«THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO Also by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn The Nobel Lecture on Literature August 1914 A Lenten Letter to Pimen, Patriarch of All Russia ...»
This kind of unity compelled attention. It wasn't the sort of thing you could allow to go in one ear and out the other. One day before the time limit expired, Eichmans visited each monastery and announced that Moscow had refused. And on the appointed day a hunger strike began (not a dry hunger strike-water was allowed) in all three monastery prisons (which were now unable to communicate with each other). In Savvatyevsky, about two hundred people struck. Those who fell ill were exempted from striking. A doctor from among the prisoners examined the strikers every day. A collective hunger strike is always more difficult to carry out than an individual one; after all, the weakest rather than the strongest of the strikers can determine its outcome. The only point to a hunger strike is to carry it out with implacable determination and in such a way that everyone knows everyone else involved personally and trusts them fully. Given various party fractions, given several hundred people, both disagreements and moral anguish on other people's behalf were inevitable. After fifteen days, it was necessary to vote by secret ballot in Savvatyevsky-the urn with the ballots was taken from room to room-whether to continue or to lift the hunger strike.
And Moscow and Eichmans waited them out! After all, they were well fed, and there wasn't a peep from the capital newspapers about the hunger strike, and there were no student proI Tyurzak 465 test meetings at Kazan Cathedral. Silence was already confidently shaping our history.
The monasteries lifted the hunger strike. They had not won out, but they hadn't lost either. The political regimen was left intact for the winter, except that cutting firewood in the forests was added, but that was logical enough. And in the spring of 1925 it looked as though the hunger strike had brought victory: the prisoners from all three monastery prisons were removed from Solovki! To the mainland! No more Arctic night and no more half-year cut off from communication!
But both the convoy andtheir:rations en route were very harsh for that time. And soon they were all perfidiously tricked: On the pretext that their spokesmen would be more comfortable in the "staff" car with the stores and equipment, they were deprived of their leaders. The "staff" car was detached at Vyatka, and the spokesmen were taken to the Tobolsk isolator. Only at that point did it become clear that the hunger strike of the previous fall had failed. The strong and influential spokesmen had been taken away so as to tighten up on the rest. Yagoda and Katanyan personally directed the incarceration of the former Solovetsky Islands prisoners in the long-standing but until then unused buildings of the Verkhne-Uralsk Isolator, which they thus "opened" in the spring of 1925 (under Chief Dupper). It was destined to be a particular bugbear to prisoners for many decades ahead.
The relocated former Solovki prisoners immediately lost their freedom to move about. The cells were locked. They succeeded in electing spokesmen nonetheless, but the spokesmen didn't have the right to go from"cell to cell. The unlimited circulation between cells of money, personal articles, and books, which had existed earlier, was now forbidden. They shouted back and forth from window to window-until the guard fired from his tower into the cells. In reply they organized a protest-they broke windowpanes and destroyed prison equipment. (And, after all, breaking a windowpane is something to think about twice. They might just not replace it all winter, and there would be no big surprise in that. It was under the Tsar that the glaziers used to come on the run.) The struggle continued, but it was now being carried on in desperation and under grave handicaps.
In the year 1928 (according to Pyotr Petrovich Rubin) some I 466 THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO event or other precipitated a new joint hunger strike by the entire Verkhne-Uralsk Isolator. But this time the earlier stern and solemn atmosphere was absent, as were the approval of friends and a doctor of their own. On a certain day of the strike, the jailers came bursting into the cells in overwhelming numbers, and simply began to be.at the weakened prisoners with clubs and boots. They beat them to within an inch of their lives-and the hunger strike ended.
• From our experience of the past and our literature of the past we have derived a naive faith in the power of a hunger strike. But the hunger strike is a purely moral weapon. It presupposes that the jailer has not entirely lost his conscience. Or that the jailer is afraid of public opinion. Only in such circumstances can it be effective.
The Tsarist jailers were still inexperienced. They got nervous if one of their prisoners went on a hunger strike; they exclaimed over it; they looked after him; they put him in the hospital. There are many examples, but this work is not about them. It is even humorous to note that it was enough for Valentinov to go on a hunger strike for twelve days: as a result, he not only achieved some relaxation in the regimen but was totally released from interrogation-whereupon he went to Lenin in Switzerland. Even in the Orel central hard-labor prison the strikers always won.
They got the regimen relaxed in 1912 and further relaxed in 1913, to the point of general access to outdoor walks for all political hard-labor prisoners-who were obviously so unrestricted by their supervisors that they managed to compose and send out to freedom their appeal "to the Russian people." (And this from the hard-labor prisoners of a central prison!) Furthermore, it was published. (It's enough to make one's eyes pop out of one's head! Someone has to have been crazy!) It was published in 1914 in issue No.1 of the Vestnik Katorgi i Ssylki-the HardLabor and Exile HeraldY (And what about that Herald itself?
