Two Hundred Years Together
|Two Hundred Years Together|
Two Hundred Years Together (Rus. Двести лет вместе, Dvesti let vmeste) is a 2-volume historical essay by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It was written as a comprehensive history of Jews in the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and modern Russia between the years 1795 and 1995, especially with regard to government attitudes toward Jews.
Solzhenitsyn published this two-volume work on the history of Russian-Jewish relations in 2001 and 2002. The book stirred controversy and is described by some historians, as it is to be expected, as "unreliable" in both factual data and ideological approach, as well as "antisemitic". The book was published in French and German in 2002-2003. A partial English translation of some excerpts may be found in "The Solzhenitsyn Reader".
In the first volume, Solzhenitsyn discusses the history of Russians and the 100,000 Jews that had migrated to Russia between 1772 and the revolution of 1917. He asserts that the anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire were not government-sponsored but spontaneous acts of violence, except for some government culpability in the Pale of Settlement. Solzhenitsyn says that life for Russian Jews was hard but no harder than life for Russian peasants. The second volume covers the post-revolution era up to 1970 when many Jews left Russia for Israel and other western countries. Solzhenitsyn says that, despite the presence of Jewish Leon Trotsky, the 1917 February and October Revolutions were not the work of Judaism. Solzhenitsyn says that the Jews who participated in revolution were effectively apostates splitting from the spirit of tradition. Solzhenitsyn emphatically denies that Jews were responsible for the revolutions of 1905 and 1917. At the end of chapter nine, Solzhenitsyn denounces "the superstitious faith in the historical potency of conspiracies" that leads some to blame the Russian revolutions on the Jews and to ignore the "Russian failings that determined our sad historical decline."
Solzhenitsyn criticizes the "scandalous" weakness and "unpardonable inaction" that prevented the Russian imperial state from adequately protecting the lives and property of its Jewish subjects. But he claims that the pogroms were in almost every case organized from "below" and not by the Russian state authorities. He criticizes the "vexing," "scandalous", and "distressing" restrictions on the civil liberties of Jewish subjects during the final decades of the Russian old regime. On that score, in chapter ten of the work he expresses his admiration for the efforts of Pyotr Stolypin (Prime Minister of Russia from 1906 until 1911) to eliminate all legal disabilities against Jews in Russia.
In the spirit of his classic 1974 essay "Repentance and Self-Limitation in the Life of Nations", Solzhenitsyn calls for the Russians and Russian Jews alike to take responsibility for the "renegades" in both communities who supported a totalitarian and terrorist regime after 1917. At the end of chapter 15, he writes that Jews must answer for the "revolutionary cutthroats" in their ranks just as Russians must repent "for the pogroms, for...merciless arsonist peasants, for...crazed revolutionary soldiers." It is not, he adds, a matter of answering "before other peoples, but to oneself, to one's consciousness, and before God."
Solzhenitsyn also takes the anti-Communist White movement to task for condoning violence against Jews and thus undermining "what would have been the chief benefit of a White victory" in the Russian Civil War: "a reasonable evolution of the Russian state."
Anyway, all of these caveats, self-criticisms and defenses of the jewish competion against ethnic russians, were not enought to avoid the usual label of "antisemitism".
The reception of Two Hundred Years Together has been quite varied. Historian Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern of Northwestern University published a refutation of Solzhenitsyn's claims and has accused him of anti-Semitism. On the other hand, historians such as Geoffrey Hosking and Robert Service have defended Solzhenitsyn against his opponents. Service has argued that from what he has read about the book, Solzhenitsyn is "absolutely right," Jews were disproportionately represented in the early Soviet bureaucracy. Service also notes that Solzhenitsyn is very far from the anti-Semitism of the extreme Russian Right and addresses this issue in a moderate and responsible manner. In a review of volume 1 of Two Hundred Years Together that appeared in The New Republic Harvard historian Richard Pipes, a longtime critic of Solzhenitsyn, argues that the book exonerates Solzhenitsyn from any suspicion of anti-Semitism.
Critics focus on Solzhenitsyn's insistence that Jews were as much perpetrators as victims in the communist repression, and that both Russians and Jews need to acknowledge their share of sin. Questions related to Jewish participation in the three Revolutions have been controversial. As Vassili Berezhkov, a retired KGB colonel and historian of the secret services and the NKVD (the precursor of the KGB), said: "The question of ethnicity did not have any importance either in the revolution or the story of the NKVD. This was a social revolution and those who served in the NKVD and Cheka were serving ideas of social change. If Solzhenitsyn writes that there were many Jews in the NKVD, it will increase the passions of anti-semitism, which has deep roots in Russian history. I think it is better not to discuss such a question now." Others feel that Jews were not implicated enough to warrant a comparison with Russian antisemitism, or that any notion of the Collective responsibility should not be brought up.
Solzhenitsyn purports to document the over-representation of Jews in the early Bolshevik leadership and the security apparatus, claiming, for instance, that of the 22 ministers in the first Soviet government three were Russian, one Georgian, one Armenian and 17 Jews. However, the first Bolshevik government, the Sovnarkom was composed of 15 People’s Commissars (ministers), of whom only one (Trotsky) was Jewish, and of the 25 individuals who held that position between 1923 and 1930 only 5 were Jewish. Vadim Abramov’s monograph "Jews in the KGB" demonstrated that although Jews were trusted by the early communist authorities because as formerly disenfranchised they were not expected to harbor any loyalties to the Tsarist regime, their number in the security services at no point in history exceeded 9%, and from 1927 never exceeded 4%.
