After reading Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, I decided to tackle all three volumes of The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, which clocks in at about 2,000 pages. It’s a tremendous work that allowed me to understand the full extent of evil that mankind is capable of and how we are in the early stages of duplicating a similar course of events in the United States.
Soviet authorities were paranoid that spies were everywhere
And who noticed the thirty thousand Czechs who in 1939 fled from occupied Czechoslovakia to their Slavic kinfolk in the U.S.S.R.? It was impossible to guarantee that a single one of them was not a spy. They sent them all off to northern camps. (And it was out of those camps that the “Czechoslovak Corps” materialized during the war.) And was it not, indeed, in 1939 that we reached out our helping hands to the West Ukrainians and the West Byelorussians, and, in 1940, to the Baltic states and to the Moldavians? It turned out that our brothers badly needed to be purged, and from them, too, flowed waves of social prophylaxis. They took those who were too independent, too influential, along with those who were too well-to-do, too intelligent, too noteworthy; they took, particularly, many Poles from former Polish provinces.
The Soviets had no way of knowing whether you were a spy or not, so to be on the safe side, they threw anyone they considered suspect into the gulags (concentration camps). Now, thanks to us voluntary buying gadgets and technology that record just about everything we do, the American government has yet no need to do the exact same. Political prisoners of the likes of Julian Assange are rare. They simply monitor everyone and—if a dissident happens to gain too much power—figure out a way to halt his activism, usually by defaming him through the media, shutting him down on social media, or canceling his financial and e-commerce accounts. You’re technically “free,” but the rug can be pulled out from under you at any moment if you threaten the state’s agenda.
Minor offenses sent you to the Gulags
A half-literate stovemaker used to enjoy writing his name in his free time. This raised his self-esteem. There was no blank paper around, so he wrote on newspapers. His neighbors found his newspaper in the sack in the communal toilet, with pen-and-ink flourishes across the countenance of the Father and Teacher [Stalin]. Anti-Soviet Agitation—ten years [in the gulag].
The village club manager went with his watchman to buy a bust of Comrade Stalin, They bought it. The bust was big and heavy. They ought to have carried it in a hand barrow, both of them together, but the manager’s status did not allow him to. ‘All right. you’ll manage it if you take it slowly.’ And he went off ahead. The old watchman couldn’t work out how to do it for a long time. If he tried to carry it at his side; he couldn’t get his arm around it. If he tried to carry it in front of him, his. back hurt and he was thrown off balance backward. Finally he figured out how to do it. He took off his belt, made a noose for Comrade Stalin, put it around his neck, and in this way carried it over his shoulder through the village. Well, there was nothing here to argue about. It was an open-and-shut case. Article 58-8, terrorism, ten years.
If a man had a brick house in a row of log cabins, or two stories in a row of one-story houses—there was your kulak: Get ready, you bastard, you’ve got sixty minutes [to pack all of your things]! There aren’t supposed to be any brick houses in the Russian village, there aren’t supposed to be two-story houses! Back to the cave! You don’t need a chimney for your fire! This is our great plan for transforming the country: history has never seen the like of it.
Comrade, you sent a tweet in the past that was slightly racist. I think your employer will have to take punitive action against you. You wrote an article thirty years ago that was sexist. Time for you to resign. I also scanned your social media accounts and, after assigning you a risk score, deem you unfit to rent short-term properties on Airbnb. There is no right to appeal, but I assure you that there was no mistake in these pronouncements. While you’re restricted from the marketplace, you’ll have plenty of time to improve your thoughts and behavior.
Methods of torture
The bedbug-infested box has already been mentioned. In the dark closet made of wooden planks, there were hundreds, maybe even thousands, of bedbugs, which had been allowed to multiply. The guards removed the prisoner’s jacket or field shirt, and immediately the hungry bedbugs assaulted him, crawling onto him from the walls or falling off the ceiling. At first he waged war with them strenuously, crushing them on his body and on the walls, suffocated by their stink. But after several hours he weakened and let them drink his blood without a murmur.
Sleeplessness was a great form of torture: it left no visible marks and could not provide grounds for complaint even if an inspection—something unheard of anyway—were to strike on the morrow.
