Speech: delivered in August 1934.
Source: Gorky, Radek, Bukharin, Zhdanov and others, Soviet Writers’ Congress 1934, Lawrence & Wishart, 1977, pp. 73–182.
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2004.
Transcribed by: Andy Blunden for the Marxists Internet Archive.
COMRADES, Maxim Gorky in his report has painted in bold strokes a picture of the development of literature from the moment when mankind, not yet split up into classes, reflected its struggle for life through the medium of songs and fables down to the moment when bourgeois literature began to collapse. A history of the literature of class society is the history of how literature has become severed from the life of the masses. Needless to say, this great history contains periods of efflorescence and periods of decline, but taken as a whole, it shows us a literature severed from real life as led by the masses of the people.
My task is to survey the final period of this literature – a period in which all tendencies of parasitism and decay in bourgeois literature have obtruded themselves in most glaring relief, in which the material collapse and decay of capitalism is being accompanied by a parallel process – the decay of world capitalist literature.
It goes without saying that just as the decay of capitalism does not represent an absolutely continuous process, inasmuch as we are confronted, even in the period of capitalism’s decay, with examples of temporary progress in certain spheres and in certain domains, so the literature of decaying capitalism is still capable, in certain spheres and in the case, of certain nations, of producing great works of art.
What we have to do is to discern and reveal the general line of this progress of development. This general line of development should be determined, first and foremost, by examining the attitude taken, by literature towards those great events which have moulded the history of mankind during the last twenty years and which should have found their reflection in literature.
Present-day literature is a literature which began with the World War. There is, of course, no complete rupture between it and the literature of the preceding phase; it is a continuation of what has gone before. But here, as in all fields of social life, the World War drew a sharp boundary line.
Three great historical events of the last twenty years constitute those criteria by which we judge the content and the tendency of world literature. These three events are: the World War, the October Revolution and the fascists’ advent to power in a number of countries. To aesthetes, this may appear very strange. How, it may be asked, can literature be judged, not by aesthetic canons, but by the criteria of great historical events? But in such a gathering as this there is no need to prove that, since literature is a reflection of social life, the standard by which it should be gauged is precisely the attitude which it takes to such great facts of historical development as the war, the October Revolution, and fascism.
The World War of 1914 was an imperialist war. It was a war organized and waged in the interests of monopoly capital, in the interests of the ruling cliques of the bourgeoisie in the various belligerent countries. At the beginning of the war, this proposition was hailed as blasphemy by the pundits of literature. Today it is accepted as an axiom in all countries – the only difference being that the German bourgeoisie tries to represent the war of the German coalition as a war of defence, charging the former Allies with imperialism, whereas the bourgeoisie of the more western countries, who entered the war as allies, speak of an attack on France and Belgium by Germany and explain it by the imperialist policy of German capitalism. The imperialist bourgeoisie succeeded in mobilizing not only the bourgeois but also the petty-bourgeois masses for the war, succeeded in subjecting to their will considerable sections of the proletariat, in imbuing the minds of the great mass of the people with imperialist ideas, in forcing their “cannon fodder” to think in the way desired by their masters, who were sending the masses to the slaughter. And in just the same way, world literature deserted to the side of imperialism at the first gunshot, defending and glorifying war. Not one of the leading lights of bourgeois world literature spoke out against the war. Literature proved to be what Marx in his younger days said of ideology in general:
“Division of labour ... in the ruling class takes the form of a division into brain work and manual labour; among one and the same class it very often happens that those who rank as the thinkers of the class are active creators of its ideology, who make the production of the illusions of this class about itself their principal means of subsistence, while the other part takes a more passive, a more receptive attitude towards these thinkers and illusions, since, while being in reality active members of the class, they lack sufficient time to create illusions about themselves.”
World literature busied itself with the production of illusions about the World War, and the most obscure aesthete rendered no less valuable service to the war bosses than did the woman munition worker who was forced to stand at her machine and turn out shells. The only difference being that the woman worker who made shells was forced to do so by hunger, while the pundits of literature who sang anthems to the bursting of shells did so of their own free will.
At the moment when war broke out, all the world’s writers, who considered that they were above classes, above material interests, who considered themselves to be the representatives of pure art, proved to be on the side of imperialism, which was hurling millions of workers and peasants into the vortex of imperialist war. It would be hard to find a single well-known figure in pre-war bourgeois literature who, at the moment when the guns began to boom, did not sing anthems in praise of this war.
Even such a man as Anatole France, a profound sceptic, accustomed to seek for material causes even in the revolt of the angels, believed that the war had arisen without any economic causes, without the struggle of trusts and cartels, and “saluted this war.”
Of all the outstanding bourgeois writers in the belligerent countries, only the great humanist, Romain Rolland, did not bow down before the Moloch of imperialism, but, hiding his face from the horrors of war, endeavoured to heal its wounds by organizing aid for war prisoners.
Only two writers of world-wide reputation opposed war at this time: Maxim Gorky, who proved even at that time how right Lenin was when he called him a proletarian writer, and our old friend, Comrade Andersen Nexö. And this, of course, was no accident, for they were representatives of the working class.
Only when profound unrest had set in among the war-weary masses of the people did the first literary expression of protest against war make its appearance; and here again, as history has shown, this was no chance phenomenon. In 1916 Henri Barbusse published his book, Under Fire, which Lenin and all of us who were then with him in Switzerland immediately recognized as an expression of the first protest against war among the masses.
In this book Barbusse drew a pitiless picture of how the toiling people were being annihilated in the interests of bourgeois monopoly. He set out with ideas of the most commonplace bourgeois kind, but war opened his eyes. While truthfully depicting war, and thereby laying the foundations of anti-war literature, Barbusse was still in a state of complete coma; he could not yet wring from his stifled bosom a cry to rouse the masses for the war against war, he could not yet sound the call for socialist revolution, as the sole way out of those contradictions which have been created by capitalism and deepened by imperialism.
“How will they regard this slaughter, they who’ll live after us, to whom progress – which comes as sure as fate – will at last restore the poise of their conscience? How will they regard these exploits, which even we who perform them don’t know whether to compare with these of Plutarch’s and Corneille’s heroes, or with those of hooligans and apaches?
“‘And for all that, mind you,’ Bertrand went on, ‘there is one figure that has risen above the war and will blaze with the beauty and strength of his courage – ‘
“I listened, leaning on a stick and towards him, drinking in the voice that came in the twilight silence from the lips that so rarely spoke. He cried with a clear voice – ‘Liebknecht!’
“He stood up with his arms still crossed. His face, as profoundly serious as a statue’s, drooped upon his chest. But he emerged once again from his muteness to repeat: ‘The future, the future! The work of the future will be to wipe out the present, to wipe it out more than we can imagine, to wipe it out like something abominable and shameful.’”
But the name of Liebknecht, which cut through the gloom of war like a flash of lightning, was not yet a call to battle for Corporal Bertrand; it was a remote star, which would one day draw closer to lacerated, bloodstained humanity. For Corporal Bertrand went on to say:
“And yet this present – it had to be, it had to be! Shame on military glory, shame on armies, shame on the soldier’s calling, that changes men by turns into stupid victims or ignoble brutes. Yes, shame. That’s the true word, but it’s too true; it’s true in eternity, but it’s not yet true for us. It will be true ... when it is found written among the other truths that a purified mind will let us understand. We are still lost, still exiled far from that time. In our time of today, in these moments, this truth is hardly more than a fallacy, this sacred saying is only blasphemy!”
And brave Corporal Bertrand led his men into battle, where he himself was killed. And millions of others were killed too on all the battlefields of the war.
Meanwhile world literature sang songs in praise of war. Only in a tiny segment of world literature, on the extreme Left flank of the petty-bourgeois writers, did the complaining whine of the human being, crushed in the mill-stones of war, make itself heard. The first shoots of pacifist literature, protesting against war, were beginning to spring up.
The lightnings of the February Revolution presaging the thunderclaps of October, and the thunder of October itself, the spectacle of a great country rising up under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, under the banner of Lenin, for a fight to the death against the war monster, were unavailing to turn world literature against the war. Up to the very end of the war it remained in the service of imperialism, helping to recruit the last energies of the masses to serve the interests of the war Moloch.
And only when the war was over, leaving millions of corpses to rot upon the battlefields, leaving behind it tens of millions of cripples and orphans and a world reduced to smoking ruins – only then did bourgeois literature commence its pacifist propaganda. This pacifist propaganda was like an echo – repeating the slogans of President Wilson, like an echo repeating the Pacifist legends about the “war to end war” – legends created by the world bourgeoisie in order to keep back the rising masses of the people from a real struggle for socialism, which was the sole means of making war impossible in the future. This literature showed up the fun horror of the World War. Writers in all countries who had lived through this horror communicated it to the masses of the people. But even the best of these writers, who not only did not seek in their works to deceive the masses but who, like Zweig, wanted to warn them, were only able to show the world through tear-stained eyes, only able to show the fate of the human atoms, caught up in the vortex of the war events, as impotent and helpless. Not one of these writers was able to show the spirit of mutiny generated among these masses. And just as the French bourgeoisie tried to conceal in its archives the documents relating to the menacing events of May 1917, when the French army was swept by a wave of mutinies, just as the German bourgeoisie tried to wrap in a veil of legend the story of the uprising in the German fleet. so bourgeois and Left-bourgeois literature did not touch upon these scenes; which made the bourgeois world feel that it was standing on the edge of a precipice and which made the masses feel that they were not powerless atoms in the face of dread forces conjured up by the war, if only they chose to act unitedly, if only they told themselves. “If we are to die, let us die fighting for our freedom!” Even Dos Passos. the outstanding American revolutionary writer, lost as he was in contemplation of the bubbles of protest rising up in the souls of petty-bourgeois intellectuals disillusioned by the war, overlooked the hurricane which swept through the French army.
Remarque in his first book gave a masterly portrayal of the destruction of the peoples by the forces of war, but he was unable to portray the rising revolt against war; and his subsequent book, The Road Back, was a most striking expression not only of the impotence of bourgeois literature in the face of war (impotence, that is to say, if we speak of that part of bourgeois literature which did not consciously take the side of imperialist war), but also of unwillingness to fight against war. The hero of this book, returning home to a country in the first throes of a proletarian revolution, finds himself a place as school teacher in a secluded village with a view to disseminating ideas on the brotherhood of the peoples, on peaceful labour, and, turning his back on revolution, soothes himself with the thought that not everyone need be a pioneer.
“I’ve had a look at most things,” complains one of the returning soldiers, “professions, ideals, politics – but I don’t fit into this show. What does it amount to? Everywhere profiteering, suspicion, indifference, utter selfishness.”
And the central figure in the book, having found an escape from the emptiness of life in school teaching, stands before the children whom he has to teach, and says:
“Were I stand before you, one of the hundreds of thousands of bankrupt men in whom the war destroyed every belief and almost every strength. Here I stand before you, and see how much more alive, how much more rooted in life you are than I. Here I stand and must now be your teacher and guide. What should I teach you? Should I tell you that in twenty years you will he dried up and crippled, maimed in your freest impulses, all pressed mercilessly into the selfsame mould? Should I tell you that all learning, all culture, all science is nothing but hideous mockery, so long as mankind makes war in the name of god and humanity with gas, iron, explosive and fire?”
It does not even occur to Remarque’s hero that it is possible to teach how to destroy the social system which generates war. Civil war was sweeping across post-war Germany. Remarque’s hero learns about this civil war by chance; he happens to be present during some street fighting, in which his former commander kills his former comrade. He shudders with horror, but does not draw any revolutionary conclusions from this, nor does he do so when he sees the nationalist organizations training the bourgeois youth for the future war.
The conclusion with which Remarque’s book closes is to take refuge in a “quiet life.”
“One part of my life was given over to the service of destruction; it belonged to hate, to enmity, to. killing. But life remained in me ... I will work in myself and be ready; I will bestir my hands and my thoughts. I will not take myself very seriously, nor push on when sometimes I should like to be still. There are many things to be built and almost everything to repair; it ‘is enough that I work to dig out again what was buried during the years of shells and machine-guns. Not every one need he a pioneer; there is employment for feeble hands, lesser powers. It is there I mean to look for my place. Then the dead will be silenced and the past will not pursue me any more; it will assist me instead.”
Here we have the whole essence of petty-bourgeois pacifism. “Not everyone need be a pioneer.” Remarque does not want to he one. He hoped that when he found some quiet asylum where he could live by the illusion of useful labour, the dead would be silenced, the horrors of war would vanish from his brain, and perhaps the remembrance of them would teach him to value still more highly the quiet life and its quiet cares. And if this means shutting your eyes to the fact that new war machines are being made, that factories are being built which will create millions of new corpses, if this means shutting your eyes to the fact that tempests and hurricanes are brewing which will demolish all the quiet asylums of the petty-bourgeoisie – why then, Remarque will shut his eyes and stop up his ears. With ears stopped, with eyes shut, he went into hiding abroad, when victorious fascism hunted him out of his quiet asylum and burnt his books.
Jacob Wassermann, the eminent German bourgeois writer who died recently, admits in his survey of the post-war development of German literature that it has not created an epos of the war. This applies to bourgeois literature all over the world. It failed to create such an epos, not because the scale of this war surpassed the writers’ powers of imagination, their ability to grasp the great historical events which shook the entire world, but because, being bourgeois, present-day literature could not give the masses of the people the true answer as to the origin of the war, and could not tell them how to fight against it. The preaching of pacifism, which in the first post-war years took the abstract form of portrayal of the horrors of war, and which afterwards shifted its ground to propaganda of the United States of Europe (Marguerite, Jules Romains), was quickly shown in the light of actual events to be nothing but simple deception. Imperialism, routed by the victorious proletariat in tsarist Russia alone, has begun to seek an avenue of escape from its contradictions by means of a new war. Fresh preparations for war, feverish building of fresh armaments, have commenced throughout the world. Fascism, the most naked form of bourgeois dictatorship, has come to power in several countries; its purpose is to suppress the proletarian revolutionary movement and to prepare for war. The danger of a new war is becoming evident. And in addition to this, monopoly capitalism is creating a new literature to carry on war propaganda. Such propaganda is carried on by fascist art in Italy, by the new German literature of Jünger, Beumelburg and others, by Japanese fascist literature which is producing novels to extol not only the past war but the future one as well. Bourgeois pacifist literature is proving utterly impotent
H.G. Wells, who sang the glories of pacifism in his book, Mr. Britling Sees It Through, when faced with the new danger of war, proves unable, in his The Autocracy of Mr. Parham, to discover any other force capable of arresting the preparations for a new war crime than that of sensible capital. ists who understand the foolhardiness of war. But he soon loses faith in his sensible capitalists, and, when confronted with the bankruptcy of the Disarmament Conference, he writes his book, The Shadows of Things to Come, in which he presents humanity with the reassuring news that when the new war, after a duration of fifty years, will have utterly devastated the world, the aviators – this international association whose mission is to kill mankind – will be so horrified by the task imperialism has set them that they will create a world-wide republic which will put an end to war. In his book, Public Faces, Harold Nicholson, son of one of the organizers of the World War of 1914–18, saves humanity from war, after it has already broken out, with the aid of a romantic accident.
The literature of the bourgeoisie cannot give a portrayal of the imperialist war of 1914-18, cannot portray the preparations for a new war, cannot tell the masses how to fight against the danger of this new war, which will be a hundred times more destructive than the last. And this means that on a fundamental question, a question of life and death for hundreds of millions of people, this literature remains nothing but dust thrown in the eyes of the masses, hindering them from seeing the danger; it remains either the direct weapon of the enemies of mankind, or else the helpless wail of a world mourner. It need hardly be said that this literature cannot rise to any great heights from the artistic viewpoint. The attempt to extol the war, to reconcile mankind to ruin in the interests of finance capital, represents such a vile and hopeless task, that even if a Homer or a Shakespeare were to attempt it, they would prove impotent to do so. From the artistic viewpoint, literature which defends war represents nothing but a worthless daub, having about as much relation to art as a war-time poster has to the paintings of Raphael or Rubens. The pacifist literature of the bourgeoisie, prescribing a poultice against an earthquake, can bring forth only jejune productions; it cannot adequately reflect the menacing reality of life, cannot become a high artistic image, such as would, of itself, constitute a challenge.
Summing up the attitude taken by bourgeois literature to this great world event, which cost humanity ten million corpses, which undermined and’ loosened the very foundations of capitalism, we may say that bourgeois literature fulfilled its function as purveyor of cannon fodder. It did not become a mouthpiece of protest and a voice of struggle against world imperialism; it became a means of extolling war or of lulling the militant preparedness of the proletariat. Proletarian literature in the West is as yet only in its infancy, but it can already present a number of works whose appeal is precisely to the revolt of the masses against war. These works are not all of equal value, but we may say nevertheless that the beginning of proletarian anti-war literature dates from Johannes Becher’s novel, which proclaims the revolt against war, and the novel of Theodor Plivier, which portrays the uprising in the German fleet. A large number of young proletarian writers not only give, expression to the protest against war but attempt to reflect the anti-war struggle waged by the masses of the people.
Our Japanese comrades have won immortal glory for themselves. Despite the rabid oppression of imperialist censorship, despite the fact that the prisons of Japan are filled with fighters from the ranks of the proletariat, the young proletarian literature of Japan has nevertheless succeeded in portraying even the unrest which prevails in the Japanese army in Manchuria, has succeeded in producing many works in which this struggle finds its expression. It is endeavouring not only to depict the growing struggle of the masses but also to stimulate this struggle and to exercise an influence over it.
But we must not forget, comrades, that in this sphere there is an untouched field of work lying ahead of proletarian literature. The literature of the bourgeoisie fell on its knees before the Moloch of war. The literature of the proletariat should give the masses of the people a picture of the complex mechanism of murder and destruction which modern capitalism has created; it should reveal the wires by means of which monopoly capital governs the marionettes of diplomacy and drives the masses into wart The task confronting proletarian literature is to reflect the protest of the masses, their aspiration to struggle, and to show them that – way out from war which the Soviet proletariat found *hen it over threw the power of the bourgeoisie and established a proletarian republic.
Our friends among foreign writers often ask what they should do in the event of war. Some of them declare that they will at once join the ranks of the Red Army. We esteem – such feelings very highly, but we must also tell them: Don’t think about what you will do in time of war, but think first about what you, as artists, must do now, before war has yet broken out, in order to show the broadest masses of the people what fate imperialism has in store for them in the next war.
The first duty of proletarian literature is to portray the war preparations of imperialism, to portray the mighty peaceful labour of the Soviet Union, and to show the masses of the people why they are being driven into war and how to fight against it.
The World War gave birth to the October Revolution. The October Revolution had been prepared for by Bolshevism through its whole history. It was no accident that the victory of October fell to the Bolsheviks. Power is not won by the weak. This victory of theirs the Bolsheviks forged and hammered out in underground, illegal work, on the barricades, in the sufferings of prison and penal servitude, in the great school where Lenin was teacher.
This victory was a still greater historical fact than the Great War, for history has known many great wars and has seen empires shattered, but never before throughout all the history of mankind’s existence has war brought into power a class whose interests are opposed to imperialist war, the only class which is able to lay the foundations of a new society, capable of developing without wars of any kind.
History confronted the literature of the world bourgeoisie with the question: What is the October Revolution and what attitude should be taken towards it?
World literature passed the second test with the same results as the first. It showed itself to he the protector of the interests of capital, a means which served to prevent the masses from obtaining a true picture of what was taking place.
For bourgeois literature the October Revolution at first became an object of libel. Hundreds of books appeared which portrayed the first victory of the world proletariat as a mutiny of slaves engineered by scoundrels, books which represented the Russian revolution as the progeny of hell.
