THOSE INTENT on trying to gauge the sources of a state’s conduct quite properly devote primary attention to the political system, military forces, economy, sociological data, and relations with near and distant countries. I submit that cultural and intellectual life are of equal importance, whether the state be authoritarian or democratic. In an authoritarian system, literature and the arts, the mass media, and journals devoted to serious intellectual concerns all provide information of fundamental importance concerning the government’s goals, the direction it provides, its strengths and weaknesses, and its relations with all elements of society. Cultural and intellectual life constitutes a mirror of society and provides insight into the government’s foundations. It reveals to what degree the government and those who serve the government’s effort to direct and control society are successful. High culture, popular culture, and propaganda all serve to illuminate the strains and to identify the issues and elements that constitute problems for the government in its efforts to convert Soviet citizens to its point of view. Cultural life also reveals the degree to which the state reflects popular national goals, as well as the way in which it bends policies to attain the necessary degree of public support. Literature, the media, and the arts provide essential information concerning the level of political knowledge and understanding that various elements of society possess. They reveal the extent to which the government is successful in its efforts to isolate the population from the rest of the world and to restrict the impact of the outside world upon its citizens, especially the various elites. Even changing fads and fashions, particularly those rooted in tradition and/or in quasi-ideological values, are part of a related, cohesive process, not isolated developments.
In short, as scholars and practical politicians have always recog-nized, cultural and intellectual life serves as a barometer of a society’s health and as an indicator of the sources of a government’s conduct. The interrelationship of the two is particularly close in the USSR, but the ultimate primacy of politics is never in doubt. As Leszek Kolakowski, the Polish philosopher now living in the West, pointed out some years ago in his memorable essay, “What Is Socialism?” in pseudosocialist societies poets and generals say the same things, but generals always say them first. At the same time, literature and the arts often serve as trial balloons for new ideas, engendering debates in which significant divergences of views are allowed to surface, some of which are later enshrined in official party and state policy.
This chapter examines Soviet cultural and intellectual life and seeks to predict the directions it is likely to take for the remainder of this decade. I believe that the evidence suggests that the Soviet Union will be a politically conservative, nationalistic, and increasingly repressive society. The civilization this culture reflects would thus be inward-looking, permeated by nostalgia for the Russian past, the travail of World War II, and even the country’s early heroic revolutionary period. The virtual absence of goals such as those that once inspired the Soviet population and helped it endure hardships and sacrifices serves to intensify obsession with the past and to underscore a pervasive sense of vague dissatisfaction with the seemingly aimless present. All of these trends describe an immobile and aging society at once restless and insecure. The pattern reveals also the authorities’ desire to sustain a work ethic, a sense of Soviet patriotism, and a distrust of the outside world, even if this involves accepting a culture more concerned with problems of the individual than with social issues. Above all, this analysis describes a government torn between its determination to control thought and its decision to expand higher education and economic, scientific, and cultural relations with the West, which are necessary for continued economic and military growth. This conflict leads to some confusion and even bafflement as the government wrestles with a dilemma which Nicholas I and other Russian tsars encountered: it wants a fire that will not burn.
Even in rigidly authoritarian societies, intellectual, artistic, and cultural processes and production offer surprisingly significant resistance to politically inspired pressures and outright commands. Simultaneously, in an apparent paradox, they often anticipate these pressures, thus contributing to an ultimate uneasy accommodation. This pattern may help explain the stronger continuities that exist in the cultural sphere than in other areas of Soviet life. Modern Russian history provides some rather striking examples. Thus, revolutionary art and poetry antedated revolutionary political change. Indeed, they helped inspire the upheaval. The abdication of the last Romanov tsar in February 1917, the establishment in Russia of a democratic republic (“the freest country in the world,” Lenin called it without intended irony), as well as its destruction a few months later in a Communist coup d’etat, took place within a context in which revolutionary changes in literature, music, and painting were already an accomplished fact. Symbolist and Futurist Russian poetry, abstract canvases, daring new religious and philosophical treatises, and modernist music were created when monarchy still appeared stable.
Ironically, many of the rebellious cultural and intellectual figures left the country soon after the revolution, along with the political elite of the ancien regime and those who had sought a constitutional and democratic Russia. The new revolutionary rulers proved less tolerant of nonconformist culture than the staunchly conservative monarchs had been. Bolshevik appeals for a revolutionary culture proved little more than self-serving exhortations to shape an art and thought that would adorn their cause, promote it, and impart to it a degree of intellectual respectability and legitimacy. The responses of the political authorities to the demands of writers, painters, theatrical directors, film makers, and other members of the artistic intelligentsia were often unacceptable, creating tensions between political authorities and cultural figures that have persisted for over six decades. In some areas, such as independent philosophy or disciplines outside the pale of tolerated intellectual activity like theology, no accommodation was possible because of Communist doctrinal rigidity. Subsequently, the number of proscribed tendencies in the arts and the sciences multiplied. During Stalin’s last years, they included Freudian psychology and abstract painting, cybernetics and le nouveau roman, genetics and modernist music.
Stalin’s cultural gendarmes exacted outward obedience, but their effectiveness at producing genuine converts was not impressive. The fact that the first rebellious public stirrings in the artistic and cultural world followed Stalin’s death in March 1953 by only a few weeks suggests that subterranean cultural ferment had existed for some time. The dictator’s demise, a momentous event in Soviet history, did not engender these stirrings. It merely made possible their initial public expression of discontent, a phenomenon that ultimately affected all areas of intellectual, cultural, and artistic life. Once again in Russian history, Marxism was stood on its head. Its political component triggered and intensified upheavals in the intellectual, cultural, and artistic superstructure, with little apparent impact upon the largely immobile economic base.
Censorship and Propaganda
The Communists established censorship of the press and the performing arts within weeks of seizing power in 1917, and state ownership of the means of information and communication has remained a hallmark of the system. The party announced censorship as a temporary measure necessitated by the military dangers facing the young Soviet republic. Yet censorship continues to this day, even though the government denies its existence; one can find the censor’s number easily in nearly every Soviet book. In the early 1930s, Soviet authorities liquidated even censored private and cooperative publishing and established the monopoly of government-owned presses as a further means of tightening control of cultural expression. They also established several unions (of writers, painters, etc.) as supplemental instruments for implementing the party’s will. Each union wielded a monopoly in its area, and each exercised a degree of positive constructive control that went far beyond the negative tasks of censorship. The unions were to ensure that artists produced films and marching songs, novels and nursery rhymes, paintings and melo-dramas that would exhort, warn, inspire, and, above all, explain party directives.
All these institutions have survived with their functions essen-tially unchanged, although some bureaucratic reorganization has taken place, such as the post-Stalin establishment of a committee for publishing which has the status of an autonomous ministry. Because of their relative efficiency and familiarity these institutions appear destined to survive into the late 1980s and beyond. At the same time, “formal” censorship may become increasingly superfluous as the leadership of these creative organizations acquires ever greater political sophistication and ability to discern the proper ways to express current party objectives in the arts. As in Gogol’s Inspector General, the sergeant’s widow will, at long last, master the art of flogging herself without needing assistance from the authorities.
Decades of experience demonstrate that censorship and other control mechanisms prevent mass dissemination of cultural materials found objectionable, although some typescripts continue to circulate surreptitiously. Creation of desirable cultural products is far more problematic. It is easier to appoint a new staff for a government agency or even an entirely new cabinet to implement a new policy than it is to reeducate a country’s poets and artists. An authoritarian government can prevent the public appearance of undesirable works by its monopoly of publishing and by state ownership of all film studios, museums, galleries, theaters, and concert halls. It cannot, however, obtain new art and literature without relying upon the very individuals whose lives and thought it seeks to control.
The manufacture of propagandistic journalism, much as that of posters and placards, is simple, and their production is among the more efficient of otherwise sluggish Soviet industries. Moreover, the Soviets skillfully tailor such propaganda to the needs of various audiences, from the intelligentsia to peasants, in scores of languages. One often marvels at the speed, thoroughness, and even imagination with which Soviet foreign and domestic policy goals are translated into the language of journalism and scholarship, films and newspaper cartoons, television soap operas, and more subtle dramatic productions, all carefully orchestrated and catering to various educational, ethnic, and other special audiences.
Soviet propaganda and its oral variant, agitatsiia, are resilient, purposeful, and efficient. Every effort will undoubtedly be made to retain those qualities in the future. More problematic is the Soviet authorities’ continued ability to point to new goals capable of stirring the public’s imagination. Ideological stagnation, already much in evidence, offers no grounds for expectation of spectacular successes in that respect. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Soviet propaganda may come to resemble a magnificent sound technology that must make do with old-fashioned and dull musical compositions. Incidentally, this paucity of new official goals and ideas also argues for an intolerant attitude in the coming decade toward unofficial ideas, which would be doubly dangerous because they would easily fill an ideological vacuum.
High culture is another matter. The government may encourage it by a wide range of incentives, ranging from appeals to patriotic duty to financial benefits, but “the silence in Soviet culture” which Sir Isaiah Berlin noted a generation ago still prevails. Indeed, the many spectacular defections of musicians of the stature of Mstislav Rostropovich and ballet dancers such as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev bespeak a serious malaise in the Soviet arts that is likely to continue.
The Khrushchev Era
Thirty years have elapsed since Stalin’s death. In cultural life, one can divide that span into two periods. The first, which lasted for nearly a decade, was the heady time of great expectations that followed the dictator’s demise. The second, almost twice as long, was the era of Brezhnev’s rule. In the sphere of intellectual and artistic activity, the Khrushchev period began with a veritable explosion of long- suppressed grievances and proposals for reforms that followed in the wake of Khrushchev’s “secret” speech at the Twentieth Communist Party Congress in 1956. Understandably, the most pressing issues were voiced first, such as the self-evident need for honesty and sincerity in literature and the arts. Some of these were too sensitive politically to allow frank discussion, so the authorities developed an intricate code of euphemisms and circumlocutions for events, processes, and persons linked to the crimes of the Stalin era. Thus, Stalin’s tyranny became a “cult of personality,” crimes of the Stalin era were known as “violations of socialist legality,” and victims of Stalin’s terror whom the police had murdered were designated “illegally repressed.” It was fitting that the first post-Stalin decade ended shortly after the 1962 publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, with Khrushchev’s downfall in 1964 marking the closing of that relatively liberal era.
In retrospect, the achievements and limitations of those years appear in sharp focus. For the country’s intellectual life, the decade was above all one of great hopes. Even though many dreams were disappointed, the changes brought about were remarkable, particularly viewed against the gloomy background of oppressive immobility during the last years of Stalin’s rule. The reign of terror in science and the humanities was greatly relaxed. Some of the more blatant ideologically inspired falsifications of history were exposed or more or less openly challenged. Degrading genuflections to the infallibility of the current party leader’s pronouncements on subjects outside his political expertise ceased to be obligatory. Ludicrous claims to Russian primacy in a bewildering variety of human endeavors were moderated, as was the self-imposed Soviet isolation from Western art and thought.
