11.1 The expulsion of Solzhenitsyn from the Writers’ Union

No 11 : 31 December 1969

On 4 November 1969 the great Russian writer A. I. Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Writers’ Union by the Ryazan branch of the Writers’ Union of the Russian Republic (RSFSR). Of the seven members of the Ryazan branch, six were present at the meeting: Vasily Matushkin (Ryazan), Sergei Baranov (Ryazan, chaired the meeting), Nikolai Rodin (Kasimov, brought specially from hospital to form a quorum), Nikolai Levchenko (Ryazan), Yevgeny Markin (Ryazan) and Solzhenitsyn. The branch secretary Ernst Safonov was absent owing to an appendicitis operation. Others present were secretary of the Writers’ Union of the Russian Republic Frants Taurin, propaganda secretary of Ryazan Regional Party Committee A. S. Kozhevnikov, publishing-house editor Povarenkin and three other persons from regional organizations.

There was only one item on the agenda: a report by secretary of the Writers’ Union Taurin concerning the resolution passed by the Secretariat of the Union, ‘On measures to intensify ideological-educative work among writers.’ The speakers accused Solzhenitsyn of not speaking at pre-election meetings; he had not taken part in the discussion of new writers’ works, and had not reviewed their manuscripts; he had behaved superciliously towards Ryazan writers and their ‘modest achievements in literature’; his Ivan Denisovich was an uninspiring character; his “Matryona’s House” was painted entirely in black; his most recent works (although the Ryazan writers actually confessed they had not read them) conflicted with theirs; he had not dissociated himself from the sensation his name was causing in the West; and foreign countries were using his writings as a weapon. Solzhenitsyn spoke in reply and demonstrated the groundlessness of the charges brought against him.

The following resolution was adopted by five votes to one : “This meeting is of the opinion that Solzhenitsyn’s behaviour is of an anti-social nature, and fundamentally conflicts with the aims and tasks of the USSR Writers’ Union. For his anti-social behaviour, which conflicts with the aims and tasks of the USSR Writers’ Union, and for his flagrant violation of the basic principles of the statutes of the Writers’ Union, the writer Solzhenitsyn should be expelled from the ranks of the Writers’ Union of the USSR. We ask the Secretariat to approve this resolution.”

A transcript of the minutes of this meeting, made by Solzhenitsyn, is circulating widely in samizdat.

On 12 November the Literary Gazette carried a report on the expulsion of Solzhenitsyn by the Ryazan writers’ organization, and on the approval of the resolution by the Secretariat of the Board of the Russian Republic Writers’ Union. There was no mention of any name (apart from Solzhenitsyn’s), nor of any date.

On 14 November Literary Russia reprinted the report from the Literary Gazette, adding the surnames of the Ryazan writers and also the writers who were present at the meeting of the Secretariat of the Board of the Russian Republic Writers’ Union: L. Sobolev, G. Markov, K. Voronkov, A. Barto, D. Granin, V. Zakrutkin, A. Keshokov, V. Pankov, L. Tatyanicheva, F. Taurin, V. Fyodorov, and S. Khakimov. Again no dates were given.

A group of Moscow writers — [S.] Antonov,22 [G.] Baklanov, [V.] Voinovich, [V.] Maksimov, [B.] Mozhayev, [V.] Tendryakov and [Yu.] Trifonov — paid a visit to the secretary of the Russian Republic Writers’ Union, Voronkov. They expressed their disagreement with the expulsion from the Writers’ Union of a writer as great as Solzhenitsyn by a group of obscure litterateurs from Ryazan. They demanded that in view of the especial importance of this affair, it should be discussed at a Plenum of the Writers’ Union in conditions of maximum publicity. They requested that this opinion, which was not only theirs but the opinion of many writers who had not presented themselves for official interviews, should be made known to all the secretaries of the Writers’ Union and also to the Party Central Committee. Voronkov assured them that he would pass it on. After this, some people (Party members) were summoned to their district Party committees, where they were worked over by their first secretaries and also by Yu. Verchenko, head of the Culture Department in the Moscow city Party committee.

