Winston Churchill versus Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
There’s a celebrated riddle, and it goes, “What’s the number one cause of death in the 20th century? Heart Disease? Cancer? Influenza?” No. It’s murder by communism and WWII. Reading of the arbitrariness of the communistic regime’s crimes, and especially inside Russia and China, one tends to ask, “Why?” Why did they use terror to motivate people? The economic results in every case were exceedingly poor. Collectivized farming failed completely and was the cause of much human-created famine. Art suffered. Culture was devastated. All moral progress stopped. Those who survived, did so through absolute deception of their potential jailers. Citizens and organs of the autocratic governments lied to the open societies of the West. Many inside hoped against hope that we weren’t naive enough to actually believe what was being propogated, but would see through the lies into what was happening within their closed borders. They prayed that some Chaucerian hero would arise and save them from their bleak ruin. Back then, many in the Media Class of the open societies would not believe it, or at any rate, wanted not to accept the claims of some unbelievers as true, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary; at least they were skeptical of the largest assertions of the dissidents, the Western Intelligence Agencies and the Doubting Thomases of the Right (the Conservatives and Libertarians). As it turned out from archive verification after Gorbachev’s exit, those early largest claims from the sixties and seventies were far too small, the actual figure—all communist countries in—is well over 100 million murders. Now this is not war-time casualties, deaths by neglect or human stupidity, (i.e., gross mismanagement): this is outright bare-knuckled murder by the state for ideological reasons. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. (This is not meant to diminish the horrible crime of the mass killings of Communists by right-wing autocratic regimes often supported in whole or part by the West and especially America during the Cold War).
The three volumes of both the Gulag Archipelago and The Last Lion are about the same ‘easy’ task to consume; certainly not as daunting say, as Copleston’s A History of Philosophy or of Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but still what charts one through these oceanic waters quickly is their sheer brilliance . . . uplifting nature . . . and at the last, humor. Many a commentator has remarked that the Gulag is demoralizing . . . depressing as only Russian literature can be, or conversely that Churchill was one of the darkest ones . . . a raw warlord of the worst sort: Solzhenitsyn an anti-Semitic, Churchill a racist. Either charge is only peripherally true, and in essence, utterly false. Foremostly, Solzhenitsyn is absolutely entertaining in his laconic deconstruction of Russian bathos: the blandness of it all, the splendid banality of the evil of dogma, its utter futile inability to overmaster human spirituality but instead only to accomplish no more than to destroy the body. As it turns out, in the tens of millions. Yet just as A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is breathtaking in its singularity—it all happens in a 24 hour period and when you’re finished you understand the Gulag well enough—it is also hilarious, simplicity itself and wroth with irony: “Incidentally, In thirty-eight, at the Kotlas deportation point, I met my former squadron commander. He’d been given ten years too. I learned from him that the regimental commander and the commissar were both shot in thirty-seven, no matter whether they were of proletarian or kulak stock, whether they had a conscience or not. So I crossed myself and said: ‘So, after all, Creator, You do exist up there in heaven. Your patience is long-suffering but You strike hard.’”
No word can be skipped, yet; the pages fly by like a drunken afternoon in the warm Caribbean sun. By goodness, it’s a damn monument to Humankind with a capital f—king H. Dystopia or not, the camps produced Solzhenitsyn, light of the East: “Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”
The real moral leader of the Russian Empire spoke to the world from inside a labor camp, while the robber barons of the mind, the Marxist-Leninists, (and their idiot Communistic absolutists) threw at one point up to 14 percent of the population of the USSR into forced labor. In all, 50 million people passed through the brutal Soviet Gulag system, most never to return to their old lives.
Thousands of miles away, from the Spencer side of the inbred dim-bolt class of British Royals, came a man who drank champagne like it was orange pekoe tea and had two baths everyday without ever once in his life pouring a bath. Yet in his pampered existence—living as it were in luxury hand to mouth supported through his parliamentary wages, book earnings and speaking fees—he became the most luminous beacon of the West, the Pericles of the second last western empire and perhaps the most salient democrat and statesman humankind will ever see. To this day his quotable political retorts, imperialism and antiquated and toxic personal one-liners diminish his absolute golden genius in world affairs, just as Solzhenitsyn’s rabid nationalism, deflect his overall grand spiritual wisdom.
