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Russian writer Alexsandr Solzhen­itsyn speaking to a crowd in Germany in 1974. Courtesy | Wiki­media Commons

“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.