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International Socialism, June 1976


Bruce Young

The Gulag Archipelago


From International Socialism (1st series), No.89, June 1976, pp.24-25.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Gulag Archipelago (volume 2)
Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Fontana pbk, £1.00

From Under the Rubble
Solzhenitsyn and others
Fontana pbk, 95p

The second volume of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago has the same faults as the first. It contains some first-rate descriptive material, which is however spoilt by the political use to which it is put. Solzhenitsyn’s aim is to persuade us that the crimes of Stalinism originate in the very idea of working-class revolution. He does not use any rational arguments to support this, which is not surprising, since there aren’t any. What he does do is to use the emotional heat generated by his description of the Soviet camp in order to put over his political ideas. Since rational argument is not enough, emotion is made to substitute for it. It is almost impossible to disentangle the emotion from the politics in this book: and this is not an accident, it is essential to its whole method of exposition. In this respect the book is pernicious – it is propaganda in the worst sense. The victims of the camps deserve a better memorial.

From Under the Rubble is a collection of essays on Russia and the world situation. Written by Solzhenitsyn and others whose thinking moves along similar lines, it represents the extreme right wing of the Soviet dissident movement. The keynote is political confusion – a mix-up of different and often contradictory elements, held together by religious authoritarianism. In practice, this means support for tough state action against strikes, advocacy of censorship, polemic against political parties, and all the rest of the small change of clerical neo-fascism.

Yet among the trash there is some interesting material. Mikhail Agursky’s piece on Contemporary Socio-Economic Systems, for instance, points critically to some basic similarities between the economic systems of West and East. In particular, Agursky argues that the basic driving force in East European economies is competition with the West, mediated by the arms race.

But such insights are isolated and do not flow from any coherent analysis. When Agursky considers alternatives to the status quo all he can offer is his own utopia. Yet he is able to give his utopia positive content only by giving it characteristics which are actually socialist – the abolition of competition and of production for profit, of classes and of the division between mental and manual labour. These are also our aims, but unlike Agursky, we know how to reach them.

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