Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn [Алекса́ндр Иса́евич Солжени́цын] (11 December 1918 – 3 August 2008) was a Russian philosopher, novelist, dramatist and historian. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, he was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974, returning to Russia in 1994.
- See also: The Gulag Archipelago (1973)
- Literature that is not the breath of contemporary society, that dares not transmit the pains and fears of that society, that does not warn in time against threatening moral and social dangers — such literature does not deserve the name of literature; it is only a façade. Such literature loses the confidence of its own people, and its published works are used as wastepaper instead of being read.
- Open letter to the Fourth Soviet Writers’ Congress (16 May 1967) “The Struggle Intensifies,” Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record, ed. Leopold Labedz (1970)
- I am of course confident that I will fulfil my tasks as a writer in all circumstances — from my grave even more successfully and more irrefutably than in my lifetime. No one can bar the road to truth, and to advance its cause I am prepared to accept even death. But may it be that repeated lessons will finally teach us not to stop the writer’s pen during his lifetime? At no time has this ennobled our history.
- Open letter to the Fourth Soviet Writers’ Congress (16 May 1967); as translated in Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record (1970) edited by Leopold Labedz (1970)
- Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice.
- Letter to three students (October 1967) as translated in Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record (1970) edited by Leopold Labedz, “The Struggle Intensifies"
- не к счастью устремить людей, потому что это тоже идол рынка ― "счастье"! ― а ко взаимному расположению. Счастлив и зверь, грызущий добычу, а взаимно расположены могут быть только люди! И это ― высшее, что доступно людям!
- One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the market-place. One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happy too, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to.
- Shulubin, in Cancer Ward (1968) Pt. 2, Ch. 10
- Blow the dust off the clock. Your watches are behind the times. Throw open the heavy curtains which are so dear to you — you do not even suspect that the day has already dawned outside.
- Letter to the Secretariat of the Soviet Writers’ Union (12 November 1969) as translated in Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record (1970) edited by Leopold Labedz, “Expulsion"
- It is almost always impossible to evaluate at the time events which you have already experienced, and to understand their meaning with the guidance of their effects. All the more unpredictable and surprising to us will be the course of future events.
- It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes. It may even lie on the surface; but we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions — especially selfish ones.
- "Peace and Violence" (1973)
- A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny.
- The Gulag Archipelago (1973)
- If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
- The Gulag Archipelago (1973)
- 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.
- The Gulag Archipelago (1973)
- In our country the lie has become not just a moral category but a pillar of the State.
- As quoted in The Observer (29 December 1974)
- There is a word very commonly used these days: "anti-communism." It's a very stupid word, badly put together. It makes it appear as though communism were something original, something basic, something fundamental. Therefore, it is taken as the point of departure, and anti-communism is defined in relation to communism. Here is why I say that this word was poorly selected, that it was put together by people who do not understand etymology: the primary, the eternal concept is humanity. And communism is anti-humanity. Whoever says "anti-communism" is saying, in effect, anti-anti-humanity. A poor construction. So we should say: that which is against communism is for humanity. Not to accept, to reject this inhuman Communist ideology is simply to be a human being. It isn't being a member of a party.
- Speech in Washington D.C. (30 June 1975), published in Solzhenitsyn: The Voice of Freedom (1975), p. 30
- For us in Russia, communism is a dead dog, while, for many people in the West, it is still a living lion.
- BBC Radio broadcast, Russian service, as quoted in The Listener (15 February 1979)
- At no time has the world been without war. Not in seven or ten or twenty thousand years. Neither the wisest of leaders, nor the noblest of kings, nor yet the Church — none of them has been able to stop it. And don't succumb to the facile belief that wars will be stopped by hotheaded socialists. Or that rational and just wars can be sorted out from the rest. There will always be thousands of thousands to whom even such a war will be senseless and unjustified. Quite simply, no state can live without war, that is one of the state's essential functions. … War is the price we pay for living in a state. Before you can abolish war you will have to abolish all states. But that is unthinkable until the propensity to violence and evil is rooted out of human beings. The state was created to protect us from evil. In ordinary life thousands of bad impulses, from a thousand foci of evil, move chaotically, randomly, against the vulnerable. The state is called upon to check these impulses — but it generates others of its own, still more powerful, and this time one-directional. At times it throws them all in a single direction — and that is war.