*

Soon there began to circulate very widely in samizdat an Open Letter from A. Solzhenitsyn to the Secretariat of the Russian Republic Writers’ Union. It is worth quoting in full here:

“Shamelessly trampling underfoot your own statutes, you have expelled me in my absence, as at the sound of a fire-alarm, without even sending me a summons by telegram, without even giving me the four hours I needed to come from Ryazan and be present at the meeting. You have shown openly that the RESOLUTION preceded the ‘discussion’. Was it less awkward for you to invent new charges in my absence? Were you afraid of being obliged to grant me ten minutes for my answer? I am compelled to substitute this letter for those ten minutes.

“Blow the dust off the clock. Your watches are behind the times. Throw open the heavy curtains which are so dear to you—you do not even suspect that the day has already dawned outside. It is no longer that stifled, that sombre, irrevocable time when you expelled Akhmatova in the same servile manner. It is not even that timid, frosty period when you expelled Pasternak, whining abuse at him. Was this shame not enough for you? Do you want to make it greater? But the time is near when each one of you will seek to erase his signature from today’s resolution.

“Blind leading the blind! You do not even notice that you are wandering in the opposite direction from the one you yourselves have announced. At this time of crisis you are incapable of suggesting anything constructive, anything good for our society, which is gravely sick—only your hatred, your vigilance, your ‘hold on and don’t let go’. Your clumsy articles fall apart; your vacant minds stir feebly—but you have no arguments. You have only your voting and your administration. And that is why neither Sholokhov nor any of you, of the whole lot of you, dared reply to the famous letter of Lydia Chukovskaya, who is the pride of Russian publicistic writing. But the administrative pincers are ready for her: how could she allow people to read her book [The Deserted House] when it has not been published? Once the AUTHORITIES have made up their minds not to publish you—then stifle yourself, choke yourself, cease to exist, and don’t give your stuff to anyone to read!

“They are also threatening to expel Lev Kopelev, the front-line veteran, who has already served ten years in prison although he was completely innocent.30 Today he is guilty: he intercedes for the persecuted, he revealed the hallowed secrets of his conversation with an influential person, he disclosed an OFFICIAL SECRET. But why do you hold conversations like these which have to be concealed from the people? Were we not promised fifty years ago that never again would there be any secret diplomacy, secret talks, secret and incomprehensible appointments and transfers, that the masses would be informed of all matters and would discuss them openly?

“’The enemy will overhear’—that is your excuse. The eternal, omnipresent ‘enemies’ are a convenient justification for your functions and your very existence. As if there were no enemies when you promised immediate openness. But what would you do without ‘enemies’? You could not live without ‘enemies’; hatred, a hatred no better than racial hatred, has become your sterile atmosphere. But in this way a sense of our single, common humanity is lost and its doom accelerated. Should the Antarctic ice melt tomorrow, we would all become a sea of drowning humanity, and into whose heads would you then be drilling your concepts of ‘class struggle’? Not to speak of the time when the few surviving bipeds will be wandering over a radioactive earth, dying.

“It is high time to remember that we belong first and foremost to humanity. And that man has distinguished himself from the animal world by THOUGHT and SPEECH. And these, naturally, should be FREE. If they are put in chains, we shall return to the state of animals.

“OPENNESS, honest and complete OPENNESS — that is the first condition of health in all societies, including our own. And he who does not want this openness for our country cares nothing for his fatherland and thinks only of his own interest. He who does not wish this openness for his fatherland does not want to purify it of its diseases, but only to drive them inwards, there to fester.

A. SOLZHENITSYN

12 November 1969

*

On 26 November, the Literary Gazette carried a special article, ‘From the Secretariat of the Board of the Russian Republic Writers’ Union’. It stated that the expulsion of Solzhenitsyn ‘was supported by broad sections of the literary public in our country’, that ‘in his works and his statements’ Solzhenitsyn ‘had in fact allied himself with those people who speak out against the Soviet social system’. Isolated phrases are quoted from Solzhenitsyn’s latest letter (the one cited here) as proof that he ‘represents conceptions alien to our people and its literature’. There are also some other, less important allegations, and they too do not correspond to the truth. For instance, the Open Letter is dated 14 November instead of 12th. The article concludes by saying that if Solzhenitsyn should wish to leave the country he will not be prevented from doing so. The article was reprinted in full in Literary Russia on 28 November.

