder, then, that the population does not rally to this banner anymore… It is regrettable that there is still no constructive, clear and large-scale opposition in Russia.” Does it sound like a praise of the Putin’s regime?
I would detest Putin and his “new and improved” regime in more radical words, but this is not about my views. Solzhenitsyn’s contributions to our understanding of good and evil are immense and the Gulag Archipelago is a death sentence to communism.

newson August 7, 2008 at 10:08 am

thanks for your feedback.
i confess my knowledge of things russian (and soviet) is limited to novels, and i only have a sense of the complexity of russian history.

BobS August 7, 2008 at 11:14 am

A fine review of the life and legacy of Solzhenitsyn. To consider him a “champion of freedom” is to obfuscate what he might have understood by that in contrast to most libertarians. Small communities populated by virtuous people who, first of all, governed themselves responsibly and then, in a spirit of good will and community, collectively governed their community is one vision of “freedom.” It is far less concerned with the strictly material dimension of life and with a free market setting of prices.

Yuri N. Maltsev August 7, 2008 at 8:39 pm

Response to Barry:

Barry wrote:”While he did a great service to humanity by exposing the evils of the Stalinist state, he was still a stout supporter of communism in his later life. See his Letter to Soviet Leaders for example.”

- Exactly the oppsosite! His Letter to Soviet Leaders is the most devastating critique of Marxism and communism since Bohm-Bawerk and von Mises. It also exposes communism not only as doomed to fail for economic reasons, but ultimately immoral system which corrupts minds and souls.

sprachethiklich August 8, 2008 at 8:17 pm

What “letter to Soviet leaders”? Link?

Yuri N. Maltsev August 8, 2008 at 8:31 pm

You can buy a book at (for .99 cents only):

http://www.amazon.com/Letter-leaders-Aleksandr-Isaevich-Solzhenitsyn/dp/0002624575

or enjoy it in Russian (for free) at:

http://lib.ru/PROZA/SOLZHENICYN/s_letter.txt

Yuri N. Maltsev August 8, 2008 at 8:32 pm

You can buy a book at (for .99 cents only):

http://www.amazon.com/Letter-leaders-Aleksandr-Isaevich-Solzhenitsyn/dp/0002624575

or enjoy it in Russian (for free) at:

http://lib.ru/PROZA/SOLZHENICYN/s_letter.txt

Barry Linetsky August 10, 2008 at 10:49 am

Yuri wrote: “His Letter to Soviet Leaders is the most devastating critique of Marxism and communism since Bohm-Bawerk and von Mises. It also exposes communism not only as doomed to fail for economic reasons, but ultimately immoral system which corrupts minds and souls.”

With no disrespect meant, Solzhenitsyn’s short essay “Letter to the Soviet Leaders” is nothing of the sort. In fact, it reveals his mixed premises and is no treatise in respect of economic or political freedom. In fact, it is just the opposite.

I hadn’t read it in about 25 years, but I dug it out of my garage. The book is primarily written due to Solzhenitsyn’s apparent fear in 1974 of the Soviets engaging in war with China, a war that Solzhenitsyn fears will mark the end of the old Russia that he loves.

Assuming the translation is accurate, it reveals Solzhenitsyn as a supporter of some elements of freedom within an authoritarian framework. Such a proposition is an unacceptable contradiction antithetical to my understanding of the Austrian school. If Mises was anything, he was a champion of capitalism. It is beyond comprehension to assert from even the most twisted reading of Letter that the same can be said of Solzhenitsyn. What is clear, given the context in which he writes, that he presents a thesis that is antithetical to capitalism.

Communism was already an economic failure in 1974, so he certainly doesn’t expose it as doomed to fail. Mises did that back in early 20th century. Solzhenitsyn is a bit late coming to the party. He does assert that Marxism is corrupt as an ideology, but in the end he calls for a Russian authoritarianism of the right, that allows freedom of thought and action, and multiple parties under authoritarian rule, whatever that might mean in actual practice.

He also is anti-progress and anti-science. The only way to stop progress is to stop the freedom of the human mind. So what conclusion is one to reach if my reading is accurate? He is not, at least in this essay, a defender of man’s freedom, nor of scientific or economic progress. He is not a defender of free-markets and wealth creation. He is not a defender of capitalism.

Let me quote Solzhenitsyn from the Perennial Library edition published in 1975.

In Chapter Three, Civilization in an Impasse, AS worries that Western industrial progress is destroying civilization, and that the Soviet’s desire to copy the west is leading to the destruction of Russia.

He writes: “Society must cease to look upon ‘progress’ as something desirable” (p. 24).

