SPIEGEL Interview with Alexander Solzhenitsyn 'I Am Not Afraid of Death'
Part 2: 'The October Revolution is a Myth'
Alexander Solzhenitsyn chats with Mikhail Gorbachev during a reception in honour of Solzhenitsyn at the Swedish embassy in Moscow.
Solzhenitsyn: Its a complicated issue. There is no doubt, however, that a revolution in archives took place in Russia over the last 20 years. Thousands of files have been opened; the researchers now have access to hundreds and thousands of previously classified documents. Hundreds of monographs that make these documents public have already been published or are in preparation. Alongside the declassified documents of the 1990's, there were many others published which never went through the declassification process. Dmitri Volkogonov, the military historian, and Alexander Yakovlev, the ex-member of the Politburo -- these people had enough influence and authority to get access to any files, and society is grateful to them for their valuable publications.
As for the last few years, no one has been able to bypass the declassification procedure. Unfortunately, this procedure takes longer than one would like. Nevertheless the files of the country's most important archives, the National Archives of the Russian Federation (GARF), are as accessible now as in the 1990s. The FSB sent 100,000 criminal- investigation materials to GARF in the late 1990s. These documents remain available for both citizens and researchers. In 2004-2005 GARF published the seven-volume History of Stalins Gulag. I cooperated with this publication and I can assure you that these volumes are as comprehensive and reliable as they can be. Researchers all over the world rely on this edition.
SPIEGEL: About 90 years ago, Russia was shaken first by the February Revolution and then by the October Revolution. These events run like a leitmotif through your works. A few months ago in a long article you reiterated your thesis once again: Communism was not the result of the previous Russian political regime; the Bolshevik Revolution was made possible only by Kerenskys poor governance in 1917. If one follows this line of thinking, then Lenin was only an accidental person, who was only able to come to Russia and seize power here with German support. Have we understood you correctly?
Solzhenitsyn: No, you have not. Only an extraordinary person can turn opportunity into reality. Lenin and Trotsky were exceptionally nimble and vigorous politicians who managed in a short period of time to use the weakness of Kerenskys government. But allow me to correct you: the "October Revolution" is a myth generated by the winners, the Bolsheviks, and swallowed whole by progressive circles in the West. On Oct. 25, 1917, a violent 24-hour coup detat took place in Petrograd. It was brilliantly and thoroughly planned by Leon Trotsky -- Lenin was still in hiding then to avoid being brought to justice for treason. What we call the Russian Revolution of 1917 was actually the February Revolution.
The reasons driving this revolution do indeed have their source in Russias pre-revolutionary condition, and I have never stated otherwise. The February Revolution had deep roots -- I have shown that in "The Red Wheel." First among these was the long-term mutual distrust between those in power and the educated society, a bitter distrust that rendered impossible any compromise, any constructive solutions for the state. And the greatest responsibility, then, of course falls on the authorities: Who if not the captain is to blame for a shipwreck? So you may indeed say that the February Revolution in its causes was the results of the previous Russian political regime.
But this does not mean that Lenin was an accidental person by any means; or that the financial participation of Emperor Wilhelm was inconsequential. There was nothing natural for Russia in the October Revolution. Rather, the revolution broke Russias back. The Red Terror unleashed by its leaders, their willingness to drown Russia in blood, is the first and foremost proof of it.
SPIEGEL: Your recent two-volume work 200 Years Together was an attempt to overcome a taboo against discussing the common history of Russians and Jews. These two volumes have provoked mainly perplexity in the West. You say the Jews are the leading force of global capital and they are among the foremost destroyers of the bourgeoisie. Are we to conclude from your rich array of sources that the Jews carry more responsibility than others for the failed Soviet experiment?
Solzhenitsyn: I avoid exactly that which your question implies: I do not call for any sort of scorekeeping or comparisons between the moral responsibility of one people or another; moreover, I completely exclude the notion of responsibility of one nation towards another. All I am calling for is self-reflection.
You can get the answer to your question from the book itself: "Every people must answer morally for all of its past -- including that past which is shameful. Answer by what means? By attempting to comprehend: How could such a thing have been allowed? Where in all this is our error? And could it happen again? It is in that spirit, specifically, that it would behoove the Jewish people to answer, both for the revolutionary cutthroats and the ranks willing to serve them. Not to answer before other peoples, but to oneself, to ones consciousness, and before God. Just as we Russians must answer -- for the pogroms, for those merciless arsonist peasants, for those crazed revolutionary soldiers, for those savage sailors.
SPIEGEL: In our opinion, out of all your works, "The Gulag Archipelago" provoked the greatest public resonance. In this book you showed the misanthropic nature of the Soviet dictatorship. Looking back today, can you say to what extent it has contributed to the defeat of communism in the world?
Solzhenitsyn: You should not address this question to me -- an author cannot give such evaluations.
SPIEGEL: To paraphrase something you once said, the dark history of the 20th century had to be endured by Russia for the sake of mankind. Have the Russians learned the lessons of the two revolutions and their consequences?
Solzhenitsyn: It seems they are starting to. A great number of publications and movies on the history of the 20th century -- albeit of uneven quality -- are evidence of a growing demand. Quite recently, the state-owned TV channel Russia aired a series based on Varlam Shalamovs works, showing the terrible, cruel truth about Stalins camps. It was not watered down.
And, for instance, since last February I have been surprised and impressed by the large-scale, heated and long-lasting discussions that my previously written and now republished article on the February Revolution has provoked. I was pleased to see the wide range of opinions, including those opposed to mine, since they demonstrate the eagerness to understand the past, without which there can be no meaningful future.