“Without the spiritual rebirth no political changes will make people free. But the spiritual rebirth, a Christian rebirth, is the ascent of a free man, and not of Russian nationalism, the cult of homeland, fatherland, and one’s country.”
-Mihajlo Mihajlov in “Some Timely Thoughts” (written in 1974 in response to Letter to the Soviet Leaders by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)
I recently had the opportunity to meet with one of the leaders of the AFL-CIO, and the conversation somehow turned to Solzhenitsyn’s latest political articles. This leader expressed his negative opinion of the articles in no uncertain terms. Since at that time I still hadn’t read the article “The Mortal Danger: How Misconceptions About Russia Imperil America” (Foreign Affairs), I remained silent. However, I must confess that I was astonished and saddened by this man’s remark. For decades the AFL-CIO has very strongly supported and continues to lend support to dissident and human rights movements in all communist countries. It was none other than the leaders of the AFL-CIO, including this man, who organized extremely significant public appearances for Solzhenitsyn a few years ago. And though I by no means agree with the ideological and political views of Aleksandr Isaevich, I nevertheless found the American union leader’s sharp criticism unpleasant. All dissidents had for too long identified our struggle with the struggle and brilliant triumph of the Gulag Archipelago‘s author.
Of course, I soon obtained Solzhenitsyn’s article and read it. And, I must confess, my sadness vanished completely, and I even felt joy and a burst of optimism because this influential American union leader had reacted so unfavorably to Solzhenitsyn’s political views. On the contrary — after reading the article in Foreign Affairs, I would have been depressed if an American union leader had a favorable opinion of it.
In his article “How Misconceptions About Russia Imperil America” Solzhenitsyn expands and reiterates all of his main political ideas, which were expressed earlier in his 1974 “Letter to the Soviet Leaders,” in his much-talked-of Harvard speech (1978), in his Time magazine article “Communism; Everyone Sees It and Doesn’t Understand,” and in all his interviews dealing with political issues. One can easily characterize the article in Foreign Affairs as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s definitive credo.
Of course, I cannot help agreeing with Solzhenitsyn that the Western democracies’ policies in relation to totalitarianism often engender pessimism in the thoughtful observer. However, I must confess that, in my opinion, Solzhenitsyn’s views on how to resist totalitarian communism can engender even greater pessimism. It is just this unique mixture of correct and incorrect, true and false, that makes Solzhenitsyn’s ideological-political appeals so dangerous.
But what exactly is the danger in Solzhenitsyn’s views? Ever since communism has existed, the debate on how to resist it has gone on uninterrupted. In essence, there are two ideological-political conceptions. One, which could be called international-democratic, is based on the conviction that one can only resist the international evil of communist totalitarianism with international associations that fight for a pluralistic democratic society, personal freedom, and what is today called human rights.
Despite the long-standing newspaper agitation by the liberals that Solzhenitsyn so disdains, one must say that up until now this international democratic conception has never taken precedence anywhere over the second ideological conception. Only for a few months at the beginning of Carter’s Presidency did it appear that the worldwide struggle for human rights would become the determining factor in the Western democracies’ resistance to communist totalitarianism. However, it soon became apparent that the human rights struggle was only a temporary means, and in no way the end, even of the American government.
The second ideological-political course, which could be called national-authoritarian, dates from 1917. Unfortunately, even today it determines strategy and tactics in the Western democracies’ struggle against communism. I see as the main danger in Solzhenitsyn’s latest political statements the fact that, while criticizing the Western democracies for allegedly following an international-democratic policy, he systematically replaces the struggle for freedom and the rights of each individual with the struggle for nationalism and the rights of nations. Solzhenitsyn seems unaware that regardless of the discussion about democracy and human rights, the foreign policy of the Western democratic countries, including the U.S., is unfortunately still determined by purely national interests. The result is that the democratic world is retreating in the face of totalitarianism on all fronts.
