“Let your credo be this,” the prophetic and prolific Soviet dissident Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn once said. “Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”
During his life, Solzhenitsyn stood out as the greatest dissident of communism in the Cold War. He published multiple books, at great personal peril, that uncovered his own government’s authoritarianism. His numerous essays and lectures exposed the evils of communism and warned the West of its dangers.
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but socialism is making a comeback. As young Americans are increasingly comfortable with and supportive of socialist ideology, Hillsdale students should be reminded of a man who confronted socialism played out in his own country, and who spoke the truth in a world hostile to those who did so. That man, Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, should be the newest statue on the Liberty Walk.
Solzhenitsyn, a former commander in the Soviet Red Army, was arrested in 1945 for criticizing Stalin in a private letter. His crime fell under the infamous Article 58, which allowed for the arrest of anyone suspected of “counter-revolutionary” activities. Solzhenitsyn spent eight years in Soviet prison camps, then three years in internal exile in Birlik, a remote village of the Soviet Union. During his time in exile, he wrote “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” the first novel to portray with honesty the evils of the Soviet labor camp system.
In 1958, Solzhenitsyn began his most famous work, “The Gulag Archipelago,” an exhaustive account of his time in the Soviet prison camps. Solzhenitsyn dedicated the three-volume work to “all those who did not live to tell it,” adding, “And may they please forgive me for not having seen it all nor remembered it all, for not having divined all of it.” Written piecemeal over a decade, “The Gulag Archipelago” was smuggled under the nose of a suspicious KGB. In 1973, one copy of three that existed in the Soviet Union was confiscated by the Soviet Union after the KGB questioned one of Solzhenitsyn’s trusted typists. (The woman, Elizaveta Voronyanskaya, was later found hanging in her apartment — whether from suicide or murder is unknown). Six weeks after Solzhenitsyn approved the work’s publication in Paris, he was forced into exile, and moved to America. Until his death in 2008, Solzhenitsyn warned the West of the encroaching dangers of communism in essays, books, and speeches. A year after his death, in 2009, Russian schools made “The Gulag Archipelago” required reading in schools.
From George Washington to Winston Churchill to Frederick Douglass, Hillsdale College’s campus statues commemorate individuals who stood for liberty and against tyranny. Several of our statues commemorate individuals who did so in the fight against communism during the Cold War. Ronald Reagan, the American president who understood the threat which Soviet expansion posed to American national security, faces Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister who aided Reagan in his fight against communism. But while these leaders served an invaluable purpose in the fight against communist tyranny, there is one man missing who experienced these horrors firsthand — Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn. His story could provide a unique inspiration to a generation of young people who find themselves, like Solzhenitsyn, confronting tyranny in their own country.
Hillsdale College is a rare exception to Leftist tendencies in American academia. Where colleges across America caved to the woke mob on affirmative action admission policies, critical race theory in academics, or revisionist American history, Hillsdale has continued to teach the academic and intellectual principles that matter. As Clarence Thomas said in 2016, Hillsdale is a “shining city on a hill.” Institutions like ours can take heart in the words of the Soviet dissident Solzhenitsyn himself when he said, “The simple step of a courageous individual is not to partake in the lie. One word of truth outweighs the whole world.” Like Solzhenitsyn, Hillsdale students have the opportunity to speak that one word of truth.
In a 1975 speech in Washington, D.C. titled, “Words of Warning to America,” Solzhenitsyn challenged the United States for its passive apologies to the Soviet Union and constant capitulating to her demands. But he ended the speech on a hopeful note, saying, “New generations are growing up which are steadfast in their struggle with evil; which are not willing to accept unprincipled compromises; which prefer to lose everything — salary, conditions of existence and life itself — but are not willing to sacrifice conscience; not willing to make deals with evil.”
Perhaps Hillsdale students are such a generation, albeit living some 45 years after Solzhenitsyn spoke. As Hillsdale students strive to be “steadfast in their struggle with evil”, they should be reminded of Solzhenitsyn’s own fight against communism by a statue in his honor on the Liberty Walk.
Sarah Weaver is pursuing a master’s degree in the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship.