Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: He Would Be Canceled in Today’s America

Published: 2021-05-08

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Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) was one of the greatest literary and political figures of the 20th Century. For the first 25 years of his life, Solzhenitsyn was an ardent supporter of Vladimir Lenin’s Soviet Revolution. In fact, by 1938 Solzhenitsyn’s enthusiasm for Communism had grown to the point of obsession. As a youth, Solzhenitsyn even declared, “I would gladly give my life for Lenin.”[1]

This article documents how Solzhenitsyn eventually became an outspoken critic of Soviet Communism, as well as his conclusion that Jews were primarily responsible for the Bolshevik Revolution.

Early Years

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born into an environment of chaos and suffering that rivaled anything he experienced in his later life. His young father died six months before his birth in excruciating pain from wounds received in a hunting accident. His grief-stricken mother rejoined her family in a nearby summer resort, only to find herself in the middle of a vicious battle then raging between Reds and Whites in Russia’s Civil War. Lenin and his band of Bolsheviks were fighting ferociously to consolidate their power, and the whole of Russia was awash in blood.[2]

Solzhenitsyn’s youth was one of hardship, privation and poverty. For the first 23 years of his life, Solzhenitsyn did not know the inside of a house; he lived in huts with no running water. These huts were constantly assailed by the cold, and there was never enough fuel to keep him warm. Food shortages were common, and after the starvation of the 1930s, ordinary food shortages were only a minor problem. Solzhenitsyn regarded all of these hardships as normal, since the poverty and hunger he experienced as a youth were widespread in the Soviet Union.[3]

Solzhenitsyn at the Age of 12 joined the Young Pioneers, which was the junior auxiliary of the Communist Party’s youth movement, the Komsomol. Like most of his friends, Solzhenitsyn passed automatically from the Young Pioneers to the Komsomol in his 10th and final year at school. Earnest and intense by nature, Solzhenitsyn studied Marxism-Leninism with an enthusiasm and energy typical of his eager spirit. He later wrote about his interest in Communist Party doctrine: “I was absolutely sincerely enthralled by it over a period of several years.” Solzhenitsyn became a Marxist, a Leninist and a Communist.[4]

Despite his interest in literature, Solzhenitsyn chose to study physics and mathematics when he entered Rostov State University. His secret ambition had been to go to Moscow and study literature. However, concern for his mother, who was suffering from tuberculosis and in very poor health, held him back. Solzhenitsyn was an outstanding student at the university, receiving top marks in all his examinations. He was awarded during his last year at the university one of the newly created Stalin scholarships for outstanding achievement. This scholarship carried a stipend two-and-a-half times greater than the usual grant.[5]

Solzhenitsyn seemed on the threshold of a brilliant career. As an outstanding student in physics and mathematics, he could look forward to the pick of the best jobs available. However, he opted for the modest post of a village schoolteacher, turning down the higher-paying jobs and glittering prizes that were within his reach. Bursting with enthusiasm and, above all, great literary talent, Solzhenitsyn was determined to pursue his dream of becoming a published writer.[6]

War Service   

Shortly after Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Solzhenitsyn attempted to enlist in the Soviet military. However, his medical examination resulted in a classification of “limited fitness” due to an abdominal disability, the result of a groin disorder in infancy that had gone undetected. While his friends marched to war, Solzhenitsyn was dispatched to the Cossack settlement of Morozovsk to work as a school teacher.[7]

By mid-October 1941, Moscow was threatened and the German advance seemed irresistible. Under these dire circumstances, all classifications of fitness were cast aside and Solzhenitsyn was drafted into the Soviet Army. Solzhenitsyn spent a half-year as a downtrodden soldier before being accepted into officer training school. He disliked officer training, saying “they trained us like young beasts so as to infuriate us to the point where we would later want to take it out on someone else.” However, Solzhenitsyn completed officer training and was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant in October 1942. He reached the rank of captain in June 1944.[8]

