Escapes From Freedom

Boris Shragin, translated by Mirra Ginsburg

From Under the Rubble

by Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Mikhail Agursky and A.B. and Evgeny Barabanov and Vadim Borisov and F. Korsakov and Igor Shafarevich, translated by A. M. Brock and Milada Haigh and Marita Sapiets and Hilary Sternberg and Harry Willetts, under the direction
Little, Brown, 308 pp., $8.95

Leonid Brezhnev
Leonid Brezhnev; drawing by David Levine

Unlike the West, where people openly discuss problems in their search for solutions, Soviet Russia merely boasts of its achievements and triumphs. Symptoms of economic, social, and moral decline and obvious stagnation are ignored officially, because they cannot be explained away. Everyone must pretend that everything is in good order and proceeding according to the “Leninist” plan, carefully laid out in advance. Society thus submits itself, will-lessly and thoughtlessly, to arbitrary, destructive forces, like a sick man who pretends he is well for fear of treatment.

The few thinking people in the Soviet Union who take the risk of speaking out about general, central problems become victims of hatred and persecution. They fill the prisons, concentration camps, and mental hospitals. The all-powerful and uncontrolled state machine uses every possible means to drive them out of the country or to force them to fall silent, persuaded that any constructive effort is futile.

These people—described in the West as dissidents—are known here chiefly for their suffering, not for their ideas. There is more information on their treatment by the government than on the meaning and goals of their activities. Indeed, circumstances have compelled them to spend more energy in defending their right to freedom of thought and speech than in theoretical and scholarly elaboration of their positions. An impression has thus been created that the dissidents are united in their aspirations—an impression resulting not so much from their positive ideals as from their shared critical attitude toward the dominant regime.

This is one reason why the publication of From Under the Rubble, a collection of theoretical essays which appeared in a Russian edition in France several months ago and has just appeared in English translation, is in many respects an important event. To begin with, the book opens a discussion of general problems among the dissidents themselves. Second, it acquaints the Western reader with at least one of the lines of dissident thought in the Soviet Union.

The editor and one of the contributors to the collection is Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who appears in it as both a theoretician and a publicist. The book began to take shape while he was still in Moscow, but was completed after his expulsion from the Soviet Union. It represents an effort to elucidate a number of questions, some specifically Soviet and Russian, others of international and general historical importance.

To contribute to From Under the Rubble was by no means a purely literary matter. For those who did so and who remain in Russia it was a civic action—a choice and a challenge. Regardless of the substance of the ideas expressed in it, the book speaks of the authors’ determination to confront the state, which is accustomed to treating all independent opinion with insults and violence, not with discussion. The authors’ readiness to sacrifice themselves must be kept in mind if their writing is to be understood.…

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