History of Literature

Russian literature



Old Russian literature. (10th–17th centuries)

The 18th century

The 19th century

The Silver Age. (From the 1890s to 1917)

Post-Revolutionary literature

Thaws and freezes


Russian literature

Post-Revolutionary literature. Great Purge and Intelligentsia


Mikhail Sholokhov
Nikolay Zabolotsky

Vladislav Khodasevich
Georgy Ivanov

Marina Tsvetayeva

Vladimir Nabokov

Isaak Babel
Yevgeny Zamyatin
Yury Olesha
Mikhail Zoshchenko
Daniil Kharms
Boris Pilnyak
Andrey Platonov
Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov
Viktor Shklovsky
Yury Tynyanov
Mikhail Bakhtin

Mikhail Bulgakov

"Master i Margarita" ("The Master and Margarita")

Pavel Florensky

Nikolai Berdyaev
Nikolai Lossky
Sergei Bulgakov
Ivan Ilyin
Vladimir Ilich Lenin


Post-Revolutionary literature

Literature under Soviet rule. Soviet era

The Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917 radically changed Russian literature. After a brief period of relative openness (compared to what followed) in the 1920s, literature became a tool of state propaganda. Officially approved writing (the only kind that could be published) by and large sank to a subliterary level. Censorship, imprisonment in labour camps, and mass terror were only part of the problem. Writers were not only forbidden to create works that were dissident, formally complex, or objective (a term of reproach), but they were also expected to fulfill the dictates of the Communist Party to produce propaganda on specific, often rather narrow, themes of current interest to it. Writers were called upon to be “engineers of human souls” helping to produce “the new Soviet man.”

As a result of Bolshevik rule, the literary tradition was fragmented. In addition to official Soviet Russian literature, two kinds of unofficial literature existed. First, a tradition of émigré literature, containing some of the best works of the century, continued until the fall of the Soviet Union. Second, unofficial literature written within the Soviet Union came to include works circulated illegally in typewritten copies (“samizdat”), works smuggled abroad for publication (“tamizdat”), and works written “for the drawer,” or not published until decades after they were written (“delayed” literature). Moreover, literature publishable at one time often lost favour later; although nominally acceptable, it was frequently unobtainable. On many occasions, even officially celebrated works had to be rewritten to suit a shift in the Communist Party line. Whereas pre-Revolutionary writers had been intensely aware of Western trends, for much of the Soviet period access to Western movements was severely restricted, as was foreign travel. Access to pre-Revolutionary Russian writing was also spotty. As a result, Russians periodically had to change their sense of the past, as did Western scholars when “delayed” works became known.

From a literary point of view, unofficial literature clearly surpasses official literature. Of Russia’s five winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature during the Soviet period, Bunin emigrated after the Revolution, Boris Pasternak had his novel Doctor Zhivago (1957) published abroad, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (b. 1918) had most of his works published abroad and was expelled from the Soviet Union, and Joseph Brodsky (1940–96) published all his collections of verse abroad and was forced to emigrate in 1972.

Only Mikhail Sholokhov (1905–84) was clearly an official Soviet writer.


Mikhail Sholokhov

Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov, (b. May 24 [May 11, Old Style], 1905, Veshenskaya, Russia—d. Feb. 21, 1984, Veshenskaya, Russian S.F.S.R., U.S.S.R.), Russian novelist, winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize for Literature for his novels and stories about the Cossacks of southern Russia.

After joining the Red Army in 1920 and spending two years in Moscow, he returned in 1924 to his native Cossack village in the Don region of southern Russia. He made several trips to western Europe and in 1959 accompanied the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to the United States. He joined the Communist Party in 1932 and became a member of the Central Committee in 1961.

Sholokhov began writing at 17, his first published book being Donskie rasskazy (1926; Tales of the Don), a collection of short stories. In 1925 he began his famous novel Tikhy Don (“The Silent Don”). Sholokhov’s work evolved slowly: it took him 12 years to publish Tikhy Don (4 vol., 1928–40; translated in two parts as And Quiet Flows the Don and The Don Flows Home to the Sea) and 28 years to complete another major novel, Podnyataya tselina (1932–60; translated in two parts as Virgin Soil Upturned [also published as Seeds of Tomorrow] and Harvest on the Don). Oni Srazhalis za rodinu (1942; They Fought for Their Country) is an unfinished epic tale of the Soviet people’s bravery during the German invasion of World War II. Sholokhov’s popular story “Sudba cheloveka” (1957; “The Fate of a Man”) also focused on this period.

Sholokhov’s best-known work, Tikhy Don, is remarkable for the objectivity of its portrayal of the heroic and tragic struggle of the Don Cossacks against the Bolsheviks for independence. It became the most widely read novel in the Soviet Union and was heralded as a powerful example of Socialist Realism, winning the Stalin Prize in 1941.

Sholokhov was one of the most enigmatic Soviet writers. In letters he wrote to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, he boldly defended compatriots from the Don region, yet he approved the sentencing that followed the convictions of the writers Andrey Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel on subversion charges in 1966 and the persecution of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Stalin’s view that Tikhy Don contained errors was public knowledge, but the novel remained a classic of Soviet literature throughout Stalin’s rule. The artistic merits of Sholokhov’s best novel are in such stark contrast with the mediocre (or worse) quality of the rest of his work that questions have been raised about Sholokhov’s authorship of Tikhy Don. Many authors, among them Solzhenitsyn, publicly accused Sholokhov of plagiarism and claimed that the novel was a reworking of another writer’s manuscript; Fyodor Kryukov, a writer from the Don region who died in 1920, is most often cited as Sholokhov’s source. Though a group of Norwegian literary scholars—using statistical analysis of the novel’s language—proved its affinity with the rest of Sholokhov’s oeuvre and despite the recovery of the novel’s early manuscript, which had been believed lost, a considerable number of authoritative literary figures in Russia today believe that the novel was plagiarized.



The first years of the Soviet regime were marked by the proliferation of avant-garde literature groups. One of the most important was the Oberiu movement that included Nikolay Zabolotsky, Alexander Vvedensky, Konstantin Vaginov and the most famous Russian absurdist Daniil Kharms. Other famous authors experimenting with language were novelists Andrei Platonov and Yuri Olesha and short story writers Isaak Babel and Mikhail Zoshchenko.

Nikolay Zabolotsky

Nikolay Alexeyevich Zabolotsky - (Russian: Никола́й Алексе́евич Заболо́цкий; May 7, 1903 - October 14, 1958) a Russian poet, children's writer and translator. He was a Modernist and one of the founders of the Russian avant-garde absurdist group OBERIU.


Nikolay Alekseevich Zabolotsky was born on May 7, 1903 near the city of Kazan. His early life was spent in the towns of Sernur (now in the Republic of Mari El) and Urzhum (now in the Kirov Oblast). In 1920, Zabolotsky left his family and moved to Moscow, enrolling simultaneously in the departments of medicine and philology at the university there. A year later, he moved to Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg) and enrolled in the Pedagogical Institute of Saint Petersburg State University.

Zabolotsky had already begun to write poetry at this time. His formative period showed the influences of the Futurist works of Vladimir Mayakovsky and Velimir Khlebnikov, the lyrical poems of Alexander Blok and Sergei Esenin, and the art of Pavel Filonov and Marc Chagall. During this period, Zabolotsky also met his future wife, E.V. Klykova.

In 1928, Zabolotsky founded the avant-garde group OBERIU with Daniil Kharms and Alexander Vvedensky. The group's acronym stood for "The Association of Real Art" (in Russian, Объединение реального искусства). During this period, Zabolotsky began to be published. His first book of poetry, Columns (Столбцы, 1929), was a series of grotesque vignettes on the life that Lenin's NEP (New Economic Policy) had created. It included the poem "The Signs of the Zodiac Fade" (Меркнут знаки зодиака), an absurdist lullaby that, 67 years later, in 1996, provided the words for a Russian pop hit. In 1937, Zabolotsky published his second book of poetry. This collection showed the subject matter of Zabolotsky's work moving from social concerns to elegies and nature poetry. This book is notable for its inclusion of pantheistic themes.

Amidst Stalin's increased censorship of the arts, Zabolotsky fell victim to the Soviet government's purges. In 1938, he was sent for five years to Siberia. This sentence was prolonged until the war was over. In 1944 after his appeal he was freed of guard, but still continued the sentence in exile in Karaganda. In Siberia he continued his creative work and was occupied with translation of The Tale of Igor's Campaign. This followed with his release in 1945. Upon his return to Moscow in 1946, Zabolotsky was restored as member of Union of Soviet Writers. He also translated several Georgian poets (including Rustaveli's epic poem The Knight in the Panther's Skin, as well as more modern Georgian poets such as Vazha-Pshavela, Grigol Orbeliani, David Guramishvili) and traveled frequently to Georgia. Zabolotsky also resumed his work as an original poet. However, the literature of his post-exile years experienced drastic stylistic changes. His poetry began to take a more traditional, conservative form and was often compared to the work of Tyutchev.

The last few years of Zabolotsky's life were beset by illness. He suffered a debilitating heart attack and, from 1956 onward, spent much of his time in the town of Tarusa. A second heart attack claimed his life on October 14, 1958 in Moscow.

In the 1930s Socialist realism became the officially approved style. Several acclaimed Soviet novelists of the time were Maxim Gorky, Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Sholokhov, and Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy; and poets Konstantin Simonov and Aleksandr Tvardovsky are being read in Russia to this day. Other Soviet celebrities, such as Alexander Serafimovich, Nikolai Ostrovsky, Alexander Fadeyev, Fyodor Gladkov or Demyan Bedny have never been published by mainstream publishers after 1989.

Few of the pre-World War II Soviet writers could be published without strictly following the Socialist realism guidelines. A notable exception were satyrics Ilf and Petrov, with their picaresque novels about a charismatic con artist Ostap Bender.

Writers like those of Serapion Brothers group, who insisted on the right of an author to write independently of political ideology, were forced by authorities to reject their views and accept Socialist realism principles. Some 1930's writers, such as Mikhail Bulgakov, author of The Master and Margarita, and Nobel-prize winning Boris Pasternak with his novel Doctor Zhivago continued the classical tradition of Russian literature with little or no hope of being published. Their major works would not be published until the Khrushchev Thaw and Pasternak was forced to refuse his Nobel prize.

Meanwhile, émigré writers, such as poets Vyacheslav Ivanov, Georgy Ivanov and Vladislav Khodasevich; novelists such as Gaito Gazdanov, Mark Aldanov and Vladimir Nabokov and short story Nobel Prize winning writer Ivan Bunin, continued to write in exile.

In the early years following the Revolution, writers who left or were expelled from the Soviet Union included Balmont, Bunin, Gippius, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Kuprin, and Merezhkovsky. Émigrés also included the poets Vladislav Khodasevich (1886–1939) and Georgy Ivanov (1894–1958). Marina Tsvetayeva (1892–1941), regarded as one of the great poets of the 20th century, eventually returned to Russia, where she committed suicide. Vladimir Nabokov, who later wrote in English, published nine novels in Russian, including Dar (published serially 1937–38; The Gift) and Priglasheniye na kazn (1938; Invitation to a Beheading).


Vladislav Khodasevich


Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich (Russian: Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич) (May 16, 1886 - June 14, 1939) was an influential Russian poet and literary critic who presided over the Berlin circle of Russian emigre litterateurs.

Khodasevich was born in Moscow into a family of a Polish nobleman and a converted Jewish woman. He left the Moscow University after understanding that poetry was his true vocation. Khodasevich's first collections of poems, Youth (1907) and A Happy Little House (1914), were subsequently discarded by him as immature.

In the year 1917, Khodasevich gained wider renown by writing a superb short piece The Way of Corn. This poem is eponymous with Khodasevich's best known collection of verse, first published in 1920 and revised in 1922.

Patronized by Maxim Gorky, Khodasevich and his wife Nina Berberova (herself a distinguished littérateur, 1901-1993) left Russia for Gorky's villa in Sorrento, Italy. Later they moved to Berlin, where they took up with Andrei Bely. Khodasevich's complicated relationship with this maverick genius ended with a scandalous rupture, followed by the latter's return to Moscow. In his memoirs, Bely presented an unforgettable, expressionistic, and very partial portrayal of Khodasevich.

During his first years in Berlin, Khodasevich wrote his two last and most metaphysical collections of verse, Heavy Lyre (1923) and European Night (1927). The former contained the most important rendition of Orpheus theme in the Russian poetry, the esoteric Ballad. Khodasevich didn't align himself with any of the aesthetic movements of the day, claiming Pushkin to be his only model. He even penned several scholarly articles exploring the master-stroke of the great Russian poet.

In the mid-1920s, Khodasevich switched his literary activities from poetry to criticism. He joined Mark Aldanov and Alexander Kerensky as the co-editor of the Berlin periodical Days, in which he would publish his penetrating analyses of the contemporary Soviet literature. He also indulged in a prolonged controversy with the Parisian emigre pundits, such as Georgy Adamovich and Georgy Ivanov, on various issues of literary theory. As an influential critic, Khodasevich did his best to encourage the career of Vladimir Nabokov, who would always cherish his memory.

Despite a physical infirmity that gradually took hold of him, Khodasevich worked relentlessly during the last decade of his life. Most notably, he wrote an important biography of Gavrila Derzhavin (translated into English and published by University of Wisconsin Press in 2007) in 1931, which he attempted to style in the language of Pushkin's epoch. Several weeks before Khodasevich's death his brilliant book of memoirs, Necropolis, was published. Although severely partisan, the book is invaluable for its ingenious characterizations of Maxim Gorky, Andrei Bely, and Mikhail Gershenzon.



Georgy Ivanov

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov (Russian: Гео́ргий Влади́мирович Ива́нов ) (1894–1958) was a leading poet and essayist of the Russian emigration between the 1930s and 1950s.

As a banker's son, Ivanov spent his young manhood in the elite circle of Russian golden youth. He started writing pretentious verses, imitative of Baudelaire and the French Symbolists, at a precocious age. Although his technique of versification was impeccable, he had no life experience to draw upon. The favourite subjects of his early poetry were Rococo mannerisms and gallant festivals. Unsurprisingly, he named two of his books "The Embarkment for Cythera", alluding to Watteau's great painting.

After dallying with a puerile variety of Russian Futurism, as promoted by Igor Severyanin, Ivanov came to associate himself with the Acmeism movement. Although not considered a major talent, the 20-year-old was addressed or mentioned in the poems by Osip Mandelshtam and Anna Akhmatova. Georgii Ivanov was also considered to be one of the best pupils of the informal Guild of Poets school organized by Nikolay Gumilyov and Sergei Gorodetsky.

Ivanov was the only prominent member of this circle who emigrated to the West. His natural arrogance and peremptory judgements easily won him respect and admiration from his younger contemporaries. He self-consciously promoted himself as the only remnant of the highly sophisticated milieu of the Russian Silver Age. To augment his standing, he issued a book of memoirs, entitled Petersburg Winters, which contained a fictionalized or widely exaggerated account of his experiences with the Acmeists. The book alienated Ivanov from his elder contemporaries but won instant acclaim from his disciples.

Together with the fellow critic Georgy Adamovich and his own wife Irina Odoyevtseva, Ivanov became the principal arbiter of taste of the emigrant society, forging or destroying literary reputations at will. However, their literary taste was somewhat deficient: they inadvertently dismissed Tsvetayeva's genuine lyrics (when anonymously submitted by her to a poetry contest) as a crude imitation of Tsvetayeva's manner. They enthusiastically feuded with Berlinese Russian litterateurs, with Vladimir Nabokov becoming the favourite target of their attacks. Nabokov revenged himself by satirizing Ivanov in one of his best known short stories, Spring in Fialta, and by subjecting them to a clever mystification, which resulted in Adamovich's immoderate praise of Nabokov's verses printed under an alias.

Afflicted with alcoholism and suffering from despondency, Ivanov sank ever lower. It was in conditions of abject penury and total despair that Ivanov's best poems were created. The more he let himself go down as a person, the more he rose as a poet. His art culminated in his last cycle of poems, written in the days preceding his death. In one of his last pieces, Ivanov prophetically promised "to return to Russia as poems". Actually, his wife returned to Leningrad during the Perestroika and died there in 1990.

Following Ivanov's death, his reputation has been steadily augmented. His "poetry of brilliant despair", as one critic put it, is taken by some to presage the tenets of French Existentialism.



Marina Tsvetayeva



Marina Ivanovna Tsvetayeva, married name Marina Ivanovna Efron (b. Sept. 26 [Oct. 8, New Style], 1892, Moscow, Russia—d. Aug. 31, 1941, Yelabuga), Russian poet whose verse is distinctive for its staccato rhythms, originality, and directness and who, though little known outside Russia, is considered one of the finest 20th-century poets in the Russian language.

Tsvetayeva spent her youth predominantly in Moscow, where her father was a professor at the university and director of a museum and her mother was a talented pianist. The family traveled abroad extensively, and at the age of 16 she began studies at the Sorbonne. Her first collection of poetry, Vecherny albom (“Evening Album”), appeared in 1910. Many of her best and most typical poetical qualities are displayed in the long verse fairy tale Tsar-devitsa (1922; “Tsar-Maiden”).

Tsvetayeva met the Russian Revolution with hostility (her husband, Sergei Efron, was an officer in the White counterrevolutionary army), and many of her verses written at this time glorify the anti-Bolshevik resistance. Among these is the remarkable cycle Lebediny stan (“The Swans’ Camp,” composed 1917–21, but not published until 1957 in Munich), a moving lyrical chronicle of the Civil War viewed through the eyes and emotions of the wife of a White officer.

Tsvetayeva left the Soviet Union in 1922, going to Berlin and Prague, and finally, in 1925, settling in Paris. There she published several volumes of poetry, including Stikhi k Bloku (1922; “Verses to Blok”) and Posle Rossii (1928; “After Russia”), the last book of her poetry to be published during her lifetime. She also composed two poetical tragedies on classical themes, Ariadne (1924) and Phaedra (1927), several essays on the creative process, and works of literary criticism, including the monograph Moy Pushkin (1937; “My Pushkin”). Her last cycle of poems, Stikhi k Chekhii (1938–39; “Verses to the Czech Land”), was an impassioned reaction to Nazi Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia.

