David Zaslavskii, Reactionary Propaganda’s Clamor Over a Literary Weed. 1958
Original Source: Pravda, 26 October 1958, p. 4.
The entire life of Soviet society is imbued with the principles of socialist collectivism. Life long ago refuted the lying bourgeois legend that socialism is inimical to the personality, that it wipes out individuality, depersonalizes, blocks the creative development of original persons and character. On the contrary, it is precisely under socialism, precisely in the atmosphere of socialist collectivism, that all the conditions are established for the fullest development of creative individuality, for the flowering of original and unique thought. Even bourgeois circles hostile to socialism were obliged to admit this truth when the Soviet intelligentsia appeared before the whole world in an aureole of unprecedented achievements of science and culture. Soviet collectivism is the source of the Soviet people’s proud, patriotic consciousness. It is a school of lofty emotions and ideas, of noble service to one’s people, a school in which the Soviet citizen is reared.
But there are still occasional individual specimens of the disappearing breed of bourgeois ‘individualists,” petty proprietors and Philistines who through more than 40 years of the revolution have borne in their hearts a deep hatred of the socialist collective. Even among writers one sometimes encounters carriers of this archaic ideology. Such a writer, who opposes his narcissist ‘I’ to the mighty socialist feeling of “we,” imagines himself a ‘hero” of individualism, but in actuality he is a petty-bourgeois proprietor, disguising his fetal interests with a pompous array of old-fashioned verbosity.
Such persons, deeply alien to Soviet society, bear it malice and feel themselves ‘superfluous’ in it.
In Soviet literature the writer B. Pasternak has proved such a superfluous person, a lone individual. He was once a not untalented poet. But with his very first steps in literature he took the sterile road of antirealism. His early verse reflected the decade that A. M. Gorky called the ‘most despicable” in the history of the Russian intelligentsia. This was the time when renegades of socialism and democracy marked the path of their ideological descent in ‘milestones” and saw the highest expression of the Philistine spirit in covering with abuse the entire past of the Russian people and of the Russian revolutionary movement. It was a time when every kind of decadent, symbolist and futurist tried to poison Russian literature with the venom of the reactionary bourgeoisie’s spiritual corruption.
B. Pasternak belonged to the ranks of these. His verse was esteemed by admirers precisely because it was devoid of realism, had nothing in common with the life of the people and, with its ponderous, studied complexity and abstruseness, was foreign to the lucid and pure character of the Russian literary language. This intricate versifying was difficult to unravel, and if one did manage to do it one would find at the bottom a feeble thought, devoid of any significance whatever. It was inevitable that the poet’s confused thinking should find expression in a formless poetic style.
As is well known, the best and foremost part of the Russian intelligentsia, of Russian literature and of Russian art was enormously sympathetic to the socialist revolution and devoted its energies to serving the people faithfully. The historic struggle for the new order against the united forces of bourgeois reaction and the heroic exploits of the Soviet people in single combat with the world of violence, blood and filth captured the imagination of poets, writers and artists. Gorky and Maiakovskii headed this movement among the Soviet intelligentsia. Only those in whom the spirit of bourgeois decay had stifled all that was alive could remain on the sidelines.
Pasternak tried to join this movement, to reform, to become if not a direct participant then, as they used to say, a fellow traveler. He wrote the poems “1905” and “Lieutenant Schmidt,” and in them one could discern sympathy for the revolutionary-democratic movement. But Pasternak did not go any further than that. Hostility toward Marxist philosophy and toward realism in literature was too deeply rooted in this thoroughly bourgeois intellectual. Our country was going from one victory to the next; with socialist construction as a foundation, a new culture was growing and taking shape and new men were being nurtured. Around Pasternak everything was changing–yet he remained unchanged. He was falling farther and farther behind life as it moved forward. He sensed that he was becoming of no use and of no interest to anyone. His hostility toward the revolution and Soviet reality became all the more furious.
He could not find the right words to become a true Soviet writer, whose sacred duty and prime obligation is to serve the people. These were all empty words for this self-enamored Narcissus. He believed that everyone else was wrong and that only he, in his literary back alley, was right. He fell silent, and this literary impotence was portrayed by foolish admirers as proud opposition to socialist realism.
Pasternak refused to recognize the socialist revolution and the Soviet Union, exactly as hostile reactionary governments for a long time refused to recognize our state. Pasternak was angry at the revolution. There is an ironic Russian saying about an old woman who “for three years was angry at Master Great Novgorod, but he did not even notice.” It is now already 40 years that Pasternak has been angry at Soviet society and Soviet literature, and the great Soviet people have not even noticed. This has made Pasternak’s animosity toward everything Soviet all the greater. It seemed to him that there was nothing in the world more important and vital than the tribulations of an intellectual who has been banished from the course of life, or, rather, who has banished himself from it. But this petty snobbery, a parody of old parodies, did not and could not interest anyone in Soviet life and literature.