It is entirely logical that if revival of nationalism is paramount in the struggle against communist totalitarianism, then democracy would also come under attack. The fact is that no national democracy exists, and never can exist. Democracy itself is based on equality of rights, which are independent of national, religious, ideological, racial, or political identity. Thus, democracy is always international, and the fact that Western democratic states are unfortunately still pursuing a foreign policy that emphasizes their national interests is their greatest shortcoming and inconsistency. Solzhenitsyn advocates sanctioning this shortcoming.
Solzhenitsyn is correct in his attack upon widespread misunderstandings about communism. One such mistake is the failure to understand the full malignancy of communism’s threat to mankind and the impossibility of finding “better variants” of communism. Either communism will spread through humanity like cancer and destroy it, or mankind will rid itself of it. Solzhenitsyn is also correct in saying that it is wrong to identify the communist threat with the Soviet Union alone, as is the case at present. The West virtually ignores the tragedy of Chinese or Yugoslav communism.
I completely agree with Solzhenitsyn that “Communism will never be halted by negotiations or through the machinations of detente. It can be halted only by force from without or by disintegration from within.” But what is needed is an international approach to the problem of communism. The democratic countries’ identification of communism with the Russian people is only a remnant of the farmer’s nationalism, although certainly it is antithetical to Solzhenitsyn’s brand of nationalism. Solzhenitsyn is correct in pointing out that the West does not understand the nature of communism, but how he explains totalitarian ism, and most importantly, how he chooses to struggle against it, is in no way better than the West’s methods.
It is no longer a secret for anyone in today’s world that there exists an ideological conflict in the dissident move ment in the Soviet Union and the West, a conflict that arises out of attitudes toward the so-called rebirth of nationalism. Although one cannot accuse people such as Milovan Djilas or Andrei Sakharov of malice toward Russia, any ideological criticism of-Solzhenitsyn’s nationalist views provokes just such an accusation of hatred toward Russia. It also sometimes elicits transparent hints that those who disagree with Solzhenitsyn wish to introduce a “schism” in the anticommunist movement, and therefore are agents of the KGB or are at least playing into their hands.
This view is reminiscent of the Soviet ban on criticizing “one’s own” when “surrounded by the enemy.” Solzhenitsyn writes that the “renaissance of the Russian national consciousness is the one thing that can resist communism from within.” Almost at the same time, Sakharov, in his Gorky exile, writes: “I am convinced that the nationalist ideology is dangerous and destructive even in its, at first glance, more human ‘dissident’ forms.” Commentaries and analysis dealing with the totally antithetical ideological aims of these two renowned dissidents are nowhere to be found in the free Russian emigre press. Any attempt at open discussion provokes accusations of trying to bring about a split. Sakharov and Djilas are evidently spared these accusations only because they are on the very front line of the struggle against communist totalitarianism.
In my opinion, attempts by proponents of a national ideology to squelch and conceal any criticism is occasion for the most serious alarm. In this atmosphere criticism is ignored, and people falsely suppose unanimity of opinion among dissidents.·
Let me begin my critique of Solzhenitsyn’s views by pointing out his constant confusion of religious, spiritual, national, Orthodox, and Christian rebirth. This device helps shield the so-called rebirth of nationalism from criticism. If one mixes everything, as Solzhenitsyn does, and writes first about the rebirth of nationalism, then about the Christian renaissance, now about the Orthodox renaissance, now about the religious renaissance-if one never makes a distinction between one concept and another — then it is of course possible to interpret criticism of nationalism as criticism of the religious renaissance, and even of spiritual rebirth in general. It is necessary to emphasize that nationalism and the religious renaissance have nothing in common. Although Russian, Serbian, and Rumanian Orthodoxy exist, there is not, was not, nor can there ever be any Russian Christianity or Russian religion. Christianity was the first universal religion in history, and it therefore found itself in conflict with a national religion — Judaism.