The National Committee of French Writers has issued a statement saying that the expulsion of Solzhenitsyn was ‘a terrible mistake which is damaging to the Soviet Union’. The authors of the declaration think that such actions are obviously intended ‘to frighten not only all writers, but—more widely— the whole of the intelligentsia, to discourage them from their attempts to be more than just soldiers marching impeccably in step.’ The statement says: ‘Would anyone have thought that, today in the motherland of triumphant socialism the fate that even Nicholas II did not inflict upon Chekhov—who was free to publish his Sakhalin —would become the lot of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the most talented writer to continue the great Russian tradition, the victim of Stalinist terror whose chief crime is that he has survived it!’ The statement is signed by, in particular, such well-known people as Triolet, Vercors, Aragon and Sartre. In the last few days dozens more Western progressive artists and cultural figures have added their signatures to this statement, among them Pablo Picasso.

On 3 December the Literary Gazette published an item about a meeting of the Secretariat of the Board of the Moscow writers’ organization which heard Sobolev and Voronkov speak in connection with the resolution of the Writers’ Union Secretarial on the expulsion of Solzhenitsyn. As the paper puts it: ‘All  the speakers discussed the behaviour of, and the position adopted by, A. Solzhenitsyn, and unanimously approved the resolution passed by the Secretariat of the Writers’ Union of the Russian Republic.’ A list of those present at the discussion is given: A. Aleksin, G. Beryozko, A. Vasiliev, S. Vasiliev, S. Mikhalkov, G. Radov, I. Rink, K. Pozdnyayev, A. Samsoniya, I. Sobolev, L. Fomenko, Ya. Tsvetov, Yu. Chepurin and L. Yakimenko.

In the same issue the paper carried a report of a meeting of the Party organization of the Leningrad branch of the Russian Republic Writers’ Union, at which a resolution was unanimously passed, stating among other things: ‘The communists of the Leningrad writers’ organization unanimously approve the resolution of the Ryazan writers’ organization and the Secretariat of the Board of the Russian Republic Writers’ Union concerning the expulsion of A. Solzhenitsyn from the ranks of Soviet writers as a man who has adopted a blatantly anti-Soviet position and thus gone over to the enemy camp.’ Present: R. Nazarov, Yu. Ritkheu, Vyach. Kuznetsov, D. Granin, Yu. Pomozov, A. Shevtsov, V. Infantev, G. Kondrashev, V. Dyagilev, A. Barten, V. Dmitrevsky, A. Shagalov, E. Serebrovskaya, M. Demidenko, F. Abramov.

A week later Sergei Mikhalkov, speaking at a plenum of the Moscow branch of the Writers’ Union, referred to Solzhenitsyn as (and the papers printed it) ‘a gifted writer in the professional sense’ who is a ‘talented enemy of socialism’.

*

A number of collective and individual letters are circulating in samizdat from Soviet citizens, addressed to the Writers’ Union in protest at the expulsion of Solzhenitsyn:

1.         Letter of the 39

The expulsion of Solzhenitsyn is called ‘shameful for our literature and, above all, for our writers, who acquiesced in it either by their silence or vocally’. The main reason for his expulsion was Solzhenitsyn’s consistent exposure of Stalinist arbitrariness. An artist’s place in the company of his colleagues should be determined above all by his talent and his craftsmanship, and Solzhenitsyn’s talent, artistic significance and world-wide reputation are unquestionable.

2.         Letter of the 14 (19 December)

“… the tragic campaign of slander has been crowned with the farce of public execution,’ but it is not Solzhenitsyn who has been excommunicated from the great Russian tradition, rather ‘the whole of the Writers’ Union hiding behind the backs of the immoral quintet from Ryazan’.  Criticizing the attitude of ‘judicious silence’, the authors draw a parallel with the recent past, ‘when the best and most honest writers were hounded in exactly the same way, while some writers hooted their approval and others kept silent.

But those were the days when one writer’s defence of another was called mutual covering-up, and informing was considered proof of reliability. In those days even silence could be heroism. Today it cannot even have the appearance of heroism.’