“The ‘Third World,’ which has not yet started on the fatal path of Western civilization, can only be saved by ‘small-scale’ technology,’ which requires an increase, not a reduction, in manual labor, uses the simplest of machinery and is based purely on local materials” (p. 25).

AS goes on to assert that “unrestrained industrial growth” since 1945 “is most dangerous to mankind.” He writes that scientists have done “computer calculations based on various possible courses of economic development, and all these courses turned out to be hopeless and pointed ominously to the catastrophic destruction of mankind somewhere between the years 2020 and 2070 if it did not relinquish economic progress” (p. 25-26, italics in original). He certainly writes as if he believes that industrial growth and wealth creation developing in the “West” is destroying mankind and the planet. “If the available information is to be believed,” he writes, “some of the earth’s resources are rapidly running out: there will be no more oil in twenty years, no more copper in nineteen, no more mercury in twelve; many other resources are nearly exhausted; and energy and fresh water are very limited.” He concludes: “in all cases the population will be overtaken by mass destruction in the first decades of the twenty-first century – if not because of production grinding to a halt (end of resources), then because of a production surplus (destruction of the environment) – and this whatever course we take” (P. 26). “Unless mankind renounces the notion of economic progress, the biosphere will become unfit for life even during our lifetime. And if mankind is to be saved, technology has to be adapted to a stable economy in the next twenty to thirty years, and to do that, the process must be started now, immediately” (p. 27).

It is clear that AS is not a free-market advocate. His position is clear, even though he doesn’t use these words: the free-market tradition of Western civilization is destroying mankind and somebody better do something fast to save us from our own destruction.

He then goes on to assert that he has confidence that “Western civilization will not perish.” Why? Because “it is so dynamic and inventive that it will ride out even this impending crisis, will dismantle all its age-old misconceptions and in a few years set about the necessary reconstruction. And the ‘Third World’ will heed the warnings in good time and not take the Western path at all” (p. 27). So, mankind’s salvation resides in the renunciation of Western civilization and tradition, i.e., reason, logic, science, progress, trade, economic and political freedom, man’s rights, and the pursuit of non-coercive human relationships.

He goes on to ask the Soviet Leaders: “why have we so unthinkingly, so blindly, copied Western civilization? (p. 29).” “One would have thought that,” he writes, “with the central planning of which we are so proud, we of all people had the chance not to spoil Russia’s natural beauty, not to create antihuman, multi-million concentrations of people” (p.p. 29-30). AS’s implicit assertion: Western civilization leads to the destruction of the earth’s beauty and the creation of antihuman living conditions. The implicit moral premise: Western civilization is destructive to human life, and is evil.

The Soviet Leaders still have time, he says, to come to their senses: “let us change our course!” (p. 31).

In Chapter Four, ‘The Russian Northeast,’ AS admonishes that the “senseless, voracious civilization of ‘progress’” can be stopped; that “we can set up a stable economy without pain or delay” and settle people in the north-eastern spaces before the resources of the planet are “exhausted by 2030” (p.33). Fortunately, he writes, there has been little development in the north-east, “for now we can do everything rationally, right from the start, according to principles of a stable economy” (p. 36). In other words, the Soviets should stop wasting their time and wealth destroying others, and instead build a rational and stable economy that will conserve pre-industrial Russia. Note that he doesn’t make reference to a free-economy or free-market, but rather a “stable” economy, i.e., a statist economy. He doesn’t speak of individuals planning their own affairs, but rather of “we,” i.e., the governing, doing things rationally.

If there is any doubt that what Solzhenitsyn has in mind is a centrally controlled, state-planned economy, let me quote at length from Chapter Five, ”Internal, Not External, Development.”

Solzhenitsyn writes: “When we set about what, in geographical terms, we shall call the opening up of the North-east, and, in economic terms, the building of a stable economy, and when we tackle all the technical problems (construction, transportation and social organization), we must also recognize, inherent in all these aspects, the existence of a moral dimension. The physical and spiritual health of the people must be at the heart of the entire exercise, including every stage and part.
“The construction of more than half our state in a fresh new place will enable us to avoid repeating the disastrous errors of the twentieth-century – industry, roads and cities, for example. If we are to stop sweating over the short-term economic needs of today and create a land of clean air and clean water for our children, we must renounce many forms of industrial production which result in toxic waste….
“From all sides except China we have ample guarantees of security for a long time to come, which means that we can make drastic cuts in our military investment for many years ahead and throw the released resources into the economy and the reorganization of our life” (p.p., 45-46).