The loneliness of the accused! That was one more factor in the success of unjust interrogation! The entire apparatus threw its full weight on one lonely and inhibited will. From the moment of his arrest and throughout the entire shock period of the interrogation the prisoner was, ideally, to be kept entirely alone. In his cell, in the corridor, on the stairs, in the offices, he was not supposed to encounter others like himself, in order to avoid the risk of his gleaning a bit of sympathy, advice, support from someone’s smile or glance. The Organs did everything to blot out for him his future and distort his present: to lead him to believe that his friends and family had all been arrested and that material proof of his guilt had been found.
In the past, I thought I was tough because I was so accomplished with pursuits of the flesh, but I was actually effeminate, a slave to my passions. I could only simulate being “tough” if I knew that it would be followed with a reward of pleasure. I may know emotional pain and suffering, but I do not know physical pain, and doubt I could handle it.
There was no way to prepare for this time
From childhood on we are educated and trained—for our own profession; for our civil duties; for military service; to take care of our bodily needs; to behave well; even to appreciate beauty (well, this last not really all that much!). But neither our education, nor our upbringing, nor our experience prepares us in the slightest for the greatest trial of our lives: being arrested for nothing and interrogated about nothing.
Living in the Gulag
They didn’t distribute rations to individuals but to units of ten. If one of the ten died, the others shoved his corpse under the bunks and kept it there until it started to stink. They got the corpse’s ration.
Even one mere year, whew, how long it lasts! Even in one year how much time is left for you to think! For 330 days you stomp out to line-up in a drizzling, slushy rain, and in a piercing blizzard, and in a biting and still subzero cold. For 330 days you work away at hateful, alien work with your mind unoccupied. For 330 evenings you squinch up, wet, chilled, in the end-of-work line-up; waiting for the convoy to assemble from the distant watchtowers. And then there is the march out, And the march back. And bending down over 730 bowls of gruel, over 730 portions of grits. Yes, and waking up and going to sleep on your multiple bunk. And neither radio nor books to distract you.
What you learn from the concentration camps
Live with a steady superiority over life—-don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes see, and if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it might be your last act before your arrest, and that will be how you are imprinted in their memory!
Once upon a time you were sharply intolerant. You were constantly in a rush. And you were constantly short of time. And now you have time with interest. You are surfeited with it, with its months and its years, behind you and ahead of you—and a beneficial calming fluid pours through your blood vessels—patience. You are ascending… Formerly you never forgave anyone. You judged people without mercy. And you praised people with equal lack of moderation. And now an understanding mildness has become the basis of your uncategorical judgments. You have come to realize your own weakness—and you can therefore understand the weakness of others. And be astonished at another’s strength. And wish to possess it yourself. The stones rustle beneath our feet. We are ascending… With the years, armor-plated restraint covers your heart and all your skin. You do not hasten to question and you do not hasten to answer. Your tongue has lost its flexible capacity for easy oscillation. Your eyes do not flash with gladness over good tidings nor do they darken with grief. For you still have to verify whether that’s how it is going to be. And you also have to work out what is gladness and what is grief. And now the rule of your life is this: Do not rejoice when you have found, do not weep when you have lost.
Suffering builds virtue while material excess destroys virtue. Suffering makes you stop and think about your life. It removes all trivialities, all inane chatter. Orthodox elders have taught that a disease like cancer, which kills you slowly, is a gift from God. It takes you away from the world to focus on your life and mortality, opening the door to repentance and salvation. Whether you’re facing the gulags or cancer, you will have more time and motivation than before to examine yourself and the source of your creation.
True faith was revealed
N. Stolyarova recalls an old woman who was her neighbor on the Butyrki bunks in 1937. They kept on interrogating her every night. Two years earlier, a former Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church, who had escaped from exile, had spent a night at her home on his way through Moscow. ‘But he wasn’t the former Metropolitan, he was the Metropolitan! Truly, I was worthy of receiving him.’ ‘All right then. To whom did he go when he left Moscow?’ ‘I know, but I won’t tell you!’ (The Metropolitan had escaped to Finland via an underground railroad of believers.) At first the interrogators took turns, and then they went after her in groups. They shook their fists in the little old woman’s face, and she replied: ‘There is nothing you can do with me even if you cut me into pieces. After all, you are afraid of your bosses, and you are afraid of each other, and you are even afraid of killing me.’ (They would lose contact with the underground railroad.) ‘But I am not afraid of anything. I would be glad to be judged by God right this minute.’