- "Father Severyan", in November 1916: The Red Wheel: Knot II (1984; translation 1999)
- The clock of communism has stopped striking. But its concrete building has not yet come crashing down. For that reason, instead of freeing ourselves, we must try to save ourselves from being crushed by its rubble.
- "How We Must Rebuild Russia" in Komsomolskaya Pravda (18 September 1990)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962)
- Here, lads, we live by the law of the taiga. But even here people manage to live. D’you know who are the ones the camps finish off? Those who lick other men’s left-overs, those who set store by the doctors, and those who peach on their mates.
- Kuziomin, in the Ralph Parker translation (1963).
- The belly is an ungrateful wretch, it never remembers past favors, it always wants more tomorrow.
- Can a man who's warm understand one who's freezing?
- Beat a dog once and you only have to show him the whip.
- A genius doesn't adjust his treatment of a theme to a tyrant's taste
- A man should build a house with his own hands before he calls himself an engineer.
- A man with two trades to his credit can easily learn another ten.
The First Circle (1968)
- ...Вы сильны лишь постольку, поскольку отбираете у людей не всё. Но человек, у которого вы отобрали всё, — уже неподвластен вам, он снова свободен.
- You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything he’s no longer in your power — he’s free again.
- Bobynin, in Ch. 17
- For a country to have a great writer … is like having another government. That’s why no régime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.
- Innokenty, in Ch. 57
- Variant translation: For a country to have a great writer is like having a second government. That is why no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.
Nobel lecture (1970)
- We, holding Art in our hands, confidently consider ourselves to be its masters; boldly we direct it, we renew, reform and manifest it; we sell it for money, use it to please those in power; turn to it at one moment for amusement — right down to popular songs and night-clubs, and at another — grabbing the nearest weapon, cork or cudgel — for the passing needs of politics and for narrow-minded social ends. But art is not defiled by our efforts, neither does it thereby depart from its true nature, but on each occasion and in each application it gives to us a part of its secret inner light.
- One artist sees himself as the creator of an independent spiritual world; he hoists onto his shoulders the task of creating this world, of peopling it and of bearing the all-embracing responsibility for it; but he crumples beneath it, for a mortal genius is not capable of bearing such a burden. Just as man in general, having declared himself the centre of existence, has not succeeded in creating a balanced spiritual system. And if misfortune overtakes him, he casts the blame upon the age-long disharmony of the world, upon the complexity of today's ruptured soul, or upon the stupidity of the public.
Another artist, recognizing a higher power above, gladly works as a humble apprentice beneath God's heaven; then, however, his responsbility for everything that is written or drawn, for the souls which perceive his work, is more exacting than ever. But, in return, it is not he who has created this world, not he who directs it, there is no doubt as to its foundations; the artist has merely to be more keenly aware than others of the harmony of the world, of the beauty and ugliness of the human contribution to it, and to communicate this acutely to his fellow-men. And in misfortune, and even at the depths of existence — in destitution, in prison, in sickness — his sense of stable harmony never deserts him.
But all the irrationality of art, its dazzling turns, its unpredictable discoveries, its shattering influence on human beings — they are too full of magic to be exhausted by this artist's vision of the world, by his artistic conception or by the work of his unworthy fingers.
- Archeologists have not discovered stages of human existence so early that they were without art. Right back in the early morning twilights of mankind we received it from Hands which we were too slow to discern. And we were too slow to ask: FOR WHAT PURPOSE have we been given this gift? What are we to do with it?
And they were mistaken, and will always be mistaken, who prophesy that art will disintegrate, that it will outlive its forms and die. It is we who shall die — art will remain. And shall we comprehend, even on the day of our destruction, all its facets and all its possibilities?
- Not everything assumes a name. Some things lead beyond words. Art inflames even a frozen, darkened soul to a high spiritual experience. Through art we are sometimes visited — dimly, briefly — by revelations such as cannot be produced by rational thinking.
Like that little looking-glass from the fairy-tales: look into it and you will see — not yourself — but for one second, the Inaccessible, whither no man can ride, no man fly. And only the soul gives a groan...
