“He risked his all to drive a stake through the heart of Soviet communism and did more than any other single human being to undermine its credibility and bring the Soviet state to its knees.”
Those are powerful words written by Michael Scammell in his recent NYT op-ed about a Christian author’s mission to take down the Soviet Union.
When you’ve lived nearly 100 years and your name marks a national revolution before you’re passed… you may have made a slight impact.
So who was this Christian author who brought down the Soviet Union?
Russian novelist and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born in December of 1918 and passed in December of 2008, in his 90th year of life.
Today, just past the centurial anniversary of his birth, many throughout the world still speak of Solzhenitsyn with grateful hearts.
His efforts to tear down the oppression of the Soviet Union required bravery, stealth, and a little pure-intended rebellion.
But Solzhenitsyn wasn’t always a rebel against the Soviet state.
According to Scammell, “As a youth and college student he had been swept up in the revolutionary euphoria of the communist experiment and fervently believed in the premises of Marxism-Leninism.”
Solzhenitsyn was a combat veteran of World War II and was awarded two medals of valor from the Soviet military for his service as commander of an artillery battalion.
His conversion to political dissident occurred after he discovered firsthand the brutal truth of the Soviet regime’s oppressive grip on the Russian people.
You see, it was discovered by government agents that Solzhenitsyn had made remarks critical of Stalin’s army leadership in private letters to an old friend.
He was stripped of his career and sentenced to 8 years of hard labor in a soviet gulag concentration camp which “opened his eyes to the hideous underbelly of Soviet communism.”
Solzhenitsyn had already begun his writing career, but after his time in the gulag, “he now resolved to dedicate the rest of his writing life to exposing the monstrous machine that had, as he later discovered, murdered or incarcerated millions like himself.”
He began to write stories with stinging criticism of Soviet leadership, such The First Circle which followed his character’s experience living in the gulag.
As a result, it wasn’t long before Solzhenitsyn was banished from the state Writer’s Union.
Solzhenitsyn used the power of words to try and bring clarity and wisdom to apolitically damaged society. When he was evicted from the governmentally-approved main stages for publication, he found immediately he was far from alone.
Others such as Varlam Shalamov Andrei Sinyavsky, Yuli Daniel and Joseph Brodsky were publishing an underground circulation they called “samizdat.”
“Samizdat” includes (mostly in Soviet communist circumstances) any literature being circulated and printed that would otherwise be banned by the state.
The purpose for this material can be good or evil. In the case of the Dissident Movement (as this band of brave writers became known as), the intention was absolutely for the freedom and peace of the nation.
By the time the writers adopted this title in the 1960s, they found themselves in a place of wide and spreading influence with readers from all over the globe.
According to Scammell, this band was not only writers by trade. In fact, that was a minority: “…their ranks included scientists, engineers, academics, lawyers, even rebellious workers; their unofficial leader was the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Andrei Sakharov”.
In 1973, Solzhenitsyn published what is widely regarded as his masterpiece, The Gulag Archipelago. The publication took the world by storm as an ultimate shot that released hidden truths of the USSR to the world.
Originally written in three parts between 1958 and 1968, Solzhenitsyn was pleased at its publication as a one-piece masterwork in ’73.
Through this work, the demand for societal, national reform was no longer asked for but demanded. The piece is “a vast canvas of camps, prisons, transit centres and secret police, of informers and spies and interrogators and also of heroism, [revealing] a Stalinist anti-world at the heart of the Soviet Union where the key to survival lay not in hope but in despair.”
The piece was so powerful, because personal testimony and raw truth is always powerful.
The 200+ real life stories of what a terrifying existence was currently being propagated, including Solzhenitsyn’s own experience in labor camps and exile, were enough to lay flame to the bomb wick.
The demand for change was shaking the country. Solzhenitsyn’s publication leveled the society under the USSR to the Holocaust, and no one could unsee that comparison.
At the shift, when the USSR disbanded in 1991, Solzhenitsyn returned to his homeland of Russia to continue fighting for peace, hope, and freedom.
While the disbandment was a major victory, this end was not nearly enough. The new regime under Yeltsin was trying to mesh atheistic and libertine ideas with pre-socialist mindsets, but chaos continued.
According to World Atlas, at this point “Russia underwent a major economic crisis leading to high death rates, low birth rates, and the collapse of social services. Meanwhile, millions of Russians were affected by poverty that increased from 1.5% to about 39 to 49%. Violent crime, extreme corruption, criminal gangs, and lawlessness characterized the 1990’s in Russia.”
In constant, continued battle, now at the spritely age of 73, Solzhenitsyn did not back down.
According to Scammell, Solzhenitsyn continued advocating and “encouraged more religion and state support for the Orthodox church, together with a revitalized patriotism and a return to traditional values.”
Solzhenitsyn was a critic of the West as well for its loss of a belief in God and morality. He condemned the relativism that had taken over and the “liberty without morality” that defines libertinism and urged post-Soviet Russia to not fall into the same trap.
The early 2000s brought Yeltsin’s release of power to Vladimir Putin. At the start of Putin’s government, he seemed to fit all of Solzhenitsyn’s ideals embracing a more traditional view of government. Solzhenitsyn was pleased with this shift and accepted the accolades publically bestowed on him by Putin himself.
Sadly, Solzhenitsyn died in 2008, one year after receiving these rewards and didn’t live to see Putin’s decline into an autocrat maintaining power by murdering dissidents and political opponents in such a similar fashion to the Soviet regime Solzhenitsyn had spent so many years fighting against.
However, Solzhenitsyn is still remembered with dignity and honor, for the lifelong efforts he put into moving this nation towards freedom.
Praise God for the national healing that has happened even in the midst of a new national crisis.
We need to pray that God will raise up another, and a force like the one He created with the movement Solzhenitsyn was a part of. Russia needs to find the hope only God can bring. God is the One that allows rulers to rise up … and also the only One that can tear them down.
May God bless the people of this country with hope as they remember where they’ve already been delivered from, and power to continue forward.
May God bless the nation with a radical reform, even a return unto God as Ruler of All, finding true freedom. Amen.