The Gulag Archipelago: A New Foreword

The Gulag Archipelago: A New Foreword, by Jordan Peterson.

It is a matter of pure historical fact that The Gulag Archipelago played a primary role in bringing the Soviet Empire to its knees.

Although economically unsustainable, ruled in the most corrupt manner imaginable, and reliant on the slavery and enforced deceit of its citizens, the Soviet system managed to stumble forward through far too many decades before being cut to the quick. The courageous leaders of the labor unions in Poland, the great Pope John Paul II and the American President Ronald Reagan, with his blunt insistence that the West faced an evil empire, all played their role in its defeat and collapse.

It was Solzhenitsyn, however, whose revelations made it positively shameful to defend not just the Soviet state, but the very system of thought that made that state what it was. It was Solzhenitsyn who most crucially made the case that the terrible excesses of Communism could not be conveniently blamed on the corruption of the Soviet leadership, the “cult of personality” surrounding Stalin, or the failure to put the otherwise stellar and admirable utopian principles of Marxism into proper practice.

It was Solzhenitsyn who demonstrated that the death of millions and the devastation of many more were, instead, a direct causal consequence of the philosophy (worse, perhaps: the theology) driving the Communist system. The hypothetically egalitarian, universalist doctrines of Karl Marx contained hidden within them sufficient hatred, resentment, envy and denial of individual culpability and responsibility to produce nothing but poison and death when manifested in the world.

For Marx, man was a member of a class, an economic class, a group—that, and little more—and history nothing but the battleground of classes, of groups. …

First came the most brutal indictment of the “class enemy.” Then came the ever-expanding definition of that enemy, until every single person in the entirety of the state found him or herself at risk of encapsulation within that insatiable and devouring net. The verdict, delivered to those deemed at fault, by those who elevated themselves to the simultaneously held positions of judge, jury and executioner? The necessity to eradicate the victimizers, the oppressors, in toto, without any consideration whatsoever for reactionary niceties—such as individual innocence. …

Identity politics is inherently evil:

What can be concluded in the deepest, most permanent sense, from Solzhenitsyn’s anguished Gulag narrative? First, we learn what is indisputable — what we all should have learned by now (what we have nonetheless failed to learn): that the Left, like the Right, can go too far; that the Left has, in the past, gone much too far. Second,… we learn, as Solzhenitsyn so profoundly insists, that the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And we learn, as well, that we all are, each of us, simultaneously oppressor and oppressed….

We all accrue undeserved and somewhat random privilege from the vagaries of our place of birth, our inequitably distributed talents, our ethnicity, race, culture and sex. We all belong to a group — some group — that has been elevated in comparative status, through no effort of our own. Thus the doctrine of group identity inevitably ends with everyone identified as a class enemy, an oppressor; with everyone uncleansibly contaminated by bourgeois privilege, unfairly enjoying the benefits bequeathed by the vagaries of history; with everyone prosecuted, without respite, for that corruption and injustice. …

The power of the leftist media/academia/bureaucracy in the West:

Why, for example, is it still acceptable — and in polite company — to profess the philosophy of a Communist or, if not that, to at least admire the work of Marx? Why is it still acceptable to regard the Marxist doctrine as essentially accurate in its diagnosis of the hypothetical evils of the free-market, democratic West; to still consider that doctrine “progressive,” and fit for the compassionate and proper thinking person? Twenty-five million dead through internal repression in the Soviet Union (according to The Black Book of Communism). Sixty million dead in Mao’s China (and an all-too-likely return to autocratic oppression in that country in the near future). The horrors of Cambodia’s Killing Fields, with their two million corpses. The barely animate body politic of Cuba, where people struggle even now to feed themselves. Venezuela, where it has now been made illegal to attribute a child’s death in hospital to starvation. No political experiment has ever been tried so widely, with so many disparate people, in so many different countries (with such different histories) and failed so absolutely and so catastrophically.

Is it mere ignorance (albeit of the most inexcusable kind) that allows today’s Marxists to flaunt their continued allegiance—to present it as compassion and care? Or is it, instead, envy of the successful, in near-infinite proportions? Or something akin to hatred for mankind itself? How much proof do we need? Why do we still avert our eyes from the truth?

I read The Gulag Archipelago when I was 16, and it changed my outlook forever. I became a lot more skeptical of the leftist views of my school and family.