Solzhenitsyn also accused Jews of wartime cowardice, and evasion of active duty, stating "I had to bury many comrades at the front, but not once did I have to bury a Jew." while ignoring both the Jewish frontline casualties and the high number of Jews decorated for bravery in battle. He also claimed that according to his personal experience, Jews had a much easier life in the GULAG camps that he was interned in.
Similarities between Two Hundred Years Together and an antisemitic essay titled "Jews in the USSR and in the Future Russia", attributed to Solzhenitsyn, has led to inference that he stands behind the anti-Semitic passages. According to the historian Semyon Reznik, textological analyses have proven Solzhenitsyn’s authorship. Solzhenitsyn himself claims that the essay is based on manuscripts stolen from him, and then manipulated, forty years ago.
Richard Pipes review
The book has been described by historian Richard Pipes of Harvard University as "a conscious effort to show empathy for both sides." and exonerating Jews for responsibility for the revolution: "No, in no way can it be said that Jews 'made' the revolution of 1905 or 1917 as it was not made by another nation taken as a whole". At the same time Pipes notes that Solzhenitsyn is "too eager to exonerate czarist Russia of mistreating its Jewish subjects, and as a consequence is insensitive to the Jews' predicament". In Richard Pipes' opinion, the book absolves Solzhenitsyn from the taint of antisemitism, although he thinks the author’s nationalism prevents him from being fully impartial, and that Solzhenitsyn is using outdated and inadequate sources. Pipes asserts that Solzhenitsyn failed to consider "poisonous atmosphere in which Jews lived for generations in the Russian empire (an atmosphere originating in Russian Orthodox and nationalist circles)". In particular, Pipes notes that Solzhenitsyn failed to discuss the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian anti-Semitic forgery.
Solzhenitsyn was criticized by the Northwestern University historian Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern for using unreliable and manipulated figures, while ignoring evidence unfavorable to his own point of view, in particular, ignoring numerous publications of reputable authors in the Jewish history. Petrovsky notes that Solzhenitzyn claims that Jews promoted alcoholism among the peasantry, flooded retail trade with contraband, "strangled" Russian merchant class in Moscow (pp. 39–41, 47). Jews are non-producing people ("непроизводительный народ" (pp. 52, 59), they refuse to engage in factory labor (с. 244-245). They are averse to agriculture, and are unwilling to till the land either in Russia, or in Argentina, or in Palestine (pp. 73, 76, 157, 256, 258, 267-268) and blames Jews' own behavior for pogroms (pp. 210, 483, 120). Solzhenitsyn claims further that Jews use Kabbalah to tempt Russians into heresy (p. 20), seduce them with rationalism and fashion (p. 21), provoke sectarianism and weaken the fiscal system (p. 70), commit murders on qahal's orders (p. 87), exert undue influence on the prerevolutionary government (p. 57). Petrovsky summarizes his critique that "200 years together is destined to take the place of honor in the canon of russophone antisemitica."
Semyon Reznik review
A critical analysis was published by the Russian-American historian Semyon Reznik. According to Reznik Solzhenitsyn is careful in his vocabulary, generous in compliments toward Jews and maintains neutral tone throughout, but at the same time he not only condones repressive measures against Jews, but justifies them as intended for protection of the rights of Russians as the titular nation that supposedly "greatly suffered from Jewish exploitation, alcohol mongering, usury and corruption of the traditional way of life".
Historian and demographer Sergey Maksudov referred to THYT as "a piece of pseudoscientific essayism", which promulgates numerous antisemitic stereotypes of Jews as professional parasites, infiltrators into the Russian culture, and portrays repressive policies toward Jews as being "in Jews' own interests". Maksudov also notes not only Solzhenitsyn's insensitivity toward Jewish sufferings during pogroms in general, and the Kishinev pogrom in particular, but also Solzhenitsyn's denial of many well documented atrocities.
John Klier, a historian at University College London, describes the charges of anti-Semitism as "misguided", but at the same time writes that in his account of the pogroms of the early 20th century, Solzhenitsyn is far more concerned with exonerating the good name of the Russian people than he is with the suffering of the Jews, and he accepts the czarist government's canards blaming the pogroms on provocations by the Jews themselves.
A detailed analysis of 200YT and an overview of critical opinion thereon was published by the University of Waterloo professor Zinaida Gimpelevich. According to Gimpelevich the critical opinion worldwide overwhelmingly tilts against Solzhenitsyn.
Grigory Baklanov (a Russian novelist) in his critical study described "Two Hundred years" as "worthless as historical scholarship". Baklanov, himself a Second World War veteran, focuses on Solzhenitsyn's insistence on Jews' supposed wartime cowardice and unwillingness to face the enemy, which is contradicted both by the statistics of Jewish frontline casualties and high number of Jews decorated for bravery in battle.
Literary historian Leonid Katsis notes numerous manipulated and selective quotations in the 1st volume of the book, detrimental to its trustworthiness.
Historians Leybelman, Levinskaya and Abramov note that Solzhenitsyn uncritically used writings of antisemitic pseudo-historian Andrey Dikiy for his inflated statistical data of Jewish participation in early Soviet government and the security apparatus.
Mark Deutch, in a two-part review titled "A Shameless Classic" ("Бесстыжий классик")  lists numerous drawbacks, stemming, in his opinion, from biased exposition, ignoring well-known sources, self-contradictions, and factual errors.
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