Gandhi and Solzhenitsyn: Two Giants who blessed the 20th century – II
by Vladislav Krasnov on 14 Feb 2019 2 Comments

Solzhenitsyn invoked Gandhi in his Commandment: Live Not By Lies


Solzhenitsyn knew that his immediate task was to free his fellow Soviet citizens from Fear: the fear to be deprived of social privileges, to lose job, even to be imprisoned. For, as soon as one expressed doubt about the official Marxist-Leninist ideology which had a very special status as the official faith of all Soviet people as well as the guiding star for the “liberation” of mankind, one became a pariah. On February 12, 1974, Solzhenitsyn penned a short Manifesto titled “Live Not By Lies” in the hope to have it circulated among Moscow’s intellectuals.


It is dated the same day that secret police broke into his apartment and arrested him. The next day he was exiled to West Germany. The essay is a call to moral courage. It serves as light to all who value truth. “Live Not By Lies” is the only text, as far as I know, where Solzhenitsyn invokes the name of Gandhi.


Painfully aware that the means to resist the totalitarian state for Soviet citizens were extremely limited, he could not ask them to participate in non-violent Gandhi-style protests and acts of disobedience. He knew that all attempts to organize or participate in such protest would immediately end in arrests. He could not even ask journalists, professors and teachers to truthfully describe what they saw in the country. No such acts were tolerated. So, “Let the (official) lie cover and possess the whole country. But the least one can do is not to repeat it. Let the lie rule, but not via my mouth. And this would be a real break-through out of our habitual inaction. Such a decision is the easiest one can take, and yet the most effective in destroying lie. For when people step away from a lie, the lie loses its nourishment. For, like any virus, the lie uses people as its carriers”.


Solzhenitsyn states the dilemma of Soviet citizens: “When violence intrudes into peaceful life, its face glows with self-confidence, as if it were carrying a banner and shouting: “I am violence. Run away, make way for me - I will crush you.” But violence quickly grows old. It has lost confidence in itself, and in order to maintain a respectable face it summons falsehood as its ally - since violence lays its ponderous paw not every day and not on every shoulder. It demands from us only obedience to lies and daily participation in lies - all loyalty lies in lies”.


Western sovietologists, as the profession was then called, failed to understand everyday Soviet reality because they judged the USSR by the standards of an authoritarian Tsarist Russia and could not imagine that Marxist-Leninist ideology, imported as it was from the “progressive” West, could degenerate into a much more brutal and efficient totalitarian police state.


To explain the difference Solzhenitsyn invoked Gandhi’s name: “No, we are not called yet to city squares to proclaim the truth or just say aloud what we think. We are not mature enough to do so because it is scary. Therefore, let us just resist the compulsion to say something that our mind refuses to accept. This is OUR WAY, the easiest and most accessible in view of our ingrained cowardice. In any case, it is much easier than - do I dare to say - Gandhi’s acts of civil disobedience. All we can do under the circumstances is not to consciously support the lie”.


Rebuilding Russia: Reflections and Tentative Proposals

Failing to respond to a growing pressure of dissident groups in the USSR, ignoring what Solzhenitsyn and other dissidents had published in the samizdat and abroad, Soviet leaders continued to waste time until finally, twelve years later, Mikhail Gorbachev initiated perestroika and glasnost in an effort to start the country moving again. Alas, Gorbachev still held onto Communist ideology. But Solzhenitsyn proved steadfast. When the USSR was about to collapse, in 1990 he wrote the essay, “Rebuilding Russia: Reflections and Tentative proposals.”


Let me repeat what I wrote about the essay shortly after it had appeared: “Solzhenitsyn’s central idea is that the particular form of government and economy is secondary to a nation’s spiritual foundations. ‘If the spiritual resources of a nation have dried up’, he says, ‘then not even the best form of government, nor any sort of industrial development, can save it from death.’ One of the chief sources of the present malady is precisely the fact that the Communists reversed the order of priority by putting the ‘cart’ of economic and political power before the ‘horse’ of spirituality of human relations. As a result, not only the country’s political institutions, economy, and ecology but also ‘the souls’ of the people were destroyed in the name of the Marxist Utopia”.


As he did in the early 197Os, Solzhenitsyn again eschewed Western emphases on democracy in his suggested alternatives to the Soviet regime. He rather favored a benevolent authoritarian government morally bound by Russia’s traditional Christian values. This does not mean that he was “against democracy.” It rather meant that he defended the right of Russia - or any country for this matter - to sovereignty, that is, the ability to work out a social and political system that suits best its geography, geopolitical situation, historical and cultural traditions, and, yes, democratic aspirations of its people that are best implemented when the country is free from foreign meddling.


