The Solzhenitsyn Gulag

The first volume of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago was published in Paris on this day in 1973. The writing of the book was surrounded by a swirl of author secrecy and secret police snooping; when a typist was tortured into revealing the whereabouts of one copy of the manuscript and driven to suicide over guilt for doing so, Solzhenitsyn felt compelled to publish. “In this act of seizure,” he said, “I saw the hand of God,” pointing not only to publication but to a debt paid:

I have fulfilled my duty to those who perished. The truth about all this was doomed to perish — they had tried to stifle it, drown it, burn it and grind it to powder. But here it is…and no one can ever wipe it out again.

The debt was to millions, but also to Solzhenitsyn’s family. A generation before his own decade in the camps and in northern exile, two of Solzhenitsyn’s uncles and their families had been similarly punished for being “kulaks” — peasant-farmers who resisted Soviet collectivization. The following description of kulak persecution is taken from Anne Applebaum’s Gulag (2003):

Millions resisted collectivization, hiding grain in their cellars or refusing to cooperate with the authorities. These resisters were labeled kulaks, or wealthy peasants, a term which…was so vague that nearly anyone could qualify. The possession of an extra cow, or an extra bedroom, was enough to qualify some distinctly poor peasants, as was an accusation from a jealous neighbor. To break the kulaks’ resistance, the regime revived, in effect, the old Czarist tradition of the administrative deportation order. From one day to the next, trucks and wagons simply arrived in a village and picked up entire families. Some kulaks were shot, some were arrested and given camp sentences. In the end, however, the regime deported most of them. Between 1930 and 1933, over two million kulaks were exiled to Siberia, to Kazakhstan, and to other under-populated regions of the Soviet Union, where they lived out their lives as “special exiles,” forbidden to leave their exile villages.

The full story of the kulak holocaust is told in Lynne Viola’s 2007 study, The Unknown Gulag: The Lost World of Stalin’s Special Settlements.


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.