God and Man in the Gulag

Aug. 23 2019

During his time in Stalin’s prison camps, the dissident Soviet novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn came to reject socialism altogether and eventually to embrace Orthodox Christianity. In a penetrating essay on Solzhenitsyn’s magnum opus, The Gulag Archipelago, Gary Saul Morson investigates this conversion, and also its relationship to Communist ideology itself:

Bolshevik ethics explicitly began and ended with atheism. Only someone who rejected all religious or quasi-religious morals could be a Bolshevik because, as Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and other Bolshevik leaders insisted, the only standard of right and wrong was success for the party. The bourgeoisie falsely claim we have no ethics, Lenin explained in a 1920 speech. But what we reject is any ethics based on God’s commandments or anything resembling them, such as abstract principles, timeless values, universal human rights, or any tenet of philosophical idealism.

Among Gulag memoirists, even the atheists acknowledge that the only people who did not succumb morally were the believers. Which religion they professed did not seem to matter. [One such memoirist, Evgeniya] Ginzburg, describes how a group of semiliterate believers refused to go out to work on Easter Sunday. In the Siberian cold, they were made to stand barefoot on an ice-covered pond, where they continued to chant their prayers. Later that night, [other prisoners] argued about the believers’ behavior, [asking of each other], “should we have had the courage to act as they did?” The recognition that they would not would often transform people into believers.

Read as autobiography, the key moment of Gulag may be Solzhenitsyn’s conversation with “a pale, yellowish youth, with a Jewish tenderness of face,” named Boris Gammerov. Solzhenitsyn happened to mention a prayer by President Roosevelt and “expressed what seemed to me a self-evident evaluation of it: ‘Well, that’s hypocrisy, of course.’” Gammerov replied: “Why do you not admit the possibility that a political leader might sincerely believe in God?”

“Do you believe in God?” asks the narrator of Gammerov, who “tranquilly” answers “of course.” In Solzhenitsyn’s telling, it was this conversation that led to his religious conversion.

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Read more at New Criterion

More about: Atheism, Bolshevism, Literature, Religion, Soviet Union

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism