It is now over a century since the forces of secular fundamentalism unleashed an anti-Christian pogrom on the people of Russia. Declaring the liberation of man from God, the communists sought to murder the Mass, replacing it with mass murder. In the following decades, tens of millions were sacrificed on the altars of atheism as man, unshackled from the constraints of Christian morality, showed the horrific deadliness of his “enlightenment.” With perverse and infernal irony, men were slaughtered in the name of man.
The seeming omnipotence of man was reinforced by the monolithic state, the political machine with which man crushed men. This man-machine shoveled millions of men into death camps, feeding them like fodder to “Man Almighty,” the new god of materialism. This was the madness of Marxism, a madness that seemed to sweep the world before it in the first half of the last century. It seemed to be maddeningly charming, sweeping men off their feet and out of their heads. Its kiss was a curse; the kiss of death.
In the midst of this Marxist maelstrom, a child was born. His name was Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. He was much like any other child of the Revolution. He was brainwashed by the man-machine’s “education” program and became a clone of the system. He fought for the Machine during the Second World War, idolizing Stalin, the self-styled Steel-Man, who was master of the machine, and he witnessed the raping and pillaging of Prussia as part of the Steel-Man’s bloodlustful revenge on the Germans. He then committed the heresy of criticizing the Steel-Man in a letter to a friend. Denounced as a blasphemer against man, he was sent to prison where he lost his faith in Almighty Man and where he discovered, for the first time, the exiled God.
Liberated from the slavery of subservience to a false god, Solzhenitsyn found his freedom whilst in prison. Turning his back on man, he learned to love men. The “will made steel” had been overthrown by the Word made flesh. Later, after almost dying of cancer, he found life in his near experience of death. It was this near-death experience that led to his final conversion to Christianity. In his death was his resurrection.
Now, aided by the Risen God, he was ready to harrow hell itself. He was only one small, good man, seemingly powerless against the Soviet system, but, aided by the God-Man, he was ready to take on the might of the man-machine. Almost single-handedly, and almost miraculously, this one man would play a major role in the overthrow of “Man Almighty,” at least in its Soviet incarnation. His devastating exposés of the horrors of communism in works such as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and the monumental Gulag Archipelago undermined the very faith-foundations of Marxism. His books, and the living example of his courageous resistance against the machine’s efforts to crush him, served as a beacon of light penetrating to the heart of the darkness.
Today, after the machine has ground to a halt, and after the statues of the Steel-Man have been ignominiously toppled, it is easy to forget the sheer enormity of Solzhenitsyn’s achievement. Quite simply, what he did was considered to be impossible. It was beyond belief that one man could defy the communist state and survive. It was even more unbelievable that he should not only survive but that he should play a significant role in the State’s downfall and that he should outlive the State itself. Solzhenitsyn’s life and example flew in the face of the “reality” of the “realists.”
The destiny of the small man who dared defy the man-machine was epitomized in the eyes of most pessimistic “realists” by the example of Winston Smith in George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Orwell’s novel was published in 1948, 70 years ago, when Solzhenitsyn was serving his sentence as a political prisoner of the Soviet regime. As such, the figure of Winston Smith can be seen as being not merely a figure of everyman in his alienation from the man-machine (Big Brother) but as an unwitting figure of Solzhenitsyn himself. According to the “realistic” view, Winston Smith would not only be crushed by the Machine, he would also betray every ideal, and everything he loved, in abject surrender to the Almighty State. The triumph of Big Brother was inevitable; it was preordained. It was fate, and to deny or defy fate was fatal and futile. The fact is that Orwell had failed to shake off the Hegelian determinism of his Marxist past. He had long since become disillusioned with Marxism, but still believed that the forces of history were immutable and the triumph of the man-machine inevitable. Orwell still believed, like his former comrades, that the man-machine was omnipotent; he only differed from them to the extent that he hated the omnipotent god, whereas they admired it.
Solzhenitsyn, on the other hand, did not believe that the machine was a god but merely a demon, or a dragon, a manifestation of evil. He did not believe in fate but in freedom; the freedom of the will and its responsibility to serve the truth. Fate was a figment of the imagination but the dragon was real. Furthermore, it was the duty of the good man to fight the dragon, even unto death if necessary. Solzhenitsyn fought the dragon, even though it was thousands of times bigger than he was, and even though it breathed fire and had killed millions of people. He fought it because, in conscience, he could do nothing else. In doing so, he proved that faith, not fate, is the final victor. Faith can move mountains; it can move machines that were thought to be gods; it can move and remove Big Brother.
Solzhenitsyn has re-written George Orwell’s novel, using the facts of his life as his pen. He represents the victory of Winston Smith. And that’s not all. He is also living proof that St. George slays the dragon; that David slays Goliath; and that Jack slays the Giant. The saints are alive, the Bible is true, and fairy stories are more real than so-called “realistic” novels. Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it has a happier ending. It is in this certain knowledge that we know that Solzhenitsyn has reached the ultimate happy ending that awaits all the faithful after death. On the centenary of his birth and the tenth anniversary of his death, we salute a true hero.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), requiescat in pace.
Joseph Pearce is the author of Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile (Ignatius Press, 2011)