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REVISITING RICHARD PIPES

Solzhenitsyn's support for Israel and his refusal to go into any detailed examination of Jewish (or Christian) religious thinking may explain something that otherwise appears a little puzzling - the fact that Richard Pipes, who had done so much to foster the notion of Solzhenitsyn's anti-semitism, declares, in a review of Two Centuries Together, that 'Solzhenitsyn's book is a notable achievement in its attempt to place the "problem" of Russian jewry in political and social perspective, and one that does credit to its author's reputation. If Solzhenitsyn does not quite succeed in exonerating pre-revolutionary Russia of responsibility for subjecting its Jewish citizens to uncivilised discrimination - after all it was the only Christian country that in the nineteenth century still subjected its Jewish citizens to medieval disabilities - and even if he does not fully understand the latter's predicament, at least he absolves himself of the taint of anti-Semitism.' (12)

12 Richard Pipes: 'Solzhenitsyn and the Jews revisited', New Republic, 25 November, 2002.

His praise is highly qualified: 'One cannot but marvel at the intellectual energy of a novelist  who in his seventies undertakes research on a vast and tangled theme with which he has only the most superficial familiarity' and he repeats his own earlier criticisms of what he regards as the anti-semitic caricatures of the the revolutionaries Alexander Parvus-Helphand (in November 1916) and Dmitri Bogrov, the assassin of Stolypin (in August 1914). Nonetheless it seems to me that anyone wanting to make a case for Solzhenitsyn's anti-semitism would find much more material in Two Centuries Together than in The Red Wheel.

But alas once again I find I'm not in a position to launch into a consideration of the actual detail of Two Centuries Together. It is, to say the least, a large undertaking. I would like to finish here by indicating two important events that have occurred in relation to Solzhenitsyn at the end of 2017. First, the final instalment of The Red Wheel - April 1917 part two - has at last been published in the French translation, nine years after part one. At last a non-Russian reader who reads French (me, for example) can get an overview of the whole undertaking and see if it really does have a beginning, a middle and an end (in that order) and if it really does make sense of the eventual seizure of power by the Bolsheviks (although it doesn't reach October/November, except in summary form, Solzhenitsyn claims that by May 1917 no other outcome was possible and that he therefore felt free to finish his account at that point). A brief look at Amazon.de suggests that even less (indeed far less) has been done for Solzhenitsyn in German than in English. That could easily be a product of the fatal charge of anti-semitism.

The second important event is that the first volume of March 1917 (the first of four) is now available in English, over thirty years after it first appeared in Russian, in Paris, in 1986. Once again Pipes surprises us. On the Amazon entry for March 1917 we read this review:

'"In his ambitious multivolume work The Red Wheel (Krasnoe Koleso), Solzhenitsyn strove to give a partly historical and partly literary picture of the revolutionary year 1917. Several of these volumes have been translated into English, but the present volume appears in English for the first time. The translation is very well done and ought to give the reader a better understanding of the highly complex events that shook Russia exactly a century ago." --Richard Pipes, emeritus, Harvard University.