These tears are tears of gratitude more than of grief. Although I’m not inclined to shed shallow tears over the deaths of public figures whom I’ve never met, for the past two days since the death of Alexandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn I have recurrently become overwhelmed – but more by gratitude than by grief, and more by joy than by sorrow. The gratitude and joy are over the completion of a rare exemplar of a well lived, heroic life of towering stature, from whose heroism I have personally benefited in ways I cannot presently confide to my readers.
But as Solzhenitsyn’s life and character were inseparable from those of his country, the story of his life AND of his country during the 20th century stand as reproaches to that of China, to this day. How so? Here’s how:
Solzhenitsyn’s first muckracking novel, “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” was published in the USSR, under state authority and approval, in 1962. The period of the subject matter of that book, the conditions of the Soviet forced labour camps, was contemporaneous with the early years of Mao’s China. But in 1962, any such muckracking publication would have been unthinkable in Mao’s China. Then for several years after that publication, Solzhenitsyn remained essentially unmolested (even though harassed) by his own government, free to write and to enjoy the full – even though relatively limited – scope of civil liberties of Soviet citizens. But in the 1960s, any Chinese writer whose work had been similar to Solzhenitsyn’s would have been (and many were) “disappeared” into Nacht und Nebel (the Gestapo’s “night and fog”), remaining mostly unknown to their own countrymen and to the wider world. And yes, indeed Solzhenitsyn was exiled from Russia in 1974; yet he remained unharmed, unmolested, as cannot be said of any Chinese dissidents of that time.
Now 14 years after Solzhenitsyn’s triumphant return to Russia, he, whom the Soviet state called an enemy of his country just one generation ago, is regarded by his government and his compatriots as one of the greatest Russian patriots of his time. This, in a country which China’s propaganda organs continue to misrepresent as a land of “economic disaster” and “chaos”, despite the contrary truth that Russia has acheived an authentic economic miracle AND political stability AND a scope of civil liberties approximately equal to those of most Western liberal democracies, and perhaps even greater liberties than those of America in the age of Bush.
But if, for the sake of argument, we posit the CCP’s premise that Russia is an “economic disaster”, then how do Russia’s dramatically improved civil liberties post-1991 square up with the CCP argument – shared and promoted by the CCP’s Western apologists – that China’s “economic development” will inevitably give rise to greater civil liberties?
What the hell is China waiting for? If post-Communist Russia is in fact an “economic disaster” which nonetheless has been able to achieve civil liberties similar to those of the great liberal democracies, then why can’t China do the same – NOW! -based on its so called “economic miracle”?
Something is missing in the CCP’s and Western China-boomers’assumptions and equations. If it’s true that “economic development” is the foundation for improved civil liberty, then the evidence of Russia’s greater civil liberty indicates that Russia is NOT the “economic disaster” that the CCP propagandists say it is – and furthermore, the greater civil liberty of Russia would thereby indicate that Russia’s economy is stronger than China’s, given the CCP’s mechanistic and materialist premise. Or, on the other hand, the alternative explanation is that the CCP and its Western boosters are simply mistaken in their assumptions about the relationship between “economic development” and civil liberty. One or the other of those two beliefs may be posited, but not both.
I know what Alexandr Isaevich would say. He would not even countenance any equation between “economic development” and civil liberty, an equation which the recent history of his own country has devastatingly disproved, and if anything demonstrated an inverse relationship between Communist “economic development” and liberty and order, not to mention civilization and decency. Alexandr Isaevich would, in fact, scornfully and contemptuously have very little to say at all by way of advice to the Chinese Communist Party, except to tell them summarily to repent from their crimes and their lies and to reform themselves spiritually – their first and most fundamental task being to stop their habit of lying and cultivate a habit of truth, the habit he personified – after which reform of politics and economics will follow as inevitably dawn follows night.
And he would be right, and his life, and the life of Russia, has proven him right.
I drink to the Life of Alexandr Isaevich, and proffer this song to send him home to the only country more vast and large spirited than Great Russia, God’s Kingdom, of which Alexandr Isaevish is one of the precious few natives this world has seen in our time: