INSIDE MAN: SOLZHENISTSYN’S LEGACY OF HOPE AND RESISTANCE
June 8th marked the 37th anniversary of one of the most important and controversial commencement addresses ever delivered at Harvard University. Standing in a light rain before a large crowd of professors, students, graduates and their families, Russian author, Nobel Prize winner, and Gulag survivor Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn laid communist atrocities – and Western indifference – bare before the world. His speech entitled A World Split Apart drew both admiration and hostility and forced many to confront the ugly realities of communism and the reality of an expansionist Soviet threat. To a stunned audience, he said he delivered these truths “not from an adversary but from a friend.” He also criticized the certain aspects of the West in his address (which can be argued was the correct diagnosis – see graduating senior Charles R. Kesler’s incredible and erudite analysis of the address in National Review here), but it was his candid treatment of the Soviet Union that got him ostracized from the inner intellectual circle of the United States. After the address, he was quickly derided as a zealot, a madman, and a crank by the media and professoriate. Solzhenitsyn became at once a voice to be silenced from the public stage, and almost immediately he began to disappear from public discussions as well as most literature, history, and political science syllabi.
Perhaps because of the negative reaction to the Harvard Address, or perhaps because of his unapologetic anti-communism, one the world’s foremost witnesses to the atrocities of the USSR has slipped from memory. As Professor James F. Pontuso lamented in his book Assault on Ideology: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Political Thought, Solzhenitsyn is “almost a forgotten man, a relic of the Cold War, a bit like some discarded chard of the Berlin Wall.” However, he is an author whose name should be known to every student and politician throughout the world. He did what relatively few have ever done: he took a stand against communism from the inside. Solzhenitsyn miraculously survived the full wrath of the Soviet Union at its height, including Stalin’s reign of terror, an eight-year stint in the Gulag, unrelenting KGB surveillance and countermeasures, and eventual exile. His voluminous writing left the world a powerful witness of the realities of living under a communist regime.
Born in Kislovodsk, Russia, in 1918, he grew up in the shadow of the October Revolution and at school was steeped in Marxist and Bolshevik propaganda. He attended college at Rostov University where he studied mathematics and physics, but always aspired to write and publish literature. When Hitler began his invasion of Russia in 1941, Solzhenitsyn joined the Red Army and was quickly promoted to captain in an artillery unit, being cited for heroism. It was during his push through Eastern Europe towards Berlin that he was arrested for writing critical letters to an old family friend about Stalin’s mismanagement of the Soviet Union. Red Army intelligence eventually caught the letters and he was arrested. He was stripped of his rank, subjected to brutal and constant humiliation and torture, and eventually ended up in the infamous forced-labor camps known as the Gulag. He survived his sentence, and afterwards began to write about the experience.
Read more: blog.victimsofcommunism.org