Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the author of The Gulag Archipelago, a monumental chronicle of the horrors of the Soviet labor camps, has died at the age of 89 . . . seventeen years after the dissolution of the empire that treated him so brutally for so long.
In his last years Solzhenitsyn embraced President Vladimir Putin as a “restorer of Russia’s greatness.” A dubious endorsement, since some of this so-called “greatness” has been achieved through the very kind of tyranny that Solzhenitsyn suffered. Putin has reversed much of the liberalization implemented since the fall of the Soviet Union, and can be crudely autocratic.
Frankly, much of Solzhenitsyn’s own philosophy is inconsistent with a fully free society. But one need not accept his whole world view to revere his achievement in so effectively exposing the inhumanity of Soviet communism.
We honor Solzhenitsyn for the literary work that earned him a Nobel Prize, yes. But we also honor his courage and tenacity in creating and promulgating his work, despite the Soviet government’s almost constant harassment of him.
The Soviet government first targeted Solzhenitsyn in 1945, when he was arrested for criticizing Stalin’s conduct of the war in a letter to a friend. He was sent to Lubyanka prison for beating and interrogation, then to a labor camp. Morally wrong, certainly. But also, from the Soviets’ own perspective, a huge blunder.
Solzhenitsyn admitted that before his tenure in the camps, he had not questioned the Soviet system. After that, he would help destroy it.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.