Vladimir Putin and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


Ever since I founded in 1992 the Russia & America Good Will Association (, I have argued that it is in both countries’ national interests to have friendly, at least, normal relation. More than once I urged US presidents, most recently in exchange of letters with President Barak Obama, to respect Russia’s sovereignty as the foundation for good relations. In a 2016 interview with Veterans Today I called attention to President Putin’s favorable attitude toward Solzhenitsyn, in particular, to his vision of Russia’s path of development.


Putin defined patriotism by quoting Solzhenitsyn, that it is not any sort of state ideology but a feeling of attachment to Mother Russia. Putin invoked Solzhenitsyn again when he recently spoke in favor of “nationalism in a good sense,” that is, not any sort of xenophobia toward other nations, but the need to affirm one’s national identity, nurture the roots of one’s national traditions, including religious beliefs, while affirming the secular foundations of its Constitution.


Also, to celebrate Solzhenitsyn’s Centenary since his birth on December 11, 1918 the Putin government supported scholarly conferences in a number of Russian towns. Russkiy Mir Foundation worked jointly with Northern Vermont University to sponsor Solzhenitsyn’s Centenary in Lyndon, Vermont, in September 2018. On December 11, 2018 Putin was present during the unveiling of a statue of Solzhenitsyn in Moscow.


But let me quote Joseph Pearce, the author of a brilliant 2001 book “Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile,” about his observations on the fate of Solzhenitsyn in Putin’s Russia and the USA: “In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the greatest classic of anti-communist literature is now compulsory reading in all high schools. If the same could be said of the high schools of the United States, we would not have the endemic historical and political ignorance that has led to the widespread sympathy for communism among young Americans. In light of this, and in light of Mr. Putin’s evident admiration for Solzhenitsyn, let’s not try to pretend that Russia is a communist nation. We don’t need to like Vladimir Putin. We don’t need to admire him. But we do need to acknowledge that Russia has moved on from the evils of socialism, even as we are in danger of embracing those very same evils”.


As I have lived long in both countries, I can confirm that Pearce’s observations largely coincide with my own. I certainly witnessed “the widespread sympathy for communism among young Americans” when I taught Russian and Soviet studies in the States during 1966 to 1991. Now those sympathies seem to have grown in the West, albeit in different forms, such as the Neo-Marxism, the Frankfurt School, and so-called “Cultural Marxism”.


The only disagreement I have with Pearce is about “the evils of socialism” that he seems to equate with Communism. I think the ideals and practices of socialism need not be evil per se. However, the reality of the USSR, they became “evil” because socialism was imposed by violence. Solzhenitsyn did express his criticism of socialism for being imposed by force in the USSR, most eloquently in his polemic with Andrei Sakharov. But this does not mean that he rejected it in principle. In fact, both Russia and the USA have elements of socialism in healthcare (mostly in Russia), progressive taxation (more so in the USA) and US retirement benefits. Moreover, the ESOP (Employee stock ownership plan) enterprises seem to be a form of socialism that is more widely spread in the USA and UK than in Russia.


As for Putin, he recently said that he did not think that socialism could be restored in Russia. But at the same time he defended some socialist practices in Russia today. I think those practices are actually needed as a counterbalance to oligarchic crony capitalism that perpetuates social injustice as it hampers economic vitality in both the USA and Russia. On the other hand, I find myself in agreement with both Pearce and The Imaginative Conservative when they proclaim “the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics - we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility.” This is very much in agreement with Solzhenitsyn’s philosophy of polyphony and respectful dialogue that he proclaimed both as an artist and as a social healer.


Putin on Gandhi, Mandela, and Solzhenitsyn


Once, during an international press-conference at the G8 Summit in 2007, when asked whether he was a true democrat, Putin, answered in the affirmative. But then, pointing out the wave of violence across the United State and Europe, he made Western infatuation with democracy sound hollow. Then he made the impromptu remark that “There is no one to talk to since Mahatma Gandhi died”. A few years later on December 8, 2016, he admitted that his oft quoted remark was made in a jovial mode. Yet, there is no doubt that Putin admires Gandhi as a prophet of Non-Violence just as he admires Solzhenitsyn as a man who challenged the mighty Soviet state with truth and courage - and won!


Western mainstream media did not report about Vladimir Putin’s visit to the South African Embassy in Moscow when Nelson Mandela, once an ardent Marxist-Leninist guerilla fighter, passed away on December of 2013. But The Economic Times of India did. That’s what it said on December 10, 2013 under the heading: Mandela’s magnitude compares to Gandhi, Solzhenitsyn: Putin.


Russian President Vladimir Putin today paid rich tribute to Nelson Mandela, comparing the colossus of 20th century politics to Mahatma Gandhi and Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Mandela “is undoubtedly one of the outstanding world figures in the 20th and 21st centuries, and his magnitude compares to that of Mahatma Gandhi and Alexander Solzhenitsyn…” Putin hailed Mandela as a “great humanist of the 21st century” and said his policy should become an example to follow. Putin compared Mandela to both Gandhi and Solzhenitsyn. “Courageous and wise, Nelson Mandela always fought consistently for his convictions but remained a great humanist and peacemaker. This approach is needed in today’s world: the search for compromises is the best basis for consensus and cooperation,” the Russian President wrote in the condolence book at the South African embassy here.


Reading the above lines, especially, when Putin compared Mandela with both Gandhi and Solzhenitsyn, one has to conclude that the three sages have served as guiding stars for Putin’s domestic and foreign policy. To be sure, wishing to follow somebody’s example, sincere as it might be, does not necessarily lead to adequate implementation of the goal. However, in the very least, Putin’s statement “the search for compromises is the best basis for consensus and cooperation” can serve as a bench-mark by which he and other world leaders will be judged. It is all the more remarkable because in the USSR the very word “kompromis” was disdained as a bourgeois trick.


Recently, Rudolf Siebert, professor of Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University, my friend and associate, wrote an article in honor of Gandhi for the Global Harmony Association. He convincingly argued that Martin Luther King, Jr., the American champion of human rights and peaceful resistance, who died a martyr’s death for his cause, was also inspired by Gandhi’s teaching of Non-Violence.


Siebert did not fail to invoke Jesus preaching the Christian commandment: “You have learned how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you; offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away”. (Exodus 21: 24-25; Matthew 5: 38-42; 7: 12).


Siebert admits that Christian countries have largely ignored this commandment through centuries of history. So, it is hardly surprising that Siebert credits Gandhi for inspiring non-violence in modern world: “The Christian Martin Luther King came to the Christian commandment of non-violent resistance through the Hindu Mahatma Gandhi, and both practiced it, and both died for it a violent martyr’s death of freedom, like the one who preached the Sermon on the Mount in the first place”. Remarkably, Siebert also praises Putin for following the precept of Non-Violence in Russia’s foreign policy: thus Russia “did not retaliate, when in recent years its plane was shot down over Turkey, and its ambassador there was assassinated, and last Christmas its diplomats were sent back home from Washington D.C. to Moscow. That non-retaliation is moral progress in world history!”


The Gandhi theme has been central for the latest exchange of visits between India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Putin. In December 2015, during Modi’s visit to the Kremlin, Putin presented him a page of Mahatma’s handwritten note. Putin’s second gift to Modi was an 18th century Bengali sword, alluding, perhaps, that the two countries, committed as they are to peaceful co-existence in foreign policy, do not forget about the need of military cooperation in defense. Three years later, when Putin arrived to New Delhi, Modi honored him by the presentation of Gandhi’s favorite bhajan ‘Vaishnava Jana To’ performed by a Russian artist Sati Kazanova on a mobile phone - a gesture that reflected the close friendship between the two leaders.


Sharon Tennison’s New Year Greeting


After talking about a whole roster of outstanding wise men who dedicated themselves to the ideals of peace, justice, and harmony in domestic and foreign affairs - Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Solzhenitsyn, it would only be fair to conclude with a New 2019 Year Greeting I got from an American woman who has been just as dedicated to the same ideals. It is Sharon Tennison, the founder and work-horse of the Center for Citizen Initiatives of San Francisco (


“Best Wishes to You for a Wonderful Creative Year in 2019 upon which we are now embarking! I wonder if you are deeply grateful as I am that our planet has survived this past tumultuous year? Given the numbers of surrogate war-making threats and incursions in numerous areas of the world, i.e. Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, the Baltic states and others … we are lucky that none have ignited an all-consuming conflagration. Perhaps parity of nuclear weapons and instant delivery systems maintained the tenuous peace between the two nuclear giants of the world - our nation and Russia. For whatever the reasons, I’m deeply grateful that we have a bit more time ahead to develop beyond the warring mentalities among us”.


Sharon’s letter was not personal and did not need to be. I just happen to be on her list as she is on my list. Sharon knows Russia, as she has been taking American groups to Russia every year. It still helps to send such letters to hundreds of kindred souls to alert them that we live in a world that is more dangerous now than it ever was during the Cold War of the 20th century. Our Planet, abused, injured, neglected and defamed as it has been, is still Our Beautiful Mother Earth. Its Beauty is in the eyes of the beholders who are now urged to hurry to her rescue. First of all, we should call for an extra-ordinary UN General Assembly session with one item on its agenda, Arms Control and Nuclear Disarmament, starting with the reductions of nuclear stockpiles and delivery systems. I am sure that all of the great men I mentioned above would support the agenda. But they need help! So I say “Planetarians of the World, Unite!”–before it is too late.



[For Notes, see]

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