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Commentary of the Day

We want to start highlighting the best of the many excellent reader comments we receive here at CONTENTIONS. So, without further ado, the Commentary of the Day, from Lawrence Gulotta, on John Podhoretz’s post “Death of an Oak“:

A thoughtful piece of writing by Messr. John Podhoretz: “He stood athwart the greatest evil the world has ever known, and, by the grace of God, he outlived that evil, by 16 years.”

I stopped giving the former USSR any benefit of the doubt after reading and hearing Alexander Solzhenitsyn, as a student and young adult during the early 1970s. He methodically pulled apart the Soviet’s false ideological defenses one-by-one in his works and talks. I was privileged to hear Solzhenitsyn speak in Manhattan, at a long speach sponsored by the NY AFL-CIO trade unionists. Sol “Chik” Chaiken chaired the meeting. Solzhenitsyn spoke for nearly two-hours, reading from index cards and extemporizing. One stanza at a time, he demolished the philosophical underpinnings of Soviet Marxism.

Seated at my table was an Afro-American trade unionist, among others. A good hour into Solzhenitsyn’s talk, the black trade unionist looked up and remarked, ” You know,” he said to me, “there are serious problems in Mississippi, too.” I was startled by his remark. Could Mississippi, at its worst, equal the horrors of Stalinist Russia? I’ve never felt that there existed an “equivalence” between the two systems, yet my table partner obviously felt that too much time was spent attacking Russia’s evil system and insufficient time denouncing the evils in Mississippi.

Solzhenitsyn spoke at great length. The AFL-CIO gave him his long sought after podium in the USA. Sol “Chik” Chaiken began rolling his eyes toward the ceiling after 90 minutes of stand-up bravery, intoned with a Russian Orthodox priestly cadence and accent. During that two-hour talk, Solzhenitsyn was our patriarch or mentor. My table partner did stay for the whole talk, stirring somewhat uncomfortable in his chair. Alexandre Solzhenitsyn filled the room with his voice and his truth. Solzhenitsyn’s works allowed me to reach the truth concerning the barbaric nature of the former USSR. As a young political activist, I was fortunate to have received the invitation to hear this great figure in person talk about defying the odds in the gulag.


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