In the video below, Jordan Peterson describes the events that led up to Solzhenitsyn’s book, The Gulag Archipelago, and the profound impact the horrendous atrocities that were detailed in the book, had on the Wests attitude towards the Soviet Union and communism in general.
The Gulag Archipelago is a 3 volume book consisting of 2400 pages describing in detail the events and conditions that were experienced by the people condemned to the Gulags. According to Jordan Peterson, “it’s all worth reading, especially the second volume and especially the second half.”
Solzhenitsyn was stationed on the Russian front which was a terrible place to be. Stalin had entered into a pact with Hitler which Hitler ended up breaking. This caught the Soviets completely off guard and they were wildly unprepared. This was during the beginning of the Second World War and this was a “very bad place to be.”
Solzhenitsyn wrote letters to a compatriot of his which in turn, got him thrown in the camps. What is interesting is that Stalin threw all Soviet prisoners of war into the camps. This was because Stalin believed that if you were exposed to the West in any way, you were now considered a class enemy.
Soviet POWs that were able to return to the Soviet Union, instead of receiving a hero’s welcome, were condemned to the Gulags and were subjected to the most horrific conditions. This was after they were held in German POW camps where, because Stalin had not signed the Geneva agreement of the treatment of POWs, they were subjected to conditions so terrible that allied POWs would give them food even though they themselves were starving.
Solzhenitsyn was in the Gulags for a long period of time and he observed that the prisoners, that became trustees and many of whom were part of the group running the camps, were more vicious and brutal than the civilian guards. “It’s like a hell that’s run by the devils.” He observed the strength of character of many in the Gulags when threatened with torture, would not sign the confessions.
Many of whom were killed for this. He noted that many of the people running the camps were terrified by these people. This brought him to the realization that, even under terrible circumstances, there were ways of being more, or less, noble.
These observations caused him to closely examine his own life and think about what actions he had taken that contributed to his own demise. Even though he was living in an era with Hitler and Stalin, he still focused on his own actions that contributed to getting himself into the horrific circumstances he was facing.
1 in 3 people in East Germany were informants and “everyone in the Soviet system lied about everything to everyone all the time.” The whole system was set up and maintained because everyone was lying. So if you were to stop lying, you’re done for, but if you carry on lying you’re done for so there wasn’t much of an option.
Solzhenitsyn noticed that in the Gulags, there were still people who would tell the truth. This led Solzhenitsyn to think about his actions that had gone against his own conscience and think about how he could set it right then, in his present time. He determined that to do this, he would “chronical his experiences in as truthful a manner as possible.”
It was incredible that in these circumstances of absolute deprivation and peril, that he decided to put himself together. This in itself was a huge risk because its not as if he was afforded paper, a pencil or privacy. Had his notebooks been discovered, they would have been destroyed and he would have been in huge trouble which could only have resulted in unimaginable treatment, if not death.
“When he got out, he had 2 copies of the manuscript. Each out to a different typist, secretly. The KGB go ahold of one, destroyed it and the typist committed suicide.” Jordan Peterson describes the book as “one long scream of truthful outrage.”
“That came out of his decision to set himself right.”
The book was smuggled into the West where the true, unfiltered events that unfolded under communism were described in such great detail that the moral credibility of communism was completely demolished for a long time. From about 1972 on, “if you knew about the existence of the Gulag Archipelago, you didn’t get to say anything good about communism.”
“There is no doubt that it was one of the historical events that caused the Soviet Union to collapse.”