- A work of art bears within itself its own verification: conceptions which are devised or stretched do not stand being portrayed in images, they all come crashing down, appear sickly and pale, convince no one. But those works of art which have scooped up the truth and presented it to us as a living force — they take hold of us, compel us, and nobody ever, not even in ages to come, will appear to refute them.
- From time immemorial man has been made in such a way that his vision of the world, so long as it has not been instilled under hypnosis, his motivations and scale of values, his actions and intentions are determined by his personal and group experience of life.
- Mankind has become one, but not steadfastly one as communities or even nations used to be; not united through years of mutual experience, neither through possession of a single eye, affectionately called crooked, nor yet through a common native language, but, surpassing all barriers, through international broadcasting and print. An avalanche of events descends upon us — in one minute half the world hears of their splash. But the yardstick by which to measure those events and to evaluate them in accordance with the laws of unfamiliar parts of the world — this is not and cannot be conveyed via soundwaves and in newspaper columns. For these yardsticks were matured and assimilated over too many years of too specific conditions in individual countries and societies; they cannot be exchanged in mid-air. In the various parts of the world men apply their own hard-earned values to events, and they judge stubbornly, confidently, only according to their own scales of values and never according to any others.
- The divergent scales of values scream in discordance, they dazzle and daze us, and in order that it might not be painful we steer clear of all other values, as though from insanity, as though from illusion, and we confidently judge the whole world according to our own home values. Which is why we take for the greater, more painful and less bearable disaster not that which is in fact greater, more painful and less bearable, but that which lies closest to us. Everything which is further away, which does not threaten this very day to invade our threshold — with all its groans, its stifled cries, its destroyed lives, even if it involves millions of victims — this we consider on the whole to be perfectly bearable and of tolerable proportions.
- Who will co-ordinate these value scales, and how? Who will create for mankind one system of interpretation, valid for good and evil deeds, for the unbearable and the bearable, as they are differentiated today? Who will make clear to mankind what is really heavy and intolerable and what only grazes the skin locally? Who will direct the anger to that which is most terrible and not to that which is nearer? Who might succeed in transferring such an understanding beyond the limits of his own human experience? Who might succeed in impressing upon a bigoted, stubborn human creature the distant joy and grief of others, an understanding of dimensions and deceptions which he himself has never experienced? Propaganda, constraint, scientific proof — all are useless. But fortunately there does exist such a means in our world! That means is art. That means is literature.
They can perform a miracle: they can overcome man's detrimental peculiarity of learning only from personal experience so that the experience of other people passes him by in vain. From man to man, as he completes his brief spell on Earth, art transfers the whole weight of an unfamiliar, lifelong experience with all its burdens, its colours, its sap of life; it recreates in the flesh an unknown experience and allows us to possess it as our own.
And even more, much more than that; both countries and whole continents repeat each other's mistakes with time lapses which can amount to centuries. Then, one would think, it would all be so obvious! But no; that which some nations have already experienced, considered and rejected, is suddenly discovered by others to be the latest word. And here again, the only substitute for an experience we ourselves have never lived through is art, literature. They possess a wonderful ability: beyond distinctions of language, custom, social structure, they can convey the life experience of one whole nation to another. To an inexperienced nation they can convey a harsh national trial lasting many decades, at best sparing an entire nation from a superfluous, or mistaken, or even disastrous course, thereby curtailing the meanderings of human history.
- In recent times it has been fashionable to talk of the levelling of nations, of the disappearance of different races in the melting-pot of contemporary civilization. I do not agree with this opinion, but its discussion remains another question. Here it is merely fitting to say that the disappearance of nations would have impoverished us no less than if all men had become alike, with one personality and one face. Nations are the wealth of mankind, its collective personalities; the very least of them wears its own special colours and bears within itself a special facet of divine intention.
- Woe to that nation whose literature is disturbed by the intervention of power. Because that is not just a violation against "freedom of print", it is the closing down of the heart of the nation, a slashing to pieces of its memory. The nation ceases to be mindful of itself, it is deprived of its spiritual unity, and despite a supposedly common language, compatriots suddenly cease to understand one another
- Woe to that nation whose literature is cut short by the intrusion of force. This is not merely interference with freedom of the press but the sealing up of a nation’s heart, the excision of its memory.
