Excerpts: The Gulag Archipelago

Ian | Mythic Inconceivable!
 
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While reading through the first volume I have found many quotes, stories, and other writings only halfway through this book that I found noteworthy and have further light shined upon them. While I'm sure there's someone, somebody out there that seethes at the existence of this piece of literature (probably the son of some Blue Cap who worked in the Lubyanka), the fact that Putin himself has decreed this essential/compulsory reading in Russian High Schools lends untold amounts of credibility. Regardless, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was not a controversial figure in any circle and I'm sure anybody can take a little piece of what he has to say with them.

My only regret was starting to mark these writings at around page 175. Massive walls of text obviously follows.

On Rights and Doctor Examinations:
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At nine o'clock the morning check-up took place. For a long while beforehand, we could hear especially loud turns of the key and particularly sharp knocks on the doors. Then one of the duty lieutenants for the whole floor would march forward and enter, almost as erect as if he were standing at attention. He would take two steps forward and look sternly at us. We would be on our feet. (We didn't even dare remember that political prisoners were once required to rise.) It was no work at all to count us - he could do it at a glance - but this was a moment for testing our rights. For we did have some rights, after all, although we did not really know them, and it was his job to hide them from us. The whole strength of the Lubyanka training showed itself in a totally machinelike manner: no expression on the face, no inflection, not a superfluous word.

And which of our rights did we know about? A request to have our shoes repaired? An appointment with the doctor. Although if they actually took you to the doctor, you would not be happy about the consequences. There the machinelike Lubyanka manner would be particularly striking. He didn't ask: "What's your trouble?" That would take too many words, and one couldn't pronounce the phrase without any inflection. He would ask curtly: "Troubles?" And if you began to talk at too great length about your ailment, he would cut you off. It was clear anyway. A toothache? Extract it. You could have arsenic. A filling? We don't fill teeth here. (That would have required additional appointments and created a somewhat humane atmosphere.)

The prison doctor was the interrogator's and executioner's right-hand man. The beaten prisoner would come to on the floor only to hear the doctor's voice: "You can continue, the pulse is normal." After a prisoner's five days and nights in a punishment cell the doctor inspects the frozen, naked body and says: "You can continue." If a prisoner is beaten to death, he signs the death certificate: "Cirrhosis of the liver" or "Coronary occlusion." He gets an urgent call to a dying prisoner in a cell and he takes his time. And whoever behaves differently is not kept on in the prison.

On Soviet POW's
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It was already clear to them that the Germans were not the heart of the matter, or at least not the Germans alone; that among the POW's of many nationalities only the Soviets lived like this and died like this. None were worse off than the Soviets. Even the Poles, even the Yugoslavs, existed in far more tolerable conditions; and as for the English and the Norwegians, they were inundated by the International Red Cross with parcels from home. They didn't even bother to line up for German rations. Wherever there were Allied POW camps next door, their prisoners, out of kindness, threw our men handouts over the fence, and our prisoners jumped on these gifts like a pack of dogs on a bone.

The Russians were carrying the whole war on their shoulders - and this was the Russian lot. Why?

Gradually, explanations came in from here and there: it turned out that the U.S.S.R. did not recognize as binding Russia's signature to the Hague Convention on war prisoners. That meant that the U.S.S.R. accepted no obligations at all in the treatment of war prisoners and took no steps for the protection of its own soldiers who had been captured.* The U.S.S.R. did not recognize the International Red Cross. The U.S.S.R. did not recognize its own soldiers of the day before: it did not intend to give them any help as POW's.

*We did not recognize that 1907 Convention until 1955. Incidentally, in his diary for 1915, Melgunov reports rumors that Russia would not led aid go through for its prisoners in Germany and that their living conditions were worse than those of all other Allied prisoners - simply in order to prevent rumors about the good life of war prisoners inducing our soldiers to surrender willingly. there was some sort of continuity of ideas here. (Melgunov, Vospominaniya i Dnevniki, Vol I, PP. 199 and 203.)

On Ideology:
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We would prefer to say that such people cannot exist, that there aren't any. It is permissible to portray evildoers in a story for children, so as to keep the picture simple. But when the great world literature of the past - Shakespeare, Schiller, Dickens - inflates and inflates images of evildoers of the blackest shades, it seems somewhat farcical and clumsy to our contemporary perception. The trouble lies in the way these classic evildoers are pictured. They recognize themselves as evildoers, and they know their souls are black. And they reason: "I cannot live unless I do evil. So I'll set my father against my brother! I'll drink the victim's sufferings until I'm drunk with them!" Iago very precisely identifies his purposes and his motives as being black and born of hate.

