Quotes from: The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. One

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Power is a poison well known for thousands of years. If only no one were ever to acquire material power over others! But to the human being who has faith in some force that holds dominion over all of us, and who is therefore conscious of his own limitations, power is not necessarily fatal. For those, however, who are unaware of any higher sphere, it is a deadly poison. For them there is no antidote.
~page 181


If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
~page 204


I didn’t want to say too much in these quote posts because I was hoping to save it all up for my book review, but my goodness, I’m only 200 pages in and I’ve already had 2 quote posts that my commentary could have filled one of my regular reviews. So why save it all up for the future?

People who acknowledge no higher power than themselves are the most dangerous people ever. No matter how good intentioned they might claim to be, or think themselves to be, power is poison. The problem is, in their death throes, they can destroy a whole country or even a civilization. That is why Ideas DO Matter, no matter how grandfatherly or benevolent the messenger might appear.

That second quote goes up squarely against the idea that humanity is evolving into some sort of better ideal. If people can’t, or won’t, acknowledge that evil exists, not just as a metaphysical idea, but as a concrete thing within themselves and within others, then you end up with Hitlers, or in the case of this book, Stalins. As bad as Hitler was, the more I’m reading here, the more I’m beginning to think that Stalin was one of the worst mass murderers the world has ever not acknowledged.

At the time of this post I’m only 36% into the book. It is tough going and I’m taking it slow. I was hoping to get it done by the end of the month but I don’t think that is going to happen now. More people need to read this and see what happens when people give up responsibilities and rights for security.



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20 thoughts on “Quotes from: The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. One

  1. Interesting (to me) to consider that debates about the accumulation of weath and power go back for many centuries. Right now, the world seems to be increasingly entrenched on party lines, and that seems to have negated our responsibilities to each other. Good to highlight these quotes today!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, as far as I’m concerned, it all comes down to power and the power to control. There’s a saying that roughly says we’ll either be ruled by internal rules or be ruled by external rules. When people lack the internal rules, the external is forced to act. That, I believe, is what we’re seeing today…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It is apples and oranges to an extent, but there is no doubt Stalin did evil on a level with Hitler. Ignorance about just how murderous and cruel communism was in practice is one of the many failings of our education system and society more generally.

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    1. How would you say they were different? Intent? or something else? I was thinking in terms of pure numbers and amounts.

      I would go so far as to say that our education system fails to denote how cruel communism IS in practice. China should be a glaring example to the entire world and yet they blithely turn a blind eye 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Time (a few years versus decades), circumstances (during a war versus not during a war), and targets (Jews and other discrete groups versus bleeping everybody). None of that actually changes the culpability, but it makes it hard to say who was actually more evil, IMO.

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  3. I sense a great, fiery discussion after your final review of the Gulag 🙂

    Solzhenitsyn was a peculiar figure, in his views on history and politics, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union. For people in our region some of that it’s difficult to accept. “Gulag Archipelago” is also believed not to be the best source for GULAG’s history, although I’ve read it so long ago I don’t have a personal opinion on that. Anne Applebaum’s “GULAG” is a one-volume book (with a Pulitzer) I would recommend as additional reading… (a bit of trivia – she is married to a Polish right-wing, but anti-regime politician who used to have a “de-communized zone” sign on his property 😉 ).

    Stalin certainly was one of the worst criminals of history, to be honest I’ve never personally met anyone denying that (and I’ve encountered some self-proclaimed communists), so was Hitler, and I actually had to argue this point once while talking to Polish far-right people… there is a great novel by another Russian author, Vasily Grossman, that superbly underlines the similarities of the two totalitarianisms. You like good, classic novels, maybe you’ll find time for this 🙂

    I also really believe one needs more than just GULAG to understand Russian communism… not to see it in better light, I share your condemnation of the phenomenon, but to see how local history co-shaped what happened there, and I’m trying to think of what shows that… Dr Zhivago, perhaps?

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    1. I haven’t looked, but did he write anything post-fall?
      And thanks for the suggestion about Applebaum. Maybe next year.

      And another one added to the list. You’re killing me here!

      I’m not particularly looking to understand Russian communism as I am to reinforce just how evil communism actually is and what happens when it has full reign. If I wanted to understand regional types, I’d probably read something that took place in China.
      I’ve read Zhivago and my goodness, it was a tough read. Watching the dream for a Soviet Utopia die was not fun. But good writing for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I only remember his book I’ve read in high school, and it was unpalatable for a Polish reader. No communism, obviously, but a strange mix of Russian imperialism and religiosity (which, in Russia, is very state-oriented also). Definitely not something for a Polish audience to accept, but he also wanted to see Ukraine, Belarus and other states incorporated into Russia, so none of my Ukrainian friends would find it acceptable.

