Literature and Revolution in Soviet Russia, 1917-62, a Symposium

Literature and Revolution in Soviet Russia, 1917-62, a Symposium

Literature and Revolution in Soviet Russia, 1917-62, a Symposium

Literature and Revolution in Soviet Russia, 1917-62, a Symposium

Excerpt

In recent years Soviet literature has forced itself, often in a dramatic way, on the attention of the outside world, as probably no other literature has ever done before. It is hoped that the essays in this symposium will give historical perspective to recent events and bring into focus the unique problems of Soviet writers.

A study of the Party's attempt to impose its will on literature and the arts is interesting in a general sense for students of totalitarian politics. In this field, as also notoriously in agriculture, it has been a question of trying to impose total doctrinal and administrative discipline on a form of human activity which depends entirely on highly individual skills. It is not surprising to find that the object of this attempted control has proved to be recalcitrant and that the aims envisaged have almost always been defeated by the methods employed. The record has, broadly speaking, been one of failure: in contrast to other fields, such as industry, where production techniques may even benefit from a high degree of control and co-ordination by a monolithic political party.

It is sometimes forgotten that in its first decade the Bolshevik Party in Russia was extremely modest in its claims to control all aspects of social activity, and was equally conscious of its inability to do so. Furthermore, there was a certain scale of priorities. Political and economic control obviously came first, but even this was partially abandoned with the inauguration of the New Economic Policy (NEP). Cultural matters were the least of the Party's concern in a period when it was still numerically weak and bent above all on maintaining its hegemony as the 'vanguard of the proletariat'. At that time in fact the Party modestly contented itself with securing in all fields what it called the 'commanding positions'. It did not yet dispose of cadres sufficiently strong, loyal, and well-organized to infiltrate and set its image on the whole of society. In the economy, in the administration, and particularly in the cultural field it had to rely on so-called 'bourgeois specialists' bequeathed from the past. This meant that until about 1928 there were several autonomous literary and artistic organizations which were not under direct . . .

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