Often one’s critics—both of these moral giants suffered unrelenting attacks from the tiny-minded organized Left and the dimwitted conspiratorial Right—frame the historical afterthought. Solzhenitsyn’s Marxist oppressors pursued him with a pitiless hatred, at one point threatening his whole extended family’s imprisonment if he didn’t tell the naïve Western reporters that he was being treated well by his USSR jailors. Indeed, he agreed for the sake of their safety. So his handlers stopped the mistreatment, put him up in the prison’s infirmary and gave him rest, nutritious food and medical attention. When healed well enough for “The Big Lie”, they put him in front of the cameras and he pooched that foul, and those liberal gourmet-journalists of the Left lapped it up like Zedong duck a l'orange. Then the KGB threw his ass back into prison.
With Churchill in the 1930s it was as hard. The Tory appeasers marched link-synced against this ‘warmonger’ ‘instigator’ ‘traitor’ with a passion reserved for present-day pedophiles. There wasn’t a Nazi-Fascist-Bolshevik butt they wouldn’t kiss. Indeed many of these fabulous Tory (class-conscious) cowards secretly hated democracy. They waged a convert war within their party and in the British press to vilify and oust him; to destroy his political career. This famous outcast cried in the wilderness for a decade that Bolshevism was evil, Fascism a growing menace and Nazism an iniquity that must be utterly destroyed—that the world itself was at stake! “I will not pretend that, if I had to choose between Communism and Nazism, I would choose Communism.” He added: “I hope I will not be called upon to survive in a world under a Government of either of these dispensations. I feel unbounded sorrow and sympathy for their victims.” OR “I love Lenin, Lenin was poor, and therefore I love poverty, Lenin was hungry, therefore I can go hungry . . . Communism . . . is Christianity with a tomahawk.” Of reason, he said this: “If the human race ever reaches a stage of development—when religion will cease to assist and comfort mankind—Christianity will be put aside as a crutch which is no longer needed, and man will stand erect on the firm legs of reason” * (see endnote). When one of his critics said that support for the Soviets [after the Nazis had attacked Russia] might prove problematic given Churchill’s longstanding loathing of all things Bolshevik, Churchill replied that if “Hitler invaded Hell he would at least make favorable reference to the Devil.” Of Lenin: “They [the Prussians] transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus from Switzerland into Russia. If this rhetoric sounds extravagant, it should be remembered that the Bolshevik holocaust—five years of fighting, pestilence, and famine—cost fifteen million lives.”
Solzhenitsyn’s opine that he exposed Lenin as the original mass murderer and that this somehow was a godless act to destroy religion. He well understood that the Marxists intellectuals especially hated him—he destroyed the lie that it was Stalin alone who usurped and razed Communism by betrayal of Marx’s ideology. No they were all mass murderers, and Marx himself, an utter hater of human nature. Like our Russian hero, Churchill held no anti-Semitic urges, though on a few occasions, he spoke disparagingly of Asians, Indians and Africans. However this was never with spite, only as that, ‘white-man’s burden’ ** (see endnote) which he truly believed in: it was the Empire’s duty to spread civilization and parliamentary democracy until The Third World could fend for itself.
When attacking his political enemies, he used racial, misogynistic, homophobic and pejorative language, but he was friendly with all of them in his everyday dealings. He recognized merit without regard to race, gender or station. He loved the common woman and man: he submitted humbly to the vote. He married a progressive who fought for the suffragettes. He predicted the bloodbath of the British departure from Indian at the time of the partition between them and Pakistan and was against it—the death toll was between 500 thousand and a million as he predicted it would be—he supported the creation of the state of Israel. He called the Second World War the unnecessary war, being that generosity in victory after the First World War would have prevented it, a thing he preached at the time along with Keynes and Auden to the British Liberal parliament. He was ignored then as he was so often later.
Now these two giants of history are gone from us, indeed, Churchill for some time, he died in 1965 and Solzhenitsyn much later, in 2008. The worst thing you can say of them is that they weren’t perfect. But the best? How about they saved us in their own way from universal ignobility. While Stalin signed a peace-treaty with the Nazis, Churchill fought Hitler all alone for two years, the Royal Air Force, harassing them like a swarm of mosquitoes attacking Spanish Conquistadors. In ’45, Solzhenitsyn was in East Prussia witnessing the Soviet troops massacre the defenseless German elderly. “So, were we any better?” he asked and began questioning Stalin’s conduct of the war in letters to his friends; this lead to his eventual imprisonment.
