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International Socialism, November 1975


Ewa Barker

Ten Years After Ivan Denisovich


From International Socialism, No.83, November 1975, p.30.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Ten Years After Ivan Denisovich
Zhores Medvedev
Penguin, 60p.

This is a blow by blow account of the persecution of Solzhenitsyn by the Russian authorities. Zhores Medvedev, who has himself suffered the attentions of the KGB, gives a clear picture of the difficulties and discouragements facing writers and artists in Russia.

It is a very detailed picture, containing (surprisingly) many names, at times even a little tedious in its careful descriptions of rigged meetings or bogus articles which appear again and again in the story. It’s easy to understand, however, how in this kind of book, Medvedev is concerned to get every thing right. For those who live surrounded by a constant web of lies, telling the truth and proving it must become very important.

For that reason it is an important book. Writers and artists in Russia have to work under conditions of strict and often arbitrary censorship (graphically portrayed by Medvedev) coupled with bitter attacks in the press on books which have been banned from publication. In Solzhenitsyn’s case these attacks were often illustrated from an unpublished play which he had repudiated and whose only copy was in the hands of the KGB!

The campaign against Solzhenitsyn often bordered on the absurd. At one stage a man claiming to be Solzhenitsyn went around all the well known public spots in Moscow getting himself a reputation for drink and debauchery.

It is interesting to read of the difficulties Soviet writers have in exercising control over their work. Unless they take care to lend no copies of a manuscript to anyone (and thus isolate them-selves utterly) the work starts to circulate in ‘samizdat’ and is then easy prey for anyone to do with as they please. Publication in the West may be done by the Russian emigré press (whom the author may not wish to support in the slightest); in the competitive rush to publish, translations can be hasty and crude; royalties, by one means or another may evaporate into various unsavoury pockets. Dissenters like Solzhenitsyn are often not only persecuted by their own government but also preyed upon by various sharks and scoundrels who profit from the publication of their work in the West

It is a tragic story. For the tragedy is not just the personal one of those who have to suffer persecution, but also the impoverishment of an entire culture. In the words of Nekrasov which end the book:

‘Have we not been too free-handed in squandering people we should be proud of? ... Solzhenitsyn was thrown out ... The artist Chagall, the composer Stravinsky, the aircraft designer Sikorski, the writer Nabokov, became the property of other cultures. With whom are we going to stop? After all, KGB agents will not paint pictures for us, or write books or symphonies.’

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