In the 1930s Tsvetayeva’s poetry increasingly reflected alienation from her émigré existence and a deepening nostalgia for Russia, as in the poems “Toska po rodine” (1935; “Homesick for the Motherland”) and “Rodina” (1936; “Motherland”). At the end of the ’30s her husband—who had begun to cooperate with the communists—returned to the Soviet Union, taking their daughter with him (both of them were later to become victims of Joseph Stalin’s terror). In 1939 Tsvetayeva followed them, settling in Moscow, where she worked on poetic translations. The evacuation of Moscow during World War II sent her to a remote town where she had no friends or support. She committed suicide in 1941.



Vladimir Nabokov

in full Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov

born April 22, 1899, St. Petersburg, Russia
died July 2, 1977, Montreux, Switz.

Russian-born American novelist and critic, the foremost of the post-1917 émigré authors. He wrote in both Russian and English, and his best works, including Lolita (1955), feature stylish, intricate literary effects.

Nabokov was born into an old aristocratic family. His father, V.D. Nabokov, was a leader of the pre-Revolutionary liberal Constitutional Democratic Party (Kadets) in Russia and was the author of numerous books and articles on criminal law and politics, among them The Provisional Government (1922), which was one of the primary sources on the downfall of the Kerensky regime. In 1922, after the family had settled in Berlin, the elder Nabokov was assassinated by a reactionary rightist while shielding another man at a public meeting; and although his novelist son disclaimed any influence of this event upon his art, the theme of assassination by mistake has figured prominently in Nabokov’s novels. Nabokov’s enormous affection for his father and for the milieu in which he was raised is evident in his autobiography Speak, Memory (revised version, 1967).
Nabokov published two collections of verse, Poems (1916) and Two Paths (1918), before leaving Russia in 1919. He and his family made their way to England, and he attended Trinity College, Cambridge, on a scholarship provided for the sons of prominent Russians in exile. While at Cambridge he first studied zoology but soon switched to French and Russian literature; he graduated with first-class honours in 1922 and subsequently wrote that his almost effortless attainment of this degree was “one of the very few ‘utilitarian’ sins on my conscience.” While still in England he continued to write poetry, mainly in Russian but also in English, and two collections of his Russian poetry, The Cluster and The Empyrean Path, appeared in 1923. In Nabokov’s mature opinion, these poems were “polished and sterile.”
Between 1922 and 1940 Nabokov lived in Germany and France, and, while continuing to write poetry, he experimented with drama and even collaborated on several unproduced motion-picture scenarios. By 1925 he settled upon prose as his main genre. His first short story had already been published in Berlin in 1924. His first novel, Mashenka (Mary), appeared in 1926; it was avowedly autobiographical and contains descriptions of the young Nabokov’s first serious romance as well as of the Nabokov family estate, both of which are also described in Speak, Memory. Nabokov did not again draw so heavily upon his personal experience as he had in Mashenka until his episodic novel about an émigré professor of entomology in the United States, Pnin (1957), which is to some extent based on his experiences while teaching (1948–58) Russian and European literature at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
His second novel, King, Queen, Knave, which appeared in 1928, marked his turn to a highly stylized form that characterized his art thereafter. His chess novel, The Defense, followed two years later and won him recognition as the best of the younger Russian émigré writers. In the next five years he produced four novels and a novella. Of these, Despair and Invitation to a Beheading were his first works of importance and foreshadowed his later fame.
During his years of European emigration, Nabokov lived in a state of happy and continual semipenury. All of his Russian novels were published in very small editions in Berlin and Paris. His first two novels had German translations, and the money he obtained for them he used for butterfly-hunting expeditions (he eventually published 18 scientific papers on entomology). But until his best-seller Lolita, no book he wrote in Russian or English produced more than a few hundred dollars. During the period in which he wrote his first eight novels, he made his living in Berlin and later in Paris by giving lessons in tennis, Russian, and English and from occasional walk-on parts in films (now forgotten). His wife, the former Véra Evseyevna Slonim, whom he married in 1925, worked as a translator. From the time of the loss of his home in Russia, Nabokov’s only attachment was to what he termed the “unreal estate” of memory and art. He never purchased a house, preferring instead to live in houses rented from other professors on sabbatical leave. Even after great wealth came to him with the success of Lolita and the subsequent interest in his previous work, Nabokov and his family (he and his wife had one son, Dmitri) chose to live (from 1959) in genteelly shabby quarters in a Swiss hotel.
The subject matter of Nabokov’s novels is principally the problem of art itself presented in various figurative disguises. Thus, The Defense seemingly is about chess, Despair about murder, and Invitation to a Beheading a political story, but all three works make statements about art that are central to understanding the book as a whole. The same may be said of his plays, Sobytiye (“The Event”), published in 1938, and The Waltz Invention. The problem of art again appears in Nabokov’s best novel in Russian, The Gift, the story of a young artist’s development in the spectral world of post-World War I Berlin. This novel, with its reliance on literary parody, was a turning point: serious use of parody thereafter became a key device in Nabokov’s art. His first novels in English, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) and Bend Sinister (1947), do not rank with his best Russian work. Pale Fire (1962), however, a novel consisting of a long poem and a commentary on it by a mad literary pedant, extends and completes Nabokov’s mastery of unorthodox structure, first shown in The Gift and present also in Solus Rex, a Russian novel that began to appear serially in 1940 but was never completed. Lolita (1955), with its antihero, Humbert Humbert, who is possessed by an overpowering desire for very young girls, is yet another of Nabokov’s subtle allegories: love examined in the light of its seeming opposite, lechery. Ada (1969), Nabokov’s 17th and longest novel, is a parody of the family chronicle form. All of his earlier themes come into play in the novel, and, because the work is a medley of Russian, French, and English, it is his most difficult work. (He also wrote a number of short stories and novellas, mostly written in Russian and translated into English.)
Nabokov’s major critical works are an irreverent book about Nikolay Gogol (1944) and a monumental four-volume translation of, and commentary on, Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (1964). What he called the “present, final version” of the autobiographical Speak, Memory, concerning his European years, was published in 1967, after which he began work on a sequel, Speak On, Memory, concerning the American years.
As Nabokov’s reputation grew in the 1930s so did the ferocity of the attacks made upon him. His idiosyncratic, somewhat aloof style and unusual novelistic concerns were interpreted as snobbery by his detractors—although his best Russian critic, Vladislav Khodasevich, insisted that Nabokov’s aristocratic view was appropriate to his subject matters: problems of art masked by allegory.

Nabokov’s reputation varies greatly from country to country. Until 1986 he was not published in the Soviet Union, not only because he was a “White Russian émigré” (he became a U.S. citizen in 1945) but also because he practiced “literary snobbism.” Critics of strong social convictions in the West also generally hold him in low esteem. But within the intellectual émigré community in Paris and Berlin between 1919 and 1939, V. Sirin (the literary pseudonym used by Nabokov in those years) was credited with being “on a level with the most significant artists in contemporary European literature and occupying a place held by no one else in Russian literature.” His reputation after 1940, when he changed from Russian to English after emigrating to the United States, mounted steadily until the 1970s, when he was acclaimed by a leading literary critic as “king over that battered mass society called contemporary fiction.”

Andrew Field


From the 1920s to c. 1985

Experiments in the 1920s

Within Russia the 1920s saw a wide diversity of literary trends and works, including those by mere “fellow travelers” (Leon Trotsky’s phrase) of the Revolution. Isaak Babel wrote a brilliant cycle of linked stories, collected as Konarmiya (1926; Red Cavalry), about a Jewish commissar in a Cossack regiment. Formally chiseled and morally complex, these stories examine the seductive appeal of violence for the intellectual. A modern literary genre, the dystopia, was invented by Yevgeny Zamyatin in his novel My (1924; We), which could be published only abroad, Nikolay Erdman’s Samoubiytsa (1928; The Suicide). Like
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four, which are modeled on it, We describes a future socialist society that has turned out to be not perfect but inhuman.

Yury Olesha
’s Zavist (1927; Envy) is a satire in the tradition of Notes from the Underground. Like Chekhov, Zoshchenko,  was a master of the comic story focusing on everyday life.

Daniil Kharms  was an early Soviet-era surrealist and absurdist poet, writer and dramatist.

Pasternak, who had been a Futurist poet before the Revolution, published a cycle of poems, Sestra moya zhizn (1922; My Sister—Life), and his story “Detstvo Lyuvers” (1918; “Zhenya Luvers’s Childhood”).

Other important novels include Boris Pilnyak’s “ornamental” Goly god (1922; The Naked Year); Andrey Platonov’s deeply pessimistic Kotlovan (The Foundation Pit), which was written in the late 1920s and published in the West in 1973; Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov’s clever satire Dvenadtsat stulyev (1928; The Twelve Chairs).

Isaak Babel

Russian author

born July 13 [July 1, Old Style], 1894, Odessa, Ukraine, Russian Empire
died Jan. 27, 1940, Moscow, Russia, U.S.S.R.

Soviet short-story writer noted for his war stories and Odessa tales. He was considered an innovator in the early Soviet period and enjoyed a brilliant reputation in the early 1930s.

Born into a Jewish family, Babel grew up in an atmosphere of persecution that is reflected in the sensitivity, pessimism, and morbidity of his stories. His first works, later included in his Odesskiye rasskazy (“Odessa Tales”), were published in 1916 in St. Petersburg in a monthly edited by Maksim Gorky; but the tsarist censors considered them crude and obscene. Gorky praised the young author’s terse, naturalistic style, at the same time advising him to “see the world.” Babel proceeded to do so, serving in the Cossack First Cavalry Army and in the political police (Babel’s daughter denied this), working for newspapers, and holding a number of other jobs over the next seven years. Perhaps his most significant experience was as a soldier in the war with Poland. Out of that campaign came the group of stories known as Konarmiya (1926; Red Cavalry). These stories present different aspects of war through the eyes of an inexperienced, intellectual young Jew who reports everything graphically and with naive precision. Though senseless cruelty often pervades the stories, they are lightened by a belief that joy and happiness must exist somewhere, if only in the imagination.

The “Odessa Tales” were published in book form in 1931. This cycle of realistic and humorous sketches of the Moldavanka—the ghetto suburb of Odessa—vividly portrays the lifestyle and jargon of a group of Jewish bandits and gangsters, led by their “king,” the legendary Benya Krik.

Babel wrote other short stories, as well as two plays (Zakat, 1928; Mariya, 1935). In the early 1930s his literary reputation in the Soviet Union was high, but, in the atmosphere of increasing Stalinist cultural regimentation, Communist critics began to question whether his works were compatible with official literary doctrine. After the mid-1930s Babel lived in silence and obscurity. His last published work in the Soviet Union was a short tribute to Gorky in 1938. His powerful patron had died in 1936; in May 1939 Babel was arrested, and he was executed some eight months later. After Stalin’s death in 1953, Babel was rehabilitated, and his stories were again published in the Soviet Union.

Encyclopaedia Britannyca



Yevgeny Zamyatin

Yevgeny Zamyatin by Boris Kustodiev

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamyatin (Russian: Евге́ний Ива́нович Замя́тин) (February 20, 1884 – March 10, 1937) was a Russian author, most famous for his 1921 novel We, a story of dystopian future which influenced George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Ayn Rand's Anthem, Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed and, indirectly, Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano.

Early life
Zamyatin was born in Lebedyan, 300 km south of Moscow. His father was a Russian Orthodox priest and schoolmaster, and his mother a musician. He may have had synesthesia as he gave letters and sounds qualities. For example, he saw the letter "L" as having pale, cold and light blue qualities. He studied naval engineering in Saint Petersburg from 1902 until 1908, during which time he joined the Bolsheviks. He was arrested during the Russian Revolution of 1905 and exiled, but returned to Saint Petersburg where he lived illegally before moving to Finland in 1906 to finish his studies. After returning to Russia, he began to write fiction as a hobby. He was arrested and exiled a second time in 1911, but amnestied in 1913. His Uyezdnoye (A Provincial Tale) in 1913, which satirized life in a small Russian town, brought him a degree of fame. The next year he was tried for maligning the military in his story Na Kulichkakh (At the world's end). He continued to contribute articles to various socialist newspapers. After graduating as a naval engineer, he worked professionally at home and abroad. In 1916 he was sent to England to supervise the construction of icebreakers at the shipyards in Walker and Wallsend while living in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Literary career
Zamyatin wrote The Islanders, satirizing English life, and its pendant A Fisher of Men, both published after his return to Russia in late 1917. Zamyatin supported the October Revolution, but opposed the system of censorship under the Bolsheviks. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 he edited several journals, lectured on writing, and edited Russian translations of works by Jack London, O. Henry, H. G. Wells, and others.

His works became increasingly critical of the regime. He stated boldly: "True literature can only exist when it is created, not by diligent and reliable officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and skeptics". This attitude caused his position to become increasingly difficult as the 1920s wore on. Ultimately, his works were banned, and he wasn't permitted to publish, particularly after the publication of We in a Russian émigré journal in 1927.

His novel We, while often discussed as primarily a political satire on the totalitarianism he perceived in the Soviet Union, is significant in other aspects as well. It may variously be examined as (1) a polemic against the optimistic scientific socialism of H. G. Wells whose works Zamyatin had previously published and with the heroic verses of the (Russian) Proletarian Poets, (2) as an example of Expressionist theory and  as an illustration of the archetype theories of Carl Jung as applied to literature. George Orwell believed that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) must be partly derived from We. However, in a 1962 letter to Christopher Collins, Huxley says that he wrote Brave New World as a reaction to H.G. Wells' utopias long before he had heard of We. According to We translator Natasha Randall, Orwell believed that Huxley was lying. Kurt Vonnegut said that in writing Player Piano (1952) he "cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World, whose plot had been cheerfully ripped off from Yevgeny Zamyatin's We."

In addition to We, Zamyatin also wrote a number of short stories, in fairy tale form, that constituted satirical criticism of Bolshevik rule, such as in a mocking story about a city where the mayor decides that to make everyone happy he should make everyone equal. He starts by forcing everyone, himself included, to live in a big barrack, then to shave heads to be equal to the bald, and then to become mentally disabled to equate intelligence downward. This plot is very similar to that of The New Utopia (1891) by Jerome K. Jerome whose collected works were published three times in Russia before 1917. In its turn, Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron" (1961) bears distinct resemblances to Zamyatin's tale.

Exile and death
Zamyatin was eventually given permission to leave the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin in 1931, after the intercession of Maxim Gorky. He settled, impoverished, in Paris with his wife, where he died of a heart attack in 1937. During his time in France, he notably worked with Jean Renoir, co-writing the script of his film Les Bas-fonds. He is buried in Thiais, France, at a cemetery on Rue de Stalingrad.




Nikolay Erdman

Meyerhold, Mayakovsky, and Erdman


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Nikolay Robertovich Erdman (16 November [O.S. 3 November] 1900 — 10 August 1970) was a Soviet dramatist and screenwriter primarily remembered for his work with Vsevolod Meyerhold in the 1920s. His plays, notably The Suicide (1928), form a link in Russian literary history between the satirical drama of Gogol and the post-World War II Theatre of the Absurd.

Early life
Born to parents of Baltic German descent, Erdman was reared in Moscow. His brother Boris Erdman (1899-1960) was a stage designer who introduced him to the literary and theatrical milieu of Moscow. Young Erdman was particularly impressed by the grotesquely satirical poetry of Vladimir Mayakovsky, which seemed to defy all poetical conventions. At the outbreak of the Russian Civil War, he volunteered with the Red Army.

Erdman's first short poem was published in 1919. His longest and most original poetical work was Self-Portrait (1922). As a poet, Erdman aligned himself with the Imaginists, a bohemian movement led by Sergei Yesenin. In 1924, Erdman acted as a "witness for the defense" in the mock Imaginist Process. He also authored a number of witty parodies which were staged in the theatres of Moscow.

Work with Meyerhold
In 1924, Erdman submitted to Meyerhold his first major play, The Mandate. The young playwright cleverly exploited the subject of the subverted wedding to produce a work brimming with tragic absurdity. In his adaptation of the play, Meyerhold chose to emphasise the mannequin-like behaviour of Erdman's characters by introducing the tragic finale which revealed "the total and disastrous loss of identity" on the part of his characters.

.Erdman's next collaboration with Meyerhold was The Suicide (1928), "a spectacular mixture of the ridiculous and the sublime", universally recognized as one of the finest plays written during the Soviet period. The play draws on the theme of the faked suicide, which had been introduced into Russian literature by Alexander Sukhovo-Kobylin in The Death of Tarelkin (1869) and was explored by Leo Tolstoy in The Living Corpse (1900).

Erdman's masterpiece had a tortuous production history. Meyerhold's attempts to stage the play were thwarted by Soviet authorities. The Vakhtangov Theatre also failed to overcome censorship difficulties. At last Konstantin Stanislavsky sent a letter to Stalin, in which he compared Erdman to Gogol and cited Gorky's enthusiasm for the play. The permission to stage the play was granted, only to be revoked by Kaganovich's party commission on the very eve of the premiere.

His career in the theatre effectively stalled, Erdman turned his attention to the cinema. He wrote scripts for several silent films, the most famous being Boris Barnet's The House on Trubnaya. After Stanislavsky's actor Kachalov thoughtlessly recited Erdman's satirical fables to Stalin during a night party in the Kremlin, their author's fate was sealed. He was arrested when filming his first attempt at a musical, Jolly Fellows, and faced deportation to the town of Yeniseysk in Siberia (1933). The following year he was permitted to move to Tomsk, where was able to secure a job in a local theatre.

Although he was not allowed to appear in Moscow, Erdman would visit the city illegally in the 1930s. During one of such visits, he read to Mikhail Bulgakov the first act of his new play The Hypnotist (never completed). Bulgakov was so impressed by his talent that he petitioned Stalin to sanction Erdman's return to the capital. The petition was ignored, but Erdman's script for the comedy Volga-Volga was awarded the Stalin Prize for 1941.

