Wednesday, March 10, 2004

I've come across an excerpt from Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipielago"
(1978, Collins, vol. 1, pp. 69-70) as quoted in "Identities, Groups and
Social Issues" by Margaret Wetherell (ed) -1996, Sage, p. 157.

This brillant piece reminds me of the "chicken game" as explained in Game
Theory. It is presented in Wetherell's book, though, as an (extreme) example
of Discursive Psychology.



Here is one vignette from those years as it actually occurred. A district
Party conference was under way in Moscow Province. It was presided over by a
new secretary of the District Party Committee, replacing one recently
arrested. At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin
was called for: of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to
his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall
echoed with stormy applause, rising to an ovation ,three minutes, four
minutes, five minutes, the stormy applause, rising to an ovation
continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching.
And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming
insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who
would dare be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party
Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform, and it was he
who had just called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the
place of a man who'd been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were
standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in
that obscure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on six,
seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They
couldn't stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the
hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit; clap less
frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly but up there with the presidium
where everyone could see them? The director of the local paper factory, an
independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all
the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on
applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the
District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the
last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other
with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on
applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of
the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter.
Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a
businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took
place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone?
To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The
squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.
That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And
that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory
director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of
something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final
document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him: Don't ever be
the first to stop applauding!

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