Monday, August 4, 2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died.

My father was a communist -- so he said, and I never had real cause to doubt him. But he was also a Marine, a patriot, and a working capitalist who made a lot of money in the stock market, and if he didn't see a meaningful conflict there, I won't volunteer one for him.

When I was little he used to talk about communism a fair amount. I remember having the vague impression that communists were good guys, and said something to that effect at one point. My dad was a complex man; he was a fan of the idea of communism, not of the communists, and once again, not being a communist or fan of communism myself, I won't try to argue his position for him ... and he's not here to argue it himself, so we'll move on.

His response to my "communists are the good guys" misunderstanding was instructive -- I was maybe 12 or 13, somewhere in there. And he handed me a copy of The Gulag Archipelago.

It's a nasty book on a nasty subject, and not something I'd have handed to my own kids at the same age -- but my Dad was always a little more sure of my maturity than I was, for good and bad. Looking back, I'm glad I read it -- it surely cured me of any sentimental attachment to communism as actually practiced in the Soviet Union. (And as a sort of generic take on the subject of communist economic theory -- eh. It would work if people were angels. Of course, as others have noted, any system works if people are angels. Capitalism has the virtue of working with actual people....)

I'm not vouching for Solzhenitsyn the individual; he was a strident nationalist, and I'm not a big fan of nationalism in the abstract. I'm not particularly a big fan of American nationalism, though until lately I'd have defended it on the grounds that the U.S. was the most benign ruling power in the history of the human race. But Russian nationalism always rubbed my own American nationalism in a bad place, and Solzhenitsyn hit that spot with some regularity as the years passed.

I am vouching for that book. A lot of good came out of that book: anyone with even the vaguest idea that the Soviet Union was anything other than Ronald Reagan's Evil Empire, could not have read that book and remained differently clued. The Gulags were an inevitable part of any system as authoritarian as that behind the Soviet Union. People want to be free; The Gulag Archipelago, I believe, helped a lot of people get closer to that goal. Not a bad accomplishment for one life, for anyone.

3 comments:

Steve Perry said...

I never got past One Day In the Life of Ivan Desonovich. I had no idea how bad things were in the camps until I read that.

Dan Moran said...

Yeah.

Apparently things in North Korea are similar -- they need their Solzhenitsyn. A wise publisher could probably dig that writer up ....

Steve Perry said...

Probably that's what they'd have to do to a writer in North Korea -- dig him up ...

Speaking of which, I am looking forward to your next lit'r'y child. November, huh? My brother's birthday is at the end of that month, too ...