≡ Menu

Long Read of the Week: The Gulag Archipelago — A New Foreword by Jordan B. Peterson

“If there was any excuse to be a Marxist in 1917 (and both Dostoevsky and Nietzsche prophesied well before then that there would be hell to pay for that doctrine) there is absolutely and finally no excuse now. “

First, you defend your homeland against the Nazis, serving as a twice-decorated soldier on the Eastern front in the criminally ill- prepared Soviet Red Army. Then, you’re arrested, humiliated, stripped of your military rank, charged under the auspices of the all-purpose Article 58 with the dissemination of “anti-Soviet propaganda,” and dragged off to Moscow’s infamous Lubyanka prison. There, through the bars of your cell, you watch your beloved country celebrating its victory in the Great Patriotic War. Then you’re sentenced, in absentia, to eight years of hard labor (but you got away easy; it wasn’t so long afterward that people in your position were awarded a “tenner”—and then a quarter of a century!). And fate isn’t finished with you, yet—not by any means. You develop a deadly cancer in the camp, endure the exile imposed on you after your imprisonment ends, and pass very close to death

Despite all this, you hold your head high. You refuse to turn against man or God, although you have every reason to do so. You write, instead, secretly, at night, documenting your terrible experiences. You craft a personal memoir—a single day in the labor camps—and, miracle of miracles! The clouds part! The sun shines through! Your book is published, and in your own country!

It meets with unparalleled acclaim, nationally and internationally. But the sky darkens, once again, and the sun disappears. The repression returns. You become (once again) a “non-person.” The secret police—the dreaded KGB—seize the manuscript of your next book. It sees the light of day, nonetheless; but only in the West. There, your reputation grows beyond the wildest of imaginings. The Nobel Committee itself bestows upon you its highest literary honor.

The Soviet authorities, stripped of their camouflage, are enraged. They order the secret police to poison you. You pass (once again) near death. But you continue to write: driven, solitary, intolerably inspired. Your Gulag Archipelago documents the absolute and utter corruption of the dogmas and doctrines of your state, your empire, your leaders—and yourself. And then: that is printed, too! Not in your own country, but in the West—once again—from copies oh-so-dangerously hidden, and smuggled across the borders. And your great book bursts with unparalleled and dreadful force into the still-naïve and unexpecting literary and intellectual world. You are expelled from the Soviet Union, stripped of your citizenship, forced to take residency in a society both strange to you and resistant, in its own way, to your prophetic words. But the power of your stories and the strength of your morals demolish any remaining claims to ethical and philosophical credibility still made by the defenders of the collectivist system that gave rise to all that you witnessed.

Years pass (but not so many, from the perspective of history). Then? Another miracle! The Soviet Union collapses! You return home. Your citizenship is restored. You write and speak in your reclaimed homeland until death claims you, in 2008. A year later The Gulag Archipelago is deemed mandatory reading by those responsible for establishing the national school curriculum of your home country. Your impossible victory is complete…   – RTWT AT Quillette

Live with a steady superiority over life—don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes see, and if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart—and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. — The Gulag Archipelago, vol. I

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Howard Nelson November 2, 2018, 9:27 AM

    One courageous decent man is always the moral majority.
    And he teaches by being, and by being remembered.

  • Richard November 2, 2018, 9:27 AM

    “Our envy of others devours us most of all.”
    Just sublime. No wonder envy is addressed in the Ten Commandments. Those 10 Laws should really be regarded as a road map to inner peace and happiness.

  • theduchessofkitty November 2, 2018, 9:47 AM

    That’s it. I’m buying me a copy!

  • Casey Klahn November 2, 2018, 10:02 AM

    Not unlike War & Peace, but in real life.

    I once tried to tell my new agist friend how Christianity includes suffering. He couldn’t understand. Maybe I’ll loan him my copy if I get it read. Eager to. I’ll buy an older version, though.

  • Fred November 2, 2018, 10:34 AM

    Reading Gulag Archipelago was truly an unforgettable experience. It just seemed so utterly fantastic, page after page of the most horrible stuff you could dream up. And then after about a hundred pages in, the slow ghastly realization that he simply could not dream it up. He just couldn’t. That every awful word I was reading was true. That the Soviets had indeed created this astounding, shocking hell on earth, and he was merely documenting it – reporting as much as he could.

