Richard Seymour // #Solzhenitsyn and the right.

Solzhenitsyn.pngLENIN’S TOMB: Solzhenitsyn and the right. – Solzhenitsyn’s reputation as a novelist became secondary to his status as an anti-communist ideologue in the West. Thus, the refusal of Gerald Ford to meet the dissident in 1976 infuriated the neoconservatives, and raised the ire of one Ronald Reagan. He was championed by Jesse Helms, welcomed by rightist think-tanks such as the Hoover Institute (he actually stayed in Hoover Tower for a while, and contributed to their publications), and received an honorary degree from Harvard University. He was the right man for the post-detente period, precisely the sort of person the Reaganites sought. Though credited as a defender of human rights, he defended the Franco regime in its dying days, making a series of broadcasts on Spanish television demanding to know if Spaniards really knew what a dictatorship was like (yes, he was that kind of ‘anti-totalitarian’). He attacked detente, and supported the UNITA in Angola (Jonas Savimbi admiringly referenced his denunciation of the ‘Western disease’ that he said was behind its inadequate vigour against the communists). He was also scathing about human rights organisations that he saw as insufficiently anticommunist (Amnesty International, in particular), and described Western peace campaigns as fronts for Russian ends, using “Russian means and Russian money”. He attacked the Western left and the movement against the Vietnam war in particular, just as the fate of the ‘Boat People’ was becoming a global issue.

But his usefulness to the American empire was limited, and definitively reached its sell-by date by 1990. Neoconservatives might have appreciated his critic of the degeneracy of the West and its failure to defend itself by being more God-fearing, but he was a Russian nationalist and this stance made him unpopular with some of Reagan’s advisors, who presumably hoped to turn the country into an IMF basket-case. In fact, his argument against communism was by no means a defense of liberal universalism. Instead, he appealled to Americans to understand the ‘West’ as a distinct cultural entity which, while it had to be defended both against its communist opponents and its internal decadence, had little applicability to other societies. He wrote to Reagan to explain that once the putative threat from the USSR had gone, the US should pull out of every country it was involved in, from Central America to Africa to South-East Asia, and leave the world to its own devices. Once he was able to return to Russia in 1990, his austere conservative criticisms of the decadence of Western society, long articulated but generally glossed over by his supporters, came to the fore. He became rather unfashionable at this point. By the time he was castigating US military interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, and defending the Putin administration, the American right had no more use for him.

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