The Gulag Archipelago: What Can We Learn From the Past?

To understand the present, we have to study the past…

Why do the masses tend to follow illogical and destructive orders? How can a small minority terrorize and enslave the people? Why are some people capable of so much unimaginable evil?

It’s not hard to find parallels between National Socialism in Germany and communist Russia, to what is happening in the Western world right now.

Solzhenitsyn spent eight years in forced labour camps during the Soviet era, followed by internal exile. He recorded his own memories and the testimonies of fellow prisoners in The Gulag Archipelago (for links, see below) – originally a work consisting of three books.

These are excerpts from the approved abridgement:

Although others might not be aware of it, it was clear to the interrogators at least that the cases were fabricated, yet they kept on working year after year. How could they? Either they forced themselves not to think (and this in itself means the ruin of a human being), and simply accepted that this was the way it had to be and that the person who gave them their orders was always right…
But didn’t the Nazis, too, it comes to mind, argue that same way?


And this has also been noted in our literature on jurisprudence:
“In many cases those who were deprived of freedom carried out their duties of guarding the colonies and maintaining order better than the staff jailers.”
And so tell me – what bad is there that one cannot teach a nation? Or peple? Or all humanity?


This is surely the main problem of the twentieth century: is it permissible merely to carry out orders and commit one’s conscience to someone else’s keeping? Can a man do without ideas of his own about good and evil, and merely derive them from the printed instruction and verbal orders of his superiors? Oaths! Those solemn pledges pronounced with a tremor in the voice and intended to defend the people against evildoers: see how easily they can be misdirected to the service of evildoers and against the people!


The book is available at Waterstones or other booksellers: The Gulag Archipelago, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

OR download a free PDF version here: The Gulag Archipelago (Vintage Classics)

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