There is no need to dwell on this type of literature. Whether it took the form of the political lampoon or that of the detective novel, it did not produce a single work which can claim a place in the history of letters. These libellous productions merely gave vent to the frenzied malice of the world bourgeoisie on seeing the Russian proletariat break through the front of imperialist war. These pronouncements on the Russian revolution are best summed up in. the words of the French “writer,” Gabriel Doumergue, author of the book, On Lust, Filth and Blood, who cites the opinion of one of the White generals: “Before the revolution Russia was a chamber pot full of filth. The revolution smashed the pot, and only the filth remains.” This attitude of hatred towards Russia, as to a chamber pot full of filth, only shows what a crushing blow was dealt by the October Revolution to the world bourgeoisie, who had invested so many billions in this chamber pot. There is therefore nothing to be surprised at in this attitude towards the Russian revolution on the part of the bourgeoisie and its literature. This began to change from the moment when the defeats inflicted by the Red Army on the armies of intervention gave rise to waverings in the bourgeois camp. Then there arose, even among the pioneers of imperialism, a trend of opinion opposed to intervention. Hand in hand with this came the so-called “friendly” literature dealing with the Soviet Union.
The most typical example of such literature is Mr. Wells’s book, Russia in the Shadows. Wells was an opponent of intervention. But after a visit to Russia, he told the bourgeois World that his impression was “an impression of ... modern civilization completely shattered and overthrown by misgovernment, under-education. and finally six years of war-strain.” Wells described how “science and art were starving and the comforts and many of the decencies of life gone.”
But what were the thoughts of the famous author of the History of the World – from the times of primitive man down to the days of his own apotheosis – as he promenaded on the ruins of “Modern civilization”? This writer, who had laid claim not so much to the title of a great artist as to that of the brain of English literature, understood literally nothing. Of course, he did not believe that the Whites would return to power. “The Russian refugee’s in England are politically contemptible,” he wrote. But the Soviet government for him was “a government of amateurs.” “Never was there so amateurish a government since the early Moslim found themselves in control of Cairo, Damascus and Mesopotamia,” the learned Writer informs us. Indeed, how can they avoid being amateurs, these Russian Bolsheviks? They are Marxists, and “find themselves in control of Russia in complete contradiction ... to the theories of Karl Marx.” And who have they behind them, these Bolsheviks who have come to power despite Karl Marx? They have behind them some comparatively illiterate manual workers from the United States.” It stands to reason that respectable Mr. Wells was obliged to declare: “I disbelieve in their faith, I ridicule Marx, their prophet, but” – and here comes the unexpected! – Mr. Wells declares: “I understand and respect their spirit. They are – with all their faults, and they have abundant faults – the only possible backbone now to a renascent Russia.” The Russian Bolsheviks, the pupils of Marx – Mr. Wells, from the imposing heights of his portly History of the World, looks down and laughs at Marx – the Russian Bolsheviks have come to power in Russia, as he thinks, contrary to all the theories of Marx, but Mr. Wells none the less respects – the spirit of the Russian Bolsheviks. Just what it is that he respects, the reader is not told, but it is, apparently, the fact that, in contrast to the White generals, the Russian Bolsheviks – did not steal silver spoons and did not engineer Jewish pogroms. When Lenin, in a conversation with this “giant of bourgeois literature,” unfolded the program for the electrification of Russia, Mr. Wells merely shrugged his shoulders. The “brain of English bourgeois literature” was not only incapable of grasping that he would have to begin a new chapter in his History of the World, but he did not have even a premonition of those mighty works which were initiated by the October Revolution.
Another great writer of pre-war literature, a man with a great heart a humanist to the marrow of his bones – Romain Rolland, who, in contrast to Mr. Wells, did not prostrate himself before the god of war, declared after Lenin’s death: “I never shared the views of Lenin and of Russian Bolshevism, and have never concealed this fact I am too much of an inveterate individualist and idealist to adhere to the Marxist world and to materialist fatalism.” But he paid homage to the greatness of Lenin, as the man who delivered a country from war. Over the grave of our teacher, Romain Rolland declared his conviction that “for long ages his ineffaceable trace will be seen.” And he uttered the words: “The cause of Lenin A the most vital cause of the world.”
What this trace was, the great humanist could not tell.
It goes without saying that the enemies – of the October Revolution could not create any artistic image of it in their literature. But the friends of the October Revolution in other countries likewise failed to do so. John Reed’s book, Ten Days that Shook the World, has made a place for itself in world literature as an historical document, but not as a reflection of the revolution in art – he did not, in fact, intend it to be such. The same may be said of the books of Ransome, Rhys Williams, Price and – other foreign authors who got through to us during the war of intervention or immediately after it; these books are the first accounts, written by non-Communists, of the first socialist republic.
The period of the New Economic Policy began. Commercial and political relations were established between the Soviet Union and the capitalist world. Foreign writers came pouring into Russia. Fresh hundreds of books were published. However, they not only failed to produce a single work of art on this theme, but could not even assist public opinion in other countries to an understanding of what was really happening in Soviet Russia. The root of the trouble here has been well expressed by the Danish proletarian writer, Andersen Nexö, who firmly supported our cause both during the war and at the time of the October Revolution. Returning from Russia at the time when the country had entered upon the period of the New Economic Policy, Nexö wrote: “It is not easy to write about Russia now. Having been there a few years ago, I found it much easier then. True, at that, time it was still in a state of chaos ... but then it was clear in what direction the ship of state was heading; at that time a retreat had not yet been sounded, such as is now being spoken of in the West.”
The policy conceived by Lenin’s genius was to re-establish peasant farming, which could only be done at that time on the basis – within certain limits – of free trade, and on this foundation to set industry on its feet again. To world literature this seemed like a retreat to capitalism. That this policy was paving the way for a future offensive upon all capitalist elements, that it was laying the foundation for the building of socialism – these were things of which the leading representatives of world literature did not even dream. Those who directly voiced bourgeois tendencies in literature contemplated this supposed return to capitalism, some with spiteful malice, others with “benevolence,” for they were all of the opinion that it was impossible for any country to develop save on capitalist lines. They regarded the NEP as a confirmation of their bourgeois ideas.
Others, while admitting that this policy was correct in the main, considered none the less that it gave them grounds for losing any great interest in the Russian revolution. They had regarded with admiration the heroism displayed by the masses of the Russian people during the period of intervention. True, they did not much relish the coarse herring soup, but at least it was an unusual dish. The cutlets of the NEP seemed less interesting to them, for they were accustomed to such fare. The hero, who should have died in the third act, took to trade.
A new period began in the history of the Russian revolution, a period full of sublimity. The battle for the Five-Year Plan commenced. World literature revived its interest in the land of proletarian dictatorship. Once again hundreds of writers came streaming to the U.S.S.R. Once again hundreds of books appeared, dealing with the development of the Soviet Republic.
But this time the representatives of world literature were compelled to contrast developments in the U.S.S.R. with those in the capitalist countries. for the fight for the Five-Year Plan coincided with the greatest crisis which the capitalist world has ever experienced in all its history. And this contrast disturbed the minds of the more reflective representatives of world literature far more than did the events of October 1917.
Romain Rolland, who a few years ago declared that Bolshevik ideas were alien to him, now not only proclaims Russian thought to be in the vanguard of the world’s thinking, but sees in the Five-Year Plan the birth of a new society. “At long last both the actual course of events and fate. which Marx reduces to the iron laws of economic materialism, cleaving the world into two camps and deepening with every day the gulf between international capitalism and the other giant – the union of workers, of proletarians – have inevitably compelled me to step over this gulf and join the ranks of the U.S.S.R.”
The great French poet, André Gide, who had previously been fluctuating between a real conception of the world and the ivory tower of the recluse,, an aesthete who held that in the modern world Prometheus, descending from his rock, could only win the world’s ear by jesting – André Gide, confronted with capitalist reality, which was revealed to him in all its starkness in the French colonies, and confronted on the other hand with the heroic struggle which the Soviet proletariat is waging for the new order of society, declared, to the amazement of the capitalist world, that he sided with the USSR and would be glad to, lay down his life for it.
The old sceptic, Bernard Shaw, whose brilliant ridicule has laid bare the ulcers of capitalism, has proclaimed with fervour that a new world is being created in the Soviet Union. In his speech, which was transmitted to America over the radio, he poured scorn on the capitalist world, declaring that the only good thing which has come out of the criminal war is the USSR.
“This isn’t quite what you expected, is it? You did not send your young men to the slaughter in order to have them learn Karl Marx and repeat his slogan: ‘Workers of the world, unite!’ However, this is just what happened. This amazing new state – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – is what you got in return for your Liberty Loan and for the blood shed by your youth. This is not what you intended to get, but evidently it is what the Lord decided to send you!”
In America writers who had already won a great name for themselves before the war, such as the novelist, Theodore Dreiser, portrayed the mighty social changes taking place in the USSR. Dreiser declared that:
“The Soviet form of government is likely to endure in Russia ... and not only that but spread to and markedly affect. politically, all other nations .... I have the feeling that our own country may eventually be sovietized – perhaps in my day ....
“And out of Russia, as out of no other country today, I feel, are destined to come great things, mentally as well as practically. At least, such is my faith. And with such a possibility in so troubled and needful a world as ours, is it not common sense to aid it to do the best it can?”
A socialist writer who has exposed American monopoly capital, Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle and of Jimmy Higgins, who preached the solidarity of the American with the Russian proletariat at the time when the war of intervention was at its height, wrote an excellent answer to a book, full of senile hatred, written by Karl Kautsky; when this pundit of the Second International sought to prove that the victory of Bolshevism was impossible, Sinclair compared him to the American provincial farmer who, on seeing a camel, exclaimed: “There ain’t no such beast!” “Soviet Russia is coming up, and the capitalist nations are going down,” wrote Sinclair. But at the same time he expresses the hope that the Western countries may win what the Soviets have won, even without a revolution.
“I am one of those old-fashioned persons who still have hope that in countries such as Britain and the United States where the people have been accustomed to self-government, the change from capitalism to socialism can be accomplished without the overthrow of the government.”
The Five-Year Plan and the crisis of the capitalist system brought bourgeois writers face to face with something which they did not understand; but this time it was something that was happening, not in our country, but in theirs. How did it come about that after the period of “prosperity” – such was the name given to the attempts of the capitalist world to drag itself out of the morass of post-war depression – like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky came the crisis, which is growing graver every day and is beginning to affect the pockets and the stomachs and the brains of the world’s bourgeois writers? And at the same time how was it that that country which, according to their common conviction, should have been throttled by the war of intervention – how was it that this country, after the period of the NEP, which was only a temporary retreat in preparation for a great attack, now launched a mighty offensive against all capitalist elements, launched it at the moment when the capitalist economic system was suffering crisis and collapse, and pressed impetuously forward, building the foundation of socialism?
And it must be said that the world crisis and the great achievements of the Five-Year Plan have exercised a more powerful. influence on world literature than all previous events; they have influenced it more than did the war, more than did the October Revolution.
The victories of the Five-Year Plan and the deepening of the international crisis of capitalism have had the effect of hastening on the process of disintegration in world literature. Every day we may observe how it is splitting up ever more markedly into three parts – the literature of decaying capitalism, inevitably evolving towards fascism, the new proletarian literature, and the literature of the wavering elements, some of whom are already coming to side with us, while others will go over to fascism unless they overcome their vacillating tendencies.
There is not a country in the world in which the most outstanding writers have not recognized the presence of what is to them an unheard-of fact – the profound crisis of capitalism and the tremendous growth of socialism. And this is causing the more courageous of these writers to think and to turn our way.
Even before this the world bourgeoisie had lost its monopoly in world literature, for proletarian literature was beginning to spring up in all countries. Now, however, a split is taking place in the very entrails of the bourgeois literary world. It is not now unknown writers, literary beginners, who are coming forward; the great writers of the bourgeois literary world are now coming over to our side.
Dreiser, a man who had already won a great name for himself in American literature prior to the war, who declared a few years ago that his whole life had not provided him with an, explanation, of what is going on in the world and that he was absolutely at sea, now not only comes out in courageous defence of the Soviet Union but calls upon America to follow the Soviet Union’s example.
Romain Rolland, France’s greatest writer, a man whose voice had never sounded the stern trumpet call to struggle, a man whom humanism divided from us, writes his Farewell to the Past, declares that the USSR has shown the way to all mankind and calls upon humanity to take the path along which the Soviet Union is advancing.
But Dreiser is a realist, who had already exposed capitalism in his previous works, though he did not draw the full conclusions from this exposure, while Romain Rolland, even though he never was a fighter, has always been a great friend of mankind. In their cases, the process of evolution is easy to understand. But take André Gide, a writer who has shut himself up in his ivory tower, secluded from life; he declares that the development of capitalist countries on the one hand and that of the USSR on the other have convinced him that the downfall of capitalism is both inevitable and desirable, and that it is his duty to support socialism and the Soviet Union with all his might.
The pundits of the world bourgeoisie raised a howl of horror. It is enough to read the article written in the Echo de Paris, the organ of the French general staff, by one of the members of the French Academy; the latter was unable or unwilling to regard André Gide’s going over to our side as anything but an act of intellectual snobbery on the part of this great poet, who had already been acknowledged by the bourgeoisie and tasted all the good things of life, and who, knowing that he would not have to live under a communist society, decided to take a sniff at this – from the bourgeois viewpoint – far from sweet-smelling flower. But of course anyone who carefully examines the evolution of André Gide will see that his withdrawal from life was in reality a protest against the conditions of life in the capitalist world. When, however, this life broke into his ivory tower and showed him that there is no refuge for the writer from the loathsomeness of capitalism, André Gide, who up to that time had sought for salvation from capitalism in solitude, made a step forward, a very difficult step for such an old, settled writer with such a settled view of the world, and courageously came over to our side.
The literature of the bourgeoisie is splitting up. Such a split, of course, can never take place without friction. A writer can never cut at one stroke all the threads that unite him with the past. And besides the writers who are openly going over. to fascism, besides the writers who are openly coming to socialism, to the civil struggle for socialism, we may also observe writers who are wavering, who are seeking an avenue of escape, who have lost their bearings, who see all the horrors of imperialism, who have a dim premonition of the great things that are happening in our life, but who cannot yet cut the navel-string that unites them with the imperialist world.
And it is very important that we should understand what it is that is hindering many writers – sincere writers – from crossing the Rubicon, from taking their stand on our side of the barricades, what it is that causes these agonizing processes. From the works of many writers one can see that these are profoundly honest ideological processes – processes which merit our fullest sympathy and which call for our friendly interference in order to render them more rapid.
There are several causes. Some writers cannot make up their minds to join the struggle. The French critic Fernandez, speaking of these deterrent factors in his article on André Gide, writes as follows: “We writers have not been fighters; we have described life, and it is difficult for us to take a stand which would oblige us to participate in the struggle.”
History gave its answer to this argument on May 10, 1933, when on the public squares of Berlin the German fascists burned not only the books of Gorky, of Stalin, and of German revolutionary writers such as Ludwig Renn and others, but also those of all humanitarian writers, declaring: “He who is not for us is against us.” On May 10, 1933, all the world’s writers were told: There is no such thing as neutrality in that struggle which is now taking place on the arena of history.
The second argument put forward by these writers is one which merits the most careful appraisal, the most friendly examination, for this is the central argument. They pay homage to the Soviet Union. They say: “Yes, in your country mighty works are being wrought, in your country whole peoples are finding a written language for the first time in their history. In your country the slave of yesterday is rising to new life, in your country woman is free. We do not know what to call this process. But one thing is indisputable. There is a revolutionary force in your country, but we in the West do not know this force.”
This last obstacle standing in the way of writers who are coming to us from the other side has found its most striking expression in two plays by Bernard Shaw. You know that Shaw courageously opposed the war of intervention, that Shaw has always been a friend of the Soviet Union. Shaw has found splendid words to defend the Soviet Union, to extol its achievements, and these sympathies of Bernard Shaw have their roots in his profound sense of the downfall and collapse of capitalist culture.
The two plays by Bernard Shaw which I want to deal with were both written after his return from the USSR.
The first of them, entitled Too True to be Good, is one of the most biting satires that have been written on post-war capitalism. The son. of an English bourgeois atheist, having lost faith in science, joins the army as a chaplain and goes to the front. Returning from the war, where he has seen all the crimes of capitalism and lost his faith in all the teachings of religion and bourgeois morality, he becomes a gentleman-burglar. Bernard Shaw puts his central idea into the mouth of the old atheist and into that of his son, the chaplain and gentleman-burglar. The old man says:
“The universe of Isaac Newton, which has been an impregnable citadel of modern civilization for three hundred. years, has crumbled like the walls of Jericho before the criticism of Einstein. Newton’s universe was the stronghold of rational Determinism: the stars in their orbits obeyed immutably fixed laws; and when we turned from surveying their vastness to study the in finite littleness of the atoms, there too we found the electrons in their orbits obeying the same universal. laws.. Every moment of time dictated and determined the following moment, and was itself dictated and determined by the moment that came before it. Everything was calculable: everything happened because It must: the commandments were erased from the tables of the law; and In their place came the cosmic algebra: the equations of the mathematicians. Here was my faith: here I found my dogma of infallibility ... And now – now – what is left of it? The orbit of the electron obeys no law: it chooses one path and rejects another: it is as capricious as the planet Mercury, who wanders from his road to warm. his hands at the sun. All is caprice: the calculable world has become in. calculable. Purpose and Design, the pretexts for all the vilest superstitions, have risen from the dead to cast down the mighty from their seats and put paper crowns on presumptuous fools. Formerly, when differences with my wife, or business worries, tried me too hard, I sought consolation and reassurance in our natural history museums, where I could forget all common cares in wondering at the diversity of forms and colours in the birds and fishes and animals, all produced without the agency of any designer by the operation of Natural Selection. Today I dare not enter an aquarium, because I can see nothing in those grotesque monsters of the deep but the caricature of some freakish demon artists ... I have to rush. from the building lest I go mad, crying, like the man in your book, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ Nothing can save us from a perpetual headlong fall into a bottomless abyss but a solid footing of dogma; and we no sooner agree to that than we find that the only trustworthy dogma is that there is no dogma. As I stand here I am falling into that abyss, down, down, down. We are all failing into it; and our dizzy brains can utter nothing but madness. My wife has died cursing me. I do not know how to live without her: we were unhappy together for forty years. My son, whom I brought up to be an incorruptible godfearing atheist, has become a thief and a scoundrel; and I can say nothing to him but ‘Go, boy: perish in your villainy; for neither your father nor anyone else can now give you a good reason for being a man of honour.’
Bourgeois positivism, the theory of evolution, gave the representatives of capitalism confidence in. the laws of development. But bourgeois science is passing through a profound crisis. Only hypocrites or idiots can assert that the world economic crisis, which is shaking the edifice of capitalism, is conducive to a selection of the soundest elements of mankind! When, as a result of the crisis, tens of millions of people, in many of whose brains there lurked, most probably, a spark of genius, are dying of hunger, when such men as Kreuger end their lives as common criminals, and when the world’s most reliable trusts are on the brink of bankruptcy, capitalism is falling into the abyss and the honest upholder of capitalist ideas finds himself unable to tell his son whether one should be a man of honour or not. And the son, to whom the father can no longer prove the laws of evolution, is obliged to say:
“I have no bible, no creed: the war has shot both out of my hands. The war has been a fiery forcing house in which we have grown with a rush like flowers in a late spring following a terrible winter. And with what result? This: that we have outgrown our religion, outgrown our political system, outgrown our own strength of mind and character. The fatal word NOT has been miraculously inserted into all our creeds: in the desecrated temples where we knelt murmuring ‘I believe’ we stand with stiff knees and stiffer necks shouting ‘Up, all! The erect posture is the mark of the man: let lesser creatures kneel and crawl: we will not kneel and we do not believe.’ But what next? Is NO enough?”
