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Traditional prejudices.

I was dismayed to read Cathy Young's unbelievably shoddy account of the writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ("Traditional Prejudices," May). Despite a deceptively calm and authoritative tone, she engages in nothing less than character assassination. She eschews anything that resembles explication de texte and instead relies upon the prosecutorial-conspiratorial musings of Semyon Reznik. Even more damning, she ignores everything in Solzhenitsyn's writings that might militate against her claims.

A reader of her column would never learn about Solzhenitsyn's condemnation of "scandalous restrictions" against Jews under die Russian old regime, his criticisms of the Russian state for its "impardonable inaction" in anticipating and responding to brutal anti-Jewish pogroms, his admiration for Pyotr Stolypin's efforts to end the Jewish disabilities, or his criticism of the White forces during the Russian Civil War for their inexcusable toleration of anti-Semitic violence and propaganda in territories under their control.

Nor would a reader learn anything about Solzhenitsyn's principled rejection of fascism and all its works, or his moving and somber discussion in Chapter 21 of Dvesti Let Vmeste (Two Hundred Years Together) of the Holocaust unleashed against Jews on Soviet territory.

Nor would one come across anything about Solzhenitsyn's admiration for Jews such as D.O. Linski, Iosif Bikerman, Michel Heller, Mikhail Agurski, Aleksandr Ginzburg, and Dora Sturman, nor about his highlighting of the "disproportionate" role played by Jews in the anti-Communist resistance of the 1960s and '70s.

Perhaps most egregious is Young's claim that the author of The Gulag Archipelago is somehow not a true friend of human liberty, that he is instead a partisan of a "traditionalist" collectivism. She simply ignores Solzhenitsyn's eloquent defense of the rule of law and the importance of local self-government to a healthy and well-constituted civic life.

More fundamentally, she shows no appreciation of the "personalism" that informs almost every page of The Gulag Archipelago. The portraits of freedom-loving individuals and indomitable souls such as the young Zoya Leshcheva, the defiant Anna Skripnikova, the committed escaper Georgi Tenno, and the religious poet Anatoli silin are simply unforgettable.

As any serious reader of Gulag will immediately discern, Solzhenitsyn is no collectivist. It is dishonest, and worse, to accuse this honorable man of the monstrosity which is anti-Semitism or to facilely dismiss him as an enemy of human freedom.

Daniel J. Mahoney

Assumption College

Worcester, MA

Cathy Young replies: Daniel Mahoney charges that I maliciously failed to credit Solzhenitsyn for stating that the czarist regime in Russia was guilty of discriminating against and oppressing Jews (i.e., acknowledging the obvious) and for deploring the massacres of Soviet Jews by the Nazis. But surely that's setting the bar too low: One could acknowledge the evils of slavery and lynching and still be a racist.

Considering that Solzhenitsyn's purpose in writing Dvesti Let Vmeste was, in large part, to clear himself of the suspicions of anti-Semitism that have clouded his career, it's hardly surprising that he would meet these minimal requirements of decency. But his purportedly "balanced" treatment amounts to consistently seeking to minimize and mitigate Czarist Russia's mistreatment of Jews. As I showed in my column, even some reviewers who absolve Solzhenitsyn of bigotry, such as Richard Pipes and John Klier, acknowledge this fact.

The argument that Solzhenitsyn cannot be an anti-Semite because he admires certain Jews is equally feeble. Solzhenitsyn also has publicly expressed admiration for some notorious anti-Semites, such as the Slavophile writers Vladimir Soloukhin, Valentin Rasputin, and Vasily Belov.

Finally, Mahoney faults me for relying on "the prosecutorial-conspiratorial musings of Semyon Reznik." But he offers no challenge to Reznik's devastating evidence that Solzhenitsyn indeed penned an anti-Semitic tract in the 1960s--just as Solzhenitsyn has not, to my knowledge, offered any rebuttal to Reznik's case, or to his extensive critique of the historical distortions in Dvesti Let Vmeste.

Indeed, while Solzhenitsyn initially suggested that "The Jews in the USSR and the Future Russia" was a fabrication attributed to him by a lunatic, in his response to his critics (Literaturnaya Gazeta, October 22-28, 2003), he referred to the work as "stolen rough drafts from forty years ago," albeit allegedly distorted by "filthy falsification."

Like Mahoney (and, I might add, like Reznik), I admire the humanity that shines in Solzhenitsyn's early works. Alas, in later years it has been increasingly overshadowed by ideology. Solzhenitsyn's praise for Vladimir Putin, the ex-KGB man presiding over a blatant rollback of Russia's fledgling democracy, speaks volumes regarding the esteem in which he holds liberty.
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Title Annotation:Letters
Author:Mahoney, Daniel J.
Publication:Reason
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Aug 1, 2004
Words:738
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