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Soviet Culture and Power

Soviet Culture and Power: A History in Documents, 1917-1953

Katerina Clark
Evgeny Dobrenko
Andrei Artizov
Oleg Naumov
Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 576
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  • Book Info
    Soviet Culture and Power
    Book Description:

    Leaders of the Soviet Union, Stalin chief among them, well understood the power of art, and their response was to attempt to control and direct it in every way possible. This book examines Soviet cultural politics from the Revolution to Stalin's death in 1953. Drawing on a wealth of newly released documents from the archives of the former Soviet Union, the book provides remarkable insight on relations between Gorky, Pasternak, Babel, Meyerhold, Shostakovich, Eisenstein, and many other intellectuals, and the Soviet leadership. Stalin's role in directing these relations, and his literary judgments and personal biases, will astonish many.The documents presented in this volume reflect the progression of Party control in the arts. They include decisions of the Politburo, Stalin's correspondence with individual intellectuals, his responses to particular plays, novels, and movie scripts, petitions to leaders from intellectuals, and secret police reports on intellectuals under surveillance. Introductions, explanatory materials, and a biographical index accompany the documents.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15000-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    Katerina Clark and Evgeny Dobrenko

    The documents presented here cover the period from 1917 to 1953, the years when first Lenin and then Stalin ruled the Soviet Union. Lenin’s rule lasted from the Bolshevik Revolution of 7 November 1917, through his death on 21 January 1924, and then Stalin progressively consolidated his power, winning out in a power struggle with rival Bolshevik leaders such as Bukharin and above all Trotsky. This process was more or less completed by 1929, and Stalin then ruled until his death in March 1953. The majority of documents in this volume come from the years when Stalin was head of...

  4. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xix-xx)
  5. Note on the Documents
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  6. Soviet Organizational Acronyms and Abbreviations
    (pp. xxiii-xxxi)
  7. PART ONE. The Twenties

    • Introduction: The Bolshevization of Culture, 1917–1932
      (pp. 3-6)

      In the late 1920s, Anatoly Lunacharsky observed in an address to young people on the subject of the revolutionary era: “Old people lived so slowly it didn’t matter if they fell asleep. In the old days, you could drift off, sleep two years away, wake up, and pick up your life as if nothing had happened. Life moved along like a cart, but now it speeds by madly. Event after event, crisis after crisis. And our emotional life, indisputably, is livelier, more colorful and varied.”¹ It would be hard to disagree with this description of racing time. That is exactly...

    • CHAPTER ONE “Prohibit Travel …”
      (pp. 7-22)

      The Civil War era was characterized by sharp conflict between the new state and the prerevolutionary cultural elites. The intensity of this conflict is well known from emigré memoir literature. Central Committee documents presented here finally allow us to see the situation from the other side of the “cultural front.” Out of the total body of documents, we have selected only those which bring out a few themes that are critical for understanding this process. We are intentionally not going to touch here upon the problem of the state’s attitude toward the emigration, which has been illuminated fairly well in...

    • CHAPTER TWO “The Utterly Indecent Proposal to Preserve the Bolshoi Theater”
      (pp. 23-31)

      Being a radical type of revolutionary, Lenin was by no means always anxious to appease the intelligentsia. When it came to steps that were unpopular among the cultural elites but in keeping with Bolshevist programmatic aims, he was quite open to confrontation. Moreover, he sometimes obtained what he thought were the right solutions by applying direct pressure. This was the situation that arose around the Bolshoi Opera Theater. After the Revolution, the theater, which stood for the “old culture,” not only in the eyes of the “Party rank and file” but also among that other category of the population known...

    • CHAPTER THREE Organizing the “Artistic Milieu”: The Era of NEP
      (pp. 32-49)

      The era of NEP did more than just set new goals for the Party leadership in the sphere of ideology; it also created new forms of leadership in the cultural sphere. Meanwhile, two fundamental problems remained: the attitude toward the old cultural elites and that toward the new, proletarian culture. According to Western Sovietology, the Party worked consistently to destroy the former and support the latter. As we have already seen, though, the attitude toward the “legacy of the past” was ambivalent both in the practice of permission to travel and in the specific case of the Bolshoi Theater. The...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Organization of Proletarian Art: The Cultural Revolution
      (pp. 50-75)

      The turn toward a harsher line in the cultural sphere began not in 1929, as is usually thought, but at least as early as 1927. Based on the two foundations of party cultural policy cited above, there were two reasons for this shift. One was the rout of the Left Opposition in the Politburo (above all of Lev Trotsky, who had broad support in the revolutionary artistic milieu). The second was the uncontrollability of the “literary front” across the board: from the fellow travelers, who on the whole sympathized with the Revolution, to the routed Proletkult, which found itself at...