He leaves the scene, and Bernard Shaw observes: “The fog has enveloped him; the gap with its grottoes is lost to sight; the ponderous stones are wisps of shifting white cloud; there is left only fog: impenetrable fog.”
In this “comedy” of his, Bernard Shaw presents the tragedy of the best elements in the capitalist world. Did not the great American writer Theodore Dreiser, before he adopted the viewpoint of the proletariat, cry out in the surrounding darkness: “I cannot find any meaning in what. I have seen, and go through life just as I came into this world – in dismay and horror.”
The words of the old man in Shaw’s comedy: “For me, not to understand means to perish,” were for him not an empty phrase, but a challenge. He has understood, and will live for the good of mankind. But these words have a decisive significance for the whole of present-day literature and, above all, for the writers who are wavering between a conviction in the victory of socialism and a failure to understand the forces which lead to this victory.
This comes out with tremendous force in Bernard Shaw’s next play, On the Rocks, which appeared in 1933. In this play he. attempts to portray the crisis of the democratic system, the’ fatuity, unbelief and hypocritical cant of a so-called “democratic” government. The Prime Minister, Sir Arthur Chavender, is so busy that he cannot find time for any action or for any thought. He is supposed to lead the House of Commons, though his own secretary asks him: “What’s the use of leading the House if it never goes anywhere?” Having presented a picture of the shiftlessness and imposture of the regime, which is ready to advertise one measure as salutary today, and the opposite tomorrow, a regime of numskulls, of ossified conceptions and hysterical decisions, Bernard Shaw puts into the mouth of the old trade unionist, Hipney, the following characterization of the working class:
“Old Dr. Marx – Karl Marx they call him now – my father knew him well – thought that when you’ined the capitalist system to the working classes of Europe they’ and overthrow it. Fifty years after he founded his Red International the working classes of Europe rose up and shot one another down and blew one another to bits, and turned millions and millions of their infant children out to starve in, the snow or steal and beg in the sunshine, as if Dr. Marx had never been born. And they’ again tomorrow if they was set on to do it. Why, did you set them on? All they wanted was to be given their job, and fed and made comfortable according to their notion of comfort.”
The Prime Minister, Sir Arthur, answers:
“I don’t believe in the class war any more than you do ... I know that half the working class is slaving away to pile up riches only to he smoked out like a hive of bees and plundered of everything but a bare living by our class. But what is the other half doing? Living on the plunder at second hand. Plundering the plunderers .... The working class in hopelessly divided against itself.”
The working class is divided against itself. One part is living the life of slaves, enriching the slave-owners, while another part forces its plunderers to grant it certain concessions. Where does the way out lie? The old trade unionist, Hipney, who was once an admirer of democracy, now regards it as mobocracy. Democracy has proved false; it has become a weapon of deceit:
“Parliamentary leaders say one thing on Monday and just the opposite on Wednesday; and nobody notices any difference. They put down the people in Egypt, in Ireland, and in India with fire and sword, with floggings and hangings, burning the houses over their heads and bombing their little stores for the winter out of existence; and at the next election they’d be sent back to Parliament by working class constituencies as if they were plaster saints ... It wasn’t that the poor silly sheep did it on purpose. They didn’t notice: they didn’t remember: they couldn’t understand: they were taken in by any nonsense they heard at the meetings or read in the morning paper ... Now I’m for any Napoleon or Mussolini or Lenin or Chavender that has the stuff in him to take both the people and the spoilers and oppressors by the scruffs of their silly necks and just sling them into the way they should go with as many kicks as may be needful to make a thorough job of it ... Better one dictator standing up responsible before the world for the good and evil he does than a dirty little dictator in every street responsible to nobody, to turn you out of your house if you don’t pay him for the right to exist on the earth or to fire you out of your job if you stand up to him as a man and an equal. You can’t frighten me with a word like dictator. Me and my like has been dictated to all our lives by swine that have nothing but a snout for money.”
We have purposely quoted these lengthy tirades, since the question here is not whether Bernard Shaw is giving us a picture of the rise of social-fascism, i.e., a picture of how the representatives of so-called democratic socialism desert to the camp of fascism, or whether he is voicing his own views. The question here is of the submerged rock upon which the ship of every artist is wrecked, if he has not grasped the fact that the victory of the proletariat in the USSR is not only a national phenomenon, resulting from the peculiarities of Russia’s historical development, but that it is the first victory of the international proletariat, which will be followed by others, the first victory of the socialist world revolution.
When Bernard Shaw, and many others with him, express their admiration at the victories of the Soviet Union, and portray its great achievements, when they sincerely declare themselves friends of the Soviet Union, we are grateful to them, and we regard their actions as proof of the fact that the truth about the great socialist revolution, accomplished by the Soviet proletariat, is piercing its way through all the fog of bourgeois lies. Their actions are of enormous political significance, and that not only as a symptom of the state of feeling among the “intermediate strata” in capitalist countries. Their actions are of enormous positive significance because they are hindering world imperialism in its efforts to engineer a new and supreme crime – namely, an attack upon the U.S.S.R., which would be the signal for the outbreak of a new world war. However, we are not only citizens of. the Soviet Union, not only patriots of our socialist-fatherland. We are also members of the international working class, and we must tell our friends, in the words of Lenin, that the Russian proletariat is not a chosen people, to whom it was destined that it should enter the promised land, but the pioneer of the international proletariat – a pioneer which has conquered earlier than the others as a result of the peculiarities of Russia’s historical development. We must say this, not from modesty, but in the interests of the truth, in the interests of the development of these same friends of ours. We must say this in order that we may help them to accomplish the task that confronts them in their own countries.
When they describe the collapse of Social-Democracy, when they describe the betrayal of the working class by the leaders of the Second International, when they describe the helplessness of the European and American proletariat in face of this betrayal, in face of the fraud of bourgeois democracy, we, while applauding the profoundly lifelike character of these descriptions, must say to their authors: This duped proletariat, split by the policy of the monopolist bourgeoisie into an exploited mass, living the life of slaves, and a small segment consisting of the labour aristocracy and the labour bureaucracy – this proletariat, which has been betrayed by the Second International, which has not yet overcome. the split in its ranks, which has suffered cruel defeats – this proletariat is none the less the sole force capable of freeing the world from the dictatorship of swine, to employ old Hipney’s expression. No one but this proletariat can save mankind, on the brink of the precipice, from tumbling into the abyss. It alone is able to lead humanity onward. It is harder for it to rise than it was for the Russian proletariat. The Russian proletariat came to power in a country where capitalism was less highly developed than in other countries, where the proletariat was numerically weaker than in other countries, but where it was better prepared for revolution.
Power did not drop into its lap from the skies. During the course of tens of years it prepared itself for this struggle for power. It underwent slavish exploitation. It had to endure the savage, arbitrary regime of a semi-Asiatic despotism. It became steeled in battles against these evils. It created a party which schooled the broadest masses of the working class in the ideas of the revolutionary struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat, a party which taught the working class to become the leader of all the oppressed masses of the people. The proletariat of the West, corrupted by titbits from the table of the bourgeoisie, corrupted, with the aid of the Second International, by the democratic system of fraud, split by the criminal policy of Social-Democracy, while overcoming supreme difficulties in its hard-fought battles, is creating for itself a party able to lead it to victory, is developing in itself the ability to become the leader of the masses.
And when writers of Western countries who are sympathetic towards the USSR, full of contempt for decaying capitalism, convinced of its inevitable doom, look down patronizingly upon the young Communist Parties of the West, and see only their mistakes, without being able to discern the paths of development in these mistakes, we would remind them that at one time it was not only the bourgeoisie who ridiculed Lenin’s idea of converting the World War into civil war, who derided Lenin’s idea of overthrowing the power of the tsars and bourgeoisie by means of a workers’ and peasants’ revolution. A few days prior to the October Revolution, the newspaper Rech, organ of the educated Russian liberal bourgeoisie, wrote that, were it not for the costliness of such an experiment, one should welcome the advent to power of the Bolsheviks, since this experiment would quickly come to grief and thus purify Russia. All the so-called radical and “socialist” intelligentsia thought the same. Plekhanov, a highly educated man, leader of the, Russian Mensheviks, called Lenin’s strategic plan a “dream-farce.” And, as we have shown above, the “salt of the earth,” all the world’s intellectuals who filled the ranks of world literature, regarded the October Revolution, at best, as a result of war-time disorder, of the war fever, and not as the beginning of a new epoch in the history of mankind.
Failure to grasp the role of the western proletariat as a decisive revolutionary force is reminiscent of this attitude of the Russian radical intelligentsia towards the Revolution of October 1917 – an attitude which history has now rendered ridiculous.
We Soviet writers must tell our wavering friends beyond our borders: The October Revolution was the first proletarian revolution in the world. If the proletarian-revolution in Russia was victorious sooner than elsewhere, this is not because socialism is a form of society possible only in the USSR, but because in Russia, as a result of the peculiarities of historical development, the iron Leninist Party was created earlier – a party which was able to train the cadres of the revolution, able to make the proletariat the leader of the peasant masses and of the poor in the towns. But the sources of the October Revolution are world-wide; it is the decay of monopoly capitalism and its contradictions. which generated the October. Revolution, and which will lead the proletariat to world victory.
And those who have not grasped the international character of the October Revolution, those who have not grasped that we represent not the end but the beginning of world revolution, those who have not grasped that the Communist movement in the West, however weak it may still be in some countries, is the beginning of the same revolution as that which conquered in October 1917 – those who have not grasped these facts will voluntarily or involuntarily fall victims to fascism. For those who do not understand that there is a force in their countries that is able to seize power, able to put an end to capitalist ruin and to heal all the ulcers of capitalism – those who do not understand this, and who will not help these forces in the struggle for socialism, will take their stand in the final analysis on the other side of the barricades.
This lack of faith in the powers of the proletariat has already driven Upton Sinclair, an artist who has tried to depict the struggle of the American working class, who for one quarter of a century exposed capitalism, showed up the fraud of bourgeois democracy, into the ranks of that. same Democratic Party which he has so often unmasked and branded as a party of those who exploit the working class. And when Upton Sinclair in his book, The Way Out, appeals to the capitalists and recommends them, as a means of saving America from revolution, to sell their property to society at market price, when he advises them to withdraw peacefully and with dignity from the arena of the class struggle and puts forward his candidature for the governorship of California in order to carry out the reform of America in a democratic manner, and when Bernard Shaw extols the creative powers of Mussolini and Hitler, we are obliged to repeat to the whole world, paraphrasing the words of the old man in Shaw’s play:, “For you, not to understand means to perish – to perish in the morass of fascism.”
We Soviet people must tell our friends, the revolutionary writers of the West, that we attach a high value to every fervent word spoken in support of the Soviet Union, to all support that they give us. But we must tell these Writers, in the words of Karl Liebknecht: “The enemy is in your own country.” The forces which will crush this enemy are there in your own country – developing and alive. The writer who wants to help socialism, which is being built in our country, the writer who wants to fight against fascism, the writer who wants to fight against the war danger must find his way to these forces, must find his way to the proletariat, however small a minority the revolutionary proletariat may constitute as yet in his own country. The victorious Soviet Bolsheviks also started with a minority in the working class ...
We, the Congress of Soviet Writers, stretch out the hand of brotherhood to all writers who are on the Way to us, however far from us they may be as yet, if only we see in them the will and the desire to help the working class in its struggle, to help the Soviet Union. We tell them: The best help you can render us is to stand shoulder to shoulder with the working class in your own countries, with its revolutionary minority, ready to struggle against all those dangers which have banished the sleep from your eyes, which have dispelled your aesthetic quiet. Writers who do not grasp this fact will inevitably land up in the camp of fascism, and it is therefore of supreme importance that we and you should jointly consider the question: What does fascism mean for literature? Our revolutionary writers have a great task before them – that of studying, fully and specifically, the fate of literature under the rule of fascism. Occupied as we are with the political struggle first and foremost, we have not devoted enough time and attention to this task; nevertheless, the history of the fate of literature under the fascist sceptre constitutes the very gravest warning, the “writing on the wall” for all writers.
Writers should ask themselves – and should answer the question – what does fascism mean for culture, for literature? I will not here recount the history of the attitude taken by Italian and German fascism to the fundamental problems of science, or demonstrate the, mystical and irrational aspect, the medieval aspect of fascism. I will deal only with the question of its attitude to literature – You will remember how all world literature set up a howl when it learned of the views on literature held by the Marxists, by the Bolsheviks, who assert that literature is a social weapon, that it expresses the struggle of classes. To the aesthetes, to the representatives of world literature, this seemed a monstrous invention of the Bolsheviks. Our conception of writers who ought to serve the cause of the oppressed classes in their struggle seemed to these aesthetes to he a blasphemous abasement of literature from the intellectual heights of art to the post of handmaiden of history. The fascists, as represented by their theoreticians and leaders of art, say: “There can be no literature standing aloof from the struggle. Either you go with us or against us. If you side with us, then write from the viewpoint of our philosophy; and if you do not side with us, then your place is in the concentration camp.” Göbbels has said this hundreds of times. Rosenherg has proclaimed this hundreds of times.
There is a very talented German writer, Hans Fallada, whose book, Little Man, What Now?, is well-known in our country. Hans Fallada splendidly portrays the sufferings of the masses in bourgeois society, shows how they are duped by the representatives of capitalism, by the representatives of bourgeois democracy. He has depicted the Social-Democrats, the fascists. But many have found it difficult to determine whether he is for the fascists or against them. The chief figure in his book is an honest little office worker whom the crisis has thrown out on the street, a man who can only just keep body – and soul – together and has no strength left to fight.
Hans Fallada has now written a new novel, Wer einmal aus dem Blechnapf frisst. The hero of this novel is a “fallen” petty bourgeois who has landed in jail and served a sentence of five years. He tries to get on his feet again, to live like an honest citizen, but the bureaucratic bourgeois machine of capitalism drags him back to prison. And when this hero finally lands up once again in jail, he feels as though he had returned to his own mother. Now he has a sentence of fifteen years before him, but there is no more need for him to struggle ...
This is a very talented book, but a hopeless one. It appeared when Hitler had already come to power. In his foreword Hans Fallada writes that the picture he has drawn refers to the past, that the fascists will create new conditions. He decided in this way to save both the book and himself, pretending that he was speaking only of the past.
But how did the fascists answer this? The Berlin Börsenzeitung published a fulminating article of the following content:
“We know that Hans Fallada did not write this book against us. Let him just try! But whom did he defend in this book? He wrote it in defence of failures, of those whom history has ground to powder. He awakens pity for those who must be removed from life in order to leave room for Storm Troopers with muscles and revolvers in their hands.”
Fascism, which betrays the interests of the petty bourgeoisie, knows that when people read this book, showing as it does how capitalism has. ground the petty bourgeoisie to powder under the democratic system, they will say: “Under the fascists it’s not better but worse.” And the fascists. demand of the writer: “You draw us a picture showing how under fascism everybody is advancing, developing and prospering. Don’t you dare to awaken pity for those whom capitalism grinds to powder.”
We do not know what the little man, Hans Fallada, will say, what his fate will be now, where he will hide. Fascism tells him: “There are no neutral zones. Write as we demand, or you will be destroyed.” The passages quoted above from Bernard Shaw’s two plays are no exception. They represent only. a more striking expression of the fact that criticism of capitalist civilization, criticism of bourgeois democracy, may become at one and the same time the first step in the artist’s evolution towards revolutionary socialism and also the first step in his evolution towards fascism. It is sufficient to mention such literary productions as Reger’s Union der festen Hand, the novels of von Salomon – to choose some examples from German literature – or to mention those works of French literature which expose parliamentary corruption, in order to see that the point at issue is the dilemma of the writer between the revolutionary solution of the crisis of capitalism and the fascist pseudo-solution of this crisis. It is sufficient to mention that Fallada’s books have given rise to a regular discussion as to whether they are revolutionary or fascist.
This happened at a time when fascism had already been ruling in Italy for nearly ten years, at a time when the fascist and semi-fascist governments in several countries had already disclosed the true face of fascism for all who wished to see it. And in all these novels the bridge leading to fascism was failure to appraise the role of the proletariat, reluctance to observe the beginning of its revolutionary struggle. Criticism of the results of capitalist culture has served in the past and, in the case of many petty-bourgeois writers, is still serving today as the springboard to fascism. This may happen in two ways: either the writer cherishes the illusion that fascism will effect the purification of modern civilization, that it represents a cruel medicine but still a medicine; or he may hold that there is no power which can stop the victory of fascism. Highly characteristic in this respect is the answer given by the well-known French writer, Céline, author of the much discussed novel, Journey to the End of the Night.
Céline has painted a frightful picture, not only of present-day France, but of the whole contemporary world. He looked into the abyss of war. He looked into the cesspool of colonial politics. He turned his gaze upon American “prosperity.” He penned a dismal description of the French petty bourgeoisie.
In the whole world the only human character whom he could find was a prostitute. And after all this, in answer to a questionnaire from a magazine regarding the danger of fascism, he said:
“Dictatorship? Why not! It would be good to have a look at ... Defence against fascism? You are jesting, mademoiselle! You were not in the war – this can be felt, you know, from such questions ... When a military man takes command, mademoiselle, resistance is impossible. One does not resist a dinosaur, mademoiselle. It croaks of itself, and we together with it, in its belly, mademoiselle, in its belly.”
To one who entertains such an opinion of the strength of fascism and the inevitability of its victory, struggle against it is impossible, submission unavoidable. Then the question of whether the writer, in the belly of victorious fascism, will earn his bread by blacking boots, or whether he will adapt himself to it and begin to seek. a justification for the inevitable, i.e., to serve it, is a question of secondary importance.
January 30, 1933 – the date when the German fascists came to power – and the March days of 1933, when German and world literature was consigned to the bonfire on the square before the University of Berlin – this was the last test which the world set bourgeois literature, this was the last challenge issued to it by history.
The World War descended upon the head of humanity like a rain of fire. Bourgeois literature continued to serve the bourgeoisie. October 1917 saw how the earth was opening, and the capitalist world began to quake beneath. the feet of world literature, but it, “the salt of the earth,” not only failed to point the way to mankind, but could not even grasp what was taking place. It needed the putrefaction of post-war capitalism, it needed the harsh lessons of the world crisis, before a part of present-day literature began to use its brains and to conceive that something had finally collapsed into the past, that something new had arisen.
The great majority of writers remained essentially on the side of the bourgeoisie, screening themselves behind empty phrases to the effect that “politics did not concern them.” Fascism, as represented by the German Nazis with their bonfires of books, has now planted its foot upon the breast of literature. Hundreds, if not thousands, of writers have been obliged to flee from Germany as from an earthquake, leaving their books for the hangman to destroy. They. are pursued by the frenzied cries of the high priests of German fascism:
“Back to earth and blood! Away from the culture of man kind! It does not exist at all, just as world history does not exist – there is only the history of separate nations. Its contents are the struggle of man against man, of god against god, of character against character.” (From a speech by Rosenherg.)
“The personality of the artist.” Rosenherg has declared, “should develop freely, without restraint. One thing, however, we demand – acknowledgment of our creed. Only he who accepts this is worthy to enter the struggle. No idylls! Firmness and iron staunchness! ... Artists and writers are those whom we recognize as such, they are those whom we call upon for this purpose.”
