Solidarity and Dissent

If we are all bystanders, then the Demagogues become our voice.

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

While reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, a book for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, I came across an especially haunting passage. If you are not familiar with the book, it is an experimental historical recounting of the Soviet prison system under Joseph Stalin. Solzhenitsyn himself spent 8 years in a Gulag (prison) and discusses not only his incarceration, but the events leading up the incarceration of nearly 18 million people who were arrested and imprisoned under Stalin's regime.

In the following passage, Solzhenitsyn recounts an event that was told to him about a local political party meeting. I'd say more about it, but let's just dive into the passage:

A district Party conference was under way in Moscow Province. It was presided over by a new secretary of the District Party Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall echoed with "stormy applause, rising to an ovation. For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the "stormy applause, rising to an ovation," continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would dare be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform, and it was he who had just called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who'd been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD men [The Precursor to the KGB] were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in that obscure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on--six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn't stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly--but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them? The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers! And even those who were left would not falter...Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him: "Don't ever be the first to stop applauding!"

What does this passage say about our current American political theatrics? Communism, was supposed to be the party of the people. A Democratic Republic is supposed to be a system whereby the people elect others to represent them. Too often in the American system of government are we fooled by demagogues who promise to fix or save America from itself and we end up feeling powerless to stop those who we or others elected, or even worse, we worship the representatives rather than holding them accountable for their failures.

There does, however, exist a simple solution to this very complex problem. Solidarity amongst the middle-class and the poor alongside a politically educated and active youth. Every word spoken by your representative is an extension of you--and you should always question whether you would allow yourself to speak falsehoods, or hate, or intolerance. We are not bystanders. We hold the power. There are more poor and middle-class people in American than there are rich and upper-class. Under Stalin, you could be imprisoned for being the first to sit during a standing ovation. Under Biden, you face no consequences for your dissent. There no longer exists a party that represents the people of this Country. We must represent ourselves, and we must hold those accountable who would turn us against each other. Don't wait until we are not allowed to speak, or to protest, or secure a piece of ground for yourself and your family. We must fight racism, bigotry, Nationalism, classism, hatred, and war! Now is the time to revolt against those who would pretend that your prayers have finally been answered while they secretly align themselves with corporate elites. Now is the time to organize your resources and people. Now is the time to get to know your neighbors. Now is the time support the youth of this country and to make the world a better place than it was when we first arrived. Right now.


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