The opening to the West ranked high among the changes Khrushchev made. The government allowed scholars to resume a modest degree of professional contact with Western colleagues, including foreign travel, and it accepted small numbers of Western scholars, especially in the humanities, for study in the Soviet Union. It also enabled European and American performing artists to visit the USSR. Muscovites enjoyed hearing foreign pianists, violinists, and symphony orchestras, and attending theatrical performances by the Old Vic and La Comédie Française. An American ensemble presented George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.
A major cultural event, one that proved of great long-term im-portance, was the establishment of a monthly journal, Inostrannaia literatura [Foreign Literature], which publishes in each issue some 250 densely printed pages of translated foreign writing, including ex cerpts and even complete (if slightly censored) texts of contemporary Western writing. Other literary journals began to publish similar fare. In addition to the venerable masterpieces and contemporary leftwing foreign authors printed during the Stalin era, hundreds of West European and American books, some recognized long ago in the West as literary classics, such as the works of Kafka, were published in the USSR for the first time. (On the other hand, the full text of Ulysses has yet to appear in Russian, the centennial of Joyce’s birth in 1982 notwithstanding.)
The more extreme forms of socialist realism, crudely propagan-distic poster-type painting and sculpture, went out of fashion, as did similar music, drama, and films. Above all, literature and literary criticism were allowed to resume their traditional roles, if only to a degree. The first reverted to portrayals of genuine human and social conflicts. The latter became once more an arena where intellectuals passionately debated real, not contrived, ideological issues.
We should remember that the publication of a book or the official release of a film does not indicate even today that either is within reach of the ordinary citizen. Alongside shortages of consumer goods and services, which produce shocking inequalities and privileges, a de facto rationing of the privilege of access to cultural products still exists. As the foremost Soviet comedian Arkadi Raikin, aptly noted, “We have everything—but not for everybody.” Many films, especially foreign ones, appear at restricted showings with admission by invitation only. Similarly, there exist rigidly hierarchical levels of access to library materials and to special library catalogues for a select elite of readers. Books of questionable ideological content, ostensibly published without overt restrictions, are printed in limited numbers, available only to those with access to special bookstores or, through foreign friends, to bookstores in the West. Naturally, such privileges are status symbols. A similar rationing system exists for information. The state makes available to a small elite of Soviet officials varying amounts of uncensored information in the so-called Red and White bulletins of TASS, the Soviet press agency.
The “liberalization” that ensued in Soviet arts and letters after Khrushchev’s speech in 1956 had limits, though the boundaries were never explicitly delineated. Thus, literary works were grudgingly allowed to depict social injustices (for instance impoverished peasants, as in Fedor Abramov’s fiction or in the sketches of Valentin Ovechkin), but only on the condition that the authors ascribe them to minor aberrations of the bureaucracy, and not to false basic Soviet values or defective institutions. Writers could depict or at least refer to mass arrests and to Stalin’s purges and condemn inhuman treatment of prisoners, provided these portrayals did not suggest that those responsible for such crimes be brought to justice. Outright falsifications of the historical record became rarer, but discreet silences and halftruths often replaced them. Still, progress—moderate progress perhaps, but progress nevertheless—occurred. Surely, the reasoning went, and hope kept it alive, more would follow in time.
The Brezhnev Years
The first post-Stalin decade had been, in retrospect, one of euphoria, social muckraking, and clamor for reforms within the limits of Soviet perceptions and institutions. Dashed hopes characterized the second. Obviously, those wielding political power felt that further relaxation of political vigilance in intellectual life threatened to challenge the party’s monopoly of authority. The transition to a less tolerant stance began with Khrushchev’s abusive outbursts at abstract painting and sculpture as well as politically unorthodox writing during his visit to an art exhibit in 1963. The tightening of restrictions intensified after his downfall the following year and marked by and large the end of hopes for liberalization in intellectual and artistic life. Disappointed writers, artists, historians, philosophers, and others who felt the need for freedom to express their perceptions suffered from this partial retreat to Stalinist practices.
By the end of the second post-Stalin decade, such liberalization as persisted benefited for the most part only books by Soviet writers long deceased and hitherto consigned to oblivion. Mikhail Bulgakov’s satirical novels were the foremost example, though even here the heavy hand of the Stalinist past continued to weigh. Some Bulgakov novels, such as Master and Margarita, appeared in censored form, and others not at all. Most important among the latter was The Heart of a Dog, a brilliant satirical parable on Communist attempts to create a New Soviet Man. Carefully selected anthologies of prose by long proscribed authors such as Boris Pilnyak and of poets such as Marina Tsvetaeva and Osip Mandelstam also appeared. Tsvetaeva and Man-delstam were not allowed to claim the place of honor to which talent entitled them; their verse was not memorized by school children, as was some traditionally Stalinist doggerel. The publication of writings by these leading twentieth-century Russian authors after decades of prohibition was a transparent gesture to mollify the disappointed liberal intelligentsia. That the authors affected included two who died in Stalin’s prisons, Pilnyak and Mandelstam, and another, Tsvetaeva, who committed suicide shortly after her return to the USSR from emigration, was heavy with ironic symbolism. The circumstances brought to mind a ditty from the early 1900s, when a few gestures of accommodation followed another period of high expectations: “Tsar Nicholas the Second/Proclaimed a Manifesto/The dead were granted freedom/The living were arrested” (Tsar’ Nikolai/Izdal manifest / Mertvym svobodu/Zhivykh pod arest).
In contrast to the Stalin era, warnings to the wayward to mend their ways usually preceded police intervention, and even arrests and exile were somewhat less inhuman. Still, the warnings offered a choice among three options, all variants of capitulation. The first was observance of the state’s rigid standards of ideological purity and absolute artistic conformity. The second was complete silence. The third, “writing for the drawer,” so to speak, rested on hope for a period when dangerous pages of seditious ideas or other subversive art and thought might appear. The modest publication of verse by such long silenced living poets as Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova was among the most exciting cultural events in the USSR and kept hope alive that such a period would one day come for other works that remained suppressed.
The majority of Soviet artists and thinkers resigned themselves to the inevitable. However, a few chose a new path: unauthorized circu-lation of their writings in crude typewritten form, illegal exhibits of canvases, and increasingly frequent smuggling of manuscripts for publication abroad. For the first time in Soviet history, rebellious writers and intellectuals turned defiantly to samizdat and tamizdat, “self-publishing” and “publishing out there,” that is, in the West.
Andrei Sinyavsky, whose arrest in 1965 and subsequent trial es-tablished the precedent of criminal prosecution for publishing one’s work abroad (which was not illegal), shrewdly noted that the existence of censorship in the USSR promoted, indeed assured, graphomania, since a rejected manuscript inevitably invited suspicions of political discrimination. Many samizdat publications were devoted to a variety of implicitly political causes. Foremost among these was The Chronicle of Current Events, a scrupulously dispassionate journal that recorded with admirable restraint and impartiality Soviet violations of human rights. The Chronicle was identified with the so-called Democratic Movement, of which the unofficial leader was Andrei Sakharov. The Political Diary, copies of which did not reach the West until it suspended publication, was liberal Marxist in orientation. The other end of the political spectrum was occupied by the journal Veche (the name of the People’s Assembly in medieval Russia), which served for a time as spokesman for a conservative and occasionally xenophobic variety of Great Russian nationalism.
As surrogate for a nonexistent free press, The Chronicle of Current Events understandably emphasized issues never mentioned in official Soviet media. One of the most important was systematic ethnic discrimination in the USSR, a charge always indignantly denied by Soviet spokesmen abroad. Another was the persistent harassment of religious believers, which was similarly refuted as a slanderous fabrication. Both were meticulously documented in The Chronicle, which carried the texts of signed petitions by representatives of the ag-grieved ethnic and religious groups. Let us first examine the latter case.
Officially, there is separation of church and state in the Soviet Union, and this might be assumed to imply the state’s nonintervention in religious matters. In the 1960s and 1970s, however, complaints multiplied from groups of religious believers—Pentecostals, dissident Baptists, Roman Catholics, Moslems, and even members of the Russian Orthodox Church. All of these groups were (and still are) subjected to systematic mistreatment by the militantly atheist Soviet state, some more than others and at different times with varying degrees of zeal. All were, and still are, outwardly resigned to the fact that no religious believer is allowed to occupy a position of any prominence in the USSR. Often driven to desperation by persistent discriminatory practices, the Soviet Union’s religious believers and clergy of all denominations are thus ironically restricted to seeking refuge in Lenin’s admonition that the antireligious struggle be waged with a degree of tact, lest crudely offensive tactics ultimately interfere with its effectiveness.
Since the days of the biblical prophets and the Kings of Israel, secular rulers have frequently clashed with religious leaders but have usually avoided mass persecution of the faithful. Curiously, the reverse now is true in the USSR. Since Stalin’s de facto concordat with the Russian Orthodox Church during World War II, the authorities have harassed the lower clergy and rank-and-file believers but have been quite solicitous of the welfare of the church leaders, the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church above all, but of other church hierarchies too. The Moslem hierarchy, for instance, maintains contacts with coreligionists abroad, as do the “official” Baptists. Thus, the Soviet Union exhibits a curious anomaly: several theological academies function, but not a single parochial or Sunday school provides religious instruction for children of any denomination.
The Soviet government has been quite successful in using reli-gious leaders for advancing Soviet policy objectives abroad through their participation in such bodies as the World Council of Churches and in the various “peace” drives, and through their steadfast denials of any antireligious persecutions or restrictions at home. Soviet propagandistic exploitation of American evangelist Billy Graham’s visit to Moscow in 1982 was a telling illustration of this tactic applied to a foreign religious leader.
The two ethnic groups whose complaints have gradually assumed a mass character since the 1960s are the Jews and the Moslem Crimean Tatars, both victims of Stalin’s ire. Stalin had the Crimean Tatars deported from their ancestral habitat during World War II, and they live in effect in a Soviet diaspora. After Stalin’s death, the Tatars demanded that they be allowed to return to their native Crimea. Their efforts were unsuccessful: Slavic settlers had in the meantime populated their territories.
