Alexander Solzhenitsyn Dead at 89
Alexander Solzhenitsyn once famously said, “A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny.”
The truism of that axiom in our own post-9/11 country couldn’t have been lost on a man who saw firsthand how the masters of war pulled off such a con job in Soviet Russia.
Solzhenitsyn died yesterday at age 89 of heart failure. In old age, he looked part Russian sea captain, part Santa Claus. Yet in his writing life, Solzhenitsyn followed the tradition of Russian novelists who wrote huge, dense, erudite books chronicling the Russian soul and experience. At turns popular and lionized and shunned, Solzhenitsyn’s own experiences in Stalin’s gulags was one shared by countless millions during the Stalinist purges.
His novels about the massive and heretofore unknown prison system in the Soviet Union (the word “gulag” was inserted by Solzhenitsyn into the American lexicon in the early seventies just before “détente”, “glasnost” and “perestroika.”) blew the lid off the repressive and sometimes murderous Soviet regime that he’d escaped. More importantly, it also forever shattered the naiveté of armchair leftist intellectuals stateside who’d still clung to the comfortable delusion that Soviet Russia actually championed the workers rights and solidarity, the necessary collectivism originally called for in Marx’s “Communist Manifesto.” It was a rude awakening from such naïve, ill-informed romantic notions that was 40 years too late in coming.
But Solzhenitsyn also didn’t have much use for the United States that had given him and his family safe haven. Even while living in Vermont for 18 years, the Nobel laureate scoffed at the equally romantic American notion of individual freedom and saw as much hypocrisy in our own government as he saw in Soviet Russia.
Therefore, it’s an absurd and pitiful postscript that Solzhenitsyn would in the final years of his life become virtually an apologist for Vladimir Putin, a former Chekist from a KGB that gladly would’ve put a bullet in back of Solzhenitsyn’s head were it not for his celebrity. This, despite the fact that Putin’s own government is marked with political corruption and came very close to bringing back the days of Soviet Russia, that he’d cozied up to the Russian billionaire oligarchs almost as much as did Boris Yeltsin, whose arrest Solzhenitsyn had called for in 2000.
In the end, the great Russian humanitarian novelist who’d exposed Stalinist Russia for what it was, an oppressive, paranoid regime no better than that of Nazi Germany, would see his home country turn almost full circle and wind up liking what he saw: A tyrant like Putin consolidating political power with all the ruthlessness and industry of a Josef Stalin.