Currently Reading: Gulag Archipelago Vol. II

I have been reading this for the past 2 weeks. Yes, you heard me right, 2 weeks. I’ve cheated a little and started a couple of other books (hence the other Currently Reading Posts) but I really want this done.

I’ve been able to judge what is coming up for February a little better and things are looking slightly brighter than I originally thought. Which makes reading this just a tiny bit easier. Not much, mind you. but every tiny bit helps! So while February is going to be slightly lighter in terms of books read, I don’t think it will be in the single digits like I was fearing.

Onward, Comrades, for the Bookerland!

Currently Reading: Gulag Archipelago, Vol II

This book is totally kicking my butt. I did a Quote Post back in September and since then have only made it to the 34% mark. My plans to read it on the weekends didn’t pan out, as the subject matter is very tough.

What I need to do is power read through it but I’m afraid if I do that, I might end up in dreaded book slump. I haven’t had a real slump in years thanks to my reading rotation, but I don’t know what else to attempt. I do not want to dnf it just because it is hard. With the elections here in the US looking like Biden is the President Elect, this is even MORE important to read than ever.

What I need is a plan that is going to get me through this book. A plan that is going to work for me. A plan that I will actually stick to. I’m wondering if I need to dedicate January to this book and get it done. Piecemeal is NOT working, as evinced by the dates on the quote post and then this. Sigh.


Gulag Archipelago, Vol II: Quote #1

And even while sitting peacefully among the fragrant hay mowings of Razliv* and listening to the buzzing bumblebees, Lenin could not help but ponder the future penal system. Even then he had worked things out and reassured us: “The suppression of the minority of exploiters by the majority of the hired slaves of yesterday is a matter so comparatively easy, simple and natural, that it is going to cost much less in blood … will be much cheaper for humanity” than the preceding suppression of the majority by the minority.^

According to the estimates of emigre Professor of Statistics Kurganov, this “comparatively easy” internal repression cost us, from the beginning of the October Revolution up to 1959, a total of… sixty-six million—66,000,000—lives. We, of course, cannot vouch for his figure, but we have none other that is official. And just as soon as the official figure is issued the specialists can make the necessary critical comparisons.

~Gulag Archipelago, Vol II, page 4

66 MILLION. For comparison, that is more than the combined populations of the States of California AND Texas. For those of a world-wide persuasion, choose between wiping out the UK or France.

Another way to look at it is like this:
WWI caused between 20-40 million deaths.
WWII caused 85 million deaths.
The Black Plague killed approximately 25 million.

But no matter how you compare it, look at it or intellectually think about it, one fact remains: Communism caused that massive number. In fact, there is a term for 1 million deaths, it is called Mega-Death.

Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1 ★★★★☆

gulagarchipelago (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1
Series: Gulag Archipelago
Author: Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 626
Words: 265.5K



Containing Parts I & II of Solzhenitsyn’s book, The Gulag Archipelago.


Structurally, the text comprises seven sections divided (in most printed editions) into three volumes: parts 1–2, parts 3–4, and parts 5–7. At one level, the Gulag Archipelago traces the history of the system of forced labor camps that existed in the Soviet Union from 1918 to 1956. Solzhenitsyn begins with V. I. Lenin’s original decrees which were made shortly after the October Revolution; they established the legal and practical framework for a series of camps where political prisoners and ordinary criminals would be sentenced to forced labor. The book then describes and discusses the waves of purges and the assembling of show trials in the context of the development of the greater Gulag system; Solzhenitsyn gives particular attention to its purposive legal and bureaucratic development.

The narrative ends in 1956 at the time of Nikita Khrushchev’s Secret Speech (“On the Personality Cult and its Consequences”). Khrushchev gave the speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, denouncing Stalin’s personality cult, his autocratic power, and the surveillance that pervaded the Stalin era. Although Khrushchev’s speech was not published in the Soviet Union for a long time, it was a break with the most atrocious practices of the Gulag system.

Despite the efforts by Solzhenitsyn and others to confront the legacy of the Gulag, the realities of the camps remained a taboo subject until the 1980s. Solzhenitsyn was also aware that although many practices had been stopped, the basic structure of the system had survived and it could be revived and expanded by future leaders. While Khrushchev, the Communist Party, and the Soviet Union’s supporters in the West viewed the Gulag as a deviation of Stalin, Solzhenitsyn and many among the opposition tended to view it as a systemic fault of Soviet political culture – an inevitable outcome of the Bolshevik political project.

