Solzhenitsyn Fund > History of the Russian Social Fund

History of the Russian Social Fund

John Crowfoot, in the 2018 Vintage Classics re-issue of The Gulag Archipelago, recapitulates the Fund’s history.

The Russian Social Fund

By the mid-1970s, the Soviet authorities were exasperated by the persistent outspoken behaviour of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. At a meeting on 7 January 1974 the Politburo discussed alternative ways of dealing with the writer.[1] In view of his past actions and the imminent publication of French and English translations of The Gulag Archipelago, some members of the Politburo wanted to arrest him and put him on trial. Others suggested that he be expelled from the USSR to another country, if one was willing to take him. Willy Brandt obliged and on 14 February 1974 the writer was put on a plane to West Germany.[2]

During the tumultuous weeks following the publication of The Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn announced that the money earned from the sale of the book “will go toward honoring the memory of those who perished and aiding the families of political prisoners in the Soviet Union”.[3] Three years later it became known that Solzhenitsyn had been doing exactly that.

Faced with imminent arrest, veteran dissident Alexander Ginzburg revealed on 2 February 1977 that for the past three years he had been distributing money from a fund, called at the time The Russian Social Fund for Persecuted Persons and Their Families, set up by the Solzhenitsyns to support prisoners of conscience and their families throughout the USSR.[4] Royalties from the sale of The Gulag Archipelago, as well as donations from private individuals, enabled the Fund to help over seven hundred families in 1975.

Ginzburg was prosecuted and sentenced to eight years in a strict-regime penal colony. Subsequent administrators of the Solzhenitsyn Fund endured similar harassment and persecution in the Soviet Union. Faced by arrests, searches and official insinuations about where the money came from and the use to which it was being put, Sergei Khodorovich made public the Statute of the Fund (USSR News Brief, January 1982).[5] Its purpose was

“to aid the physical survival of the present-day victims of the Gulag Archipelago – those held in prison, camps or special psychiatric hospitals; those who have been exiled, banished or placed under regular surveillance; those who have been incarcerated without trial in psychiatric hospitals – individuals persecuted for their activities in public, in the cultural sphere or on behalf of their compatriots, irrespective of their nationality or religious background.”

The fund “consists [1] of royalties from publication and sale of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago (and itself owns the world rights to the book) and [2] of voluntary donations, including those collected within the country”. The Statute further specified that the Fund “did not support any organisations or groups”, nor did receipt of aid from the Fund “impose any obligations on those whom the Fund had helped.” Khodorovich was arrested the following year and put on trial. In December 1983 he was sentenced to three years in a strict-regime penal colony.

The Fund continued to function. In May 1986 the Soviet authorities began legal proceedings against it as “a body receiving funds from foreign organisations, or from individuals acting on behalf of those organisations”.[6] The death of Anatoly Marchenko in December 1986 after a prolonged hunger strike and the release thereafter, throughout 1987 and 1988, of the country’s political prisoners and prisoners of conscience led to the case against the Fund being dropped.

In the post-Soviet period, the Fund – renamed, simply, The Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Russian Social Fund – focused its aid on elderly former prisoners, supplementing their meager pensions and reminding them that they were not forgotten. Thousands of such former zeks continue to receive assistance, not only in Russia, but in Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics.

The Russian Social Fund was able to focus also on the cultural and creative aspects of its original mission. In 1997, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn established a Literary Prize, financed by the Fund, which has since been given annually to writers, critics, and others who have made worthy contributions to Russian literature.

John Crowfoot
April 2018

[1] Politburo meeting, 7 January 1974, Bukovsky Archive online –

[2] Andropov to Brezhnev, 7 February 1974, Bukovsky Archive online – 350-a-ov/

[3] New York Times, 19 January 1974;

[4] “The arrest of Alexander Ginzburg”, A Chronicle of Current Events, 16 March 1977 – 44-2-3-the-arrest-of-alexander-ginzburg/

[5] “Concerning the Russian Public Fund”, USSR News Brief, 15 January 1982 (in Russian) – obshchestvennom-fonde-1982-1-3/

[6] In January 1984, Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code was amend-ed to deal with NGOs financed from abroad. See “The case against the Fund to Aid Political Prisoners”, USSR News Brief, 15 October 1986 (in Russian) – pomoshchi-politzekam-1986-19-3/