Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “literary investigation” of the police-state system in the Soviet Union, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956, is published in the original Russian in Paris. The book was the first of the three-volume work. The brutal and uncompromising description of political repression and terror was quickly translated into many languages and was published in the United States just a few months later.
Solzhenitsyn’s massive work detailed the machinations of the Soviet police state from the time of the Bolshevik Revolution to 1956. In the preface to the book, however, he warned that reading the work would be “very dangerous” for Russians in 1973. The book was important in that it maintained that police terror had always been essential to the existence of the Soviet state. This deviated from the standard Soviet line that such terror had only come about during the time of Stalin and evaporated upon his death in 1953. Solzhenitsyn admitted that political repression eased during the ensuing Khruschev years–the author himself was freed from political prison during that time. However, he believed that since Khruschev’s ouster in 1964, the Soviet state again resorted to intimidation and terror. His disappointment at the reversion of his country to these scare tactics influenced his decision to allow the publication of his book.
The book was an instant success in the West, but Soviet officials were livid. TASS, the official Soviet news agency, declared that the work was an “unfounded slander” against the Russian people. On February 12, 1974, Solzhenitsyn was arrested, stripped of his citizenship, and deported. He eventually settled in the United States. In the 1980s, he refused Mikhail Gorbachev’s offer to reinstate his Soviet citizenship, but did return to Russia to live in 1994. Solzhenitsyn died of heart failure in Moscow on August 3, 2008. He was 89.