At the outbreak of World War II, Erdman was called up for military service with the Red Army but, through Beria's patronage, he had returned to civilian life in Moscow by 1942. With no other means of livelihood but the cinema, he turned to the most apolitical activity available, contributing scripts for children's films, such as Morozko and It Was I Who Drew the Little Man, until some years after Stalin's death.

The Thaw
Erdman was living in obscurity when in 1964 Yuri Lyubimov invited him to join the newly-founded Taganka Theatre. Although Lyubimov and Erdman collaborated on several novel productions, aspiring to revive Meyerhold's traditions, it was not until 1990 that Lyubimov succeeded in producing his stage version of The Suicide.

Erdman's principal work was banned in the Soviet Union until the Perestroika. Even the comparatively orthodox Moscow Satire Theatre (inaugurated in 1924 with the production of Erdman's review Moscow from the Point of View...) failed to have their version of The Suicide approved by the Soviet censors.



Yury Olesha


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Yuri K. OleshaYuri K. Olesha (Russian: Юрий Карлович Олеша, March 3 [O.S. February 19] 1899 – May 10, 1960) was a Russian and Soviet novelist. He is considered to have been one of the greatest Russian novelists of the 20th-century, one of the few to have succeeded in writing works of lasting artistic value despite the stifling censorship of the era. His works are delicate balancing-acts that superficially send pro-Communist messages but reveal far greater subtlety and richness upon a deeper reading. Sometimes, he is grouped with his friends Ilf and Petrov, Isaac Babel, and Sigismund Krzhizhanovsky into the Odessa School of Writers.

Olesha was born in Elizavetgrad (now Kirovohrad, Ukraine). He was raised in Odessa where he moved with his family in 1902, and he studied in the University of Novorossiya in 1916-1918. Three authors that influenced him most were H. G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Leo Tolstoy. In Russia, Olesha's name is familiar for the fairy tale Three Fat Men (1924), which Olesha turned into a play in 1930 and Aleksey Batalov made into a movie in 1967. In English-speaking countries, he has been known for two books of short-stories that have appeared in English, Love and Other Stories and The Cherrystone - both concerned with dreams of adolescence. But his artistic reputation rests primarily upon his 1927 novel Envy, which he turned into the play Zagovor chuvstv (Conspiracy of feelings) in 1929.

As Soviet literary policy became more and more rigid, the ambiguity[clarification needed] in Olesha's work became unacceptable. Less than a decade after the publication of Envy, he was condemned by the literary establishment, and fearing arrest he ceased writing anything of literary value. Olesha died in 1960, too early to benefit from the later loosening of censorship. His remarkable diaries were published posthumously under the title No Day without a Line.



Mikhail Zoshchenko


Mikhail Mikhaylovich Zoshchenko, (b. Aug. 10 [July 29, Old Style], 1895, Poltava, Ukraine, Russian Empire—d. July 22, 1958, Leningrad [now St. Petersburg], Russian S.F.S.R., U.S.S.R.), Soviet satirist whose short stories and sketches are among the best comic literature of the Soviet period.

Zoshchenko studied law and then in 1915 joined the army. He served as an officer during World War I, was wounded and gassed, and was awarded four medals for gallantry. Between 1917 and 1920 he lived in many different cities and worked at a variety of odd jobs and trades. In 1921 in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) he joined the Serapion Brothers literary group. His first works to become famous were the stories in Rasskazy Nazara Ilicha, gospodina Sinebryukhova (1922; “The Tales of Nazar Ilyich, Mr. Bluebelly”). Zoshchenko used skaz, a first-person narrative form, in these tales, which depict Russia during the Russian Civil War (1918–20) from the point of view and in the language of a semiliterate soldier and former peasant disoriented by the long years of war and revolution. Zoshchenko’s later tales are primarily satires on everyday Soviet life. One of their main targets is bureaucratic red tape and corruption, which he attacked with a tongue-in-cheek wit filtered through the naive language of the semiliterate. The malapropisms present throughout these works make them difficult, though not impossible, to translate (notable among translations into English is Nervous People, and Other Satires [1963], trans. by Maria Gordon and Hugh McLean). Despite their extraordinary humour, Zoshchenko’s stories paint a horrifying picture of life in Soviet Russia.

Beginning in the 1930s, Zoshchenko was subjected to increasingly severe criticism from Soviet officials. He tried to conform to the requirements of Socialist Realism—notably in Istoriya odnoy zhizhni (1935; “The Story of One Life”), dealing with the construction, by forced labour, of the White Sea–Baltic Waterway—but with little success. In 1943 the magazine Oktyabr began to serialize his psychological-introspective series of episodes, anecdotes, and reminiscences entitled Pered voskhodom solntsa (“Before Sunrise”) but suspended publication after the second installment. It was only in 1972 that the series was published in full, as Povest o razume (“A Tale About Reason”).

In 1946 Zoshchenko published in the literary magazine Zvezda a short story, “Priklyucheniya obezyany” (“The Adventures of a Monkey”), which was condemned by Communist critics as malicious and insulting to the Soviet people. He was expelled (with the poet Anna Akhmatova) from the Union of Soviet Writers, which meant the virtual end of his literary career. In 1954, meeting with English students in Russia, Zoshchenko stated that he did not consider himself guilty, after which he was subjected to further persecution. These pressures led to a psychological crisis; as a result, Zoshchenko spent his final years in ill health.

After his death, the Soviet press tended to ignore him, but some of his works were reissued, and their prompt sale indicated his continuing popularity.



Daniil Kharms

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Daniil Kharms (Russian: Дании́л Ива́нович Хармс; 30 December [O.S. 17 December] 1905 – 2 February 1942) was an early Soviet-era surrealist and absurdist poet, writer and dramatist. He signed his name in Latin alphabet as Daniel Charms.

Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachev (Даниил Иванович Ювачёв) was born in St. Petersburg, into the family of Ivan Yuvachev, a well known member of the revolutionary group, The People's Will. By this time the elder Yuvachev had already been imprisoned for his involvement in subversive acts against the tsar Alexander III and had become a religious philosopher, acquaintance of Anton Chekhov during the latter's trip to Sakhalin.

Daniil invented the pseudonym Kharms while attending high school at the prestigious German "Peterschule". While at the Peterschule, he learned the rudiments of both English and German, and it may have been the English "harm" and "charm" that he incorporated into "Kharms". Throughout his career Kharms used variations on his name and the pseudonyms DanDan, Khorms, Charms, Shardam, and Kharms-Shardam, among others. It is rumored that he scribbled the name Kharms directly into his passport.

In 1924, he entered the Leningrad Electrotechnicum, from which he was expelled for "lack of activity in social activities". After his expulsion, he gave himself over entirely to literature. He joined the circle of Aleksandr Tufanov, a sound-poet, and follower of Velemir Khlebnikov's ideas of zaum (or trans-sense) poetry. He met the young poet Alexander Vvedensky at this time, and the two became close friends and inseparable collaborators.

In 1927, the Association of Writers of Children's Literature was formed, and Kharms was invited to be a member. From 1928 until 1941, Kharms continually produced children's works and had a great success.

In 1928, Daniil Kharms founded the avant-garde collective OBERIU, or Union of Real Art. He embraced the new movements of Russian Futurism laid out by his idols, Khlebnikov, Kazimir Malevich, and Igor Terentiev, among others. Their ideas served as a springboard. His aesthetic centered around a belief in the autonomy of art from real world rules and logic, and the intrinsic meaning to be found in objects and words outside of their practical function.

By the late 1920s, his antirational verse, nonlinear theatrical performances, and public displays of decadent and illogical behavior earned Kharms — who always dressed like an English dandy with a calabash pipe — the reputation of being a talented but highly eccentric “fool” or “crazy-man” in Leningrad cultural circles.

Even then, in the late 20s, despite rising criticism of the OBERIU performances and diatribes against the avant-garde in the press, Kharms nurtured a fantasy of uniting the progressive artists and writers of the time (Malevich, Filonov, Terentiev, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Kaverin, Zamyatin) with leading Russian Formalist critics (Tynianov, Shklovsky, Eikhenbaum, Ginzburg, etc.,) and a younger generation of writers (all from the OBERIU crowd—Alexander Vvedensky, Konstantin Vaginov, Nikolai Zabolotsky, Igor Bakhterev), to form a cohesive cultural movement of Left Art. Needless to say it didn't happen that way.

Kharms was arrested in 1931 together with Vvedensky, Tufanov and some other writers, and was in exile from his hometown (forced to live in the city of Kursk) for most of a year. He was arrested as a member of "a group of anti-Soviet children's writers", and some of his works were used as an evidence. Soviet authorities, having become increasingly hostile toward the avant-garde in general, deemed Kharms’ writing for children anti-Soviet because of its absurd logic and its refusal to instill materialist and social Soviet values.

He continued to write for children's magazines when he returned from exile, though his name would appear in the credits less often. His plans for more performances and plays were curtailed, the OBERIU disbanded, and Kharms receded into a very private writing life. He wrote for the desk drawer, for his wife, Marina Malich, and for a small group of friends, the “Chinari”, who met privately to discuss matters of philosophy, music, mathematics, and literature.

In the 1930s, as the mainstream Soviet literature was becoming more and more conservative under the guidelines of Socialist Realism, Kharms found refuge in children's literature. (He had worked under Marshak at DetGiz, the state-owned children's publishing house since the mid-1920s, writing new material and translating children literature from the west, including Wilhelm Busch's Max and Moritz). Many of his poems and short stories for children, published in the Chizh (Чиж), Yozh (Ëж), Sverchok (Сверчок) and Oktyabryata (Октябрята) magazines, are considered classics of the genre and his roughly twenty children's books are well known and loved by kids to this day, - despite his personal deep disgust for children, unknown to the public - whereas his "adult" writing was not published during his lifetime with the sole exceptions of two early poems. Still, these were lean times and his honorariums didn't quite pay the bills, plus the editors in the children's publishing sector were suffering under extreme pressure and censorship and some were disposed of during Stalin's purges.

Thus, Kharms lived in debt and hunger for several years until his final arrest on suspicion of treason in the summer of 1941 (most people with a previous arrest were being picked up by the NKVD in those times). He was imprisoned in the psychiatric ward at Leningrad Prison No. 1. and died in his cell in February, 1942—most likely, from starvation, as the Nazi blockade of Leningrad had already begun. His work was saved from the war by loyal friends and hidden until the 1960s when his children’s writing became widely published and scholars began the job of recovering his manuscripts and publishing them in the west and in samizdat.

His reputation in the 20th century in Russia was largely based on his widely beloved work for children. His other writings (a vast assortment of stories, miniatures, plays, poems, and pseudo-scientific, philosophical investigations) were virtually unknown until 1970's, and not published officially in Russia until "glasnost".

Kharms' stories are typically brief vignettes (see also short prose and feuilleton) often only a few paragraphs long, in which scenes of poverty and deprivation alternate with fantastic, dreamlike occurrences and acerbic comedy. Occasionally they incorporate incongruous appearances by famous authors (e.g.: Pushkin and Gogol tripping over each other; Count Leo Tolstoy showing his chamber pot to the world; Pushkin and his sons falling off their chairs; etc.)

He was married twice (to Esther Rusakova and Marina Malich). His wives sometimes appear in those of his poems that are lyrical or erotic.

The poet often professed his extreme abhorrence of children and pets, as well as old people; his career as a children's writer notwithstanding.

Kharms' world is unpredictable and disordered; characters repeat the same actions many times in succession or otherwise behave irrationally; linear stories start to develop but are interrupted in midstream by inexplicable catastrophes that send them in completely different directions.

His manuscripts were preserved by his sister and, most notably, by his friend Yakov Druskin, a notable music theorist and amateur theologist and philosopher, who dragged a suitcase full of Kharms's and Vvedensky's writings out of Kharms's apartment during the blockade of Leningrad and kept it hidden throughout difficult times.

Kharms' adult works were picked up by Russian samizdat starting around the 1960s, and thereby did have an influence on the growing "unofficial" arts scene. (Moscow Conceptualist artists and writers such as Kabakov, Prigov, Rubinstein, were influenced by this newly found avant-garde predecessor).

A complete collection of his works was published in Bremen as four volumes, in 1978-1988. In Russia, Kharms works were widely published only from the late 1980s. Now several editions of Kharms's collected works and selected volumes have been published in Russia, and collections are now available in German, French and Italian. In 2004 a selection of his works appeared in Irish.

As for English translations—oddly, many have appeared of late in American literary journals. In the 1970s George Gibbian at Cornell published the first English collection of OBERIU writing, which included stories and a play by Daniil Kharms and one play by Alexander Vvedensky. Gibbian's translations appeared in Annex Press magazine in 1978. In the early 1990s a slim selected volume translated into British English by Neil Cornwell came out in England. New translations of all the members of the OBERIU group (and their closely knit group of friends, the Chinari) appeared in Summer, 2006 in the USA (OBERIU: An Anthology of Russian Absurdism, containing poetry, drama and prose by Alexander Vvedensky, Daniil Kharms, Nikolai Zabolotsky, Nikolai Oleinikov, Leonid Lipavsky and Yakov Druskin, edited Eugene Ostashevsky and translated by Matvei Yankelevich, Thomas Epstein, Genya Turovskaya, Eugene Ostashevsky and Ilya Bernstein.), including not only prose, but plays, poetry, and philosophical tracts and treatises, with an introduction by Eugene Ostashevsky (not Susan Sontag, who is on some websites advertised as the author of the foreword). An English translation of a collection of his works, translated by Matvei Yankelevich, was published in 2007. Its title is Today I Wrote Nothing and includes poems, plays, short prose pieces, and his novella "The Old Woman". Some poems were also translated by Roman Turovsky.



Boris Pilnyak

Boris Pilnyak

Boris Pilnyak (Russian: Бори́с Пильня́к) (October 11 [O.S. September 29] 1894–April 21, 1938) was a Russian author. Born Boris Andreyevich Vogau (Russian: Бори́с Андре́евич Вога́у) in Mozhaisk, he was a major supporter of anti-urbanism and a critic of mechanized society. These views often brought him into disfavor with Communist critics. His most famous works are The Naked Year, Mahogany, and The Volga Falls into the Caspian Sea, all novels concerning revolutionary and post-revolutionary Russia. Another of his well-known works is OK, an unflattering travelogue of his 1931 visit to the United States.

On October 28, 1937, he was arrested on charges of counter-revolutionary activies, spying and terrorism. One report alleged that "he held secret meetings with (Andre) Gide, and supplied him with information about the situation in the USSR. There is no doubt that Gide used this information in this book attacking the USSR." Pilnyak was tried on April 21, 1938. In the proceeding that lasted 15 minutes, he was condemned to death. A small yellow slip of paper attached to his file read: "Sentence carried out."



Andrey Platonov


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Andrei Platonov (Russian: Андре́й Плато́нов) (August 28 [O.S. August 16] 1899 – January 5, 1951) was the pen name of Andrei Platonovich Klimentov (Russian: Андре́й Плато́нович Климе́нтов), a Soviet author whose works anticipate existentialism. Although Platonov was a Communist, his works were banned in his own lifetime for their skeptical attitude toward collectivization and other Stalinist policies. His famous works include the novels The Foundation Pit and Chevengur.

Andrei Platonov (the name he began to write under only in 1920, but by which he is best known) was born in the settlement of Yamskaia Sloboda on the outskirts of Voronezh in the central black earth region. His father was a metal fitter (and an amateur inventor) employed in the railroad workshops. His mother was the daughter of a watchmaker. Platonov attended a Church parish school and completed his primary education at a four-year city school. In 1914, at the age of thirteen and a half, he began work first as an office clerk at a local insurance company, then as smelter at a pipe factory, assistant machinist on a private estate, worker in a plant making artificial millstones, warehouseman, and at other jobs, including on the railroad. He began writing poems by the time he turned thirteen, sending some off to papers in Moscow and elsewhere, though none were yet accepted.

In the wake of the 1917 revolutions, Platonov became very active in a variety of pursuits. He sought to advance his technical education first with preparatory courses and then at the Voronezh Polytechnic Institute where he studied electrical technology. When the civil war broke out he assisted his father on a train delivering troops and supplies and clearing snow. At the same time, he wrote prolifically for a variety of local periodicals, especially the paper of the local railway workers' union, Zheleznyi put' (Railroad), the official papers of the Voronezh provincial committee of the Communist Party, Krasnaia derevnia (Red countryside) and Voronezhskaia kommuna (Voronezh commune), the national journal of the Smithy group of proletarian writers, Kuznitsa, and many others.

The range of his writings in these years was extraordinary. From 1918 through 1921, his most intensive as a writer, he published dozens of poems (and a collection of verses that appeared in 1922), several stories, and, most of all, hundreds of articles and essays. Platonov's productive energy and intellectual precocity is most visible in the remarkable range of topics he confidently wrote about: literature, art, cultural life, science, philosophy, religion, education, politics, the civil war, foreign relations, economics, technology, famine, land reclamation, and more. It was not unusually, especially in 1920, to see two or three pieces by him, on quite different subjects, appear in the press every day for several days running. He was also involved with the local Proletcult organization, joined the Union of Communist Journalists in March 1920, worked as an editor at Krasnaia derevnia, was elected in August 1920 to the provisional directing board of the newly formed Voronezh Union of Proletarian Writers, attended the First Congress of Proletarian Writers in Moscow in October 1920, which was organized by the Kuznitsa group, and regularly read his poetry and gave critical talks at various club meetings. He joined the Communist Party in the spring of 1920, and started attending the party school, but left the party at the end of 1921, for a "juvenile" reason, he later said. He may have quit the party in dismay over NEP, like a number of other worker writers (many of whom he had become acquainted with through Kuznitsa and at the 1920 congress). But we also know that Platonov was deeply troubled by the terrible famine of 1921, and he openly and controversially criticized the behavior (and privileges) of local communists at the time. There is also some evidence that he was expelled from the party when he refused to clean up other people's trash during an obligatory subbotnik (communist work Saturday). He was readmitted as a candidate member only in 1924.