    • CHAPTER FIVE “Gorky, Whom No One Takes Seriously in Politics”
      (pp. 76-87)

      Gorky played an utterly singular role in the history of Soviet culture. A man of letters with radical views who was close to the Bolsheviks and a personal friend of Lenin, Gorky received the revolution hostilely, seeing in it the “raging of the bestial instincts of the mob.” He accused the Bolsheviks of betraying the idea of the socialist proletariat and relying on a pack of drunken soldiers for the sake of seizing power. He also stood up in defense of the intelligentsia. The period during which he wrote a number of essays later collected in the bookUntimely Thoughts...

    • CHAPTER SIX Work with the “Anti-Soviet Intelligentsia”
      (pp. 88-136)

      One of the most persistent myths of Soviet cultural history is the myth of the “liberal 1920s,” which declares NEP, with its relatively free trade and entrepreneurship, a golden age. The newly opened archives, however, allow us to say that NEP was an era of ideological clamping down, not liberalism, and the Politburo documents from this period allow us to consider this organ the country’s supreme censor. There is no doubt whatsoever that the main censorship decisions went through the Politburo, and that they were almost always (not counting complicated cases, such as that of M. Bulgakov, when the decisions...

  8. PART TWO. The Thirties

    • Introduction: The Culture of High Stalinism, 1932–1941
      (pp. 139-149)

      The 1930s were a turbulent time, especially during the years 1936 to 1938 which were marked by three show trials of leading Bolsheviks, and by the Great Purge. It was also the decade when a distinctive Soviet culture was canonized, one that was to define it for the rest of the Stalin period. This culture was of course Socialist Realism. However, Socialist Realism did not exist before the term was coined in May 1932 and declared the mandatory “method” for every branch of Soviet culture. Slightly earlier, on 23 April 1932, the Politburo passed a resolution (doc. 64) that abolished...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Demise of RAPP
      (pp. 150-161)

      As we saw in Part One, during the period of the cultural revolution RAPP had become the main implementer of Party policy in literature. Precisely in this period RAPP succeeded in eliminating practically all literary groupings from contention. Under pressure from RAPP, LEF “disbanded” in 1929 and in the same year, as the result of a campaign against Evgeny Zamyatin and Mikhail Bulgakov led by RAPP, they succeeded in completely subordinating FOSP to their organization and in gaining power in the VSP, previously a center-right group. The next year RAPP “completed” its rout of the independent writers’ group Crossing, gained...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Writers’ Congress
      (pp. 162-178)

      The Writers’ Congress was the first large public event in Stalinist culture, the culmination of a period of relative thaw before the purge time. The congress was prepared over more than two years and almost all the members of the Party leadership were involved in some way (some of them directly). In these years Stalin’s right-hand man in literature was Ivan Mikhailovich Gronsky, a Party journalist and administrator, chief editor ofIzvestia, head of the Organizational Committee of the Writers Union and of the union’s “Party faction.” Subsequently condemned to the Gulag which he survived, Gronsky later in his memoirs...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Gorky Factor
      (pp. 179-193)

      The correspondence of Gorky and Stalin, examples of which are presented here, was one between two public figures who had need of each other and hence needed to compromise. At the same time we see here how, behind the façade of the much-advertised closeness between the nation’s leader and its principal writer, they were not close and there was no trust between them. Gorky emerges in the correspondence as a highly placed supplicant who uses the leader’s predisposition towards him to his advantage. Nevertheless, he tries to address Stalin as an equal; by contrast, his letters to writers have a...

