by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Just after Christmas 50 years ago, the original Russian edition of the first two parts of The Gulag Archipelago was published, followed by French and English translations the next year. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn dedicated his book “to all those who did not live to tell it.”
This was followed by second and third volumes in 1975 (parts three and four) and 1976 (parts five through seven), with corresponding translations in 1976 and 1978. Harper Collins publishes an authorized abridged edition.
My parents emigrated from the Soviet Union. From what they told me, I developed a deep reluctance to being frog-marched to Kolyma courtesy of unilateral disarmament peaceniks, who are nowadays called “woke” with alternate grievances but the same collectivist Borg mentality. With that mindset, I purchased copies of all three volumes as they became available and read them with curiosity and sorrow.
Unlike Gulag by Anne Applebaum (2004), Solzhenitsyn’s treatment does not present a comprehensive history of Soviet slave labor camps. Rather, it’s an anthology of vignettes, both firsthand and described by other former inmates, woven into a damning indictment of communism under Moscow’s dominion.
Prior to Archipelago’s release, Americans and Western Europeans had been exposed to only glimpses of communist inhumanity, mostly from the few survivors who had escaped their dystopias by fortitude and fortune. But their voices were seldom heard, drowned out by a cacophony of Soviet apologists who insisted socialist coercion represented the ideal manner for ordering other people around. Central planning is benevolent, you see.
Solzhenitsyn tore the curtain away from this façade and forced the “progressive” elite to confront the ugly truth: Their prosperous socialist utopia was a cruel and barbaric sham.