In 1921 Platonov married Maria Aleksandrova Kashintseva (1903-1983); they had a son, Platon, in 1920, and a daughter, Maria, in 1944.

In 1922, in the wake of the devastating drought and famine of 1921 and after quitting the party[citation needed], Platonov abandoned journalistic and literary work entirely to work on electrification projects and conduct land reclamation work for the Voronezh Provincial Land Administration and later for agencies of the central government. "I could no longer be occupied with a contemplative activity like literature," he recalled a few years later. For the next few years, he worked as an engineer and administrator, organizing the digging of ponds and wells, the draining of swamp land, and the building of a hydroelectric plant.

In 1925 he published a book about the Black Sea Revolt of 1905. This was the same year that Sergei Eisenstein's film The Battleship Potemkin was made. Platonov's book was an official publication of the Bolshevik Party.

When he did return to writing in 1926, however, he began to create works that indicated to a number of critics and readers the appearance of a major and original literary voice. Moving to Moscow in 1927, he became, for the first time, a professional writer. He mainly wrote fiction but also worked in the editorial departments of a number of leading magazines. He produced his two major works, the novels Chevengur and The Foundation Pit, between 1926 and 1930, overlapping slightly with the beginning of the first Five-Year Plan in 1928. These works, with their implicit criticism of the system, drew much official criticism, and although a chapter of Chevengur appeared in a magazine, neither were published in full. Other short stories which did appear contributed even more to the decline of his reputation.

Stalin held deeply ambivalent views regarding Platonov's worth. According to archival evidence Stalin called Platonov "fool, idiot, scoundrel", then later in the same meeting said Platonov was "a prophet, a genius." For his part Platonov made hostile remarks about Trotsky, Rykov, and Bukharin but not about Stalin, to whom he wrote letters on several occasions. By 1931, his work came under sustained attack as anti-communist[citation needed]. Nevertheless, Platonov published no fewer than eight volumes of fiction and essays from 1937 until his death in 1951. In the Stalinist Great Purge of the 1930s, Platonov's son was arrested as a "terrorist" and "spy" at the age of fifteen, and exiled to a labor camp where he contracted tuberculosis. When he was finally returned, Platonov himself contracted the disease while nursing him. During the Great Patriotic War (World War II), Platonov served as a war correspondent, but his disease grew worse, and after the war, he ceased to write fiction, instead putting out two collections of folklore. He died in 1951.

Although he was relatively unknown at the time of his death, his influence on later Russian writers has been considerable. Some of his work was published or reprinted during the 1960s' Khrushchev Thaw. Because of his political writings, perceived anti-totalitarian stance, and early death of tuberculosis, some English-speaking commentators have called him "the Russian George Orwell".

In journalism, stories, and poetry written during the first postrevolutionary years (1918–1922), Platonov interwove ideas about human mastery over nature with skepticism about triumphant human consciousness and will, and a sentimental and even erotic love of physical things with a fear and attendant abhorrence of matter. Platonov viewed the world as embodying at the same time the opposing principles of spirit and matter, reason and emotion, nature and machine. He wrote of factories, machines, and technology as both enticing and dreadful. In complex way, Platonov's thinking was an anti-machine machinism. His aim was to turn industry over to machines, in order to "transfer man from the realm of material production to a higher sphere of life." Thus, in Platonov's vision of the coming "golden age" machines are both enemy and savior. Modern technologies, Platonov asserted paradoxically (though echoing a paradox characteristic of Marxism), would enable humanity to be "freed from the oppression of matter."

Platonov's writing, it has also been argued, has strong ties to the works of earlier Russian authors like Fyodor Dostoevsky. He also uses much Christian symbolism, including a prominent and discernible influence from a wide range of contemporary and ancient philosophers, including the Russian philosopher Nikolai Fedorov.

His 'Foundation Pit' uses a combination of peasant language with ideological and political terms to create a sense of meaninglessness, aided by the abrupt and sometimes fantastic events of the plot. Joseph Brodsky considers the work deeply suspicious of the meaning of language, especially political language. This exploration of meaninglessness is a hallmark of existentialism and absurdism.

Although his works generally take a materialist stance, denying the importance or existence of the soul, he is stylistically very distinct from Socialist Realism, which focused on simple language and straightforward plots.



Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ilya Ilf (Ilya Arnoldovich Faynzilberg (Russian: Илья Арнольдович Файнзильберг, Ukrainian: Ієхієл-Лейб Арно́льдович Файнзільберг; 1897–1937) and Evgeny or Yevgeni Petrov (Yevgeniy Petrovich Kataev or Katayev (Russian: Евгений Петрович Катаев, Ukrainian: Євген Петрович Катаєв; 1903–1942) were two Soviet prose authors of the 1920s and 1930s. They did much of their writing together, and are almost always referred to as "Ilf and Petrov". They became extremely popular for their two satirical novels: The Twelve Chairs and its sequel, The Little Golden Calf. The two texts are connected by their main character, Ostap Bender, a con man in pursuit of elusive riches.

Both books follow exploits of Bender and his associates looking for treasure amidst the contemporary Soviet reality. They were written and are set in the relatively liberal era in Soviet history, the New Economic Policy of the 1920s. The main characters generally avoid contact with the apparently lax law enforcement. Their position outside the organized, goal-driven, productive Soviet society is emphasized. It also gives the authors a convenient platform from which to look at this society and to make fun of its less attractive and less Socialist aspects. These are among the most widely read and quoted books in Russian culture. The Twelve Chairs was adapted for popular films both in the USSR and in the U.S. (by Mel Brooks in the latter).

The two writers also traveled across the Depression-era USA. Ilf took many pictures throughout the journey, and the authors produced a photo essay entitled "American Photographs," published in Ogonyok magazine. Shortly after that they published the book Одноэтажная Америка; literally: "One-storeyed America", translated as Little Golden America (an allusion to The Little Golden Calf). The first edition of the book did not include Ilf's photographs. Both the photo essay and the book document their adventures with their characteristic humor and playfulness. Notably, Ilf and Petrov were not afraid to praise many aspects of the American lifestyle in these works. The title comes from the following description.

America is primarily a one-and two-story country. The majority of the American population lives in small towns of three thousand, maybe five, nine, or fifteen thousand inhabitants.

Ilf died of tuberculosis shortly after the trip to America; Petrov died in a plane crash in 1942 while he was covering the Eastern Front.


The Russian Formalists were a school of critics closely tied to the Futurists. They developed a vibrant, comprehensive theory of literature and culture that inspired structuralism, an influential critical movement in the West. Two of them, Viktor Shklovsky and Yury Tynyanov, wrote significant fiction illustrating their theories: Shklovsky’s Zoo; ili, pisma ne o lyubvi (1923; Zoo; or, Letters Not About Love) and Tynyanov’s “Podporuchik kizhe” (1927; “Second Lieutenant Likewise”). Their respectful opponent, Mikhail Bakhtin, whom some consider the most original, far-ranging, and subtle theorist of literature in the 20th century, wrote Problemy tvorchestva Dostoyevskogo (1929, 2nd ed., 1963; Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics) and essays about the relation of novelistic form to time, language, psychology, and ethics.

Viktor Shklovsky

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Viktor Borisovich Shklovsky (or Shklovskii; Russian: Виктор Борисович Шкловский; Saint Petersburg, 24 January [O.S. 12 January] 1893; Moscow, 6 December 1984) was a Russian and Soviet critic, writer, and pamphleteer.

Shklovsky was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. His father was of Jewish and his mother was of German/Russian origin. He attended St. Petersburg University.

During the First World War, he volunteered for the Russian Army and eventually became a driving trainer in an armoured car unit in St. Petersburg. There in 1916 he founded the OPOYAZ (Obshchestvo izucheniya POeticheskogo YAZyka—Society for the Study of Poetic Language), one of the two groups, with the Moscow Linguistic Circle, which developed the critical theories and techniques of Russian Formalism.

Shklovsky participated in the February Revolution of 1917. Then he was sent by the Russian Provisional Government as an assistant Commissar to Southwestern Front where he was wounded and then got an award for bravery. After that he was an assistant Commissar of the Russian Expeditionary Corps in Persia (see Persian Campaign).

Shklovsky returned to St. Petersburg in early 1918, after the October Revolution. He opposed bolshevism and took part in an anti-bolshevik conspiracy of Socialist-Revolutionary Party members. After the conspiracy was revealed by Cheka Shklovsky went into hiding traveling over Russia and the Ukraine but was eventually pardoned in 1919 due to his connections with Maxim Gorky and decided to abstain from political activity. His two brothers were executed by the Soviet regime (one in 1918, the other in 1937) and his sister died from hunger in St. Petersburg in 1919.

Shklovsky integrated into the Soviet society and even took part in the Russian Civil War serving in the Red Army; but in 1922 he had to go into hiding again and to flee from Russia escaping arrest for his previous activities. In Berlin in 1923 he published his memoirs about 1917-22 called Sentimental'noe puteshestvie, vospominaniia (A Sentimental Journey) after A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy by Laurence Sterne. In the same year he was allowed to return to the USSR.

In addition to literary criticism and biographies about such authors as Laurence Sterne, Maxim Gorky, Leo Tolstoy, and Vladimir Mayakovsky, he wrote a number of semi-autobiographical works disguised as fiction, which also served as experiments in his developing theories of literature.

Shklovsky is perhaps best known for developing the concept of ostranenie or defamiliarization (also translated as "estrangement") in literature. He explained the concept in the important essay "Art as Technique" (also translated as "Art as Device") which comprised the first chapter of his seminal Theory of Prose, first published in 1925:

"The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar’, to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important." (Shklovsky, "Art as Technique", 12)

In other words, art presents things in a new, unfamiliar light by way of formal manipulation. This is what is artful about art.

Shklovsky's work pushes Russian Formalism towards understanding literary activity as integral parts of social practice, an idea that becomes important in the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and Russian and Prague School scholars of semiotics.

He died in Moscow in 1984.



Yury Tynyanov

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Yury Nikolaevich Tynyanov (Russian: Ю́рий Никола́евич Тыня́нов; October 18, 1894 - December 20, 1943) was a famous Soviet/Russian writer, literary critic, translator, scholar and screenwriter of Jewish origin. He was an authority on Pushkin and an important member of the Russian Formalist school.


Yury Tynyanov was born in Rezhitsa, present day Rēzekne, Latvia, Russian Empire. His brother-in-law was Veniamin Kaverin, another well-known Russian author. While attending the Petrograd University, Tynyanov frequented the Pushkin seminar held by a venerable literary academic, Semyon Vengerov. His first works made their appearance in print in 1921.

In 1928, together with the linguist Roman Jakobson, he published a famous work titled Theses on Language, a predecessor to structuralism, which could be summarised in the following manner:

1. Literary science had to have a firm theoretical basis and an accurate terminology.
2. The structural laws of a specific field of literature had to be established before it was related to other fields.
3. The evolution of literature must be studied as a system. All evidence, whether literary or non-literary must be analysed functionally.
4. The distinction between synchrony and diachrony was useful for the study of literature as for language, uncovering systems at each separate stage of development. But the history of systems is also a system; each synchronic system has its own past and future as part of its structure. Therefore the distinction should not be preserved beyond its usefulness.
5. A synchronic system is not a mere agglomerate of contemporaneous phenomena catalogued. 'Systems' mean hierarchical organisation.
6. The distinction between langue and parole, taken from linguistics, deserves to be developed for literature in order to reveal the principles underlying the relationship between the individual utterance and a prevailing complex of norms.
7. The analysis of the structural laws of literature should lead to the setting up of a limited number of structural types and evolutionary laws governing those types.
8.The discovery of the 'immanent laws' of a genre allows one to describe an evolutionary step, but not to explain why this step has been taken by literature and not another. Here the literary must be related to the relevant non-literary facts to find further laws, a 'system of systems'. But still the immanent laws of the individual work had to be enunciated first.

Tynyanov also wrote historical novels in which he applied his theories. His other works included popular biographies of Alexander Pushkin and Wilhelm Küchelbecker and notable translations of Heinrich Heine and other authors.

He died of multiple sclerosis in Moscow.



Mikhail Bakhtin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin (Russian: Михаил Михайлович Бахти́н, pronounced) (November 17, 1895, Oryol – March 7, 1975) was a Russian philosopher, literary critic, semiotician and scholar who worked on literary theory, ethics, and the philosophy of language. His writings, on a variety of subjects, inspired scholars working in a number of different traditions (Marxism, semiotics, structuralism, religious criticism) and in disciplines as diverse as literary criticism, history, philosophy, anthropology and psychology. Although Bakhtin was active in the debates on aesthetics and literature that took place in Soviet Russia in the 1920s, his distinctive position did not become well known until he was rediscovered by Russian scholars in the 1960s.

Bakhtin had a difficult life and career, and few of his works were published in an authoritative form during his lifetime. As a result, there is substantial disagreement over matters that are normally taken for granted: what discipline he worked in (was he a philosopher or literary critic?), how to periodize his work, and even what texts he wrote (see below). He is known for a series of concepts that have been used and adapted in a number of disciplines: dialogism, the carnivalesque, the chronotope, heteroglossia and "outsidedness" (the English translation of a Russian term vnenakhodimost, sometimes rendered into English — from French rather than from Russian — as "exotopy"). Together these concepts outline a distinctive philosophy of language and culture that has at its center the claims that all discourse is in essence a dialogical exchange and that this endows all language with a particular ethical or ethico-political force.

As a literary theorist, Bakhtin is associated with the Russian Formalists, and his work is compared with that of Yuri Lotman; in 1963 Roman Jakobson mentioned him as one of the few intelligent critics of Formalism. During the 1920s, Bakhtin's work tended to focus on ethics and aesthetics in general. Early pieces such as Towards a Philosophy of the Act and Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity are indebted to the philosophical trends of the time – particularly the Marburg School Neo-Kantianism of Hermann Cohen, including Ernst Cassirer, Max Scheler and, to a lesser extent, Nicolai Hartmann. Bakhtin began to be discovered by scholars in 1963, but it was only after his death in 1975 that authors such as Julia Kristeva and Tzvetan Todorov brought Bakhtin to the attention of the Francophone world, and from there his popularity in the United States, the United Kingdom, and many other countries continued to grow. In the late 1980s, Bakhtin's work experienced a surge of popularity in the West.

Bakhtin’s primary works include Toward a Philosophy of the Act, an unfinished portion of a philosophical essay; Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Art, to which Bakhtin later added a chapter on the concept of carnival and published with the title Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics; Rabelais and His World, which explores the openness of the Rabelaisian novel; The Dialogic Imagination, whereby the four essays that comprise the work introduce the concepts of dialogism, heteroglossia, and chronotope; and Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, a collection of essays in which Bakhtin concerns himself with method and culture.

In the 1920s there was a "Bakhtin school" in Russia, in line with the discourse analysis of Ferdinand de Saussure and Roman Jakobson.


Bakhtin was born in Oryol, Russia, to an old family of the nobility. His father was the manager of a bank and worked in several cities. For this reason Bakhtin spent his early childhood years in Orel, Vilnius, and then Odessa, where in 1913 he joined the historical and philological faculty at the local university. Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist write: "Odessa..., like Vilnius, was an appropriate setting for a chapter in the life of a man who was to become the philosopher of heteroglossia and carnival. The same sense of fun and irreverence that gave birth to Babel's Rabelaisian gangster or to the tricks and deceptions of Ostap Bender, the picaro created by Ilf and Petrov, left its mark on Bakhtin." He later transferred to Petersburg University to join his brother Nikolai. It is here that Bakhtin was greatly influenced by the classicist F. F. Zelinsky, whose works contain the beginnings of concepts elaborated by Bakhtin.

Bakhtin completed his studies in 1918 and moved to a small city in western Russia, Nevel (Pskov Oblast), where he worked as a schoolteacher for two years. It was at this time that the first "Bakhtin Circle" formed. The group consisted of intellectuals with varying interests, but all shared a love for the discussion of literary, religious, and political topics. Included in this group were Valentin Voloshinov and, eventually, P. N. Medvedev, who joined the group later in Vitebsk. German philosophy was the topic talked about most frequently and, from this point forward, Bakhtin considered himself more a philosopher than a literary scholar. It was in Nevel, also, that Bakhtin worked tirelessly on a large work concerning moral philosophy that was never published in its entirety. However, in 1919, a short section of this work was published and given the title "Art and Responsibility." This piece constitutes Bakhtin’s first published work. Bakhtin relocated to Vitebsk in 1920. It was here, in 1921, that Bakhtin married Elena Aleksandrovna Okolovich. Later, in 1923, Bakhtin was diagnosed with osteomyelitis, a bone disease that ultimately led to the amputation of his leg in 1938. This illness hampered his productivity and rendered him an invalid.

In 1924, Bakhtin moved to Leningrad, where he assumed a position at the Historical Institute and provided consulting services for the State Publishing House. It is at this time that Bakhtin decided to share his work with the public, but just before "On the Question of the Methodology of Aesthetics in Written Works" was to be published, the journal in which it was to appear stopped publication. This work was eventually published fifty-one years later. The repression and misplacement of his manuscripts was something that would plague Bakhtin throughout his career. In 1929, "Problems of Dostoevsky’s Art," Bakhtin’s first major work, was published. It is here that Bakhtin introduces the concept of dialogism. However, just as this revolutionary book was introduced, Bakhtin was accused of participating in the Russian Orthodox Church's underground movement. The truthfulness of this charge is not known, even today. Consequently, during one of the many purges of artists and intellectuals that Stalin conducted during the early years of his rule, Bakhtin was sentenced to exile in Siberia but appealed on the grounds that, in his weakened state, it would kill him. Instead, he was sentenced to six years of internal exile in Kazakhstan.