- Variant translation, as quoted in TIME (25 February 1974)
- Woe to that nation whose literature is cut short by the intrusion of force. This is not merely interference with freedom of the press but the sealing up of a nation’s heart, the excision of its memory.
- Let us not violate the RIGHT of the artist to express exclusively his own experiences and introspections, disregarding everything that happens in the world beyond. Let us not DEMAND of the artist, but — reproach, beg, urge and entice him — that we may be allowed to do. After all, only in part does he himself develop his talent; the greater part of it is blown into him at birth as a finished product, and the gift of talent imposes responsibility on his free will. Let us assume that the artist does not OWE anybody anything: nevertheless, it is painful to see how, by retiring into his self-made worlds or the spaces of his subjective whims, he CAN surrender the real world into the hands of men who are mercenary, if not worthless, if not insane.
- Our Twentieth Century has proved to be more cruel than preceding centuries, and the first fifty years have not erased all its horrors. Our world is rent asunder by those same old cave-age emotions of greed, envy, lack of control, mutual hostility which have picked up in passing respectable pseudonyms like class struggle, racial conflict, struggle of the masses, trade-union disputes. The primeval refusal to accept a compromise has been turned into a theoretical principle and is considered the virtue of orthodoxy. It demands millions of sacrifices in ceaseless civil wars, it drums into our souls that there is no such thing as unchanging, universal concepts of goodness and justice, that they are all fluctuating and inconstant. Therefore the rule — always do what's most profitable to your party. Any professional group no sooner sees a convenient opportunity to BREAK OFF A PIECE, even if it be unearned, even if it be superfluous, than it breaks it off there and then and no matter if the whole of society comes tumbling down.
- Violence, less and less embarrassed by the limits imposed by centuries of lawfulness, is brazenly and victoriously striding across the whole world, unconcerned that its infertility has been demonstrated and proved many times in history. What is more, it is not simply crude power that triumphs abroad, but its exultant justification. The world is being inundated by the brazen conviction that power can do anything, justice nothing.
- What then is the place and role of the writer in this cruel, dynamic, split world on the brink of its ten destructions? After all we have nothing to do with letting off rockets, we do not even push the lowliest of hand-carts, we are quite scorned by those who respect only material power. Is it not natural for us too to step back, to lose faith in the steadfastness of goodness, in the indivisibility of truth, and to just impart to the world our bitter, detached observations: how mankind has become hopelessly corrupt, how men have degenerated, and how difficult it is for the few beautiful and refined souls to live amongst them?
But we have not even recourse to this flight. Anyone who has once taken up the WORD can never again evade it; a writer is not the detached judge of his compatriots and contemporaries, he is an accomplice to all the evil committed in his native land or by his countrymen.
- I have understood and felt that world literature is no longer an abstract anthology, nor a generalization invented by literary historians; it is rather a certain common body and a common spirit, a living heartfelt unity reflecting the growing unity of mankind. State frontiers still turn crimson, heated by electric wire and bursts of machine fire; and various ministries of internal affairs still think that literature too is an "internal affair" falling under their jurisdiction; newspaper headlines still display: "No right to interfere in our internal affairs!" Whereas there are no INTERNAL AFFAIRS left on our crowded Earth! And mankind's sole salvation lies in everyone making everything his business; in the people of the East being vitally concerned with what is thought in the West, the people of the West vitally concerned with what goes on in the East. And literature, as one of the most sensitive, responsive instruments possessed by the human creature, has been one of the first to adopt, to assimilate, to catch hold of this feeling of a growing unity of mankind. And so I turn with confidence to the world literature of today — to hundreds of friends whom I have never met in the flesh and whom I may never see.
Friends! Let us try to help if we are worth anything at all! Who from time immemorial has constituted the uniting, not the dividing, strength in your countries, lacerated by discordant parties, movements, castes and groups? There in its essence is the position of writers: expressers of their native language — the chief binding force of the nation, of the very earth its people occupy, and at best of its national spirit.
- Variant translation: On our crowded planet there are no longer any internal affairs! ...
