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But to return to Solzhentisyn's Letter. Panin, hoping for a working class revolution against the Soviet regime, mocks a passage in which Solzhenitsyn says:

'My proposals are of course made with a hope that is infinitesimally small but not entirely non-existent. What gives me some reason for hope is, for example, the 'Khrushchevian miracle' of the years 1955-1956, that unforeseen, unbelievable miracle of the liberation of millions of prisoners, together with the miserable beginnings of a humane system of law ... This sudden initiative of Khrushchev's went beyond the level of political acts he couldn't avoid doing, it was, unquestionably, a movement of the heart ...'

The passage as it happens does not appear in the English translation of the Letter - all that we have is the remark: 'Look back and contemplate the horror: from 1918 to 1954 and from 1958 to the present day not one person has been released from imprisonment as a result of a humane impulse.' Which does imply that 'a humane impulse' was at work between 1954 and 1958. Panin, however, insists that, far from being a movement of Khrushchev's heart or a humane impulse, Khrushchev's actions were indeed imposed on him:

'Solzhenitsyn doubtless hasn't understood what caused the events he refers to. In reality, from 1952 to 1955, a wave of insurrections broke out in the camps. There were many places in which real, organised battles took place: the authorities brought in tanks. The regime was no longer able to impose forced labour on 15 million prisoners and keeping order would have required entire regiments of soldiers in each camp. Not even Stalin could have allowed himself such a luxury. That is precisely why the population of the archipelago around 1957 was reduced to approximately one tenth of what it had been. From 1917 to 1957 in the "Workers' and Peasants' state", only the class of party bureaucrats, above all the upper crust, benefitted from all the dwelling apartments that had been built. The sudden appearance of thirteen million newly freed prisoners demanded a quick solution for their support and lodging.'

It should be said that the third volume of The Gulag Archipelago does  give a history of the revolts in the camps. The first English translation of this, done by Solzhenitsyn's favoured translator, Harry Wiletts, appeared in 1978. I am not clear when it was published in Russian but a copyright for the Russian edition is dated 1976, after the publication of Panin's book in Russian in 1975 (in French translation in 1976).

Panin goes on to make a passionate case against Khrushchev:

'Each action of Khrushchev's was conditioned by circumstance and above all, after Stalin's death, by the menace posed by millions of men [presumably the insurrectionaries in the labour camps - PB]. In his personal struggle for power, Khrushchev had to take account of the needs of the ruling class. That is how all the noisy propaganda about Khrushchev's liberalism took off in a market place full of dupes.

'The "unquestionable movement of Khrushchev's heart" was a movement towards the violent persecution of religion. Precisely during his period in office over 10,000 churches and nearly all the monasteries were closed. The church was undermined from within by the system of "twenties": from then onwards each parish was ruled by twenty lay representatives appointed by the government.

'The cordial Khrushchev ordered the slaughter of all the cattle belonging to people living in the suburbs. In the kolkhozes and sovkhoses he hugely reduced the area set aside for individual pasturing and by the same token reduced the stocks of hay for the winter. So the kolkhozians were forced to slaughter the animals they could no longer feed. Listening to "his great heart" he reduced in a catastrophic manner the bits of land that were attached to the houses of kolkhoz members and he covered them ruthlessly with insane plantations of maize.'

He concludes: 'That is why Khrushchev is hated by the people at least as much as Stalin. In the West it wasn't by chance that the idea of the supposed liberalism of Khrushchev putting an end to Stalinism was spread about. But for someone who himself has had experience of the regime, these false ideological paths traced out artificially for the Westerners are all the more unforgivable.'