The charge which Göbbels has levelled at art is that “it did not see the people, did not see the community, did not feel any bond with it; it has lived alongside of the epoch and behind the people; it could not therefore reflect the spiritual experiences of this epoch and the problems that agitate, it, and only expressed surprise when time passed it by without paying attention to literary researches and experiments. When complaints were raised – that the people was not connected with art, this was said by those same persons who had severed the connection between art and the people.” And, declaring that “the revolution is not stopping anywhere, it is winning over the people and society, it is setting its stamp upon economy, politics and private life – whereby he christened fascist counter-revolution with the name of revolution – Göbbels uttered the following threat to literature: “It would be naive to suppose that the revolution will spare art, that the latter will be able to lead its form of existence as a sleeping beauty somewhere alongside of the epoch or in its backyards. In this condition of sleep, art proclaims: ‘Art stands above parties, it is international; the tasks of art are higher than those of politics. We artists are outside politics, politics are detrimental to the character.”
Göbbels declares that this might have been permissible in the past, when politics reduced themselves to parliamentary squabbles, but when fascism came to power, – at that moment when politics become a national drama in which whole worlds tumbled to the ground, the artist cannot say: “This does not concern me.” It concerns him very much indeed. And if he lets slip the moment at which his art should take a definite stand in regard to the new principles, then he should not be surprised if life goes roaring past him.” Göbbels proclaims that “art should hold to definite standards in regard to morals, politics and views of life – standards which are set up once and for all.”
When the proletarian revolution reminded artists of the elementary truth that they are members of society, that their work is therefore rooted in society and, consciously or unconsciously, expresses the aspirations of some class or other, when the proletarian revolution called upon artists to side consciously with the proletariat, the overwhelming majority of them answered: “Leave us alone in peace.” They answered by referring to the non-political character of the artist, and regarded the proletarian revolution as a horde of vandals, breaking into the temple of art in order to destroy it. Now it is counter-revolution which, taking its cue from revolution, turns to art and says: “This is a fight to the death, and In the battle there can be no neutrals – either for us or against us.” Burning books on the squares of Berlin, fascism says to world literature: “Make your choice.”
And we see how throughout the whole world, the fixing of boundaries is beginning. We see how even in England, America, France, fascist tendencies are springing up in literature, how artists are rehearsing for the role of conscious instruments of the dictatorship of monopoly capital. The fact that the English literary magazine, The Criterion, has begun to speak in fascist tones, the fascist declarations of the English poet T.S. Eliot, the fact that fascist tendencies in American literature are beginning to crystallize, the statement of a well-known American critic to the effect that “if we are to speak of parties, then fascism, of course, can offer more than communism,” and that “of all the many forms of emotional and intellectual influence, patriotism is the sole means capable of restoring to the artist and critic their contact with the reading public and with their environment,” the rise of a number of fascist organs among the French literary youth – all these things are “signs of the time.” Even in those countries where fascism has not conquered, that No-Man’s-Land upon which the allegedly non-political writer can maintain himself is growing more contracted. The literary ‘world is forced to. choose between the revolution of the proletariat and the preventive counter-revolution of monopoly capital.
It need hardly he said that before making this choice one should first be clear as to what end fascism is serving and whom the artist wishes to serve. Fascism is the power of the magnates of iron, of coal, of the exchange, who subject the proletariat to their rule with fire and sword, who are preparing for a new world war and who rely for support upon the duped masses of the petty bourgeoisie. However much fascism may seek to camouflage itself with “Left” tendencies, with social demagogy, it is none the less the rule of the bandits of monopoly capitalism.
Nay, more: even if a dictatorial bourgeois government were formed with the aim of preventing the triumph of fascism – and the semi-fascist – wing of the French radicals is playing with this idea, as are also the representatives of the “brain trust” in America – this represents nothing but deception and self-deceit. Dictatorial power cannot exist if it is not based on a powerful class force. If it hinds the working class hand and foot, it thereby unbinds the hands of the monopoly bourgeoisie. And the revolutionary French writer, Jean-Richard Bloch, is a hundred times right when he says in his answer to a newspaper questionnaire:
“In democratic countries the way is opened for fascism by the ‘law granting plenary powers.’ The passing of such laws is best secured by Left governments, which find them necessary. When, however, the usual swing of the see-saw of parliamentary politics brings a party of social reaction into power, these laws are there, ready for such a party to make use of them.”
There are no middle positions, there is no “Left” fascism, having the alleged aim of defending democracy and the masses. There is either proletarian revolution or fascism. In making his choice, the writer will he deciding not only the question of his place in the coming struggle, but also that of the fate of literature, the fate of art.
Meanwhile German fascism is busily destroying that art upon which Germany used to plume herself before the entire world. It advances, in the capacity of its writers, individuals devoid of talent, who can only utter cries of “land, blood, the nation” – persons of the type of Johst and Beumelburg. It might perhaps plead in its defence that it has only been in power for a year and a half. But it is sufficient to examine the development of Italian literature during the ten years of fascism’s existence in order to see that fascism mean’s death to literature and art. The older Italian writers who have lived on under fascism, such as D’Annunzio, Pirandello, Papini, are almost silent, or else publish only weak productions, which show that the authors have outlived their day. There is nothing to be surprised at in this. What coherence can there be in Pirandello, the meaning of whose work the Italian critic Adriano Tilgher has correctly defined as “The tragedy of impotence and longing for initiative life.” All Pirandello’s work has frankly reflected the downfall of the bourgeoisie., his masks and marionettes, by which he tries to break up reality into a number of mutually mocking ‘contradictions, are obliged to be silent when confronted with fascism, which claims to hold. in its hands the solution to all world problems.
An artist like Corrado Alvaro, who still possesses some significance from the point of view of art, stands aloof from the realities of Italian life. The proscenium of the Italian literary stage is occupied by the producers of light reading matter, such as D’Ambra, Brocchi, Varaldo, or by dealers in pornography, like Verona, Pitigrilli, Mura – such is the opinion of Rank, the German historian of post-war Italian literature.
This fact is admitted by the fascists themselves, Ercole Rivalta writes as follows in the Giornale d’Italia:
“Literature depicts Italian youth as abandoned to vicious instincts, devoid of the least gleam of spirituality, a slave to animal lusts. And this represents, not literary fantasy, but profound reality, embodied in people who, having been born in the first decade of the century and not having been through all the horrors of war, have not accomplished great deeds, have not fought for the fascist revolution, but are the incarnation of chaotic triviality. We must stop the mouths of these homunculi without more ado.”
Just imagine us telling one of our YCLers that he is not accomplishing great deeds, that he is a worthless “homunculus” because, having been born too late, he did not take part in the October Revolution.
We know that our YCLers are the pride of our country, that all the great construction works are YCL works. Anyone who has been on our great construction jobs will have seen that YCLers are working everywhere – from workers at the bench to engineers. Our YCL is accomplishing great deeds. But of the fascist youth who have grown up after the fascists came to power, the Giornale d’Italia writes that they are homunculi who have not accomplished great deeds.
Gherardo Casini, editor of Lavoro Fascista, writes as follows in Critica Fascista:
“The, main historical and political question is: How in a fervid, triumphant period of revolution, can a literature exist which obstinately tries to shut itself up within the most limited bounds, repudiating all renovation? We must breathe into literature a stream of new life, make it take part in, the building of new history.”
Telesio Interlandi, editor of Tevere, wails:
“We need a writer who will see our villages gay, our peasants joyful, our workers calm, trustful and reconciled to the fatherland, who will see how our roads, radiating out from Rome, stretch to all corners of the world, who will hear the metallic voice of Mussolini filling the squares.”
And the unfortunate fascist writers battle with the task assigned them: they depict Italy as she is not.
In his Fascist Stories, Dario Lischi describes a brave fascist officer who – though somewhat reminiscent of Falstaff – is none the less a doer of good deeds, while the villain of the piece, a Bolshevik, is portrayed as a criminal.
Orsini Ratto tells in his Love Fourfold how the hero, having tried a number of women, ultimately finds satisfaction in fascism, acquires wealth, travels around the world, is ruined only to get rich again and founds a philanthropical institute in the fascist province of Tripoli.
The hero of a third fascist novelist, Donato, had already fallen into complete despair and would most probably have perished to no purpose, had not the spectacle of a fascist demonstration reawakened his love of life.
Albatrelli in his book Conquistadors describes how a peasant movement was broken up by a number of devout fascists.
Finally, Mario Carli, in the novel An Italian of the Times of Mussolini – a book which was awarded the Labia Prize and which was published under the auspices of Mussolini himself – has tried to give a picture of the realization of the fascist program. And what is the gist of it? An old aristocrat, representing the old Italy, does not want to develop agriculture by modern methods. The son – a fascist, close to Mussolini – tries to persuade his father, and secures the aid of an old uncle, who has returned to Italy after acquiring a fortune in America. But it is all to no purpose; and when the wicked old aristocrat refuses, even with the financial aid of his American brother, to develop Italian agriculture and thus free Italy from dependence upon foreign agriculture, Mussolini decrees that the parasitic aristocrat be deprived of his estates and that they be placed under state control, and hands over the administration of the estates to the land-owner’s son – the fascist.
For, as Carli writes, “rights of property exist and will be preserved so long as the owner does not violate those obligations which are inalienable from them; but when he forgets the obligations, his rights will vanish” – and be transferred to his son, we might add.
This image may prove inspiring to the fascist sons of prodigal fathers. But why should it inspire the reader and the writer? The reader and the writer are evidently intended to feel satisfaction at what the hero of the novel tells his uncle after the latter’s arrival from America: “Naples, you see, used to be dirty, but now it’s clean, and the beggars have been removed from the streets.”
However, if all this proves insufficiently inspiring to the reader, the following piece of rant on the subject of war may fairly be expected to strike home:
“War represents a really valuable phenomenon, for it compels all people to make the choice between courage and cowardice, between self-sacrifice and egoism, between inner experience and pure materialism. It is, of course, a rude phenomenon – man against man, character against character, nerves against nerves; but this phenomenon divides the hysterical folk, the worms, the whiners, the spoilt children from the courageous, wise idealists, from the mystics of dangers, from the heroes of blood.”
The fascist heroes of blood are persons who sacrifice the blood of others with supreme facility, and it may he that rant has an inspiring effect upon them. Among the masses of the people, who will have to shed their blood on behalf of Italian fascism, this rant will probably arouse nothing but a feeling of disgust. The fascist writers are aware of this, which is why this rant sounds so unconvincing and why their art is so lifeless, so febrile.
Let us take a glance at Polish literature. For one hundred and fifty years Poland was torn asunder by three conquerors. In bondage, she created one of the most brilliant literatures in the world. One might have expected that national unification would usher in a golden age of Polish literature. And she does possess some very talented writers even now. But the greatest Polish writer of our day, Zeromski, Went to the grave with the question on his lips – the question which forms the core of his Early Spring: Was it for this Poland that we fought? The most outstanding writer of the fascist tendency now ruling in Poland, the staunch adherent of Pilsudski, Kaden-Bandrowski, is attempting to give a picture of contemporary Poland in a series of novels.
In the first part of his trilogy he depicts the decline of Polish capitalism, the treachery of the parties of the Second International. He endeavoured to represent communism as a movement of helpless though honest workers, but he did not dare to show the Polish fascists in the setting of Poland’s main coal area. In the second part of his trilogy he has portrayed the corruption and decay of the young Polish parliamentary system – the party of the Polish kulaks, the party of the Polish aristocrats, the party of the Polish socialists, who. have betrayed the workers. But although he brings down his story almost to the moment of Pilsudski’s final advent – to power, he has not portrayed the followers of Pilsudski, the representatives of the Polish form of fascism. He did not portray them, because he was afraid to do so, because the face of Polish fascism is too unattractive for a great artist to dare to show it and to convince the reader that fascism is a blessing. Kaden’s talent comes into conflict with his political convictions.
We must answer the question – and this represents the basic question from the point of view of literature – why literature is dying out under fascism. This does not mean that a talented fascist writer cannot make his appearance. But there has not been and will not be a fascist literature capable of convincing the millions.
Fascism means the end of great literature; by the logic of its own inner laws it means the decay of literature. Why? The reason for this is perfectly clear. It is connected with the very roots of literature and art. In the period when slave-owning society was flourishing, when the culture of the ancient world was arising on its basis, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristotle. and the rest did not perceive any cracks in the foundations of this slave-owning society. They believed it to be the only possible and rational form of society, and were therefore able to create their works without feeling any twinges of doubt. Men feudalism represented the only possible organization of society, it was possible for great feudal poets to exist.
But when, in the days when serfdom was already declining, Gogol defended it in his Letters To Friends, Belinsky spat in the face of the great poet, and everything which made for the creation of great Russian literature was on’ Belinsky’s side. Serfdom could not find advocacy in great works of art because it was already dying, because it was corroded with the worms of capitalist development, because abroad there already existed a society freed from serfdom, and the intelligence, the conscience of an artist could not any longer defend a perishing system, doomed by history.
In the period when capitalism was flourishing, when it was the bearer of progress, it could have its bards, and these bards, in creating their works, knew and believed that they would find an echo among hundreds of thousands and millions of people who regarded capitalism as a good thing.
We should ask ourselves the following question: Why was there a Shakespeare in the sixteenth century, and why is the bourgeoisie today unable to produce a Shakespeare? Why were there great writers in the eighteenth century and in the beginning of the nineteenth? Why are there no such great. writers today as Goethe, Schiller, Byron, Heine, or even Victor Hugo? The literature of the bourgeois period has always been bourgeois literature; it has always served the aims of the bourgeoisie. But in the days when the bourgeoisie was fighting against feudalism, when it was liberating the mind, albeit its own mind, from all the burden of medieval thought, when it was setting free the productive forces, it produced writers who depicted these mighty battles.
It is enough to read Coriolanus or Richard III in order to see what titanic passion, what strain and stress the artist is portraying. It is enough to read Hamlet in order to see that the artist was confronted with the great problems of which way the world was going. The artist beat his wings against these problems. He cried: Alas that it should fall to my lot to set right a world that is out of joint. But these great problems were nevertheless the food on which he lived.
When Germany in the eighteenth century emerged from the period of her utter exhaustion, when she asked herself: “Where is the way out?” – and the way out lay in unification – she gave birth to Goethe and to Schiller.
Men the writer is able to take an affirmative attitude to reality, he can portray this reality truthfully.
Dickens painted an ugly picture of the genesis of English industrial capitalism , but Dickens was convinced that industry was a good thing, that industrial capital would raise England to a higher level, and for this reason Dickens was able to tell the approximate truth about this reality. He toned it down with his sentiment, but in David Copperfield and other works he has painted such a picture that even today the reader can see how modern England came into being.
Dickens, Balzac were able to paint harsh pictures of the contradictions of capitalism. They did so in a spirit of free creation, without fear of shaking the foundations, unashamed, for they believed in the future of the capitalist system.
There can be very talented writers. who will express in imagery the dream of the fascist cut-throats, who will describe how the blonde beast lashes the faces of the masses, and their writings will perhaps constitute great works of art.
We had such a writer in Russia – Gumilev, who gave vent to the spirit of the conquistador, of the imperialist, of the colonizer in the Russian bourgeoisie. He was an outstanding writer, and from the artistic point of view he could and did produce great things. But take this Gumilev’s books and give them, without any commentary, to our workers or our peasants. They will tell you: “He’s a scoundrel to mock at mankind like that.”
Again, there may exist outstanding fascist writers who will express the fascist dream of rule by the sword in major works of art, but these will he works which convince only the fascists themselves; they cannot become a weapon of fascist influence over the masses of the people.
We know that there are people in the Soviet Union who grumble, who are discontented. After reading works like those of Sholokhov, they come to understand, through him, what they did not understand before, when they looked at some small section of life, when they regarded only what was as yet hard for them to contemplate. Through works like Sholokhov’s they came to understand the necessity of those severe, firm, drastic measures which had to be taken in order to build socialism. I have heard with my own ears from intellectuals, from persons who were permeated with humanitarian ideas and who had not grasped what was happening during the period of the First. Five-Year Plan, during the period of collectivization when the kulak class was being liquidated, how they declared after reading Sholokhov’s book: “He has convinced me that it had to be that way.”
But show me an opponent of fascism or a neutral person whom their novels convince or will convince of the rightness of fascism, even if the novel in question, thanks to the author’s talents, attains a high artistic level.
Where will you find an artist who will be able to convince the millions of workers and peasants that a world imperialist war is a blessing? Men they were driven to the battlefields, when they were duped by the story that they were fighting for the fatherland, for themselves, they believed for a moment, but now they can see the ruins, all the consequences of war. And there is no artist who could write a true war book capable of agitating the millions in favour of imperialist war.
Try to find a major contemporary artist who will give us a truthful book about the Italian countryside – a book which would convince the peasants and us that fascism has brought liberation to the Italian countryside. Incidentally, there does exist one truthful book about Italian village life – a book by Silone, a man who has committed great political errors in his life, but who has given a truthful picture in this case, since he is an enemy of fascism. The truth about the Italian countryside can only be this: that Italian fascism has not destroyed the power of the landlord, has not done away with capitalism’s exploitation of the peasantry, has not destroyed, but has strengthened, the oppression of bureaucracy in the fascist countryside.
And if a writer possessing even such talent as Shakespeare, Michaelangelo, or Leonardo da Vinci were born today, if such a writer were confronted with the task of portraying fascist reality in a picture convincing to the masses of the people, then the picture which he produced would speak against fascism, against capitalism; he would not he able to draw one which would speak in their favour.
This is the reason why fascist literature is decaying. This is the reason why fascism will never create a great literature, a great convincing literature, convincing to the broad masses.
An art which proclaims the greatness of capitalism in the face of forty million unemployed is impossible, for, as Bernard Shaw quite rightly stated in his speech, The Madhouse in America, delivered in New York on April 11, 1933.
“Your proletariat is unemployed. That means the breakdown of your capitalist system, because, as any political scientist will tell you, the whole justification of the system of privately appropriated capital and land on which you have been working, is its guarantee, elaborately reasoned out on paper by the capitalist economists, that although one result of it must he the creation of a small but enormously rich propertied class which in also an idle class, living at the expense of the propertyless masses who are getting only a hare living, nevertheless that hare living is always secured for them. There must always be employment available; and they will always he able to obtain a subsistence wage for their labour.
“When that promise is broken (and never for one moment has it been kept right up to the hilt), when your unemployed are not only the old negligible 5 per cent of this trade, 8 per cent of that trade, 2 per cent of the other trade, but, millions of unemployed, then the capitalist system has broken down.”
What writer who is not devoid of all conscience, of all feeling, of all capacity to speak the truth can defend a system which renders tens of millions of people unemployed, a system which ruins and pauperizes the peasants, giving them no access to urban life, a system under which hundreds of thousands of people who have received an education find no chance to apply their knowledge, a system which trembles at the idea of new inventions, a system which, after the World War with its ten million killed, its tens of millions crippled and mutilated, is now preparing for a fresh war? Fascism wants to perpetuate this system; it wants to defend it from destruction by a policy of blood and iron. That is what fascism is for. Fascism can buy a handful of writers; it can find a handful of persons who will sincerely advocate the power of the blonde beast, of persons who will preach war as a panacea, but out of mercenary souls or knights-errant of historical adventure it will not be able to create a literature which will convince millions. An artist may twist as a man; as a man, he may fawn and cringe. But no one will create a great work of art by portraying what he does not believe in, by advocating a cause which he despises in the depths of his soul, for art great art, is truth and life.
There is no other art And even if there should be a handful of persons who will find romance in putrefying capitalism, – they will not be able to create works which will he convincing to the masses of the people, and they will fade away, for the creative artist needs hearts where his notes will find an echo.
