These two letters by the Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn reveal vividly the condition of the writer in his struggle against the Communist bureaucracy of Russia. The first letter was written to a group of students who had visited him; the second was sent to the Writers’ Union in protest against his expulsion. We reprint the translations from Survey, with thanks. While preparing to go to press, we learn that Solzhenitsyn has won the Nobel Prize.—ED.
I feel that I have not told you everything, that I have not fully clarified my thoughts. Here then are a few more words.
Justice has been the common patrimony of humanity throughout the ages. It does not cease to exist for the majority even when it is twisted in some (“exclusive”) circles. Obviously it is a concept which is inherent in man, since it cannot be traced to any other source. Justice exists even if there are only a few individuals who recognize it as such. The love of justice seems to me to be a different sentiment from the love of people (or at least the two coincide only partially). And in periods of mass decadence, when the question is posed, “Why bother? What are the sacrifices for?” it is possible to answer with certainty: “For justice.” There is nothing relative about justice, as there is nothing relative about conscience. Indeed, justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice. I consider that in all social or historical questions (if we are aware of them, not from hearsay or books, but are touched by them spiritually), justice will always suggest a way to act (or judge) which will not conflict with our conscience.
As our intelligence is usually not sufficient to grasp, to understand, and to foresee the course of history (and, as you say, it has been demonstrated that to “plan” it is absurd) you will never err if you act in any social situation in accordance with justice (the old way of saying it in Russian is: to live by truth *). In this way you will always be able to act and not just be a passive witness.
And please do not tell me that “everybody understands justice in his own way.” No! They can shout, they can take you by the throat, they can tear your breast, but convictions based on conscience are as infallible as the internal rhythm of the heart (and one knows that in private life it is the voice of conscience we often try to suppress).
For example, I am sure that the best among the Arabs understand that—according to justice—Israel has a right to exist and to live.
Ryazan, October 1967
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