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The Red Wheel
argues that Russia was already lost by the time of the February Revolution - that the country was so totally demoralised by liberal and socialist ideas that it could only deliver itself tamely into the hands of the Bolsheviks. In The Little Grain Managed to Land Between Two Millstones Franco's Spain is held up as a model of a proper Christian response to the evil of Bolshevism. Thus Solzhenitsyn seems to approach the position argued by Panin. Evil must be confronted by force, and the centralised spiritually independent Roman Catholic Church is better placed to do it than Orthodoxy with its otherworldliness and tradition of subservience to the state.

Yet, in exile, Panin and Solzhenitsyn fell out. According to Solzhenitsyn's account (in The Little Grain), Panin accused him of temporising with evil since his Letter to the Soviet Leaders, written shortly before his exile, envisaged a reform of the existing system, not the outright revolutionary war Panin wanted to see. Solzhenitsyn denies that his opposition to Kissinger's policy of détente amounted to a call for actual war, or even for a trade boycott - he denies for example ever supporting an embargo on shipments of grain.

It is one of the many contradictions that lie at the heart of Solzhenitsyn's work. For all that The Red Wheel is a polemic against the February Revolution it also treats it with enormous sympathy. For all that Solzhenitsyn denounces liberals and socialists, he is quite capable of seeing through their eyes - as he sees through Lenin's eyes and through the eyes of Nicholas II. If The Red Wheel is a book about the triumph of Evil, it is also a book without villains - everyone, almost without exception, is out to sow rye, to do good in the world (people whose main concern in life is, say, to make money, to look after Number One, may appear in Cancer Ward or in In The First Circle. They are nowhere to be seen in The Red Wheel).

Circumstances forced Solzhenitsyn into the role of a political fighter and moralist. But what distinguishes him from a political fighter such as Lenin is his inability to resolve contradictions of this sort - in particular the tension between the battle between good and evil occurring in the individual heart, and the need to confront evil as an external force that may have to be overthrown by brutal means. It is precisely in his inability to resolve this tension that his real greatness lies.