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Solzhenitsyn, Igor Shafarevich and the 'Jewish question'

Solzhenitsyn started work on Two Centuries Together in 1990. (1) His biographer, Ludmila Saraskina quotes his wife, Natalia Dmitrievna, saying it was 'a large, difficult, complex work, like the Gulag Archipelago in its construction. Impossible to say how long it would take, doubtless not less than two years, though it had already involved reading thousands of pages and a great deal of thought.' (2)

(1) According to his own account - Alexandre Soljénitsyne: Deux siècles ensemble, tome II, Librairie Arthème Fayard, 2003, p.567

(2) Ludmila Saraskina: Alexandre Soljénitsyne, Libairie Arthème Fayard, 2010, pp.811-2. Interesting to note that the Russian original was published (in 2008) by Editions Molodaia Gvardia (Young Guard) whose role in promoting a Russian patriotic view of the world even in the Soviet era has been discussed in earlier articles in this series. In 1991 Shafarevich published an article called Ten Years Later, which suggests that he felt he had finished Russophobia in 1981.

A preface to the book by Solzhenitsyn is dated 1995 which suggests he might have thought it was finished then but in the event it was only published in 2001 (first volume) and 2002 (2nd volume). In an introduction dated 2000 he says: 'Let us not fool ourselves: these last few years the situation in Russia has evolved in a way so catastrophic that the problem here studied has faded into the background and doesn't have the urgency of the other problems Russia faces today.'

But we are still faced with the question: why did he think it was important in 1990, the moment when Gorbachev's attempt to save the Soviet system through liberal reform was beginning to fall apart, a period of huge opportunity and huge danger, the same year in which, having decided he could do nothing more with The Red Wheel, he wrote his own 'What is to be done?' - Rebuilding Russia


We have already seen in previous articles the difficulties Solzhenitsyn had with what he called the 'third emigration', his contemporaries, often Jewish dissidents more concerned with the dangers of 'Russian chauvinism' than with Communism as such.

And we have seen how Solzhenitsyn's concerns in this respect overlap with those of his close friend and collaborator, the internationally famous mathematician, Igor Shafarevich. But Shafarevich, unlike Solzhenitsyn - or perhaps we should say more brutally than Solzhenitsyn - had declared that the problem of 'Russophobia' was a Jewish problem. The Jews (taken collectively) were a 'little community' who had set themselves the task of subverting the Russians as a 'large community.'

Shafarevich's biographer, Krista Berglund, tells us that his Russophobia was written between 1978 and 1982, going through many drafts.(3) She quotes Shafarevich as saying 'It is necessary to say the truth, eventually say the fearfully silenced words. I could not have died in peace had I not attempted to do this.' It was launched into samizdat in 1982-3. But this was the period (Nov 1982 - Feb 1984) when Yuri Andropov was in power and there was a heavy crackdown on samizdat. It wasn't until 1987-8 that Russophobia began to attract attention. It was published in 1988 in the Munich based paper Veche, edited by Evgenii Vagin, who had been a member of VSKhSON (All-Russian Social-Christian Union for the Liberation of the People), described by Yanov (4) as 'The only relatively large underground organisation in the post-Stalin period to set itself the task of armed overthrow of the existing state structure' (very relative. A footnote in Yanov's book says that in 1967, at the moment of its destruction by the KGB, it had twenty eight full members and thirty candidate members. Whatever else can be said about the KGB it was pretty effective in suppressing potentially dangerous oppositions).

(3) Krista Berglund: The vexing case of Igor Shafarevich, a Russian political thinker, Basel, Birkhäuser, 2012, pp.233-4. Although this has been published in English it still doesn't seem to be available in the British Library, or in the National Library of Wales, which is also a copyright library. It is available in several University libraries. It is very expensive, though the opening pages can be read free in Google Books.