The decay of capitalism, its downfall, which finds its expression in fascism, means the decay and downfall of all literature which cannot tear from its neck the fatal noose of capitalism, which cannot tear the shirt of Nessus, from its body. This does not mean that such literature cannot produce works of great craftsmanship in regard to form. The ancient world perished and rotted away, but the craftsmanship created by the artists of antiquity in the heyday of its youth lived on in the monasteries. Just as the decay of capitalism does not preclude the development of productive forces in some domain or other, in some country or other, so the decay of capitalist literature does not mean the complete disappearance of art, even in the camp of the bourgeoisie; but it does mean that no more great works will he accomplished by that art which is created in order to serve moribund capitalism. It cannot create images which will find an echo among the millions of people who aspire to a new and better life.
At best, it cannot be more than the art of minstrels who entertain revellers in a time of plague, and the artist of today who does not want to be a bard of exploitation, a bard of the burning of books, a bard of the public execution of the best sons of the people, the artist who does not want to be the bard of a new imperialist war, of a senseless and all-destroying war, must put out from that tainted coast and head for new shores, where new life is flourishing.
And those who want world literature to develop again, those who want literature of real value, those who want this great lever in the development of mankind – which has given mankind supreme enjoyment, which. fills the lives of many people, which represents a source of great creative work – to live and develop, must put off from that coast, seek their way to us, join the proletariat in the struggle against capitalism, in the struggle against fascism, for only in this struggle will a literature that is truly great arise, develop and grow strong.
The October Revolution has’ created a new literature, just as it creates new things in all other spheres of culture. The thinkers of the peasant revolution might underrate the importance of literature, for the only object which the peasant revolution sets itself is to destroy the feudal system. It cannot set itself the task of completely remoulding all the achievements of mankind. Such aims overstep the narrow local horizon of the peasantry. Tolstoy, who reflected the narrow-mindedness of peasant life, was employing just such peasant criteria when he arrived at the idea of the destruction of art.
The proletarian revolution does not merely destroy the capitalist system. Out of the bricks which have been created during the entire period of mankind’s cultural development, it builds a new edifice of human culture. In contrast to the peasantry, the proletariat – the driving force of the proletarian revolution – begins in part to take possession of the old culture even under the capitalist system; in the person of its vanguard, it takes over the best elements of this old culture, creating with their help its picture of the future world and attaining comprehension of its historical tasks. Literature already begins to play a considerable part in the development of the proletariat, while the latter is still a force fighting against capitalism. And just as inevitably, the proletariat must take possession of all the achievements of the old culture, after it has come to power, as it must take possession of all the riches left it as a heritage by capitalism. But it does not passively accept the heritage of the past. It makes a careful selection of this inheritance. It creates the very elements of the new culture, and during the long process of revolution, while remoulding itself, it creates a new literature too.
Even during the period of struggle against tsarism, Lenin and the Bolshevik Party showed a perfect understanding of the importance of literature; they took pride in the fact that a great writer like Maxim Gorky adhered to the Bolshevik movement and reflected in literature the thoughts of the militant proletariat. The year 1912, when a great wave of the working class movement was rising and when the newspaper Pravda was founded, saw the appearance of the first collection of stories by proletarian writers, recruited from the ranks of the proletariat, which was fighting under the banner of Bolshevism.
In the very teeth of the devastating struggle in which the edifice of tsarism and of Russian capitalism was utterly demolished, in the very teeth of the fight against intervention, the Soviet government and the Bolshevik Party made every endeavour to preserve the writers and to bring them closer to the struggle of the proletariat. After the Civil War was over, the Communist Party exerted all efforts to bring closer to the proletariat those writers Who, while not holding the latter’s viewpoint, nevertheless reflected the great revolutionary process from the angle. of the peasantry or of the intelligentsia, and who were striving to merge themselves with this process. The works of these “fellow-travellers of the revolution,” who received the backing of the Soviet government, were not the only works produced, even during the first revolutionary years. The workers’ and peasants’ own literature was originating – a literature which, in the person of its creators, was organically connected with the proletariat. And it could not be otherwise.
Revolution rouses vast masses of the people to a new cultural life, and these masses, during their struggle, simultaneously strive to express their aspirations, to express their thoughts in artistic form. Between proletarian literature, i.e., literature which looks at the world from the standpoint of the militant proletariat and which tries to help in the transformation of this world, and the literature of the “fellow-travellers,” there is a process of emulation, of struggle going on, a process of reciprocal influence and of mutual enrichment. And now, after seventeen years of proletarian revolution in Russia, we may say that this revolution has created a literature which has already outgrown its infancy.
The plain fact that, despite the resistance of the big capitalist publishers, the books of Soviet writers have found their way to all countries in the world, that these books are widely read, that they convey the news of the proletarian revolution in the USSR to wide circles of workers and intellectuals, that they arouse the deepest interest – these plain, irrefutable facts are in themselves a proof of the great achievements of Soviet literature. Without any fear of boasting we may say that Soviet literature is now the best literature in the world, for it is the only literature in which great creation and great construction are portrayed; it is a literature which provides an answer to the basic questions of mankind.
We know how much Soviet writers still have to learn, in order that the artistic forms created by them may rise to the level of their subject. The Soviet proletariat, which in actual life has already created Magnitostroy, Dnieprostroy, Kuznetskstroy, has not yet created any works of literature commensurate with the greatness of its material and political achievements. But if we are to compare Soviet literature with the literature of decaying capitalism, then we may safely declare: Soviet literature already has works to its credit against which the literature of the world bourgeoisie can set nothing similar.
Soviet literature’s process of development is a lengthy one. Achievements in this domain can only be won at the cost of persistent labour – labour which requires a long period of time, since the problem here is one of mastering the whole culture of the past, of raising to the level reached by the best models of the old culture not a small group of writers but millions of human beings, who represent the readers of Soviet literature and who are producing hundreds, thous. ands of new writers from their midst.
Soviet literature, which reflects first and foremost the struggle of the Soviet proletariat and of the collective farm peasantry, has not yet mastered to an adequate degree the art of writing on international themes. It has not yet succeeded in portraying those events which are shaking the whole capitalist world, has not yet been fully able to depict the face of the international foe of the proletariat – the face of imperialism which is preparing for war, the face of fascism which is its weapon.
The young proletarian literature of the West is coming to the aid of Soviet literature. We are witnessing not only the growth of literature in the Soviet Union, where it is developing before our very eyes into the mighty vanguard literature of the world, but also the genesis of proletarian literature throughout the whole world.
The question as to whether proletarian literature is possible – a question which formerly aroused disputes – has now been solved in actual practice, in the thick of battle. You know how sharply Lenin opposed the attempts that were made to create a specious form of proletarian literature in special closed “preserves” laboratories, employing, as it were, for the breeding of such literature, as was recommended in theory and done in practice by the “Proletcult.” Lenin, however, not only considered that proletarian literature was possible, but held that we must fight to create such literature.
All the fundamental principles determining our attitude to the problem of proletarian literature can he found in Lenin, in those passages where he gives an appraisal of different authors of bourgeois – and landlord society, and where he enunciates general principles regarding the cultural revolution. Trotsky’s assertion that proletarian literature is impossible is based, in the first place, on a failure to understand that the world revolution covers a lengthy period of time, a period of defeats and victories, that it is not a short-lived explosion that it is not the result of any special combination of circumstances which arose in connection with the war and which may prove transient, and, in the second place, on a denial of the possibility of building socialism in one country.
Proletarian literature has become possible in our country because seventeen years of struggle, during the course of which the Soviet proletariat has laid the foundation of socialism and is building the edifice of socialism, have developed tremendous cultural powers in the proletariat and have filled the broadest masses of the people with the desire to seek in literature a reflection of their struggle, to find in literature a reflection of their aspirations, a reflection of their strivings.
But. the world proletariat, whose advanced detachments are fighting to overthrow the power of the bourgeoisie, which is experiencing unprecedented advances and suffering tremendous defeats in this struggle, which is witnessing the death of bourgeois culture and the birth of proletarian socialist culture in the USSR – the world proletariat cannot remain dumb in the face of these concussions. Battling against the bourgeoisie, battling for the conditions of its development, the revolutionary proletariat needs a literature which will help it to comprehend its struggle, to comprehend what is happening in the world – a literature that will help it to express the feelings motivating this struggle. That is why there is hardly a country in the world where proletarian literature has not begun to arise. For the revolutionary proletariat in the countries of capitalism, it is more difficult to create its own literature than for the proletariat of the USSR. The capitalist world boasts of the culture which it has produced and the cultural level which the working masses have attained, but in reality all the revolutionary worker in the West receives from capitalism is a miserable education in the elementary school; all other knowledge he is obliged to acquire in the meagre hours which are left over to him after work in a capitalist factory and direct participation in the revolutionary struggle. Those sources of science, which are so widely accessible to the working masses in the Soviet Union, are closed to him.
Despite all these difficulties, however, the revolutionary movement, both in the West and in the East, is creating its own literature. I am not speaking of countries so profoundly shaken by revolution as Germany, which has behind it years of civil war full of the most dramatic episodes, which has experienced the unheard-of treachery of Social-Democracy, and whose history is filled with the supreme heroism and death of such people as Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, with the tragic fate of the Bavarian republic and of its heroic fighters.
All these great battles could not but find their reflection in literature, and the most interesting point is that German proletarian literature comes from the heart of the German working class, that it is being created by writers who were yesterday working in factories or fulfilling the duties of Party agitators, of Party organizers. I refer to such writers as Marchwitza, Grunberg, Kleber, Plivier and others.
All this goes to show that this literature grows directly out of the very roots of the movement; it grows out of the revolutionary movement of the working class.
Proletarian literature has been able to attract not only public opinion; it has also been able to attract into its ranks the writers of the bourgeoisie. I am not speaking of such writers as the Communist poet Johannes Becher, who has been in the revolutionary movement from the very start and who did not enter it as a man of letters. But Ludwig Renn’s entry into our Party was not only the result of the struggle waged by our Party and by the proletariat; it was also influenced by the rise of proletarian literature.
If you take another part of the world – Asia; if you consider what is happening in Japan, you will see that that country can present a magnificent picture of the rise of a proletarian literature, richer in quantity than anywhere else, excluding the USSR. This literature is profoundly moving in its simplicity, in its closeness to the proletariat. Kobayashi, Kukushima, Seketi, Hayashi and Tokunaga – these are writers who have come from the masses.
Some of these have become writers because they wanted to serve the cause of the working class, and they reflect the struggle of the Japanese proletariat; others have joined the Communist Party because, as writers, they cannot give a truthful portrayal of life unless they are in the ranks of our Party.
Japanese proletarian literature is the most autochthonous proletarian literature in existence. It breathes the very life of the masses. It unfolds before us a picture of the struggle that is being waged by the Japanese proletariat, shows from what sections of the population it has issued, whither it is going. Despite its shortcomings, this literature shows what a powerful weapon of struggle proletarian literature can become. Often, when the proletariat of Japan is muzzled and cannot give expression to its aspirations, the proletarian literature of Japan speaks for it. This proletarian literature
enjoys wide popularity, and that not only among the masses of the people. It evokes profound interest among wide circles of the intelligentsia. The facts confirm this. Bourgeois magazines and publishing houses publish this literature, evidently understanding that there is a demand for it among the wider reading public.
In a country like the USA we may also observe a profound split among the intellectuals. This process finds its expression in the ranks of proletarian literature. It is enough to mention as an example the book of James Steele describing the conditions in the Ford works in Detroit.
At the same time we may observe how the writers who are wavering and coming over to our side pay visits to strike centres, where the local magnates do not permit any Communist agitators to intrude. In such cases literature not only takes upon itself the task of investigating what is going on, of inquiring into all the brutalities of capitalism, but also assumes the functions of direct defender of the proletariat’s interests.
We see how a proletarian literature is arising in France, how from the heart of the proletariat, from sections of the population closely allied to it, writers are appearing who openly declare themselves Communists, proletarian writers.
We see the beginning of a proletarian literature in England. In the heart of bourgeois England, at Oxford, where the sons of the English bourgeoisie are educated a group is taking shape which realizes that the only salvation lies in alliance with the proletariat.
There is no country in the world where the militant proletariat is not disputing the bourgeoisie’s monopoly in literature, where it has not attempted to create its own literature of struggle – a literature which is helping the proletariat, through the medium of art, to realize its own position and which is also helping those sections of the population, whose position borders upon that of the proletariat, to do the same.
The failing of this literature lies not only in the fact that it has not yet fully mastered artistic form, that it presents as yet little more than a simple chronicle of the history of proletarian struggle. Its main shortcoming is that its authors, in their tales and stories, do not go beyond portrayal of the immediate struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, often confining themselves to direct portrayal of the economic struggle of the proletariat. The proletarian artist, relying on his experience of struggle, does not as yet go beyond the sphere of direct relations between bourgeoisie and proletariat.
But proletarian art should take in all spheres of human life. It should reflect the main processes which are going on in society. It should not only reflect the struggle of proletariat and bourgeoisie, but should also depict the very condition of the bourgeoisie and its tendencies, should describe the position of the “intermediate strata,” who will still have a big part to play in the final battle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie.
Proletarian art cannot content itself with the class struggle alone. It should describe the processes that are going on in the classes themselves – their way of life, their psychology, their development, their strivings. This proletarian literature does not yet do, for as yet the proletariat is only forming its fighting cadres; it has not yet mastered all those problems which: it will have to solve in the future. But even of this rudimentary literature of the proletariat, at which bourgeois aesthetes may turn up their noses, we have a right to say: It is a reflection of the struggle, and it will develop in proportion as the struggle of the revolutionary proletariat grows, deepens and broadens.
In particular we must welcome the fact that the proletarian writers of capitalist countries and our Soviet proletarian writers have turned their attention to describing the struggle of the colonial proletariat and peasantry. The Chinese stories of Oscar Erdberg and of Agnes Smedley, by which the news of the hard struggle of the Chinese workers and peasants is conveyed to the world proletariat, as well as Japanese proletarian literature, have already done much to bring the world proletariat into closer touch with the struggle of its Japanese and Chinese brothers.
This literature – the direct production of proletarian writers – is being aided by a number of revolutionary writers, who are breaking away from the bourgeoisie and beginning to draw closer to the proletariat. There is hardly a single capitalist country in which this process cannot be observed. It is enough to mention the evolution of the German author, Ludwig Renn. This writer’s past life had been connected with the army and the nobility. His book on the war was received with great acclaim by bourgeois pacifist literature. After this he made a step forward and sketched the evolution of a soldier who, disillusioned by all the ideas of the bourgeoisie and of Social-Democracy, seeks for a way to communism. Renn himself joined the ranks of the Communist Party of Germany, and at the present time he is a prisoner in one! of the concentration camps of German fascism. We send him fraternal greetings. In America such a great pre-war writer as Dreiser has openly joined the side of the proletariat. Dos Passos is coming closer to us in bis last works, The Forty-Second Parallel and 1919. He cannot yet take in the whole picture of capitalist reality, reflect the significance of the struggle of the proletariat. Meanwhile he portrays the collapse of capitalism and the growth of revolutionary elements among the petty bourgeoisie.
Petty-bourgeois revolutionary writers, whose path of evolution is towards the proletariat, encounter tremendous obstacles on their way, for the writer who comes over to the side of the proletariat must re-cast his views of life, must make a new evaluation of life and appraise its processes as a whole. When André Gide passed over to the side of the militant proletariat, the bourgeois press of France declared that this meant his death as a writer, since not one of those writers who have gone over to the side of the proletariat has been able to develop his talent or to produce major works of art. It wrote that one more publicist was coming to revolution, but not a creative writer, not a creator of works of art. These predictions of the bourgeois press are completely refuted, however, by the case of Romain Rolland. Romain Rolland began to write a novel after the war, when he still held a humanist viewpoint and had not yet made up his mind to join the side of revolution. He depicted a pure woman battling with the problems with which life confronted her, and unable to solve these problems in solitude. Romain Rolland broke off this novel half-way, leaving his heroine in a hopeless situation. And when, after years of wavering, Romain Rolland joined the side of the proletariat, when he made the courageous decision to break with the vacillations of the past and to declare war on the world “where the wind howls over the ruins,” the new standpoint not only did not impoverish the talent of the great French writer, but provided him himself with an avenue of escape from those contradictions which had been gnawing his heart, from those contradictions which had pinioned the wings of his genius, enabled him to complete his cycle with a novel which represents a great artistic reflection of that struggle through which the French intelligentsia, standing at the crossroads, is now living.
And – most noteworthy of all – Romain Rolland does not give us a cheap daub, mere eulogy of the new point of view. He gives us an honest, truthful picture of the struggle, a picture of those great inner perplexities which hinder the intelligentsia from joining the. revolutionary ranks. Romain Rolland, in his latest work. shows how the remnants of bourgeois individualism constitute the main obstacle in the path of the intelligentsia which is coming to revolution. And he shows the surmounting of these obstacles, in battling with which the revolutionary intellectual, who joins the ranks of the proletariat in its fight against fascism, not only does not lose his individuality, but develops it, by placing it at the service of the class which alone is capable of dealing a death-blow to the decaying capitalist world.
Romain Rolland’s latest novel, which places him on a higher level than that attained in Jean-Christophe, marks the beginning of a great revolutionary literature, created in the capitalist countries by persons who have found their way from petty-bourgeois humanitarianism to the revolutionary proletariat. Romain Rolland, himself the epitome of the great traditions of French humanitarian culture and one of the greatest writers of the old world, has shown by this novel that there is a way leading from the old shores to the new, that writers who have grown up in the old world are able – if they sincerely come over to the side of the proletariat, if they endeavour to think out the position in which humanity is placed – to render this humanity supreme service in the most difficult and decisive years.
And in capitalist countries the way in which the literature of the coming revolutionary battles will be formed is by the reciprocal action of those writers who have passed over from the camp of the bourgeoisie to that of the proletariat, with the writers who have arisen from the ranks of the militant proletariat itself. This reciprocal action should take the following form: the young proletarian authors should learn from the older writers to master artistic form, should try, through the medium of their works, to understand, to sense the processes which are going on outside the ranks of the proletariat – above all, the processes which are going on in the ranks of the peasantry, in the ranks of the urban petty-bourgeoisie, in the ranks of the intelligentsia; while those writers whose life has not been linked with the life and struggle of the proletariat should be able, with the aid of the proletarian writers, to draw closer to that force which is to play a decisive role in the struggle – to free mankind. This mutual rapprochement cannot be reached without a struggle of ideas.
It is the proletariat’s duty to tell its writers, and those who wish to become its writers, the whole truth about their works.
The proletariat must take under its control the literature which aspires to serve it. This control ought to consist of fraternal criticism, of an open and honest attitude towards the works of its friends. The proletariat does not have the same attitude towards literature as towards a toy or a luxury. It regards it as a weapon of struggle. But at the same time the brother proletarian parties in capitalist countries cannot fail to understand that literature is a special weapon of struggle. It can only be created if there is a careful, solicitous attitude towards the revolutionary writer. It can only be created if it is understood that the education of a revolutionary writer requires time, that it requires patience, that it requires the greatest care.
Ups and downs are inevitable in a revolutionary writer. And the Party of the proletariat, while taking a critical attitude to everything in the writer’s work which does not conform to the ideas and interests of the proletariat, should remember that it is very easy to drop a writer, but very difficult to educate him.
Speaking of the main obstacles and hindrances which stand in the way of these older writers when they are coming over to our side, I pointed to two factors. In the first place, many of these writers do not see the revolutionary forces in their own countries. In the second place, they shun the struggle. But if we attentively examine this approach of petty-bourgeois writers to us revolutionary writers, if we examine the process of their evolution, we may observe other hindrances besides; these must be clarified, for the process of their approach to us is a painful one. They cannot be dragooned, and the process cannot be accelerated artificially. But, on the other hand, these writers will not overcome their perplexities until they realize how groundless are the causes that keep them from us.