Bakhtin spent these six years working as a book keeper in the town of Kustanai, during which time he wrote several important essays, including "Discourse in the Novel." In 1936 he taught courses at the Mordovian Pedagogical Institute in Saransk. An obscure figure in a provincial college, he dropped out of view and taught only occasionally. In 1937, Bakhtin moved to Kimry, a town located a couple of hundred kilometers from Moscow. Here, Bakhtin completed work on a book concerning the 18th-century German novel which was subsequently accepted by the Sovetskii Pisatel' Publishing House. However, the only copy of the manuscript disappeared during the upheaval caused by the German invasion.

After the amputation of his leg in 1938, Bakhtin’s health improved and he became more prolific. In 1940, and until the end of World War II, Bakhtin lived in Moscow, where he submitted a dissertation on Rabelais to the Gorky Institute of World Literature to obtain a postgraduate title, a dissertation that could not be defended until the war ended. In 1946 and 1949, the defense of this dissertation divided the scholars of Moscow into two groups: those official opponents guiding the defense, who accepted the original and unorthodox manuscript, and those other professors who were against the manuscript’s acceptance. The book's earthy, anarchic topic was the cause of many arguments that ceased only when the government intervened. Ultimately, Bakhtin was denied a doctorate and granted a lesser degree by the State Accrediting Bureau. Later, Bakhtin was invited back to Saransk, where he took on the position of chair of the General Literature Department at the Mordovian Pedagogical Institute. When, in 1957, the Institute changed from a teachers' college to a university, Bakhtin became head of the Department of Russian and World Literature. In 1961, Bakhtin’s deteriorating health forced him to retire, and in 1969, in search of medical attention, Bakhtin moved back to Moscow, where he lived until his death in 1975.

Bakhtin’s works and ideas gained popularity after his death, and he endured difficult conditions for much of his professional life, a time in which information was often seen as dangerous and therefore often hidden. Therefore, the details provided now are often of uncertain accuracy. Also contributing to the imprecision of these details is the limited access to Russian archival information during Bakhtin’s life. It is only after the archives became public that scholars realized that much of what they thought they knew about the details of Bakhtin’s life was false or skewed largely by Bakhtin himself.


Works and ideas

Toward a Philosophy of the Act

Toward a Philosophy of the Act was first published in Russia in 1986 with the title K filosofii postupka. The manuscript, written between 1919–1921,was found in bad condition with pages missing and sections of text that were illegible. It is for this reason that this philosophical essay appears today as a fragment of an unfinished work. Toward a Philosophy of the Act comprises only an introduction, of which the first few pages are missing, and part one of the full text. However, Bakhtin’s intentions for the work were not altogether lost, for he provided an outline in the introduction in which he stated that the essay was to contain four parts. The first part of the essay deals with the analysis of the performed acts or deeds that comprise the actual world; "the world actually experienced, and not the merely thinkable world." For the three subsequent and unfinished parts of Toward a Philosophy of the Act Bakhtin states the topics he intends to discuss. He outlines that the second part will deal with aesthetic activity and the ethics of artistic creation; the third with the ethics of politics; and the fourth with religion.

Toward a Philosophy of the Act reveals a young Bakhtin who is in the process of developing his moral philosophy by decentralizing the work of Kant. This text is one of Bakhtin’s early works concerning ethics and aesthetics and it is here that Bakhtin lays out three claims regarding the acknowledgment of the uniqueness of one’s participation in Being:

1. I both actively and passively participate in Being.
2. My uniqueness is given but it simultaneously exists only to the degree to which I actualize this uniqueness (in other words, it is in the performed act and deed that has yet to be achieved).
3. Because I am actual and irreplaceable I must actualize my uniqueness.

Bakhtin further states: "It is in relation to the whole actual unity that my unique ought arises from my unique place in Being." Bakhtin deals with the concept of morality whereby he attributes the predominating legalistic notion of morality to human moral action. According to Bakhtin, the I cannot maintain neutrality toward moral and ethical demands which manifest themselves as one’s voice of consciousness.

It is here also that Bakhtin introduces an architectonic model of the human psyche which consists of three components: "I-for-myself," "I-for-the-other," and "other-for-me." The I-for-myself is an unreliable source of identity, and Bakhtin argues that it is the I-for-the-other through which human beings develop a sense of identity because it serves as an amalgamation of the way in which others view me. Conversely, other-for-me describes the way in which others incorporate my perceptions of them into their own identities. Identity, as Bakhtin describes it here, does not belong merely to the individual, rather it is shared by all.

Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Art: polyphony and unfinalizability
During his time in Leningrad, Bakhtin shifted his focus away from the philosophy characteristic of his early works and towards the notion of dialogue. It is at this time that he began his engagement with the work of Dostoevsky. Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Art is considered to be Bakhtin’s seminal work, and it is here that Bakhtin introduces three important concepts.

First, is the concept of the unfinalizable self: individual people cannot be finalized, completely understood, known, or labeled. Though it is possible to understand people and to treat them as if they are completely known, Bakhtin’s conception of unfinalizability respects the possibility that a person can change, and that a person is never fully revealed or fully known in the world. Readers may find that this conception reflects the idea of the soul; Bakhtin had strong roots in Christianity and in the Neo-Kantian school led by Hermann Cohen, both of which emphasized the importance of an individual's potentially infinite capability, worth, and the hidden soul.

Second, is the idea of the relationship between the self and others, or other groups. According to Bakhtin, every person is influenced by others in an inescapably intertwined way, and consequently no voice can be said to be isolated. In an interview, Bakhtin once explained that,

In order to understand, it is immensely important for the person who understands to be located outside the object of his or her creative understanding—in time, in space, in culture. For one cannot even really see one's own exterior and comprehend it as a whole, and no mirrors or photographs can help; our real exterior can be seen and understood only by other people, because they are located outside us in space, and because they are others. ~New York Review of Books, June 10, 1993.

As such, Bakhtin's philosophy greatly respected the influences of others on the self, not merely in terms of how a person comes to be, but also in how a person thinks and how a person sees him- or herself truthfully.

Third, Bakhtin found in Dostoevsky's work a true representation of polyphony, that is, many voices. Each character in Dostoevsky's work represents a voice that speaks for an individual self, distinct from others. This idea of polyphony is related to the concepts of unfinalizability and self-and-others, since it is the unfinalizability of individuals that creates true polyphony.

Bakhtin briefly outlined the polyphonic concept of truth. He criticized the assumption that, if two people disagree, at least one of them must be in error. He challenged philosophers for whom plurality of minds is accidental and superfluous. For Bakhtin, truth is not a statement, a sentence or a phrase. Instead, truth is a number of mutually addressed, albeit contradictory and logically inconsistent, statements. Truth needs a multitude of carrying voices. It cannot be held within a single mind, it also cannot be expressed by "a single mouth." The polyphonic truth requires many simultaneous voices. Bakhtin does not mean to say that many voices carry partial truths that complement each other. A number of different voices do not make the truth if simply "averaged" or "synthesized." It is the fact of mutual addressivity, of engagement, and of commitment to the context of a real-life event, that distinguishes truth from untruth.

When, in subsequent years, Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Art was translated into English and published in the West, Bakhtin added a chapter on the concept of carnival and the book was published with the slightly different title, Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics. According to Bakhtin, carnival is the context in which distinct individual voices are heard, flourish and interact together. The carnival creates the "threshold" situations where regular conventions are broken or reversed and genuine dialogue becomes possible. The notion of a carnival was Bakhtin's way of describing Dostoevsky's polyphonic style: each individual character is strongly defined, and at the same time the reader witnesses the critical influence of each character upon the other. That is to say, the voices of others are heard by each individual, and each inescapably shapes the character of the other.

Rabelais and His World: carnival and grotesque
During World War II Bakhtin submitted a dissertation on the French Renaissance writer François Rabelais which was not defended until some years later. The controversial ideas discussed within the work caused much disagreement, and it was consequently decided that Bakhtin be denied his doctorate. Thus, due to its content, Rabelais and Folk Culture of the Middle Ages and Renaissance was not published until 1965, at which time it was given the title, Rabelais and His World.

A classic of Renaissance studies, in Rabelais and His World Bakhtin explores Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel. Bakhtin declares that, for centuries, Rabelais’s book had been misunderstood, and claimed that Rabelais and His World clarified Rabelais’s intentions. In Rabelais and His World, Bakhtin concerns himself with the openness of Gargantua and Pantagruel; however, the book itself also serves as an example of such openness. Throughout the text, Bakhtin attempts two things: he seeks to recover sections of Gargantua and Pantagruel that, in the past, were either ignored or suppressed, and conducts an analysis of the Renaissance social system in order to discover the balance between language that was permitted and language that was not. It is by means of this analysis that Bakhtin pinpoints two important subtexts: the first is carnival (carnivalesque) which Bakhtin describes as a social institution, and the second is grotesque realism which is defined as a literary mode. Thus, in Rabelais and His World Bakhtin studies the interaction between the social and the literary, as well as the meaning of the body.

The Dialogic Imagination: Chronotope, Heteroglossia
The Dialogic Imagination (first published as a whole in 1975) is a compilation of four essays concerning language and the novel: "Epic and Novel" (1941), "From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse," "Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel," and "Discourse in the Novel." It is through the essays contained within The Dialogic Imagination that Bakhtin introduces the concepts of heteroglossia, dialogism and chronotope, making a significant contribution to the realm of literary scholarship. Bakhtin explains the generation of meaning through the "primacy of context over text" (heteroglossia), the hybrid nature of language (polyglossia) and the relation between utterances (intertextuality). Heteroglossia is "the base condition governing the operation of meaning in any utterance." To make an utterance means to "appropriate the words of others and populate them with one's own intention." Bakhtin's deep insights on dialogicality represent a substantive shift from views on the nature of language and knowledge by major thinkers as Ferdinand de Saussure and Kant.

In "Epic and Novel," Bakhtin demonstrates the novel’s distinct nature by contrasting it with the epic. By doing so, Bakhtin shows that the novel is well suited to the post-industrial civilization in which we live because it flourishes on diversity. It is this same diversity that the epic attempts to eliminate from the world. According to Bakhtin, the novel as a genre is unique in that it is able to embrace, ingest, and devour other genres while still maintaining its status as a novel. Other genres, however, cannot emulate the novel without damaging their own distinct identity.

"From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse" is a less traditional essay in which Bakhtin reveals how various different texts from the past have ultimately come together to form the modern novel.

"Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel" introduces Bakhtin’s concept of chronotope. This essay applies the concept in order to further demonstrate the distinctive quality of the novel. The word chronotope literally means "time space" and is defined by Bakhtin as "the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature." For the purpose of his writing, an author must create entire worlds and, in doing so, is forced to make use of the organizing categories of the real world in which he lives. For this reason chronotope is a concept that engages reality.

The final essay, "Discourse in the Novel," is one of Bakhtin’s most complete statements concerning his philosophy of language. It is here that Bakhtin provides a model for a history of discourse and introduces the concept of heteroglossia. The term heteroglossia refers to the qualities of a language that are extralinguistic, but common to all languages. These include qualities such as perspective, evaluation, and ideological positioning. In this way most languages are incapable of neutrality, for every word is inextricably bound to the context in which it exists.

Speech Genres and Other Late Essays
In Speech Genres and Other Late Essays Bakhtin moves away from the novel and concerns himself with the problems of method and the nature of culture. There are six essays that comprise this compilation: "Response to a Question from the Novy Mir Editorial Staff," "The Bildungsroman and Its Significance in the History of Realism," "The Problem of Speech Genres," "The Problem of the Text in Linguistics, Philology, and the Human Sciences: An Experiment in Philosophical Analysis," "From Notes Made in 1970-71," and "Toward a Methodology for the Human Sciences."

". Response to a Question from the Novy Mir Editorial Staff" is a transcript of comments made by Bakhtin to a reporter from a monthly journal called Novy Mir that was widely read by Soviet intellectuals. The transcript expresses Bakhtin’s opinion of literary scholarship whereby he highlights some of its shortcomings and makes suggestions for improvement.

"The Bildungsroman and Its Significance in the History of Realism" is a fragment from one of Bakhtin’s lost books. The publishing house to which Bakhtin had submitted the full manuscript was blown up during the German invasion and Bakhtin was in possession of only the prospectus. However, due to a shortage of paper, Bakhtin began using this remaining section to roll cigarettes. So only a portion of the opening section remains. This remaining section deals primarily with Goethe.

"The Problem of Speech Genres" deals with the difference between Saussurean linguistics and language as a living dialogue (translinguistics). In a relatively short space, this essay takes up a topic about which Bakhtin had planned to write a book, making the essay a rather dense and complex read. It is here that Bakhtin distinguishes between literary and everyday language. According to Bakhtin, genres exist not merely in language, but rather in communication. In dealing with genres, Bakhtin indicates that they have been studied only within the realm of rhetoric and literature, but each discipline draws largely on genres that exist outside both rhetoric and literature. These extraliterary genres have remained largely unexplored. Bakhtin makes the distinction between primary genres and secondary genres, whereby primary genres legislate those words, phrases, and expressions that are acceptable in everyday life, and secondary genres are characterized by various types of text such as legal, scientific, etc.

"The Problem of the Text in Linguistics, Philology, and the Human Sciences: An Experiment in Philosophical Analysis" is a compilation of the thoughts Bakhtin recorded in his notebooks. These notes focus mostly on the problems of the text, but various other sections of the paper discuss topics he has taken up elsewhere, such as speech genres, the status of the author, and the distinct nature of the human sciences. However, "The Problem of the Text" deals primarily with dialogue and the way in which a text relates to its context. Speakers, Bakhtin claims, shape an utterance according to three variables: the object of discourse, the immediate addressee, and a superaddressee. This is what Bakhtin describes as the tertiary nature of dialogue.

"From Notes Made in 1970-71" appears also as a collection of fragments extracted from notebooks Bakhtin kept during the years of 1970 and 1971. It is here that Bakhtin discusses interpretation and its endless possibilities. According to Bakhtin, humans have a habit of making narrow interpretations, but such limited interpretations only serve to weaken the richness of the pastt.

The final essay, "Toward a Methodology for the Human Sciences," originates from notes Bakhtin wrote during the mid-seventies and is the last piece of writing Bakhtin produced before he died. In this essay he makes a distinction between dialectic and dialogics and comments on the difference between the text and the aesthetic object. It is here also, that Bakhtin differentiates himself from the Formalists, who, he felt, underestimated the importance of content while oversimplifying change, and the Structuralists, who too rigidly adhered to the concept of "code."

Disputed texts
Some of the works which bear the names of Bakhtin's close friends V. N. Vološinov and P. N. Medvedev have been attributed to Bakhtin – particularly The Formal Method in Literary Scholarship and Marxism and Philosophy of Language. These claims originated in the early 1970s and received their earliest full articulation in English in Clark and Holquist's 1984 biography of Bakhtin. In the years since then, however, most scholars have come to agree that Vološinov and Medvedev ought to be considered the true authors of these works. Although Bakhtin undoubtedly influenced these scholars and may even have had a hand in composing the works attributed to them, it now seems clear that if it was necessary to attribute authorship of these works to one person, Vološinov and Medvedev respectively should receive credit.

He is known today for his interest in a wide variety of subjects, ideas, vocabularies, and periods, as well as his use of authorial disguises, and for his influence (alongside György Lukács) on the growth of Western scholarship on the novel as a premiere literary genre. As a result of the breadth of topics with which he dealt, Bakhtin has influenced such Western schools of theory as Neo-Marxism, Structuralism, and Semiotics. However, his influence on such groups has, somewhat paradoxically, resulted in narrowing the scope of Bakhtin’s work. According to Clark and Holquist, rarely do those who incorporate Bakhtin’s ideas into theories of their own appreciate his work in its entirety.

While Bakhtin is traditionally seen as a literary critic, there can be no denying his impact on the realm of rhetorical theory. Among his many theories and ideas Bakhtin indicates that style is a developmental process, occurring both within the user of language and language itself. His work instills in the reader an awareness of tone and expression that arises from the careful formation of verbal phrasing. By means of his writing, Bakhtin has enriched the experience of verbal and written expression which ultimately aids the formal teaching of writing.Some even suggest that Bakhtin introduces a new meaning to rhetoric because of his tendency to reject the separation of language and ideology.

Bakhtin has been compared to Derrida and Michel Foucault.

The 1920s also produced novels that became classics of official Soviet literature, including Mikhail Sholokhov (1905–84) was clearly an official Soviet writer, Dmitry Furmanov’s Chapayev (1923) and Aleksandr Serafimovich’s Zhelezny potok (1924; The Iron Flood). 

Konstantin Fedin’s novel Goroda i gody (1924; Cities and Years); and Leonid Leonov’s Vor (1927; The Thief).

Fyodor Gladkov’s Tsement (1925; Cement) became a model for the “industrial production” novel.

Also in this period, Sholokhov began writing the best-known official work, a four-part novel published as Tikhy Don (1928–40; “The Quiet Don”; translated in two parts as And Quiet Flows the Don and The Don Flows Home to the Sea).

The Stalin era

The decade beginning with Stalin’s ascendancy in the late 1920s was one of unprecedented repression. The “war in the countryside” to enforce the collectivization of agriculture cost more than 10 million lives, about half of them by starvation. Purges took the lives of millions more, among them Babel, Mandelshtam, Pilnyak, Daniil Kharms, the peasant poet Nikolay Klyuyev (1887–1937), and the director Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874–1940),
Philosophers Pavel Florensky. In 1932 all independent literary groupings were dissolved and replaced by an institution that had no counterpart in the West, the Union of Soviet Writers. The union became the state’s instrument of control over literature, and expulsion from it meant literary death. In 1934 Socialist Realism was proclaimed the only acceptable form of writing. Henceforth, literature was to be governed by a series of official directives regarding details of style and content in order to ensure that each work offered a “truthful” depiction “of reality in its revolutionary development.” Literature had to be “party-minded” and “typical” (that is, avoiding unpleasant, hence “atypical,” aspects of Soviet reality), while showing the triumph of fully “positive heroes.”

