Learning his own history is the free man’s first defense against government abuse of power.

If you choose not to remember the past, you place yourself at the mercy of those who wish to distort the past to manipulate you.  That’s Solzhenitsyn’s first lesson in his brilliant chapter tracing the history of the rise of the Soviet legal system. His second lesson is that in order to understand the past, it is vital to go back to its beginnings: to understand Stalinist show trials, examining the mind of Stalin completely misses the point. Rather, one must go back literally to the very first days of the communist seizure of power and examine how these new leaders behaved under pressure.

Chapter 8.  The Law as a Child

We forget everything. What we remember is not what actually happened, not history, but merely that hackneyed dotted line they have chosen to drive into our memories by incessant hammering.

I do not know whether this is a trait common to all mankind, but it is certainly a trait of our people. And it is a vexing one. It may have its source in goodness, but it is vexing nonetheless. It makes us an easy prey for liars.

Therefore, if they demand that we forget even the public trials, we forget them….

Yet in actual fact they began right after the October Revolution. In 1918, quantities of them were taking place, in many different tribunals. They were taking place before there were either laws or codes, when the judges had to be guided solely by the requirements of the revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ power. At the same time, they were regarded as blazing their own trail of bold legality. [Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 299-300.]


Глава 8. Закон — ребенок

Мы вс? забываем. Мы помним не быль, не историю, — а только тот
штампованный пунктир, который и хотели в нашей памяти пробить непрестанным

Я не знаю, свойство ли это всего человечества, но нашего народа — да.
Обидное свойство. Может быть, оно и от доброты, а — обидное. Оно отда?т нас
добычею лжецам.

Так, если не надо, чтобы мы помнили даже гласные судебные процессы —
то мы их и не помним….

А они начались тотчас же после Октября. Они в 1918 году уже обильно
шли, во многих трибуналах. Они шли, когда не было еще ни законов, ни
кодексов, и сверяться могли судьи только с нуждами рабоче-крестьянской
власти. Они открывали собой, как думалось тогда, стезю бесстрашной

If one wishes to understand how the Soviet show trials and indeed the whole Gulag Archipelago developed, searching the mind of Stalin will only confuse the issue. It is necessary to go back to the initial moments of the Leninist coup and see how the new power-holders behaved under pressure.

There was an official term current then: extrajudicial reprisal…not because there weren’t any courts at the time, but because there was the Cheka. Because it was more efficient. [300.]

Был официальный термин тогда: внесудебная расправа. Не потому, что не
было еще судов, а потому, что была ЧК.1 Потому что так эффективнее.

Efficiency, convenience, need: don’t listen to the litany of excuses; look at how they behave.


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