Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Live Not By Lies

This essay was written by Solzhenitsyn in 1974 and it circulated among Moscow's intellectuals at the time. It is dated Feb. 12, the same day that secret police broke into his apartment and arrested him. The next day he was exiled to West Germany. The essay is a call to moral courage and serves as light to all who value truth. It is as relevant today as it was in 1974.

Source: Columbia University

At one time we dared not even to whisper. Now we write and read samizdat, and sometimes when we gather in the smoking room at the Science Institute we complain frankly to one another: What kind of tricks are they playing on us, and where are they dragging us? gratuitous boasting of cosmic achievements while there is poverty and destruction at home. Propping up remote, uncivilized regimes. Fanning up civil war. And we recklessly fostered Mao Tse-tung at our expense-- and it will be we who are sent to war against him, and will have to go. Is there any way out? And they put on trial anybody they want and they put sane people in asylums--always they, and we are powerless.

Things have almost reached rock bottom. A universal spiritual death has already touched us all, and physical death will soon flare up and consume us both and our children--but as before we still smile in a cowardly way and mumble with our tounges tied. But what can we do to stop it? We haven't the strength?

We have been so hopelessly dehumanized that for today's modest ration of food we are willing to abandon all our principles, our souls, and all the efforts of our predecessors and all opportunities for our descendants--but just don't disturb our fragile existence. We lack staunchness, pride and enthusiasm. We don't even fear universal nuclear death, and we don't fear a third world war. We have already taken refuge in the crevices. We just fear acts of civil courage.

We fear only to lag behind the herd and to take a step alone-and suddenly find ourselves without white bread, without heating gas and without a Moscow registration.

We have been indoctrinated in political courses, and in just the same way was fostered the idea to live comfortably, and all will be well for the rest of our lives. You can't escape your environment and social conditions. Everyday life defines consciousness. What does it have to do with us? We can't do anything about it?

But we can--everything. But we lie to ourselves for assurance. And it is not they who are to blame for everything-we ourselves, only we. One can object: But actually you can think anything you like. Gags have been stuffed into our mouths. Nobody wants to listen to us and nobody asks us. How can we force them to listen? It is impossible to change their minds.

It would be natural to vote them out of office-but there are not elections in our country. In the West people know about strikes and protest demonstrations-but we are too oppressed, and it is a horrible prospect for us: How can one suddenly renounce a job and take to the streets? Yet the other fatal paths probed during the past century by our bitter Russian history are, nevertheless, not for us, and truly we don't need them.

Now that the axes have done their work, when everything which was sown has sprouted anew, we can see that the young and presumptuous people who thought they would make our country just and happy through terror, bloody rebellion and civil war were themselves misled. No thanks, fathers of education! Now we know that infamous methods breed infamous results. Let our hands be clean!

The circle--is it closed? And is there really no way out? And is there only one thing left for us to do, to wait without taking action? Maybe something will happen by itself? It will never happen as long as we daily acknowledge, extol, and strengthen--and do not sever ourselves from--the most perceptible of its aspects: Lies.

When violence intrudes into peaceful life, its face glows with self-confidence, as if it were carrying a banner and shouting: "I am violence. Run away, make way for me--I will crush you.'' But violence quickly grows old. And it has lost confidence in itself, and in order to maintain a respectable face it summons falsehood as its ally--since violence lays its ponderous paw not every day and not on every shoulder. It demands from us only obedience to lies and daily participation in lies--all loyalty lies in that.

And the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, but not with any help from me.

This opens a breach in the imaginary encirclement caused by our inaction. It is the easiest thing to do for us, but the most devastating for the lies. Because when people renounce lies it simply cuts short their existence. Like an infection, they can exist only in a living organism.

We do not exhort ourselves. We have not sufficiently matured to march into the squares and shout the truth our loud or to express aloud what we think. It's not necessary.

It's dangerous. But let us refuse to say that which we do not think.