Solzhenitsyn experienced his first combat in the summer of 1943 in battles at Kursk and Orel. He was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War, second class, for his part in the battle at Orel. Solzhenitsyn in 1944 found himself in the middle of some of the bloodiest battles on Germany’s eastern front. Inexorably, the Soviet Army advanced until it triumphantly crossed the Polish border. Solzhenitsyn was aghast at the brutalities the Soviet Army committed against captured Soviet citizens who had chosen to fight for the Germans. Experience was slowly making Solzhenitsyn question the Soviet communist system he had embraced as a youth.[9]

Solzhenitsyn also abhorred the violence and atrocities committed by the Soviet Army when it reached Germany. In a hate-filled address, Stalin had told the Soviet troops to wreak vengeance on Germans for all that Russia had suffered during the war. Rape, pillage and plunder were all condoned by Stalin. Repelled by Stalin’s incitement to greed and cruelty, Solzhenitsyn lectured his men on the need to exercise moderation and restraint. However, Solzhenitsyn’s words fell on deaf ears. As the Soviet Army marched into Germany, it was Stalin’s vision that became reality.[10]

Solzhenitsyn described the entry of his regiment into East Prussia in January 1945: “For three weeks the war had been going on inside Germany and all of us knew very well that if the girls were German they could be raped and then shot. This was almost a combat distinction.”[11] Solzhenitsyn was a committed opponent of such atrocities, and vocally opposed the rape of German women.

Solzhenitsyn’s fortunes took a catastrophic turn when he received a telephone call from brigade headquarters on February 9, 1945. He was ordered to report at once to the brigadier-general’s office. Solzhenitsyn was arrested and sent to prison for derogatory comments he had made about Stalin in correspondence to a friend. He later said his arrest was a defining moment in his life, which was crucial “because it allowed me to understand Soviet reality in its entirety and not merely the one-sided view I had of it previous to the arrest.”[12] Solzhenitsyn became an outspoken opponent of Marxism after his imprisonment in the Soviet Gulag.[13]


Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment and sent in August 1945 to Butyrka Prison in Moscow. He was soon transferred to the Krasnaya Presnya transit prison in Moscow, which was in the heart of the Soviet prison system. On August 14, 1945, Solzhenitsyn and 60 other political prisoners were transferred to Novy Ierusalim (New Jerusalem) 30 miles west of Moscow. It was at New Jerusalem that Solzhenitsyn got his first bitter taste of the physically exhausting and crushing labor regimen in the Soviet camps.[14]   

Solzhenitsyn was transferred out of New Jerusalem when it became a camp for German prisoners of war. He spent the next 10 months doing forced labor at Kaluga Gate in Moscow, and was then transferred back to Butyrka Prison for two months. Solzhenitsyn was temporarily saved from the hardships and drudgery of the forced-labor camps by his degree in mathematics and physics from Rostov University. He was recategorized as a “special-assignment prisoner,” and was sent to several special prison institutes, known as sharashkas, for scientific research.[15]

The relative comfort of being a special-assignment prisoner ended on May 19, 1950 when Solzhenitsyn was transferred back to Butyrka Prison. Solzhenitsyn then began a long and insufferable two-month journey across the Soviet Union to the Ekibastuz Labor Camp, deep in the semi-arid steppes of Kazakhstan. At Ekibastuz he experienced starvation rations, cruelty and bullying, and manual labor amidst the cold icy winds which slashed across the steppe. In addition to this incredible suffering, Solzhenitsyn was diagnosed on January 30, 1952 with cancer and admitted to the camp hospital.[16]

Solzhenitsyn eventually made a complete recovery after an operation to remove the cancer. His close encounter with death from cancer, combined with his experiences as a front-line soldier and his subsequent imprisonment, had helped Solzhenitsyn to recognize God. Solzhenitsyn later said: “When at the end of jail, on top of everything else, I was placed with cancer, then I was fully cleansed and came back to a deep awareness of God and a deep understanding of life.” Solzhenitsyn also resolved to tell the full truth about life in Stalin’s prison camps.[17]