Some talented writers turned to the safer areas of children’s literature and translation. Others, such as Valentin Katayev in his production novel Vremya, vperyod! (1932; Time, Forward!) and Fedin in Pervyye radosti (1946; Early Joys), sought to infuse official writing with some interest. Quite popular was Nikolay Ostrovsky’s fictionalized autobiography Kak zakalyalas stal (1932–34; How the Steel Was Tempered). In his unfinished novel Pyotr Pervy (1929–45; Peter the Great) and his play Ivan Grozny (1941–43; “Ivan the Terrible”), Aleksey Tolstoy, an émigré who returned to become one of Stalin’s favourite writers, praised tyrannical tsars admired by Stalin. The moral nadir of Soviet literature was reached in a collaborative volume, Belomorsko-Baltiski kanal imeni Stalina: istoriya stroitelstva (1934; Belomor: An Account of the Construction of the New Canal Between the White Sea and the Baltic Sea). With Gorky as an editor and 34 contributors, including Gorky, Katayev, Shklovsky, Aleksey Tolstoy, and Zoshchenko, the volume praised a project (and the secret police who directed it) using convict labour and costing tens of thousands of lives.

During these dark years the work now generally regarded as the finest post-Revolutionary novel, Mikhail Bulgakov’s
Master i Margarita (The Master and Margarita), was written “for the drawer” (1928–40); it appeared (expurgated) in Russia only in 1966–67 and unexpurgated in 1973. It tells of the Devil and his retinue visiting Soviet Russia, where they play practical jokes of metaphysical and political significance. A novel within the novel gives the “true” version of Christ’s encounter with Pilate. The result is a joyful philosophical comedy of enormous profundity.

The need to rally support in World War II brought a loosening of Communist Party control. The war itself created the opportunity for a large “second wave” of emigration, thus feeding émigré literature. The period from 1946 until the death of Stalin in 1953 was one of severe repression known as the zhdanovshchina, or Zhdanovism. During this campaign, attacks on “rootless cosmopolitans” involved anti-Semitism and the rejection of all foreign influences on Russian literature. The Soviet practice of samokritika (public denunciation of one’s own work) was frequent.


Mikhail Bulgakov

"Master i Margarita" ("The Master and Margarita")

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov (Russian: Михаил Афанасьевич Булгаков, May 15 [O.S. May 3] 1891, Kiev – March 10, 1940, Moscow) was a Russian novelist and playwright active in the first half of the 20th century. He is best known for the novel The Master and Margarita, which The Times has called one of the masterpieces of the 20th century.


Mikhail Bulgakov was born to Russian parents on May 15, 1891 in Kiev, Ukraine (which at the time was part of the Russian Empire). He was the oldest son of Afanasiy Bulgakov, an assistant professor at the Kiev Theological Academy. He was the grandson of priests on both sides of the family. From 1901 to 1904, Mikhail attended the First Kiev Gymnasium, where he developed an interest in Russian and European literature, theatre, opera.

In 1913 Bulgakov married Tatiana Lappa. At the outbreak of the First World War he volunteered with the Red Cross as a medical doctor. In 1916, he graduated from the Medical School of Kiev University and then served in the White Army. He briefly served in the Ukrainian People's Army. His brothers also served in the White Army. After the Civil War and rise of the Soviets, they emigrated to exile in Paris. Mikhail, who had enlisted in the White Army as a field doctor, ended up in the Caucasus. There he began to work as a journalist. Bulgakov couldn't follow his brothers because of typhus.

Though his first fiction efforts were made in Kiev, he only decided to leave medicine to pursue his love of literature in 1919. In 1921, he moved with Tatiana to Moscow where he began his career as a writer. Three years later, divorced from his first wife, he married Lyubov' Belozerskaya. He published a number of works through the early and mid 1920s, but by 1927 his career began to suffer from criticism that he was too anti-Soviet. By 1929 his career was ruined, and government censorship prevented publication of any of his work and staging of any of his play.

In 1931, Bulgakov married for the third time, to Yelena Shilovskaya, who would prove to be inspiration for the character Margarita in his most famous novel. They settled at Patriarch's Ponds. During the last decade of his life, Bulgakov continued to work on The Master and Margarita, wrote plays, critical works, stories, and made several translations and dramatisations of novels, librettos. Many of them were not published, other ones were "torn to pieces" by critics.

Bulgakov never supported the Soviet regime, and mocked it in many of his works. Therefore, most of his work stayed in his desk drawer for several decades. In 1930 he wrote a letter to the Soviet government, requesting permission to emigrate if the Soviet Union could not find use for him as a writer. He spoke directly to Stalin on the phone asking to leave the Soviet Union. Stalin replied that a Soviet writer cannot live outside of his homeland, implying that if Bulgakov tried to leave, he would be killed.

Stalin had enjoyed Bulgakov's work, The Days of the Turbins and found work for him at a small Moscow theatre, and then the Moscow Art Theatre. In Bulgakov's autobiography, he claimed that he wrote to Stalin out of desperation and mental anguish, never intending to post the letter. Bulgakov wrote letters to Stalin during the 1930s again requesting to emigrate, to which Stalin did not reply.

The refusal of the authorities to let him work in the theatre and his desire to see his family living abroad, whom he had not seen for many years, led him to seek drastic measures. Despite his new work, the projects he worked on at the theatre were often prohibited and he was stressed and unhappy. He also worked briefly at the Bolshoi Theatre as a librettist but left when his works were not produced.

Bulgakov died from nephrosclerosis (an inherited kidney disorder) on March 10, 1940. He was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. His father had died of the same disease, and from his youth Bulgakov guessed of his future mortal diagnosis.

Early works

During his life, Bulgakov was best known for the plays he contributed to Konstantin Stanislavsky's and Nemirovich-Danchenko's Moscow Art Theatre. Stalin was known to be fond of the play Days of the Turbins (Дни Турбиных) (1926), which was based on Bulgakov's novel The White Guard. His dramatization of Molière's life in The Cabal of Hypocrites (Кабала святош) is still performed by the Moscow Art Theatre. Even after his plays were banned from the theatres, Bulgakov wrote a comedy about Ivan the Terrible's visit into 1930s Moscow and a play about the early years of Stalin (1939), which was prohibited by Stalin himself.

Bulgakov began writing prose with The White Guard (Белая гвардия) (1924, partly published in 1925, first full edition 1927—1929, Paris) - a novel about a life of a White Army officer's family in Civil war Kiev. In the mid-1920s, he came to admire the works of H. G. Wells and wrote several stories with elements of science fiction, notably The Fatal Eggs (Роковые яйца) (1924) and the Heart of a Dog (Собачье сердце) (1925). He intended to compile his stories of the mid-twenties (published mostly in medical journals) that were based on his work as a country doctor in 1916–1918 into a collection titled Notes of a Young Doctor (Записки юного врача), but he died before he could publish it

The Fatal Eggs tells of the events of a Professor Persikov, who in experimentation with eggs, discovers a red ray that accelerates growth in living organisms. At the time, an illness passes through the chickens of Moscow, killing most of them and, to remedy the situation, the Soviet government puts the ray into use at a farm. Unfortunately there is a mix up in egg shipments and the Professor ends up with chicken eggs, while the government-run farm receives the shipment of ostrich, snake and crocodile eggs that were meant to go to the Professor. The mistake is not discovered until the eggs produce giant monstrosities that wreak havoc in the suburbs of Moscow and kill most of the workers on the farm. The propaganda machine then turns on Persikov, distorting his nature in the same way his "innocent" tampering created the monsters. This tale of a bungling government earned Bulgakov his label of a counter-revolutionary.

Heart of a Dog features a professor who implants human testicles and pituitary gland into a dog named Sharik (means "Little Balloon" or "Little Ball" - popular Russian nickname for a male dog). The dog then proceeds to become more and more human as time passes, resulting in all manner of chaos. The tale can be read as a critical satire of the Soviet Union; it contains few bold hints to communist leadership (e.g. the name of donor drunkard of human implants is Chugunkin ("chugun" is a cast iron) which can be seen as parody on the name of Stalin ("stal'" is steel). It was turned into a comic opera called The Murder of Comrade Sharik by William Bergsma in 1973. In 1988 an award-winning movie version Sobachye Serdtse was produced by Lenfilm, starring Yevgeniy Yevstigneyev, Roman Kartsev and Vladimir Tolokonnikov.

The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita (Мастер и Маргарита), which Bulgakov began writing in 1928, is a fantasy satirical novel published by his wife in 1966, twenty-six years after his death, that has led to an international appreciation of his work. The book was available underground as samizdat for many years in the Soviet Union, before the serialization of a censored version in the journal Moskva. It contributed a number of sayings to the Russian language, for example, "Manuscripts don't burn" and "second-grade freshness". A destroyed manuscript of the Master is an important element of the plot, and in fact Bulgakov had to rewrite the novel from memory after he burned the draft manuscript of this novel.

The novel is not only a critique of Soviet society and its literary establishment. This work is appreciated for its philosophical layer and for its high artistic level thanks to its bright picturesque descriptions (especially of old Yershalaim), lyrical fragments and perfect author's style. It is a frame narrative involving two characteristically related time periods and/or plot lines; the retelling of the gospels, and describing contemporary Moscow.

The novel begins with Satan's visiting Moscow in the 1920s or 30s, joining a conversation of a critic and a poet, busily debating the existence of Jesus Christ and the Devil. It then evolves into an all-embracing indictment of the corruption, greed, narrow-mindedness, and widespread paranoia of Soviet Russia. Published more than 25 years after Bulgakov's death, and more than ten years after Stalin's, the novel firmly secured Bulgakov's place among the pantheon of great Russian writers.

There is a story-within-the-story: A short historical fiction narrative about the interrogation of Yeshua by Pontius Pilate and the Crucifixion.

Anatoliy Smelyanskiy, a Russian doctor of art, called "The Master and Margarita" arrival of The Bible from an unexpected side


Political repression in the Soviet Union


Great Purge

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


In the 1920s and 1930s, two thousand writers, intellectuals, and artists were imprisoned and 1,500 died in prisons and concentration camps.

Russian poet Nikolai Gumilev was executed on 24th August, 1921.

Hikolai Gumilyov. Foto Petrograd Cheka, August 24, 1921

After sunspot development research was judged un-Marxist, twenty-seven astronomers disappeared between 1936 and 1938. The Meteorological Office was violently purged as early as 1933 for failing to predict weather harmful to the crops.  But the toll was especially high among writers. Those who perished during the Great Purge include:

The great poet Osip Mandelshtam  was arrested for reciting his famous anti-Stalin poem Stalin Epigram to his circle of friends in 1934. After intervention by Nikolai Bukharin and Boris Pasternak (Stalin jotted down in Bukharin's letter with feigned indignation: “Who gave them the right to arrest Mandelstam?”), Stalin instructed NKVD to "isolate but preserve" him, and Mandelstam was "merely" exiled to Cherdyn for three years. But this proved to be a temporary reprieve. In May 1938, he was promptly arrested again for "counter-revolutionary activities". On August 2, 1938, Mandelstam was sentenced to five years in correction camps and died on December 27, 1938 at a transit camp near Vladivostok.  Boris Pasternak himself was nearly purged, but Stalin is said to have crossed Pasternak's name off the list, saying "Don't touch this cloud dweller."

NKVD photo after the second arrest, 1938

Writer Isaac Babel was arrested in May 1939, and according to his confession paper (which contained a blood stain) he "confessed" to being a member of Trotskyist organization and being recruited by French writer Andre Malraux to spy for France. In the final interrogation, he retracted his confession and wrote letters to prosecutor's office stating that he had implicated innocent people, but to no avail. Babel was tried before an NKVD troika and convicted of simultaneously spying for the French, Austrians, and Leon Trotsky, as well as "membership in a terrorist organization." On January 27, 1940, he was shot in Butyrka prison.

The NKVD photo of Babel made after his arres

Writer Boris Pilnyak was arrested on October 28, 1937 for counter-revolutionary activities, spying and terrorism. One report alleged that "he held secret meetings with (Andre) Gide, and supplied him with information about the situation in the USSR. There is no doubt that Gide used this information in his book attacking the USSR." Pilnyak was tried on April 21, 1938. In the proceeding that lasted 15 minutes, he was condemned to death and executed shortly afterward.

Boris Pilnyak

Theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold was arrested in 1939 and shot in February 1940 for "spying" for Japanese and British intelligence. In a letter to Vyacheslav Molotov dated January 13, 1940, he wrote: "The investigators began to use force on me, a sick 65-year-old man. I was made to lie face down and beaten on the soles of my feet and my spine with a rubber strap... For the next few days, when those parts of my legs were covered with extensive internal hemorrhaging, they again beat the red-blue-and-yellow bruises with the strap and the pain was so intense that it felt as if boiling water was being poured on these sensitive areas. I howled and wept from the pain. I incriminated myself in the hope that by telling them lies I could end the ordeal. When I lay down on the cot and fell asleep, after 18 hours of interrogation, in order to go back in an hour's time for more, I was woken up by my own groaning and because I was jerking about like a patient in the last stages of typhoid fever."  His wife, the actress Zinaida Raikh, was murdered in her apartment by NKVD agents She was stabbed 17 times, two of them through the eyes.

Vsevolod Meyerhold and Zinaida Raikh

Vsevolod Meyerhold's mugshot, taken at the time of his arrest

Georgian poet Titsian Tabidze was arrested on October 10, 1937 on a charge of treason and was tortured in prison. In a bitter humor, he named only the 18th-century Georgian poet Besiki as his accomplice in anti-Soviet activities. He was executed on December 16, 1937. His friend and poet Paolo Iashvili, having earlier been forced to denounce several of his associates as the enemies of the people, shot himself with a hunting gun in the building of the Writers' Union.  (He witnessed and even had to participate in public trials that ousted many of his associates from the Writers' Union, effectively condemning them to death. When Lavrenty Beria further pressured him with alternative of denouncing his life-long friend Tabidze or being arrested and tortured by the NKVD, he killed himself.)

In early 1937, poet Pavel Vasiliev is said to have defended Bukharin as "a man of the highest nobility and the conscience of peasant Russia" at the time of his denunciation at the Pyatakov Trial (Second Moscow Trial) and damned other writers then signing the routine condemnations as "pornographic scrawls on the margins of Russian literature." He was promptly shot on July 16, 1937.


Titsian Tabidze

Paolo Iashvili

Pavel Vasiliev


Jan Sten, philosopher and deputy head of the Marx-Engels Institute was Stalin's private tutor when Stalin was trying hard to study Hegel's dialectic. (Stalin received lessons twice a week from 1925 to 1928, but he found it difficult to master even some of the basic ideas. Stalin developed enduring hostility toward German idealistic philosophy, which he called "the aristocratic reaction to the French Revolution".) In 1937, Sten was seized on the direct order of Stalin, who declared him one of the chiefs of Menshevizing idealists. On June 19, 1937, Sten was put to death in Lefortovo prison.

Daniil Kharms was arrested in 1931 together with Vvedensky, Tufanov and some other writers, and was in exile from his hometown (forced to live in the city of Kursk) for most of a year. He was arrested as a member of "a group of anti-Soviet children's writers", and some of his works were used as an evidence. Soviet authorities, having become increasingly hostile toward the avant-garde in general, deemed Kharms’ writing for children anti-Soviet because of its absurd logic and its refusal to instill materialist and social Soviet values.

Daniil Kharms

He continued to write for children's magazines when he returned from exile, though his name would appear in the credits less often. His plans for more performances and plays were curtailed, the OBERIU disbanded, and Kharms receded into a very private writing life. He wrote for the desk drawer, for his wife, Marina Malich, and for a small group of friends, the “Chinari”, who met privately to discuss matters of philosophy, music, mathematics, and literature.

In the 1930s, as the mainstream Soviet literature was becoming more and more conservative under the guidelines of Socialist Realism, Kharms found refuge in children's literature. (He had worked under Marshak at DetGiz, the state-owned children's publishing house since the mid-1920s, writing new material and translating children literature from the west, including Wilhelm Busch's Max and Moritz). Many of his poems and short stories for children, published in the Chizh (Чиж), Yozh (Ëж), Sverchok (Сверчок) and Oktyabryata (Октябрята) magazines, are considered classics of the genre and his roughly twenty children's books are well known and loved by kids to this day, - despite his personal deep disgust for children, unknown to the public - whereas his "adult" writing was not published during his lifetime with the sole exceptions of two early poems. Still, these were lean times and his honorariums didn't quite pay the bills, plus the editors in the children's publishing sector were suffering under extreme pressure and censorship and some were disposed of during Stalin's purges.

Thus, Kharms lived in debt and hunger for several years until his final arrest on suspicion of treason in the summer of 1941 (most people with a previous arrest were being picked up by the NKVD in those times). He was imprisoned in the psychiatric ward at Leningrad Prison No. 1. and died in his cell in February, 1942—most likely, from starvation, as the Nazi blockade of Leningrad had already begun.


Nikolai Alekseevich Klyuev (occasionally transliterated from the Cyrillic alphabet as Kliuev, Kluev, Klyuyev, or Kluyev) (October 10, 1884 - between October 23 and 25, 1937), was a notable Russian poet. He was influenced by the symbolist movement, intense nationalism, and a love of Russian folklore.

Nikolai Klyuev

Born in a small village near the town of Vytegra, Kluyev rose to prominence in the early twentieth century as the leader of the so-called "peasant poets". Kluyev was a close friend and mentor of Sergei Yesenin. Arrested in 1933 for contradicting Soviet ideology, he was shot in 1937 and rehabilitated posthumously in 1957.



Pavel Florensky

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pavel Alexandrovich Florensky (also P.A. Florenskiĭ, Florenskii, Florenskij, Russian: Па́вел Алекса́ндрович Флоре́нский ) (January 21 [O.S. January 9] 1882 - December 1937) was a Russian Orthodox theologian, philosopher, mathematician, electrical engineer, inventor and Neomartyr sometimes compared by his followers to Leonardo da Vinci.

Early life

Pavel Aleksandrovich Florensky was born on January 21, 1882, into a family of a railroad engineer (Aleksandr Florensky) in the town of Yevlakh in western Azerbaijan. His father came from a family of Russian Orthodox priests while his mother Olga (Salomia) Saparova (Saparashvili) was of the Armenian nobility.

