Alexander Solzhenitsyn claimed two decades ago, “One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.” Sophisticated observers chuckled at his naivete, but the fall of communism in Eastern Europe has given Solzhenitsyn the last laugh as Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, Lazlo Tokes in Romania, and Lech Walesa in Poland all confronted tanks and machine guns with words of truth, paving the way toward a new future.
In October, the Soviet chief prosecutor dropped treason charges against the Russian author who has been in exile since 1971. Solzhenitsyn was the first author to alert the West to the horrible realities he experienced in Stalin’s labor camps after World War Two. The Gulag Archipelago, his Nobel Prize winning work, has been released to the Russian public as well. Although his works have been popular in the Soviet Union, it was only recently that he was given permission to return.
Now the writer’s intentions may seriously influence the course of events in Russia and other parts of the former union republics. His new book, Rebuilding Russia, makes it clear that he is getting ready to get involved in Russian politics. “Upon my return to Russia,” says Solzhenitsyn, “I will immediately become immersed in other concerns that I in common with everyone.”
When Solzhenitsyn ends his 20 year exile, he will return to Russia with his own political program for reform. This is a man who knows and understands Russia better than most democrats that are now trying to reform it. He has a controversial but clear vision for the country’s future, something that many other figures in Russian politics lack.
In a National Review article (Sept. 23, 1991, p.24), Solzhenitsyn said: “The strength or weakness of a society depends more on the level of its spiritual life than on its level of industrialization. Neither a market economy nor even general abundance constitutes the crowning achievement of human life. If a nation’s spiritual energies have been exhausted, it will not be saved from collapse by the most perfect government structure or by any industrial development.”
This understanding of the great need for the spiritual revitalization of Russia is the main thrust of Solzhenitsyn’s thinking. He knows that those who are characterized in the Western press as reformers are a relatively small group of intellectuals who have capitalized on the widespread resentment of communism but have not yet outlined a viable agenda which the people will endorse. Yeltsin’s hesitation and vacillation on crucial issues will cause him to lose his stature as a national hero. It will then be time for a viable force to step in.
Solzhenitsyn’s timing will be determined by political ripeness. By spring or summer the disillusionment will be widespread. His plan favors dismissing the non-Slavic republics from the union. The new nation will be named the Union of Russian Republics of Europe and Asia. He speaks for the restoration of traditional rural farming communities in Russia. He is not an advocate of democracy, but advocates strong but enlightened central power. The new republic would be based on traditional Christian values, moral order, restraint, modesty and other virtues that have always been respected by Russians.
Although it is unlikely that, at age 72, Solzhenitsyn would seek a political office, he may exert a tremendous ideological, spiritual, and political influence on every facet of Russian life. He will become Russia’s foremost prophet-statesman.