Solzhenitsyn was released from prison on February 13, 1953, four days after the official end of his sentence. He was hired in April 1953 as a teacher of math and science at a local school. Solzhenitsyn survived a second bout with cancer, and was declared politically rehabilitated following a session of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR on February 6, 1956. Having been strengthened and purified by his time in prison and bouts with cancer, Solzhenitsyn was primed and ready to explode onto an unsuspecting literary world.[18]                           

Literary Success

Solzhenitsyn wrote a short novel titled One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich describing some of his labor-camp experiences. He didn’t risk showing this novel to any editors until after Nikita Khrushchev’s second de-Stalinization speech in the fall of 1961. Khrushchev, who apparently only superficially glanced at this book, approved its publication because he thought it could be used as an effective weapon against his Stalinist adversaries. Solzhenitsyn’s book became an international bestseller when it was published in November 1962. Many Russian readers wept over its pages, while foreigners were shocked by its stark revelations.[19]

Solzhenitsyn managed to publish two short stories immediately after his success with Ivan Denisovich. However, Khrushchev was overthrown in October 1964 in a palace coup that placed Leonid Brezhnev at the head of the Soviet Communist Party. Brezhnev began reversing Khrushchev’s reforms, and Solzhenitsyn had many of his manuscripts confiscated by the security services.[20]

Solzhenitsyn managed to smuggle both volumes of his new novel, Cancer Ward, as well as some other books to the West. He forged an international reputation as Russia’s greatest living writer. Unfortunately, the new head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, considered Solzhenitsyn to be a subversive. Andropov drafted a decree for the Politburo to deprive Solzhenitsyn of his citizenship and expel him from the Soviet Union. Consequently, when Solzhenitsyn won the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature, Solzhenitsyn decided not to go to Stockholm to receive his prize because he feared he would be barred from returning to the Soviet Union.[21] 

Solzhenitsyn continued to experience literary success, and he became a world-famous living symbol of the struggle for human rights in the face of state censorship. His historical novel August 1914, which was published in the West on June 11, 1971, denounced all Marxism as evil.  Solzhenitsyn’s work was translated into 35 languages during 1972. When a copy of Solzhenitsyn’s book The Gulag Archipelago was discovered by Soviet authorities, Solzhenitsyn decided to publish it in the West as soon as possible. The Soviet authorities were enraged when the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago was published in Paris in December 1973. Solzhenitsyn had become a traitor in the eyes of the Soviet leaders.[22]                                                        


On February 13, 1974, Solzhenitsyn was formally charged with treason and expelled from the Soviet Union. The United States, Great Britain and many other nations told Solzhenitsyn he would be welcome to reside in their countries if he wished. Solzhenitsyn chose Zurich, Switzerland as his initial place of residence. From Zurich, Solzhenitsyn traveled to Stockholm in December 1974 to finally collect his Nobel Prize in Literature.[23]

Solzhenitsyn moved to the United States two years later during the summer of 1976. He arrived in America at a time when Americans were struggling for an adequate response to a perceived Soviet threat. As a Nobel laureate and dissident, who had quite literally put his life on the line in a mesmerizing duel with Soviet authorities, Solzhenitsyn inevitably attracted the interest of influential Americans. He was asked by numerous prominent members of Congress, labor leaders, and members of the Western mass media to comment on democracy and American political life.[24]

In two separate speeches at AFL-CIO banquets, Solzhenitsyn alerted his audiences to the expanding communist menace. Solzhenitsyn stressed the unscientific and specious nature of Marxism-Leninism, as well as its lethal and aggressive nature. He warned that only firmness makes it possible to withstand the assaults of communist totalitarianism.[25] 

Solzhenitsyn resided in south-central Vermont throughout 1977 and the first half of 1978 while working on a multi-volume historical novel. He unexpectedly was asked to deliver the commencement address at Harvard University on June 8, 1978. Solzhenitsyn accepted Harvard’s invitation, and in a televised address before 15,000-20,000 guests, he made some extremely frank and critical comments on the state of the West. Among other things, Solzhenitsyn criticized the Western media, which “miseducates” public opinion and fails to provide the in-depth analysis which society needs.[26]

