Socialist Realism: An Introduction

Socialist Realism: An Introduction

The essay which follows was written in the Soviet Union and sent by its author through friends to Paris, asking that it be published. It came out first in 1959, in a French translation, in the Paris monthly Esprit. We need have no doubt as to its authenticity. We do not know the writer’s name, nor would there be any point in trying to discover it. All the evidence goes to show, however, that he belongs to the younger generation of Russian writers, educated entirely under the post-revolutionary system. The fact that he has decided to have his work published abroad shows his belief in the importance of what he has to say. Let us consider this step: here we have a man with ample talent for attaining popularity in his own country, but who secretly writes something intended at best for reading by a small group of intimates. He then goes to a great deal of trouble to place his manuscript in reliable keeping, and in this way it is brought across the frontiers. He knows full well the risk he runs should the authorities identify him as the author, while at the same time the preservation of his anonymity means that he can acquire neither fame nor money, even if his work is translated into many languages. At the same time he must also face the thorny problem of his loyalty as a citizen, for he lives in a state which forbids writers to publish without permission, and which regards violation of this rule as tantamount to violation of a citizen’s duties, i.e., treason. This man has chosen to do what is condemned by the existing institutions and by the community formed by these institutions for he sees no other way to voice his beliefs.

But American readers would be mistaken if they attributed their own values and perspectives to this anonymous Russian writer, and regarded him as a supporter of the Western way of life, for instance. Were this so, the situation would be relatively simple (an internal enemy of the system would have found means to reveal himself). If we are to understand him, we must abandon the division of people into Communists and anti-Communists. If this anonymous Russian were asked whether he is a Communist or an anti-Communist, he would almost certainly shrug and answer: “What does that mean?” Only one kind of reality exists for him: it is that in which he has grown up and which forms his daily environment. The world outside the Soviet Union might just as well not exist, as far as he is concerned. He lives with the problems of his own community, and it is significant that he uses the form “we”—”we did this and that,” “we believed,” “we ought to”… This essay should be taken as a voice participating in an internal discussion among Soviet writers; in conditions of greater freedom, his voice would be regarded as a manifestation of the normal right to criticize.

To what extent does this anonymous Russian express the trends prevailing in the...


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