Parallel to this historical and legal narrative, Solzhenitsyn follows the typical course of a zek (a slang term for an inmate), derived from the widely used abbreviation “z/k” for “zakliuchennyi” (prisoner) through the Gulag, starting with arrest, show trial, and initial internment; transport to the “archipelago”; the treatment of prisoners and their general living conditions; slave labor gangs and the technical prison camp system; camp rebellions and strikes (see Kengir uprising); the practice of internal exile following the completion of the original prison sentence; and the ultimate (but not guaranteed) release of the prisoner. Along the way, Solzhenitsyn’s examination details the trivial and commonplace events of an average prisoner’s life, as well as specific and noteworthy events during the history of the Gulag system, including revolts and uprisings.

Solzhenitsyn also states:

Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble – and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb, too. The imagination and spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology. Ideology – that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes…. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations… Without evildoers there would have been no Archipelago.

— The Gulag Archipelago, Chapter 4, p. 173

There had been works about the Soviet prison/camp system before, and its existence had been known to the Western public since the 1930s. However, never before had the general reading public been brought face to face with the horrors of the Gulag in this way. The controversy surrounding this text, in particular, was largely due to the way Solzhenitsyn definitively and painstakingly laid the theoretical, legal, and practical origins of the Gulag system at Lenin’s feet, not Stalin’s. According to Solzhenitsyn’s testimony, Stalin merely amplified a concentration camp system that was already in place. This is significant, as many Western intellectuals viewed the Soviet concentration camp system as a “Stalinist aberration”


My Thoughts:

I started reading this book on March 13th. It took me until June 5th to finish. At under 700 pages I figured I could easily knock this out in a month, even if I only read it on the weekends. “Ha” and agains I say “ha!”

This was a dense book and mind you, it is the first of three. It is also dealing with very heavy material (not literally, it’s paper after all) but my spirit was weighed down after reading it, every single time. By the time I got to the end I could only read 5 or 6 percent each weekend. While nothing is graphic, if you’ve been reading any of my Quote posts from the last couple of months, you’ll know just how horrifying some of the stuff discussed in this book is.

Solzhenitsyn, thankfully, writes in a very dry, sardonic and sarcastic manner, which allowed me to distance myself from the words I was reading. That being said, he also writes in the most rambling form I have ever run across. I eventually just stopped trying to connect the dots and let him tell the tale in his own way.

He tells of his own arrest, his time in the sorting prisons and the time getting to the official Gulag camps. He also tells a lot of other peoples’ stories as well. It is horrible, sad and disheartening that people today want a form of government that leads to Communism that inevitably leads to places like the Gulag.

I am going to take a break of 2 months and read some other non-fiction, preferably of the theological bent, before I dive back into Vol. 2.



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A Quote from: The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1 (5)

Shut your eyes, reader. Do you hear the thundering of wheels? Those are the Stolypin cars rolling on and on. Those are the red cows rolling. Every minute of the day. And every day of the year. And you can hear the water gurgling — those are prisoners’ barges moving on and on. And the motors of the Black Marias roar. They are arresting someone all the time, cramming him in somewhere, moving him about. And what is that hum you hear? The overcrowded cells of the transit prisons. And that cry? The complaints of those who have been plundered, raped, beaten to within an inch of their lives.

We have reviewed and considered all the methods of delivering prisoners, and we have found that they are all . . . worse. We have examined the transit prisons, but we have not found any that were good. And even the last human hope that there is something better ahead, that it will be better in camp, is a false hope.

In camp it will be . .. worse.

~ page 703

Talk about cheery stuff eh? I just got shivers reading that final sentence.