The Jews, more precisely those who survived the Nazi Holocaust, were subjected after the war to vicious anti-Semitic persecutions, eu-phemistically called an “anti-cosmopolitan” campaign, and all their cultural and educational institutions were closed. Disappointed in the single concession obtained after the dictator’s death—publication of the Yiddish language literary monthly Sovetish heimland (which was allowed in order to please Soviet sympathizers in the West, as the Minister of Culture Yekaterina Furtseva admitted in a moment of candor)—the Soviet Jews demanded reestablishment of Yiddish cultural institutions and the right to be reunited with families separated during the war. The authorities’ failure to meet these modest demands gradually changed the direction of the Jews’ efforts. Prodded by official and popular anti-Semitism and further stimulated by such Jewish samizdat journals as Iskhod (the Russian term for Exodus) and Iton (Hebrew for newspaper), many Jews made emigration their goal. Observers in the West, including those who took an active part in efforts on behalf of Soviet Jews, were skeptical of the likelihood of any large-scale emigration: history offered no precedent. Yet, for a variety of reasons, such mass emigration did occur. During the 1970s and the early 1980s over a quarter of a million Jews were allowed to depart, all ostensibly for Israel, though in fact more than half reached the United States.
The government’s desire to rid the country of malcontents or potential political troublemakers no doubt was among the reasons for the decision to allow large-scale emigration. This policy was consonant with the overall posture of international goodwill, a consideration that also benefited tens of thousands of Volga Germans seeking “repatriation” to West Germany and Armenians wishing to join relatives in the United States. Because of the extremely high percentage of Jews or persons married to Jews in the Democratic Movement, the departure of tens of thousands of Jews enabled the authorities to cripple the Democratic Movement with little resort to police measures. In effect, the regime’s deportation of scores of nonJewish dissidents and nonconformist writers, artists, and thinkers, including even socially recalcitrant Russian Orthodox priests, reveals that it used emigration to weaken the dissident movement.
The emigres included many leading proponents of unorthodox ideas debated in the USSR during the first two post-Stalin decades, advocates of close intellectual and artistic ties to the West, and prac-titioners of experimentation in literature and the arts. The emigres, Jewish or not, included a large number of the “internationalist” intelligentsia. Their departure, which the regime probably thought would weaken and diffuse Zionism, may paradoxically in the long run exacerbate competing nationalisms among the various ethnic minorities and among the Russians themselves. Both the nationalisms of the ethnic minorities, which include a multiplicity of national movements, like the Turkic, Baltic, and others, and the vaguely pan-Slavic nationalism of the Russians are, in part, responses to each other. Each is likely to gain momentum in the competition. One need not subscribe in its entirety to the late Andrei Amalrik’s vision of their eventual clash in Will the Soviet Union Survive to 1984? (the year is practically upon us!) to anticipate that grave frictions between Russian and non-Russian nationalisms are all but inevitable.
The emigration of many believers notwithstanding, there is every reason to expect that religion will continue to attract large numbers of adherents, including Soviet-educated young men and women. Many factors lead to this, of which the chief are probably a sense of dissatis-faction with a Soviet ideal that no longer inspires and a quest for spiritual values. Thus, Russian Orthodox Christianity can be seen also as a dimension of the Slavic nationalism that will be ascendant through the coming decade. Roman Catholicism will no doubt continue as the Lithuanians’ national symbol of opposition to Russification, while Islam will serve as both a religion and a way of life for millions of non-Slavs. Judaism may persist among a handful of adherents, if only because it is the single tolerated form of Jewish expression in the atheist Soviet state. Some religious sects may serve similarly as a means of self-expression for some members of the most oppressed classes in a state that boasts of having abolished social inequality.
The large-scale Soviet emigration of the 1970s has provided im-mense benefits to the West as earlier immigrants have. At the same time, Soviet losses of men and women of talent have, to be sure, weakened the social protest movement there. Yet this emigration has also deprived the USSR of the originality and experimentalism, the “salt” that all societies require, especially in times of rapid social change further accelerated by technological advances.
The impact of the Soviet emigration of the 1970s, often referred to as the Third Emigration, on Soviet cultural and intellectual life of the early 1980s is already established. The flow of communication between these emigres and their relatives and friends in the Soviet Union has provided their native countrymen with information about the Western societies in which the emigres now live. This new source of information, in turn, has stimulated both the criticisms and the hopes of millions in the Soviet Union who now know someone who actually lives in the West. Western radio broadcasting into the Soviet Union, such as the Voice of America and Radio Liberty, has been able to disseminate this insight into the differences between the Soviet system and other societies to audiences increasingly receptive, because the information and judgments come from men and women deeply familiar with their lives and interests. Some of these emigres will of course carry on this work through their writings and other artistic productions, and a handful have helped significantly to improve the quality of Western radio broadcasts by joining one of the several services that provide knowledge to those the Soviet government tries to isolate within the USSR. Moreover, an ironic conse-quence of this emigration has been its influence on Western knowledge and understanding of the Soviet system, renewed and invigorated by this flood of highly educated men and women eager to describe the conditions under which they had lived and able to speed their message through relatives, friends, and Western media eager for new information about a country about which reliable information is difficult to obtain.
Russian Nationalism and Other Nationalisms
Russian nationalism received a visible stimulus in 1981, when Soviet scholars and journalists took advantage of the one hundredth anniversary of Dostoevsky’s death to recall his hostile comments about Roman Catholicism, the Papacy, Jews, and Poles. This celebration of Russia’s beleaguered status and virtues and of the Soviet Union’s role as herald of a universalist Marxist Soviet idea was also unavoidably an attack upon Western “cosmopolitan, anti-patriotic, and liberal poison.” The power of Russian nationalism is such that few historians and literary critics raised their voices against the shrill anti- Westernism and xenophobic patriotism of the campaign.
Two events will almost certainly have a strong impact on Soviet intellectual and cultural life in the next few years. The first is Brezhnev’s recent death. The transfer of power will almost certainly produce a reduced commitment to policies associated with the Brezhnev administration and consequently will lead to modifications in or even drastic departures from the status quo.
The second event is the millennium in 1988 of Russia’s conver-sion to Christianity, the importance of which transcends by far its purely religious aspect. Conversion to Byzantine Christianity marked the emergence of Eastern Slavs as an ethnic entity with an identity of their own, the beginning of an East Slavic culture symbolized by ac-quisition of an alphabet, and the Eastern Slavs’ accession to European culture through their new link to Byzantium. Given Soviet sensitivity to anniversaries, it is reasonable to expect that the government will not confine observances of that momentous act and the following one thousand years to the Russian Orthodox Church. Indeed, the jubilee will almost certainly turn into a nationwide celebration of Russia’s coming of age, marked on a grand scale in high and popular culture, in the issue of commemorative postage stamps, in scholarship and architectural monuments, in opera, in marching songs, and in art exhibits. In short, it will be a very important occasion. The nationalist flavor of the observances, with some inevitably religious overtones, will be accompanied by lip service to proletarian internationalism, Marxism-Leninism, and other traditional Soviet pieties. The citizenry, however, will almost certainly perceive this as little more than ritualistic etiquette.
A sort of dress rehearsal of the upcoming event occurred in 1980 on the occasion of the six hundredth anniversary of the battle of Kulikovo Field, which marked the beginning of the end to nearly three centuries of the Tatar and Mongol yoke. Observances of the Kulikovo anniversary had strong anti-Oriental and specifically antiChinese overtones. We can expect more of this in 1988. The millennium will no doubt become a “positive” celebration of vaguely perceived common Slavic virtues and achievements, in part because of the historical fact that it was Kievan Rus’ that was baptized in A.D.988. This would have the advantage of coopting some Ukrainians and Belorussians for the celebration.
Tensions between various nationalisms within the USSR are strong and are likely to become exacerbated. Moreover, all ethnic groups resent in varying degrees the preeminent role of the Great Russians, which is likely to become even greater with the passage of time. Nationalism in the Baltic republics of Lithuania and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, Latvia as well, is almost as intense as it is in parts of Eastern Europe, which is understandable: all three Baltic republics were independent states until 1940. Nationalism in the Ukraine, particularly in areas annexed from Poland in 1939, as well as in Georgia and in Armenia, is strong, albeit not quite so strong as in the Baltic. In the Ukraine, contacts with thousands of kinsmen in Canada and the United States intensify national feeling, as do similar ties between Armenians and the Armenian diaspora in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. Nationalism is strong among members of ethnic groups whom the Soviet authorities deported during World War II, such as the Volga Germans and the Crimean Tatars. Many Volga Germans have left for West Germany; the Tatars have not been so fortunate. It is important to remember that Central Asian nationalism is often synonymous with Islam, both as a religious faith and as a way of life. It is thus less noticeable, perhaps, but also more resilient because of the religious camouflage. The spectacular upsurge of Islam across the Soviet borders in the 1970s may act as a serious contributing factor, further enhancing this trend.
In all likelihood, Soviet authorities will concentrate upon trying to present Russian nationalism in terms acceptable to the bulk of assimilated urban Ukrainians and Belorussians, while they seek at the same time to combat manifestations of non-Slavic nationalism. The establishment will view minority religions with suspicion, in particular those without a hierarchy that can be manipulated and also those that unite Soviet believers with adherents of the same denominations outside the USSR, such as Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, and above all Jews. Indeed, Jewish emigration during the 1970s and early 1980s, far from “solving” the Soviet Union’s Jewish “problem,” has probably served to exacerbate it. The overwhelming majority of the over two million Soviet Jews who remain have friends and relatives abroad, and the government therefore regards them with ever greater distrust. Discrimination in employment and the drastic decline in the percentage of Jews admitted to universities in recent years bear this out. Islam is similarly a cause for grave concern because it serves as a potentially dangerous unifying force for scores of otherwise dissimilar ethnic groups scattered through the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the upper reaches of the Volga, many of whom share religious belief and some ethnic ties with awakening millions outside the Soviet Union.
The government tries to make the struggle against non-Russian nationalisms appear ideologically respectable by presenting it as a campaign directed at vestiges of Islamic and other religious “obscu-rantism.” It refers to Marx’s famous dictum about religion as an opiate of the people and just as inevitably does not refer to the fact that it cites Marx’s pronouncement out of context: Marx quite rightly observed that religion may be a pain-killer, a source of solace to the suffering masses. Perhaps this particular function of religion explains in part its surprising resilience in the militantly atheist Soviet state.
My predictions of heightened religious and ethnic frictions within a multinational Soviet society that pays lip service to ethnic equality are thoroughly relevant in the 1980s, when Cypriot Greeks and Turks, Iranians and Iraqis, Lebanese Christians and Lebanese Moslems, Arabs and Israelis, and even Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants fight viciously. A Soviet anecdote comes to mind: Leninist friendship of nations may be seen in practice when Latvians and Turkmen, Belorussians and Kirgiz, Azeris and Lithuanians, Russians and Tatars volunteer to help Georgians beat up Armenians.
