This article continues the idea of a “Speaking Bibliography” while also promoting the study of history.
“A Warning to the West” (published in 1976) was written by the same (heroic) author who penned “The Gulag Archipelago” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
As opposed to the multi-volume “Gulag” monster, “Warning” is a much smaller work, consisting of a collection of speeches given by Mr Solzhenitsyn (hereafter referred to as “A.S.” for brevity) in the United States and in England.
My copy of the book runs a brisk 146 pages and contains a total of 5 speeches given between 1975 & 1976. Three speeches were delivered in the U.S. and two were given while the author was in England.
This would have been during the period of Leonid Brezhnev’s USSR, President’s Gerald Ford (1975) / Jimmy Carter (1976) in the U.S. and Harold Wilson / James Callaghan would have been the Prime Ministers of the U.K.
The American speeches were mostly given before Congress while the UK speeches were delivered to Parliament and the BBC news media.
When these speeches were delivered in the mid-1970’s the world was still very much polarized by The Cold War. However political tensions weren’t comparable to the Lenin or Stalin eras; nor were we on the brink of nuclear war as we were during the Cuban Missile Crisis, earlier in the 1960’s.
The 1970’s saw something of a “thaw” in relations between the USA and the USSR with some effort being made towards arms reductions and nuclear testing. Of course the Soviets eventually invaded Afghanistan before the 1970’s were over and that kicked things into a heightened state of alert going into the following decade, but that’s another story for another time.
So – given the backdrop of improvement between the relations of “East” and “West”, the author continues to deliver a kind of “don’t let your guard down” series of messages to the British and Americans.
You can imagine that there must have been many who believed he was “crying wolf” or perhaps even over-hyping the dangerous intentions of the Communists.
Yet this was a man who not only lived through front line fighting against Hitler’s war machine, but also managed to survive a literal Stalinist purge (expelled from the Red Army) and the subsequent imprisonment within the Soviet concentration camps that came with that purge.
This man knew that the idea of détente or a “thaw” in relations was nothing more than a ruse.
And that’s why I believe this book is so important today – among other things, it helps highlight how the goals of communists have never changed — even though the “face” of communism has changed quite a bit.
Here are some key quotes and take-aways from the book:
- Addressing how the Socialists who spearheaded the revolution were betrayed by the Communists who ultimately seized power, “…all the representatives of the Petrograd factories were denouncing the Communists who had deceived them in all their promises…not only had the Communists abandoned Petrograd to cold and hunger, themselves having fled from Petrograd to Moscow, but they had given orders to open machine gun fire on the crowds of workers in the factory courtyards who were demanding the election of independent factory committees.“
“In 1947, when liberal thinkers and wise-men of the West, who had forgotten the meaning of the word “liberty” were swearing that there were no concentration camps in the Soviet Union at all, the American Federation of Labor published a map of our concentration camps.”
Speaking about how Lenin spent a lot of time in the West before coming to power in Russia – and noting how the Communists repeatedly stated their intentions to eliminate the freedom of the West as well as Capitalism in general – and then slowly changed their tactics:
- “Lenin predicted the whole process…[he] always wrote that the Western Capitalists would do anything to strengthen the economy of the USSR…Lenin was quoted as having said that, ‘They will bring us everything themselves without thinking about their future’. “
- “For decades on end, throughout the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s the Soviet press kept writing, ‘Western capitalism, your end is near. We will destroy you’.”
- “Nikita Khrushchev came here (i.e. the United Nations building in New York) and said, ‘We will bury you!’ – they didn’t believe that either. They took it as a joke.”
- “Now of course they have become more clever…today they don’t say, ‘we are going to bury you’ now they say ‘détente’. “
- “Nothing has changed in Communist ideology. The goals are the same as they were…”
- Speaking of Marxist teaching, the Socialist revolution and subsequent Communist take over of Russia, “…this was a system that introduced the first concentration camps in the history of the world.”
- “This was a system which carried out genocide…fifteen million peasants were shipped off to their deaths.”
- “This was a system which, in a time of peace, artificially created a famine causing six million persons to die in the Ukraine between 1932 and 1933…the world didn’t even notice it.”
- “All of the apparent differences among the Communist parties of the world are imaginary. All are united in one point: your social order must be destroyed.“
- “Communists have to use various disguises…you may hear words like ‘popular front’ or ‘dialogue with Christianity’…but let them only get into power and we shall see what this dialogue will look like”
- “All of the Communist Parties, upon attaining power, have become completely merciless. But at the stage before they achieve power, it is necessary to use disguises.“
- Discussing the link between a lack of critical thought and Socialism, “The decline of contemporary thought has been hastened by the misty phantom of Socialism. Socialism has created the illusion of quenching people’s thirst for justice…[it] has lulled their conscience into thinking that the steamroller which is about to flatten them is a blessing in disguise.“
Sadly, by the end of the book you realize that A.S. had come to the conclusion that some type of Communist take over of Western institutions and government was inevitable. In a couple of different places in this book he states that he’s lost the belief that you can truly warn someone of the dangers that are coming … perhaps because it just seems to surreal or distant to us in the West.
After reading the speeches I believe he concluded that we (The “West”) are simply going to have to live through it ourselves before we really “see” the true nature of Communist, understand their goals and to finally understand what liberties we had…and lost.