Should we, too, perhaps try to publish one like it?) In 1914, after only five days of a hunger strike-admittedly, without water
-Dzerzhinsky and four of his comrades obtained all their numerous demands (which had to do with living conditions).12 In those years, there were no dangers or difficulties for the prisoner beyond the torments of hunger. They could not beat him up for going on a hunger strike, nor sentence him to a second term, nor increase his term, nor shoot him, nor send him off on a prisoner transport. (All this was to come later on.) In the Revolution of 1905 and the years following it, the prisoners felt themselves to be masters of the prison to such an extent that they did not even go to the trouble of declaring a hunger strike; they simply destroyed prison property (so-called "obstructions"), or went so far as to declare a strike, although it might seem that for prisoners this would have hardly any meaning. Thus in the city of Nikolayev in 1906, 197 prisoners in the local prison declared a "strike" in conjunction with people outside.
Outside the prison, leaflets in support of their strike were published and daily meetings assembled in front of the prison. These meetings (and it goes without saying that the prisoners were at the windows, which had, of course, no "muzzles") forced the administration to accept the demands of the "striking" prisoners.
After this, some people on the street and others behind the bars joined in singing revolutionary songs. And things went on that way for eight days. (And nobody stopped them! It was, after all, a year of postrevolutionary repression.) On the ninth day all the demands of the prisoners were satisfied! Similar incidents occurred at the time in Odessa, in Kherson, and in Yelizavetgrad.
That's how easily victory was attained then.
It would be interesting, incidentally, to compare the effectiveness of hunger strikes under the Provisional Government, but those few Bolsheviks imprisoned from the July days until the Kornilov episode (Kamenev, Trotsky, and Raskolnikov for a while longer) evidently had no reason to go on a hunger strike.
In the twenties, the lively picture of hunger strikes grows clouded (though that depends, of course, on the point of view... ). This widely known weapon, which had justified itself so gloriously, was, of course, taken over not only by recognized
I 468 THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO "politicals" but also by those who were not recognized as suchthe KR's (Article 58-Counter-Revolutionaries) and all other kinds of riffraff. However, those arrows which used to be so piercing had been blunted somehow, or else some iron hand had checked them in midftight. True, written declarations of impending hunger strikes were still accepted, and nothing subversive was
seen in them as yet. But unpleasant new rules were trotted out:
The hunger striker had to be isolated in a special solitary cell (in the Butyrki it was in the Pugachev Tower). It was essential to keep any knowledge about the hunger strike not only from people outside, who might protest publicly, and from prisoners in cells nearby, but even from those in the cell in which the hunger striker had been imprisoned until that day-for that, too, constituted a public, and it was necessary to separate him from it.
This measure had as its nominal justification the argument that the prison administration had to make sure that the hunger strike was going on honestly-that others in the cell weren't sneaking food to the hunger striker. (And how had that been verified previously? Through honest, "cross my heart" word of honor?) Still, it was possible in those years to achieve at least one's personal demands by this means.
From the thirties on, state thinking about hunger strikes took a new tum. What did the state want with even such watered-down, isolated, half-suppressed hunger strikes? Wasn't the ideal picture one of prisoners who had no will of their own, nor the capacity to make their own decisions-and of a prison administration that did their thinking and their deciding for them? These are, if you will, the only prisoners who can exist in the new society. And so from the beginning of the: thirties, they stopped accepting declarations of hunger strikes as legal. "The hunger strike as a method of resistance no ltmger exists," they proclaimed to Yekaterina Olitskaya in 1932, and they said. the same thing to many others.. The government has abolished your hunger strikes-and that's that. But Olitskaya refused to· obey and began to fast. They let her go on fasting in solitary for fifteen days. Then they took her to the hospital and put milk and dried crusts in front of her to tempt her. But she stood firm, and' on the' nineteenth day she won her victory: she got an extended outdoor period and newspapers and parcels from the Political Red Cross. (That's.howone I Tyurzak 469 had to moan and groan in order to receive those legitimate relief parcels!) Overall, however, it was an insignificant victory and paid for too dearly. Olitskaya recalls such foolish hunger strikes on the part of others too: people starved up to twenty days in order to get delivery of a parcel or a change of companions for their outdoor walk. Was it worth it? After all, in the New Type Prison one's strength, once lost, could not be restored. The religious-sect member Koloskov fasted until he died on the twenty-fifth day. Could one in general permit oneself to fast in the New Type Prison? After all, the new prison heads, operating in secrecy and silence, had acquired several powerful methods of
combating hunger strikes:
1. Patience on the part of the administration. (We have seen enough of what this meant from preceding examples.)
2. Deception. This, too, can be practiced thanks to total secrecy. When every step is reported by the newspapers, you aren't going to do much deceiving. But in our country, why not?
In 1933, in the Khabarovsk Prison, S. A. Chebotaryev, demanding that his family be informed of his whereabouts, fasted for seventeen days. (He had come from the Chinese Eastern Railroad in Manchuria and then suddenly disappeared, and he was worried about what his wife might be thinking.) On the seventeenth day, Zapadny, the Deputy Chief of the Provincial GPU, and the Khabarovsk Province prosecutor (their ranks indicate that lengthy hunger strikes were really not so frequent) came to see him and showed him a telegraph receipt (There, they said, they had informed his wife!), and thus persuaded him to take some broth.
And the receipt was a fake! (Why had these high-ranking officials gone to this trouble? Not, certainly, for Chebotaryev's life. Evidently, in the first half of the thirties there was still some sort of personal responsibility on the part of higher-ups for long-drawnout hunger strikes.)