The following excerpts are attributed to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn* from Third Century Report, April 15, 1976, pp. 5-6, Michael Charlton interview British Broadcasting Corp., March 1, 1976, aired in the U.S. by William Buckley on “Firing Line.”
“My warnings… go unheeded. Most of them fall, as it were, on the ears of the deaf–people who do not want to hear them. Once I used to hope that experience of life could be handed on, nation to nation, and from one person to another. But now I am beginning to have doubts about this. Perhaps everyone is fated to live through every experience himself in order to understand.
“In actual fact, our Russian experience is vitally important to the West because, by some chance of history, we have trodden the path the West is taking… And, now it is a rather strange sensation that we look at what is happening to you when many social phenomena are repeating what happened in Russia before it collapsed. Our experience of life is of vital importance to the West but I am not convinced that you are capable of assimilating it without having gone through it right to the end of yourselves.
“There is a certain abdication of responsibility which is typical… where there is complete freedom. While enjoying such great freedom, journalists and writers lose their sense of responsibility before history, before their own people. Then, there is now this universal education of revolutionaries, the more so the more extreme they are! Similarly, before the Revolution, we had in Russia if not a cult of terror in society then a fierce defense of the terrorists. People in good positions, intellectuals, professors, liberals spent a great deal of effort, anger and indignation in defending terrorists. The press does not feel responsibility for its judgments. It makes judgments and sticks on labels with the greatest of ease. Mediocre journalists simply make headlines of their conclusions which suddenly become the general opinion throughout the West.
“I am not a critic of the West. I am a critic of the weakness of the West. I am a critic of a fact which we can’t comprehend: how can one lose one’s spiritual strength, one’s willpower and, possessing freedom, not to value it? Not to be willing to make sacrifices for it? The West has given everything away so impetuously, has done so much to strengthen the tyranny in our country [England], that today all these questions are no longer relevant. Opposition has remained but I have already said many times that our movements of opposition and spiritual revival, like any spiritual process, is a slow process. But your capitulations, like all political processes, move very quickly.
“If I were to ask you which way the West is going [what would you say]? Because at the moment the question is not how the Soviet Union will find a way out of totalitarianism but how the West will be able to avoid the same fate. How will the West be able to withstand the unprecedented force of totalitarianism? That is the problem.
“My outlook on life has been formed largely in concentration camps–that part of my life which is reflected in the ‘Gulag Archipelago.’ I don’t know whether western listeners would find my words embarrassing. It is difficult for me to judge this kind of reaction. But, I would put it like this: Those people who have lived in the most terrible conditions, on the frontier between life and death–be it people from the West or from the East, they all understand that between good and evil there is an irreconcilable contradiction: that it is not one and the same thing–good and evil. That one cannot build one’s life without regard to this distinction.
“I am surprised that pragmatic philosophy consistently scorns moral considerations; and, nowadays in the Western press, we read a candid declaration of the principle that moral considerations have nothing to do with politics; they do not apply and should not, so to speak, be applied. I would remind you that in 1939, England thought differently. If moral considerations were not applicable to politics then it would have been quite incomprehensive why on earth England went to war with Hitler’s Germany. Pragmatically, you could have gotten out of the situation. But, England chose the moral course and experienced and demonstrated to the world perhaps the most brilliant and heroic period in its history.
“But today we have forgotten this. Today the English political leaders state quite frankly that they not only recognize any power over any territory regardless of its moral character but they even hasten to recognize it–even try to be the first to do so. Tyrants, bandits, puppets have come to power and pragmatic philosophy says: That doesn’t matter, we have to recognize them. …One should not consider that the great principles of freedom finish at your own frontiers; that as long as you have freedom let the rest have pragmatism. No! Freedom is invisible and one has to take a moral attitude toward it.
“I wouldn’t be surprised at the sudden and imminent fall of the West. I would like to make myself clear. The West is on the verge of collapse created by its own hands. …I return to that terrible statement of Bertrand Russell. I don’t understand at all why Bertrand Russell said, “Better red than dead.” Why did he not say it would be better to be brown than dead? There is no difference. All my life, and the life of my generation, the life of those who share my views, we all have one standpoint: ‘Better to be dead than a scoundrel.’ In this horrible expression of Bertrand Russell there is an absence of all moral criteria. [When] looked at it from a short distance these words allow one to maneuver and to continue to enjoy life. But, from a long-term point of view, it will undoubtedly destroy those people who think like that. It is a terrible thought.”
*Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was a Russian novelist, philosopher, historian, short story writer, and political prisoner. One of the most famous Soviet dissidents, Solzhenitsyn was an outspoken critic of communism and helped to raise global awareness of political repression in the Soviet Union (USSR).
~ David Norris