This is our path, the easiest and most accessible one, which takes into account out inherent cowardice, already well rooted. And it is much easier--it's dangerous even to say this--than the sort of civil disobedience which Gandhi advocated.

Our path is to talk away from the gangrenous boundary. If we did not paste together the dead bones and scales of ideology, if we did not sew together the rotting rags, we would be astonished how quickly the lies would be rendered helpless and subside.

That which should be naked would then really appear naked before the whole world.

So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice: Whether consciously, to remain a servant of falsehood--of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one's family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies--or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one's children and contemporaries.

And from that day onward he:
  • Will not henceforth write, sign, or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth.
  • Will utter such a phrase neither in private conversation not in the presence of many people, neither on his own behalf not at the prompting of someone else, either in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, not in a theatrical role.
  • Will not depict, foster or broadcast a single idea which he can only see is false or a distortion of the truth whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science, or music.
  • Will not cite out of context, either orally or written, a single quotation so as to please someone, to feather his own nest, to achieve success in his work, if he does not share completely the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue.
  • Will not allow himself to be compelled to attend demonstrations or meetings if they are contrary to his desire or will, will neither take into hand not raise into the air a poster or slogan which he does not completely accept.
  • Will not raise his hand to vote for a proposal with which he does not sincerely sympathize, will vote neither openly nor secretly for a person whom he considers unworthy or of doubtful abilities.
  • Will not allow himself to be dragged to a meeting where there can be expected a forced or distorted discussion of a question. Will immediately talk out of a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film showing if he hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda.
  • Will not subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed.

Of course we have not listed all of the possible and necessary deviations from falsehood. But a person who purifies himself will easily distinguish other instances with his purified outlook.

No, it will not be the same for everybody at first. Some, at first, will lose their jobs. For young people who want to live with truth, this will, in the beginning, complicate their young lives very much, because the required recitations are stuffed with lies, and it is necessary to make a choice.

But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest. On any given day any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: Toward spiritual independence or toward spiritual servitude.

And he who is not sufficiently courageous even to defend his soul- don't let him be proud of his "progressive'' views, and don't let him boast that he is an academician or a people's artist, a merited figure, or a general--let him say to himself: I am in the herd, and a coward. It's all the same to me as long as I'm fed and warm.

Even this path, which is the most modest of all paths of resistance, will not be easy for us. But it is much easier than self-immolation or a hunger strike: The flames will not envelope your body, your eyeballs, will not burst from the heat, and brown bread and clean water will always be available to your family.

A great people of Europe, the Czhechoslovaks, whom we betrayed and deceived: Haven't they shown us how a vulnerable breast can stand up even against tanks if there is a worthy heart within it?

You say it will not be easy? But it will be easiest of all possible resources. It will not be an easy choice for a body, but it is only one for a soul. No, it is not an easy path. But there are already people, even dozens of them, who over the years have maintained all these points and live by the truth.

So you will not be the first to take this path, but will join those who have already taken it. This path will be easier and shorter for all of us if we take it by mutual efforts and in close rank. If there are thousands of us, they will not be able to do anything with us. If there are tens of thousands of us, then we would not even recognize our country.

If we are too frightened, then we should stop complaining that someone is suffocating us. We ourselves are doing it. Let us then bow down even more, let us wail, and our brothers the biologists will help to bring nearer the day when they are able to read our thoughts are worthless and hopeless.

And if we get cold feet, even taking this step, then we are worthless and hopeless, and the scorn of Pushkin should be directed to us:

"Why should cattle have the gifts of freedom?"

"Their heritage from generation to generation is the belled yoke and the lash.''
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solzhenitsyn live not by lies


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And as with the Middle East, so with the Balkans. Recently the BNP has been banging the drum in favour of Serbian sovereignty in Kosovo. And yet, during the Yugoslav wars when such positions were actually relevant, the BNP held fast to the traditional fascist position of calling for victory to Croatia. Indeed, if memory serves, some BNP guys tried to set up an “International Brigade” to fight for the Croats, who were supposed to be defending European civilisation from the communist Serbs. Is it likely that Griffin has suddenly discovered a deep affinity for Serbia? I think not. It’s more likely that the new BNP position has its roots in Londoners’ fear and loathing of violent Albanian gangsters."