3.       Open Letter from Zhores Medvedev (21 November)

“Solzhenitsyn was expelled because his talent as a writer, his humanism, his creative depiction and analysis of reality had overstepped the boundaries of the Ryazan Region and were beyond the control of a department of the Ryazan regional Party committee. They had overstepped the boundaries of the Russian Republic and ceased to conform with the obscure and constantly changing instructions of the secret censorship. Alexander Solzhenitsyn has deservedly acquired in the USSR and the whole world the reputation of a patriot and a fighter for the real truth. He has not betrayed that truth, those humanitarian ideas, he has not betrayed his conscience, or his principles, and he has not betrayed his people now that, in defiance of all logic and common sense, the arbitrary rule of the Stalin era has begun to reappear in disguised form and the threat of lawlessness and violence has come to hang once more over the land. And it was for this that they expelled him from the Union …

“On the charge brought against Solzhenitsyn of having his books published in the West, the author writes of the ‘piratical’ practice of Soviet publishing-houses in publishing foreign authors and reproducing their works, all without their permission. This is the reason why our State refuses to sign the convention on the international defence of authors’ rights, thereby putting Soviet authors too in a defenceless position. On the charge that Solzhenitsyn’s works were written ‘from a different ideological standpoint’, the author writes:

“The publication of “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” was approved by the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. This story was acclaimed by the whole of the Soviet press and nominated for a Lenin Prize. Why then are you now hurling abuse even at this story? It means that your ‘ideological standpoint’ has changed, not that of Solzhenitsyn. It means that the instructions to Glavlit [the censorship] have changed, and not the writer’s creative style … The expulsion of Solzhenitsyn from the Soviet Writers’ Union grieves me as an indication of deeply regrettable changes in the way of running the Union and in the standpoint of those circles which are accustomed to consider the Union as merely a branch of the [Party’s] Ideological Commission. The expulsion of Solzhenitsyn is a unique event. It came about as a logical result of the new line of cautious repressions being directed against the intelligentsia. The aim is to instil into them the inertia of fear, the same fear that Stalin and his obedient minions created, who did not shrink from the destruction of millions of innocent citizens.

4. Letter from Julian A. Vronsky, former investigator of the Moscow Regional Procuracy (address and telephone number given), 2 December

The author refers to Solzhenitsyn as ‘a highly talented writer, a gallant fighter and a humanist’, and sees his expulsion from the Writers’ Union as a particular example of the Stalinist tendencies in the development of our country: political trials and the forcible confinement of dissenters in psychiatric hospitals, police shadowing, eavesdropping, the reading of mail by X-ray methods, provocation, illegal arrests, dismissals and expulsions from the Party, the official lie, and the hounding of the most progressive writers.

The author thinks that the initiative in Solzhenitsyn’s expulsion came from the Party and government leadership. He concludes as follows: “I appeal to the conscience of those upon whom the fate of the writer depends—to however small a degree—I call upon them to remember once again their duty to Russia and to history, to the people and to mankind, to remember the best democratic traditions ?of our country’s past; in the name of the future I call upon you to give all the encouragement and help you can to this most talented writer, for his tragedy is our tragedy, the tragedy of our country.”

*

At a meeting of the prose section of the Moscow branch of the Writers’ Union, twenty-two people voted against the resolution approving the expulsion of Solzhenitsyn.

*

A telegram from L. K. Chukovskaya to the Writers’ Union: ‘Chukovskaya considers the expulsion of Solzhenitsyn from the Writers’ Union a national disgrace for Russia.’

*

On 18 December the London paper The Times published a letter from a group of writers:

“The treatment of Soviet writers in their own country has become an international scandal. We now learn with dismay of the expulsion from the Soviet Writers’ Union of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the one writer in Russia who, in the words of Arthur Miller, ‘is unanimously regarded as a classic’. The two great poets who were previously so expelled were Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak. One understands Solzhenitsyn’s bitter exclamation: ‘Was this shame not enough for you?’

“The silencing of a writer of Solzhenitsyn’s stature is in itself a crime against civilization. We do not know whether any other steps are contemplated in this new witch-hunt. We can only hope that there is no repetition of the Sinyavsky-Daniel trial.

“Judging by experience, verbal protests do not sufficiently impress the Soviet authorities. We appeal to them, however, to stop persecuting Solzhenitsyn.

“Should this appeal fail we shall see no other way but to call upon the writers and artists of the world to conduct an international boycott of a country which chooses to put itself beyond the pale of civilization until such time as it abandons the barbaric treatment of its writers and artists.”

Amongst the signatories are: Arthur Miller, the American playwright; Auden, the English poet; Rolf Hochhuth, the German writer; Günter Grass; Julian Huxley; Mary McCarthy; Graham Greene; Pierre Emmanuel, the French poet and President of the PEN Club; and A. Toynbee, the historian.

Altogether there are thirty-one signatures.