I would particularly remind Solzhenitsyn of Hegel’s words to the effect that before Christ there existed peoples, and after Christ — individuals. It was, therefore, these Christian roots that made it possible for the first universal democracy — the United States — to flourish, since democracy is possible only where freedom of the individual is prized above all other values. It is true that the rebirth of nationalism occurred at the time of spiritual renaissance and coincided in general with the rebirth of everything that had been driven underground for decades in Russia. One can also observe in the Soviet Union in the last decade the revival of all kinds of Christian and non-Christian sects, theosophy, spiritualism, jazz, abstract painting, and even drug addiction. But will Solzhenitsyn come to mix all the above and employ now one concept, now another, as he does now with national, religious, spiritual, Christian, and Orthodox renaissance?
Mixing religion and nationality is particularly dangerous, and Solzhenitsyn constantly does exactly this. In our day, a religious or church monopoly would be a hundred times worse than an atheistic one. The Spanish Inquisition with today’s technology-this would be more totalitarian than the Soviet Union. It is the programmatic atheism which is the weakest point of communist totalitarianism in that it makes it more difficult to use the religious impulse, which is inherent in man, in the service of evil.
From beginning to end of his recent article, Solzhenitsyn repeats the words “nationalism, national self-consciousness, the national spirit, the national soul,” etc., and the object of his whole article is to prove that nationalism alone, and Russian nationalism in particular, is the one force that can resist communist totalitarianism and save the entire planet. One need not be a communist to consider nationalism, any nationalism, evil. I see a far greater danger in a possible revival of the Russian nationalist ideology than in the existing Marxist-Leninist ideology. The truth is simply that, except for the millions of poor in South America, no one really believes the Soviet communists anymore. In our time, communism stays in power only through sheer physical force. The national idea, like all ideas that have been forbidden in the Soviet Union for decades, can still attract many people, all the more so after the lengthy forced isolation from all the spiritual currents of the West. The danger of nationalism is not simply that it can be used by communist powers, as occurred in World War II. Nationalism’s main danger is that it undermines the principles which provide the only possible basis for resisting global totalitarianism.
Communist internationalism, despite its “proletarian” narrowness, is nonetheless the first worldwide movement in recent history to have universal goals. For the thinking person, the creation of a single world society in our time is beyond doubt. Although in the 19th century English and French colonial troops could be at war in Africa while France and England did not fight in Europe, in our day the least political shift in some microscopic Pacific Island state immediately is echoed throughout the entire world and influences the fate of all mankind. It is precisely this planetarization of mankind as a whole, this necessity for a supranational ideology, that gave fuel to the communist movement in the 20th century. And no national movement can resist an international one. Solzhenitsyn is repeating a half century later the mistakes of all anticommunists who opposed communism from a precommunist position. The present state of affairs, i.e., almost two-thirds of mankind in totalitarian subjugation, is a consequence of the mistaken idea that nationalism can resist communist internationalism.
The civil war in Yugoslavia can serve as an example of what is wrong with nationalism. The nationalist forces of the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, and Albanians taken together were far larger than the communist forces. The communists nevertheless won, due to internecine war and the absence of a supranational approach to resisting the communist dictatorship. Yugoslavia in this sense can serve as a prototype of the contemporary world situation. If no supranational democratic movement emerges, if a universal, inter national worldwide struggle to defend individual rights is not born, then the communists will triumph around the world. Marxist internationalism is a false answer, but to a completely legitimate question. And this question is the question of the intellectual and spiritual foundations for uniting humankind in a single society. If this world society is not pluralistic and democratic, then it can only be totalitarian; there is no third alternative.
In Solzhenitsyn’s literary works the human spirit is the most profound reality, but as soon as Solzhenitsyn ceases to be an artist and starts to speak in the ideological-political sphere, everything that he so powerfully describes in his works simply vanishes. One single reality — the nation — remains. And it turns out that communism spearheads the struggle, not against the freedom of each individual, but only against national existence. Solzhenitsyn in general sees no other motivation for human actions than “the search for one’s religious and national roots.”
Solzhenitsyn is so sure of this that he even writes: “Throughout history only national characters created societies.” He writes this while living in a country that he acknowledges is still the strongest bastion of anticommunism, a country founded by those who saw in spiritual freedom a value higher than remaining in their native land. Looking over Solzhenitsyn’s works in my mind, I some how can’t recall the image of a Russian nationalist at all. Among the prisoners that Solzhenitsyn describes in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The First Circle, The Gulag Archipelago, hundreds are delineated with great artistry and power: Socialist Revolutionaries, those affiliated with every sort of intraparty opposition, religious people, foreigners, Ukrainian and Baltic nationalists, “true Leninists” (those, including Solzhenitsyn, who once criticized Stalin from a Marxist-Leninist position). One recalls Solzhenitsyn’s descriptions of ex-Vlasov followers, captured Germans, Russian anticommunist emigres who had voluntarily returned from the West, Russians who worked on the Chinese Eastern Railroad (put into the camps wholesale), the occasional monarchist, dispossessed kulaks, and many others. And still I cannot recall the image of a Russian nationalist. Russian nationalism of the type that Solzhenitsyn advocates is in some senses a completely new phenome non. Throughout the entire 19th century, during the flourishing of Russia’s culture, one can literally count on the fingers of one hand all the prominent Russian cultural figures who championed “national consciousness.” It has already become a cliché that the unsurpassed value of great Russian literature lies in its ability to embrace all humanity, its Christian universalism: not in Russian nationalism. And this is completely understandable; nationalism is an un healthy reaction of oppressed and offended people and nations, and, therefore, small peoples are much more receptive to a nationalist ideology than large ones are..
If we seriously believe Solzhenitsyn, that prerevolutionary Russia really was such a wonderful, healthy, free country, it is not entirely clear how this can be so: after all, the Russian empire was distinctly multinational. Under communist totalitarianism, it does not matter in the slightest whether or not a state is multinational. Just as multinational and ethnically homogenous democratic countries exist, there are also multinational totalitarian states and ethnically homogenous totalitarian states. Only cultures can be national, not sociopolitical or state systems. A sociopolitical system can only be democratic or nondemocratic. In ethnically homogenous Albania there is no more freedom than in the multinational Soviet Union. Democratic Denmark and Norway differ little from the democratic and multinational United States. To see in the renaissance of the idea of a national state a panacea against totalitarianism is simply absurd, the more so since the large national unions that have formed in the course of history, such as France, Spain, and England, are shaken by the rebirth of small-scale, local nationalist feelings (for example, the Bretons, Corsicans, Basques, Scots, Welsh, etc.). This process shows that even without any communist influence the breaking up of large national organisms is occurring, and mankind is being prepared for general unification. Of course, this goes against the grain of those who support contemporary mini-nationalisms, those who lead the struggle against the large national unions. I am deeply convinced that if Solzhenitsyn’s ideas on the renaissance of Russia as a national state were put into practice, one could very soon observe in Russia the same thing that is happening in France, Spain, and England: that is, the rebirth or birth of local “nationalisms” with ideas of an independent “Cossackia” or “Urals,” countries that exist at present only in U.S. congressional resolutions. Even the nationalism of democratic countries has outlived its time. Things are now moving toward a polarization on a world wide scale between such societies as multinational democratic America (with a pluralism of all possible cultures and traditions) and the multinational but totalitarian systems (with their total repression of all national cultures and traditions). The renaissance of Russian nationalism 1s no way out of the totalitarian cul-de-sac. It is rather an attempt to return to a pretotalitarian, precommunist epoch.
