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Russian Literature under Stalinist Regime
September 3, 2008 19:22

Stalin’s strengthening of his dictatorship in the early 1930s predetermined total submission of literature and art. In 1932 the Central Committee ordered to dismiss all literary associations and establish a single all-national Union of Soviet Writers, which was founded two years later at the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers.

 Konstantin Fedin

However, taking into consideration demands of the 1930s international agitation in the spirit of Popular Front some tolerance to the most talented writers was manifested. Thus, for example, though the main characters of the splendid novel Rape of Europe (1933–1935) by Konstantin Aleksandrovich Fedin (1892-1977) aspire to be up to the mark of the Communist party’s tasks they still cannot hide their disliking of particularly incongruous directions. The communist character of Leonid Maximovich Leonov’s (1899-1994) book Road to the Ocean (1935) at the end of the day sadly thinks of how much he missed in his life because of sacrificing it totally to serving the party.

 Nikolai Ostrovsky

A well-known work quite fitting into official instructions was Nikolai Alexeevich Ostrovsky’s (1904–1936) autobiographical novel How the Steel Was Tempered (1934), which was a great success in this country. Its main character Pavel Korchagin became a paragon of the “positive hero” or “a new Soviet person”, yet it lacks true-to-life tints, since the world he lives and struggles in is of unnatural black-and-white colouring.

 Michail Sholokhov

During this period Michail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov (1905-1984) completed his great novel Quiet Flows the Don (1928-1940), which was recognized the classical work of Soivet literature and honoured with the Nobel Prize of 1965. This is a broad epic panorama of the war, revolutions and fratricidal discords that end with the Cossacks’ subdual by the Red Army.

Socialist realists propagated a great number of drama-lacking plays about modern Soviet reality. Much better than the rest is Nikolai Fyodorovich Pogodin’s (1900-1962) play Aristocrats (1934) on the subject of constructing Belomorsk-Baltic Channel by means of prisoners’ toil, as well as his two plays about Lenin Man with a Rifle (1937) and Kremlin Chimes (1941);

Alexander Nikolayevich Afinogenov’s (1904-1941) Distant Point, aka Faraway (1935), a play in the spirit of Chekhov, rather than a sample of Socialist realism; and Leonov’s drama Polovtchanskie Gardens (1938), where the ideological line is subordinated to the task of psychological portrayal.

Of all genres poetry is the one least subject to regulation; out of all abundance of versed output of the 1930s the only essential work still retaining its artistic value is The Land of Muravia (1936) by Aleksandr Trifonovich Tvardovsky (1910-1971). It is a long poem about a typical peasant who following a range of misfortunes finally joins a kolkhoz.

 Boris Pasternak

A few collected poems by Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (1890-1960) were published in the 1930s, but they mainly consisted of his earlier works. From 1937 Pasternak gave preference to poetic translations and composed less and less poetry himself.

During the Stalinist reprisals in the second half of the 1930s many men of letters were arrested – some of them shot down, others put into camps or exiled for years. After the death of Stalin some of the lost ones were posthumously rehabilitated, like for example novelist Boris Pilnyak or the splendid poet Osip Emilyevich Mandelstam (1891-1938); those who were removed from literature, like Anna Andreevna Akhmatova (1889-1966) were again allowed to have their works published.

Many writers of the Stalinist epoch in order to avoid risks of modern subject matters took up creating historic novels and plays. Turning to history suddenly became popular on the upsurge of nationalism that the party encouraged in the face of the growing menace of war.

 Aleksei Tolstoi

The best historic novel of that period was Peter I (1929-1934) by Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoi (1882-1945).

Right after the German invasion in 1941 literature was mobilized to support the country at war and till 1945 almost every printed word in this or that way was conducive to defending the motherland. Boris Pasternak, Konstantin Mikhailovich Simonov (1915-1979) and Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts (1910-1975) created wonderful samples of lyrical literature. A few impressive poems about war were published, among them Tvardovsky’s Vasili Tyorkin (1941–1945) presenting the image of a Russian soldier, which became nearly legendary.

The most remarkable prose works of those years are Days and Nights (1944) by Simonov, The Taking of Velikoshumsk (1944) by Leonov, Son of Regiment (1945) by Kataev

and The Young Guards (1945) by Alexander Alexandrovich Fadeyev (1901-1956). The most successful plays of the war time include Frontline (1942) by Aleksander Evdokimovich Korneichuk (1905-1972), exposing the incompetence of Soviet generals of the old mold; Russian People (1943) by Simonov, showing the self-sacrifice of Soviet solders and non-military citizens in the face of death; and Leonov’s plays Invasion (1942) and Lenushka (1943), both dwelling upon hard struggle of the Russian people under German occupation.

Soviet writers hoped that the party would broaden limits of the relevant creative freedom given to them in the war years, yet the resolution of the Central Committee on issues of literature of 14 August 1946 put an end to those hopes. Art must be inspired by politics whereas Party and Social realism must be the guidance for writers, the Soviet politician Andrei Zhdanov declared.

 Ilya Ehrenburg

The growing discontent with strict regulation after the death of Stalin in 1953 found its expression in Ilya Grigoryevich Ehrenburg’s (1891-1967) story The Thaw (1954) about the sorrowful lot of artists who had to create under control of officials. Though Party henchmen expressed hard censure on rebellious authors at the Second Congress of Writers in 1954, the speech of Khrushchev at the 20th Congress of the Party, when Stalin’s crimes were denounced, brought about a new wave of protest against interference into creative process.

In numerous works of prose, poetry and drama young authors exposed not only abuses of power of the Stalinist epoch but also the ugly phenomena of contemporary reality.

Vladimir Dmitrievich Duduntsev’s novel (1918-1998) Not by Bread Alone (1956) critical of Party’s bureaucracy was indicative of the new spirit of literature and became widely popular with the readers.

In 1957 when the rebellious moods came to trouble the authorities Nikita Khrushchev reminded the authors they had to follow the communist ideology. The same year’s publication of Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak was condemned in the Party press and Pasternak even had to reject the Nobel Prize of 1958. The sensational scandal that the book evoked helped to cope with the literary distemper; and the Third Congress of Writers in 1957 again saw the atmosphere of submission reigning over the country.


Tags: Russian Literature Soviet Writers Stalinist Regime   

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