Solzhenitsyn in his Harvard address also mentioned the striking decline in courage in the West. He said this decline in courage was particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, which gave an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society.  Solzhenitsyn said that while there were many courageous individuals in Western society, they had no determining influence on public life. Solzhenitsyn noted that from ancient times declining courage in a civilization had been the first symptom of its end.[27]

While rejecting socialism as an alternative to Western society, Solzhenitsyn also rejected the West as a model for the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn said that through deep suffering, his people had achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state did not look attractive. The insidious corruption of commercial advertising, TV stupor, intolerable music, and lack of spirituality in the West would not be attractive to the Soviet Union’s citizens.[28] Solzhenitsyn had become disillusioned with what he considered was the spiritual vacuum of the materialistic West.

Solzhenitsyn had a deep-seated disdain for the Western media, which he revealed in his interview with Sixty Minutes. When asked to respond to an American commentator who had branded him “a freak, a monarchist, an anti-Semite, a crank, a has-been, not a hero,” Solzhenitsyn replied:

The Western press works in the following way: they don’t read my books. No one has ever given a single quotation from any of my books as a basis for these accusations. But every new journalist reads these opinions from other journalists. They have been just as spiteful to me in the American press as the Soviet press was before.[29] 

Return Home

Although Solzhenitsyn had been kicked out of Russia, he always loved Russia and wanted to return to his native country. On August 16, 1990, Solzhenitsyn’s Russian citizenship was  restored almost 17 years after it had been taken away from him. Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia on May 27, 1994, for the first time in more than 20 years.[30]

The Russia Solzhenitsyn returned home to was transforming from communism in poor and deteriorating circumstances. Western culture and multinational corporations were moving in, with Western restaurants such as McDonalds ubiquitous in the cities. Solzhenitsyn expressed his dismay at Russia’s cultural decline in a speech he made at Saratov University in 1995. Solzhenitsyn said: “We are still holding together as a single unified country, but our cultural space is in shreds.” Solzhenitsyn later said he would refrain from voting for either Yeltsin or his Communist opponent, as neither candidate was worthy of being elected.[31]

After extensive research, Solzhenitsyn realized that the Russian Revolution was primarily perpetrated by Jews, most of whom were imported into Russia from other countries. David Duke says that Solzhenitsyn told him in a private conversation in 2002:

You must understand. The leading Bolsheviks who took over Russia were not Russians. They hated Russians. They hated Christians. Driven by ethnic hatred they tortured and slaughtered millions of Russians without a shred of human remorse.

The October Revolution was not what you call in America the “Russian Revolution.” It was an invasion and conquest over the Russian people. More of my countrymen suffered horrific crimes at their bloodstained hands than any people or nation ever suffered in the entirety of human history.

It cannot be overstated. Bolshevism committed the greatest human slaughter of all time. The fact that most of the world is ignorant and uncaring about this enormous crime is proof that the global media is in the hands of the perpetrators.[32]

Solzhenitsyn wrote a two-volume nonfiction work titled Two Hundred Years Together. The first volume, published in 2001, was Russian-Jewish History 1795-1916 and ran to 512 pages. The second volume, which was published in 2002, was a 600-page investigation titled The Jews in the Soviet Union.[33] This second volume exposed the predominantly Jewish constitution of the Bolshevik Revolution. No English-language translation of this work has been commercially published, and the only version of it offered on Amazon is the original Russian, at $978 as of May 2021.