The return to the pre-Christian idea of the “national spirit” quite naturally leads to criticizing democracy and extolling an authoritarian system. Although, in his Foreign Affairs essay, Solzhenitsyn claims that he does not have a final opinion with regard to choosing a democratic or an authoritarian system for the future Russia, he criticizes not only democracy’s shortcomings, but the very idea of democracy. In this sense, this article is something basically new in principle in relation to his previous political statements. He writes: “According to age old traditional Russian ideas, the truth cannot be determined by voting, since the majority does not necessarily have any deeper insight into the truth. (And what we know of mass psychology would suggest that the reverse is often true).” He also observes:
I cannot count among the virtues of democracy its impotence vis-a-vis small groups of terrorists, its inability to prevent the growth of organized crime, or to check capitalists’ unrestrained profiteering at the expense of public morality. And I would note that the terrifying phenomenon of totalitarianism, which has. been born into our world perhaps four times, did not issue from authoritarian systems, but in each case from a weak democracy; the one created by the February Revolution in Russia, the Weimar and the Italian republics, and Chiang Kaishek’s China. The majority of governments in human history have been authoritarian, but they have yet to give birth to a totalitarian regime.
It is quite true that democracies have not yet found a means of fighting terrorism, but neither have authoritarian countries. Despite all the outbursts of terrorism in Western Europe, it is not to be compared with the terrorism_ in right-wing authoritarian countries in South America. Only a totalitarian system can successfully combat terrorism itself being a terrorist power. Only Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung have eliminated organized crime.
To maintain that authoritarian countries have never given rise to totalitarian regimes is simply nonsense. Totalitarianism is a 20th-century phenomenon, and Solzhenitsyn’s assertion is no more justified than if he said that the wars of the Middle Ages were more humanitarian than today’s wars, since their participants never dropped an atomic bomb. On the contrary, all, absolutely all, the contemporary totalitarian countries are countries with age old authoritarian traditions, countries which were not able to become democratic at the crucial time.
Not one single democratic country ever fell to communism if one doesn’t count the Soviet conquests in Eastern Euro e during World War II. It is also necessary to emphasize that the German nation did not choose Hitler as a dictator; Hitler, after his party’s success in the elections, and after he became chancellor, in essence staged a coup and drove out the opposition parties. In general, there is nothing to say about Chinese democracy. However, it must not be forgotten that the slaughter of all leftist elements in Shanghai and Canton at the end of the 20’s marked the beginning of a lengthy civil war that brought the commu nists to power. One can say with good reason that authoritarianism prepares and fertilizes the soil for totalitarianism. Of course, one cannot simply call a totalitarian system the continuation of an authoritarian one; one can, however, compare the above with the relationship between smoking and lung cancer. Lung cancer is in no case the continuation of smoking, but smoking lays the foundation for it.
While a democratic system does not eliminate the possibility for the flowering of national cultures and nation al uniqueness (take for example France and Japan, democratic countries from two different worlds), societies where the idea and sovereignty of national existence are placed higher than the rights of the individual cannot but be authoritarian. For example, Solzhenitsyn worships the idea of eternal Russia, and someone else prefers smoked sausage. In a democratic society such disagreements are normal and cause no friction because freedom of the individual is the cornerstone of democracy. If “national existence” becomes the cornerstone of society, then there is a natural impetus to create an authoritarian system, since there is no other way to force people to bow down to one single value or at least pretend that they do. Solzhenitsyn refers to what he has in mind as “an authoritarian order founded on love of man … an authoritarianism with a firm real legality that reflects the will of the people … a calm and stable system which does not degenerate into arbitrariness and tyranny … a renunciation of psychiatric violence and secret trials, and of that brutal immoral trap which the camps represent… the toleration of all religions … free art and literature, the untrammeled publication of books.” Yet a firm real legality that reflects the will of the people, a system which does not degenerate into arbitrariness and tyranny, and the other freedoms, already really exists, but exists only in a democratic society. By definition, there has never been, is not, and can never be such an authoritarian system. But what if from “what we know of mass psychology” the majority would not place the interests of eternal Russia” above, say, personal freedom, what if they would start to form the political parties that Solzhenitsyn opposes? Then what happens to all these freedoms? Or do freedoms only apply to those who recognize Solzhenitsyn’s own ideology.