    • CHAPTER TEN The Union of Soviet Writers
      (pp. 194-215)

      In the initial years after Gorky’s return his and Stalin’s ties to each other were mutually advantageous. Stalin particularly needed Gorky in the years 1932–1934 because Gorky’s international stature helped legitimize Stalin’s project for restructuring literature and the arts and for making Socialist Realism mandatory for all Soviet culture. Gorky for his part took advantage of the fact that Stalin was all-powerful to push through his many pet projects and to expand his tremendous influence in the cultural sphere. The aging Gorky was given the role of father figure in Soviet literature, but he had to pay for it...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Stalin and the Moscow Art Theater
      (pp. 216-228)

      During the 1930s a system of state patronage became very entrenched. Earlier, during the 1920s, the prerevolutionary system of support in the arts was destroyed, as we saw in Part One. Initially, the premier institutions of the old culture such as the Bolshoi were imperiled as representing the aesthetic of the old regime, though the danger that they might be closed never existed for long because Party tastes in culture were fairly conservative. That conservatism was ever more in evidence as the thirties progressed and Party control increased. The history of Stalin’s relations with the Moscow Art Theater provides an...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE The Anti-Formalist Campaign
      (pp. 229-248)

      On 16 December 1935 the Politburo passed a resolution “On the Organization of an All-Union Committee on Arts Affairs” (Komitet po delam iskusstv) which stipulated that it be organized “under the USSR Sovnarkom, investing it with the leadership of all arts affairs and subordinating to it the theaters, film organizations, and music, painting, sculpture, and other institutions,” including “the main administration of the film and photography industry.”¹ Now a single body ran not just a particular branch of the arts, but all the arts.

      Shortly thereafter, in early 1936, a series of articles was published inPravdathat attacked the...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Campaign for a Patriotic Culture
      (pp. 249-260)

      1936 saw another significant shift in cultural policy, the turn to nationalism. The Communist Party had come to power with an ideology that rejected the old regime and all it stood for, and the prerevolutionary regime was variously labeled a “prison of the ethnic nations,” a hateful empire, a police state, and a backward country; but in this year a campaign was launched to struggle against what was called an “irreverent attitude towards the past.” The past of Russia now acquired positive coloration, and cultural workers were instructed to mine it for examples of “the heroism of the people,” and...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN The Censorship
      (pp. 261-275)

      Censorship is generally seen as a defining feature of Soviet cultural life. Glavlit, the Main Administration for Matters Concerning Literature and Publishing Houses (Glavnoe upravlenie po delam literatury i izdatel’stv) was the main censorship body in Soviet Russia and all printed material had to bear its authorization number, hence it was a body of ongoing concern to the Party leadership (as can be seen in docs. 59, 60, and 61). Of particular interest is the following document from the Politburo archives, the report of the head of Glavlit, Boris Volin, an old Bolshevik who in the 1920s had been one...

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Presenting the Image of the Leader
      (pp. 276-281)

      Censorship is generally looked at in terms of its negative aspect—banning. Yet as an institution for ideological harmony one should also see it as potentially having a constructive impact on society. One example of this would be the way the main Soviet censorship bodies (from Glavlit to the Politburo) played an active role in establishing the national image of the Party leader. In this chapter we present four documents, each concerning a different branch of the arts (painting, theater, literature, and film). In two of them we see how censorship bodies move to ban representations of the leader but...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN Stalin as Patron-Potentate
      (pp. 282-301)

      Within Stalin’s correspondence, the letters from intellectuals could largely be categorized as essentially complaints or requests—petitions, a genre which in the circumstances usually necessitated an obsequious tone. The following letter from Mikhail Bulgakov which recounts his misadventures in applying for an external passport so that he could travel abroad provides a vivid example of the sort of demeaning protestations of loyalty and praise for the leader to which most supplicants were reduced.

      Letter from M. A. Bulgakov to I. V. Stalin. AP RF, f. 3, op. 34, d. 206, ll. 37–38v. Original. Typewritten. On the first page of...

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Reports on Writers from the NKVD and Soviet Officials
      (pp. 302-321)

      One of the central questions in analyzing Soviet cultural politics has always been the degree to which the Party elite were informed of the real situation within culture and the mood of intellectuals. Were they, for example, so cut off that they were hostage to their apparatus for surveillance and purveying information? Documents in the Politburo archives reveal that the leadership were provided with fairly detailed information, though one must not assume that the NKVD reports were not edited or in some way slanted for the purposes of their compilers, or of the leadership.

      Memorandum from the NKVD Administration for...

    • CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Petitions to Stalin
      (pp. 322-335)

      An important aspect of the bizarre dialogue between Soviet power and the intellectuals was the petition to Stalin on behalf of those arrested, an act of civic courage. In this chapter we present a selection written by figures of different orientations and employing different strategies in the hope of achieving their ends.

      The first of these is from the famous poet Anna Akhmatova. In the fall of 1935 her son, Lev Gumilyov, and her common-law husband, Nikolai Punin, were arrested. She immediately went to Moscow from Leningrad to try to obtain their release, and wrote a very short letter to...

