Solzhenitsyn, in Exile for 20 Years, Preparing to Head Home

March 13, 1994|By JACK FRUCHTMAN JR.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the 1970 Nobel Prize winner for literature, professional recluse, harsh critic of Western boorishness, and vociferous critic of communism, is planning a long-awaited, long-expected return to his beloved Russia.

Expelled by the Soviet Politburo 20 years ago last month, Mr. Solzhenitsyn never once lost hope that some day the internal weaknesses, contradictions, and corruptions of communism would pull down the regime that Lenin and Stalin had created in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. For years he has been telling his friends and even his neighbors in his current hometown of Cavendish, Vt., that he intended to return to Russia after the fall of communism.

He is now building a large house on 10 acres of land outside of Moscow for himself, his wife, Natalya, and his four sons (most of whom are grown). The house will be luxurious by Russian standards, but the Solzhenitsyns are not wealthy. A substantial portion of his earnings helps political prisoners and their families through his foundation, the Russian Social Fund. The house should be ready in May.

Known for his long-standing opposition to communism, Mr. Solzhenitsyn is also recognized for his loud condemnations of the lack of spiritual values in the West. Americans, particularly, he has said, have become too mesmerized by society's crass commercialism, lousy, mindless television productions, the laziness of American youth and their preoccupation with rock and roll music. In fact, there was not much about the West he could readily endorse, something he gave full vent to in his

famous 1978 Harvard University commencement address.

In June of that year Mr. Solzhenitsyn shocked many Americans )) as he denounced the materialism of the United States with its emphasis on junk advertisements and commercial rubbish and its lack of seriousness and rigorous standards of education and morality. Indeed, he argued, America was morally bankrupt with its increasing secularism and turn away from religious and spiritual values.

Some commentators tried to explain what Mr. Solzhenitsyn meant by all this, linking his views to the strict traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church or to 19th-century Slavophile ideology. Some complained that he was too Russian, too xenophobic.

If anything, Alexander Solzhenitsyn's outlook has a well-worn place in Russia's past, especially in this century. His views have their origins in a publication known as Vekhi (Landmarks), which was issued in the early part of this century by a group of Russian intellectuals who argued that one of the things wrong with Russia was that the native Russian soul had been diminished by too much borrowing from the West -- materialism, socialist and communist ideas, secularism. The regeneration of Russian spiritual and political life would take place with a return to traditional values, most of which were enshrined in Russian Orthodox belief.

As one of the issues noted, they were all united by a "recognition of the primacy both in theory and in practice of spiritual life over the outward forms of society, in the sense that the inner life of the individual . . . and not the self-sufficing elements of some political order is the only solid basis for every social structure." This kind of thinking is what motivates Alexander Solzhenitsyn more than anything else.

The leaders of the Landmarks group were some of the leading religious philosophers of the day, including Nicholas Berdyayev, as well as legal and literary critics. In Russian history, the best-known personality was Peter Struve, who had written the document creating the Russian Social Democratic Party in 1898. His grandson, Nikita Struve, is today Mr. Solzhenitsyn's Russian-language publisher in Paris.

Critics of Mr. Solzhenitsyn have argued that if he didn't like the West, he should not have moved here in the first place. But he had nowhere to go. After all, the dictators of his own native land had rejected him. The reasons for his expulsion may now be forgotten, but in 1974, they were clear to the Soviet leadership of President Leonid I. Brezhnev and his KGB head, Yuri V. Andropov, who himself would eventually succeed Brezhnev. Mr. Solzhenitsyn had devoted his literary career to unveiling the horrors of communism in his beloved Russia.

His best-known work, even today, remains "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," his first book, which Nikita S. Khrushchev had allowed to be published in the Soviet Union in 1962 during the so-called "Thaw" in tensions between the Soviet bloc and the West which followed the death of Stalin.

Loosely based on Mr. Solzhenitsyn's own postwar, eight-year prison experience in the Soviet Union (he had made fun of Stalin's mustache in a letter from the front), this short novel, as its title suggests, tells the story of one man during one day in a Soviet Siberian labor camp with all its misery, fear and even small joys.

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