The Vestiges of Marxism
Marxism-Leninism in the Soviet Union no longer is a vital source of belief or faith and no longer provides even effective ceremonies. Its empty slogans do not inspire and are not taken seriously within the USSR. Yet this traditional set of formulae and quotations has value, just as the leadership finds useful the continued existence of ecclesiastical hierarchies of various denominations. Its dogma is deeply imbedded in scholarship, and references to its postulates are as obligatory as invocations to the Muses once were in neoclassical odes and just as much a convention largely devoid of meaning. Marxism- Leninism imparts a sense of continuity and legitimacy and a form of respectability. It establishes a general framework through which the leaders view the world and therefore influences attitudes toward foreign policy. It enhances the regime’s stability. It justifies many of its practices, if only because the corpus of Marxist-Leninist patristic writings is so vast and varied that knowledgeable and skilled polemicists can easily find appropriate chapter and verse for any argument or policy.
This ideological scholasticism permits Soviet propagandists to designate armed conflicts of its choice as just wars of national liberation, while branding as unjust those it disapproves: Argentina’s unsuccessful attempt to seize the Falkland Islands was treated as a war of national liberation. It allows the government and its agents to denounce non-Soviet colonialism, while defending the proposition that its analogous practices are just and progressive. It enables it to differentiate between the old Russian Empire, which Lenin called “a prisonhouse of nations,” and the Soviet successor state, which the old Stalinist anthem described as an “inviolable union of free republics rallied forever around great Rus’.”
Finally, Marxism-Leninism enables the USSR to claim unquestioned loyalty and doctrinal obedience from the international Communist movement and to reject with protestations of injured innocence insinuations that the movement advances Soviet national interests, positions of visibly decreasing effect upon once blind supporters of all Soviet policies. Indeed, a formula may be devised: Marxist-Leninist incantations are most useful where simple Russian “National Bolshevik” slogans might be most harmful. The leaders emphasize nationalism when appealing to patriotic sentiments of the country’s Russian, or, in its expanded sense, Slavic population. They use Marxism-Leninism in warding off charges that the USSR is a modern variant of the old Russian Empire pursuing narrow and selfish imperial aims at the expense of non-Slavs both at home and abroad. In short, they use the doctrine to support any current Soviet policies, without affecting these policies. One may expect that in the ensuing decade Soviet artistic, cultural, and intellectual production aimed primarily for export will continue to avoid emphasis on patriotic Russian themes, seeking out instead Marxist “internationalist” motifs of ethnic equality or economic and social justice.
Conversely, when domestic audiences are the consumers of such cultural productions, the government will emphasize Russian nationalism, though not to the extent that non-Russian Soviet audiences might consider it offensive. Wolfgang Kasack’s highly informative annual surveys of translations of recent Soviet writing that appear in West Germany demonstrate that Soviet publishing agencies do not promote the dissemination in West Germany of Soviet novels with wartime settings, because often such works not only are celebrations of Russian nationalism strongly permeated with anti-Nazism, but also are crudely anti-German. On the other hand, many novels of that kind appear in translation in other languages, particularly in East Europe. Occasionally, such considerations extend even to classics of Russian literature. Thus, Nikolai Gogol’s Taras Bulba, a paean to the bravery of seventeenth-century Ukrainian Cossacks, has not been translated into Polish because of its strongly anti-Polish flavor. Russian nationalist motifs are rarely found in prose and verse printed in the Ukrainian monthly Dnipro, the Belorussian Neman, or even in Russian-language journals that appear in the non-Russian republics, such as Literatumaia Gruziia or Literaturnaia Armeniia. Some journals with a national circulation, such as Molodaia gvardiia and Oktiabr’, print much material with a pronounced Russian nationalist flavor; others, such as Yunost’ and Novy mir, feature little. Provincial literary publications printed within the Russian Federation, such as Don or Sibirskie ogni, all possess Russian nationalist features. These journals are intended almost exclusively for Russian local readership, and appeals to Russian nationalist sentiments are likely to strike a responsive chord.
Facets of Cultural and Intellectual Life
In the USSR the dictum that history is current politics extended into the past also encompasses historical fiction, drama, and all literary criticism, although such uses of the latter antedate the Soviet regime. With freedom of expression severely restricted, Soviet historians, writers, and literary critics have developed over the years an intricate system of allusions and code words understood at least in part by educated readers, thus making it possible, with the connivance of the authorities, to discuss surreptitiously a wide variety of issues one cannot raise openly because of their politically sensitive nature. Thus, behind the façade of optimism and unanimity, observers voice concerns and fight polemical battles that explain and sometimes also affect government policy. Hidden by long-accepted custom from the public view, such debates are tolerated, within limits, on the condition that decencies of Aesopian language be observed. Thus, Stalin’s cruel rule was justified as necessary and beneficial in the long run by suggesting parallels with Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible.
Occasionally, some discussions of this type suggest rather star-tling ideas. Thus, a literary critic in the third issue of Literaturnoe obozrenie in 1977 referred to the “idiocy of urban life,” thus literally contradicting Marx. These often heated exchanges may be quite invisible to a foreigner’s untrained eye. A foreigner may not readily detect in an otherwise unremarkable historical treatise or literary essay departures from conventional formulae, omissions of otherwise all but obligatory slogans, or references to persons and historical events that have specific associations for Soviets.
I expect such practices to endure. Soviet historians, writers and literary critics are likely to continue the necessarily inconclusive debate about Russia’s unique destiny as a nation at once European and Asian. That polemic, rooted in Peter the Great’s momentous eighteenth-century reforms that ultimately transformed a backward state into a European power, is the most central and chronologically the longest single controversy in Russian history. Waged in the nineteenth century by Slavophiles and Westernizers, the debate transcends history, for its present implications are both immediate and real: the legitimacy of the Soviet Union’s credentials as a member of the Western community of nations and the compatibility of that membership with its simultaneous claim to status as friend and protector of the Third World are ultimately at stake. As in the past, the debate will ostensibly be confined to such esoteric problems as the Tatar and Mongol invasions centuries ago, or French influences on Russian verse, or the ruinous impact of indiscriminate industrialization in present-day America. That, however, is not likely to deceive experienced Soviet readers, who can decipher that the real issues are Sino- Soviet relations, Eurocommunism, and destruction of traditional Russian villages and village churches in Siberia by bulldozers clearing the taiga for new factories. Historical writing may also reflect political moods in straightforward ways. Thus, Russian nationalist moods may lift a number of long-standing taboos, allowing, for instance, discussion of such subjects as the reign of Nicholas II, Russian nationalist and religious movements of the turn of the century, and such monarchist statesmen as Pyotr Stolypin.
With a number of exceptions, the Slavophiles in nineteenth- century Russia tended to be political conservatives, while most West-erners were liberal in orientation. Most indications are that political conservatives will predominate in the 1980s. That in turn implies a general tendency toward cultural isolationism from the West. Whatever the explanations ultimately advanced, and some, such as perennial shortages of hard currency may be plausible, the two central components of National Bolshevism, nationalism and political conservatism and consequent fear of foreign influences, are likely to be the decisive reasons for the decline in cultural relations. As the experience of the post-Stalin decade has amply demonstrated, the large- scale influx of Western literature, cinema, and even technology (to say nothing of overtly ideological works in the social sciences) inevitably results in a gradual erosion of traditional Soviet values and corresponding inroads by alien “bourgeois” ideas. At the very least, Western books promote skepticism with regard to hitherto accepted articles of Marxist Soviet faith and hence prepare the soil from which weeds of heresy may soon spring. Hence the prudent desire of the Soviet authorities to minimize the penetration into the USSR of potentially dangerous cultural imports from the West, and a preference for relative cultural isolationism. Since an atmosphere of nationalism and conservatism is not likely to engender writing and other artistic production that Western audiences would find attractive, the declining relationship would also result from a mutual waning of interest.
The Soviet public’s unflagging demand for Western books, films, and other material will have little influence on this. Even now Soviet spokesmen regularly complain about an alleged “lack of reciprocity” in cultural “traffic,” pointing to large sales of translated Western books in the USSR and the modest success of Soviet books in the West. Allowing for Western publication of Russian authors the Soviets find objectionable, such as Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn, the argument has little merit, but that is another matter. Soviet statistics regularly compare data on all American books, from James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain, and Jack London to the present, with figures only on the U.S. publication of post-revolutionary authors, hence excluding Gogol and Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov. Ideologically and artistically objectionable cultural imports would, of course, be a major casualty, but it is unlikely that such policies would significantly affect such staples as regular republication of Western classics, theat rical performances of old masterpieces of Western drama, or the already established musical repertory. Newer cultural imports may once again be generally restricted to works by foreign comrades, friends, and ideologically kindred spirits, their contents suggesting that life may be hard in the USSR, but that it is far preferable to the horrors of capitalism. Since such conclusions clash with information other sources provide on the West, the state will increase efforts to emphasize the alleged moral and psychological squalor of life in capitalist Europe and America and, above all, the absence of prospects for improvement.
Restrictions on contacts with the non-Soviet world, the flow of information by print and by radio, and the availability of Western cultural materials (even those from Eastern Europe are likely to be suspect) are nearly certain to engender a feeling of deprivation among the intelligentsia and the young. Technological progress, to be sure, may make these restrictions more difficult to enforce, but the Soviet authorities will exert necessary efforts to achieve their aims. Such feelings of deprivation in turn may encourage reliance on unsanctioned sources of news and entertainment. The black market in foreign books and periodicals, including those in the Russian language, will probably remain of marginal importance in Moscow, Leningrad, and two or three other cities. There is little likelihood of its significant expansion because of the risks involved.
Education and Science
Education is a baffling subject for a student of any society, including one’s own, and otherwise intelligent observers probably write more nonsense about higher education, its weaknesses and strengths, than about any other subject except perhaps that of military capabilities. Measuring the quality of a single educational institution is difficult enough; determining that of a country, even one with an educational system as standardized as that of the Soviet Union, is even more so.
The Soviet leaders from the beginning have devoted much atten-tion to education at every level, in part because they consider education, science, and technology keys to the Soviet future, and in part because they have an obsession with control. They seek dominance over every aspect of life and are especially fearful of information and ideas.
The Soviet Union has clearly made considerable progress in edu-cation since 1917, building on the small foundation of high quality research and instruction in some fields, especially in the natural and physical sciences and in the arts, and on the broad primary and secondary educational system the tsarist government had begun to build especially after 1905. Soviet achievements in some of the sciences have been impressive, and the emphasis upon fundamentals and upon orderly work throughout the educational system has earned praise from foreign observers. However, Soviet education is handicapped by restrictions on freedom, the lifeblood of research and instruction in any educational system. It suffers greatly from a form of cultural isolation much deeper than that of Western countries, an isolation especially damaging at a time of lively change and growth in every field of study. Education receives inadequate financial support from an economy which cannot meet the demands of the military and other requirements. Finally, Soviet higher education provides narrow training at every level, at a time when the walls between disciplines of study have collapsed.