    How anyone could read it, and still have fundamental complaints about good old America … smh.
    We are the luckiest people on earth.

  • MMinLamesa November 2, 2018, 12:16 PM

    It blew my young mind when I first read it and most definitely obliterated any form of leftism from ever taking root in my head.

    It’s been 50+(?) years since that first time and I still remember the ending(or near) when Ivan lucked onto a piece of sausage and the flood of memories this small thing unleashed.

  • Harry November 2, 2018, 12:57 PM

    The two things that amazed me the most when I read those volumes; how an entire society succumbed to that insanity, and the beauty of the writing that told those horrible stories.

  • Gray November 2, 2018, 4:27 PM

    An important thing is to comprehend that there is an entire deep and broad group in this country that intend the same for you. They are and have been in a large cross-section of government and education, and have succeeded in creating several entire generations of useful idiots. As “Icepick” Trotski mentioned, regardless of your interest, it is interested in you.

  • Terry November 2, 2018, 6:27 PM

    I read Gulag Archipelago about six years ago on recommendation of my wife. I can see much of what is violently going on here as an extension of Soviet style communism. Succeed in the quest at any cost. Human life has no value. The Democrat Party is a model for complete totalitarian rule. And the Democrat Party and their followers are way larger in number than the Soviets ever were. And just as viscious and evil. Beria comes to mind. My God what evil is beyond their imaginations. Nothing.

  • Gray November 2, 2018, 7:56 PM

    “There is no safety for honest men, but by believing all possible evil of evil men…”
    Edmund Burke

  • Jean-Noel November 3, 2018, 6:42 AM

    I’ve read the Gulag 40 years ago, then reread it 8 years ago. Even if his other books are excellent readings (August 14, The Fifth Circle, etc), these hundreds of pages of drama and faith are a masterpiece.

    I’m finishing a book comparing two systems with the same final goal: totalitarism. The Soviets used physical deaths, as a vain but faster solution. Here and now, our system is smarter: killing patiently the spirits and souls of the Sheeple.
    Then, it was No Man = No Problem. Now, it’s No Soul = No Problem.
    Don’t kid yourselves: the modern version of the archipelago of the Gulag is IN each of our destroyed souls. No soul = no will to resist the totalitarians.

  • Commodore Schmidlap November 3, 2018, 10:10 AM

    I have read the book a few times, and saved some quotes, including the one quoted here. I beleive every human on earth should read this book .
    “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
    “From where we were, separated from them by the wilderness of Soviet propaganda, by the dense mass of Hitler’s army—how could we readily believe that the Western allies had entered this war not for the sake of freedom in general, but for their own Western European freedom, only against Nazism, intending to take full advantage of the Soviet armies and leave it at that? Was it not more natural for us to believe that our allies were true to the very principle of freedom and that they would not abandon us to a worse tyranny?… True, these were the same allies for whom Russians had died in the First World War, and who then, too, had abandoned our army in the moment of collapse, hastening back to their comforts. But this was a lesson too cruel for the heart to learn.

  • iggy November 3, 2018, 11:40 AM

    Still waiting for ” 200 Years Together”, in English translation, complete.

  • Howard Nelson November 4, 2018, 5:19 PM

    Beware the defeatist quicksand of the MAMAGAGA attitude of Make America Moan And Groan And Grovel Again; the pathetic Obamanation.
    We were put here, with three great oceans of ideas to maintain us — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and our Judeo-Christian heritage — despite our faults and imperfect implementations.
    We are not a place acceptive of revilers and snivelers.
    ‘Land of hope and glory, Mother of the Free, how shall I extol Thee and your progeny?’

  • Howard Nelson November 4, 2018, 6:29 PM
  • Howard Nelson November 4, 2018, 7:38 PM

    I didn’t do it for the gold
    I didn’t do it for the glory
    I didn’t do it for the good
    I didn’t do it for my God
    I didn’t do it desiring heaven
    I didn’t do it fearing hell
    I did it ’cause I had no choice.
    Do it, or die an empty shell.

  • Howard Nelson November 5, 2018, 9:02 AM

    Responding to Horace: “What has not cankering Time made worse?”
    There are these living waters in which timeless ideas thrive,
    And we surface swimmers, seeking, too rarely deeply dive.
    Time makes nought, tho within it growth and decay, you see
    It’s we who decide to be what ought from our catch of that sea,
    We learn and teach our children to find the best that they can be.