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The Gulag Archipelago

Summary:
On December 28th, 1973, was first published one of the most powerful and influential books of the 20th Century. "The Gulag Archipelago: An Experiment in Literary Investigation" by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an account of life in the Soviet forced labour camps, in which Solzhenitsyn himself had been incarcerated. The term GULAG is an acronym for the Russian initials of the Main Directorate of Camps. The camps were like an archipelago of islands, scattered in the vast ocean of Soviet territory, many in the harsh climate of the Siberian wilderness.Solzhenitsyn's book narrates the history of the forced labour camps from when they were first introduced by Lenin in 1918. He traces through the various purges and show trials that swelled the number of inmates into the millions. Some of it is from

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On December 28th, 1973, was first published one of the most powerful and influential books of the 20th Century. "The Gulag Archipelago: An Experiment in Literary Investigation" by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an account of life in the Soviet forced labour camps, in which Solzhenitsyn himself had been incarcerated. The term GULAG is an acronym for the Russian initials of the Main Directorate of Camps. The camps were like an archipelago of islands, scattered in the vast ocean of Soviet territory, many in the harsh climate of the Siberian wilderness.

Solzhenitsyn's book narrates the history of the forced labour camps from when they were first introduced by Lenin in 1918. He traces through the various purges and show trials that swelled the number of inmates into the millions. Some of it is from his own personal recollections and the interviews he had with other prisoners, many of whom come alive again as they tell their stories in Solzhenitsyn's words. It includes extracts from diaries, personal statements and legal documents, as the picture is built up through independent brush strokes like an Impressionist painting.

It is a devastating story of brutality suffering and injustice, painting a picture of Soviet Communism that taints its memory forever. In one of his anecdotes, Solzhenitsyn tells of the businessman imprisoned because he sat down too early after a 20-minute frenzied standing ovation at the name of Stalin. He tells of a talented young poet who died in a Gulag prison camp, and he writes from memory some of the lines that would never otherwise have seen the light of day.

The story is more moving because it is told simply and factually, an unembroidered account of the monstrous inhumanity the system embodied. Western leftists and Khrushchev himself regarded it as a deviation from communism, but Solzhenitsyn saw it for what it was, an inevitable and systemic outgrowth of the Soviet political programme and culture.

Solzhenitsyn had to write it in secret, hiding manuscripts and typescripts in secret places and with friends. The KGB forced one of his trusted typists to reveal under interrogation the whereabouts of one of the copies, and she hanged herself a few days after they released her. This persuaded him to have it published in the West, instead of in Russia as he had wanted. It was first published in France (in Russian) and circulated clandestinely in Russia.

It was an immediate international sensation. Isaiah Berlin said that until that book, "the Communists and their allies had persuaded their followers that denunciations of the regime were largely bourgeois propaganda." Tom Butler-Bowdon described it as "Solzhenitsyn's monument to the millions tortured and murdered in Soviet Russia between the Bolshevik Revolution and the 1950s." It was the most powerful indictment of a regime ever made. People had known vaguely about Siberian prison camps, but never before had the general reading public been brought face to face with the horrors of the Gulag in such a way.

Early in 1974, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and deported to West Germany. He went via a spell in Switzerland to the United States, where he stayed until the evil empire collapsed, and his citizenship was restored. He returned to Russia, where he died, knowing that he had written what some described as "the book that brought down a system." Those who suffered and who died under that inhuman system live on in the pages of Solzhenitsyn's great book, confronting those who profess communism today not with what it said, but with what it did.

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