The percentage of GNP the United States devotes to education is about a third higher than that of the Soviet Union. The percentage of Americans who graduate from high school is about twice that in the Soviet Union, and about twice as many Americans attend college as do Soviets.
Science is especially valued in the USSR, as it was in Russia. Seventy-five percent of all Soviet graduate students are in science and engineering (though this includes also low-level technicians), compared to 20 percent in the United States. The Soviet Union has about three times as many engineers and technicians, and twice as many graduates in physics, the life sciences, and mathematics as the United States, although once more the often inferior quality of many must be borne in mind.
To education (and to science in particular) freedom of inquiry is of paramount importance. One of Khrushchev’s most significant changes, one which Soviet citizens and Western observers thought symbolic, effected the relaxation of controls over science. With the passage of time, it has become increasingly clear that purely pragmatic and practical considerations inspired these changes rather than a governmental decision to embrace the principle of academic freedom. Thus, in biology, the government abandoned the Stalinist aberration of Lysenkoism in favor of Western-style genetics, because the former had contributed to the Soviet Union’s disastrous performance in agriculture. Similarly, cybernetics, a “pseudoscience” in Stalin’s time, received ideological clearance because the leaders thought it conducive to overcoming technological backwardness. Soviet scientists, in short, benefited from the party’s rational decision to grant them greater freedom from ideological interference so that they could function more efficiently. (For analogous reasons, not only are scientists given greater creature comforts than ordinary Soviets, but they are also allowed to indulge their tastes in Western music, abstract painting, and, by Soviet standards, even daringly erotic films.) By contrast, scholarship in the humanities and the social sciences remains heavily politicized, though much less so than during the Stalin era.
Yet even the relaxation of interference in science, while impres-sive under Soviet conditions, has not implied that the exact and natural sciences could hope for its disappearance. Soviet universities continue to train narrow specialists, men and women who are competent and sometimes brilliant in their fields. At the same time, concepts of a liberal education, of critical, independent thought, of a healthy distrust of authority and of conventional wisdom remain alien to Soviet higher education. Indeed, the rulers view these not merely with distrust, but with hostility. Soviet school children are taught facts and respect for authority: Moscow found Sesame Street, an otherwise admirable American television series for preschoolers, unacceptable because its boisterous and rather independently minded boys and girls set a bad example for their Soviet counterparts.
Advanced training at the university level and beyond is, in a way, a logical extension of earlier schooling. It aims at professional excellence but does not encourage independence, originality, or least of all, interest in problems outside the scientist’s direct and immediate professional concerns. Soviet scientists are not expected to show interest in the social, moral, and political implications of their work. In fact, the party rarely presses scientists to become even nominal party members, except those aspiring to administrative positions.
The party’s desire to stifle potentially dangerous moral and polit-ical concerns among scientists is tellingly illustrated by the fact that those with access to the American journal Science receive copies with some articles removed and their titles erased from the table of contents. The objectionable materials are essays discussing the scientist’s social and moral responsibilities for the uses to which his work may be put. Soviet authors who tried to treat such subjects—such as Daniil Granin and the brothers Strugatsky, the latter the country’s foremost authors of science fiction—have submitted to severe pressures and abandoned their attempts. By contrast, Soviet publishers disseminate translations of analogous writings by such Western novelists as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and the late Mitchell Wilson, who discuss such moral problems and dilemmas in capitalist conditions.
The spirit of critical inquiry mandatory in scientific work also influences, if only to a limited extent, the scientific elite’s thought processes. Evidence abounds that Soviet authorities cannot simultaneously promote scientific contacts with the West and rigidly restrict them to purely technical matters. Some social exchanges ensue, and some nonscientific discussions occur. As is frequently the case in other areas of life, the East Europeans, with stronger traditional ties to the West, often act as catalysts and intermediaries. Western influences reach Soviet scientists as a result of improved communications and access to efficient copying equipment. On a number of occasions American and West European scientists have succeeded in holding unauthorized seminars in the apartments of Soviet scientists barred from laboratories for political reasons. One heroic example towers above all and suggests the fundamental problem science and intellectual life in general pose for the regime. Andrei Sakharov, considered the father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, is in exile in the provinces, the symbol of embattled democratic dissent. His followers are not many, and only a handful may replace them in the next generation. Still, they demonstrate that the acquisition of Western scientific and technological know-how entails some risk of contamination by Western ideas and values, such as independence of thought, pluralism, and tolerance.
The potential threat posed by an alert and politically inquisitive scientific and technical intelligentsia is a problem of the future. Since the early 1960s, however, a domestic strain of another virus has appeared as a clear and present danger among the urban, more affluent, and better educated young. Newspapers report incidents involving not merely old-fashioned drunks, a familiar fixture of the Soviet and pre-Soviet Russian landscape, but long-haired youths clad in foreign jeans, similar to American and Western European hippies. Their partiality both to the English language and to loud rock music is a cause for concern, largely because it reflects frustration, alienation, and even individualism. More ominously, some official observers note that adherents of such fads occasionally express admiration for a supranational youth culture that expresses contempt for all adult values and establishments and defiantly proclaims the slogan of not trusting anyone over the age of thirty, a motto that hardly appeals to the ruling gerontocracy. The government has not been able to control this phenomenon and wavers between attacking it as ideologically subversive and trying to tame it by declaring Soviet modifications of Western fashions respectable.
The Mass Media
The mass media are the general press, radio, and television. As the lowest common denominators among purveyors of information and commentary, which Soviet media routinely blend into a single whole so that separating facts from editorials is a hopeless task, these offer only a modest amount of the former and a simplistic variety of the latter. Precisely because of their simplicity and national circulation, commentaries cum news found in the mass media represent the official views of the Soviet leadership. Careful scrutiny of these sources for their bland contents, omissions, and intentional promi-nence or, conversely, for their inconspicuous manner of presentation, yields much information concealed from an inexperienced observer, because clichés and jargon ingeniously obscure them. Nearly every Soviet newspaper reader, radio listener, or television viewer possesses a modest degree of such skills. Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward provides a good literary portrayal, showing a party bureaucrat in his hospital bed scrutinizing an issue of Pravda for hints of policy shifts after Stalin’s death. Another fine illustration of this use of the press is provided by an anecdote. An old woman stops every day at a Moscow newsstand, looks at the headline in the newspaper, and walks away. Finally, the news vendor inquires what it is that she seeks. “An obituary,” says the old lady. “But don’t you know that obituaries are always printed on the last page?” The old woman replies, “The one I am looking for will be on the front page.” The story is an old one told during the Stalin era. It has not lost validity.
In 1980, about 85 percent of all Soviet families had access to a total of 64 million sets, and more than 70 percent of the adult population viewed television primarily as a means of entertainment. These statistics impart considerable importance to the contents of Soviet television programs. Both radio and television are ponderous and heavily didactic. Even mild controversy is rare and discussions are amplifications of information rather than clashes of opinion. According to Genrikh Gabai, a Soviet film specialist now in the United States, one reason for Soviet television’s stricter political orthodoxy, compared, for instance, with the cinema is its higher degree of centralization. Another likely reason is the medium’s general accessibility. Closed circuit television exists in the USSR, but there is no cable television. Unlike films, which can be shown to selected audiences, television programs are presumably accessible to all owners of television sets in a given area.
Social criticism in Soviet television is and no doubt will remain tame, much like “The Wick,” a series of mildly satirical twenty-minute shows popular during the 1970s. This series featured exposés of mal-functions in services, shopping, and the bureaucracy, always making sure that these did not reflect on the system as a whole or on Soviet values. Such fare allows for letting off steam which might otherwise generate “unhealthy” social commentary. According to Gabai, the policy that “The Wick” followed, announced repeatedly by the show’s producer, the loyal satirical poet Sergei Mikhalkov, was to describe isolated incidents and avoid at all costs any generalization.
Entertainment offered on Soviet television tends to the soap opera and offers viewers an opportunity to see on the screen, day after day, stories about the consequences of alcoholism, messy divorces and their impact upon children, and so forth. This type of pseudosocial commentary may become more common because it fills a genuine need without involving social costs. Indeed, in the hands of experienced writers and directors the soap opera may offer opportunities for sound “educational” activity.
As in the United States, television in the Soviet Union shows older films, many of which depict World War II. The latter not only portray the nation’s travail and heroism but also extol martial virtues and exude a militaristic brand of patriotism that often smacks of xenophobia. In fact, I know of no pacifist films or antiwar expressions in any Soviet art forms. I expect that treatments of war will continue to occupy a prominent place in television programming, as will such fare as Yulian Semenov’s serial Seventeen Moments of Spring, which in the 1970s related the heroic adventures of a Soviet secret agent abroad.
The similarities between Soviet television and the cinema are numerous and often obvious. For instance, films are shown on television without changes. Many motion pictures released in recent years for mass circulation resemble television programming. Falling in this category, for instance, are Alexander Allov’s and Vladimir Naumov’s inspirational patriotic films and Teheran 1943, a motion picture glorifying Soviet counterintelligence for foiling an alleged assassination plot aimed at Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at their wartime meeting.
Some recent films are genuinely entertaining, like Emil Braginsky’s and Eldar Ryazanov’s The Garage, which depicted intrigues and minor violations of the law when a group of affluent citizens decided to build a cooperative shelter for their privately owned cars. Another attractive motion picture of the late 1970s was Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, which was favorably reviewed in the United States, notwithstanding its sentimentality and its theme, which would certainly have been roundly denounced in an American film as offensive sexism: women, even otherwise successful, can find fulfillment only in marriage; to attract a man, a woman must defer to him and generally make him feel superior. Sentimentality is common in Soviet films dealing with love. Ilya Maslin’s Love and Lies, which reached these shores in 1982, is blatantly sentimental. Still, Soviet spectators find them preferable to obviously contrived and openly propagandistic films, such as Alexander Gelman’s The Prize, in which upright Soviet workers refuse to accept extra pay because they believe it is unde served. In an atmosphere of ideological conservatism with strongly nationalistic overtones, such films would doubtlessly be pushed by the authorities.
More problematic is the future of films such as those that pro-voked controversy in the recent past. It is unlikely, for instance, that Sergei Bondarchuk’s Peace unto Him Who Enters, a film charged with engendering pacifist moods, would be shown if revived at all. Its director’s unblemished political past may have been one reason why the film was not banned outright. The late Vasili Shukshin’s The Red Guelder Rose (1974), by contrast, may receive a tentative stamp of approval because of its clear Russian nationalist flavor, despite its strong note of social criticism. Indeed, Shukshin’s model may be emulated in years to come. At worst, films of that type may be cleared at first for restricted showings, and later for wider distribution. Their outright prohibition is unlikely.
