The “Zvezda” Affair

Andrei Zhdanov, On the Errors of the Soviet Literary Journals, ZVEZDA and LENINGRAD. August 20, 1946


Original Source: Kul’tura i zhizn’, 20 August 1946.


From the ruling of the Central Committee it is clear that the grossest error of the journal Zvezda is the opening of its pages to the literary “creations” of Zoshchenko and Akhmatova. I think there is no need for me to cite here the “work” of Zoshchenko, “Adventures of a Monkey.” Evidently you have all read it and know it better than I. The meaning of this “work” by Zoshchenko consists in this, that he depicts Soviet people as idlers and monsters, as silly and primitive people. Zoshchenko takes absolutely no interest in the labor of the Soviet people, their exertions and heroism, their high social and moral qualities. With him this theme is always absent. Zoshchenko, like the philistine and vulgarian that he is, chose as his permanent theme digging in the basest and pettiest sides of life. This digging in the trivialities of life is not accidental. It is characteristic of all vulgar philistine writers, and hence of Zoshchenko. Gorky said a lot about this in his time. You remember how at the congress of Soviet writers in 1934 Gorky branded–excuse my saying so–“men of letters” who see nothing beyond the soot in the kitchen and bathhouse.

For Zoshchenko “Adventures of a Monkey” is not something that goes beyond the framework of his usual writings. This “work” has come into the focus of criticism only as the clearest reflection of the whole negative tendency that exists in the “creative genius” of Zoshchenko. It is known that since the time of his return to Leningrad from evacuation Zoshchenko has written several things characterized by the fact that he is incapable of finding in the life of the Soviet people one positive phenomenon, one positive type. As in the “Adventures of a Monkey,” Zoshchenko is accustomed to mock at Soviet life. Soviet ways, Soviet people, covering this mockery with a mask of vacuous diversion and pointless humor.

/ If you read attentively and think over the story “Adventures of a Monkey” you will see that Zoshchenko casts the monkey in the role of supreme judge of our social customs and forces one to read something on the order of a moral lesson to the Soviet people. The monkey is presented as some sort of rational element, whose job is to evaluate the behavior of the people. Zoshchenko needed to give a deliberately deformed, caricatured and vulgar picture of the life of the Soviet people in order to insert in the mouth of the monkey the nasty, poisonous, anti-Soviet maxim to the effect that it is better to live in the zoo than at liberty, and that it is easier to breathe in a cage than among the Soviet people.

Is it possible to reach a lower stage of moral and political decline, and how can the people of Leningrad tolerate on the pages of their journals such filth and indecency?

If “works” of this sort are presented to Soviet readers by the journal Zvezda, how weak must be the vigilance of those citizens of Leningrad in the leadership of Zvezda for it to have been possible to place in this journal works that arc poisoned with the venom of zoological hostility to the Soviet order. Only the dregs of literature could produce such “works” and only blind and apolitical people could give them entry.

They say that Zoshchenko’s story went the rounds of the Leningrad platforms. How greatly must the leadership of ideological work in Leningrad have weakened for such things to have taken place!

Zoshchenko, with his loathsome moral, succeeded in penetrating to the pages of a big Leningrad journal, and in settling himself there with all the conveniences. And the journal Zvezda is an organ whose duty it is to educate our youth. But how can a journal reckon with this task, which gives shelter to such a vulgarian and un-Soviet writer as Zoshchenko? Can it be that Zoshchenko’s physiognomy is unknown to the editorial board of Zvezda?!

Yet, quite recently, in the beginning of 1944, Zoshchenko’s tale, “Before Sunrise,” written at the height of the liberation war of the Soviet people against the German invaders, was subjected to sharp criticism in the journal Bolshevik. In this tale Zoshchenko turned his vulgar and mean little soul inside out, doing so with delight, with relish, with the desire to show every one: look, sec what a hooligan I am.

It would be hard to find in our literature anything more repulsive than the “moral” preached by Zoshchenko in “Before Sunrise,” which depicts people and himself as vile, lewd beasts without shame or conscience. And this moral he presented to Soviet readers in that period when our people were pouring out their blood in a war of unheard of difficulty, when the life of the Soviet state hung by a hair, when the Soviet people endured countless sacrifices in the name of victory over the Germans. But Zoshchenko, having dug himself in Alma-Ata, deep in the rear, did nothing at that time to help the Soviet people in its struggle with the German invaders. With complete justice Zoshchenko was publicly spanked in the Bolshevik as a libeler and vulgarian alien to Soviet literature. He spat on public opinion then, and here, before two years have passed, before the ink with which the Bolshevik review was written has dried, the same Zoshchenko makes his triumphal entry into Leningrad and begins strolling freely in the pages of Leningrad journals. Not only Zvezda, but the journal Leningrad also prints him eagerly. They eagerly and readily present him with theatrical auditoriums. More than that, they give him the opportunity to occupy a leading position in the Leningrad division of the Writers’ Union and play an active role in the literary affairs of Leningrad. On what basis do you allow Zoshchenko to stroll in the gardens and parks of Leningrad literature? Why have the party activists of Leningrad, its writers’ organization permitted these shameful things?