Solzhenitsyn is, of course, correct in saying that one cannot find the truth by voting, but no one ever seeks to find the truth through the voting process. Voting deter mines the goals and methods of a democratic _society; these of course do not have anything in common with the search for truth. And there is nothing more dangerous than to link political life with the question of truth. It is the same whether we are talking about the one true Marxist world view” or “the eternal, unchanging truths of the orthodox church.” Be that as it may, in a society where freedoms such as those that Solzhenitsyn ascribes to his imaginary authoritarian system exist, political parties would immediately be formed.
Because he shares many of Solzhenitsyn’s views, Aleksandr Ginzburg could neatly separate freedom and democracy in a speech made in Paris five years ago: “I therefore think that the present dialog about a future democracy in Russia is simply idle dispute; and that freedom will come to our country before democracy; if we will be able to achieve freedom we will then decide which system we will have in the future, but that time is still very far off.” How similar all this is to the Soviet negation of “the formal democracy of the bourgeois world,” the Soviet certitude that only if one possesses the “one true ideology” can one comprehend the deep essence of things.
How can one not remember the brilliant G. D. Fedotov’s words: “We live among people who have made out of the negation of Bolshevism their creed. In essence many of us are fully ready for an authoritarian system-only not a communist one, of course. For many what is more important is not freedom, but the symbols in whose name freedom is violated. They prefer the symbol of the nation to the symbol of the proletariat, the two-headed eagle to the hammer and side.”
It is completely consistent from a national-authoritarian standpoint to proclaim right-wing dictatorships in the Philippines and South Korea to be bastions of anticommunism. Whereas workers’ strikes and the demands of the intelligentsia for freedom of speech and free elections in Poland and other countries are viewed positively, these same workers’ strikes and statements of the intelligentsia in right-wing authoritarian countries are regarded, in typical Soviet spirit, as provocations by communist agents. It turns out that the threat from neighboring communist countries justifies self limitation of freedom: the introduction of a dictatorship. In South Vietnam, this was exactly how they justified the severe limitation of democratic freedoms and the postponement of free elections as far back as Ngo Din Diem’s time. There is no historical example of a country falling under communist rule where democracy was not “self-limited,” where the Communist Party had not been banned. Right wing authoritarian countries are simply the fifth column of communist totalitarianism. A struggle is taking place be tween democracy and totalitarianism, and any “self limitation” of democracy and freedom is only to the benefit
of totalitarianism. From this perspective, the prohibition of the Communist Party is the first step toward a communist dictatorship. Whereas authoritarian countries with weak democratic traditions easily become communist totalitarianism, all our experience in opposing communist dictator ships in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union shows that the only direction in which a movement away from communist totalitarianism is possible is toward a legitimate democratic, pluralistic system, never an authoritarian system. The priest Meerson-Aksenov eloquently wrote on the reasons for this: “A new and a very firm basis for democracy has appeared on the Soviet scene, a basis that it seems that very/many countries and cultures with long liberal traditions lack. This basis is the experience of totalitarianism, ideological demagoguery, and universal suffering, the experience of the tragic absence of individual rights in the face of force.”
Despite the urging of Solzhenitsyn and people of like mind, it appears that this experience of totalitarianism will be the strongest obstacle to the emergence of authoritarianism in Russia or in any other country that has endured communist totalitarianism. All of us on earth have absolutely equal rights, independent of any national affiliation. It is quite symptomatic that an advanced, developed country such as Sweden is conducting a very successful campaign to ensure that not only Swedish citizens but also workers from southern European countries who come to Sweden for a limited time freely participate in political life and enjoy equal rights. I believe that if the democratic world defeats totalitarianism, there will be no ethnic con glomerates, no states based on the national principle. Only cultures will remain national. A polarization of totalitarian ism and democracy, not of totalitaria