Editor’s note: This William F. Buckley Jr. column appeared in National Review in August of 1975.
The gradual rejection of Solzhenitsyn by the American intellectual establishment was predictable. For one thing he is entirely independent, moving through the cosmopolitan scene without tripping over any of the Lilliputian nets that ensnare most of us. Now Newsweek Magazine has come up with the killer designation: “The exile found himself ignored by some influential liberals and embraced — apparently to his discomfort — by the conservative right.” If only they can thus taxonomize him — a member of the conservative right — they can pin him up in a showcase along with the rare and grotesque butterflies, let him go on there with his writhings and — forget about him.
The extensive story in Newsweek does not tell us just how Solzhenitsyn is embarrassed by the support given to him by the conservative right. When he insisted that Senator Jim Buckley of New York be invited to hear his speech in Manhattan, he was hardly shrinking from an association with the right. On the other hand, his principal sponsors were the trade unions, the organized voices of the working man — and they gave him a tumultuous reception. Unremarked in Newsweek.
“His writings glorify the wisdom of the simple peasant and the righteousness of the most rural communities,” wrote the editors. So did Thomas Jefferson’s, the founder of the Democratic Party.
He speaks of the “decadence of western society,” So does the New York Review of Books, Noam Chomsky, and Herbert Marcuse.
“He hates cars and cities.” So does Ralph Nader.
”He was shocked to find that interest in Soviet affairs seemed to be limited to the far right.” Well, if that is so, I too am shocked. Interest in Soviet affairs was very great among the far left during a period when much of it was servile to the Soviet state. Newsweek seems to be suggesting, though I doubt it was intentional, that American liberals have lost interest in the Soviet Union now that they acknowledge it as a slate state bent on maintaining the captive nations in captivity, and manufacturing more and better hydrogen bombs with which to threaten us.
If Solzhenitsyn is a far rightist who appeals to the far right, he goes at it in a most unorthodox way. Having declared that the Russian people are the natural allies of the American workers, he commented in one of his recent speeches about “another alliance — at first glance a strange one, a surprising one — but if you think about it, in fact one which is well-grounded and easy to understand: this is the alliance between our Communist leaders and your capitalists.”
“This alliance is not new,” Solzhenitsyn reminded his audience. “The very famous Armand Hammer, who is flourishing here today, laid the basis for this when he made the first exploratory trip into Russia, still in Lenin’s time, in the very first years of the Revoltution. He was extremely successful in this intelligence mission and since that time for all these fifty years, we observe continuous and steady support by the businessmen of the west of the Soviet Communist leaders.” Doesn’t sound to me like a typical far right talk ….
Solzhenitsyn went on to discuss a recent exhibit of the Untied States anti-criminal technology which the Russians brought up with fascination. The difference being that we were selling our scientific paraphernalia not to the law abiding for use against criminals, but to criminals for use against the law abiding: rather like inventing a guillotine for the purpose of chopping meat, and then selling it to Robespierre for other uses ….
“This is something which is almost incomprehensible to the human mind: that burning greed for profit that goes beyond all reason, all self control, all conscience, only to get money.” Far right talk, to the editors of Newsweek. As a veteran of a number of right-wing rallies, I take leave to pronounce this as an unorthodox way to cement relations with the capitalist class.
What Solzhenitsyn is of course proving is that the deep resources of humanity lie in for the most part in the conservative community. This is despicable. Because conservatives, by and large, do not believe in the shifting standards of right and wrong which, for instance, can bring a Barbara Tuchman, a James Reston, or a John Kenneth Galbraith to travel to mainland China and report back their boundless enthusiasm for the work of Mao Tse-tung. If his tormentors truly succeed in identifying Solzhenitsyn as a member of the far right, they will succeed in identifying themselves as the heartless, mindless robots they, in fact, so often are.