The all-intrusive state monitored private posts back then like current governments read private digital correspondence today. Don’t let Google’s C E O Eric Schmidt tell you—“If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.”—that the government should have access to your emails, texts, cell-phone conversations and whatever else they can steal. Shame on Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Verizon and all the rest for kowtowing to spy agencies. The CIA? You’re kidding me. That’s a big Laugh Out Laugh. However, especially Google has disgraced itself, see, Wikileaks.
Now, here we are, we’ve got what we’ve bought. Congratulations on this important milestone: what are the chances that enabling full participation for people with development disabilities would allow two seriously intellectually-challenged white men to be running two of the most powerful nuclear regimes? If we can produce Churchill and Solzhenitsyn, indubitably we can do better than Trump and Putin, or as Orwell would have called them, the pig and the rat. I’ll leave it to the reader to guess which is more dangerous to your future liberty, hog or rodent? At any rate, the barn is up in flames and I’m just peeing on the fire.
In the land of no-liberty-to-be-different, we cherish the longing to hunt terrorists more than the freedom of expression or our right to privacy. The West is becoming a totalitarian soft-cuddly gulag where the fat ignorant political class lead us into a Huxleyian dystopia. Surely some libertarian journalists are guilty for exposing the state’s crime of illegally spying on everyone the whole world through without a warrant. And for destroying our privacy and the right to be left alone by your government. Should some number of the whistleblowers, as an example, be round-up with Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning and Stalinized once and for all, ("Beat, and beat, and beat again!"). Or perhaps Trump can tweet them into silence, (Tweet, and tweet and tweet again), or Putin could just kill them outright as he has done to so many human rights advocates inside Russia. If Snowden ever gets out from under Moscow’s grip unharmed, I’ll be surprised. Goddamn, where’s Christopher Hitchens when you need him? Let’s release to the public all the personal information the spy agencies have of the CEOs of Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, Verizon and Google and see how they like being monitored and exposed.
Imagine the 20th Century without Marx and Hitler? What a more hopeful charitable conception of humankind we would have today. How much freer and private, yet for all that then, we would not have produced either Solzhenitsyn or Churchill with quite the same illumination, would we have? Life makes these horrendous tradeoffs for every individual and for every generation: no suffering, no wisdom.
* One time back in WWII, [from The Last Lion] “Churchill had run up against Montgomery’s asceticism when after a day of inspecting his troops near Brighton, he repaired with Monty to the Royal Albion Hotel, where Churchill anticipated a good whisky and a cigar. Monty declined the libations, declaring that he neither drank nor smoked, and furthermore was 100 percent fit”—he was 89 when he died—“Churchill rejoined that he both drank and smoked and that he was 200 percent fit.” Churchill lived until he was 90, as did Solzhenitsyn, but smoke and drink didn’t serve Hitchens well, he died at 62 of oesophageal cancer, the main risks: tobacco and alcohol.
** This is in no way meant to endorse this view of the Third World or any minorities; but I let the poem and its sentiment, right or wrong in its epoch, speak for itself. At the time, this view was vigorously opposed by Mark Twain, see The Anti-Imperialist.
Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go send your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child
Take up the White Man’s burden
In patience to abide
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit
And work another’s gain
Take up the White Man’s burden—
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better
The hate of those ye guard—
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah slowly) to the light:
"Why brought ye us from bondage,
“Our loved Egyptian night?”
Take up the White Man’s burden-
Have done with childish days-
The lightly proffered laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold-edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!
"The Western world has lost its civic courage.… Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elite, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society." Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Harvard commencement address, 1978
"On the other side of the Atlantic, the young Winston Churchill wrote of taking part in “a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples” in the British Empire. In one of those jolly little wars, he wrote, “we proceeded systematically, village by village, and we destroyed the houses, filled up the wells, blew down the towers, cut down the shady trees, burned the crops and broke the reservoirs in punitive devastation.” Churchill defended these atrocities on the grounds that “the Aryan stock is bound to triumph,” and he said he was “strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes.” He blamed the people of India for a famine caused by British mismanagement because they kept “breeding like rabbits,” adding, “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” " From the section on compartmentalized morality, Better Angels.