The thoroughly rotten and corrupt sociopolitical and literary physiognomy of Zoshchenko was not formed in the most recent period. His contemporary “works” are by no means an accident. They are only the continuation of that whole literary “heritage” of Zoshchenko which takes its start in the 1920^.

Who was Zoshchenko in the past? He, was one of the organizers of the literary group of the so-called “Serapion brothers.” What was the sociopolitical physiognomy of Zoshchenko in the period of organizing the “Serapion brothers”? Permit me to turn to the journal LITERATURNYE ZAPISKI No. 3 for 1922, in which the founders of this group set forth their credo. Among other revelations, there also in a piece called “About Myself and About Something Else.”

Feeling no constraint before anyone or anything Zoshchenko strips publicly and quite frankly expresses his political, literary “views.” Listen to what he said there:

In general it is very troublesome to be a writer. Let us say, that ideology … Nowadays a writer is required to have an ideology … such a nuisance, really, to me …

What sort of an “exact ideology” can I have, you will say, if not one party attracts me as a whole?

From the point of view of party people I am an unprincipled man. All right. I myself shall speak for myself:

I am not a Communist, not an S.R., not a monarchist, but simply a Russian and furthermore a politically immoral one …

I give you my honest word–I don’t know to this day, well, here, let’s say, Guchkov … what party is Guchkov in? The devil knows what party he’s in. I know; he’s not a Bolshevik, but whether he is an S.R. or a Cadet–I don’t know and I don’t want to know. Etc., etc.

What will you say, comrades, of such an “ideology”? Twenty-five years have passed since Zoshchenko published this “confession” of his. Has he changed since then? Not noticeably. During two and a half decades not only has he not learned anything and not only has he not changed in any way, but, on the contrary, with cynical frankness he continues to remain a preacher of ideological emptiness and vulgarity, an unprincipled and conscienceless literary hooligan. This means that now, as then, Zoshchenko does not like Soviet ways, Now, as then, he is alien, and hostile to Soviet Literature if, with all this, Zoshchenko has become practically the coryphaeus of literature in Leningrad if he is exalted in the Leningrad Parnassus, then one can only be amazed at the lack of principle, looseness, slackness and unsqueamishness achieved by the people who pave the way for Zoshchenko and sing eulogies to him. Permit me to bring in another illustration of the physiognomy of the so-called “Serapion brothers.” In the same LITERATURNYE ZAPISKI No. 3 for 1922, another Serapionist, Lev Lunts, also tries to provide an ideological grounding for that tendency” harmful and alien to Soviet literature, which the “Serapion brothers” group represented. Lunts writes:

We have gathered in days of revolutionary, in days of powerful political tension. “He who is not with us is against us!”–we are told from right and left–whom are you with, Serapion brothers–with the Communists or against the Communists, for the revolution or against the revolution? Whom are we with, Serapion brothers? We arc with the hermit Serapion. Too long and painfully has public opinion ruled Russian literature …, . We do not want utilitarianism. We do not write for propaganda. Art is real, like life itself, and like life itself, it is without purpose and without meaning, it exists because it cannot not exist.

Such is the role which the “Serapion brothers” relegate to art, taking from it its ideological content, its social significance, proclaiming the ideological emptiness of art, art for -art’s sake, art without purpose and without meaning. This is indeed the preachment of rotten apoliticism, philistinism and vulgarity. What conclusion follows from this? If Zoshchenko docs not like Soviet ways, what is your bidding: that one adapt himself to Zoshchenko? It is not up to us to reconstruct our tastes. It is not up to us to reconstruct our way of life and our social order for Zoshchenko. Let him reform. But he does not want to reform–let him get out of Soviet literature. In Soviet literature there is no place for rotten, empty, un-ideological and vulgar works. ã This then was the point of departure of the Central Committee in adopting its decision on the journals Zvezda and Leningrad.

The bourgeois world is not pleased by our successes both within our country and in the international arena. As a result of the second world war the positions of socialism have been fortified. The question of socialism has been placed on the order of the day in many European countries. This displeases imperialists of all hues; they arc afraid of socialism, afraid of our socialist country, which is a model for the whole of advanced humanity. The imperialists and their ideological henchmen, their writers and journalists, their politicians and ‘ diplomats strive in every way to slander our country, to present it in a wrong light, to slander socialism. In these conditions the task of Soviet literature is not only to reply, blow for blow, to all this base slander and the attacks on our Soviet culture, on socialism, but also boldly to lash and attack bourgeois culture, which is in a state of stagnation and corruption.

