"ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE": Poetry and Politics in the Time of Stalin

By Morse, David | Social Education, May 2001 | Go to article overview

"ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE": Poetry and Politics in the Time of Stalin


Morse, David, Social Education


   Into the distance go the mounds of
   people's heads.
   I am growing smaller here--no one
   notices me any more,
   but in caressing books and children's
   games
   I will rise from the dead to say the
   sun is shining.
   --Osip Mandelshtam, 1937(1)

IN 1946, a ruling of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of the Soviet Union attacked the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova by stating,

   Such is Akhmatova with her petty, narrow personal life, trivial emotions
   and religious-mystical eroticism.... What has this poetry in common with
   the interests of our people and our state? Exactly nothing.(2)

Excluded from the all-important Union of Soviet Writers, Akhmatova (1889-1966) was forced to live on a meager pension, finding some work translating. Authorities were under constant pains to intimidate her, if not into compliance at least into silence, through an intentionally conspicuous surveillance. As her friend Nadezhda Mandelshtam later described it:

   [T]hey stood there without the least pretense at disguise ... By their
   whole behavior they seemed to be saying: `You have nowhere to hide.(3)

Finally-with her first husband, poet Nikolai Gumilev, having long since been put to death for "counter-revolutionary activities," and their son Lev Gumilev (a noted historian) and her third husband (art critic Nikolai Punin) imprisoned--Akhmatova acquiesced. After having published only a handful of poems in the previous twenty-five years, she ended her silence in 1952 with several poems in praise of Stalin, including a tribute to him on his birthday:

   Let the world remember this day
   forever,
   Let this hour be bequeathed to
   eternity.

   Where Stalin is, there is
   freedom,
   Peace, and grandeur of the
   earth.(14)

Akhmatova was only one of many writers the Party attacked. At stake was the role of literature in Soviet society--whether writers should be servants of the political ideology of the State. The 1946 ruling gave a clear answer: "Any preaching of ideological emptiness, of an apolitical attitude, of `art for art's sake,' is foreign to Soviet literature, (and) harmful to the interests of the Soviet people and State."(5) This sentiment was not new; the Party had long been increasing its control over writers--especially during the Purges of the late 1930s--and this effort took on renewed energy during the beginning years

of the Cold War.

Taking a longer view, the role of the intelligentsia (intellectual class) in relation to the state was a central issue for writers in tsarist Russia. Debate over the question dates from the mid-nineteenth century, when literary critic Vissarion Belinsky propounded the view that writers--and other members of the intelligentsia--held a moral imperative to question authority and transform society.

Of course, questions about the purpose and function (if any) of art do not arise only in totalitarian societies--although there the consequences that flow from them are likely to be more harsh. The United States acted to suppress dissent after both great wars of the twentieth century--and especially during the era of McCarthyism that followed World War II. Moreover, in our current debates over banned books in schools, rap lyrics in the music industry, and Hollywood "values," what is ultimately at stake if not how much freedom a society allows to the artist? For this reason, examining the role--and the control--of writers in Stalinist Russia may help to illuminate the issues that revolve around intellectual freedom in societies seemingly far removed in place or time.

Literary Precedents in Tsarist Russia

Far more than the literary canon of the West, Russian literature has traditionally been intertwined with politics, and often marked by a hostility toward authority and strong sympathy for the common people. A century before the Bolshevik Revolution, Russian intellectuals were already establishing themselves as activists, believing that "literature and art .

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE": Poetry and Politics in the Time of Stalin
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.