The First Circle
‘For a country to have a great writer is like having another government,’ remarks one of the characters in The First Circle. This observation has always been especially true of Russia and a reading of Solzhenitsyn’s work confirms that it has as much relevance today as at any time in the past. The First Circle is a political tour de force as well as a major literary achievement: in fact by far the most vivid and eloquent account of Stalinism to have emerged from the contemporary Soviet Union. This fact has been obscured for Western Marxists by the tendency for bourgeois critics to acclaim any Soviet writer who can be construed to be oppositional as a towering literary genius. Solzhenitsyn deserves better than to be uncritically assimilated with a Pasternak—and discrimination should also be made between his master-piece, The First Circle, the weaker Cancer Ward and the more modest but entirely successful novella, One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovitch. Above all Solzhenitsyn’s work must be read politically: the following is intended as a commentary on a political reading of ‘The First Circle’.
’My institution subscribes to NLR, why can't I access this article?’
By the same author:
Stuart Hall, 1932–2014
Founding editor of NLR, pioneer of Cultural Studies, early analyst of Thatcherism, theorist of Caribbean identities, nuncio of New Times—Robin Blackburn remembers Stuart Hall.
Finance for Anarchists
Robin Blackburn on David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Anthropological enquiry into the fluctuating forms of money and credit over the longue durée.
Alexander Cockburn, 1941–2012
A tribute to Alexander Cockburn—director of CounterPunch, Marxian environmentalist, long-standing editor of New Left Review. Robin Blackburn traces his path from County Cork to Soho, Havana to Manhattan, the Florida Keys to California’s Lost Coast.
Atlantic economies remain mired in unemployment and stagnation three years on from 2008. Diagnosing the underlying causes of the crisis as global over-capacity, deficient demand and anarchic credit creation, Robin Blackburn explores proposals for a genuine exit from it to the left.
Reclaiming Human Rights
Robin Blackburn on Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History. Demystifying the origins and ideological ascendancy of human-rights discourse.
State of the Union
The fate of post-bellum attempts to extend egalitarian impulses across race lines and factory floors, amid the sharpening class struggles of the Gilded Age.
Value Theory and the Chinese Worker
In answer, Blackburn explores the paradoxes of fictitious capital, underwritten by super-exploitation of China’s producers. A public-utility credit system, democratic forms of nationalization and mechanisms to socialize investment as steps towards financial dual power.
The Philosopher and his Blacks
Robin Blackburn on Louis Sala-Molins, Dark Side of the Light. Polemical assault on the French Enlightenment’s record on slavery—Condorcet’s contradictions, Diderot’s compromises, Montesquieu’s motivations.
The Subprime Crisis
As reverberations from the stricken mortgage market reach the real economy, Robin Blackburn reveals the origins of the crunch in the shadowy realms of financialization. Precedents from the bubbles and crash of the 1920s, warnings from pioneers and venture capitalists, and proposals for how to turn the crisis to socially redistributive effect.
Plan for a Global Pension
On current projections, a fifth of the world’s population will be over 60 by 2050. With old-age poverty set to increase across the planet, Robin Blackburn presents a plan for funding a universal pension of a dollar a day.
Finance and the Fourth Dimension
The concept of alternative futures, banished from postmodernity’s eternal present, flourishes on the financial summits of the global economy. Robin Blackburn argues against a neo-Luddite dismissal of the new financial engineering techniques by the Left, while coolly assessing the economic and social costs of their current configurations.