In 1974 the Soviet Union was a complete totalitarian communist society. There is not talk here by Solzhenitsyn of allowing individuals to earn and keep incomes. The only thing in dispute appears to be that Solzhenitsyn wants to build a kinder, gentler, more spiritual communism, one devoid of Marxist and militarist ideology.

AS has a utopian vision of the new communism – a vision that he would like imposed upon the country. He writes that Soviet urban life is “utterly unnatural” for as much as half the population (p. 48). What makes it so? “[Y]ou are old enough to remember our old towns – towns made for people, horses, dogs – and streetcars too; towns which were humane, friendly, cozy places, where the air was always clean, which were snow-clad in winter and in spring redolent with garden smells streaming through the fences into the streets. There was a garden to almost every house and hardly a house more than two stories high – the pleasantest height for human habitation…. An economy of nongigantism with small-scale though highly developed technology will not only allow for but necessitate the building of new towns of the old type. And we can perfectly well set up road barriers at all the entrances and admit horses, and battery-powered electric motors, but not poisonous internal-combustion engines….” (p.p. 48-49).

AS writes that “at every step and in every direction, it is ideology that prevents us from building a healthy Russia” (p. 50). It is clear that for Solzhenitsyn, the ideology hindering a healthy Russia is Marxism, not communism. He elaborates on this in Chapter Six, titled “Ideology.”

In Chapter Seven, “But How Can All This Be Managed?”, AS offers the solution: authoritarianism. He writes that Russia has no history of democracy other than for eight months from February to October 1917, and goes on: “I am inclined to think that its sudden reintroduction now would merely be a melancholy repetition of 1917. Should we record as our democratic tradition the Land Assemblies of Muscovite Russia, Novgorod, the early Cossacks, the village commune? Or should we console ourselves with the thought that for a thousand years Russia lived with an authoritarian order –and at the beginning of the twentieth century both the physical and spiritual health of her people were still intact?
“However, in those days an important condition was fulfilled: that authoritarian order possessed a strong moral foundation, embryonic and rudimentary as it was – not the ideology of universal violence, but Christian Orthodoxy, the ancient seven-centuries-old Orthodoxy…bureaucratized by Peter The Great” (p.p., 70-71).

He writes on page 72: “It is not authoritarianism itself that is intolerable, but the ideological lies that are daily foisted upon us. Not so much authoritarianism as arbitrariness and illegality, the sheer illegality of having a single overlord in each district, each province and each sphere, often ignorant and brutal, whose will alone decides all things.”

Disavow Stalin, he writes, and replace him with an authoritarian order not based on hatred, but on Christian love: “Stalin taught us…that kindheartedness was a ‘very dangerous thing,’ meaning that kindhearted rulers were a very dangerous thing! He had to say that because it fitted in with his scheme of exterminating millions of his subjects. But if you have no such aim, disavow his teachings! Let it be an authoritarian order, but one founded not on an inexhaustible ‘class hatred’ but on love of your fellow men – not of your immediate entourage but sincere love for your whole people” (p. 76).

In summing up, Solzhenitsyn writes: “What have you to fear? Is it really so terrible? Are you really so unsure of yourselves? You will still have absolute and impregnable power, a separate, strong and exclusive Party, the army, the police force, industry, transportation, communications, mineral wealth, a monopoly on foreign trade, an artificial rate of exchange for the ruble – but let the people breathe, let them think and develop! If you belong to the people heart and soul, there can be nothing to hold you back!” (p.p. 78-79).

Now, I have tremendous respect for Solzhenitsyn’s bravery and artistic skills. He is certainly one of the leading figures in exposing the evil of totalitarianism and in laying the moral groundwork that helped to undermine the West’s romanticization of the Soviet experiment.

But based on my re-reading of Letter yesterday – the pertinent points I’ve quoted above and tried my best to ensure the proper context established by AS – I can only conclude that an exuberance for the heroic stature of Solzhenitsyn has led you to reach the conclusion that “His Letter to Soviet Leaders is the most devastating critique of Marxism and communism since Bohm-Bawerk and von Mises. It also exposes communism not only as doomed to fail for economic reasons, but ultimately immoral system which corrupts minds and souls.”

My reading of Letters doesn’t lead me to that conclusion at all. I don’t believe he renounces communism in Letters, but in fact explicitly embraces what he calls authoritarianism. He is extremely critical of economic growth, economic freedom, political freedom, western democracy, modern industrialization and the combustion engine. He comes across as an agrarian romanticist and radical environmental movement sympathizer, and embraces a position that western progress will practically destroy the world by exhausting the world’s resources, by the end of the 20th Century.

