Staunton, November 27 – Not long ago, Moscow literary critic referred to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1980 essay, “Communism: Everything is Clear But They Don’t Understand” (philologist.livejournal.com/8891115.html). And that essay if one substitutes “Russian fundamentalism” for communism reads as if it were written now, Irina Pavlova says.
The US-based Russian historian says that “communism is no more, but the problems connected with Russia not only remain but have been reborn in a renewed form,” one that she characterizes as “Russian fundamentalism” but says is like communism because of “the mortal threat” it poses to humanity (ivpavlova.blogspot.com/2016/11/blog-post_26.html#more).
Thirty-six years ago, Solzhenitsyn criticized those who saw in Soviet power a threat rooted in Russian history and culture, arguing at that time that such views were racist and that militant nationalism and the empire are alien and offensive to Russians. Only their communist rulers are the problem.
At first glance, Pavlova says, this suggests that Solzhenitsyn was “a defender of Russian civic consciousness” and was simply warning the West not to fall into the trap of thinking that the ethnic Russians were “the ruling nation” of the USSR. In that he was right, she adds; but “it turned out in fact that Solzhenitsyn was expressing the interests not of Russian civic self-consciousness but of Russian state nationalism.”
In brief, she argues, the Russian writer “turned out to be an imperialist and a statist; that is, a great power supporter who shared the bases not only of Russian state nationalism but also of authoritarianism” of the kind Vladimir Putin is the embodiment and which Solzhenitsyn’s widow openly supports.
Solzhenitsyn’s idiosyncratic view of Russian history has played “an evil joke on him.” Being an impassioned opponent of communism and Soviet power, he refused to see in it a continuation of Russian power. He did not want to recognize that this power and communism were not alien formations on a health Russian foundation but a completely logical outcome of the crisis which arose from the Russian traditions of despotism, serfdom, and the longstanding and deep alienation of society from the powers that be.”
The Provisional Government in 1917 tried to break that tradition but failed, and when the Bolsheviks took power, they restored it. Indeed, Pavlova says, “the Stalinist totalitarian regime completely revived the traditions of Russian autocracy, serfdom and unfreedom, and Stalin became the embodiment and apotheosis of Russian despotism.”
“Solzhenitsyn did not want to see this evolution of the authoritarian regime after October 1917 or the signs of traditional Russian autocracy in the Stalinist regime,” Pavlova says. Consequently and “objectively,” the writer spoke out against “only ‘the excesses’ of Russian authoritarianism” in the form of state terror and the GULAG.
She continues: “As a typical representative of Russian fundamentalism, Solzhenitsyn was also a consistent anti-Westerner,” and despite having lived 20 years in the West, he was dismissive of its great achievements and the way in which a commitment to law set it apart from Russian realities.
The evidence for this is clear: Solzhenitsyn denounced the Soviet system for its “excesses.” He denounced the Western system as such, refusing to understand the key role of law and a legal system in protecting people. Tragically, “there is not and has never been a legal state” in Russia.
In contrast to Solzhenitsyn, the Russian historian says, “we also see how attractive have turned out to be the ideas of great power and empire for the Russian people” and how little most of them care about law and rights. In that situation, it is clear that “Putin and his power are immanent to the people” and not alien in the way Solzhenitsyn thought communism was.
In 1980, Solzhenitsyn appealed to the West to struggle against communism for its freedom as well as the freedom of Russians. “Today this task is not only as important as it was but it has become even more complex. Today the West is focusing on the struggle against Putin and his propaganda but … it does not see the underlying problem of Russian fundamentalism.”
And “Russian fundamentalism,” Pavlova warns, “is in essence what present-day Russia is.”