But no; that's not the way it is! To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he's doing is good, or else that it's a well-considered act in conformity with natural law. Fortunately, it is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions.

Macbeth's self-justifications were feeble - and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb too.  The imagination and the spiritual strength of Shakespeare's evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology.

Ideology - that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others' eyes, so that he won't hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations.

Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions. This cannot be denied, nor passed over, nor suppressed. How, then, do we dare insist that evildoers do not exist? And who was it that destroyed these millions? Without evildoers there would have been no Archipelago.

There was a rumor going the rounds between 1918 and 1920 that the Petrograd Cheka, headed by Uritsky, and the Odessa Cheka, headed by Deich, did not shoot all those condemned to death but fed of them alive to the animals in the city zoos. I do not know whether this is truth or calumny, or, if there were any such cases, how many there were. But I wouldn't set out to look for proof, either. Following the practice of the bluecaps, I would propose that they prove to us that this was impossible. How else could they get food for the zoos in those famine years? Take it away from the working class? Those enemies were going to die anyway, so why couldn't their deaths support the zoo economy of the Republic and thereby assist our march into the future? Wasn't it expedient?

That is the precise line the Shakespeare evildoer could not cross. But the evildoer with ideology does cross it, and his eyes remain dry and clear.

Physics is aware of phenomena which occur only at threshold magnitudes, which do not exist at all until a certain threshold encoded by the known to nature has been crossed. No matter how intense the yellow light you shine on a lithium sample, it will not emit electrons. But as soon as a weak bluish light begins to glow, it does emit them. (The threshold of the photoelectric effect has been crossed.) You can cool oxygen to 100 degrees below zero Centigrade and exert as much pressure as you want; it does not yield, but remains a gas. But as soon as minus 183 degrees is reached, it liquefies and begins to flow.

Evidently evildoing also has a threshold magnitude. Yes, a human being hesitates and bobs back and forth between good and evil all his life. He slips, falls back, clambers up, repents, things begin to darken again. But just so long as the threshold of evildoing is not crossed, the possibility of returning remains, and he himself is still within the reach of our hope. But when, through the density of evil actions, the result either of their own extreme degree or of the absoluteness of his power, he suddenly crosses that threshold, he has left humanity behind, and without, perhaps, the possibility to return.
Last Edit: September 28, 2021, 11:51:36 PM by Ian


Ian | Mythic Inconceivable!
 
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On Soviet Surrender
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How many wars Russia has been involved in! (It would have been better if there had been fewer.) And were there many traitors in all those wars? Had anyone observed these treason had become deeply rooted in the hearts of Russian soldiers? Then, under the most just social system in the world, came the most just war of all - and out of nowhere millions of traitors appeared, from among the simplest, lowliest elements of the population. How is this to be understood and explained?

Capitalist England fought at our side against Hitler; Marx had eloquently described the poverty and suffering of the working class in that same England. Why was it that in this war only one traitor could be found among them, the businessman "Lord Haw Haw" - but in our country millions?

It is frightening to open one's trap about this, but might the heart of the matter not be in the political system?

One of our most most ancient proverbs justified the war prisoner: "The captive will cry out, but the dead man never." During the reign of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich, nobility was granted for durance in captivity! and in all subsequent wars it was considered society's duty to exchange prisoners, to comfort one's own and to give them sustenance and aid. Every escape from captivity was glorified as the height of heroism. Throughout World War I, money was collected in Russia to aid our prisoners of war, and our nurses were permitted to go to Germany and help our prisoners, and our newspapers reminded their readers daily that our prisoners of war, our compatriots, were languishing in evil captivity.

All the Western peoples behaved the same in our war: parcels, letters, all kinds of assistance flowed freely though the neutral countries. The Western POW's did not have to lower themselves to accept ladlefuls from German soup kettles. They talked back to the Garman guards. Western governments gave their captured soldiers their seniority rights, their regular promotions, even their pay.

The only soldier in the world who cannot surrender is the soldier of the world's one and only Red Army. That's what it says in our military statutes. (The Germans would shout at us from their trenches: "Ivan plen nicht!" - "Ivan no prisoner!") Who can picture all that means? There is war; there is death - but there is no surrender! What a discovery! What it means is: Go and die; we will go on living. And if you lose your legs, yet manage to return from captivity on crutches, we will convict you. (The Leningrader Ivanov, commander of a machine-gun platoon in the Finnish War, was subsequently thus imprisoned in Ustvymlag, for example.)
Last Edit: September 29, 2021, 12:12:42 AM by Ian