Without God, how can you endure suffering? How can you put it into context? Your life would be nothing more than a losing lottery ticket, for no matter how hard you try, and how many years you work, the things you show for it would be pitiful. What do you have to brag about? A McMansion and an expensive plastic automobile? A few notches under your belt of “hot” girls who long ago forgot about you? A few thousand internet followers who move on as soon as a new viral sensation is dangled in front of them? Unless you devote yourself to family and God, your life will have no meaning. You will be continually hurtling from one moment of distraction and pleasure to the next.
No justice, no truth
And in 1942 Strakhovich cried out during a session of the military tribunal of the Leningrad Military District: ‘But I could not have been recruited by Ignatovsky when I was only ten years old!’ But the presiding judge barked back: ‘Don’t slander the Soviet intelligence service!’ The whole thing had been predetermined long before: each and every one of the Ignatovsky group was to be sentenced to be shot. Some man named Lipov got included in the group, but no one from the group knew him and he knew none of them either. Well, so, all right, Lipov got ten years.
At the Novosibirsk Transit Prison in 1945 they greeted the prisoners with a roll call based on cases. ‘So and so! Article 58, twenty-five years.’ The chief of the convoy guard was curious: ‘What did you get it for?’ ‘For nothing at all.’ ‘You’re lying. The sentence for nothing at all is ten years.’
If the U.S. Federal Government decides to prosecute you for a crime, you are as good as guilty. 93% of Federal cases result in conviction. Why even bother spending the money for your defense in what will amount to a show trial, a farce of justice?
Violent criminals were proxy soldiers for the state
The most inveterate and hardened thieves were given unbridled power on the islands of the Archipelago, in camp districts, and in camps—power over the population of their own country, over the peasants, the petty bourgeoisie, and the intelligentsia; power they had never before had in history, never in any state in all the world, power which they couldn’t even dream of out in freedom. And now they were given all other people as slaves. What bandit would ever decline such power? The central thieves, the top-level thieves, totally controlled the camp districts. they lived in individual ‘cabins’ or tents with their own temporary wives. (Or arbitrarily picking over the ‘smooth broads’ from among their subjects, they had the intellectual women 58’s and the girl students to vary their menu.)
Blacks and homosexuals are the proxy warriors of today. They are allowed free reign in American cities to spread violence, destruction, sodomy, and AIDS while you have to watch your mouth for anything that may criticize their behavior.
Hunger, which forces an honest person to reach out and steal (“When the belly rumbles, conscience flees”). Hunger, which compels the most unselfish person to look with envy into someone else’s bowl, and to try painfully to estimate what weight of ration his neighbor is receiving. Hunger, which darkens the brain and refuses to allow it to be distracted by anything else at all, or to think about anything else at all, or to speak about anything else at all except food, food, and food. Hunger, from which it is impossible to escape even in dreams—dreams are about food, and insomnia is over food. And soon—just insomnia. Hunger, after which one cannot even eat up; the man has by then turned into a one-way pipe and everything emerges from him in exactly the same state in which it was swallowed.
Sometimes the entire body of a man dying of starvation is covered with blue-black pimples like peas, with pus-filled heads smaller than a pinhead—his face, arms, legs, his trunk, even his scrotum. It is so painful he cannot be touched. The tiny boils come to a head and burst and a thick wormlike string of pus is forced out of them. The man is rotting alive.
Have you involuntarily gone a day without food? I’m sure you’ve dieted or fasted in some way to become more desirable, allowing you to feed your pride or better sate your lust with attractive sex partners. We put ourselves into a state of hunger to be better able to sin, but the kitchen is never far, and it is always full of food. The hunger will end as soon as we want.
The bond between man and woman remained
And women who were not at all young turned out to be involved in this too, even placing the jailers in a quandary: out in freedom no one would ever have considered such a woman! And these women did not seek passion, but to satisfy their need to look after someone, to keep him warm, to sacrifice their own rations in order to feed him up, to wash and darn for him. The common bowl out of which they ate was their sacred wedding ring. ‘I do not need to sleep with him, but in our beastly life, in which we curse each other in the barracks the whole day long over the bread ration and over rags, I keep thinking to myself: Today I must mend his shirt, and boil his potatoes,’ one woman explained to Dr. Zubov. But the man at times wanted more, and it was necessary to yield, and right then the supervisors would catch them. And that was how, in Unzhlag, the hospital laundress Auntie Polya, who had been widowed very early, who had subsequently been alone all her life, and who had later helped out in a church, was caught at night with a man at the very tail end of her camp term.