There is no talk of man’s need for freedom, or that men possess rights, or the role of government to protect man’s right. I read in Letters that all of that is the cause of man’s demise. Man’s saviour is seen to be Solzhenitsyn’s vision of benevolent authoritarianism.

I cannot agree with your conclusion, based only on my limited reading of Solzhenitsyn’s work (Letter to the Soviet Leaders and a few novels, all written before he left the Soviet Union) that he was a champion of freedom, and certainly not in the way that people like Mises, Rand and Reisman are. That conclusion is certainly not supported by his statements in Letter. He is, in his own words, anti-Marxist but pro-authoritarian. The brilliance of the Austrian School is that it provides the economic groundwork and insight to see the economic consequences of such arguments and to identify them for what they are. Hayek’s The Road To Serfdom is the perfect antidote to Letter.

In my opinion, there is no evidence – not one shred of it – in Letter that Solzhenitsyn understands economics or has a passion for establishing a free society within Russia’s borders. Perhaps given his personal experience he could not imagine what it would look like, and for this I do not pass moral judgment on him. He lived in a totalitarian state where that knowledge was hidden from him. But there is no basis for the claim that he exposes communism as doomed to fail for economic reasons. There is no evidence in Letter that Solzhenitsyn understands anything about economics. The book is devoid of ANY economics, and therefore also of any economic argument devastating to communism.

Letter To The Soviet Leaders perhaps provides some historical and biographical interest, but unlike the universal and practical significance of the works of Mises, it is evidence of Solzhenistyn’s muddled and parochial thinking on matters having to do with morality, politics, and economics, at least as he was willing or able to express himself in 1974.

Perhaps he expressed himself better in other places that you bring to your reading of Letter, creating a bigger context than I have and that exists within the words of the Letter itself.

All of that said, thank you for your Farewell essay. It reminded me of what a great and courageous man Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was, and the debt that every Champion of Freedom owes him for exposing life behind the Iron Curtain, and for his heroic bravery and literary talent.

Regards,

B.L.

J. Pinnell August 10, 2008 at 2:54 pm

For those interested in Solzhenitsyn’s economic thought consider reading:

Cecil E. Bohanon, “The Economics of Alexander Solzhenitsyn”

Facultad de Ciencias Económicas, Universidad Francisco Marroquín, (Paper is in English)

http://fce.ufm.edu/publicaciones/laissezfaire/22-23/LF-22.4_(Bohanon).pdf

Cecil Bohanon August 14, 2008 at 9:21 am

I certainly appreciate what Barry Linetsky says: Solzhenitsyn was not a classical liberal; nevertheless he did recognize the importance of private property free exchange and limited government. In my view, Solzhentisyn lacked a “public choice” theory. This allows him to fall into the trap of “good people doing good things” as an political theory.

It was in the last post by J. Pinnel, but I’ll put in another plug for my own article on the “Economics of Solzhenitsyn” :)

http://fce.ufm.edu/publicaciones/laissezfaire/22-23/LF-22.4_(Bohanon).pdf

Stop underarm sweating August 29, 2008 at 4:17 pm

hi,
Underarm sweating is caused by the bacteria trapped in our underarms. It is a good idea to wash your armpits regularly, but don’t overdo it because some of the bacteria may come from the soaps that you use.

newson August 29, 2008 at 11:55 pm

to “stop underarm sweating”:
thank you for your gratuitous personal hygiene advice. what is to be done about the bacteria on the soap?

newson August 30, 2008 at 12:26 am

to barry linetsky:
thank you for your thoughtful piece on solzhenitsyn’s “letter to the soviet leaders”.

i fall back to my initial skepticism about solzhenitsyn, notwithstanding maltsev’s comments. the cecil bohanon article was the nail in the coffin.

“death sentence to communism”, no. “death sentence to stalinism”, yes. solzhenitsyn’s nationalism and his confused economic ideas make his legacy a very mixed bag. for me, he can keep the nobel, but no entry to liberty’s “hall of champions”.

newson August 30, 2008 at 12:29 am

hey mises.org – how about colorizing the “captcha” background? i’m getting squint-eye trying to read the letters.

Clem August 21, 2009 at 10:32 am

It seems that he was more concerned with the use of ideology by tyrants and pretenders. It may be that he was an ideological communist and bemoaned the fact that such a thing never existed. This would explain some of his contempt for indulgent ideas about individualism as he believed certainly that we all owe something to the larger whole and our neighbors. These sentiments as well can be found to shelter socialists and other miscreants. The individualist, that helps his neighbor even, must naturally be suspicious of any great noise coming from any shade of collectivism.

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