“Let the People Breathe”

In the mid 1960’s, dissidence in the Soviet Union had begun to spread. The most surprising characteristic about the thousands of dissident material that were distributed was the background of the authors. They came from every echelon of Soviet society: workers, collective farmers, university students, school children, and even party members. A protest even broke out in Pushkin Square in 1965. However, the KGB was quick on the case. A show trial in 1966 of two writers who had published their ‘anti-soviet’ material outside of the country was meant to intimidate the rest of the dissenters.

By the 1970’s, dissidence had spread like wildfire. Khrushchev and Brezhnev had slowly eased the yoke placed on people’s freedom of expression, but when this expression was vehemently against state policy, the state was quick to crack down. The dissident movement in the 70’s had three main perspectives. The first was democratic socialism, seeking more political participation allowed to the masses. The second was political liberalism, hoping to achieve more freedom of expression, especially when it came to government policy.


“Allow us a free art and literature, the free publication not just of political books-God preserve us!-and exhortations and election leaflets; allow us philosophical, ethical, economic and social studies, and you will see what a rich harvest it brings and how it bears fruit-for the good of Russia.” -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Letter to the Soviet Leaders, 1974

The third perspective was rather conservative and highly critical of Marxist ideology. The most outspoken proponent of this conservative movement was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In his Letter to the Soviet Leaders, Solzhenitsyn writes a fiery manifesto thrashing Marxism and the failure of the Soviet Union. For Solzhenitsyn, the application of Marxist ideology spelled Russia’s doom from the beginning. Marx, and the Soviets, constantly look forward to a never ending future. They have no end in sight with all of their industrialization and ‘advancement’. In essence, they are climbing a ladder to nowhere. Solzhenitsyn saw that the Soviets were too caught up with an unattainable future that they ignored basic human rights for a pipe dream. Furthermore, in attempting to be different than Western countries, the Soviets tried faux Marxism while copying the industrialization methods of the very capitalist nations they loathed. The means of production were always in the hands of the leaders of the Communist Party, showing the hypocrisy of it all. Nevertheless, it is not authoritarian rule Solzhenitsyn is concerned with, it is the ideology purported by that authority. He saw the old authoritarian regimes of Russia as legitimate because they followed the morals laid down by the Orthodox Church. The problem he has with the Communist Party is that it ignores Christian principles, causing moral decay in society. He firmly believed that Christianity was the only “living spiritual force capable of undertaking the spiritual healing of Russia”. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn did not wish for a Christian state, per say, in fact he argued for the separation of Church and state. But he knew that the underlying truths in Christianity could save his people. For Solzhenitsyn, Russian did not need to import foreign ideologies. Instead, it needed free education and thought, which would cultivate a more virtuous and prosperous nation.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Letter to the Soviet Leaders (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), pp. 19-21, 24-26, 41-43, 51-54, 56-57.

Freeze, Russia A History.

James von Geldern. The Dissident Movement. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1973-2/the-dissident-movement/

The Dissident Movement Images


4 thoughts on ““Let the People Breathe”

  1. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is a really interesting Soviet figure. His view that Christian principle was the answer to the problems of communism was radical given the history of religion in the Soviet Union. I also really liked his quote that you cited.

  2. Great post this week! It is always interesting to read about the people who challenged the established norm throughout history. Furthermore, it is intriguing that many conservative movements throughout history center their ideology and belief that a better tomorrow can be achieved through adherence to a given religious denomination or sect. You raise a good point that the USSR, in many instances, copied the west’s mode of industrialization instead of sticking to a decidedly Marxist ideology. Good job unpacking Solzhenitsyn and what it meant to be a conservative in the USSR.

  3. Very interesting post. It seems like a lot of things the Soviet government did resulted in backlash. I wrote about the underground economy during the time of the Soviet Union, and most people were forced to get their goods via other means. It is interesting that as the government attempted to maintain control and authority, it seemed to lose its legitimacy.

  4. Challenging the Soviet Union was an scary thing to do and the punishments could sometimes be horrifying. It is interesting how people of an oppressed nation will always try and rise up and rebel against the regime. You did a good job of giving very relevant information to help educate the reader on the exact issue.

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