Monday, October 01, 2012

Why was Solzhenitsyn Marginalized?

After reading the first two volumes of Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago" (reviews here + here), I was struck how I had never learned about him in any literature of 20th century world history class. How did he not enter the picture considering how wonderful some of his prose is? Considering my Cold War childhood and fall of Communism adolescence, Solzhenitsyn's writing would have been very timely. Solzhenitsyn is proof positive that no matter how great the writer or thinker, no matter how truthful the message, no person is powerful enough to withstand the onslaught of the cathedral. His speech at Harvard sealed his fate.

Solzhenitsyn was a Nobel Prize winning author who revealed the horrors of the Soviet system dating from its inception, as opposed to the convenient blame focused on Stalin's Great Terror. The KGB chiefs wanted to get rid of him, while some wanted him in the country under surveillance. He was a problem they couldn't solve. In a KGB history book I am currently reading, the KGB actively spied and messed with him while he was in Switzerland to the point that when he went to the US he had high fences around his property and lived as a recluse. Within a decade of being in the USA, he was marginalized and made inconsequential. Why? He had finally seen the West, and he called the West out for the situation that the Cathedral had ruled, fostered and controlled.

Solzhenitsyn was invited to speak at Harvard's 1978 Commencement. The Ivies pay speakers well and love to get prestigious names. Student's personal politics can interfere with selection (Cornell in '02 ruled out Giuliani due to personal taste on the committee), but the goal is to get a big name. Solzhenitsyn was a huge name as a dissident of the USSR who had won a Nobel. His speech is tremendous (please read it here). It was also not what the students were expecting. At the link I provided, there are also immediate responses by the media. This tells you why and how Solzhenitsyn was finally tamed. He dared to question the direction of the US, he dared to emphasize a need for God, he dared to question humanism, and he ripped the power of the unelected press in his speech. Solzhenitsyn also pointed out how liberals in the West pulled back criticism of the USSR because it is a political and philosophical bedfellow. In a short speech he defied them. The Cathedral would not let this stand.

The Cathedral counterattacked in op-eds, and then did the best thing possible: he was not invited to speak elsewhere or on TV. His opinion was shut out despite living in the USA until the early '90s. Solzhenitsyn was the most famous East-West political asylum chess piece in the Cold War from America's supposed enemy yet then media froze him out. The Cathedral treated him just as they treated his hypothetical example in his speech. Released KGB files show how the KGB reveled in his marginalization. The Cathedral did what the KGB never could do. For US students to read the Gulag Archipelago after that Harvard speech would give students an avenue to read his speech, to question the West, and to question the Cathedral. Solzhenitsyn was a danger not just to the Soviet system, but to the Cathedral's hold on power. He had to be taken care of, and the Cathedral did what they do best. He was marginalized and removed from curriculum. I did not hear about this wonderful writer until after I left the education system. In a weird twist of fate, it is as if he became an unperson in the eyes of the Cathedral.


wobbly said...

How does the Cathedral function with the internet? If active today, would Solzhenitsyn have kept his voice? I have no answer but I am wondering how this internet thing will pan out.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Cathedral has the choke points for where people gather their information. I've lamented the fact that Yahoo News never considered being an alt news source and instead toed the cathedral line. Twitter as well as Facebook have shown that a lie can travel through the Internet and stick far faster than the truth can get out of the starting blocks. The Internet offers the opportunity for defiance but it shows in rare moments.

I do think Solzhenitsyn would have cultivated a following and a voice with the Internet and used it as a platform to sell his books as well as foster a community of thinkers.