- I believe that world literature has it in its power to help mankind, in these its troubled hours, to see itself as it really is, notwithstanding the indoctrinations of prejudiced people and parties. World literature has it in its power to convey condensed experience from one land to another so that we might cease to be split and dazzled, that the different scales of values might be made to agree, and one nation learn correctly and concisely the true history of another with such strength of recognition and painful awareness as it had itself experienced the same, and thus might it be spared from repeating the same cruel mistakes.
- We shall be told: what can literature possibly do against the ruthless onslaught of open violence? But let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with falsehood. Between them lies the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds. Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence. Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his METHOD must inexorably choose falsehood as his PRINCIPLE. At its birth violence acts openly and even with pride. But no sooner does it become strong, firmly established, than it senses the rarefaction of the air around it and it cannot continue to exist without descending into a fog of lies, clothing them in sweet talk. It does not always, not necessarily, openly throttle the throat, more often it demands from its subjects only an oath of allegiance to falsehood, only complicity in falsehood.
- Variant translation: Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence. Any man who has once proclaimed violence as his method is inevitably forced to take the lie as his principle.
- As quoted in Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record (1974) edited by Leopold Labedz
- Variant translation: Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence. Any man who has once proclaimed violence as his method is inevitably forced to take the lie as his principle.
- And the simple step of a simple courageous man is not to partake in falsehood, not to support false actions! Let THAT enter the world, let it even reign in the world - but not with my help. But writers and artists can achieve more: they can CONQUER FALSEHOOD! In the struggle with falsehood art always did win and it always does win! Openly, irrefutably for everyone! Falsehood can hold out against much in this world, but not against art.
And no sooner will falsehood be dispersed than the nakedness of violence will be revealed in all its ugliness — and violence, decrepit, will fall.
- Proverbs about truth are well-loved in Russian. They give steady and sometimes striking expression to the not inconsiderable harsh national experience: ONE WORD OF TRUTH SHALL OUTWEIGH THE WHOLE WORLD.
And it is here, on an imaginary fantasy, a breach of the principle of the conservation of mass and energy, that I base both my own activity and my appeal to the writers of the whole world.
The Oak and the Calf (1975)
- The Oak and the Calf (1975; translation 1980)
- I was in a state of witless shock, as though flames had suddenly enwrapped and paralyzed me so that for a moment I had no mind, no memory.
- I can say without affectation that I belong to the Russian convict world no less … than I do to Russian literature. I got my education there, and it will last forever.
- Ivanov came to quite the same conclusion, though life supplied him with quite different material to think about. He puts it like this: many lives have a mystical sense, but not everyone reads it right; more often than not it is given to us in cryptic form, and when we fail to decipher it we despair because our lives seem meaningless… the secret of a great life is often a man’s success in deciphering the mysterious symbols vouchsafed to him, understanding them, and so learning to walk in the true path.
- Call no day happy 'til it is done; call no man happy til he is dead.
Harvard University address (1978)
- Harvard's motto is "Veritas." Many of you have already found out and others will find out in the course of their lives that truth eludes us if we do not concentrate with total attention on its pursuit. And even while it eludes us, the illusion still lingers of knowing it and leads to many misunderstandings. Also, truth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter. There is some bitterness in my speech today, too. But I want to stress that it comes not from an adversary but from a friend.
- Socialism of any type leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death.
- I have spent all my life under a Communist regime, and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either.
- Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century, and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press.
- A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society. There are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.
Political and intellectual functionaries exhibit this depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in their self-serving rationales as to how realistic, reasonable, and intellectually and even morally justified it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And the decline in courage, at times attaining what could be termed a lack of manhood, is ironically emphasized by occasional outbursts and inflexibility on the part of those same functionaries when dealing with weak governments and with countries that lack support, or with doomed currents which clearly cannot offer resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.
Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?
- Variant translation: A loss of courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days...
- However, the most cruel mistake occurred with the failure to understand the Vietnam war. Some people sincerely wanted all wars to stop just as soon as possible; others believed that there should be room for national, or communist, self-determination in Vietnam, or in Cambodia, as we see today with particular clarity. But members of the U.S. anti-war movement wound up being involved in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in a genocide and in the suffering today imposed on 30 million people there. Do those convinced pacifists hear the moans coming from there? Do they understand their responsibility today? Or do they prefer not to hear?
- Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life. There is a dangerous tendency to form a herd, shutting off successful development.
- Should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours.
- But the fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of Evil have begun their decisive offensive, you can feel their pressure, and yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about?
- On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections.
- If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President's performance be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.
- Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction. We cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man's life and society's activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?
If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.
This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but — upward.
- The disappearance of nations would impoverish us no less than if all peoples were made alike, with one character, one face. Nations are the wealth of mankind, they are its generalized personalities: the smallest of them has its own particular colors, and embodies a particular facet of God's design.
Templeton Address (1983)
- Orthodox churches were stripped of their valuables in 1922 at the instigation of Lenin and Trotsky. In subsequent years, including both the Stalin and the Khrushchev periods, tens of thousands of churches were torn down or desecrated, leaving behind a disfigured wasteland that bore no resemblance to Russia such as it had stood for centuries. Entire districts and cities of half a million inhabitants were left without a single church. Our people were condemned to live in this dark and mute wilderness for decades, groping their way to God and keeping to this course by trial and error. The grip of oppression that we have lived under, and continue to live under, has been so great that religion, instead of leading to a free blossoming of the spirit, has been manifested in asserting the faith on the brink of destruction, or else on the seductive frontiers of Marxist rhetoric, where so many souls have come to grief.
- The centralized atheism before whose armed might the whole world trembles still hates and fears this unarmed faith as much today as it did 60 years ago. Yes! All the savage persecutions loosed upon our people by a murderous state atheism, coupled with the corroding effect of its lies, and an avalanche of stultifying propaganda — all of these together have proven weaker than the thousand-year-old faith of our nation. This faith has not been destroyed; it remains the most sublime, the most cherished gift to which our lives and consciousness can attain.
- More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”
- It is here that we see the dawn of hope: for no matter how formidably Communism bristles with tanks and rockets, no matter what successes it attains in seizing the planet, it is doomed never to vanquish Christianity.
- Imperceptibly, through decades of gradual erosion, the meaning of life in the West has ceased to be seen as anything more lofty than the “pursuit of happiness, “a goal that has even been solemnly guaranteed by constitutions. The concepts of good and evil have been ridiculed for several centuries; banished from common use, they have been replaced by political or class considerations of short-lived value. It has become embarrassing to state that evil makes its home in the individual human heart before it enters a political system. Yet it is not considered shameful to make daily concessions to an integral evil. Judging by the continuing landslide of concessions made before the eyes of our very own generation, the West is ineluctably slipping toward the abyss. Western societies are losing more and more of their religious essence as they thoughtlessly yield up their younger generation to atheism.
- Our life consists not in the pursuit of material success but in the quest for worthy spiritual growth. Our entire earthly existence is but a transitional stage in the movement toward something higher, and we must not stumble and fall, nor must we linger fruitlessly on one rung of the ladder.
Interview With Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on the New Russia and Ukraine (May 1994)
- Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, [historian] Richard Pipes and many other American politicians... are frozen... with unchanging blindness and stubbornness they keep repeating... this theory about the supposed age-old aggressiveness of Russia, without taking into consideration today's reality.
- Imagine that one not very fine day two or three of your states in the Southwest, in the space of 24 hours, declare themselves independent of the U.S.... declare themselves a fully sovereign nation, decreeing that Spanish will be the only language. All English-speaking residents, even if their ancestors have lived there for 200 years, have to take a test in the Spanish language within one or two years and swear allegiance to the new nation. Otherwise they will not receive citizenship and be deprived of civic, property and employment rights. What would be the reaction of the United States? I have no doubt that it would be immediate military intervention. Today Russia faces precisely this scenario.
- In 24 hours she lost eight to 10 purely Russian provinces, 25 million ethnic Russians who have ended up in this very way--as "undesirable aliens." In places where their fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers have lived since way back--even from the 17th century--they face persecution in their jobs and the suppression of their culture, education and language...
- Russia today is terribly sick... But even so, have a conscience and don’t demand that – just to please America – Russia throw away the last vestiges of her concern for her security and her unprecedented collapse. After all, this concern in no way threatens the United States....