Women who were already elderly could not sleep nights because of a chance smile, because of some fleeting mark of attention they had received. So sharply did the light of love stand out against the dirty, murky camp existence!
What amazes me today is that even in an intense climate of hostile propaganda aimed at dividing the sexes, men and women are still getting married and doing the best they can at raising a family. Maybe their marriages are difficult, but the fact that people are walking down the aisle instead of satisfying every carnal delight that is presented to them is a testament of our God-given nature to bond with the opposite sex. No matter how much Satan tries, he will not destroy this bond completely.
Women had it easier if they agreed to be concubines
In certain camps a polite procedure was preserved: The women were conducted to their barracks—and then the well-fed, self-confident, and impudent trusties entered the barracks, dressed in new padded jackets (any clothing in camp which was not in tatters and soiled seemed mad foppery). Slowly and deliberately they strolled between the bunks and made their choices. They sat down and chatted. They invited their choices to ‘visit’ them. And they were living, too, not in a common-barracks situation, but in cabins occupied by several men. And there they had hot plates and frying pans. And they had fried potatoes too! An unbelievable dream! The first time, the chosen women were simply feasted and given the chance to make comparisons and to discover the whole spectrum of camp life. Impatient trusties demanded “payment” right after the potatoes, while those more restrained escorted their dates home and explained the future. You’d better make your arrangements inside the camp compound, darling, while it is being proposed in a gentlemanly way. There’s cleanliness here, and laundry facilities, and decent clothes and unfatiguing work—and it’s all yours.
A system that made you fearful of helping your neighbor
The mildest and at the same time most widespread form of betrayal was not to do anything bad directly, but just not to notice the doomed person next to one, not to help him, to turn away one’s face, to shrink back. They had arrested a neighbor, your comrade at work, or even your close friend. You kept silence. You acted as if you had not noticed. (For you could not afford to lose your current job!) And then it was announced at work, at the general meeting, that the person who had disappeared the day before was . . . an inveterate enemy of the people. And you, who had bent your back beside him for twenty years at the same desk, now by your noble silence (or even by your condemning speech!), had to show how hostile you were to his crimes. (You had to make this sacrifice for the sake of your own dear family, for your own dear ones! What right had you not to think about them?) But the person arrested had left behind him a wife, a mother, children, and perhaps they at least ought to be helped? No, no, that would be dangerous: after all, these were the wife of an enemy and the mother of an enemy, and they were the children of an enemy (and your own children had a long education ahead of them)!
It’s not an accident that Bolshevik communism was a complete inversion of the Gospel. It featured authority from below (the working class) instead of up high. There was faith in the man leader (Stalin) instead of the God-man (Christ). There was purported equality instead of divine hierarchy. And in the above excerpt, there was fear and avoidance of one’s neighbor instead of love. Everyone was on their own in a little island, with few bonds to speak off.
A work of persecution
I must explain that never once did this whole book, in all its parts, lie on the same desk at the same time! ln September, 1965, when work on the Archipelago was at its most intensive, I suffered a setback: my archive was raided and my novel impounded. At this point the parts of the Archipelago already written, and the materials for the other parts, were scattered and never reassembled: I could not take the risk, especially when all the names were given correctly. I kept jotting down reminders to myself to check this and remove that, and traveled from place to place with these bits of paper. The jerkiness of the book, its imperfections, are the true mark of our persecuted literature. Take the book for what it is.
One fact that is absent from Solzhenitsyn’s three volumes is describing who was primarily responsible for the human tragedy of Russian communism. He did share that fact elsewhere, particularly in his book Two-Hundred Years Together, but for some reason it has not been picked up by a New York City publishing house for translation into English. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a Nobel Prize winner not having one of his major books translated to the most dominant language in the world. We can only speculate as to why that is.
I don’t believe that an exact carbon copy of the gulag will come to the United States, but we’re already seeing shades of it, especially in the virtual sense on the internet. If the elites do lose the ability to control public opinion through propaganda, they will tighten the screws. We must put on the armor of God, because nothing short of that will allow us to endure being attacked like the Russians were in the 20th century.