After graduating from Tbilisi gymnasium in 1899 Florensky entered the department of mathematics of Moscow State University and simultaneously studied philosophy. During this period the young Florensky, who had no religious upbringing, began taking an interest studies beyond, "the limitations of physical knowledge..." In 1904 he graduated from Moscow State University and refused to accept a teaching position at the University: instead, he proceeded to study theology at the Ecclesiastical Academy in Sergiyev Posad. During his theological study he first came into contact with who would become his spiritual father and mentor, Elder Isidore on a visit to Gethsemane Hermitage. Together with his fellow students Ern, Svenitsky and Brikhnichev he founded a society, the Christian Struggle Union (Союз Христиaнской Борьбы), with the revolutionary aim of rebuilding Russian society according to the principles of Vladimir Solovyov. Subsequently he was arrested for membership in this society in 1906: however, he later lost his interest in the Radical Christianity movement.

Philosophers Pavel Florensky and Sergei Bulgakov, a painting by Mikhail Nesterov (1917)

Intellectual interests
During his studies at the Ecclesiastical Academy, Florensky's interests included philosophy, religion, art and folklore. He became a prominent member of the Russian Symbolism movement, started his friendship with Andrei Bely and published works in the magazines New Way (Новый Путь) and Libra (Весы). He also started his main philosophical work, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: an Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters. The complete book was published only in 1924 but most of it was finished at the time of his graduation from the academy in 1908.

According to Princeton University Press: "The book is a series of twelve letters to a "brother" or "friend," who may be understood symbolically as Christ. Central to Florensky's work is an exploration of the various meanings of Christian love, which is viewed as a combination of philia (friendship) and agape (universal love). He describes the ancient Christian rites of the adelphopoiesis (brother making), joining male friends in chaste bonds of love. In addition, Florensky is one of the first thinkers in the twentieth century to develop the idea of the Divine Sophia, who has become one of the central concerns of feminist theologians."

After graduating from the academy, he taught philosophy there and lived at Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra until 1919. In 1911 he was ordained into the priesthood. In 1914 he wrote his dissertation, About Spiritual Truth. He published works on philosophy, theology, art theory, mathematics and electrodynamics. Between 1911 and 1917 he was the chief editor of the most authoritative Orthodox theological publication of that time, Bogoslovskiy Vestnik. He was also a spiritual teacher of the controversial Russian writer Vasily Rozanov, urging him to reconcile with the Orthodox Church.

Period of Communist rule in Russia
After the October Revolution he formulated his position as: I am of a Philosophical and scientific world outlook developed by me, which contradicts the vulgar interpretation of communism... but that does not prevent me to honestly work for the state service. After the closing down, by the Bolsheviks, of the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra (1918) and the Sergievo-Posad Church (1921), where he was the priest, he moved to Moscow to work on the State Plan for Electrification of Russia. (ГОЭЛРО) Under the recommendation of Leon Trotsky who strongly believed in Florensky's ability to help the government to electrify rural Russia. According to contemporaries, Florensky in his priest's cassock, working alongside other leaders of a Government department, was a remarkable sight.

In 1924, he published a large monograph on dielectrics, as well as his The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: an Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters. He also worked simultaneously as the Scientific Secretary of the Historical Commission on Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra and published his works on ancient Russian art. He was also rumoured to be the main organizer of the plot to save the relics of St. Sergii Radonezhsky whose destruction had been ordered by the government.

In the second half of the 1920s, he mostly worked on physics and electrodynamics, publishing his main hard science work Imaginary numbers in Geometry («Мнимости в геометрии. Расширение области двухмерных образов геометрии») devoted to the geometrical interpretation of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. Among other things, he proclaimed that the geometry of imaginary numbers predicted by the theory of relativity for a body moving faster than light is the geometry of the kingdom of God.

1928-1937: Exile, imprisonment, death
In 1928, Florensky was exiled to Nizhny Novgorod. After the intercession of Ekaterina Peshkova (wife of Maxim Gorky), Florensky was allowed to return to Moscow. In 1933 he was arrested again and sentenced to ten years in the Labor Camps by the infamous Article 58 of Stalin's criminal code (clauses ten and eleven: "agitation against the Soviet system" and "publishing agitation materials against the Soviet system"). The published agitation materials were the monograph about the theory of relativity.

He served at the Baikal Amur Mainline camp, until 1934 when he was moved to Solovki, there he conducted research into producing iodine and agar out of the local seaweed. In 1937 he was transferred to Saint Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) where he was sentenced by an extrajudicial NKVD troika to execution. According to a legend he was sentenced for the refusal to disclose the location of the head of St. Sergii Radonezhsky that the communists wanted to destroy. The Saint's head was indeed saved and in 1946, the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra was opened again. The relics of St. Sergii became fashionable once more. The Saint's relics were returned to Lavra by Pavel Golubtsov, later known as archbishop Sergiy.

Official Soviet information stated that Florensky died December 8, 1943 somewhere in Siberia, but a study of the NKVD archives after the dissolution of the Soviet Union have shown that information to be false. Florensky was shot immediately after the NKVD troika session in December 1937. Most probably he was executed at the Rzhevsky Artillery Range, near Toksovo, which is located about twenty kilometers northeast of Saint Petersburg and was buried in a secret grave in Koirangakangas near Toksovo together with 30,000 others who were executed by NKVD at the same time.


Philosophers' ships

Philosophers' ships is the collective name of several boats that carried Soviet expellees abroad.

The main load was handled by two German boats, the Oberbürgermeister Haken and the Preussen, which transported more than 160 expelled Russian intellectuals in September and November 1922 from Petrograd to Stettin, Germany. Three detention lists included 228 people, 32 of them students.

Other intellectuals were transported in 1923 by train to Riga, Latvia or by boat from Odessa to Constantinople.

Nikolai Berdyaev

Nikolai Berdyaev.Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev (Russian: Никола́й Алекса́ндрович Бердя́ев) (March 18 [O.S. March 6] 1874 – March 24, 1948) was a Russian religious and political philosopher.

Early life and education
Berdyaev was born in Kiev into an aristocratic military family. He spent a solitary childhood at home, where his father's library allowed him to read widely. He read Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Kant when only fourteen years old and excelled at languages.

Revolutionary activities
Berdyaev decided on an intellectual career and entered the Kiev University in 1894. This was a time of revolutionary fervor among the students and the intelligentsia. Berdyaev became a Marxist and in 1898 was arrested in a student demonstration and expelled from the University. Later his involvement in illegal activities led to three years of internal exile in central Russia—a mild sentence compared to that faced by many other revolutionaries.

In 1904 Berdyaev married Lydia Trusheff and the couple moved to Saint Petersburg, the Russian capital and center of intellectual and revolutionary activity. Berdyaev participated fully in intellectual and spiritual debate, eventually departing from radical Marxism to focus his attention on philosophy and spirituality. Berdyaev and Trusheff remained deeply committed to each other until the latter's death in 1945.

Berdyaev was a believer in orthodox Christianity, but was often critical of the institutional church. A fiery 1913 article criticising the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church caused him to be charged with the crime of blasphemy, the punishment for which was exile to Siberia for life. The World War and the Bolshevik Revolution prevented the matter coming to trial.

He was a Christian universalist. Berdyaev writes with approval that

The greater part of Eastern teachers of the Church, from Clement of Alexandria to Maximus the Confessor, were supporters of Apokatastasis, of universal salvation and resurrection. ... Orthodox thought has never been suppressed by the idea of Divine justice and it never forgot the idea of Divine love. Chiefly — it did not define man from the point of view of Divine justice but from the idea of transfiguration and Deification of man and cosmos.

Expulsion from Russia
Berdyaev could not accept the Bolshevik regime, because of its authoritarianism and the domination of the state over the freedom of the individual. Yet, he accepted the hardships of the revolutionary period, as he was permitted for the time being to continue to lecture and write.

His philosophy has been characterized as Christian existentialist. He was preoccupied with creativity and in particular freedom from anything that inhibited said creativity, whence his opposition against a "collectivized and mechanized society".

In September 1922, Berdyaev was among a carefully selected group of some 160 prominent writers, scholars, and intellectuals whose ideas the Bolshevik government found objectionable, who were sent into exile on the so-called "philosophers' ship". Overall, they were supporters neither of the Czarist regime nor of the Bolsheviks, preferring less autocratic forms of government. They included those who argued for personal liberty, spiritual development, Christian ethics, and a pathway informed by reason and guided by faith.

Exile in France
At first Berdyaev and other émigrés went to Berlin, but economic and political conditions in Weimar Germany caused him and his wife to move to Paris in 1923. There he founded an Academy, taught, lectured, and wrote, working for an exchange of ideas with the French intellectual community.

During the German occupation of France, Berdyaev continued to write books that were published after the war—some of them after his death. In the years that he spent in France, Berdyaev wrote fifteen books, including most of his most important works. He died at his writing desk in his home in Clamart, near Paris, in March 1948.

Berdyaev influenced many thinkers, but his work was also very often the subject of controversial discussions. His work has been read mostly in the circles of existential philosophy and orthodox theology. Out of Berdyaev's understanding of freedom and creativity, Davor Dzalto has developed his understanding of contemporary art production and its importance for the human being. He is credited with developing an influential school of thought, sometimes called Mystical realism, with influence inside and outside of Russia, but especially reflecting aspects of Russian philosophic thought not usually seen in the West.



Nikolai Lossky


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Nikolai Onufriyevich Lossky (Russian: Никола́й Ону́фриевич Ло́сский) (December 6 [O.S. November 24] 1870 – January 24, 1965) was a Russian philosopher, representative of Russian idealism, intuitionism, personalism, libertarianism, ethics, Axiology (Value theory), and his philosophy he called intuitive-personalism. He was born in the village of Kreslavka, Daugavpils uyezd (region), Vitebsk gubernia (province) of Russian Empire (now Krāslava in Latvia) and died from natural causes at a nursing home near Paris. Lossky had a daughter who died as a child and three sons, the most famous of which was the Eastern Orthodox Theologian Vladimir Lossky.

Lossky's father, Onufry Losski was Orthodox Russian with Polish roots; his mother Adelajda Przylenicka was Polish Catholic. Lossky undertook post-graduate studies in Germany under Wilhelm Windelband, Wilhelm Wundt and G. E. Müller, receiving a Master's degree in 1903 and a Doctorate in 1907. Returning to Russia, he became Lecturer and subsequently Assistant Professor of philosophy at St Petersburg. Lossky called for a Russian religious and spiritual reawakening while pointing out post-revolution excesses. At the same time, Lossky survived an elevator accident that nearly killed him, which caused him to convert back to the Russian Orthodox Church under the direction of Father Pavel Florensky. These criticisms and conversion cost Lossky his professorship of philosophy and led to his exile abroad, on the famed Philosophers' ship (in 1922) from the Soviet Union as a counter-revolutionary.

Lossky was invited to Prague by Tomáš Masaryk and became Professor at the Russian University of Prague at Bratislava, in Czechoslovakia. Being part of a group of ex-Marxists, including Nikolai Berdyaev, Sergei Bulgakov, Gershenzon, Peter Berngardovich Struve, Semen L. Frank. Lossky, though a Fabian socialist, contributed to the group's symposium named Vekhi or Signposts. He also helped the Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin with his Social and Cultural Dynamics

In 1947 N.O. Lossky took a position teaching Eastern Orthodox theology at Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, a Russian Orthodox seminary in New York. In 1961, after the death of his famous Orthodox theologian son Vladimir Lossky, N. O. Lossky went to France. The last four years of his life were spent in illness there.

Intuitivism and Slavophilism
Lossky was one of the preeminent Russian neo-idealists of his day. Lossky's Гносеология or gnosiology is called Intuitivist-Personalism and had in part adapted the Hegelian dialectical approach of first addressing a problem in thought in terms of its expression as a duality or dichotomy. Once the problem is expressed as a dichotomy the two opposing ideas are fused in order to transcend the dichotomy. This transition is expressed in the concept of sobornost, integrality or mystical communal union. Lossky also followed and developed his ontological and gnosiological interpretation of objective reality from Christian neoplatonism based on the Patristic Fathers. This along with Origen and the works of Russian mystics Kireevsky and Khomyakov and the later works of V. Solovyov among many others. Understanding and comprehension coming from addressing an object, as though part of the external world, something that joins the consciousness of the perceiving subject directly (noesis, insight), then becoming memory, intuitionism as the foundation of all noema or processes of consciousness. In that human consciousness comprehends the essence or noumena of an object and the object's external phenomenon which are then assembled into a complete organic whole called experience. Much of an object's defining and understanding in consciousness is not derived discursively but rather intuitively or instinctively as an object has no meaning outside of the whole of existence. Lossky summed up this concept in the term "all is imminent in all". As such much of reality as uncreated or uncaused is irrational, or random (see libertarianism below) and can not be validated rationally (i.e. freedom and love as energy are uncaused, uncreated). Therefore consciousness in its interaction with reality operates not strictly as rational (only partially) much of consciousness operates intuitively. This is intuitively done by the nous. The nous, consciousness or the focal point of the psyche as the "organic connection" to the object and therefore the material world as a whole. The psyche here is the sensory input from the physical body to the inner being, mind or consciousness. This interaction causing different levels of maturing consciousness over time (reinterpretation). As a dynamic retention, experience constitutes the process of learning i.e. reflective differentiation.

Phenomenology and Axiology
Consequently the existence of objects can not be completely expressed with logic or words, nor validated with knowledge, due to objects having a supernatural essence or substance as their composition (supernatural in a Greek philosophy or Eastern Orthodox understanding of supernatural as uncreated or uncaused). Following Orthodox Christian substance theory (see Gregory Palamas) energy and potential do not have ontology without an sentient agent (i.e. idealism), Lossky coined the term "substative agent" to validate that matter as well as energy are uncreated in substance, essence. This validation as part of gnosiology or Christian mysticism (Orthodoxy) as opposed to the Russian Materialist and nihilist position that states that objects have no "thing in itself" or no essence, substance behind their phenomenon (as in Positivism). Lossky based his intuitivism on gnosiology in that he taught first principles as uncreated or uncaused. Lossky's Axiology was the teaching of first principles dialectically. Russian philosophy based on Soloviev is expressed metaphysically in that the essence of an object can be akin to Noumenon (opposed to its appearance or phenomenon), but it can have random characteristics to its being or essence, characteristically sumbebekos. This is the basis of V Soloviev's arguments against Positivism which are the corner stone of Russian philosophy contained in Soloviev's "Against the Positivists". The validation (immediate apprehension) of truth, value and existence all being intuitive as expressed by Aristotle's Noesis. Each event having value or existence because of substantive agents being engaged in the event, (via Neo-idealism) giving the event value and existence.

 Sobornost and the world as an organic whole
One of the main points of Lossky's онтология or ontology is, the world is an organic whole as understood by human consciousness. Intuition, insight (noesis in Greek) is the direct contemplation of objects, and furthermore the assembling of the entire set of cognition from sensory perception into a complete and undivided organic whole, i.e. experience. This expression of consciousness as without thought, raw and uninterpreted by the rational faculty in the mind. Thus the mind's dianoia (rational or logical faculty) in its deficiency, finiteness or inconclusiveness (due to logic's incompleteness) causes the perceived conflict between the objectivism (materialism, external world) and idealism (spiritual, inner experience) forms of philosophy. Where intuitive or instinctual re-action is without rational processing of the rational faculty of the mind. It is outside of comprehension via the dianoia faculty of the mind, consciousness (Nous). Intuition being analogous with instinctual consciousness. Intuition functions without rational or logical thought. Rational or logical thought via the dianoia component of the nous, which then works in reflection as hindsight to organize experience into a comprehensible order i.e. ontology. The memory, knowledge derived from the rationalizing faculty of the mind is called epistemological knowledge. Intuitive knowledge or Gnosis (preprocessed knowledge or uninterpreted) then being made into history or memory. Rather than a rational determining factor it manifests as an integral factor of or during an actual conscious experience. Lossky's ontology being consistent with Leibniz's optimism expressed as the Best of all possible worlds in contrast to the pessimism and nihilism of more Pro-Western Russian philosophers. Lossky's work is also opposed to the pagan elements of the pagan philosophers that were an influence on his work. In that the logical faculty of the mind was only finite in a temporal sense and will eventually become infinite (by theosis), as such it seeks the infinite rather than opposes it. Lossky believed that philosophy would transcend its rational limits and manifest a mystical understanding of experience. This would include an understanding that encompasses the intuitive, irrational, philosophically (as done in stochastics) rather than the strictly pagan approach of a good deterministic force opposed to an irrational indeterminate force. This of course being the teaching of Christian faith as a philosophical principle (called free will) and intrinsic component to conscious existence, one that manifests sobornost in the transcending of the pagan dichotomy of reason versus superstition or determinism versus indeterminism.

Knowledge and Memory
Once knowledge is abstracted from conscious experience it becomes epistemological knowledge and is then stored in an ontological format in the mind (the format itself a priori). The manipulation of memory and or reapplication of memory as knowledge as post-processed knowledge i.e. Epistemology. Lossky's Ontology as an agent's Сущность (the "essence") expressed as being and or becoming is possible as both the person transcends time and space while being closely connected with the whole world, while in this world. Much of Lossky's working out of an ontological theory of knowledge was done in collaboration with his close friend Semen L. Frank.

Metaphysical libertarianism
Lossky as a metaphysical libertarian taught that all people have uncreated energy (Aristotle) or potential (Plotinus). This being very much inline with the vitalism of his day. Though Lossky did not strictly adhere to vitalism but rather to its predecessor Monadology and its living forces (dynamis) theory. This is to contrast Leibniz's theory of Monadology against Cartesian mind-body dualism. This as a rejection of vitalism in its dualism of mind and body being of different substances. For Lossky's Substantive Agents have potential (dynamis) and they can act (beings have energy) upon, from this potential. All power or potential comes from the individual. That spontaneous or organic reality structures or orders itself to reconcile opposing forces (sobornost), doing so while maintaining order and freewill. Each pole of existence (the created and uncreated of gnosiology) or opposing ideologies, reaching compromise through value and existence and manifesting in a complete organic whole (sobornost).

