Malcolm Muggeridge: I would very much like to know if you consider it possible, or conceivable, that the whole Gulag apparatus could be abolished without some violent upheaval in the Soviet Union?
Alexander Solzhenitsyn: It is not only the Gulag which expresses the nature of violence which is inherent in the communist system. It is only its extreme form, it is only the extreme manifestation of violence. But there is a whole gradation of violence; so really your question should be turned round in this way: Is communist totalitarianism possible without violence? The answer is: no, not for one single day.
Muggeridge: That makes it absolutely clear. Well the present situation is that you have, in both the USSR and the USA, this vast nuclear potential. Is it possible to imagine, therefore, that we shall avoid having a nuclear war?
Solzhenitsyn: You know, for some reason I want to say that I’m convinced that there will be no nuclear war. There can be various interpretations of why such conflict will not take place. If only, after 1945, the West had not disarmed itself, had not let all its armed forces disband but had retained conventional armies, then today there would be no danger of a nuclear confrontation. I won’t go through all the various possibilities, but I will stop over one, and it is a very pessimistic variant. It is a possibility which in fact is the summary of ten years of concessions and capitulation. One of the reasons why there will not be a nuclear conflict is that the West has, in fact, given in on nuclear balance, and has lost any kind of initiative in a balance of conventional forces, and is very unprepared for subversion from within. So that, in fact, even without having recourse to any nuclear confrontation, there are all sorts of possibilities for the communist leaders.
Muggeridge: I’m a very old journalist now, and it quite often happens that people ask me what is the most significant thing that has happened in the last 50 years. Well I always say one thing, which partly derives from your writings, and that is, in fact, the revival of the Christian faith in the one place in the world where I would have expected it to have had no chance of reviving. In other words, would it be true to say that the efforts of the Soviet authorities to prevent any faith in Christianity or any practice of the Christian religion have been a failure?
Solzhenitsyn: What you have said has a profound significance. For the last five, six decades we have seen in, oh, many places in the world the victory of communism. True, those are victories which don’t really bring much good to people; they are not economic victories, they are not good, positive victories, they are really victories of power. And in my country the communist powers in fact took, so to speak, military steps against the Christian faith. The signal for an attack against Christianity was given right at the very beginning by Lenin and Trotsky. Millions of peasants were slaughtered in order to eradicate faith from the very roots of the people. Millions of hours of propaganda time were used in order to burn out the faith from the hearts of the children. And yet, despite this, we can say that, after all these years, communism has not destroyed the Christian faith. Christianity went through a period of decline, but now it is growing and reviving. And that is the most hope that one can see anywhere, not only in my country, but anywhere in the world. For the moment I see no end to the military victories of communism . . . It looks as if the shadow of communism is covering the earth more and more deeply. I would compare this with an eclipse of the sun. But with an eclipse of the sun a small portion of the earth is darkened, whereas with communism it is half the earth which is in darkness, perhaps even three-quarters. But because communism has already shown its weakness, its inability to destroy Christianity, for this reason we may hope that the shadow will gradually pass across and clear the earth; and will perhaps clear precisely those countries which have been in the deepest shadow until now. It is amazing, but Dostoevsky saw all this at least one hundred years ago.
Muggeridge: . . . Not only that, but he saw, in The Devils, that the demon that would bring it all about was the demon of liberalism. I always think that you are like Dostoevsky . . .
Solzhenitsyn: I never stop wondering, I never stop marvelling, at the prophetic power, the prophetic vision of Dostoevsky. We already see happening what he foresaw in many parts of the world, but what is amazing is how he saw the very first beginnings and sometimes even saw things that had not even begun in his time. When I was a schoolboy there was no Dostoevsky among the Russian writers . . . he just hadn’t existed . . .
Muggeridge: . . . But now they’ve revived him—and the fascinating thing to me, the most amazing ideological acrobatics that I’ve ever seen, is that they’re trying to persuade us that in fact Dostoevsky was a hang-over from Karl Marx and that, really, although Lenin spoke severely about him, he admired him.