In France these questions are being discussed both in novels and in the most interesting forms of publicist literature, in which artists who are coming over to our side explain their perplexities. This demands an analysis of the most friendly and fraternal kind.
Let us take Clerambault by Romain Rolland, a book written at a time when Romain Rolland could not make up his mind to join us, a book in which all his doubts are set forth; or let us analyse the book Destinies of the Age by our friend, the outstanding French author, Jean-Richard Bloch, who is present here at our congress; or let us take the articles of Fernandez, and you will see what is hindering these writers, or what hindered them at certain stages of their development, from coming over to our side.
If we except those causes of which I have already spoken – pessimistic appraisal of the state of revolutionary forces in the country, if we do not consider unwillingness to struggle – what, fundamentally, is the navel-string that connects these wavering authors with the other camp? I take the most reflective, the most thinking writers, and I do not take them in order to start a dispute, but, on the contrary, in order to understand them and help them to understand us.
What is the idea that we must help them to overcome? It is the idea of individualism, an idea which may be expressed as follows: “I, a writer, a worker of the mind, cannot submit to any discipline. All parties mean blinkers. All parties tie down the artist. I want to be a free lance fighting for the revolution. I cannot be a soldier in the army of revolution.” This idea, formulated With varying degrees of clarity, represents the core of those perplexities felt by all wavering writers who sincerely want to come over to us.
And of course this perplexity will not be made to vanish by our arguments; arguments can only help. It will vanish when the battle breaks out and when the writer sees that he cannot take part in the battle except as a soldier, that there is no such thing as a fighting army which is not knit together by an inner unity and an inner discipline. Then the writer will grasp this. But we should make his road to us easier by speaking with him on this question, so vital to him, with the utmost frankness.
It goes without saying that the revolution and the Party do not exist in order to ensure to all members complete liberty. Engels said that there is nothing more authoritarian than revolution; the proletarian revolution secures freedom to mankind, and it must create an army in which the members are united by what is most fundamental, in which they are united by the aims of the struggle, in which they are united by a common program, by a common path and must subordinate all individual considerations to this common aim.
The Party of the proletariat is a party of revolution, pursuing its policy on the basis of Marxism-Leninism. It knows whither it is leading the masses. And when a man thinks that he is only upholding some individual shade of opinion against the Party, a political test will always show that he is upholding interests alien to the proletariat. And if a writer finds it hard to give up his most intimate, individual shades of opinion, let him study the experience of the Soviet revolution and he will then see that if he wants to fight against capitalism, against imperialism, if he wants to fight hand in hand with the masses, then he must march in the ranks of these masses. But if he sets his so-called shades of opinion in opposition to the masses, then it will be shown that this is not his individual opinion, but the opinion of some bourgeois group hostile to the proletariat.
In this field we have a tremendous fund of experience. And if Lenin told the international proletariat in 1920, when lie wrote his Left Wing” Communism – An Infantile Disorder, that the experience of the Russian revolution can help to shorten the sufferings of the proletariat in many other countries, then in this special province of which we are speaking, viz., the individual freedom of the writer in its relation to the revolution, we have had tremendous experience, not only of a literary kind. If we consider the history of the struggle against the general line of the Communist Party, we shall see that all those who fought against it at different stages (I was one myself) thought as follows: We are in agreement with the Party at bottom; we only want it to give us freedom in certain details – and these “details” consisted in the fact that we did not understand the role of the peasantry, that we did not understand the role of the enslaved peoples – tremendous questions, of decisive import for the fate of the revolution – that we did not understand that our divergences were not divergences in shades of opinion but in the most fundamental matters, and that behind these divergences were the interests of another class.
Let every writer think this over most profoundly, and then he will understand that either he will be excluded from the struggle which his heart is urging him to join, in which he wants to take part, or he must march in the ranks of the militant masses of the people. In war, every soldier is not free to choose his own way of reaching the objective. In war, there is a common line of march, and our line of march is not foisted upon us from without by the tyranny and arbitrary will of some dictatorial party; it is history’s own line of march, revealed and illuminated by the highest human reason, finding its expression in the teachings of Marx and Lenin.
Notwithstanding all these difficulties, history is compelling the writers to turn in our direction.
The great writer Romain Rolland has found his way to us. Hundreds of the world’s outstanding writers are finding it or will find it. They will find it, after a number of mistakes on the way (for such a process of evolution does not happen in a day), upon one basic condition – namely, provided these writers are not mere literary sportsmen, provided these writers are linked up with the masses, provided the great tragedy through which mankind is now living, the tragedy of the downfall of one system and the joy attending the birth of another system of society, penetrates to their brains through their hearts, which must be bound up with the masses of the people and beat in unison with theirs, There may be an outstanding writer who can present the most talented pictures of the shocks of revolution, but if he is not linked up heart and soul with these militant masses, with the militant workers and peasants, if he is looking for a refuge from the emptiness of life in revolution, then his talent will be void, and he will not flourish.
When, after the death of Lenin, we all gathered in the Opera House, Comrade Krupskaya said something of which I would like to remind all writers who are seeking for a way to join us. Her words were unusual, not only in her mouth, but in the mouths of all us Communists. She said: “Lenin deeply loved the people.” And when the leader of our Party, Comrade Stalin, answered – the greetings sent him by the Party of the proletariat on his fiftieth birthday, he said something which, in the mouth of such a reserved man as he, sounded as though it came from the very depths of his being. Stalin said that he was ready to shed his blood “drop by drop” for the proletariat.
Such words as those spoken by Comrades Krupskaya and Stalin are said very seldom, but we, too, are now speaking of great problems – the turning towards us of great artists, who can greatly help the working class and peasantry in their struggle. And we say to these artists: One may be a master but not be able to reflect this great struggle. You will be able to do so only if your work echoes a love for the militant masses of the people, who are not only suffering and struggling, but who represent the sole foundation for a new life. Without this attitude to the revolution, there can be no great art.
And Romain Rolland, the great struggler, has risen to a higher stage of his development because he is a man of great culture and great love. At first his humanism hindered him, but when he saw that humanity and the masses of the people would perish without that surgical operation which is called revolution, he found strength within himself to rise up in its defence, and that wave of great love for humanity has surged up in him, which has found its expression in all his works.
In the final analysis, the development of proletarian literature in all countries will be determined by the strength of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. Proletarian literature cannot be made to order. Only to the extent that the proletariat, by its struggle, arouses the creative powers that are latent in the great masses of the working class, inspires the petty-bourgeois sections of the population with confidence in the leadership of the proletariat, convinces wide circles of the intelligentsia, who are deserting capitalism, that there is a way out of the crisis through which the capitalist world is passing, that there is a way of saving human culture – only to the extent that the proletariat becomes the leader of the movement of the masses, is it able to create its own literature and to attract to its side those honest artists who were hitherto the unconscious servants of the bourgeoisie, while regarding themselves as outside politics.
Proletarian writers suffer from other ailments than the old masters of literature. If the latter suffered from insufficient contact with the working masses, from insufficient resolution in struggle, our young proletarian literature suffers from an insufficiency of culture.
It is not my function to grade writers in different classes. Almost all our writers suffer from one complaint. What is it? In the first place, like all writers, they base their work on their own experience, on what they have felt emotionally, but the only experience they possess is that of struggle in the factories, of demonstrations, or at best, of armed struggle in a certain field; they try to squeeze the whole world into this narrow framework, and all that exists for them in this world Is the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. But this is not a Communist approach. The Communist approach demands that the writer see life as a whole, with all its various grades and social strata, because all social strata will play a big part in the decisive battles of mankind.
In the second place, proletarian writers simply have not mastered form as yet. The bourgeois school system has not given them literary culture, and the proletarian writer, in fighting his way forward, has to labour hard over problems of form; it is like attaining a qualification in factory work at the work-bench, on the machine.
All this takes time. All this demands that proletarian writers, without losing their contact with the masses, without withdrawing for a single moment from the struggle of the masses, without turning into spectators, onlookers of this struggle, find their way to the treasury of past literature and to great living masters from whom they can learn. And those great writers who are coming over to our side should help these proletarian writers to master technique and thus to bring nearer the day when a great proletarian literature will be born.
We are profoundly convinced that this proletarian literature will come into being through the fusion, the organic fusion of the best writers from among the old intelligentsia, who are coming over to us, with the proletarian writers. The proletarian writers – they who art filled with the love and hatred that are boiling up in the breast of the proletariat – will learn from these masters of language how to use their pens to serve the proletariat, which they have served heretofore as agitators and soldiers. The pen is often a more powerful weapon than the rifle. It cannot replace the rifle, but it can mobilize rifles and it can multiply these rifles.
The proletarian writers, in conjunction with those revolutionary writers who come to be organically fused with us, will be able to create, and will create, that literature of which the proletariat stands’ in need in the approaching period with its new round of wars and revolutions.
Writers often come to us with questions regarding form. Here, too, we have heard speeches from our foreign friends, who have not only told us what they have learned from the epoch of revolutions and from present-day life, but have given us advice from the viewpoint of their craftsmanship, and have expressed apprehensions as to whether a Shakespeare in our country might not perhaps be smothered to death by our solicitude for literature.
Belles lettres is not my special province of work. Problems of belles lettres only enter into my sphere of study as a part of the whole picture of the world. But I will nevertheless permit myself to say a few words about these problems of form; not being a literary pope, I will have great pleasure in accepting all corrections and instruction which our foreign writers, too, may give me in this field.
I think that the apprehensions of our friend Malraux as to whether a new-born Shakespeare might not be smothered in the creches of our country evidence a lack of confidence in those who mind the children in these creches. Let this Shakespeare be born I am convinced that he will be born – and we will lose no time in bringing him out into the world.
Even those who are not born Shakespeares we do our best to bring out into the world and give them all assistance.
It is not only that our country affords a very good nursery for writers. The literary life of our country, as the writers themselves have said, also has its bad sides, hindering the writers’ work. But our country possesses one thing which will aid the development of all those talents and geniuses who, we are profoundly convinced, are living and developing among the millions that inhabit the Soviet Union.
We are advancing along a very wide front. In the days when past Shakespeares were born, only a small section of society had access to culture. Even if we assume that this section of society contained a higher percentage of gifted persons than we do, nevertheless we, who are advancing in tens of millions to storm, the heights of culture, have one hundred times better chances that more Shakespeares, more geniuses will he found among us.
When the bourgeoise gave birth to its great literature, the bourgeois writer was nevertheless obliged to entertain illusions in order to be able to extol this bourgeoisie that was itself being barn. During the genesis of the capitalist world, the writer was obliged to shut his eyes to the fact that this was an antagonistic world; he was obliged to shut his eyes to the fact that this world was based on exploitation; he had to reconcile himself with this fact. All this gave rise to very contradictory processes in the writer’s mind, thwarting his development.
In our country the revolution is giving birth to a new socialist world – a world that has emancipated woman, emancipated the backward peoples, emancipated the whole mass of the people.
When we were celebrating Gorky’s jubilee, a woman worker from the Trekhgorka Textile Mill came to conduct me to a meeting of worker correspondents. She handed me a little book in which she had written her life story. I began questioning her about her life. It turned out that she had been working in the factory for thirty years, that she had a husband and children. After work in the factory, after having to wash the children and mend their clothes, when all the others had gone to sleep, she would write her autobiography.
Hiding my excitement, I asked her jokingly: “People ought to sleep at night; why do you sit up and write your autobiography?” She answered me: “Young folk are growing up who don’t know what a hard time we had of it, and if we old textile workers don’t tell how we lived, who is going to do it?”
Comrades, our country possesses hundreds of thousands of these chroniclers, whose mouths the revolution has opened. In regard to them our publishers and newspapers often display considerable obtuseness. I once received the manuscript of a woman who, having read the article on Woman’s Day in the Izvestia, wrote a story about the position of illegitimate children in the old days. This woman was paralysed, quite unable to move, but her intelligence had remained alive. Lying in bed, she read our press, sensing the mighty developments that are taking place in our country. She described the shocking situation of an illegitimate child in an intellectual family before the revolution. I must say to our shame that two magazines, two editors returned this story to her and refused to print it. All too frequently one still meets with a bad attitude in our country to the creative work of millions of people, who are rising up to new life. But I think that we are overcoming this attitude and will overcome it. These people do not photograph life a point on which some foreign artists have expressed apprehension. There is no need for us to be afraid that our literature will pine away from excessive tutelage.
On the contrary, let me say that our literature, despite its greatness, despite the fact that it has great achievements to its credit; does not listen sufficiently to the voice of life, does not embrace to an adequate degree the life of the masses. Where else has it been seen that a crowd of people daily stood on the street during a congress of writers in the hope of securing admission? What does this signify? It signifies that our masses want great literature. And they will create it, this great literature, as they have created everything which we see today.
This literature will be a literature of labour fighting for emancipation. This literature will be an international literature. This literature will emblazon its shield with the cause of the defence of colonial peoples against imperialist barbarism. This literature will make its cause the liberation of woman, whom fascism is seeking to enslave again. This literature will manfully defend the Soviet Union – the main stronghold of the world proletariat. It will be a literature of materialism, a literature of struggle against fascist obscurantism and mysticism. It will teach the masses of the people in all countries how to fight for those aims which human reason, embodied in the aspirations of the international proletariat, has set mankind.
We do not doubt that the time is coming when a great revolutionary literature will be created. The future belongs to it – a future which bourgeois literature lacks. The destiny of the latter will be to rot in the fascist dungeons, to putrefy in the cesspools of pornography, to wander in the shadows of mysticism. The destiny of revolutionary ‘proletarian literature will be to uphold the mighty banner under which the proletariat is fighting.
Our writers are not sufficiently well acquainted with foreign literature. Very many of our writers, when they hear of some novelty abroad, ask with morbid interest: “Does not this contain the great key to art?” When they hear that a book of eight hundred pages, without any stops and without any commas, has appeared abroad, they ask: “Perhaps this is that new art which is rising out of chaos?”
Comrades, Lenin and Stalin have taught us to eschew all boasting, all swollen-headedness. It would be ridiculous for our artists to refuse to learn from artists abroad.
In respect of form, the average French author writes at any rate no worse than our very good writers. There is nothing surprising in this. A French or an English worker is also a better master of his machine than our young workers who have only been at the workbench for three or four years. In regard to form, therefore, we have very much to learn not only from the old classics of literature but also from the literature of dying capitalism.
Is it necessary to learn from great artists, such as Proust, the ability to sketch, to delineate the slightest motion in man? That is not the point at issue. The point at issue is whether we have our own highroad, or whether this highroad is indicated by experiments abroad.
The literature of dying capitalism has become stunted in ideas. It is unable to portray those mighty forces which are shaking the world – the death agonies of the old, the birth pangs of the new. And this triviality of content is fully matched by the triviality of form displayed by bourgeois world literature. All the styles which were evolved by past bourgeois art, and in which great masterpieces were created – realism, naturalism, romanticism – all this has suffered attrition and disintegration; all this exists only in fragments, and is powerless to produce a single convincing picture.
It does not lie within the power of bourgeois art to imitate the realism of Balzac, who endeavoured to paint a picture commensurate with the epoch in which he lived. For a full picture of life as it is would be a condemnation of moribund capitalism, Naturalism, in its younger days, and in its best productions, gave vent to the protest of petty-bourgeois art against the ulcers of capitalism. But the bourgeois artist is now forbidden to lay his fingers on the ulcers of capitalism. Romantic flights, such as those taken by the intelligentsia, disappointed in the outcome of the French revolution, are impossible now; for there is nowhere to fly – except into the abyss.
Searches for a new form have begun. There are two names which best express the new ways by which bourgeois artists are attempting to create major works of art. One of these is Proust. He wants to present the psychology of his heroes – heroes of the French drawing-rooms – by delicately stretching out their souls under the microscope, subtly dissecting their cells, probing into each one of their movements. The scalpel of analysis is to lay bare the soul of the human being, no matter what he is, or what he aspires to be. In the pages of Proust, the old world, like a mangy dog, no longer capable of any action whatever, lies basking in the sun and endlessly licks its sores.
Dostoyevsky reached the summits of art by analysing some of the types who inhabited suppurating semi-feudal Russia – people stifling in the tiny garrets where the lower middle classes of the Russian cities were cooped up, oblivious of any way of escape from their situation. But the vilest types, when revealed by the scalpel of Dostoyevsky, become titans of suffering. Whereas the drawing-room heroes of Proust seem to cry aloud that they are not worth analysing, that no analysis of them will produce any results.
The other hero of contemporary bourgeois literature, though he is not widely known even to bourgeois readers, is James Joyce, the mysterious author of Ulysses – a book which the bourgeois literary world, while reading it but little, has made the object of loud discussion.
That is the peculiarity of Joyce’s method? He tries to depict a day in the life of his subjects motion by motion the motions of the body, the motions of the mind, the motions of the feelings in all their shades, from conscious feelings to those which rise up in the throat like a spasm. He cinematographs the life of his subject with the maximum of minuteness, omitting nothing.
Thought is crocheted to thought; if the thought leads off at a tangent, the author hastens to follow it up. His hero, while drunk, is assailed by hallucinations. The author breaks off his story in the middle and reproduces these hallucinations. More than eight hundred pages are taken up with one day in the hero’s life.
We will not dwell on the extraneous matter that is woven into Joyce’s work, on how he encircles the actions and thoughts of his heroes with an intricate cobweb of allegories and mythological allusions, on all these phantasmagoria of the madhouse. We will examine only the essence of the “new method,” by which naturalism is reduced to clinical observation, and romanticism and symbolism to delirious ravings.
What is the basic feature in Joyce? His basic feature is the conviction that there is nothing big in life – no big events, no big people, no big ideas; and the writer can give a picture of life by just taking “any given hero on any given day,” and reproducing him with exactitude. A heap of dung, crawling with worms, photographed by a cinema apparatus through a microscope such is Joyce’s work.
But it is sufficient to consider the picture that he gives, in order to see that it does not fit even those trivial heroes in that trivial life which he depicts. The scene of his book is laid in Ireland in 1916. The petty bourgeois whom he describes are Irish types, though laying claim to universal human significance. But these Blooms and Daedaluses, whom the author relentlessly pursues into the lavatory, the brothel and the pot-house, did not cease to be petty bourgeois when they took part in the Irish insurrection of 1916. The petty bourgeois is a profoundly contradictory phenomenon, and in order to give a portrayal of the petty bourgeois, one must present him in all his relations to life.
Joyce, who is alleged to give an impartial presentation of the petty bourgeois, who is alleged to follow every movement of his hero, is not simply a register of life; he has selected a piece of life and depicted that. His choice is determined by the fact that for him the whole world lies between a cupboardful of medieval books, a brothel and a pothouse. For him, the national revolutionary movement of the Irish petty bourgeoisie does not exist; and consequently the picture which he presents, despite its ostensible impartiality, is untrue.
But even if one might conceive for a moment that the Joyce method is a suitable one for describing petty, insignificant, trivial people, their actions, thoughts and feelings – although tomorrow these people may be participants in great deeds – then it is perfectly clear that this method would prove utterly worthless if the author were to approach with his movie camera the great events of the class struggle, the titanic clashes of the modern world.
A capitalist magnate cannot be presented by the method which Joyce uses in attempting to present his vile hero Bloom, not because his private life is less trivial than that of Bloom, but because he is an exponent of great worldwide contradictions, because, when he is battling with some rival trust or hatching plots against the Soviet Union, he must not be spied on in the brothel or the bedroom, but must be portrayed on the great arena of world affairs. Needless to say, trying to present a picture of revolution by the Joyce method would be like trying to catch a dreadnought with a shrimping net.