A Quote From: The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1 (#4)

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Instead of the twenty men Cell 21 was supposed to contain, there were three hundred and twenty-three! There was water underneath the bunks, and boards were laid in the water and people lay on those boards. That was right where the frost poured in from the broken windows. It was like Arctic night down under the bunks. There was no light down there either because it was cut off by the people lying on the bunks above and standing in the aisle. It was impossible to walk through the aisle to the latrine tank, and people crawled along the edges of the bunks. They didn’t distribute rations to individuals but to units of ten. If one of the ten died, the others shoved his corpse under the bunks and kept it there until it started to stink. They got the corpse’s ration. And all that could have been endured, but the turnkeys seemed to have been oiled with turpentine — and they kept driving the prisoners endlessly from cell to cell, on and on. You’d just get yourself settled when ‘Come on, get a move on! You’re being moved!’ And you’d have to start in again trying to find a place!
~ page 644

And this is just in one of the holding prisons before any of the prisoners got to their final destinations.  As much as I am loathe to admit it, I don’t think I could hold on to my humanity in such a situation.  I pray to God my Christianity is never tested like that.



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Several Quotes from: The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. One

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(Please forgive us, reader. We have once more gone astray with this rightist opportunism — this concept of “guilt,” and of the guilty or innocent. It has, after all, been explained to us that the heart of the matter is not personal guilt, but social danger. One can imprison an innocent person if he is socially hostile. And one can release a guilty man if he is socially friendly. But lacking legal training, we can be forgiven, for the 1926 Code, according to which, my good fellow, we lived for twenty-five years and more, was itself criticized for an “impermissible bourgeois approach,” for an “insufficiently class-conscious approach,” and for some kind of “bourgeois weighing of punishments in relation to the gravity of what had been committed.”
`Page 342
Chapter 7


Comrade Kursky!
As a sequel to our conversation, I am sending you an outline of a supplementary paragraph for the Criminal Code. . . . The basic concept, I hope, is clear, notwithstanding all the shortcomings of the rough draft: openly to set forth a statute which is both principled and politically truthful (and not just juridically narrow) to supply the motivation for the essence and the justification of terror, its necessity, its limits.
The court must not exclude terror. It would be self-deception or deceit to promise this, and in order to provide it with a foundation and to legalize it in a principled way, clearly and without hypocrisy and without embellishment, it is necessary to formulate it as broadly as possible, for only revolutionary righteousness and a revolutionary conscience will provide the conditions for applying it more or less broadly in practice.

With Communist greetings,
`Page 435
Chapter 9


I will let Solzhenitsyn’s own words speak for me in this quote post:

We will not undertake to comment on this important document. What it calls for is silence and reflection.
`Page 436
Chapter 9


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Quotes from: The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. One

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Power is a poison well known for thousands of years. If only no one were ever to acquire material power over others! But to the human being who has faith in some force that holds dominion over all of us, and who is therefore conscious of his own limitations, power is not necessarily fatal. For those, however, who are unaware of any higher sphere, it is a deadly poison. For them there is no antidote.
~page 181


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?
~page 204


I didn’t want to say too much in these quote posts because I was hoping to save it all up for my book review, but my goodness, I’m only 200 pages in and I’ve already had 2 quote posts that my commentary could have filled one of my regular reviews. So why save it all up for the future?

People who acknowledge no higher power than themselves are the most dangerous people ever. No matter how good intentioned they might claim to be, or think themselves to be, power is poison. The problem is, in their death throes, they can destroy a whole country or even a civilization. That is why Ideas DO Matter, no matter how grandfatherly or benevolent the messenger might appear.

That second quote goes up squarely against the idea that humanity is evolving into some sort of better ideal. If people can’t, or won’t, acknowledge that evil exists, not just as a metaphysical idea, but as a concrete thing within themselves and within others, then you end up with Hitlers, or in the case of this book, Stalins. As bad as Hitler was, the more I’m reading here, the more I’m beginning to think that Stalin was one of the worst mass murderers the world has ever not acknowledged.

At the time of this post I’m only 36% into the book. It is tough going and I’m taking it slow. I was hoping to get it done by the end of the month but I don’t think that is going to happen now. More people need to read this and see what happens when people give up responsibilities and rights for security.



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A Quote from: The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. One

gulagarchipelago (Custom)

But those same hands which once screwed tight our handcuffs now hold out their palms in reconciliation: “No, don’t! Don’t dig up the past! Dwell on the past and you’ll lose an eye.”

But the proverb goes on to say: “Forget the past and you’ll lose both eyes.”

– Page 7





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