The fate of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev supports this hypothesis. Completed in 1966, this film, probably the most important produced since Stalin’s death, has been shown in the USSR with moderate frequency since the early 1970s but was strictly an export commodity before that. The vicissitudes in the picture’s fate reflect recent developments in ideological priorities. In the mid-1960s, its portrayal of Russia’s great medieval icon painter was unacceptable because the heroic Rublev invited a degree of respect, if not admiration, for religion. Ten years later, that objectionable trait of the film was considered less important than its redeeming value as a paean to Russian nationalism.
The lesson of Andrei Rublev becomes clear if one considers its fate in conjunction with that of another hauntingly beautiful motion picture completed at about the same time and that shared in its destiny for several years. Like Andrei Rublev, Sergei Paradzhanov’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors was shown abroad, but it has not appeared in the USSR, primarily because of its strong mood of Ukrainian nationalism, of which the government disapproves.
Elem Klimov’s Agony, a film about Rasputin, the religious charlatan whose influence on Nicholas II was great, remains proscribed, apparently because of its sympathetic treatment of the last tsar. However, the film’s director may simply have overestimated the rapidity with which the nationalist trend would become so acceptable that one might portray in a positive light the Russian monarch whom a Com-munist firing squad executed.
It is also likely that the happy resolution of initial difficulties for Andrei Rublev encouraged its creator to produce in 1977 another film with strong religious overtones. Indeed, the early career of The Mirror parallels that of Rublev. It has elicited high praise abroad, in France in particular, while in the USSR The Mirror is, so far, restricted in availability. The Mirror may become acceptable in spite of its religious elements and motifs of social protest. If so, the film’s eventual “security clearance” will derive in part from its clever pandering to the currently fashionable anti-Chinese bias: a reference to Pushkin’s letter to Chaadayev about Russia’s role as protector of Christian civilization precedes closeups of stern Soviet soldiers guarding the Sino- Soviet frontier. The white Russians are barring the way to frenzied Chinese carrying countless portraits and statues of Chairman Mao.
Anti-Chinese motifs are prominent also in Dersu-Uzala, another film made in the 1970s, based on a minor turn-of-the-century Russian novel. The hero is an officer in the Imperial Russian army engaged in preparing maps of hitherto unexplored areas of the eastern Siberian wilderness. The officer’s faithful comrade, whom he treats with both affection and condescension, is an aborigine hunter. The primitive Siberian reciprocates the affection and treats the officer with admiration and respect, in part because the Russians protect the natives from the cruel Chinese, whose atrocities the film shows in graphic detail. Dersu-Uzala reminds a Western spectator of Rudyard Kipling and the doctrine of the “white man’s burden.”
Classics of Russian literature are probably the most important single inspiration for the Soviet cinema of the past decade. These include Sergei Bondarchuk’s twelve-hour film of Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1963-67); Lev Kulidzhanov’s version of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1970); Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky’s adaptation of Turgenev’s A Net of Gentlefolk (1969); and two creations of Nikita Mikhalkov—a screen version of Goncharov’s Oblomov (1980) and a film based on several tales by Chekhov, An Unfinished Piece for a Player Piano (1977). (The title of the latter was probably inspired by Kurt Vonnegut, whose work is widely published in the USSR, albeit in heavily censored form.)
Film versions of classics are highly popular with Soviet moviegoers, and a number have earned high praise and substantial royalties abroad. Many directors, therefore, are eager to produce more. Since such motion pictures also feature loving portrayals of the Russian countryside, old Russian churches, customs, costumes, dances and songs, they evoke moods of patriotic nostalgia. Yet, however attractive such films may be esthetically, however favored by the public and acceptable to the Soviet establishment, emphasis on their production may not be healthy. A robust culture combines respect for and interest in art of the past with an ability to reflect and respond directly to issues that agitate its contemporaries. Undue preoccupation with literature of a bygone era at the expense of modern writing, reflected in the enormous interest in Russian classical literature in Stalin’s time, bespeaks also cultural stagnation and fear. In short, museums are not only repositories of old art. When they begin to dominate society’s culture, when they overshadow galleries of con-temporary art, they may also serve as a refuge from the present. The warning sounded only four years after the Communist revolution by Yevgeni Zamyatin, author of the novel We, which anticipated Orwell’s 1984, remains valid today and is applicable to all artistic and intellectual creation:
I am afraid that we won’t have real literature as long as Russia’s citizenry is viewed as a child whose innocence must be protected. I am afraid that we won’t have real literature until we recover from a new variety of Catholicism that fears every word of heresy in no lesser measure than the old. And should this affliction prove incurable, I am afraid that Russian literature has but one future—her past.
While conceding the wider appeal and potentially larger audi-ences of Soviet television and the cinema, one must not underestimate the impact of modern literature. Ten years ago, the Writers’ Union numbered 7,280 members, who wrote in the sixty-four languages spoken in the USSR; literary periodicals were published then in forty- five languages. Some of the approximately ten major Russian literary monthlies have press runs of half a million copies, while one series of paperbacks, Roman gazeta, occasionally prints three million copies of a volume. Thus, the potential impact of new writing is great.
At the same time, while the government closely supervises literature at all stages and also subjects it to formal censorship, it never-theless allows it considerably wider ideological latitude than other art forms and types of intellectual expression. For that reason, foreign correspondents stationed in Moscow learn to observe the literary scene closely for clues of developments that may later affect other areas of life.
Literature also serves as a transmission belt to ordinary citizens for policy decisions the authorities have made. Prose, drama, and, to a lesser extent, verse thus “translate” the abstractions in formal speeches and resolutions into concrete examples for emulation or warning. On occasion, imaginative writing can thus directly or indirectly suggest implications of current priorities for day-to-day informal situations. In a manner of speaking, contemporary writing refines values, moods, apprehensions, and aspirations out of party directives and slogans.
This writer, chastened and exhausted by reading tens of thousands of pages of Soviet literary productions of the late 1970s and early 1980s—works of unequal artistic merit ranging from distin-guished writing to middlebrow and to ordinary potboilers—wishes to record that vintage Soviet Socialist Realism is alive, even if not always well, though its health has shown remarkable improvement in recent years.
Traditionally, literature in Russia has been a carrier of ideas with social implications, with the most notable exception the Symbolist era at the turn of the century. Because of the state’s ultimate control over publishing and other sources of a writer’s livelihood (even Pushkin declared, “I write for myself, but I publish for money”), pressures are strong. Much new Soviet writing disseminates ideas the state finds desirable. Gifted and sophisticated authors do this with subtlety and tend to advance general values and goals. Hacks do it crudely and endorse specific and immediate objectives. At the same time, obviously, literature and other art forms are effective only when they find acceptance. For that reason, Soviet fiction, poetry, and drama reflect also their readers’ personal concerns, values, and aspirations. In short, a Soviet author attempts to strike a balance between desires of the state and those of the public. A complete disregard for either is impossible.
“Liberal” periods do occur in which the state is not severe in enforcing its programs. In periods of “freeze,” the state’s insistence on its goals is so strict that it ignores the public’s desires. This posture is self-defeating, because the public possesses a weapon that it can and does use to retaliate: It simply ignores such writing, thus robbing it of all didactic effectiveness. The latter consideration, often ignored during the Stalin era, when contact with such “opportunistic” considerations did not “soil” ideological firmness, now receives careful attention. The tug-of-war one often witnessed in literary periodicals is usually disagreement over the degree to which writing can be politicized, in the broad sense of the term, without endangering its literary integrity and viability. Liberal opponents believe that conservatives tend to overestimate that degree. The liberals, conservatives charge, so underestimate it that they lose sight of the fact that it is not “bourgeois” writing that is at issue, but Soviet writing, and Soviet writing should be different. So it goes, with the debate showing little prospect of abating.
One interesting feature of intellectual and cultural life in recent years has been the proliferation of journals that serve the needs of specialized groups of readers. While satisfying such legitimate interests, journals of this kind offer another advantage to monopolistic publishers. They provide an opportunity for publication on a very restricted scale of materials and views that the authorities do not wish to ban outright but also prefer not to disseminate widely. Though bearing the obligatory number of the censor who authorized their publication, as well as the dates of preliminary and final clearance, the press runs of such materials indicate that they are intended for restricted circulation only. A variety of photo-offset journals and books that provincial universities publish falls into this category. The group also includes scholarly publications that largely, in some cases completely, eschew politics, such as structuralist literary analyses by adherents of the so-called Tartu school, of which Yuri Lotman is the best known exponent. Given the number of university libraries in the USSR and the quantities of each printing destined for foreign readers, such publications are, in effect, “authorized” samizdat, and help in some measure to deflect the allure of real samizdat. Recently, disquieting signs have appeared that even such moderately liberal practices are falling into disfavor. This apparently successful method of control over the circulation of ideas may once more expand in years to come.
Hypocrisy, La Rochefoucauld notes in his Maxims, is the tribute vice pays to virtue. Observers agree that the USSR is among the world’s most status-conscious societies, where privilege extends even to rigidly enforced separation in shopping, libraries, and medical service. In literature, however, the pretense of equality persists. Scholarly journals of literary theory and criticism exist, and some of the more interesting clashes of ideas take place in the pages of such staid publications as Voprosy literatury, which deals with all literature, and Russkaia literatura, which restricts itself to Russian writing, past and present.
Even more interesting is Literaturnaia gazeta, a weekly ostensibly devoted to literature, but in reality the liveliest political and social publication in the Soviet Union. Its editor, Alexander Chakovsky, is a prolific author of highly politicized novels of war and diplomatic intrigue, and one of the few Jews in the establishment. While not really “liberal,” Literaturnaia gazeta is a periodical the intelligentsia favor. Its coverage of foreign affairs, for instance, is much more thorough than that of either Pravda or Izvestiia, and its press run (1,300,000 in 1971) indicates that the weekly’s readership is not restricted to aficionados of belles lettres.
Among the primarily literary publications, many in the category of “thick” journals of literature and ideas that played such an important role in pre-Soviet Russia (these are usually subtitled “literary and artistic” and “sociopolitical”), the distinctions are implied or simply a matter of common knowledge. Thus, Yunost’ and Molodaia gvardiia are for the young, and their literary contents reflect that. Within the Soviet spectrum, the latter is rather reactionary and “National Bolshevik,” while the former, now moderate, was a leading “liberal” pub lication during the post-Stalin thaw. Novy mir, once the rallying banner of “liberal” literary elements, is now politically moderate, but it still considered more “highbrow” than the always conservative Zvezda or Oktiabr’. Understandably, the literary materials (including critical essays) found in these various publications differ to a significant degree. Those meant for simple audiences are likely to be direct and blunt in their approach, or at least more transparent in their educational purposes. Those aimed at better educated readers are likely to be more sophisticated and the didactic message, if any, indirect. Some may, indeed, become apparent only when one considers the likely cumulative effect of reading such fare. The stories comprising Turgenev’s Sportsman’s Sketches, when read separately more than a century ago, may have seemed innocent. Taken together, they amounted to a powerful denunciation of serfdom. The Russian censor who failed to foresee this fact was fired.
