book report: vol. 2 Gulag Archipelago - serfs and zeks

Russian history includes seven centuries of serfdom. Apparently, Russia could not exist without serfdom, even though communism believes in the equality of all, so the USSR had to create prison camps to replace the exploited labor lost from the serfs. Solzhenitsyn writes
Serfs! This comparison occurred to may when thy had the time to think about it, and not accidentally either. Not just individual features, but the whole central meaning of their existence was identical for serfdom and the Archipelago; they were forms of social organization for the forced and pitiless exploitation of the unpaid labor of millions of slaves. p.149

Since serfs were replaced with prisoners even the vestige of human rights was unnecessary. The "cure" of communism was worse than the illness it claimed to treat.
The serfs did not work longer than from sunrise to sunset. The zeks started work in darkness and ended in darkness (and they didn't always end either). For the serfs Sundays were sacred; and the twelve sacred Orthodox holidays as well, and local saints' days, and a certain number of the twelve days of Christmas (they went about in mummers' costumes). The prisoner was fearful on the eve of every Sunday: he didn't know whether they would get it off. And he never got holidays at all ...those firsts of May and those sevenths of November involved more miseries, with searches and special regimen, than the holidays were worth (and a certain number were put into punishment blocks every year precisely on those very days). For the serfs Christmas and Easter were genuine holidays; and as for a body search either after work of in the morning or at night... the serfs knew not of these! The serfs lived in permanent huts, regarding them as their own, and when at night they lay down on top of their stoves ... they knew: This is my own place, I have slept here forever and ever, and I always will. The prisoner did not know what barracks he would be in on the morrow (and even when he returned from work he could not be certain that he would sleep in that place that night). p.151
The result of communism was something new to Russia, but not what the communists would have wanted to be associated with, famine. For the zek,
as far as livestock was concerned, only lice. One way or another a serf would cast his line and catch a fish. The zek caught fish only with a spoon and only in his gruel. The serf had a little cow named Brownie or at least a goat and chickens. The sek's lips never touched milk, and he'd never see hen's eggs for whoe decades, and probably he'd no recognize them if he did.
Old Russia, which experienced Asiatic slavery for seven whole centuries, did not for the most part know famine. "In Russia no one has ever died of starvation," siad the proverb. And a proverb is not made up oult of lies and nonsense, The serfs were slaves, but they had full bellies. The Archipelago lived for decades in the grip of cruel famine. The seks would scuffle over a herring tail from the garbage pail. For Christmas and Easter even the thinnest serf peasant broke his fast with fat bacon. But even the best worker in camp could get fat bacon only in parcels from home. p.152
I do not think Solz believes the life of the serf was right or just but he knew something worse, something he, nor the country, could have imagined as worse.


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