However outwardly beautiful the form that clothes the creations of the fashionable modern bourgeois western European and American writers, and also film and theatrical producers, still they cannot rescue or raise up their bourgeois culture, for its moral foundation is rotten and baneful, for this culture has been put at the service of private capitalist property, at the service of the egoistic, selfish interests of the bourgeois upper layers of society. The whole host of bourgeois writers, film and theatrical producers is striving to distract the attention of the advanced layers in society from the acute questions of the political and social struggle and divert their attention into the channel of vulgar ideologically empty literature and art, replete with gangsters, chorus girls, eulogies of adultery and of the doings of all sorts of adventurers and rogues.

Does it become us, representatives of advanced Soviet culture, Soviet patriots, to play the role of worshipers of bourgeois culture or the role of pupils?! Certainly our literature, which reflects a social order higher than any bourgeois democratic order and a culture many times higher than bourgeois culture, has the right to teach others a new universal morality. Where do you find a people and a country like ours? Where do you find such magnificent qualities in people as our people displayed in the Great Patriotic War and as they display every day in their labors of transition to peacetime development and restoration of their economy and culture? Every day raises our people higher and higher. Today we are not what we were yesterday, and tomorrow we will not be what we are today. We are already not the same Russians we were before 1917, and our Russia is different, and our character. We have changed and grown together with the great transformations that have radically altered the face of our country.

To exhibit these new high qualities of the Soviet people, to exhibit our people not only as it is today, but also to give a glimpse of its tomorrow, to help illumine with a searchlight the road ahead–such is the task of every conscientious Soviet writer. The writer cannot jog along at the tail of events, he must march in the forward ranks of the people, pointing out to them their path of development. Guided by the method of socialist realism, conscientiously and attentively studying our reality, striving to penetrate deeper into the essence of the processes of our development, the writer must educate the people and arm it ideologically. While selecting the best feelings and qualities of the Soviet man and revealing his tomorrow, we must at the same time show our people what they must not be, we must castigate the remnants of yesterday, remnants that hinder the Soviet people in their forward march. Soviet writers must help the people, the state, and the party to educate our youth to be cheerful and confident of their own strength, unafraid of any difficulties.

No matter how bourgeois politicians and writers strive to conceal from their own peoples the truth about the achievements of the Soviet order and Soviet culture, no matter how they try to erect an iron curtain, through which it would be impossible for the truth about the Soviet Union to penetrate abroad, no matter how they endeavor to belittle the actual growth and dimensions of Soviet culture–all these attempts are doomed to collapse. We know very well the power and advantage of our culture. Suffice it to recall the stunning successes of our cultural delegations abroad, our physical culture parade, etc. Is it for us to bow low before every foreignism or occupy a position of passive defense?

If the feudal social order and then the bourgeoisie in the period of their flowering could create an art and a literature that affirmed the establishment of the new order and hymned its flowering, then we, who represent a new, socialist order, the embodiment of all the best in the history of human civilization and culture, are all the more in a position to create the most advanced literature in the world, which will leave far behind the best examples of the creative genius of former times. Comrades, what does the Central Committee want and demand? The Central Committee of the party wants the Leningrad activists and the Leningrad writers to understand well that the time has come when it is necessary to raise our ideological work to a high level. The young Soviet generation is faced with the task of intensifying the power and might of the Socialist Soviet order, of fully utilizing the motive forces of Soviet society for a new, unheard of blossoming of our well being and culture. For these great tasks the young generation must be educated to be steadfast, cheerful, unafraid of obstacles, ready to meet these obstacles and overcome them. Our people must be educated people of a high ideological level, with high cultural and moral demands and tastes. To this end our literature, our journals must not stand aside from the tasks of contemporary life, but must help the party and the people

Soviet writers and all our ideological workers are today posted in the advanced line of fire, for in conditions of peaceful development there is no reduction, but on the contrary, there is an expansion of the tasks of the ideological front and principally of literature. The people, the state, the party want, not the withdrawal of literature from contemporary life, but its active invasion into all aspects of Soviet existence. Bolsheviks value literature highly. They see clearly its great historical mission and role in the strengthening of the moral and political unity of the people, in the welding and education of the people. The Central Committee of the Party wants us to have an abundance of spiritual culture, for in this wealth of culture it sees one of the main tasks of socialism.

The Central Committee of the Party is confident that the Leningrad detachment of Soviet literature is morally and politically healthy and will speedily correct its errors and occupy its proper place in the ranks of Soviet literature.

The Central Committee is confident that the shortcomings in the work of the Leningrad writers will be overcome and that the ideological work of the Leningrad party organization will, in the shortest period, be raised to the height that is required today in the interests of the party, the people, the state.

Source: Andrei Zhdanov, Essays on Literature, Philosophy, and Music (New York: International Publishers, 1950), pp. 15-45 (excerpts).


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