Review of ‘Gulag Archipelago’

Gulag Archipelago
Gulag Archipelago

I have just completed the unabridged, nearly 2,000 page,  version of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Gulag Archipelago.’   For some time now, I have been reading through Jordan Peterson’s reading list.  So far I have read Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime & Punishment’, ‘The brothers Karamazov‘, and ‘The Possessed‘.  ‘The Possessed’ was prophetic.  Dostoyevsky, a devout Russian Orthodox Christian,  predicted nearly 50 years before the Bolshevik Revolution the chaos and injustice that would arise if society abandoned God and embraced socialism.  He saw the effects of fatherlessness, abandonment of faith in God,  and the disintegration of the home in his time and prognosticated about how it would affect future generations.  Boy, was he right!

It took me four months to read / listen to this book in it’s entirety. At home I read.  While  driving, I listened to the amazing recording of Frederick Davidson on the internet archive.   The sardonic tone of Mr. Davidson, in my mind, captures perfectly the sensibility of Solzhenitsyn. It was very hard for me to stick with this to the end. Not because it wasn’t interesting, but because the true events were so terrifyingly depressing. To think, that so many innocent people were unjustly oppressed by their own government in a modern time is hard to comprehend. I found the first book to be especially difficult to listen to. Starving, confused men receiving a ladle of ‘dishwater’ gruel in the flap of a jacket or in their hands for lack of a bowl or utensils!? Latrine buckets!? Stolypin cars!?  And still, people want to embrace communism saying it was never ‘done right.’ At times, this section was hard to follow and seemed disorganized.  He would reference events that happened anywhere from Czarist Russia, then to 1917, and then to the 1950’s all in one paragraph with no consistent chronology.  I am, however, glad that I stuck with it till the end.

Solzhenitsyn’s transformation from the privileged artillery officer to the humbled ‘Zek’ is profound. His path from atheist to a grateful believer that is thankful for his 11 years in the gulag is instructive and inspiring. Human beings were a commodity during this time in the USSR. Stalin had his five-year plans, which relied heavily on the de facto slave labor from Gulag prisoners producing industrial goods.  Soviet citizens were falsely denounced by their friends, neighbors, even family members and sentenced to ‘tenners’ (10 years in Gulag) under article 58 (anti-Soviet activity) fueling the voracious appetite  of the Gulags for prisoners.  There would literally  be quotas sent to cities for say, 250 people to be arrested, and the local NKVD would produce them by pressuring informers to supply them with denunciations.  No truth.  No virtue.  Only lies, cruelty, and injustice.

There seemed to be some national shame that Russia was always behind Western European countries.  It is undeniable that Stalin was able to rival Western powers by developing nuclear weapons and a modern space program.  Many advances in science and engineering were indeed achieved.  But at what cost: the death of tens of millions of their own citizens; the destruction of countless families, and the moral degradation of society.

When a society forgets God, when the state is more important than the divine spark within each individual, there is no bottom to the suffering and depravity which follows. Solzhenitsyn routinely calls out the arrogant errors of western thinkers such as Bertrand Russell who praised the USSR in his day while he and millions of innocents were rotting away in Gulag unjustly. We are no wiser in this generation. Hey Russell Brand! Have you read the Gulag Archipelago? Likewise, I seriously doubt today’s SJW’s have any idea of what happens each time this political system is tried. You guys ever heard of Pol Pot? How the population of a beautiful, modern city like Phenom Penh is deported to work in archaic farms? No. Let us support western society, the sovereign individual, and religious freedom.

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