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

 

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia