Already humiliated by the debacle of the Russo-Japanese War, Tsar Nicholas II and his advisors lost patience, and on January 22, , ordered the massacre of a crowd of peaceful demonstrators in St. Stalin came to power in , soon proving as susceptible to his own personal weaknesses as had the tsars before him.
Stalin well understood the influence of literature on the Russian people; consequently, the heaviest toll among the intelligentsia during the Purges was among the writers. As Nadezhda Mandelshtam put it:. Mandelshtam always said that they always knew what they were doing: the aim was to destroy not only people, but the intellect itself. By , only 50 writers remained of the who had met at the First Congress of the Union of Soviet Writers twenty years earlier.
These writers were heirs to another Russian literary tradition best represented by Anton Chekhov Written as a monument to the victims of the Purges, and first published in Munich in , Requiem did not appear in Russia until twenty-four years later. Eugenia Ginzburg, Nadezhda Mandelshtam, and Varlam Shalamov each wrote with insight about the persecution they endured, exploring both its causes and the methods of their oppressors. Her two-volume memoirs were published in Italy in and , and in the United States as Journey into the Whirlwind and Within the Whirlwind They remained unpublished in the Soviet Union until Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary of the Communist Party, initiated the period of glasnost openness in the late s.
Varlam Shalamov , a successful writer and journalist, was also arrested in , allegedly for his support of Russian emigre writer Ivan Bunin. After his release, he was allowed to publish some of his poetry in Russia, but most of his work was published abroad.
Selected stories were then published in English in two volumes, Kolyma Tales and Graphite Osip was exiled to the city of Voronezh in for his description of Stalin:. Nadezhda followed her husband to Voronezh, but lost him four years later, when he was sentenced to five years of hard labor.
He died somewhere in transit in December An analysis of the writings of these three authors reveals a number of recurring patterns in the methods used by Stalin and the Party to gain absolute power. Recognizing this relationship, the Party was quick to proscribe historical writing, seeking to de-emphasize the pre-revolutionary tsarist era, which had been rife with class inequality.
History textbooks were rewritten to reflect Party dogma only, historical dramas eliminated from the repertories of leading theaters, and plans for the publication of historical fiction scrapped by literary periodicals.
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The resulting narrative was one void of inner conflict, evil, morbidity, or even bad weather. The Hero of Labor was a hero lacking any genuinely human characteristics. Writes Mandelshtam,. The proponents of surrender attacked all old concepts just because they were old. Everything was dismissed as fiction. The result, according to Mandelshtam, was an unraveling of the fabric of Russian culture and a reversion of its people to something akin to savagery.
A Communist world. Or a racially pure, Aryan world.
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In both cases, a harmonious world, conflict-free, docile in the hands of their rulers, controlled. Mandelshtam differs with Bauman in viewing Stalin as manipulating these ideals for his own political ends, whereas Bauman seems to believe that Stalin shared these dreams himself.
According to Mandelshtam, what followed was a process of indoctrination in which the people were drilled in the Party creed as if it were religious dogma itself. Eventually, the people willingly closed their eyes and followed their leader, not allowing themselves to compare words with deeds, or to weigh the consequences of their actions.
Eugenia Ginzburg describes the need for hope in those condemned to exile in the Gulag. Having already invented a recycling plan for light bulbs, Kipreev has now created an X-ray machine out of odds and ends. He presents his machine to administrators along with a petition for release, and the story finds him waiting in hope for his freedom.
But, the narrator observes,. Hope always shackles the convict. Hope is slavery. A man who hopes for something alters his conduct and is more frequently dishonest than a man who has ceased to hope. Particularly in the early stages of the Purges, many were simply overzealous; however, as the horror sunk in, many more surrendered in order to save themselves or their families.
The writer Mikhail Zenkevich, Mandelshtam states,. The intellectual is permanently terrified. His spirit is broken, and he takes this frightened and broken spirit with him back into civilian life. She writes. Volodya, looking like a rabbit in front of a boa constrictor, slowly wrote his name in a hand as shaky as though he had had a stroke and quite unlike the bold sweep of the pen with which he signed his articles on the moral code of the new age.
Nalya confidently denounced her former friend, agreeing to invented accusations against Ginzburg under the assumption that they had to be true. The labor camps, though they did not execute people en masse, nevertheless reproduced conditions similar in their horror and brutality to those of Auschwitz. Primo Levi, in his memoir titled If This is a Man published in the United States as Survival in Auschwitz , states that survival under such conditions. Eugenia Ginzburg tells of a few such superior individuals, a group of peasant women who had been imprisoned for practicing their religion.
While most laborers met their daily quota for fallen trees by stealing logs from a hidden stash, these women filled their norm through hard work. When Easter came, they begged to be excused from work, but the squad leader refused: no religious holidays were recognized. When the women refused to leave their hut. When they got to the forest clearing they made a neat pile of their axes and saws, sat down quietly on the frozen tree stumps, and began to sing hymns.
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Thereupon the guards. The women refused to give in, chanting as they stood in the ice. Remarkably, none of them got sick, and the next day they exceeded their wood quota. One was L. Pasternak wanted to be friendly, while M. As his words reminded others,. Varlam Shalamov believed that escaping the effects of the Purges was impossible for even the strongest of heroes.
In the story, an unnamed poet realizes on his deathbed that. All life entered easily into verse and made itself comfortably at home there. And that was the way it should be, for poetry was the Word. But a few victims of the Purges did survive. Calling for a blind faith in a timeless utopia, the Party had tried to dismiss history, and with it the traditions and values accumulated over centuries by the Russian people. For a time, the Party made use of the Russian literary tradition that saw the writer as a servant of society. Osip Mandelshtam, Selected Poems , trans.
Nadezhda Mandelshtam, Hope Against Hope , trans. Max Heyward New York: Atheneum, , Found on the web at: www.
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Poems of Akhmatova , trans. Eugenia Ginzburg, Journey Into the Whirlwind , trans. Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz , trans. Samizdat self-publishers is a term coined in the post-Stalinist era to parody the official designation of Gosizdat state publishers.
It may also be applied to censored works, in manuscript or print form, circulated hand to hand before and during the Stalin era. Reader, Roberta. Anna Akhmatova: Poet and Prophet. New York: St.
Swayze, Harold. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ.
Press, The following are recommended for students interested in learning more about Soviet Russia through reading literature. Generations of Winter. New York: Vintage, The son of writer Eugenia Ginzburg, Aksyonov was a cultural leader of his generation in Russia, but clashes with the government caused him to emigrate to the United States in Babel, Isaac Red Cavalry.