Just because he is almost untranslated and unknown in our country, Joyce arouses a morbid interest among a section of our writers. Is there not some hidden meaning lurking in the eight hundred pages of his Ulysses – which cannot be read without special dictionaries, for Joyce attempts to create a language of his own in – order to express the thoughts and feelings which he lacks?
This interest in Joyce is an unconscious expression of the leanings of certain Right-wing authors, who have adapted themselves to revolution, but who in reality do not understand its greatness. They want to get away from Magnitogorsk, from Kuznetskstroy, to get away from the great deeds of our country to “great art,” which depicts the small deeds of small people. They want to escape from the stormy sea of revolution and take refuge in the stagnant waters of small ponds, in, marshes where frogs croak.
The search of Soviet art for its own creative methods has been a long one, for it has had to overcome the old traditions in art and to explore a new trail, leading to the portrayal of our life as it is. This trail has been found. The methods of Soviet art have been found, and they are commensurate with the tasks which revolutionary literature sets itself. The slogan of socialist realism is as simple and understandable as was the slogan of the Soviets, the slogan of industrialization, of the collectivization of our country. And it was just because this slogan did not invent a method, but only expressed the ripened requirements of revolutionary art – just for this reason it was instantly accepted and comprehended, though much work yet remains to be done before we can embody it in great works of art.
The proletarian revolution firmly takes its stand on the basis of that stormy reality, full of the most profound contradictions, which has been created by monopoly capitalism, and on the basis of that reality which it has itself created despite monopoly capitalism. Only by standing firmly on this basis can the proletarian revolution overcome this reality and oppose it by another reality.
The capitalist world is a world of rotting monopoly capital in the “mother countries,” and of complete decay in the colonial countries, throttled by a combination of the relies of feudal exploitation and of the exploitation of trusts and cartels. The capitalist world is witnessing the death of democracy and the birth of fascism, the decay and downfall of the Second International and the genesis of the revolutionary movement, the beginning of national-colonial revolutions, their betrayal by the native bourgeoisie and the birth of a workers’ and peasants’ movement in the colonies. The capitalist world is witnessing the break-up of capitalist culture, the decay of capitalist science, accompanied at the same time by flights of scientific thought, by sudden advances of technique, which reach the verge of a technical revolution, only to be hurled back by the capitalist crisis.
Finally, the capitalist world has given birth in its convulsions to the first socialist republic on the territories of the former tsarist empire – a republic in which the proletariat of a most backward country, weak in numbers, has had to accomplish miracles in order to defend its state and realize its aims. It has laid the foundation of socialism. In this great work of construction it is remoulding itself. In this work of construction it has developed the powers which enabled it to set about the work – never before witnessed in the world’s history – of transforming tens of millions of peasant atoms into a harmoniously working collective – of persons striving towards the same goal as the proletariat.
It is this activity, with all its contradictions, that the artists of the USSR and the revolutionary artists of capitalist countries are rightly desirous of reflecting in art. Realism means the portrayal of this reality in all its basic connections. Realism means giving a picture not only of the decay of capitalism and the withering away of its culture, but also of the birth of that class, of that force, which is capable of creating a new society and a new culture. Realism does not mean the embellishment or arbitrary selection of revolutionary phenomena; it means reflecting reality as it is, in all its complexity, in all its contrariety, and not only capitalist reality, but also that other, new reality – the reality of socialism.
An artist who tried to represent the birth of socialism as an idyll, who tried to represent the socialist system, which is being born in hard-fought battles, as a paradise populated by ideal people – such an artist would not be a realist, would not be able to convince anyone by his works. The artist should show how socialism is built out of the bricks of the past, out of the material which the past has left us, out of the material which we ourselves create in the sweat of our brow, in the blood of our toil and struggle, in, the hard battles of classes and in the hard toil of man to remould himself.
But there is no such thing as static realism, no such thing as realism which portrays only what is. And if all the great realists of the past even though unaware of the fact, were dialecticians, portrayed development through the conflict of contradictions, then this dialectic character of our realism is still more strongly stressed by us, when we speak of socialist realism.
Socialist realism means not only knowing reality as it is, but knowing whither it is moving. It is moving towards socialism, it is moving towards the victory of the international proletariat. And a work of art created by a socialist realist is one which shows whither that conflict of contradictions is leading which the artist has seen in life and reflected in his work.
This of itself implies that socialist realism demands a precise knowledge and understanding of this contradictory epoch. The great creations of socialist realism cannot therefore be the result of chance observations of certain sections of reality; they demand that the artist comprehend the tremendous whole. Even when the artist depicts the great in the small, when he wants to show the world in a drop of water, in the destinies of one small man, he cannot accomplish his task without having in bis brain an image of the movement of the entire world.
While the literature of dying capitalism invokes the aid of the irrational, of the unconscious and the sub-conscious, the literature of socialist realism demands a consciousness of the fate of humanity; it demands tremendous work of the mind, demands an understanding of the position of our planet in the universe and of the position of man on this planet. The literature of socialist realism is a literature of world scales, for its task is to present a picture of the world.
The artists of dying capitalism seek to hide themselves under a cloak of impartiality. They are sceptics; they are convinced that they believe in nothing, although the very essence of their work is a faith that this decaying world will exist forever. The literature of socialist realism does not set out to portray the world in order to satisfy curiosity, in order merely to hold the mirror up to humanity. It sets out to be a participant in the great struggle for the new Renaissance of mankind, or, to speak more exactly, not for the re-birth, but for the birth of mankind.
It is a literature of hatred for putrefying capitalism, which is preparing to let loose a cataclysm, which is steeping mankind in loathsomeness. It is a literature of great love for suffering humanity, for militant humanity, of great love for those whose bones form the piles of the new world edifice
When we are told by the would-be aesthetes who fawn upon the bourgeoisie that we are creating, a narrow Party literature, we answer them that the watch-tower of our Party is the highest roof of the world, for the Party of the revolutionary proletariat is the vanguard of humanity. It is an army which is fighting, not for special private interests, but for the liberation of all mankind, and this enables it to perceive the whole. It is the Party of the champions of the new order, which is creating a life fit for human beings. It is the Party of the champions of the new world, and is there fore able to embrace the whole world with its thoughts and with its feelings, able, for the first time in history, to produce great human creative power.
When we are told by the representatives of dying bourgeois art that the clash of classes and giant-like happenings are excluding man from our view, that man will perish away in our art and that it is therefore they who are the prophets of man – that they prefer to depict a tiny grain of sand in all its details rather than the monotonous waves of the sea, or an army marching to the beating of drums – we answer them that the socialist world which Is being born is creating millions of new individualities. Those who had hitherto lived the life of slaves, whose hard existence caused their heads to droop, have now become class-conscious fighters, are developing human qualities, are becoming rich personalities.
We say to the would-be aesthetic writers, who are unacquainted with great deeds and are therefore unacquainted with really great human beings, that in the capitalist world they cannot find people to compare with the statues of ancient times. Whereas the revolutionary proletariat has already produced hundreds of thousands of human beings, each one of whom is worthy of the chisel of Pheidias or Michaelangelo.
We do not need to speak of the great historic figures of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. It is enough to take a glance at those. heroes whom the Soviet Union is putting to the fore on its construction works, the grey-coated heroes of the Red Army, our heroes of the Arctic, the soldiers of the Chinese revolution who march barefoot over continents, the heroes who lay, their heads on the block in Germany and who do not tremble before their executioners in the fascist torture-chambers – it is enough to recall this alone, in order to show how pitiful is the talk of the champions of bourgeois literature who say that with us man is lost sight of.
Our literature has already taken first place in the, world, even if our craftsmanship is still inferior to that of Western literature. We represent the only literature which gives the masses of the whole world a correct answer to the questions that are most vitally important to them, which gives them a correct presentation of the death of capitalism and the birth of socialism.
When I read, in Neue Deutsche Blätter, the answer given by some workers who had escaped from a German concentration camp to the question – what did they read in the camp; when I learned that in the concentration camp, where they were flogged by the fascist Storm Troopers, they had been given strength by reading Panferov’s Brussky, I felt proud of our literature.
But we are not swollen-headed. Lenin and his best pupil, Comrade Stalin, have always taught us not to boast, not to give ourselves airs.
If we praise our literature as first in the world, we realize at the same time that our literary successes represent not only the merit of our literature, but are first and foremost a result of the fact that we have built the foundation of socialism. And we want our comrades abroad to follow our example. We will be happy when we can say that the masses of the people in Germany, Japan, Poland, France have created a literature better than ours, for such a literature can arise only when they have conquered, when they will build socialism. Then the wealth of their cultural past will enable, them speedily to create a literature better than ours.
We must tell our writers: Learn from the best masters of proletarian revolutionary literature abroad; help them to create a picture of our country which will be convincing to foreign workers. And to our foreign comrades we say: Under the banner of the militant proletariat, in the struggle for the cause for which the Soviet workers have fought, in the struggle for the cause for which some of the best members of the working class throughout the world laid down their lives, you will create a great literature.
We will learn from world revolutionary literature. From it we will learn craftsmanship and an understanding of all the most intimate processes that are going on among the proletariat and peasantry in other countries. Our workers are thirsting to see not only portrayals of collective farmers and shock brigaders but also a portrayal of the worker who, despite all the bestialities of the fascist hangmen, is hammering out the future of the German proletariat in underground, illegal work; they want to see a portrayal of the Chinese coolie who was yesterday a beast of burden in the eyes of the whites, but today is marching barefoot through the length and breadth of China with a rifle captured from the enemy, uniting the people in order to lead them to socialism.
We expect of you foreign comrades that you will help us to show how the French, how the English worker lives – the foreign worker whom we regard as our brother but whom we now see but dimly, as through a mist.
There is a tremendous field of work lying ahead, both for our Soviet literature and for that of the revolutionary artists of the West. All that is required is daring and faith. No, we will not smother our Shakespeares; we will foster them. We will create a literature higher than that of the Renaissance, for it derived its models from slave-owning Greece and slave-owning Rome and expressed the interests of rising capitalism, while our literature reflects the idea of a new, socialist society.
Proletarian literature is as yet only in its childhood. Only in the USSR has it attained considerable dimensions. But it will develop hand in hand with the development of the world revolution; it will grow together with the revolution, and it will become a literature whose lungs will inhale great draughts of air, whose eyes and brains will embrace whole centuries and continents; it will become a literature which will be the joy and the war-cry of tens of millions Those whose strength is not sufficient for these full draughts of air, those whose strength is not sufficient for these strides covering continents and for these thoughts embracing centuries, will rot away together with the literature of the bourgeoisie. But we are profoundly convinced that all that is best in world literature, despite all waverings, all stages of rupture with the bourgeoisie and of tortuous evolution – towards the proletariat will find its way to our shores, will come out on to our broad highway of history and will take it’s place under the banner of literature of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, for under this banner alone will humanity conquer.
This literature, which we are creating together with you, will be a great literature of love for all the oppressed, of hatred for the exploiting class, of resolute struggle to the death against this class, of love for woman, whom we are making into a comrade, of love for all the coloured races, who were formerly the outcasts of mankind.
We will put into this literature the very soul of the proletariat, its passion and its love, and it will be a literature of mighty pictures, of great consolations. It will be a literature of the struggle for socialism, of the victory of international socialism.
Comrades, according to the custom prevailing at bourgeois congresses, I should be expected to declare myself in a very embarrassing situation, since I, who delivered the report, have been bombarded by a number of comrades who are our guests.
But our guests consist, on the one hand, of a detachment of proletarian writers from the West, who are no guests in proletarian literature and in the revolutionary movement; while the other guests are writers who, though not members of our Party, are nevertheless coming over to join the proletariat. I consider that in regard to such guests my first duty is to show absolute frankness.
The discussion to which my report gave rise has been a very fruitful one. I must say that it has shown me much of which I was unaware when I made my report. It has taught me something, though not what some of the speakers here wanted to impress upon me.
I am not going to speak at length on the question regarding the “catalogue” of proletarian literature, on the register of proletarian writers.
What is the duty of one who delivers a report at the congress? A report is not a text-book on the history of literature. It was not my duty to name the good writers and the bad, to enumerate their works. My task was to formulate the problems with which literature is confronted in the present historical situation. Names I mentioned only in so far as the given writer happened to be in the centre of the problem ander consideration. In addition it should he remembered that at our congresses the deliverer of the report expresses the results of collective thinking. The collective can very easily lay down a general line for the solution of a problem, but it need not necessarily agree with the appraisal given of each writer. Let us take, for example, Comrade Bela Illes. He is indisputably a proletarian writer. We have circulated his book, The Tysza Aflame, in hundreds of thousands of copies, not because it is a perfect book – no, this is the book of an immature writer – but because in this book we find a reflection of the Hungarian revolution, whose countenance is dear to us, though Illes’ picture is weakly drawn. We do not have a single good portrait of Lenin, and we circulate portraits of which we cannot say with conviction that they are really great works of art. The Organizational Committee should not have to answer, let us say, for my opinion regarding the literary merits of a book by Bela Illes or of other books and authors. That is why I did not state my opinion on such matters in my report.
In the second place, I think you have blamed me less for not naming writers than you would have blamed me had I given a characterization of the writers The point at issue is not of course, whether I mentioned the names of the writers or not. I know them just as well as do the comrades who mentioned their names. The point is that the representatives of different. groups have here. expressed their opinions on some very vital questions, and in regard to their speeches we must speak with an absolute clarity of ideas.
I tried to sketch the attitude taken by world literature towards those great historical events which determine the further development of mankind – its attitude to the war, to the October Revolution, to fascism. I also tried to describe the split which is taking place in bourgeois literature and the birth of revolutionary literature.
In this respect no fundamental objections have been raised So in what does the difference of opinion consist? The difference of opinion lies in the conclusion which certain comrades (the positions they held were very contradictory) drew from these basic propositions.
To speak more specifically, we have heard objections from two sides. We have heard objections from a section of the proletarian writers, who said: “It was no accident that you did not enumerate all the proletarian writers; the fact is, you underrate them. We are already a big force. We already represent a great proletarian world literature.” Other objections, expressed in a very friendly form, came from the writers who are coming over to our side. They said approximately as follows: ‘We are coming over to you, such are our views; but be so kind as to take us as we are. Don’t try to polish us up and don’t keep worrying us.’”
The speeches made from both these angles have disclosed something very essential, about which we must speak.
I will begin with the question of proletarian literature. First of all, I must define our views on proletarian literature. Do we aim at forming our own literary cadres, the cadres of international. proletarian literature? Yes, this is a fundamental aim of ours. Soviet literature reflects the philosophy of international Communism and its aims. International Communism is a militant army. How can people who want to fight not want to create, in such an important field as literature, their own cadres, bound up heart and soul with the working class? To admit another point of view would mean assuming that we did not want to conquer at all in the realm of ideas. It would, of course, be quite senseless to assume anything of the kind.
Our attitude towards proletarian literature, in whatever state it may be in a given country, is one of the greatest love and solicitude.
Willi Bredel has given me a book, Die Stimme aus Deutschland, published here in Moscow by the Co-operative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers – a little collection of verses and short stories written by illegal Party workers in Germany. As a matter of fact, some of the poems and stories are not by illegal Party workers – Bredel was exaggerating a little. But however that may be, I at once read through this volume with the keenest interest. The stories are weak as yet. You will readily understand that Proust is more of an artist, can write better than workers under illegal conditions, but what are his drawing-room heroes to us, even though they are depicted by a master hand! They move us far less than description of the struggle for our cause, even though the latter come from the hands of immature proletarian writers. That is why we often publish books that are far from perfect.
We know that proletarian literature must rise, grow up and become strong. That is why we in the Soviet Union, in handling our proletarian writers, have discarded the old “Proletcult” method, of which Lenin said that ten hysterical maidens keep on blowing at one budding worker-author until they have extinguished every spark of talent in him. Our method of helping proletarian writers is to devote great work to their cultural advance, to bring them into contact with great masters of language, to print their still imperfect works and criticize them frankly.
We love proletarian literature as the beginning of that great literature which the proletariat will create. But we would be very bad champions of the proletariat and very bad friends of proletarian literature if we were to, follow the call of those who want to proclaim this literature’s period of infancy, of childhood, as its period of maturity.
I said that the proletarian literature of the West is in its infancy. Comrade Zhdanov, secretary of our Party’s Central Committee, said that the comrades present at this congress represent the beginning, the core of proletarian literature Why are we so grudging in our praise? Because Lenin and Stalin have taught us what a, dangerous thing “Communist conceit” is. “Communist conceit” is dangerous from two points of view: firstly, because anyone who begins to pat himself on the back and say: “Look what a fine fellow I am,” ceases to learn, and all of us – both Soviet writers and international proletarian writers – need to learn day and night, because our proletarian literature hag not yet produced a work which we could distribute among the workers in millions of copies, telling them: “Here is a genuine book about the war, about fascism, about the Russian revolution.”
Not long ago we had the twentieth anniversary of the outbreak of imperialist war. To explain the nature of this war to the masses of the people is a tremendous task. We have many books by proletarian authors about war, and we must circulate them. But who can lay his hand upon his heart and say that we have produced a book which we could distribute in millions of copies and which would inflame the hearts, not only of our comrades, but of the broad masses also, with hatred for those who engineer an imperialist war? Proletarian literature has not yet produced such a great work.
We know that fascism is in power in Germany, in Italy. For a year and a half German fascism has been destroying the best sons of the German proletariat with fire and sword. And I ask you: Can you, dear comrades, proletarian writers of Germany, recommend me a book about that hell in which the German proletariat is living, about all the unheard-of crimes of German fascism – a book which we could distribute here in the USSR, in millions of copies? We have a which is beginning to draw this picture, but as yet no master work has appeared. Not to say this and not to know this means to retard the development of this literature.
Comrades, Lenin and his best pupil, Stalin, have taught us to be truthful in regard to ourselves – and we regard you as a part of ourselves. And when we speak to you of literature, we cannot say – though we should very much like to be able to say this – that proletarian literature is flourishing throughout the whole world. We ought to say: No, it is as yet only in its infancy, and he who does not say this is not working for the victory of proletarian literature.
The writers of the proletariat are having to toil hard to create their first works, because it is often more difficult to attain a mastery of language than to learn – to operate a machine. They love the children of their labours, and they would like to appear before us like the woman worker from the Leningrad plant who stood up at this congress and said: “We have made a turbine of 100,000 kilowatts.” She said this with supreme pride. But if she had come here and said that we had a turbine of 1,000,000 kilowatts, when as a matter of fact such a turbine did not exist, she would not thereby have encouraged the development of Soviet industry.
Under what circumstances could it be said that we were underrating proletarian literature? Only if we, in the first place, were unwilling to create this mighty lever for the development of the proletarian movement, and, secondly, if we held that it could not be created until after the victory of the proletarian revolution. As a matter of principle we fight for the creation of a proletarian literature in all countries, and we can say that we have won considerable victories in this field.
If you ask me what I consider to be the best in proletarian literature outside the Soviet Union, I would say outright – a number of works by Japanese proletarian writers, Take Kobayashi. He has written a short story, about the arrests in 1928. I have seen how our workers read this story! Let us take The Cannery Boat, another story by Kobayashi. This story told me, a student of scientific literature, more about the condition of the Japanese proletariat than all scientific literature could do, because this story showed how those same workers who the day before were awaiting the coming of a warship as if it would be their saviour from exploitation, who believed that the Japanese fleet was their succour and defence, came to understand next day that this was nothing but an illusion. This means that the question of proletarian revolution has already arisen in Japan, notwithstanding the fact that the backward masses of the proletariat are still held captive by monarchist ideas. That is what this proletarian artist told me in his simple images.