Solzhenitsyn lived out his final years in Russia. On June 5, 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree conferring the State Prize of the Russian Federation upon Solzhenitsyn for his humanitarian work. Putin, who personally visited the writer at his home to give him the award, said about Solzhenitsyn: “His activities as a writer and public figure, his entire long, thorny life journey will remain for us a model of true devotion, selfless service to the people, motherland, the ideals of freedom, justice and humanism.” Solzhenitsyn died August 3, 2008 near Moscow at Age 89.[34]                                     


Solzhenitsyn had an intense sense of mission about his literary work. He felt it was his ethical duty to publicly expose the Soviet Union’s shocking and murderous gulag system. One of the particulars of Solzhenitsyn’s literary genius was his overwhelming willpower. French author Nikita Struve wrote:

But Solzhenitsyn’s fate, life and work are characterized above all by will. To survive four years at the front, live through the Soviet concentration camps, overcome serious illness, struggle to become a writer, gain a world reputation against inhuman odds, and finally unswervingly to follow his path—all this is a miracle of rare willpower.[35]

It is widely recognized that Solzhenitsyn had a major influence on the modern world. There is broad agreement that no other book contributed more directly and forcefully to the collapse of the Soviet Union than his book The Gulag Archipelago.[36]

Solzhenitsyn’s suffering and literary genius enabled him to expose the evils of Soviet Communism. Dr. David Duke writes about Solzhenitsyn: “He was a victim of Bolshevism and through his literary genius he laid bare the most horrific killing machine in all of world history.”[37]

A version of this article was originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of The Barnes Review.


[1] Thomas, D.M., Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century in His Life, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998, pp. 13, 59, 75.

[2] Scammell, Michael, Solzhenitsyn: A Biography, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1984, p. 25.

[3] Ibid., pp. 73-74.

[4] Ibid., pp. 64, 87, 92.

[5] Ibid., pp. 85-87, 106.

[6] Ibid., pp. 107-108.

[7] Pearce, Joseph, Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2001, pp. 48-49.

[8] Ibid., pp. 52-53.

[9] Ibid., pp. 56-60.

[10] Ibid., p. 61.

[11] Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I., The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (Vol. 1), New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1974, p. 21.

[12] Pearce, Joseph, Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2001, pp. 68-70.

[13] Feuer, Kathryn (editor), Solzhenitsyn: A Collection of Critical Essays, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1976, p. 110.

[14] Pearce, Joseph, Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2001, pp. 83-84, 87, 90.

[15] Ibid., 91-95.

[16] Ibid., pp. 109-110, 112-113.

[17] Ibid., pp. 105, 113, 118.

[18] Ibid., pp. 124-131, 133-134.

[19] Scammel, Michael, The Solzhenitsyn Files: Secret Soviet Documents Reveal One Man’s Fight against the Monolith, Carol Stream, Ill.: 1995, p. xx.

[20] Ibid., pp. xx-xxii.

[21] Ibid., pp. xxv-xxvii.

[22] Pearce, Joseph, Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2001, pp. 190, 194, 197, 202-203, 214.

[23] Dunlop, John B., Hough, Richard S., Nicholson, Michael (editors), Solzhenitsyn in Exile: Critical Essays and Documentary Materials, Stanford, Cal.: Hoover Institute Press, 1985, pp. 24-25.

[24] Ibid., pp. 25-26.

[25] Ibid., pp. 30-32.

[26] Ibid., pp. 37-38.

[27] Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I., A World Split Apart: Commencement Address Delivered at Harvard University, New York: Harper & Row, 1978, pp. 9-11.

[28] Ibid., pp. 33-37.

[29] Pearce, Joseph, Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2001, p. 280.

[30] Ibid., pp. 228, 265, 281.

[31] Ibid., pp. 279, 284, 286-287.

[32] Duke, David, The Secret behind Communism, Mandeville, La.: Free Speech Press, 2013, p. 11.

[33] Walendy, Udo, “Nobel Prize Winner’s Writings Still Banned,” The Barnes Review, Vol. XIV, No. 5, Sept./Oct. 2008, p. 4.  

[34] Ibid., p. 47.

[35] Feuer, Kathryn (editor), Solzhenitsyn: A Collection of Critical Essays, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1976, p. 82.

[36] Ericson, Edward E., Solzhenitsyn and the Modern World, Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1993, p. 332.

[37] Duke, David, The Secret behind Communism, Mandeville, La.: Free Speech Press, 2013, p. 259.

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Author(s): John Wear
Title: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: He Would Be Canceled in Today’s America
Published: 2021-05-08
First posted on CODOH: May 8, 2021, 9:15 p.m.
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