    • CHAPTER NINETEEN The Stalin-Sholokhov Exchange
      (pp. 336-344)

      Mikhail Sholokhov, the Nobel laureate, was virtually a unique phenomenon among Soviet writers, partly because of his enormous prestige. The following document (together with doc. 150, a letter from Sholokhov to Stalin) provides some insight into the murkiness and arbitrariness of the purges in the Soviet countryside. Sholokhov’s native village of Veshensk was in the Don Cossack area. However, as the document also indicates, Sholokhov as the author of what had been deemed the great Soviet novel,Quiet Flows the Don(Tikhy Don), published between 1928 and 1940, was virtually immune from purging and hence almost uniquely in a position...

  9. PART THREE. The Forties

    • Introduction: The Culture of Late Stalinism, 1941–1953
      (pp. 347-351)

      The period of Soviet political and cultural history conventionally referred to here as the forties includes the Great Patriotic War (i. e., the period of Soviet engagement in the Second World War, 1941–1945) and the postwar period (1945–1953). It can be said without exaggeration that the late Stalinist period is the least studied of Soviet history. By comparison with the dynamic revolutionary era of the 1920s, the horrific paroxysms of state terror that marked the 1930s, or the dramatic revelations and de-Stalinization during Khrushchev’s “thaws,” this period appears static, like stiff lava that had been hardened during the...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY The Literary Front: The War
      (pp. 352-392)

      The archives of Stalin’s Politburo offer a unique opportunity not only to view the decision-making mechanism and approval process in action but also to understand why the leadership came to make certain decisions. We have organized this section so that the documents are framed by two secret police reports on the attitudes of writers. The first of these is from mid-1943, when there was a turning point (at the time not yet fully recognized) in the course of the war. Writers’ reactions to the recent disbanding of the Comintern and the intensification of nationalist propaganda provide a broad spectrum of...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE The Literary Front: “Zhdanovism” and Beyond
      (pp. 393-431)

      In August 1945, A. Yegolin, the deputy head of TsK Agitprop (as well as an academician and literary scholar), sent TsK Secretary G. Malenkov the following document:

      Memorandum from TsK VKP(b) Propaganda and Agitation Administration Deputy Head A. M. Yegolin to TsK VKP(b) Secretary G. M. Malenkov on the situation in literature. RGASPI, f. 17, op. 125, d. 366, ll. 210–221. Original.


      3 August 1945

      To TsK VKP(b) Secretary Com. G. M. Malenkov

      At your behest I am presenting material on literature, in connection with the report by the Sovetsky Pisatel’ publishing house to the TsK VKP(b) Orgburo....

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO “The Most Important Art”
      (pp. 432-458)

      Without a doubt, the central event in Soviet cinema life of the 1940s was the edict that followed the success of the first part and the ban on the second part of Sergei Eisenstein’sIvan the Terrible(Ivan Groznyi). The ensuing chain of events peaked in the famous TsK resolution “On the filmA Grand Life[Bol’shaia zhizn’]” approved in September 1946. TsK materials that have been preserved allow us not only to trace the chain of events whose initiator was Stalin personally but also to take a look at their context.

      The problem of restoring the “authentic historical face...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE “Moments Musicaux”
      (pp. 459-463)

      AS in other spheres of art, in music the era of late Stalinism continued the line marked out back in the 1930s. The pivotal point here was the famous TsK resolution, dated 10 February 1948, “On the operaA Great Friendship[Velikaia druzhba] by V. Muradeli.” We know that on 5 January 1948, Stalin and a group of Politburo members attended the Bolshoi Theater and sawFriendship of Nations[Druzhba narodov], which evoked great distaste in the leader. The TsK apparatus immediately began work to “correct errors on the musical front” and seek out the guilty parties. The very next...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR “The Revolution Has Ended at the Point Where It Began”
      (pp. 464-472)

      Late Stalinism caps the process that got under way in the 1930s and that has become known as “The Great Retreat,” a name given it by Nicholas Timasheff in his classic work so titled (1946). We have observed this process over the course of the entire Stalinist era. In the postwar years, however, it received a mighty boost thanks above all to the war and the victory. This meant not only a pragmatic return to the ideological doctrine of “Great Russia” but also the total rejection after the war of many elements of Marxist class rhetoric that were still characteristic...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 473-482)
  11. Glossary of Names
    (pp. 483-510)
  12. List of Documents
    (pp. 511-519)
  13. Index
    (pp. 520-545)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 546-546)