A Few Decrees …

  • C. Vaughan James


We have seen in our previous chapters how Lénin related his own political viewpoint, embodied in a party bearing his own individual stamp, to the traditions of the nineteenth century Russian social democrats, and how the social role of art was to become, within the context of that party, a political role. The truly ‘popular’ artist was to further the cause of the masses by integrating his efforts in those of the Party as a whole, and this relationship was expressed in the principle of partiíinost’. Further light may be cast on the reason why the Party found it necessary to demand such unquestioning support if we take a more detailed look at the argument concerning culture in general during the early years of the Soviet era. In particular, a glance at some of the extra-artistic problems with which the Party had to cope, and the influence those problems exerted on its attitudes and consequent actions toward the arts, may serve to provide a more balanced picture than we might otherwise perceive. As a basis for our discussion we may take the Party’s own pronouncements, set against a background of the immediately post-revolutionary decade. This was the formative period during which the Party’s policy crystallised. The Soviet critics’ argument is that the policy developed logically and coherently to a point at which the formulation of the method became a natural culmination, and we shall attempt to investigate the evidence for such a claim.


Socialist Realism Central Committee National Minority Soviet Regime Party School 
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References and Notes

  1. 3.
    Leon Trótsky, Literature and Revolution (Ann Arbor Paperbacks, University of Michigan Press, 1960).Google Scholar
  2. 12.
    Quoted by G. Trélin, Léninskii lózung ‘Iskússtvo — naródu!’ i stanovléniye sovétskoi muzykál’ noi kul’túry (Moscow: Izd. ‘Múzyka’, 1970).Google Scholar
  3. 17.
    Quoted by Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Commissariat of Enlightenment (Cambridge University Press, 1971).Google Scholar
  4. 18.
    Lenin’s policy toward non-Russians is illustrated by the role allotted to national languages in this decree: ‘All the population of the Republic between the ages of 8 and 50 who are unable to read and write are required to take up study either in their native language, or in Russian, according to choice.’ Rather than attempting to suppress the national languages — ‘the kernel of national consciousness’ — he wished to enlist them as media for the propagation of Marxism. See V. I. Lenin, Questions of National Policy and Proletarian Internationalism (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1960).Google Scholar
  5. 20.
    For a very detailed account of the period see E. H. Carr, A History of Soviet Russia, 9 vols. (Macmillan, 1950–69) also available in a Penguin Books edition.Google Scholar
  6. 27.
    Lunachársky underlined Lénin’s capacity for ‘revolutionary-romantic’ vision combined with practical realism, recalling how Lénin had reprimanded him for objecting to the possible damage to historic buildings during the struggle with the Provisional Government in 1917: ‘How can you possibly attach such importance to some old building, however fine, when we are concerned with opening the doors to a social system able to create beauty immeasurably greater than could even have been dreamed of in the past?’ See I. M. Térekhov (ed.), A. V. Lunachársky. Statyí o sovétskoi literatúre (Moscow: ‘Prosveshchéniye’, 1971).Google Scholar
  7. 30.
    Krúpskaya related how Lénin refused to join the god-seeking activities of Bogdánov and Górky on Capri in 1905: ‘I cannot and will not have anything to do with people who have set out to propagate unity between scientific socialism and religion.’ In fact he did go to Capri but no reconciliation resulted. N. K. Krúpskaya, Memories of Lenin (Panther Books, 1970).Google Scholar
  8. 42.
    For a discussion of NEP see Alec Nove, An Economic History of the U.S.S.R. (Pelican Books. 1972).Google Scholar
  9. 46.
    For a discussion of the state of the Soviet cinema see George A. Huaco, The Sociology of Film Art (New York-London: Basic Books, Inc., 1965).Google Scholar
  10. See also Jay Leyda, Kino (Allen and Unwin, 1960);Google Scholar
  11. and V. Zhdan (ed.), Krátkaya istóriya sovétskogo kinó, 1917–67 (‘Iskússtvo’, 1969).Google Scholar
  12. 48.
    One factor complicating Soviet policy was that in national areas the industrial proletariat tended to consist of Russians, and the peasantry — of indigenous inhabitants. The usual worker/peasant rift therefore took on a national or even racial aspect. Moreover the number of literate nationals who were not actively anti-Soviet bourgeois was so small that local organs of government were almost always in the hands of Russians or Ukrainians. Hence the urgency of the education programme for nationals, coupled with a degree of centralisation sufficient to prevent the emergence of ‘bourgeois nationalism’. See Geoffrey Wheeler, Racial Problems in Soviet Muslim Asia (Oxford University Press, 1960).Google Scholar
  13. 58.
    See Moshe Lewin, Lenin’s Last Struggle (Faber & Faber, 1969; translated from French).Google Scholar
  14. 59.
    See, for example, R. M. Hankin, ‘Soviet Literary Controls’, in Continuity and Change in Russian and Soviet Thought, ed. E. J. Simmons (Harvard University Press, 1955).Google Scholar
  15. 66.
    For an exciting account of the Trótsky/Stálin confrontations see Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed (Oxford Paperbacks, 1970).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© C. Vaughan James 1973

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. Vaughan James
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SussexUK

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