What position does Griffin take when it comes to Krajina, etc? You seem like you know a fair bit about BNP politics and I was just wondering whether this group was worthy of Serb support or not.

4:02 PM  
Blogger serbialives admin said...

I find the article you link to emotive and misleading. Language such as ‘banging the drum in favour of Serbian sovereignty in Kosovo’ implies some kind of violent, reactionary and controversial position. In reality it is the mainstream position which has led to violence and injustice. Why does the author find the BNP stance that Serbia’s territorial integrity should be preserved so strange? The claim that BNP policy regarding Kosovo is based on ‘fear and loathing of violent Albanian gangsters’ in London is simplistic to say the least. A far more important consideration is the precedent that a non-native minority may obtain sovereignty by virtue of immigration and a higher birth rate, backed of course by an outside power. The implications for the rest of Europe are clear. Then there is also the anti-Christian subtext to the whole issue which the BNP wish to highlight given that much of the immigration into Europe is from Islamic countries.

I find it difficult to take a writer seriously when they throw slurs such as ‘fascist’ around. The aim is always to establish an insurmountable moral high ground and to sever debate, often providing cover for lack of an argument. People that use words such as ‘fascist’ without defining the word don’t deserve to be engaged with because it was never their intention to have an honest and open debate in the first place. In most cases I find that those that use the word don’t even have a consistent or coherent definition.

I know nothing about any BNP members setting up an international brigade to fight on the side of Croats. I believe that there were a handful of volunteers and mercenaries from all over Europe that fought for the Croats, though I don’t believe that there was anywhere near enough to form a brigade. Was there a few British men? Maybe. Were they BNP members? Possibly. I think the author of that article is ‘scraping the barrel’.

You ask me what Griffin’s take on Krajina is. I have never seen anything on the BNP website about it so I can’t be sure. If I had to guess, I suspect that the BNP don’t have a stance on Krajina. It is not an issue that is ever on the television sets which means that most people in Britain don’t have a stance on it, or know anything about it. It could be argued that since they don’t have a stance they support the status quo. But then again they don’t have a stance on a whole host of territorial disputes. Kosovo is an exception due to it’s prominence in the mainstream media and also the many precedents it sets. Even so I found it surprising that they considered the issue of enough importance as to grant it a section on their side bar.

Lastly you ask whether they are worthy of Serb support. The two main arguments from Serbs against them are that they are either violent fascist thugs (along the lines of the article you quote) or that they are an establishment ‘escape valve’. The first point barely needs responding to. The manifesto speaks for itself and people should decide for themselves whether they support it in relation to the other parties’ manifestos. Serbs, more than anyone else, should be weary of the Nazi smear given the media treatment we were exposed to in the 1990’s. It’s curious that the media and establishment expect such perfection and angelic virtue from BNP members when they themselves are responsible for wars that have killed hundreds of thousands of people and led to the suffering of millions. The second point is to me a non-issue. If they are an establishment ‘escape valve’ then we end up where we started, with the establishment. The worst case scenario is therefore the status quo, and the best possible scenario is considerably better.

I would argue that their policies regarding Kosovo, the EU, the Afghan and Iraq wars, subservience to America, immigration and globalism contrast them to all the other parties in a positive way. In fact my main concern is not the two points mentioned above, but the possibility that they will have to ‘water down’ some of their policies in order to win votes. That may or may not happen, they may or may not come anywhere near power.

In future I would request that you either post questions in a relevant blog entry, or email me. I intend to archive a lot of the articles I post, and it is not desirable to have discussions in the comments section which do not directly relate to the subject matter. zBogom!

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