by Aleksandr L Solzhenitsyn
“It is not possible for us at this time fully to investigate exactly
who fell within the broad definition of insects’, the population of
Russia was too heterogeneous and encompassed small, special
groups, entirely superfluous and, today, forgotten. The people in
the local zemstvo self-governing bodies in the provinces were,
of course, insects. People in the cooperative movement were also
insects, as were all owners of their own homes. There were not a
few insects among the teachers in the gymnasiums. The church
parish councils were made up almost exclusively of insects, and
it was insects, of course, who sang in church choirs. All priests
were insects — and monks and nuns even more so. And all those
Tolstoyans who, when they undertook to serve the Soviet govern-
ment on, for example, the railroads, refused to sign the required
oath to defend the Soviet government with gun in hand thereby
showed themselves to be insects too. (We will later see some of
them on trial.) The railroads were particularly important, for
there were indeed many insects hidden beneath railroad uni-
forms, and they had to be rooted out and some of them slapped
down. And telegraphers, for some reason, were, for the most
part, inveterate insects who had no sympathy for the Soviets.
Nor could you say a good word about Vikzhel, the All-Russian
Executive Committee of the Union of Railroad Workers, nor
about the other trade unions, which were often filled with insects
hostile to the working class.
Just those groups we have so far enumerated represent an
enormous number of people — several years’ worth of purge
In addition, how many kinds of cursed intellectuals there were
— restless students and a variety of eccentrics, truth-seekers, and
holy fools, of whom even Peter the Great had tried in vain to
purge Russia and who are always a hindrance to a well-ordered,
It would have been impossible to carry out this hygienic purg-
ing, especially under wartime conditions, if they had had to
follow outdated legal processes and normal judicial procedures.
And so an entirely new form was adopted: extrajudicial reprisal,
and this thankless job was self-sacrificingly assumed by the Che-
ka, the Sentinel of the Revolution, which was the only punitive
organ in human history that combined in one set of hands in-
vestigation, arrest, interrogation, prosecution, trial, and execu-
tion of the verdict.”
“Here is one vignette from those years as it actually occurred.
A district Party conference was under way in Moscow Province.
It was presided over by a new secretary of the District Party
Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusion
of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for.
Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to
his feet during the conference at every mention of his name).
The small hall echoed with “stormy applause, rising to an ova-
tion.” For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the “stormy
applause, rising to an ovation,” continued. But palms were getting
sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people
were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly
even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would
dare be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party
Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform,
and it was he who had just called for the ovation. But he was a
newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who’d been arrested.
He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall
applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in that ob-
scure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on
— six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose
was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with
heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they
could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously,
not so eagerly — but up there with the presidium where everyone
could see them? The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium.
Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation,
he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he
watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the
latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-
believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with
faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on
applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried
out of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left
would not falter. . . . Then, after eleven minutes, the director of
the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat
down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the
universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man,
everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved!
The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving
That, however, was how they discovered who the independent
people were. And that was how they went about eliminating
them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They
easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite
different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document
of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him:
“Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!” 36
(And just what are we supposed to do? How are we supposed
Now that’s what Darwin’s natural selection is. And that’s also
how to grind people down with stupidity. “
“I dedicate this
to all those who did not live
to tell it.
And may they please forgive me
for not having seen it all
nor remembered it all,
for not having divined all of it.
Some of the best things, those things that take on meanings we can only imagine are free but almost terrible to read:http://www.archive.org/stream/Gulag_Archipelago_I/Gulag_Archipelago_djvu.txt