- Why does the (U.S.) State Department decide who should get Sevastopol?...
- As a result of the sudden and crude fragmentation of the intermingled Slavic peoples, the borders have torn apart millions of ties of family and friendship. Is this acceptable? The recent elections in Ukraine, for instance, clearly show the [Russian] sympathies of the Crimean and Donets populations. And a democracy must respect this....
- I myself am nearly half Ukrainian. I grew up with the sounds of Ukrainian speech. I love her culture and genuinely wish all kinds of success for Ukraine--but only within her real ethnic boundaries, without grabbing Russian provinces. ...
- And not in the form of a "great power," the concept on which Ukrainian nationalists have placed their bets. They are acting out and trumpeting a cult of force, persistently inflating Russia into the image of an "enemy." Militant slogans are proclaimed. And the Ukrainian army is being indoctrinated with the propaganda that war with Russia is inevitable.
- For every country, great power status deforms and harms the national character. I have never wished great power status for Russia, and do not wish it for the United States. I don't wish it for Ukraine. She would not be able to perform even the cultural task required to achieve great power status: In her current borders, 63% of the population consider Russian to be their native language... And all these people will have to be re-educated in the Ukrainian language...
- Before the Russian revolution, they [U.S. and Russia] were natural allies. You know that during the American Civil War, Russia supported Lincoln and the North [in contrast to Britain and France, which supported the Confederacy]. Then, we were effectively allies in the First World War. But beginning with communism, Russia ceased to exist. ...
- Yet an official U.S. document from 1959, the Law 86-90, does not include Russia in the list of nations oppressed by communism. On the contrary, "Russian imperialism," not communism, is held responsible for the conquest of some 20 countries--even China, Tibet and some made-up place called "Kazakia." ('Cossackia') - One is amazed that this silly law is still on the books, even today....This was not Russian imperialism, which in the past only expanded its borders somewhat. This was communist imperialism, which aimed to take over the whole world... This is complete delirium! When was Russia ever in Africa? When did Russia ever want to snatch Angola or Cuba? When was she ever in Latin America? The historical Russia has never tried to take over the world, whereas the communists had precisely this aim...
- If one recalls the tactless declaration of President Bush about supporting Ukrainian sovereignty even before the referendum on that matter, one must conclude that all this stems from a common aim: to use all means possible, no matter what the consequences, to weaken Russia....
- If one looks far into the future, one can foresee in the 21st century such a time when the U.S. together with Europe will be in dire need of Russia as an ally. ...It is puzzling only for those who don't look into the future and do not see what kind of new powers are arising in the world...
Interview with Joseph Pearce (2003)
- Interview published in St. Austin Review 2 no. 2 (February 2003)
- We are exiting from communism in a most unfortunate and awkward way. It would have been difficult to design a path out of communism worse than the one that has been followed. Our government declared that it is conducting some kind of great reforms. In reality, no real reforms were begun and no one at any point has declared a coherent programme. The name of "reform" simply covers what is latently a process of the theft of the national heritage.
- In different places over the years I have had to prove that socialism, which to many western thinkers is a sort of kingdom of justice, was in fact full of coercion, of bureaucratic greed and corruption and avarice, and consistent within itself that socialism cannot be implemented without the aid of coercion. Communist propaganda would sometimes include statements such as "we include almost all the commandments of the Gospel in our ideology". The difference is that the Gospel asks all this to be achieved through love, through self-limitation, but socialism only uses coercion. This is one point.
Untouched by the breath of God, unrestricted by human conscience, both capitalism and socialism are repulsive.
- Of course, one cannot declare that only my faith is correct and all other faiths are not. Of course God is endlessly multi-dimensional so every religion that exists on earth represents some face, some side of God. One must not have any negative attitude to any religion but nonetheless the depth of understanding God and the depth of applying God's commandments is different in different religions. In this sense we have to admit that Protestantism has brought everything down only to faith.
Calvinism says that nothing depends on man, that faith is already predetermined. Also in its sharp protest against Catholicism, Protestantism rushed to discard together with ritual all the mysterious, the mythical and mystical aspects of the Faith. In that sense it has impoverished religion.