He confirmed me in the conviction that Japan is approaching a democratic revolution, which will evolve into a socialist revolution. From the literary point of view it is very important to note that he showed this by means of images – not asserting it, not proving it by arguments.
But the more conscientious our attitude to this literature, the more we rejoice at its victories, the more firmly must we say: “Comrades, don’t rest on your laurels. Better settle down to hard work, and together with us, who also have not created any Magnitostroys of literature as yet, let us march forward shoulder to shoulder.”
“Communist conceit” in regard to these questions has yet another no less dangerous side to it. This danger may be expressed in the following attitude: “If I am so strong, if all is going well with me, why do I want allies, why should I look for allies?” And, comrades, when I heard the speech of Bela Illes, I felt that I was listening to an echo of RAPP [Russian Association of Proletarian Writers] methods and RAPP opinions. We are overcoming them in our country and there is no sense in exporting them abroad.
A few years ago those same comrades who have here developed these tendencies wanted to “rend” Barbusse, would not even recognize him as our comrade in struggle. Today no one can openly turn his back on the literature of the wavering writers, of those who are coming over to our side. The adherents of the RAPP are therefore trying to attain the realization of their old aspirations by other methods. If we overrate the degree of development which proletarian literature has reached, then we shall have to draw the conclusion: “I am so strong that I don’t need any allies.”
I am not saying that anything similar to this has been said here in full. I am convinced that such a good German worker as the Communist, Willi Bredel, who knows how badly our Party in Germany needs allies, will reject this idea. But the important thing is that a man should think things out. Most people in life do not think things out. When I took to Trotskyism, I, too, was unaware that I would be standing on the other side of the barricades after twenty-five years in the labour movement. And all the more needful is it that we should say in the most cordial, friendly manner to the comrades who have not overcome the RAPP tendencies: “Comrades, look out! This is dangerous for literature and dangerous for the proletarian revolutionary movement of Germany.
Let us now examine the reverse side of the medal.
I have outlined the position of world bourgeois literature. It has lost its literary monopoly. Some of the masters of bourgeois literature are opposing those aims which the world bourgeoisie is now pursuing. All this reflects the position of the world bourgeoisie, which has lost its monopoly of rule. The USSR is there an immovable fact in the world’s history. Nay, wore, the existence of the U.S.S.R. and its strength, coupled with the ruin, of capitalism, are causing dissension in the camp of the world bourgeoisie. And this fact is also reflected in literature.
Literature is splitting up into open fascist literature and into literature which, while trying to defend bourgeois democracy, is unconsciously lapsing into fascism; and at the same time a number of bourgeois writers are openly coming over to our side. The last category includes various groups; some who are coming to us are halting ten paces off, others are halting ten miles off, but they are already ten miles distant from bourgeois fascist literature.
Comrades, what is the significance of this split? This split is of tremendous significance, in the first place, because it reflects profound social processes. What does it reflect? Let us take a typical work produced by the literature of decadence – the book of Céline. Céline may be a fascist tomorrow. His book, contains elements which force us to fear this. But today Céline reflects the despair felt by that section of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia who can see no way out of the crisis and who have completely lost their faith in capitalism. This phenomenon possesses great importance for us. The literature of decadence is not our literature, but it is a very good thing when your opponent falls to pieces, when part of the petty bourgeoisie ceases to believe in the leadership of the bourgeoisie. When the petty-bourgeois masses can see nothing but darkness ahead, of them, this may lead them to seek a way out of the situation together with us, or at any rate it may mean that they, being disillusioned by capitalism, will not fight tooth and nail on behalf of this system.
There is a type of literature which does not expose the whole of capitalism but does expose certain forms of lit. Take Feuchtwanger’s anti-fascist book, The Oppenheims; or take Heinrich Mann’s satire, Hate. These are not anti-capitalist works; but they are anti-fascist works. The artist is still afraid of proletarian revolution, but he hates fascism. This type of literature possesses enormous importance.
I greatly love and esteem my Party comrades Plivier, Bredel and others, but they themselves know that for the present Heinrich Mann will be more widely read than they. He is afraid of revolution, but he feels hatred for fascism. Those into whose soul he instils hatred for fascism will perhaps go further than he does and will not he afraid of revolution.
Plivier has told us here that when. he was a sailor, he read Leonhard Frank’s book Der Mensch ist gut, and this book had a revolutionizing effect on him. This is a petty-bourgeois novel, but it gave vent to the protest against war. The sailor Plivier came to revolution under its influence, while Frank himself withdrew into philistine life. But Frank helped the sailor Plivier to become a revolutionary writer.
Literature which is still hostile to the revolution, but which is already hostile to fascism, possesses great importance for us.
There is no need to say how important it is for us when the great spokesmen of world literature – André Gide and Romain Rolland, who are known to the whole world, Theodore Dreiser. who is extremely popular in America – stand up, and say: “The only way humanity ought to go is the way shown us by the Soviet Union,” when they say that capitalism will perish and socialism will conquer.
Comrades, what is the specific task with which we are confronted in view of the split in bourgeois literature? Does this split confront us with the task of creating our own cadres of writers? This task existed yesterday, exists today and will continue to exist even after the victory of the proletarian revolution in the West. This is a constant task which will confront us until ultimate victory is achieved. He who forgets about his cadres and his army may manoeuvre as much as he pleases, but he will he routed.
What, then, is the new task that confronts us? The new task is to make our Soviet literature and proletarian literature abroad squarely face this fact of the split in bourgeois literature, and to tell proletarian writers: “Do all you can to find allies there.” We must tell proletarian writers: “Masters of language are coming over to you. Learn from them, so that you yourselves may soon become masters.”
Consider, comrades, what the situation is in regard to the struggle against fascism. What is the main thing in the field of politics for the German, Italian and Polish proletarians? It is necessary to muster the proletariat into one phalanx for struggle on a united front, and to find allies among the proletarianized petty bourgeoisie, of whom the intellectuals form only a part.
What does this mean in the field of literature? “You, proletarian writer, fortify your ranks, strengthen your skill, but help the wavering writers, who are breaking with the bourgeoisie, to find their way to us, and at the same time learn from them.” If we speak of the war danger, then the task of that struggle, in which a great part should he played by literature, is not only to create Communist works of art which expose the preparations for war, but also to help those writers, who are coming, through pacifism, to side with us, to fight against these war preparations of the bourgeoisie, to bring them closer to us, and, through the medium of these writers, to reach Wat section of the masses to which we our proletarian writers – do not yet penetrate.
This represents the new factor about which I, as deliverer of a report at this congress, deemed it my duty to speak. Such was my task, and not to sing anthems about the achievements of proletarian literature.
Permit me now, comrades, to sum up the results of this most interesting discussion – though not all the points in it were formulated with complete clearness. It has revealed some very important points important in two ways. In the first speeches made by a number of our comrades, one did not feel that they had yet grasped the importance of looking for allies, of stretching out their hands to those writers who are coming over to us and have reached various stages of departure from the bourgeoisie. In the speeches delivered today by Becher and Plivier, this matter was handled fittingly – a fact which is to be welcomed.
I am profoundly convinced that our friends, who thought at first that they had encountered a tendency to underrate proletarian literature here, will understand that it is not a question. of underrating proletarian literature at all, but of striving to strengthen proletarian literature by means of an alliance, by enlisting in our ranks those masters of literature who are coming over to the proletariat from the bourgeoisie, and even by rapprochement with those writers who will not join us but who will help us at a certain stage of the struggle.
We have heard other speeches here. One of them, the declaration of André Malraux, was very brief, only a few sentences; another, the speech of Jean-Richard Bloch, was filled with deep sincerity.
What did Malraux say? We must note, by the way, that our wider reading public does not know Malraux. Excerpts from his works have been printed in the magazine, International Literature, which is not circulated widely enough in our country, although it is a source from which one can get acquainted with several phenomena in international literature. Malraux is a brilliant writer. I do not want to give him a testimonial here – he is recognized even by our enemies. It is enough to read the article published in the Echo de Paris, organ of the French general staff, by the French academician, Mauriac.
What does Mauriac say of Malraux in this article? It is a very sharply worded article, but I refer to it because it will help Malraux to see the danger, and us to see the significance of that sincere declaration which this writer made at our congress: “The fact that I am here means that I am with you.”
The academician Mauriac says in his article: “You, Malraux, are a rebel. You, Malraux, attack bourgeois culture; you think that it is perishing. But your brilliant talent is a proof of the greatness of this culture. Will the Chinese barbarians, about whom you write, read your books? We – the French bourgeoisie, whom you attack – we read your books and say: see, we have created such a culture that even when our rebels abuse us, they do so with such talent that the whole of French culture is reflected in their abuse.”
And Mauriac goes on to say: “See, Malraux, we have awarded you the Goncourt prize. Why did we do this? We are wise men. We have already seen how rebels can be taken in hand: there was Millerand, there was Briand – we gave them a little power, and they served us. We shall see how you, Malraux, will stand the test of our praise, of our award. Is it not better for you to live with people who have such respect for freedom of thought that they permit you to sing the glory of fallen Chinese Communists, than with the Communists who, in the first place, have not found time to translate your books into Russian, and who, in the second place, captiously tell you: ‘Here you have one deviation, here another deviation. You must write just so and not otherwise ...
And what was Malraux’s answer? He is here, with us. He is a very intelligent man, and he has had to listen not only to words of praise from us Soviet Communists but also to severe questions and unpleasant cautionings. It would have been easy for such a great writer to take offence and say. “Leave me in peace! I will write as I please – I am a freelance. Keep your clumsy paws off me, and learn to write as well as I do.”
Malraux did not do this. Often his face contorted when he thought that things were being put too drastically. But Malraux stood the test and said: “The fact that I defended Dimitrov, the fact that I went to Berlin in his defence, the fact that I have come here means that I am with you.”
And we warmly shake him by the hand and tell him: “Those artists who join the militant army of the proletariat must expect a hard time. It will be enough for Malraux to write a book about the struggle of the French proletarians, and France’s whole bourgeois press will declare: ‘Malraux has lost his talent.”
But this is not the only hardship awaiting the artist who comes over to us. Such an artist must expect to take part in the struggle, which is not always a mere struggle at congresses, where one friend says disagreeable things to another. The struggle is a cruel one, it will be an ordeal by fire and sword, and we are profoundly desirous, profoundly convinced that Malraux, as a fighter of the proletariat, will stand this ordeal in a manner fitting to his great talent.
Comrades, Jean-Richard Bloch spoke here – a great French writer, a great thinker and artist, an artist who not only possesses mastery of imagery but one, too, whose brain works to some purpose.
I quoted passages from his old books, which characterize stages of his development when he – an enemy of capitalism – feared that the proletarian revolution would lead to dictatorship in literature, to oppression, to stereotyping. Yesterday Bloch gave me his latest book, Sibilla, which I did not know previously and which I read last night. I was profoundly moved by it. In this book he shows how a woman artist becomes a Communist, shows, too, how many of his old doubts have vanished during the course of his evolution.
And what did Bloch say here? He said: “Don’t confuse individualism with the individual. Fight against individualism, against the artist being a cat who just goes his own way. But treasure individuality, treasure the human being. If you are not able to do this, you will repel many of those in the countries of old culture who might have come over to your side.”
Comrades, what Bloch said is true. We must distinguish individualism, “unsociability,” inability to go with the community, from respect for personality. The young revolution, which is an army, has to live in barracks at a certain stage in its advance – and it cannot be otherwise, for armies live in barracks. The revolution, which is an army of labour, cannot busy itself with personality, devote much time to personality, at all stages of its march, but after its victory the revolution is a soil on which personality can bloom in all its richness. We – the army of Communism – do not consist of mere ciphers. Communist society will be a million times richer in great personalities than any other type of society could be. It is enough to look, at our country as it is even today. Where else in the world have we seen shepherds growing up into philosophers, brigade commanders, university professors in the space of fifteen or sixteen years?
We have managers of factories, with all the intricacies of technique at their fingers’ ends, who were once unskilled labourers in the factories they now manage. I know of one factory the site of which was a lake three and a half years ago, and the wild ducks, who remember this lake, still look for it when they come flying home in spring. YCLers from the collective farms have built giant factories, and in one of them, at Gorky, I saw a worker of forty years’ standing who is working as head of a shop, while his two sons are engineers in this factory. And in all these factories there are tens of thousands of new personalities created out of the collective farm YCLers of yesterday. All these are rich new personalities whom we have created. The stronger we become. the easier will it be for us to do this.
Men we mentally approach such countries as France, we should always remember the feeling that Alexander Herzen had when he first visited Cologne. He said that every stone of this ancient city contained a greater history of culture than all the buildings in tsarist Russia of the fifties. We should bear this in mind. And, comrades French writers, you are right when you draw our attention to this past, which has created more individualities in your country than tsarist Russia ever knew, but, you will be wrong if you do not tell your readers in your country: “Individualities, fall in and march! A battle has begun for the future of the human race.”
Permit me, comrades, to revert once more to the problems of form, which have been raised here by Comrade Herzfelde in his very important and very dangerous speech.
Herzfelde did not argue that it is worth while reading Joyce; I do not know any more or less considerable writer from whom there is nothing to be learned. Herzfelde gave an appraisal of Joyce which cuts right across the high road of our literature – socialist realism.
What did Herzfelde say? Joyce is a great artist. I am not disposed to deny that at all. If a man writes a book of eight hundred pages without stops or commas, where all the parts are mixed up, and this book is nevertheless read with avidity by thousands of writers, who see in it some new methods of expressing the feelings, this is something out of the ordinary. And it stands to reason that there would be no harm, but rather the opposite, if our writers were to get to know Joyce and find out what he is like. It is not merely a question of reading; the point is – what is Joyce’s work, what is the relation of form to content in it?
“Radek says that Joyce photographs a heap of dung with a cinema apparatus through a microscope,” complains Herzfelde. He is offended by the “heap of dung,” although a heap of dung is just as much a part of reality as the sun, or as the dewdrop in which the sun is reflected. A heap of dung may form a component part of a great picture. Herzfelde thought he expressed Joyce better when he said: “No, he does not photograph a heap of dung – he photographs his inside.”
I am not an anatomist, but I will venture to guess that the human inside also contains the various component parts of a heap of dung. This correction is not an essential one, but it reveals one danger not stressed by Herzfelde. Should we really tell the artist at the present time – the revolutionary artist here or abroad: “Look at your inside”?
No! We must tell him: “Look – they are making ready for a world war! Look – the fascists are trying to stamp out the remnants of culture and rob the workers of their last rights! Look – the dying capitalist world wants to throttle the Soviet Union!” This is what we must say to the artist. We must turn the art ist away from his “inside,” turn his eyes to these great facts of reality which threaten to crash down upon our heads.
Does this mean, however, that the artist should sketch some kind of abstract banks and abstract monopoly capitalism, with Deterding wearing a face like all other capitalists, that he should not be able to clothe these great events in the concrete images of living, typical people, representing classes? If it is a question of being able to present the typical in the individual, we do not need Joyce for that. As teachers, Balzac, Tolstoy are enough for us.
Joyce’s specific character, his historical role is not to be sought for in any irrational invention of literary technique. Joyce’s form is in keeping with bis content, and the content of Joyce is a reflection of that which is most reactionary in the petty bourgeoisie. “Joyce can curse at god and curse at imperialist England, but he does not lead artists the right way. Joyce does not choose as the object of his observations the whole world with its mighty contradictions.
Herzfelde says: “There are some writers who handle their images as a man handles a letter box. He takes out the letters, opens them, and lays aside those he wants. Joyce, on the other hand, takes all the letters.”
This is a profound mistake. If Joyce did not turn his eyes towards the Irish uprising that was preparing, this was not because it took ten years to come, but because all that appealed to Joyce was the medieval, the mystical, the reactionary in the petty bourgeoisie – lust, aberrations; everything capable of impelling the – petty bourgeoisie to join the side of revolution was alien to him.
Incidentally, what is China suffering from? From the Chinese alphabet, in which there are 40,000 signs. The Chinese coolies cannot learn to read, our comrades are obliged to communicate with them by means of pictures. Joyce is trying to teach you writers to create some kind of Chinese alphabet without commas so that it cannot reach the masses of the people.
We will give battle to these tendencies. We regard them as reactionary.
Herzfelde has mentioned Dos Passos, who is under the influence of Joyce. Dos Passos is a great revolutionary artist. But if he has not yet reached those heights to which he might have risen, and to which we hope he will rise, that is because he is not under the influence of Marx and the great artists of realism, but under the influence of Joyce.
Some of our writers have read Dos Passos and said: “How interesting! At the beginning there are some newspaper cuttings, and then in the middle there are biographies of people.”
Dos Passos’ form is his weakness – a weakness not only of a formal character. What is the source of this weakness? The young American intellectual went to the war. There he became a revolutionary; he began to hate war. He saw the spectacle of ruin, but he lacked an integral view of life. For this reason he writes the biographies of his heroes one after the other, so that these biographies may compose a general picture. But he feels that these biographies are taking place against the background of history; and he cannot present this background of history, for he cannot generalize. He therefore puts in insertions and excerpts from newspapers in order to glue together that background which his inability to generalize prevents him from portraying.
What distinguishes socialist realism from all these experiments? In the first place, the fact that we do not take all the letters out of the box and rate them all alike. We read the letters, and throw some into the waste paper basket, while others we give to the masses to read.
We do not photograph life. In the totality of phenomena we seek out the main phenomenon. Giving everything without discrimination is not realism. That would be the most vulgar kind of naturalism. We should select phenomena. Realism means that we make a selection from the point of view of what is essential, from the. point of view of guiding principles. And as for what is essential – the very name of socialist realism tells us this. Select all phenomena which show how the system of capitalism is being smashed, how social. ism is growing, not embellishing socialism but showing that it is growing in battle, in hard toil, in sweat. Show how it is growing in deeds, in human beings. Do not represent each and every capitalist as he has been represented by “agitprop” brigades. No, show the typical in the individual. Do this, basing yourself on the criterions of the laws of historical development. That is what socialist realism means.
Joyce is on the other side of the barricades. I do not, of course, mean to say by this that Herzfelde is a counter-revolutionary writer. That is not what I mean. I mean that nothing essential can be learned from Joyce. If you say that you learn technique from Joyce, I do not dispute this. I have not written novels, but I think that if I were to write novels, I would learn how to write them from Tolstoy and Balzac, not from Joyce.
I wish to say to Soviet and foreign writers: “Our way does not lie through Joyce, but along the high-road of socialist realism.”
By speaking against Herzfelde, I do not want in any way to diminish interest in those works which may be interesting to the writer from the point of view of the writer’s technique. I deemed it my duty to dwell on this question because some of our writers are prone to show a morbid interest in Joyce. What this means is – don’t come near me with your Kuznetskstroys and Magnitostroys, your Red Army men and shock brigaders. My speciality is little things, but done very subtly, originally, cleverly.
Permit me to conclude my speech in answer to the discussion by expressing the assurance that our two days’ discussion with our comrades-in-arms, the foreign writers, will bring nearer that day when we shall be able to convene the first international congress of the Union of Soviet Writers.
Permit me to express the hope that at this first international congress of Soviet revolutionary writers we shall be able to say that since the time of our present congress a great socialist literature has arisen, based on the consummation of the building of socialism in the USSR, on the victory of the socialist revolution in a number of countries, on the alliance of the best writers of dying capitalism with the proletarian writers into one family of those who create the images of the new life – of life in the epoch of victorious socialism.
Last updated on 18.10.2011