Once Khrushchev was ousted from power in 1965, his successor Leonid Brezhnev put an end to the publication of gulag memoirs and experiences. It didn’t end there as Brezhnev stopped “De-Stalinization” completely and revived the view that Stalin was a great military leader for the Soviet Union. Brezhnev himself was once a former high-ranking political commissar in the Red Army during World War II and was ironically helped into a position of post-war power by Khrushchev. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, a humiliated Khrushchev was forced to step down and Brezhnev took the reins in a “typical” Soviet fashion. A hard-line Stalinist, Brezhnev would remove and reverse many of the policies put into place by Khrushchev, including the gulag system.
While Khrushchev performed many mistakes during his career of leading the Soviet Union, he is still viewed as a rather benevolent and helpful force that managed to assist former gulag prisoners back into civilian life, among other things. On the other hand, Brezhnev suspended the “Rehabilitation” policy which gave official pardon to those who had survived or died in the gulag system. Those who were officially pardoned were able to escape Brezhnev’s grasp for the time being; however, those who were still serving their sentences and undergoing rehabilitation didn’t. Despite the fact that quite a few of the gulag’s political prisoners were innocent of any real crime, they were treated (once again) as criminals by society.
As previously mentioned, literature detailing the horrific experiences inside the gulag were put to an end when Brezhnev became head of the Soviet Union. Public discussions of the gulag system became practically nonexistent in the 1970s up to the mid-1980s. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the man who wrote One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (mentioned in the last blog post), was banned from publishing his GULAG Archipelago trilogy in the Soviet Union. Manuscripts of gulag memoirs still managed to circulate among private writing clubs and close family members despite the punishable offence that awaited if anyone was caught. Defectors and spies managed to smuggle copies of these manuscripts out of the Soviet Union to be published in the West, where the public would gobble up the stories of gulag survival like potato chips. Irony existed even in the Soviet laws, which could be broken by the scribble of a pen (examples follow):
Article 125: In conformity with the interests of the working people, and in order to strengthen the socialist system, the citizens of the USSR are guaranteed by law: freedom of speech; freedom of the press; freedom of assembly, including the holding of mass meetings; freedom of street processions and demonstrations.
Article 127: Citizens of the USSR are guaranteed inviolability of the person. No person may be placed under arrest except by decision of a court or with the sanction of a procurator.
Do Svidaniya, Comrades