Silence Is Death

If it is unfortunately true that sometimes the barbarian hordes really do come charging down without warning from the hill on the horizon, it is nevertheless far more likely that dire threat to “our way of life” will instead saunter smiling straight through the front door. For liberty, silence is death.


In our happy, blind existence, we picture condemned men as a few ill-fated, solitary individuals. We instinctively believe that we could never end up on death row, that it would take an outstanding career if not heinous guilt for that to happen….

Whether our destiny holds a death cell in store for us is not determined by what we have done or not done. It is determined by the turn of a great wheel and the thrust of powerful external circumstances. [Gulag Archipelago, 440-1.]

В благополучном и слепом нашем существовании смертники рисуются нам роковыми и немногочисленными одиночками. Мы инстинктивно уверены, что мы-тов смертную камеру никогда бы попасть не могли, что для этого нужна если не тяжкая вина, то во всяком случае выдающаяся жизнь….

Наша судьба угодить в смертную камеру не тем решается, что мы сделали что-то или чего-то не сделали, — она решается кручением большого колеса, ходом внешних могучих обстоятельств. [lib.ru]

Needless to say, Solzhenitsyn is not shy about providing examples, including the drunk peasant youth given the death penalty for hitting with a stick a policeman’s horse’s ass. More important than reading his examples, however, is searching in your time and your country for similar cases, the absence of which would support our cherished faith that Stalin’s crimes could “never happen here.”

Solzhenitsyn offers us two intimately related factors that should serve all who cherish liberty as signals of impending dictatorship:

1. Silence was already confidently shaping our history. [G. A., 465]

Глухая закрытость уже уверенно формировала нашу историю.

2. There was no public opinion in the Soviet Union. [G.A., 473.]

не было в стране общественного мнения!

To these warning lights, he adds a third critical condition, the absence of agreement on a basic set of principles that would confer certain shared and “inalienable” rights on all…not just you but also your friends and, equally, your enemies themselves:

In part, too, the canopy of loneliness spread over them because, in the very first postrevolutionary years, having naturally accepted from the GPU, having naturally accepted from the GPU the well-merited identification of politicals, they GPU that all who were “to the right” of them, beginning with the Cadets, were not politicals but KR’s—Counter-Revolutionaries—the manure of history….And thus it was that, in part voluntarily in part involuntarily, keeping themselves aloof and shunning others, they gave their blessing to the future “Fifty-eight” [WM: the number of the Soviet law under which they were incarcerated] into whose maw they themselves would disappear…. [G.A., 475.]

Сень одиночества распростерлась над ними отчасти и оттого, что  в самые первые послереволюционные годы, естественноприняв от ГПУ заслуженное звание политических, они также естественно согласились  с ГПУ, что все “направо” от них, начиная  с  кадетов,  —  не  политические,  а каэрыконтры, навоз истории…. Так отчасти вольно, отчасти невольно, обособляясь и чураясь, освятили они будущую Пятьдесят Восьмую, в ров которой и им предстояло еще ввалиться.


And, in turn, those prisoners “to the left” of the socialists—the Trotskyites and the Communists—shunned the socialists, considering them exactly the same kind of KR’s as the rest, and they closed the moat of isolation around them with an encircling ring….in Soviet prisons each political group tried to ensure its own purity by steering clear of the others. The Trotskyites struggled on their own, apart from the socialists and Communists; the Communists didn’t struggle at all, for how could one allow oneself to struggle against one’s own government and one’s own prison? [G.A., 476.]

А  те  арестанты, кто  был  еще  “левее”  социалистов  —  троцкисты  и коммунисты, — те в свой чер?д чурались социалистов как таких же каэров – и смыкали ров одиночества в кольцевой.      Троцкисты  и коммунисты, каждые  ставя свое  направление  чище  и  выше остальных, презирали и  даже ненавидели социалистов (и друг  друга), сидящих за решетками того же здания, гуляющих  в тех же тюремных дворах…. в тюрьме советской каждое  течение  видело чистоту своего  знамени  в  том, чтобы  не объединяться  с  другими.  Троцкисты  боролись  отдельно  от  социалистов  и коммунистов, коммунисты вообще не боролись,  ибо как же можно разрешить себе бороться против собственной власти и тюрьмы?

This mutually destructive guilt of the victims, who effectively accepted the right of the Soviet regime to implement its crimes, provided that only they were granted an exception, may be the saddest message of Solzhenitsyn’s terribly sad analysis.

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