They’ve brought the fascists!

This post is a fragment of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, Part III, Chapter 6, translated from the Russian by Thomas P. Whitney. A parallel between the Western world and the part of the world going through the communist experiment. The similarity with what happened in Romania during 1947 – 1964 is staggering.

Borya was coughing. There was still a fragment of German tank shell in his lungs. He was thin and yellow, and his nose, ears, and the bones of his face had grown deathly pointed. I looked at him closely, and I was not sure: would he make it through a winter in camp?

We still tried to divert our minds and conquer our situation with thought. But by then neither philosophy nor literature was there. Even our hands became heavy, like spades, and hung down.

Boris suggested: “No, to talk … takes much strength. Let’s be silent and think to some purpose. For example, compose verses. In our heads.”

I shuddered. He could write verses here and now? The canopy of death hung over him; but the canopy of such a stubborn talent hung over his yellow forehead too.[1]

And so we kept silent and scooped up the clay with our hands. The rain kept coming. Yet they not only didn’t take us out of the clay pit, but Matronina, brandishing the fiery sword of her gaze (her “red” head was covered with a dark shawl), pointed out to the brigadier from the edge the different ends of the clay pit. And we understood: they were not going to pull out the brigade at the end of its shift at 2 P.M., but would keep it in the clay pit until it fulfilled its norm. Only then would we get both lunch and dinner.

In Moscow the construction project was halted for lack of bricks.

But Matronina departed and the rain thickened. Light red puddles formed everywhere in the clay and in our car too. The tops of our boots turned red, and our coats were covered with red spots. Our hands had grown numb from the cold clay, and by this time they couldn’t even throw anything into the car. And then we left this futile occupation, climbed up higher to the grass, sat down there, bent our heads, and pulled the collars of our coats up over the backs of our necks.

From the side we looked like two reddish stones in the field.

Somewhere young men of our age were studying at the Sorbonne or at Oxford, playing tennis during their ample hours of relaxation, arguing about the problems of the world in student cafés: They were already being published and were exhibiting their paintings. They were twisting and turning to find ways of distorting the insufficiently original world around them in some new way. They railed against the classics for exhausting all the subjects and themes. They railed at their own governments and their own reactionaries who did not want to comprehend and adopt the advanced experience of the Soviet Union. They recorded interviews through the microphones of radio reporters, listening all the time to their own voices and coquettishly elucidating what they wished to say in their last or their first book. They judged everything in the world with self-assurance, but particularly the prosperity and higher justice of our country. Only at some point in their old age, in the course of compiling encyclopedias, would they notice with astonishment that they could not find any worthy Russian names for our letters-for all the letters of our alphabet.

The rain drummed on the back of our heads, and the chill crept up our wet backs.

[1] That winter Boris Gammerov died in a hospital from exhaustion and tuberculosis. I revere in him a poet who was never even allowed to peep.  His spiritual image was lofty, and his verses themselves seemed to me very powerful at the time. But I did not memorize even one of them, and I can find them nowhere now, so as to be able at least to make him a gravestone from those little stones.


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