Soviet literary commentators never tire of sneering at pulp litera-ture as typical of the fare that publishing tycoons in the West provide their public. They often emphasize that vast numbers of Soviet citizens read and appreciate distinguished West European and American writing. It is a fact, however, that pulp fiction exists in the Soviet Union and accounts for a very large share of Soviet writing.
Publishing houses produce these volumes in massive quantities, normally after mass circulation periodicals or one of the “thick” journals referred to earlier have introduced them. Professional purveyors of these commodities, most of them recognized members of the Union of Soviet Writers, steadily replenish the assortment of dime novels as well as analogous drama and verse. The literary value of these concoctions may be limited and their existence short-lived, but faithful addicts devour them avidly, much as Americans read Westerns and thrillers, and their influence is no less real than that of highbrow writing.
Western observers know little of this literature because few scholars are interested in writing that has, admittedly, little esthetic merit. Yet, precisely because of its simplistic quality, pulp fiction offers readily discernible outlines of literature’s social content and hence also didactic potential and clearly defined traits of its artistic manner. Second- and third-rate artists are better illustrations of tendencies and trends than first-rate writers because they are not “obscured” by artistic individuality. Moreover, in an analysis of literature’s social and political implications, popular literature and the arts deserve particularly careful consideration because of their mass appeal. After all, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, no literary masterpiece, greatly accelerated the advent of the American Civil War. Highbrow literature, on the other hand, in addition to its immediate appeal to sophisticated readers, is also more likely to be im-itated, and the best of it may live for centuries. Of course, popular writing may endure as well. Thus, in 1982, readers in the USSR obtained, at long last, the first Russian translation of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, America’s best seller of half a century ago. Even a study of esthetically significant writing should not disregard popular fiction, including potboilers and various types of subliterary genres, because all leave an impact on the literary process.
In short, highbrow as well as popular literature exist in the USSR, and the line dividing the two is no more blurred than corresponding demarcations in the West. In the USSR, in keeping with pre-Soviet traditions, poetry, prose, and verse often appear in nonliterary publications, where the audience at which the periodical is aimed deter-mines the contents.
Consequently, “highbrow” and popular writing frequently appear to have little in common. Their artistic merit aside, they often differ also in subject matter, settings, plots, protagonists, and even in predilection for specific genres. Nevertheless, I submit that the short- range causes they champion and the long-range political, social, and ethical goals they promote coincide to a remarkable degree. They are not completely identical, because there is no need to extol the virtues of education when addressing primarily the intelligentsia, or, conversely, to warn farmers and factory workers against dangers of assorted ideological heresies.
I shall identify those that were definitely on the upswing in the late 1970s and early 1980s and seem destined to endure in the coming decade. I do so without suggesting that writers produce such literature, as it were, to order. Most authors in the USSR, as elsewhere, produce writing for which genuine demand exists both in the literary marketplace and among the reading public. Of these two factors there can be no doubt. In recent years virtually every issue of the eight leading literary monthlies I examined featured at least one item tackling in some way each of the following themes. Solid reasons exist to believe that these will survive.
The work ethic in its broad sense remains a major concern of Soviet writing. Popular writing fosters this value through collective farm or industrial novels that bear a striking resemblance to similar creations of the Stalin era, though with one important difference. Even the crudest propagandistic potboilers extolling the virtue of selfless labor in fields or factories now include generous doses of human interest motifs. Thus, in these novels even otherwise absolute paragons of Soviet virtues suffer the pangs of unrequited love, episodes of depression, or bouts of alcoholic stupor, disabilities which did not trouble positive heroes of Stalinist fiction. The district Communist Party secretary, the effective collective farm chairman, and the heroic shock worker fearlessly wrestle with personal difficulties, overcome them, and carry out tasks above and beyond the call of duty. Semen Babayevsky, a Stalinist stalwart temporarily in decline during the thaws, continues to produce such fare, as do Anatoli Ananyev, Mikhail Kolesnikov, and prior to his death in 1979, Vil’ Lipatov.
In writing apparently aimed at more discriminating readers, values of the work ethic are often fostered by indirect means that blend motifs of scientific progress with tales of adventure, such as Yuri Sbitnev’s novella about a geological expedition or Vladimir Sa- nin’s trilogy about the Arctic. Two leading Soviet authors extol human courage in taming nature. Both Yuri Kazakov and Chingiz Aitmatov describe sailors, pilots, and fishermen in a manner strongly reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, a work very popular in the USSR in the 1960s.
Patriotism, another central concern of recent Soviet literature, appears in a similar combination of approaches. In popular writing, a wartime setting provided the most frequent vehicle for this theme. Prose, drama, and verse inspired by World War II and memoirs of the war are still written and published in the USSR on a truly massive scale. That memories of the war linger nearly four decades after the end of hostilities is only part of the reason for the phenomenon. After all, such memories must also remain vivid for other countries, such as the Federal Republic of Germany and Japan. Since authors too young to retain any memories of the war write many of the new literary works with wartime settings, one must assume that the subject is one editors and publishers, who reflect the wishes of the authorities, actively encourage. Memories of the war provide opportunities for appeals for vigilance and for voicing Russian patriotic slogans and, occasionally, anti-German and generally antiforeign comments. While some Soviet writing dealing with the war is produced by such gifted authors as Yuri Baklanov and Vasili Bykov (the latter, a Belo-russian, often writes in Russian), the bulk is crude and its purpose obvious.
Writing favored by the intelligentsia and hence also the works most frequently translated in the West handle the Russian patriotic theme quite differently. This literature describes situations that probe dilemmas of the human condition with compassion and often much insight and skill against a rich background of Russian lore and customs. Authors associated with this type of writing are known as derevenshchiki, a term usually rendered in English as “village prose,” though “agrarians” would come closer to reproducing the term’s associations, because much of this writing is set in the countryside. Siberia is the favored setting for these novels and short stories, because patriarchal Russian ways are best preserved in distant and sparsely populated areas. Many leading exponents of this school, Valentin Rasputin, Victor Astafyev, and the late Vasili Shukshin, to mention but three, are Siberian themselves.
Rasputin and his colleagues emphasize that this authentic, un-spoiled Russia faces destruction in the name of industrial progress. The implied message of these writings is an appeal to avert this calamity, because nothing less than Russian ethnic identity is at stake. Such “agrarian” and Luddite appeals collide with and probably vitiate in part the efforts of other authors who extol industrial progress. Indeed, a number of Soviet critics have noted this contradiction. The government has made no attempt to suppress this politically dubious prose, partly because the “agrarians” contribute to strengthening a sense of Russian ethnic identity, particularly among those who need it the most, the intelligentsia, the social group particularly vulnerable to dangerous “cosmopolitan” influences. A second consideration may be the geographic associations of this prose. The action of Astafyev’s Kingfish, of Rasputin’s Farewell to Matyora, and of other works by the “agrarians” unfolds against the background of Eastern Siberia, those parts of Soviet territory that the Chinese allegedly covet. By selecting these regions as the symbol of true Russia, rather than the European part of the country, as was traditional in Tolstoy or Turgenev, the “agrarians” are indirectly refuting insinuations that Siberia may not be an organic part of Russia. Their efforts and those of their colleagues who produce writing concerned with World War II should remain useful through the 1990s.
Until relatively recently, private concerns have been absent from Soviet writing, which cultivates a public, collectivist stance appropriate for work dedicated to the advancement of revolutionary change. Vladimir Mayakovsky’s military, declamatory verse was an apt archetype of this type of literature. Authors engrossed in contemplation of self were suspect. Thus, the intimate lyric verse and occasional religious notes of Anna Akhmatova, one of this century’s great poets, once provoked a Soviet guardian of ideological purity into dubbing her “half nun and half whore.” Over the years the government and its spokesmen have excoriated scores of authors for a major sin of omission, failure to raise “public” social questions with significant ideological implications in their works. This shortcoming, doctrinaire Soviet critics warned, deprived these writings of ideinost’, ideological content, which together with partiinost’ (an overtly militant partisanship that eschews pretense of objectivity) and narodnost’ (a “popular” quality implying accessibility), constitute the three whales on which the universe of Socialist Realism rests.
Ideinost’ and narodnost’ (though emphatically not partiinost’.) have a long tradition in Russian literature, which often served as a most active battlefield of ideas. During the Stalin era, it was assumed that the choice and treatment of these ideas could be not merely manipulated (a realistic enough goal, as our discussion of motifs of the work ethic and of patriotism suggests), but actually regulated with absolute mechanical precision. And so they were. Ultimately, such contrived and regimented discussions of ideas vitiated their intent. Artificially conceived and with preordained conclusions, they repelled or at least bored those whom they were meant to instruct and inspire. Stalinist literature inadvertently came to fit Mark Twain’s mocking definition of classics as books which everybody wants to have read, and nobody does.
Another consideration may contribute to the de facto tolerance of the “private” literature characteristic of the Brezhnev era. As demonstrated by Russian literature of the nineteenth century and confirmed by the liberal “thaws” of the Khrushchev period, even censorship does not offer reliable protection from another danger. That peril is “public” literature’s understandable tendency to raise undesirable social issues and then presume to offer unsolicited advice or, worse, to demand concrete reforms. Ingenious use of allusions and hints, the “Aesopian language” that censorship of literature seems to engender, also helps bypass censorship restrictions. Authoritarian regimes of the past may have been wise in restricting literary articulation of their aspirations and goals to a single court poet or ceremonial occasions, encouraging under ordinary circumstances the cultivation in literature of purely personal concerns. In the final analysis, such regimes are not interested in their subjects’ praise or, for that matter, any opinion, as long as they are assured of absolute obedience. Perhaps the Brezhnev leadership understood that lesson after Stalinist writing’s self-inflicted defeat and the dangerous tremors of the “thaw” that followed.
In any case, Soviet writing of the Brezhnev era has been purged of the social reformism of the period immediately preceding and allowed and encouraged to immerse itself in probing human emotions. These span a wide range and include love and jealousy, loneliness and longing, curiosity and grief, fear and joy. These emotions are frequently portrayed in complex social surroundings. One finds it difficult to escape the impression that Soviet authors often exert every effort to avoid linking the fortunes of their protagonists to specific Soviet policies and institutions, lest some interpret this as a veiled call for social and political reforms. When such connections cannot be avoided, the authors establish links to suprapolitical social customs that antedate the regime and are not restricted to Soviet conditions.