        Heh, I ten do emphasize the influence of local culture on any ruling ideology. American-like constitution in many South American states led quickly to dictatorships – because culture and economics there could not support strong, controlling institutions. In Russia, after communism, the attempted to build capitalism, but ended up with cleptocracy, and while I personally despise Putin, he at least reduced hunger there, so I see why many people genuinely support him. Western Europe had strong communistic parties, but also center-let ones that built society where more and more voters turned away from communism, seeing opportunity elsewhere.

        I believe the ‘communisms’ of different countries vary so much, it’s not very helpful to generalize about them. But that is such a long discussion that would go way beyond what we can do in the comment section…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m not trying to dismiss local culture’s impact, (as you are totally right. Democracy only works for those who are willing to work for it), it’s just not the point of this read.

          I do have to disagree with your last paragraph, as the underlying principles of any system, while working out differently in various countries, or even regions, will be the same. America was in danger of electing Bernie Sanders as a claimant for President. Sanders is a communist in principle and while I don’t think we’d turn into another USSR in 4 years (because we’re not the same as the Russians), the changes that Alexandre talks about happened in such time frames as well.

          I’m mainly concerned that too many of my fellow citizens seem to be crying out for chains to be put on them. And that they have no idea of the consequences….

          Liked by 1 person

          1. And here the discussion gets dangerous 😉

            My country has a significant percentage of the population willing to support a right wing regime, for similar reasons that made communism popular in other places and times. I believe, more and more, that freedom lies in the center. But even the definition of what constitutes that center is itself political…

            Going back to GULAG, I think it’s a great and terrifying read. Just remember, than in Russia there was no democracy to be destroyed by the communism. System in place was autocratic, highly feudal, and did not give its subjects (95% of them) anything they would find worth fighting for. Nor the education that would arm them in the knowledge what is at risk. At some level of deprivation people cannot be reasonably expected to make good choices, and sometimes they have no good choices to make.

            The verges of the empire, like Poland’s occupied lands, were another problem. We had an army that succeeded in re-gaining our independence. Anti-communistic forces in Russia refused to guarantee that, when Lenin was open to the idea of independent Poland. So we stood back for some time, Russian imperialism, quickly adopted by the Soviet union, is a wider and older problem than communism itself.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I’d like to thank you for these longer comments. They’ve been quite enlightening to me and I’ll definitely be keeping them in mind as I read.

              These issues you talk about are ones I like to discuss face to face, as body language,tone, etc , convey as much intent as the words themselves. I’m always concerned about talking about serious subjects in the comments that I’ll come across in a way I didn’t intend and shut the discussion down.

              Now obviously, you and I will never sit down face to face and talk about politics and regimes, local or otherwise 😀 But little glimpses like this help shape our opinion of the other and I think that’s the best anyone can do while being strictly “online friends”…

              Liked by 1 person

              1. I had the same thought, that I would really like to just sit down and discuss it face to face. We have a phrase that could be roughly translated as “night-long Polish discussion” 😉
                I’m enthusiastic about my beliefs, but I’m also fascinated by different opinions. In real life, only people around me with seriously different ones are my partner’s parents, and you can imagine I tread carefully there, don’t want to upset her 😉
                Who knows, if I ever get to US on my private $, there might be a chance 🙂 I’ve just read a book about a Polish journalist who traveled Route 66 a few years ago… I’m definitely going back to see more than Tennessee and Louisiana.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. If you ever do come to the States, let me know and we’ll have to see if it’s possible or not.

                  To go to a lighter note here…

                  I don’t know if you remember or not, but when I first ran across you guys I assumed it was two guys name Pio and Olag. I JUST realized today that your monniker is actually Piotre K. But it’s too late. You will be immortalized in my mind as Pio Trek 😀
                  (that’s just to explain why I’m always referring to you as Pio, no disrespect intended)

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. I tried to be witty, but it only works if you know Polish 😉

                    “Piotr” is a Polish version of “Peter”, “Piotrek” is its diminutive, but “K” is also the first later of my family name… any form will do, the funniest things happen when Americans try to pronounce the Polish version 😉

                    Liked by 1 person

  4. “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”- such a brilliantly important quote. And I really agree that Stalin’s evil is not acknowledged often enough.

    Liked by 1 person

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