12.7 Supplementary material about the expulsion of A. I. Solzhenitsyn from the Union of Soviet Writers

No 12 : 28 February 1970

Certain details about the expulsion of Solzhenitsyn [see 11.1] from the Union of Soviet Writers  have become known. At the beginning of November 1969 the secretary of the Ryazan writers’ organisation E. Safonov was summoned to Moscow to see L. Sobolev (Writers’ Union of the RSFSR) and “fix” the expulsion. On his return to Ryazan he was immediately operated on for appendicitis. On the morning of 4 November 1969 four Ryazan writers were summoned separately to the department of agitation and propaganda of the Party regional committee, where the head of department, Shestopalov, broke it to each of them that it would be necessary to expel Solzhenitsyn. (E. Markin was promised an apartment and after Solzhenitsyn’s expulsion he was issued with the necessary document.)

The fifth writer, N. Rodin, without whom there would not be a quorum, was two hundred kilometres away in the town of Kasimov, seriously ill. On instructions from Ryazan, the secretary of the Kasimov Party district committee compelled him to set off for Ryazan in the district committee’s car. Rodin soon turned back, saying that he might die on the way, but the secretary of the district committee forced him to go, saying: “There are four hospitals on the way – in Gus Zhelezny, Tuma, Spas-Klepiki and Solotcha – you can call on the doctors on the way.”

Shestopalov called on Safonov in hospital after his operation and demanded his agreement to the expulsion of Solzhenitsyn. Safonov refused (but a month later just the same he was forced to approve the expulsion). An hour before the beginning of the meeting of the writers’ organisation, the five writers who were also Party members (that is, all of them except Solzhenitsyn) were called to a “Party group meeting”, where the propaganda secretary of the district committee, A. Kozhevnikov, made sure that there would be no “deviations” in the voting. The proceedings of the actual meeting at which Solzhenitsyn was expelled are well known. It ended on the evening of 4 November. The meeting of the Secretariat of the RSFSR Writers’ Union to discuss the same matter was hastily arranged and conducted in Solzhenitsyn’s absence on 5 November in Moscow. Solzhenitsyn was given only a verbal invitation and received no official, written summons from the RSFSR Writers’ Union.

However, it was decided to conceal the very fact of the meeting of the Secretariat of the RSFSR Writers’ Union for a week, so as not to create an unpleasant impression on cultural figures abroad in the days before the November celebrations. For this reason on 5 November someone was appointed to answer the telephone in the Writers’ Union in Ryazan with instructions that if there were calls from Moscow from foreign correspondents (and there were calls, he should reply either that there had been no expulsion, or that nothing was known about it in Ryazan. The RSFSR Writers’ Union answered enquiries in the same way on that day. This gave rise to the “denial”. When the celebrations were over the Literary Gazette published the announcement, but concealed the date of the expulsion.

*

The campaign of the progressive international community in connection with the expulsion of A. Solzhenitsyn from the Writers’ Union continues.

Here is a summary of the most important articles:

1. Pierre Emmanuel, member of the Academie Francaise and president of the Pen Club.

Pierre Emmanuel comments on the protest of a large group of important writers and artists in the West, which contains the threat of an international “cultural boycott” of the Soviet Union, as “a country which has put itself beyond the pale of the civilised world …”

“With complete justification all people are filled with indignations at what is happening in Greece, but at the same time their attitude to the situation of the Soviet intelligentsia is rather restrained, as they consider that totalitarianism in Russia is an accidental and transitory phenomenon. This is an error which only strengthens the machinery of tyranny in the East … It is the very right to think freely that is denied in the Soviet Union in the name of socialism, a socialism about which no-one thinks, inasmuch as thinking is forbidden … The censorship and the police in the USSR forbid believers to pray, philosophers to think and writers to create. When one examines the systematic transformation into slaves and liars of a whole generation of gifted people, one cannot help thinking of a slow genocide of the soul. If this regime continues to last, by the end of this century all Eastern Europe may have turned into a spiritual wilderness.

“People will object: so Solzhenitsyn has been excluded from the Union of Writers. Well, that’s bad, but Sinyavsky and Daniel are dying a slow death in Siberia. I quite agree, but I should remind you that in the USSR the profession of writer is regulated: a person who is excluded from the Union of Writers is left without a profession … He must be ready for anything, including being committed to a lunatic asylum … In their attempts to humiliate the great writer, they provoke him by suggesting to him that he emigrate. But the very purpose of Solzhenitsyn’s life is precisely to remain in his own country at any price, where he is asserting his right to die for the truth.”

In conclusion Pierre Emmanuel writes: “We cannot be fooled by official delegations of Soviet writers and artists who travel in the West in semi-freedom. The Brezhnev era is not the Khrushchev era, and this is reflected in the quality of its cultural ambassadors. It is useless to pretend that you are dealing with genuine intellectuals rather than with members of a certain organisation. Neither the prestige of the Bolshoi theatre, nor the excellent film about [Andrei] Rublyov (which incidentally has been shown here but not in the USSR), can deceive us and conceal the organised suffocation of the spirit, which, for survival, is left only with the underground.”

2. Gabriel Laub: “The conscience of the Soviet Union”. (Gabriel Laub is a well known Czechoslovak writer, now an émigré.)

In tsarist Russia there was no special imperial state Union of Writers, like the present Soviet one. Had there been, they would have had to expel from it such famous authors as: Alexander Pushkin, “for immorality and for bringing dishonour on the State system”; Saltykov-Shchedrin, “for malicious attacks on the Russian civil service and the customs of society”; Anton Chekhov, ”for continuous slander of Russian reality, especially in his essays about his journey to Sakhalin Island”; Lev Tolstoy, “for the dissemination of pacifist ideas foreign to the Russian people and weakening to the defensive capacity of the Fatherland.”

The Union of Soviet Writers is not a society of literary people for the defence of their own interests. It is a State institution. It is quite understandable that if such an organisation expels someone, then it will be someone who refuses to carry out the rules of the game, even if this is the greatest of living Russian writers. We should be much more indignant that such an organisation contains in its title the word “writers”.

The conscience of Russia in the 1960s, this is what Alexander Solzhenitsyn is.

In 1967, in his letter to the Congress of Writers, he spoke out passionately against the restrictions on freedom of speech and against the censorship, just like Alexander Radishchev in 1790 and Saltykov-Shchedrin in 1860 before him. The only difference is that the protests of his predecessors were published. With the passage of time the Russian censorship has been perfected.

The newspapers carry the first reports that some Soviet writers are protesting against the expulsion of Solzhenitsyn … But I have no doubt that many members of the Union of Writers welcomed his expulsion, and moreover, not only because they are accustomed to condemn as a crime any deviation from the prescribed manner of thinking, but also because Solzhenitsyn is a great writer, in whose company they feel uncomfortable … Their spiritual forebears persecuted Pushkin and were characterized by Lermontov in his poem “The death of a poet”:

You who stand in a blood-thirsty crowd at the throne
Are the executioners of freedom, genius and glory.

The first to make a public statement was [the novelist] Sholokhov. He spoke of writers who are published in the West, and compared them to Colorado beetles which must be exterminated [Izvestiya, 28 November 1969]. The well-known remark of [the German politician Franz-] Joseph Strauss takes on — in comparison to the words of this former writer — the appearance of innocent child’s play.