I. Grekova’s novellas, such as The Ladies’ Hairdresser or The Mistress of a Hotel, are a good example. The special problems Grekova’s heroines face derive from the difficulties of reconciling the demands of a career with the duties of a single mother. The problems are not specifically Soviet, yet Grekova and scores of less gifted authors probing the same subject avoid any intimation of the need for specific measures that would ease her protagonists’ plight, such as better child care, for instance, or services, or financial assistance.
It may be that the current decline of the Soviet novel, the most socially oriented literary genre, is in part a result of this trend and not just of the periodic cycle of growth and exhaustion of specific forms of fiction. The same rationale may help explain the converse phenomenon, the popularity of lyric poetry and, above all, of the short story, the novella, and also of drama, traditionally the most neglected of literary species in Russia. In contrast to the bulky novel that almost naturally gravitates toward posing as well as resolving conflicts and dilemmas with social and political repercussions, the shorter genres, if they treat quasi-social issues, need not concern themselves with suggesting possible social solutions. Merely posing the problem should suffice, and often even that can be avoided.
To use an old Soviet locution, it may not be accidental that a number of authors whose works of the 1950s and 1960s dealt with problems of social justice, such as Solzhenitsyn above all but also Vasili Aksyonov, Anatoli Gladilin, Andrei Sinyavsky, Victor Nekrasov, all now are in exile abroad. Writers who remain in the USSR restrict themselves to problems of personal ethics, often probed by protagonists while alone and communing with nature, which imparts to these quests a somewhat abstract quality. Thus, the stories of the recently deceased Yuri Trifonov, particularly his House on the Embankment and The Old Man, suggest that moral and ethical squalor is somehow a consequence not so much of specific institutions (the antihero of Trifonov was the son of a secret police officer!) but of the general corrupting influence of prosperity and of the city. Some of these stories are so permeated by a sense of hopelessness and despair that they suggest this emphasis on personal concerns may reflect a loss of will. Still other authors, including such former “reformist” firebrands as Yevgeni Yevtushenko and Alexander Kron, now often content themselves with discussing the lowest rung in the hierarchy of “ethical” concerns, that of good manners, of etiquette.
This type of literature is not new to Russian writing. Disapproval of urban sins and the corrupting impact of abstract (never very concrete) rank and privilege, idealization of the purifying and ennobling effects of Man’s proximity to Nature, sympathetic accounts of human afflictions and emotional turmoil, and simultaneously steadfast refusal to link these to social processes and institutions are all familiar traits of two major schools of Russian writing. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, they were among the central attributes of Neo-classicism, especially of Sentimentalism. The foremost Russian exponent of Sentimentalism, Nikolai Karamzin, was also the author of the unswervingly conservative History of the Russian State, of which Alexander Pushkin wrote that it “dispassionately demonstrates to us the necessity of autocracy and the delights of the whip.” The literature that Sentimentalism and Neoclassicism begat, its praise of rustic simplicity and lachrymose compassion for the underdog notwithstanding, was decidedly not sympathetic, let alone conducive, to social change. The conservative society of Brezhnev’s successors would find this type of writing to its taste.
Of the three categories of recent writing, that advancing the work ethic, the one fostering a sense of Russian ethnic identity, and that centering on private concerns, the last is quantitatively the most im-portant. One may assume with some confidence that it will retain its place as one of the leading types of Soviet writing. It is therefore significant that the message of social inertia this recent literature contains for the educated public is complemented, as it were, by that found in pulp fiction.
Soviet pulp fiction bears much resemblance to similar prerevo-lutionary writing, which combined elements of the soap opera and the novel of adventure and whose chief attraction was that it satisfied, or pretended to satisfy, its readers’ prurient interest in the life of the “upper crust.” In old Russia, as in the West, the protagonists in such writing were often members of high society bearing impressive aristocratic titles. In the USSR, during the last years of the Stalin era, pulp fiction assigned the protagonist’s role to factory directors and party bureaucrats, though rarely above the district level. This type of fiction provided only brief glimpses of their immediate superiors at the province or republic level, presumably because this would entail coming dangerously close to lèse majesté. As Vera Dunham has pointed out, the accounts of what the high and the mighty eat, how their homes are furnished, and what their families look like titillated Soviet readers.
Analogous post-Stalin fiction differs in one seemingly trivial but important respect. Its protagonists are now not party secretaries, but members of the scientific “jet set” and the artistic intelligentsia, writers, film directors, actors, musicians. As old issues of Krokodil, the Soviet Union’s lone satirical Russian weekly with a national circulation, demonstrate, the foibles of these groups were among the few subjects left within the province of satire and satirical journalism even during the most repressive years of Stalin’s rule. Experienced purveyors of pulp fiction, fully aware of that fact, take advantage of the opportunities it offers. They depict celebrated scientists and famous artists as men and women whose fame and wealth, though fully deserved, of course, do not guarantee moral rectitude or imperviousness to human frailties. Their consecutive marriages are stormy and their love affairs sordid; alcoholism and psychiatric disorders plague them; they dissipate much of their time on petty intrigue and squabbles. The conclusions an ordinary Soviet reader may be expected to draw from all this are simple: money and fame do not bring happiness; aspiring to that station in life is silly. Foreign trinkets, clothes, travel, fancy foods may be very nice, but they are not worth the price that those who have them must pay.
Pulp fiction thus contributes to a lowering of expectations. It puts a damper on the aspirations for social mobility among ordinary folk. Above all, it reinforces a relatively recent motif of Soviet propaganda. Unable to carry out many of its promises of higher living standards, the USSR is now engaged in systematic vilification of yet another evil of capitalism, consumerism. A cause that in the West has definite “democratic” and populist associations, that many Americans view as the little man’s defense from the tyranny of big business, has been transformed in the USSR for reasons of internal policy into capitalism’s latest sinister incarnation. Since Soviet leadership is not likely to relinquish guns for butter, this particular motif of pulp fiction promises to retain its validity.
Allowing for a relatively high degree of continuity during the Brezhnev succession, an extrapolation from the present state of Soviet cultural and intellectual activity points to a high likelihood of the following trends.
As a result of renewed hunger for uncensored news, interest in Western radio broadcasts, such as the BBC, the Voice of America, and Radio Liberty, all subject to jamming, will remain strong, in part because of easier availability of shortwave receivers. Western radio may also assume greater importance as a source of entertainment. Indeed, more such broadcasts may be illegally disseminated on tape in the near future than in 1982. During the first post-Stalin decade, jazz music was recorded on used X-ray plates, which were supplanted by primitive but reasonably adequate tape recordings within a few years. Similar technological progress is likely in the future. The phenomenon of bootlegged homemade recordings of otherwise unobtainable entertainments, a phenomenon known as magnitizdat, will remain alive as long as certain types of recorded music and songs, of the type made famous in the 1960s and 1970s by Vladimir Vysotsky and Alexander Galich, two deceased social satirists, remain unavailable through official channels. Indeed, several Soviet pretenders to the mantle of these two satirists of magnitizdat of earlier years were active in 1982.
Samizdat will endure for similar reasons, although it is difficult to predict its precise nature and concerns. Should our prognosis of an essentially conservative, nationalist orientation of policies prove correct, Russian nationalist samizdat of the type that Veche and Slovo natsii made familiar in the 1960s and 1970s will simply lose its raison d’etre because the Soviet establishment will have coopted it. Russian Orthodox samizdat may continue as an expression of socially activist, perhaps liberal tendencies within the country’s largest religious denomination. The number of samizdat publications of other faiths, the Moslems above all, may increase, and perhaps a successor or two to such liberal journals as the now defunct democratic Chronicle of Current Events or the liberal Marxist Political Diary or The Twentieth Century may come into existence. All in all, however, these are not likely to be either numerous or long-lived, or, for that matter, to enjoy wide circulation. The police appear to have developed efficient methods for ferreting out such unauthorized publications. Moreover, they deal harshly with offenders, who can expect either long prison sentences or semivoluntary deportation. The majority of potential Soviet dissenters may therefore content themselves with attempting to present their views in a modest form through official channels and to explore other possibilities of working within the system.
One samizdat genre almost certain to survive is anthologies of literary materials. Such collections of prose and verse may be perfectly innocuous in themselves, but the government will treat them as illegal writings because they, too, will lack official sanction. The au-thorities are not likely to set a dangerous precedent of tolerating such typewritten materials. Dissident literature will not be allowed much range or exposure, in substance, because this would erode the principle of party control over all publishing.
I foresee little likelihood of significant relaxation in political controls over cultural and intellectual life. There are no grounds to expect that the party might tolerate open dissent from its major policies, although it may allow indirect questioning of the manner in which policies are implemented or disagreement about the implications of a general policy for a specific problem. Indeed, the party must tolerate such disagreements because their implications are largely a matter of subjective political intuition. While the prospects for freedom of speech are dim, a considerable degree of de facto freedom of conversation is possible. Oral samizdat, rumors, political gossip, and that literary molecule, the anecdote, may flourish in the coming decade, in part at least because of restrictions imposed on more formal expres-sion.
I predict a general atmosphere of social conservatism and Russian nationalism, the latter a response in part to the numerical growth of the Turkic population with its Islamic heritage. This mood would be conducive to the further development of ethnocentric, parochial, and old-fashioned literature and art. Conditions of this sort do not preclude artistic excellence, but they do discourage experimentation. Contacts with the West would be viewed with disfavor as ideologically risky and incompatible with national exclusiveness, the more so because experience of the 1960s and 1970s has demonstrated the West’s lack of susceptibility to Soviet ideology, and the alarming responsiveness of the Soviet public to Western fads and fashions. The sense of deprivation thus engendered may, in turn, boost attention to foreign radio broadcasts, and also contribute to the survival of samizdat. By contrast, the process of reclamation of Russian history would proceed as conducive to strengthening patriotic moods, and the classics of nineteenth-century literature will almost certainly thrive. Moreover, similar considerations may produce a less hostile stance toward religion, and consequently toward religious motifs in literature, music, painting, historical writing, and film. The government may even make quiet use of the Russian Orthodox Church, especially in campaigns against divorce, abortion, and alcoholism.
The Soviet leadership would probably treat a high degree of preoccupation with the family, personal feelings and values, and abstract ethics and esthetics in literature and the arts with benign neglect, because these interests deflect attention from reformist and potentially political social concerns. Of positive values, art and thought are likely to be concerned most often with Russian patriotism, which it would treat as a forerunner of Soviet Russian patriotism, and with a generalized work ethic. It may not be coincidental that these values recall the motto of travail, famille, patrie that Vichy France promulgated forty years ago as more conducive to law and order and stability than the republican liberté, egalité, fratemité.
I should like to express my appreciation to John Dunlop, Leopold Labedz, and Sidney Monas for the information and critical comments they provided.