(4)  Alexander Yanov: The Russian New Right - Right wing ideologies in the contemporary USSR, Berkeley, Institute of International Studies, 1978, p.21. Veche ('Assembly' - not to be confused with the early twentieth century collection, Vekhi - Landmarks) in Munich claimed to be a continuation of the Russian journal of the same name edited by Vladimir Osipov, imprisoned in 1974.

According to Berglund, the article was given to Veche by the prominent 'village prose' writer, Valentin Rasputin. Shafarevich first knew of it when he was congratulated by Lev Gumilev, son of the poets Anna Akhmatova and Nikolai Gumilev and himself well known as a historical geographer arguing for 'Eurasia' - a Russia looking Eastward rather than Westward. The early chapters which only touch lightly on the Jewish theme were published in the mainstream journal Nash Sovremennik in June 1989 - the later chapters appeared in November. Grigori Pomeranz, whom we met in the last article in this series, complained that it had been circulated in large numbers in samizdat by the militant anti 'zio-masonic' movement Pamyat ('Memory'). It was published in a hostile context in Tel Avi and New York.

Although never to my knowledge translated into English, Russophobia was reviewed in 1990 in the London Review of Books, by John Klier, specialist in the history of Jews in Russia prior to the Revolution. Klier provides a useful summary of Shafarevich's main conclusion:

'He concedes that Jews played no role in Russian public life before the 1880s, isolated as they were in their closed religious communities. At the end of the century this communal structure began to disintegrate and Jews flooded into Russia’s economic, political and cultural life. In numbers quite unrelated to their percentage of the total population, they played a preponderant role in movements hostile to the existing order, as liberal critics of the autocracy, as Marxists, or as active exponents of revolutionary terrorism. This process accelerated after the Revolution, and Jews were closely involved in the destruction of Russia’s traditions: they commanded the firing-squad which executed the last tsar and his family; they dominated the Cheka as well as its successor the OGPU; they played a part in the destruction of the Russian peasantry; and they provided the leaders who established the Gulag system.

'While Russian revolutionaries carried a deep love of Russia in their hearts, the attitude of the Jewish revolutionary was best exemplified by the curse, ‘Rot, Damn you!’ This contrast between Russian and Jew was understandable, for it is a painful operation to separate a person from his roots, and few Russian revolutionaries could ever make a clean break. Jews, having no real ties to the Russian people, had no trouble making the break. What did they care if Old Russia was degraded and destroyed? Jews had never lost their feeling of superiority, their sense of being a chosen people, destined to dominate the rest of mankind. The Talmud and the religious traditions of Judaism inculcated in the Jewish mind the belief that gentiles were not even human. The Jews had developed a ‘saving hatred’ toward the outside world which preserved them as a people for two thousand years, and this made them a relentless and implacable enemy. It was precisely this spirit which the Jews brought into Russian life and which they continued to nurture. The Jewish ‘little nation’, Shafarevich demonstrates, is, after all, unique: it has existed for two millennia, surpassing in durability and malevolence all other variants of the ‘little nation’ phenomenon.' (5)

(5) John Klier: 'Russophobia', London Review of Books, 19th April, 1990.

In the Spring of 1990 a proposal to award Shafarevich an honorary degree in Cambridge University for his mathematical work was withdrawn after the Vice Chancellor had read about Russophobia in an article by the Zionist cold warrior, Walter Laqueur. In 1992, 430 distinguished mathematicians, mostly North American, published an open letter to Shafarevich condemning his views. Also in 1992, the National Academy of Sciences of the United States issued an unprecedented request that he resign from the membership they had given him in 1974. The request was approved by the American Physical Society, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry, the American Mathematical Society, the New York Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The conditions of membership of the NAS prevented them from simply dismissing him, hence the request to resign voluntarily which of course he refused. There is some satisfaction in learning that in 2003 he did resign voluntarily - in protest against the US invasion of Iraq. (6)

(6) Berglund op cit, pp.339-345