It is quite clear that long confinement in his dark nook of individualism has destroyed in Pasternak all consciousness f belonging to the Soviet people, has destroyed that feeling, so familiar to us, of the dignity of the Soviet citizen and patriot. He arranged for himself a kind of ØmigrØ existence. He severed vital ties with the collective of Soviet writers.
It was this quality in him that brought him to the attention of the reactionary bourgeois press. Dubious foreign correspondents began to cling to Pasternak like flies. Absurd rumors were spread about him that he was a kind of “martyr,” that he was being “persecuted,” that he was not allowed to write, etc. Foreigners coming here would visit Pasternak and become convinced that all these rumors were pure lies. Pasternak was never subjected to repression by anyone; no one persecuted him. Writers’ organizations showed a high degree of tolerance toward him, hoping that perhaps one day this writer, already far from young, would come to his senses. Foreigners have seen that Pasternak lives very well off Soviet society, that he has been given everything he needs and receives high royalties for his translations of the classics, that he has a large country home of his own and in general that any West European or American writer might well envy his position.
The reactionary press has begun creating a new legend about Pasternak-that he is supposedly a great misunderstood and unrecognized writer who could create works of genius if this were not barred by the “tyranny of socialist realism.” This is a comical legend. Its exaggeration is caricature -like. No one denies Pasternak’s literary talent, but this talent is very limited and never, not even at the height of his fame, was Pasternak considered a master of the first rank.
Any honest Soviet writer would treat with the greatest scorn any compliments from enemies of our homeland. He would easily recognize the political overtone in this calculated and cheap publicity. The slanderers of socialism and democracy have hailed not Pasternak the writer but Pasternak the embittered bystander. Pasternak, on the other hand, was flattered by this praise from the reactionary bourgeoisie. It seemed to him that he, an unrecognized prophet in his own homeland, might become the prophet of a foreign, bourgeois homeland. The malice that overflowed in the soul of this superfluous man sought an outlet and found it. Pasternak wrote a lengthy novel entitled “Doctor Zhivago.” This is a malicious lampoon of the socialist revolution, the Soviet people and the Soviet intelligentsia.
The embittered bystander gave vent to his vindictive spleen. He tried to blacken everything new that came with the revolution arid to justify and exalt everything old and counterrevolutionary, -Vents presenting an icon-like portrayal of the White Guard. The hero of the novel is a Russian bourgeois intellectual, a philistine with petty feelings and worthless thoughts. The great revolution has unsettled him and deprived him of the comforts of home. He failed to receive some rations, and he cannot forgive the Soviet people for this. The bourgeois system of class oppression has remained sacred to him, and he sees the working class as nothing but an animal mob. It is upon this offspring of the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie that Pasternak the author bestows his sympathies.
Among the satirical characters of Shchedrin there is one who was so small that he had no room inside him for anything. Pasternak’s artistic perception is so limited that he has no room for the idea of the socialist revolution.
Many bourgeois observers, coming to Russia, have been unable to conceal their amazement at the vast scope and profound impact of historical events. Although opposed to socialism, they gave due credit to the heroism of the working class and the grandeur of the Party’s and the government’s vision. To H. G. Wells Russia seemed submerged in darkness, but he spoke with admiration of the people’s heroism and of the “dreamers” in the Kremlin who proposed to change the world. However B. Pasternak, a contemporary of all these events, saw nothing and understood nothing of the great revolution, and now, after 40 years, he maliciously slanders it. This bespeaks only the squalor of his petty, personal world and his extreme bourgeois narrowness.
Ridiculous though it be, Pasternak passes off this Doctor Zhivago of his, a moral freak who has sunk into torpor through his bitterness, as the “best’ representative of the old Russian intelligentsia. This is slander against the leading members of the intelligentsia, slander that is as absurd as it is untalented. In those days the best of the intelligentsia was with the Timiriazevs, Pavlovs, Michurins and Tsiolkovskiis. The whole world is now witness to how the old cadres of the Russian intelligentsia, closely cooperating with young Soviet scientists and faithfully serving their people, achieved enormous, unheard if successes in every sphere of science and culture. This could have happened only because the Soviet regime and our people treat and have always treated the valuable cadres of the intelligentsia with the utmost care, assisting them and creating every condition necessary for their creative development. Yet Pasternak maliciously slanders the Soviet regime and our heroic people, painting, to the joy of the Soviet Union’s enemies, a fictitious picture of the Russian intelligentsia’s ruin. Only a man completely alien to our way of life, a fragment of the pre-revolutionary past preserved alive, could so maliciously slander the Soviet intelligentsia!