- The thing is that religion itself cannot but be dynamic which is why "return" is an incorrect term. A return to the forms of religion which perhaps existed a couple of centuries ago is absolutely impossible. On the contrary, in order to combat modern materialistic mores, as religion must, to fight nihilism and egotism, religion must also develop, must be flexible in its forms, and it must have a correlation with the cultural forms of the epoch. Religion always remains higher than everyday life. In order to make the elevation towards religion easier for people, religion must be able to alter its forms in relation to the consciousness of modern man.
Quotes about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
- Sorted alphabetically by author or source
- A second escape from determinism involved the discrediting of dictatorships. Tyrants had been around for thousands of years; but George Orwell's great fear, while writing 1984 on his lonely island in 1948, was that the progress made in restraining them in the 18th and 19th centuries had been reversed. Despite the defeats of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, it would have been hard to explain the first half of the 20th century without concluding that the currents of history had come to favor authoritarian politics and collectivist economics. Like Irish monks at the edge of their medieval world, Orwell at the edge of his was seeking to preserve what little was left of civilization by showing what a victory of the barbarians would mean. Big Brothers controlled the Soviet Union, China, and half of Europe by the time 1984 came out. It would have been Utopian to expect that they would stop there. But they did: the historical currents during the second half of the 20th century turned decisively against communism. Orwell himself had something to do with this: his anguished writings, together with the later and increasingly self-confident ones of Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, Havel, and the future pope Karol Wojtyla, advanced a moral and spiritual critique of Marxism-Leninism for which it had no answer. It took time for these sails to catch wind and for these rudders to take hold, but by the late 1970s they had begun to do so. John Paul II and the other actor-leaders of the 1980s then set the course. The most inspirational alternatives the Soviet Union could muster were Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko, a clear sign that dictatorships were not what they once had been.
- John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History (2005), pp. 263-264
- Because I have known so many different writers I have often thought about what generosity means in a writer. Sometimes, as with other people you meet, you can tell about a writer at once...I am not fond of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn...not as a person and not as the author of the absurd declarations he’s made recently, criticizing Gorbachev and advancing irresponsible proposals. They haven’t convinced me one bit. I really wish that no one would interfere with Gorbachev in any way or try to place obstacles in his way. I feel that Gorbachev is a political genius and should be given more time to work out solutions that will keep his country viable. Solzhenitsyn’s anti-communism is a visceral thing and one can almost understand it. But the things he says about Russia are often absurd. And they don’t help matters. Sometimes one has a first reaction to a person which turns out to have been mistaken. But I have never liked Solzhenitsyn, and recent events don’t persuade me to revise my estimate.
- The extraordinary political and intellectual feat of Solzhenitsyn was to emerge from the hell of concentration camp to tell the story... in books whose moral and documentary force has no parallel in modern history.
- Mario Vargas Llosa, in the review of Archipiélago Gulag I: Ensayo de investigación literaria (1918-1956) (2005), Tusquets Editores
- Solzhenitsyn has re-written George Orwell's novel, using the facts of his life as his pen. He represents the victory of Winston Smith. Truth, it seems, is not only stranger than fiction; it has a happier ending.
- Joseph Pearce, Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile, 2011, Chapter 24 (final paragraph of book)
- Solzhenitsyn is a man of exemplary nobility and extreme bravery. A powerful novelist and an indispensable historian, he is an artist and moralist who has taken unto himself the suffering of his countrymen and has magnificently indicted a monstrous system in the name of the Soviet people and of Russian history.
- Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Cycles of American History (1999), p. 112
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is a literary genius whose talent matches that of Dostoevsky, Turgueniev, Tolstoi, Gorki.
- Harrison Salisbury, The New York Times, (1991)
- He is a bad novelist and a fool. The combination usually makes for great popularity in the US.
- Gore Vidal, Views from a Window: Conversations with Gore Vidal, edited R. J. Staton (1980)
- He is our only living classic.
- Yevgeny Yevtushenko in 1968; as quoted in the article "The World As Prison" by Harrison E. Salisbury in The New York Times (15 September 1968)
- Encyclopedic article on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on Wikipedia
- Media related to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on Wikimedia Commons
- Autobiographical sketch at the official Nobel site
- Other variants of Solzhenitsyn's biography (Russian)