Solzhenitsyn: There is no end to Marxist acrobatics. It’s not only Dostoevsky who has, so to speak, been colonized as an ally, but, while attacking Christianity, they are ready to colonize our Lord Jesus as well. The political atheist literature in fact maintains that Marxism continues what Christianity began; that it makes possible what Christianity failed to achieve. If this were only limited to the communist countries . . . But this trick, this sleight of hand, we find it everywhere in the whole world; because socialists everywhere ascribe Christian virtues to themselves, constantly. Socialism is, in fact, absolutely opposed to Christianity. Christianity is founded on good will; whereas socialism is founded on violence or, if you like, on pressure at any rate.
Muggeridge: Do you think that the West is fated then to be swallowed up in this thing—that there will be a complete disintegration of our Christian civilization?
Solzhenitsyn: Both threats are very much alive, very present. If one were to speak merely of the simple advance, the simple push to communism, yes, it is very possible that communism may come to obscure the West. But by that same law of the eclipse of the sun, the shadow will pass; the West may escape this destiny, this fate. But if the West does not find in itself the spiritual forces, the spiritual strengths to rise again, to find itself again, then, yes, Christian civilization will disintegrate. We use the same words to describe the same phenomenon—democracy. Democracy was originally developed before the face of God. And the foundation of its concept of equality was equality before God. But then the image of God receded, it was pushed away by man. And this same democracy changed, and acquired a very strange character. And the responsibility that each person had before God, this concept of responsibility has been lost; whereas the so-called democratic institutions cannot exercise any force, any pressure. And so, having lost any concept of true responsibility, we are, so to speak, free to destroy our institutions and ourselves.
Muggeridge: Do you think, then, that the situation is hopeless?
Solzhenitsyn: Thank God, and I mean thank God, the situation is never hopeless. In the USSR you might say that we have lost everything, and yet our position is not hopeless. I do not consider that human history has reached its ultimate point. The history of the decline of Christian civilization . . . the history of communism which has come into the world . . . all this will be measured in sections, but history will continue. The lesson that we, mankind, humanity, the lesson which we have to learn takes many centuries to learn.
Muggeridge: I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’ve thought this: that we could say, perhaps, that when we say Western civilization we mean Christendom: On one level we could say that Christendom is finished, but not Christ . . .
Solzhenitsyn: I wouldn’t like to say that the social form of Christian life has gone forever. I think it is very possible that here, too, there are possibilities of change or development which we simply don’t know about. And indeed, if it were not still present, then Christianity would be something that would be removed from us, would, so to speak, ascend to the heavens. I think we shall see many forms of Christianity on earth.
Muggeridge: I was first in Russia as a young journalist in 1932. Now, of course, at that time everybody adulated Stalin in an entirely and utterly extravagant way, including many distinguished Western authors. Then came Krushchev’s speech at the 20th Party Congress, and the busts of Stalin were taken away—he was abolished. Do you think that they will ever put him back?
Solzhenitsyn: There isn’t really actually such a need for this anymore. Andropov in some ways is perhaps following in the steps of Stalin—not in the same extreme way, but he is following in his footsteps. It’s enough simply to have the two models, Lenin and Marx. And if there are too many in between, then the significance, the importance, of the originals diminished . . .
Muggeridge: What I want to know is, take the ordinary Russian people, they were given this extraordinary idea of Stalin, this great man . . . and then they woke up one morning and he was not a great man at all. Now, do they afterwards think, well perhaps his successor might not be a great man . . . does it destroy their confidence?
Solzhenitsyn: Here I think that, for the Western mind, history has been written inaccurately. Even in the Thirties, I knew scores of people who in fact had absolutely no respect for Stalin—in the villages it was the most uneducated, the simplest people. So really, the dethronement of Stalin was no event and no surprise to them. It was a shock for the highest levels—for the communist elite—and for the so-called progressive Western circles who actually believed in Stalin.
Muggeridge: Now, I want to ask a personal question. Do you expect ever to go back to Russia?
Solzhenitsyn: In a strange way, I not only hope, I’m inwardly absolutely convinced that I shall go back; I live with this conviction, I shall go back. Now, that contradicts any rational assumption; I’m not so young, and I can’t point to any actual facts which make me say this. History is so full of unexpected things that some of the simplest facts in our lives we cannot foretell.
Muggeridge: Well, I hope with all my heart that this one comes true. I shan’t be here, but if I can observe from up there what’s going on, then I shall rejoice.
Solzhenitsyn: My life now, from early morning till late at night, is working on my writing. And I really do feel that at last I’m doing that for which I was born. But all this is illumined by the sun—by the light that is my hope of returning to my country.