Pasternak’s novel is a political lampoon, and a lampoon is not literature. You can din a brush in tar and daub a thick coat of it on a fence, but this is not art-tar is not paint and a tar brush is not an artist’s brush. Pasternak’s novel is reactionary journalism of a low order in the guise of a literary work. Narratives, novels and stories of this kind, having nothing in common with literature, were published in White ØmigrØ fiction 20 and 30 years ago. The White ØmigrØs have become extinct and their literature has totally evaporated and disappeared, but B. Pasternak, that “internal ØmigrØ” living in the Soviet Union, is repeating its last gasps. He has always shown off his “lyrical subtlety”; but here he has demonstrated crude vulgarity.
For some reason it seemed to Pasternak that his hour had struck, that at last the time had come when he could have revenge on Soviet society for the fact that in it he was like a ghost out of the past, a weed in the Soviet field. Evidently he succumbed to the vile infection that swept briefly through certain Musty corners of Soviet literature and revived the hopes of Philistines ensconced in its nooks and crannies. But Pasternak Was mistaken. In the autumn of 1956 the editors of the magazine Novyi mir flatly rejected his novel as being clearly anti-Soviet and anti-artistic and, in a letter to B. Pasternak published Oct. 25 in Literaturnaia gazeta, gave a detailed evaluation of this lampoon work. This was a warning to Pasternak.
He paid it no heed and sent his manuscript abroad, where it was published by people who have undertaken an active struggle against socialism using unscrupulous methods in so doing.
The novel was a sensational find for the reactionary bourgeois press. The most inveterate enemies of the Soviet Union, obscurantists of various kinds, instigators of a new world war and provocateurs championed the novel. They are trying to turn a seemingly literary event into a political scandal obviously aimed at aggravating international relations, adding fuel to the flame of the ‘cold war,” sowing hatred of the Soviet Union and blackening Soviet society. Drooling with delight, the anti-Soviet press proclaimed the novel the “best” work of the year, and the obsequious lackeys of the big bourgeoisie crowned Pasternak with the Nobel Prize.
What was it about this novel that so endeared it to enemies of the Soviet Union? Was it perhaps its literary merits?
No, Pasternak’s novel has no such merits, and this aspect was and is of least interest to the masters of the old world. Their true motives show in such statements as this one by the French news service France Presse: ‘the novel has shown the world the steadfastness of the Russian soul, its fundamental opposition to Marxism and attachment to Christian values.” Here is how the reactionary press evaluates Pasternak’s “literary’ merits: “His esthetic tastes and philosophic spiritualism grew as materialism spread all around him.”
Bourgeois reaction immediately pounced on the tendencies that penetrate Pasternak’s novel. These tendencies were correctly disclosed and sharply condemned by the editors of Novyi mir who, explaining their refusal to publish this anti-Marxist, anti-Soviet, anti-Communist lampoon, informed the author: “The spirit of your novel is a spirit of non-acceptance of the socialist revolution. The passion of your novel is the passion of assertion that the October Revolution, the Civil War and the ensuing social changes brought the people nothing but suffering, and that the Russian intelligentsia was destroyed, either physically or morally.”
Thus the reactionary bourgeoisie awarded the Nobel Prize not to Pasternak the poet, not to Pasternak the writer, but to Pasternak the lampooner who had blackened the socialist revolution and the Soviet people.
The overwhelming majority of those who now raise this indecent fuss had never known of Pasternak or read him, had never even heard his name, and had shown no interest in his outdated lyricism. They began to shout about him only in connection with his political lampoon. Some of them recognize that artistically, the novel is extremely weak, even if they do not frankly admit that it is devoid of talent. They attempt to conceal this, expatiating on Pasternak’s lyricism. This falsehood is present also in the decision awarding him the Nobel Prize. The authors of this decision do not dare to come right out and say that they are rewarding Pasternak with a juicy kiss precisely for the reactionary spirit of his novel. But this is not something you can hide. The Finnish right-wing paper Uusi Suomi frankly admits that Pasternak–“a hitherto unknown writer”–received the Nobel Prize not for the artistic merits of his works but for his political leaning.
This is quite in keeping with the policy of those who award the Nobel Prizes for literature. They have made awards to inveterate literary reactionaries, militant obscurantists, enemies of democracy, and advocates of war. Pasternak is now a member of this arch- reactionary fraternity.
In these circumstances this award, coming from enemies of the Soviet homeland, appears as an insult to any honorable, progressive man of letters, even though he be not a Communist or even a Soviet citizen, but simply a champion of honor and fairness, humanitarianism and peace. This insult should be all the sharper to a writer who is in the ranks of Soviet literature and enjoys all the advantages that the Soviet people generously place at the disposal of writers, expecting of them pure, ideological, noble works.
If there were but a spark of Soviet decency left in Pasternak, if a writer’s conscience and a feeling of responsibility to the people were alive in him, he too would refuse this “award,” degrading to him as a writer. But the inflated self-esteem of an offended and embittered bystander has left in Pasternak’s soul no trace of Soviet decency or patriotism. All of Pasternak’s actions confirm that in our socialist country, absorbed in the flush of building a glorious communist society, he is a weed.
Source: Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. X, No. 39 (1960), pp. 6-7.