Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the exiled Soviet novelist and political polemicist, has now assailed the West for confusing its hostility to communism -- which he regards as too tepid, in any case -- with suspicion of the Russian nation and people.
In his first major pronouncement in two years, Solzhenitsyn also refines the exoriation of the United States that has marked his writing since coming here in 1976, warning of "fresh blunders which will inevitably have lethal repercussions in the future."
Solzhenisyn's views are contained in a lengthy article published yesterday in Foreign Affairs, the quarterly journal of the American foreign policy establishment. Entitled "Misconceptions about Russia are a Threat to America," the article is severely critical by name of, among others, former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger and former U.S. ambassadors to the Soviet Union Averell Harriman and George Kennan, whom Solzhenitsyn blames for failings of understandings and will in dealing with the Kremlin.
Given the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Solzhenitsyn's expressions of alarm about Moscow's intentions are likely to get a closer look than they might in less tense times. But he has offered these arguments before.
The burden of Solzhenitsyn's message this time is against what he regards as misconceptions about the relationship between communism and Russia, where the system was first imposed.
The grievous mistake, he writes, "is to assume an indissoluble link between the universal disease of communism and the country where it first seized control -- Russia. This error skews one's perception of the threat and cripples all attempts to respond sensibly to it, thus leaving the West disarmed."
Solzhenitsyn contends that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is an artificial entity, a totalitarian empire of many conquered nations and peoples that should not be confused with Russia, one of those nations. Although, as Solzhenitsyn notes disapprovingly, Americans often say Russians when they mean anyone who lives in the Soviet Union, Russians now comprise only half the Soviet population, and the proportion is declining.
The fallacy, he asserts, is to present modern communism as the outgrowth of an alleged "age-old Russian slave mentality." The notion that Russia is "anti-human in its essence," Solzhenitsyn says, is fostered by western historians (he particularly attacks Richard Pipes of Harvard) and some recent Soviet emigres.
"This interpretation," Solzhenitsyn writes, "currently enjoys wide support since it is so advantageous to many people: if the crimes and vices of communism are not inherent to it, but can be attributed entirely to the traditions of old Russia, then it follows that there exists no fundamental threat to the western world; the rosy vistas of detente are preserved, together with trade and even friendship with communist countries, thereby ensuring continued comfort and security for the West.
"Western communists are freed from incrimination and suspicion ('they'll do a better job; theirs will be a really good communism') and a burden falls from the conscience of those liberals and radicals who lent so much of their fervor and their assistance to this bloody regime in the past."
Ironically, some of the historians of whom Solzhenitsyn writes so disparagingly, especially Pipes, and many of the emigres are almost as opposed to the Soviets as is Solzhenitsyn. But as he has demonstrated in previous work and developed further in this one, Solzhenitsyn regards criticism of Russia's past as veritable blasphemy.
His view of the latter days of czarist rule in positive in the extreme:
"Before the outbreak of war in 1914, Russia could boast of a flourishing manufacturing industry, rapid growth and a flexible decentralized economy.
"Significant progress had been made in the field of workers' legislation and the material well-being of the peasants was at a level which has never been reached under the Soviet regime. . . .
"There was complete cultural freedom, the intelligentsia was not restricted in its activity, religious and philosophical views of every shade were tolerated and institutions of higher education enjoyed inviolable autonomy. . . . This picture is not merely dissimilar to that of the communist era, but it is in every respect its direct antithesis."
Solzhenitsyn's contentions are bound to be controversial, considering the weight of historical evidence to the contrary. But there can be no doubt any longer that his views are in the strictest sense reactionary. He favors the past and all the authoritarian, religious, social values of pre-revolutionary Russia. He abhors the present in his former home and -- as he did in his celebrated commencement address at Harvard in 1978 -- in the declining West.
The solution, Solzhenitsyn maintains, is for the West to finally accept the fundamentally evil nature of communism wherever it is (including China) and galvanize itself to destroy it. The current anti-Russian thinking, he believes, is merely a rationalization for inaction. Although he doesn't say so directly, Solzhenitsyn plainly wants the West to separate Russia from communism, as it did Germany from Nazism, and crush the enemy.
Today, he writes in conclusion, the western world faces a greater danger than that which threatened it in 1939. Instead of a denigration of Russia, he says, the West must seek out means of aligning with the Russian people: "So much has been ceded, surrendered and traded away that today even a fully united western world can no longer prevail except by allying itself with the captive peoples of the communist world."