I have heard mention of the above work many times, as I suppose most of us have. I knew that it described life in the ‘gulags’ (prison camps, I suppose) of the USSR. But I always thought that it was a novel, something like Doctor Zhivago. It is not a novel – it is a history.
I searched on line and was able to find the full text. Here is the URL for anyone interested:
I became interested because I earlier watched a video of an interview with the Canadian Professor Jordan Peterson (H/T Frank Davis and his commenter who posted the video). In that video, the Professor railed against the ‘tiny, tiny steps’ by which we are compelled to become instruments of coercion. In particular, he said that he ABSOLUTELY WOULD REFUSE to be compelled to not use the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’ and such, but to use ‘made-up’ pronouns which mean ‘he or she’. For example, instead of ‘he’ and ‘she’, a made up pronoun might be ‘te’, meaning either he or she. Similarly, ‘his’ or hers’ might be ‘tas’, and ‘him’ and ‘her’ might be ‘tet’. Anyone who might wish to watch that interview can see it here:
In that video, the professor said that he had read all the literature which showed how easy it is for dictatorship to be established and how horrific the consequences. He particularly mentioned the Gulag Archipelago, among others.
I decided that it is about time that I read it. Fortunately, I was able to get the full text on line and have been reading it this evening. It is 650 pages long, and was described as ‘hard reading’ by the professor. Indeed it is. I am up to page 114, and the we are still in the preliminaries.
The first part describes what started to happen consequent to the overthrow of the Tzar in 1917 and following. The first chapter describes ‘The Arrest’. That was very clever of Solzhenitsyn. It was clever because it is important to understand that, in the USSR at that time, 1920 and thereabouts, there were quite a lot of independent ‘socialist/communist’ groups. They had united to overthrow the aristocracy, but were still independent groups. The Bolsheviks were strongest, and took over the Tzarist ‘secret police’ apparatus. The Bolsheviks determined to obliterate the other groups. They did so by the use of ‘The Arrest’. So, imagine that you were a true communist who fought against the Tzar, and imagine how you would feel if your door was knocked down and your house invaded by thugs and you were ‘arrested’. “Why? What for?”, you might cry. But answer came there none. It would be the middle of the night, and you would be instructed to get dressed, but pushed to hurry, and then escorted out of your home and taken to prison, none the wiser about what was happening or why. You were a fervent communist, but just happened to belong to a group which the Bolsheviks had decided to destroy.
Solzhenitsyn saw ‘The Arrest’ as a thing in itself. But, further, there were ‘waves’ of arrests. Year after year, there were ‘waves’ of arrests. The arrested persons disappeared into prisons.
Yes, the book is ‘hard reading’. I think that that is because it tries to compress a multitude of human catastrophes into as few pages as possible. 600 pages is long enough, but it could easily have been 6000 pages.
I have still a long way to do, but it is fascinating.
It seems to me that he is describing just the same thing that is happening today, except that ‘arrests’ have been replaced by ‘regulations’. You see, I well remember going on holiday to, say, Spain and being ‘allowed’ to import 200 very cheap cigs. It never really occurred to me to question such authoritarian dictats. There were customs officers wearing uniforms and caps, and they could force you to open your suitcase and let them rummage around looking for ‘contraband’.
You would think that, by popular demand, such practices in this day and age, would have ceased. ‘Free trade’ means precisely that. “But what about drugs?”, you might ask. I might reply, “What drugs? What do you mean by drugs?”
My point is that we are descending into a bottomless pit of costs in trying to stop people from enjoying substances which they desire. It is a basic premise that, as things stand, our Government wishes to stop people from having pleasure.
The whole thing must be turned on it head. I am not saying that Gov must encourage dissipation, but it should not stand in the way of happiness. Personally, I think more of contentment rather than happiness, but that is just a difference of degree.
Our Government, here in the UK, could bring the People together by dispensing with “Public Health”. No aspect of behaviour, such as horse riding, is outside the remit of “Public Health”.
The answer is to dispense with “Public Health”, and get back to ‘the health of the public’.
Is it an accident that the UK Gov has not published the ‘new’ tobacco control strategy? And that umpteen doctors have called for its publication? Perhaps the Gov does not give a shit about the new tobacco control strategy. It is just far too busy trying to sort out important things, like Brexit.
But, underlying everything is that Gov has become far, far too big. It is a simple matter of economics. When Gov gets too big, it soaks up the wealth of the Nation and wastes it on ‘Energy’. Aka, regulation for regulation’s sake, and paying out for the salaries of non-productive groups such as ASH.