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The Leaders and the Dreamers

Comment by Alexander Arkhangelsky Special to RIA Novosti 08/05/2009

All Human Beings Are Free to Agree or Disagree with Alexander Solzhenitsyn as Long as They Understand His Reasoning

The dream of the great writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who withstood the seduction of direct politics, cannot be discussed rationally, the way we discuss a party’s program or an economist’s plan: a writer creates an image that we can like or not like, that lives according to its own, autonomous laws. The main and the only question is: does this image possess inner power? If it does, then this is enough to accept (or reject) it. Not to pick it apart and convert it into an instruction manual, but to consider it as a whole, and then either continue dreaming along with the writer and “pushing” this dream into reality, or look for other dreamers.

Remembering Alexander Isaevich Solzhenitsyn a year after his death, we can decipher, through the greetings and respectful speeches, an echo of a myriad of displeased voices. Some (and for some reason, there are more of these) take posthumous revenge on the great writer for his having locked horns with communism, having accepted the disintegration of the red empire (juxtaposing it with a union of the Slavic peoples plus Kazakhstan), having considered Joseph Stalin to be a pure villain and General Andrei Vlasov—a tragic figure worthy of compassion. Others are extremely displeased with Solzhenitsyn’s refusal to run after the European Komsomol—his hopes for an independent development path for the Russian civilization (not American, not Chinese, but Russian) appear naïve, if not dangerous. Yet others cannot forgive him for his late two-volume work “Two Hundred Years Together.” And some say that the evil is rooted in “Putinism:” Solzhenitsyn spent his entire life fighting against the deadly system, wrote letters to the leaders, but in his last few years he accepted, acquitted and supported that same elite that values its Soviet heritage and refuses to part with the bloodthirsty system for good, speaking of Stalin without sympathy but with respect, simultaneously cultivating its particularly Russian roots. They compare his choice to that of Maxim Gorky in the last year of the latter’s life—a way from the zenith of grandeur to the pediment of power.  


I am not about to rebuff the accusations against Solzhenitsyn or to support them— I just think that we should look at everything differently. What did Alexander Isaevich spend his whole life fighting against? Not for the right to expose Stalin and not for the tactical principles of the mutual relationship with the West. And especially not for the formula of the Jews’ participation in Russian history. He fought for a Russia where there would be no place left for both communism and the mercantile spirit, where the ethnic beginning grew into a panhuman one without getting lost in it. He dreamt of a Russia that would preserve its inner scale, but would also be able to measure it against a human being, a citizen, an ordinary person, to freeze at the edge of a cliff, catch its balance and go in a different direction. As is the case with any dream, this one too promised not only and not as many joyful revelations as it did endless vacillation: isn’t it too late? Hasn’t the time run out? Is there any historical time left, or has the Russian civilization overstrained itself? Will it step right into the abyss?


As a dreaming writer, Solzhenitsyn undoubtedly looked back at the two greatest examples of the Russian 20th century. At Gorky, who so dreamt of justice that he got involved in the political work of dehumanizing the people, and finally even became a kind-hearted, crying toy in the hands of the NKVD. And at Leo Tolstoy, who zealously preached the dream of a Russian truth, who consciously undermined the authority of the flawed government and aided the upcoming revolution so much that Vladimir Solovyov (one more genius dreamer of the universal reconciliation of the churches and the Russian way out of the common schism) called him an Antichrist. Unlike Gorky, Solzhenitsyn did not allow himself to get involved in politics, and did not allow himself to undermine the authority which, as he believed, helped stop the country from falling off the edge of a cliff.  
As for the standoffs, Solzhenitsyn did not fight against Leonid Brezhnev or Yuri Andropov per se—he fought against everything that prevented his dream from getting realized. If the “leaders” reacted to his famous letter he wouldn’t have thought twice about making a nonaggression pact with them, within the timeframe and framework that corresponded to his idea of the necessary speed on the way toward his dream of Russia. In the same manner he refused to support Boris Yeltsin because he didn’t believe in the latter being prepared to move in the suggested direction, and moderately cooperated with Putin, because he truly hoped that the latter wants to be a second Fyodor Stolypin for the country, wants to stop it on the verge of demise and, having tamed it, will also move it in the same direction, toward the dream. Everyone is free to accept or not accept Solzhenitsyn’s choice. But first we need to understand the reasons behind this choice, and only then pass a judgment.


But now the most important thing: it is rooted in the word “free.” Whether Solzhenitsyn was wrong in his late assessment regarding those currently in power or if he was impeccably right, as a result of the heroism of his social and literary life we’ve arrived at such a stage of self-development that it doesn’t matter in the least. The country has degraded in many other respects, but in this one it has developed amazingly, not in the least thanks to the fact that Solzhenitsyn stubbornly refused to get involved in politics on trifles, to pass judgments and give recipes. He only spoke out on large-scale occasions and based on principle. Not who with whom, for whom and how, but based on what principles, with what serious goals, in the name of what? Many criticized him for it, as in, “why are you silent? Quick, give us some direction!” But he refused to give out directions. Instead, he offered reference points. As a result, the best in the teaching tradition of the Russian classics has been preserved. A great writer talks to society about what is most important. While the worst has lost power—getting involved in politics with and without reason, stripping yourself off moral authority.   


Who exactly Gorky is with was important for the country and the world. Much depended on who today’s Tolstoy is against. While who Solzhenitsyn is with, and whom against, is interesting and must be thought over and interpreted, but it is just another fact of his great biography. The Russian writer indicates the point of the general moral countdown, reminds the world about its imperfection and of the fact that a higher truth does exist. But he does not issue a patent of nobility to a politician. And does not take that patent away. It’s just that in specific historic circumstances he takes a certain side. And he has the right to do that, just like any of us.  

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