As an undergraduate student I became deeply interested in a somewhat obscure play (a copy of which remains in my Florida library) called “The Ascent Of Mount Fuji,” which talks about the experiences of a group of former friends and colleagues in Soviet Russia who meet for a mountain excursion and have to wrestle with their past and present betrayals of friends for the sake of political cover. The book, as might be imagined, was a dissident play in its critique of the moral corruption and the loss of trust in friendships and other relationships due to the corrosive influence of the Communist government of the Soviet Union (or any similarly paranoid government afraid of the true opinions of its people), and despite the change of political winds, it remains a worthwhile play as part of my “Russian” collection of books [1]. It should be noted, though, that such literary samizdat (that is “secret books”) only formed a very small percentage of those works overall.

The vast majority of such books, which often had a rugged do-it-yourself quality about them, being made and released surrepititiously and often at some personal risk to those who read such copies, were about politics. My second experience with samizdat was a notable experience in my life, when I was sent a copy of the book #thaistory, read it voraciously, and then wrote a memorable non-book review on it that was picked up by the author (himself a lese majeste exile and former Reuters journalist) and that led to some considerable personal difficulties for me [2]. When, as a teenager, I wrote about the similarly forbidden Ming era novel Jin Ping Mei [3], I was at least fortunate enough not to have any political repercussions from the act.

Besides literary and political underground texts, both of which I have not only read but also written about, religious material has also tended to find its way to underground texts in the writing of religious beliefs that are not officially allowed to be expressed. According to the Arkiv Samizdata, about a fifth of all such underground works were about religious matters [4]. This is not surprising in a realm like the Soviet Union, where religious freedom was nonexistent. Nevertheless, there are plenty of countries in our contemporary world where religious freedom is lacking for one reason or another.

In a world where self-publishing is extremely common, one would wonder why we ought to care about such underground publishing to begin with. After all, I regularly review self-published works openly by authors who have no particular desire to remain secret about their opinions and beliefs [5], and who welcome such public reviews in the hope that such reviews may garner their increased recognizability and book sales. Such publicity is precisely what is not desired by those who feel as if they must write underground in some fashion because of the unfriendliness of the political or social climate, which is one of (if not the main) distinction that can be drawn between those who self-publish and those who publish works underground [6], a distinction that can be phrased as a difference between those who are unknown and desperately want to be known and those who do not want any personal attention for their views but find silence intolerable.

How is such a state conceivable for people today? Most people, after all, do not live in nations like Thailand, where accusations of lese majeste (offending the majesty of the sovereign) are regularly thrown about to discourage open political and social discourse, and where substantial jail time or exile awaits those who simply cannot be silent about matters of justice and politics and who draw the wrong kind of attention. Yet, even if this same climate does not yet exist in the United States and other Western nations who pay lip service to freedom of expression, the raw ingredients for such an intolerable state of affairs are already present and merely require enforcement.

The first of these elements is heightened government efforts at surveillance and the control of the means of communication. We see this, for example, in the large amount of information gathered by the NSA on American citizens as part of their routine espionage efforts (and information on the citizens, including the leaders, of other nations) and by the efforts other nations have made at limiting internet access concerning highly politicized matters [7]. So, the technical and institutional capability to use and monitor electronic data for the purposes of spying on potentially subversive people is certainly present.

What is also present is a growing hostility towards loud-mouthed people who promote biblical standards of morality. This hostility manifests itself in different ways based on whether the biblical standards of morality are personal morality (which is generally considered a right-wing area of interest), especially against the sin of homosexuality and related immoral conduct which threatens the wicked cultural agenda of leftist political and cultural elites or whether it is an aspect of social morality (which is generally considered to be a leftist matter) and which may threaten the economic interests of corrupt business and political elites. There are some countries, like Australia and Canada, where a chilling legal climate exists that prohibits the open condemnation of certain moral evils. The antebellum South, for example, had a similarly chilling legal and social climate, which was a major factor in the start of the Civil War. A society that does not tolerate the open condemnation of evil and the call for all to repent and follow His ways is a society that is hardening its heart against God and setting itself up for rebuke and judgment.

The day may not be long in coming when the only recourse for principled and godly men and women who are compelled to speak out both against the evils of our places and times and with the vision of a glorious world to come full of the knowledge and practice of God’s ways will be to courageously engage in underground efforts of samizdat. Such efforts will not be without risk; they will not provide any sort of fame or celebrity but will have the high risk of local extralegal hostility in unpleasant mob scenes and intimidation and ridicule, besides legal forms of punishment like exile and imprisonment, or even death. Such times do not yet exist outside of the most backwards countries of our world, but they may yet come, as the climate has become increasingly friendly to such matters even in those areas that consider themselves to be beacons of freedom and tolerance. Sometimes anything can be tolerated, after all, except for decency and truth. It is important to study the way that people dealt with such a state of affairs on the past, especially if we are forced to deal with such realities in the future, so that we may know the risks as well as the opportunities for shining a light even in the darkest of places and times.

[1] See, for example:


[3] Jin Ping Mei, otherwise known as “The Golden Lotus,” is a story about the moral corruption of the Chinese ruling class, with its graphic portrayal of immoral sexuality and the heavy penalty that is exacted for that immorality through the course of the novel. While I have never formally reviewed this work or written about it publicly at great length, it exerted a strong influence on my own trilogy of plays dealing with the moral corruption of young people in the Church of God, writing which did have some serious personal repercussions, if unintentionally so on my part, as my writing was not directed at anyone in particular but ended up hitting a bit too close for the comfort of some to their own conduct.

[4] Joo, “Voices of Freedom: Samizdat,” 574.

[5] See, for example:

[6] A parallel can probably be drawn between my interest in underground publishing as a way of making a critical statement on the politics and culture of those places where I have found life partiuclarly difficult for me and my similar interest in the underground musical scene with its similarly critical attitude towards mainstream and elite culture. Such a connection can also clearly be drawn between these two interests and the underground experience of the early Christians in the Roman empire, which is also a matter of some personal relevance.

See, for example:

[7] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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8 Responses to Samizdat

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