A good official definition of it reads as follows: Socialist… – Сustom Literature essay

If the year which begins this period - 1925 - has both literary and political significance, as the year when the newly established communist regime asserted its authority over literature and culture, the ending date is primarily of political significance: it is the year of Joseph Stalin's death. A political date is quite appropriate to close this era of Russian literature, during which literature and politics were more intimately interconnected than at any other time during the entire span of Russian literary history.

The political pressures of the early Soviet era brought about the division of Russian literature into two major if unequal parts: the principal one of Russian literature within the Soviet Union, and the lesser one of the "first wave" of the emigration which began to assume definite form around 1925. When the first wave later subsided - as some writers returned to the Soviet Union during the 1930s or after the Second World War, others died natural deaths or perished during that conflict, and the major centers of emigre culture between the wars were disrupted by that historical cataclysm - it was suddenly reinforced by the so-called "second wave" of the emigration resulting from the dislocations of that very conflict. The "second wave" contained few established writers, but it did provide a much larger audience than before for emigre literature, and boasted a number of talented people who managed to establish themselves as writers later on. The second wave of the emigration was more or less at its height at the time of Stalin's death.

Meanwhile Russian literature within the Soviet Union was traversing a path in its way no less thorny than that trod by Russian literature in emigration. Many gifted writers suffered from the regime's tightening of the cultural reins during the later 1920s: Zam-yatin was eventually forced into exile, Pilnyak was compelled to alter his literary approach, Olcsha was effectively silenced, Bulgakov turned to writing works for the drawer which would not see publication for many years. Even a man like Mayakovsky, seemingly quite


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In tunc with the epoch, found the party's literary discipline too much to accept, and ended his own life in 1930.

The regime's ultimate objective in disciplining writers in the later 1920s was the hitherto untried one of establishing a single literary approach for an entire national literature by political fiat. That single approach came to be known as "socialist realism," and it has dominated the field of Soviet culture ever since its introduction in the early 1930s. A good official definition of it reads as follows:

Socialist realism, the fundamental method of Soviet artistic literature and literary criticism, demands of the artist a truthful and historically specific depiction of reality in its revolutionary development. At the same time this truthfulness and historical specificity in the depiction of reality must be linked to the task of ideologically remolding and educating the workers in the spirit of socialism.

Socialist realism had definite historical roots. Its literary approach was theoretically that of the "realist" era of Russian literature between 1855 and 1880, but at the same time, as Andrey Sinyavsky has pointed out, it suddenly acquired a political purpose which it had never possessed before: it became a "teleological" literature. It was called upon to depict the new socialist man as hero of Soviet industrialization as he overcame the obstacles placed in his way by the remnants of the past and even by an intractable reality. The great exemplar of this approach in pre-revolutionary literature was Gorky's Mother; the tradition was further elaborated through such works as Fyodor Gladkov's Cement, Valentin Kataev's Time, Forward!, and Nikolay Ostrovsky's How the Steel Was Tempered. When the method of socialist realism reached the height of its influence, in the period between the conclusion of the Second World War and Stalin's death, literature was even encouraged to become "conflictless" as Soviet society supposedly moved toward the elimination of all class distinctions. The apogee of socialist realism was also the period which saw the publication of scarcely a single work that has retained any value in the history of Russian literature.

The state's primary instrument for the enforcement of socialist realism was the Union of Soviet Writers, formed in 1932, which held its first congress in 1934. By that time the lively literary life of the 1920s had been suppressed and all literary groupings dissolved, to be replaced by a mammoth organization to which all who claimed to be writers were to belong: union members enjoyed distinct privileges, and expulsion from the union was ordinarily tantamount to literary annihilation. The formation of the Writers Union codified the general Soviet attitude that literature is so important to the life of the state that it must be strictly regulated: erring writers must be punished, and conforming writers rewarded.

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22 November 2014. Author: Criticism