“ Second Section: That selection is the agent's free act. Consequently, the temporal order of events is not uniform even in the inorganic nature. It is quite possible that although some two electrons have millions of time repulsed each other, they will not do so the next time. But functional connections between ideal forms conditioning the existence of the world as a system-e.g. mathematical principles and the laws of the hierarchy of values and their significance for conduct conditioning the presence of meaning in the world-are independent of the agents' will. Violation of these laws is unthinkable, but they do not destroy the agent's freedom: they merely create the possibility of activity as such and of its value. Those laws condition the cosmic structure within the frame work of which there is freedom for an infinite variety of activities. The system of spatiotemporal and numerical forms provides room for activities that are opposed to one another in direction, value, and significance for the world. The absence of rigidly uniform connection between events does not make science impossible. It is sufficient for science that there should be more or less regular connection between events in time. The lower the agent's stage of development, the more uniform are their manifestations. In those cases there may be statistical laws. Many misunderstandings of the doctrine of free will are disposed of by distinguishing between formal and material freedom. Formal freedom means that in each given case an agent may refrain from some particular manifestation and replace it by another. That freedom is absolute and cannot be lost under any circumstance. Material freedom means the degree of creative power possessed by an agent, and finds expression in what he is capable of creating. It is unlimited in the Kingdom of God, the members of which unanimously combine their forces for communal creativeness and even derive help from God's omnipotence. But agents outside the Kingdom of God are in a state of spiritual deterioration and have very little material freedom, though their formal freedom is unimpaired. Life outside the Kingdom of God is the result of the wrong use of free will. ”
—From History of Russian Philosophy section on "N O Lossky the Intuitivists" pg 260

Lossky's argument that determinism can not account for the cause of energy in the Universe. Energy being a substance that can not be created or destroyed (see the law of conservation of energy).

Each agent accounting for their existence as their own dynamistic manifestation. Dynamistic manifestation as being that of act or energy derived from a Neoplatonic interpretation.

“ First section: Determinists deny freedom of the will on the ground that every event has a cause. They mean by causality the order of temporal sequence of one event after other events and the uniformity of that sequence. Causation, generation, creation and all other dynamic aspects of causality are ruled out. Lossky proves that the will is free, taking as his starting point the law of causality but defending a dynamistic interpretation of it. Every event arises not out of itself, but is created by someone: it cannot be created by other events: having a temporal form events fall away every instant into the realm of the past and have no creative power to generate the future. Only supertemporal substantival agents-i.e., actual and potential personalities- are bearers of creative power: they create events as their own vital manifestations. According to the dynamistic interpretation of causality it is necessary to distinguish among the conditions under which an event takes place the cause from the occasion of its happening. The cause is always the substantival agent himself as the bearer of creative power, and the other circumstances are merely occasions for its manifestations, which are neither forced nor predetermined by them. The agents' creative power is superqualitative and does not therefore predetermine which particular values an agent will select as his final end.From History of Russian Philosophy section on "
N O Lossky the Intuitivists" pg 260 ”

Theology and Neoplatonism
Much of the theology that Lossky covers (as his own) in the book History of Russian Philosophy is inline with the idealism of Origen. Lossky's idealism is based on Origen's. In that the relationship between the mystic, religious understanding of God and a philosophical one there have been various stages of development in the history of the Roman East. The nous as mind (rational and intuitive understanding) in Byzantine philosophy is given the central role of understanding only when it is placed or reconciled with the heart or soul of the person. Earlier versions of Christian and Greek philosophical syncretism are in modern times referred to as Neoplatonic. An example of this can be seen in the works of Origen and his teaching on the nous as to Origen, all souls pre-existed with their Creator in a perfect, spiritual (non-material) state as "nous," that these minds then fell away so to pursue an individual and independent existence apart from God. Because all beings were created with absolute freedom and free will, God, not being a tyrant, would not force his creations to return to Him. According to Origen, God's infinite love and respect for His creatures allowed for this. Instead, God created the material world, universe or cosmos. God then initiated the aeons or history. God did this for the purpose of, through love and compassion, guiding his creations back to contemplation of His infinite, limitless mind. This was according to Origen, the perfect state. Though the specifics of this are not necessarily what Lossky taught in his theology courses, since dogma in a general sense, is what is taught as theology. N.O. Lossky also was inline with the common distinctions of Eastern theology. Like the Essence-Energies distinction for example. Though Lossky did pursue a position of reconciliation based on mutual cooperation between East and West. Lossky taught this co-operation as organic and or spontaneous order, integrality, and unity called sobornost. Sobornost can also be translated to mean catholic.

In biographical reminiscences recorded by Barbara Branden in the early 1960s, Ayn Rand named Lossky as her primary philosophy teacher at the University of Petrograd or University of St. Petersburg until he was removed from his teaching post by the Soviet regime. However, some of Rand's statements have been called into question.



Sergei Bulgakov


Fr. Sergei Nikolaevich Bulgakov (Russian: Серге́й Никола́евич Булга́ков) (28 June [O.S. 16 June] 1871 - July 12, 1944) was a Russian Orthodox theologian, philosopher and economist.

Early life
Sergei Bulgakov was born to the family of an Orthodox priest (Nikolai Bulgakov) in the town of Livny, Oryol guberniya on June 16, 1871 O.S. He studied at Orel seminary, then at Yelets gimnasium. In 1894 he graduated from the Law School of Moscow University, where he had also undertaken a serious study of political economy.

During his study at the seminary Bulgakov became interested in Marxism and took part in the Legal Marxism movement. Studying Marxism, Bulgakov eventually became convinced of the impotence of this theory. Under the influence of works of Russian religious thinkers (Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Vladimir Solovyov, etc.), in the course of his meetings and arguments with Leo Tolstoy he found his religious beliefs again. He wrote a book about his evolution (Sergey Bulgakov, From Marxism to Idealism, 1903).

Such an evolution was common for the Russian intelligentsia of the time, and he soon became one of their recognised ideologists. A primary contributor to the books Problems of Idealism (1902), Vekhi, Problems of Religion, About Vladimir Solovyev, About the Religion of Leo Tolstoy, The Religion of Solovyov's Philosophical Society, he participated in the journals New Way (Новый Путь) and Questions of Life (Вопросы Жизни). He was a leader of the publisher Way (Путь, 1911–1917), where he printed many important works of contemporary Orthodox theology.

From 1906 to 1922
In 1906 he was elected as an independent Christian Socialist to the Second Duma. He published the important original monographs Philosophy of Economy («Философия хозяйства» 1912) and Unfading Light («Свет Невечерний» 1917), in which he first offered his own teaching based on the combination of sophiology of Vladimir Solovyov and Pavel Florensky, the later works of Schelling, and his own intuition-based ideas about the Orthodox faith.

When he returned to the Russian Orthodox Church, he was ordained into the priesthood (1918), and rose to prominence in church circles. He took part in the All-Russia Sobor of the Orthodox Church that elected patriarch Tikhon of Moscow. Bulgakov rejected the October revolution and responded with On the Feast of the Gods ("На пиру богов", 1918), a book similar to the Three talks of Vladimir Solovyov.

During the Russian Civil War he was in Crimea, where he worked in the field of philosophy. He wrote books Philosophy of the Name ( "Философия имени", 1920) and Tragedy of Philosophy ("Трагедия философии", 1920) in which he revised his views about the relation of Philosophy to Dogmatism. He concluded that the Christian views can be expressed only by dogmatic theology. Thereafter his works were devoted to dogmatic theology.

On December 30, 1922, the Bolshevik government expelled some 160 prominent intellectuals on the so-called Philosophers' ship, Bulgakov, Nikolai Berdyaev, and Ivan Ilyin among them.

Bulgakov in Paris
In May 1923 he became professor of Church Law and Theology at the school of law of the Russian Research Institute in Prague. In 1925 he helped found St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute (l'Institut de Théologie Orthodoxe Saint-Serge), in Paris, France. He was the head of this institute and Professor of Dogmatic Theology until his death from throat cancer on July 12, 1944. His last work was devoted to the Apocalypse.

Bulgakov’s teaching on sophiology is highly controversial. The attempt to understand it properly is hindered by the highly political controversy surrounding it in the 1930s.

Ecclesiastical situation in Russian Orthodoxy
It should be noted that by 1931 there existed three separate Russian Orthodox jurisdictions in Europe: the Russian Church Abroad/Sremski Karlovtsy Synod (ROCA or ROCOR) under Met. Antony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev; the ‘Patriarchal’ Church answering ultimately to Met. Sergius (Stragorodsky) of Moscow (of which the young Vladimir Lossky was a member); and the Russian Church in Western Europe (Bulgakov’s own jurisdiction as well as the church of Georges Florovsky) under Met. Evlogy (Georgievsky) that was under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople -- though in 1934, Met. Evlogy was privately reconciled to Met. Antony, and in 1935 he went to Karlovtsy for a special reunion conference, at which time the schism between him and ROCOR was healed In 1936, Met. Evlogy again cut his ties with ROCOR, quite possibly because of the controversy over "Sophianism".

 Reaction to Bulgakov's writings
.Decree_of_the_Moscow_Patriarchate an ukaz of 24 August 1935 of Met. Sergius, Bulgakov’s teaching on ‘Sophia’ was described as ‘alien’ to the Orthodox faith. This ukaz was largely based on the epistolary reports of Alexis Stavrovsky. He was also the president of the Brotherhood of St Photius (Alexis Stavrovskii was president; Vladimir Lossky, the vice-president, and Evgraf Kovalevskii <later "Jean-Nectaire (Kovalevsky)".Jean-Nectaire_(Kovalevsky)_of_Saint-Denis. of Saint-Denis) were also among the 12-15 young laymen who made up its numbers> whose members had left the jurisdiction of Met. Evlogy for that of Met. Elevthery of Lithuania. This exodus was in reaction to Met. Sergius having removed, on 10 June 1930, Met. Evlogy as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Western Europe (since Met. Evlogy had continually refused to agree to the 30 June 1927 Declaration of Loyalty to the Soviet government) and named Elevthery as his replacement. In late 1935, Met. Evlogy appointed a commission to look into the charges of heresy levelled against Bulgakov.

The commission quickly broke into factions. In June 1936 the majority report (prepared by Vasilii Zenkovskii, Anton Kartashev and others) rejected the charge of heresy but had serious objections about Sophiology. The minority report of 6 July 1936 was prepared by Fr Sergei Chetverikov and signed by Fr Georges Florovsky, who despite his personal respect for Fr. Sergius, remained an ardent critic of Sophianism for the remainder of his life. Meanwhile, the Church Abroad formally accused Bulgakov of heresy in 1935.

"The 1935 decision of the Church Abroad" Decree_of_ROCOR. was based on Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev) of Boguchar’s Novoe uchenie o Sofii (Sofia, 1935), as well as on the arguments of St. John (Maximovitch). St. John, in his book The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God, discusses at length why the sophianism of Sergius Bulgakov is heresy, specifically one as destructive as Nestorianism. Speaking of those who attempt to deify the Theotokos, he wrote:

In the words [of Fr. Sergius Bulgakov], when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the Virgin Mary, she acquired "a dyadic life, human and divine; that is, She was completely deified, because in Her hypostatic being was manifest the living, creative revelation of the Holy Spirit" (Archpriest Sergei Bulgakov, The Unburnt Bush, 1927, p. 154). "She is a perfect manifestation of the Third Hypostasis" (Ibid., p. 175), "a creature, but also no longer a creature" (P. 19 1)....But we can say with the words of St. Epiphanius of Cyprus: "There is an equal harm in both these heresies, both when men demean the Virgin and when, on the contrary, they glorify Her beyond what is proper" (Panarion, Against the Collyridians). This Holy Father accuses those who give Her an almost divine worship: "Let Mary be in honor, but let worship be given to the Lord" (same source). "Although Mary is a chosen vessel, still she was a woman by nature, not to be distinguished at all from others. Although the history of Mary and Tradition relate that it was said to Her father Joachim in the desert, 'Thy wife hath conceived,' still this was done not without marital union and not without the seed of man" (same source). "One should not revere the saints above what is proper, but should revere their Master. Mary is not God, and did not receive a body from heaven, but from the joining of man and woman; and according to the promise, like Isaac, She was prepared to take part in the Divine Economy. But, on the other hand, let none dare foolishly to offend the Holy Virgin" (St. Epiphanius, "Against the Antidikomarionites"). The Orthodox Church, highly exalting the Mother of God in its hymns of praise, does not dare to ascribe to Her that which has not been communicated about Her by Sacred Scripture or Tradition. "Truth is foreign to all overstatements as well as to all understatements. It gives to everything a fitting measure and fitting place" (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov)."

Fr. Sergei's reply and the episcopal conference, 1937
Bulgakov responded to the heresy accusation in his Dokladnaia zapiska Mitropolitu Evlogiiu prof. prot. Sergiia Bulgakova (Paris, 1936). Archbishop Seraphim then rebutted Bulgakov in his Zashchita sofianskoi eresi (Sofia, 1937). No final report was prepared on the sophiology controversy by the commission set up by Bulgakov’s own jurisdiction. However, Met. Evlogy convoked a bishop’s conference on 26–29 November 1937 to bring closure to the matter. The bishops in their statement were working from reports by Archimandrite Cassian (Bezobrazov) and Chetverikov and they concluded that the accusations of heresy against Bulgakov were unfounded but that his theological opinions showed serious flaws and needed correction.



Ivan Ilyin

Portrait of Ivan Ilyin by Mikhail Nesterov

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ivan IlyinIvan Alexandrovich Ilyin (Russian: Ива́н Алекса́ндрович Ильи́н) (March 28, 1883 - December 21, 1954) was a Russian religious and political philosopher, and White emigre publicist and an ideologue of the Russian All-Military Union.

Young years
Ivan Ilyin was born in Moscow in an aristocratic family of Rurikid descent. His father Alexander Ivanovich Ilyin was born and spent his childhood in the Grand Kremlin Palace since Ilyin's grandfather served as the commandant of the Palace. Alexander Ilyin's godfather was tsar Alexander III. Ilyin was born and brought up also in the centre of Moscow not far from Kremlin in Naryshkin Lane. In 1901 he entered the Law faculty of the Moscow State University. Ilyin generally disapproved of the Russian Revolution of 1905 and did not participate actively in student riots. While a student Ilyin became interested in philosophy under influence of Professor Pavel Novgorodtsev. In 1906 he graduated with a law degree and began working there as a scholar from 1909 on.

Before the revolution

In 1911 Ilyin moved for a year to Western Europe in order to work on his thesis "Crisis of rationalistic philosophy in Germany in the XIXth century". After his return he returned to work in the University. He delivered a series of lectures called "Introduction to the Philosophy of Law". Later on Novgorodtsev offered Ilyin to lecture on theory of general law at Moscow Commerce Institute. In total, he lectured at various schools for 17 hours a week. At that time Ilyin studied the philosophy of Hegel, namely Hegel's philosophy of state and law. He regarded this work not only as a study of Hegel, but also as preparation for his own work on theory of law. His thesis on Hegel was finished in 1916 and published in 1918.

In 1914 after the breakout of World War I Professor Prince Evgeny Trubetskoy arranged a series of public lectures devoted to the "ideology of the war". Ilyin contributed to this with several lectures, the first of which was called "The Spiritual Sense of the War". He was an utter opponent of any war in general, but believed that since Russia had already been involved in the war the duty of every Russian was to support his country. Ilyin's position was different from that of many Russian jurists, who equally disliked Germany and Tsarist Russia.

Revolution and exile
At first Ilyin perceived the February Revolution as the liberation of the people. Along with many other intellectuals he generally approved of it. However, with the October Revolution complete disappointment followed. On the Second Moscow Conference of Public Figures he said that "The revolution turned into self-interested plundering of the state". Later he assessed the revolution as the most terrible catastrophe in the history of Russia, the collapse of the whole state. However, unlike many adherents of the old regime Ilyin did not emigrate. In 1918 Ilyin became a professor of law in Moscow University; his scholarly thesis on Hegel was published.

After April 1918 Ilyin was imprisoned several times for alleged anti-communist activity. His teacher Novgorodtsev was also briefly imprisoned. In 1922, he was sentenced to death but was eventually expelled among some 160 prominent intellectuals, on the so-called "philosophers' ship" the same year.

Between 1923 and 1934 Ilyin worked as a professor of the Russian Scientific Institute in Berlin. He was offered the professorship in the Russian faculty of law in Prague under his teacher Novgorodtsev but he refused. He became the main ideologue of the Russian White movement in emigration and between 1927 and 1930 was a publisher and editor of the Russian-language journal Kolokol (Bell). He lectured in Germany and other European countries. In 1934 the German Nazis fired Ilyin and put him under police surveillance. In 1938 with financial help from Sergei Rachmaninoff he was able to leave Germany and continue his work in Geneva, Switzerland. He died in Zollikon near Zürich on December 21, 1953.


 Ilyin's works about Russia
Ivan Ilyin was a conservative Russian monarchist in the Slavophile tradition. Starting from his 1918 thesis on Hegel's philosophy, he authored many books on political, social and spiritual topics pertaining to the historical mission of Russia. One of the problems he worked on was the question: what has eventually led Russia to the tragedy of the revolution? He answered that the reason was "the weak, damaged self-respect" of Russians. As a result, mutual distrust and suspicion between the state and the people emerged. The authorities and nobility constantly misused their power, subverting the unity of the people. Ilyin thought that any state must be established as a corporation in which a citizen is a member with certain rights and certain duties. Therefore Ilyin recognized inequality of people as a necessary state of affairs in any country. But that meant that educated upper classes had a special duty of spiritual guidance towards uneducated lower classes. This did not happen in Russia.

The other point was the wrong attitude towards private property among common people in Russia. Ilyin wrote that many Russians believed that private property and large estates are gained not through hard labour but through power and maladministration of officials. Therefore property becomes associated with dishonest behaviour.

The concept of conscience of law
The two above mentioned factors led to striving for egalitarianism and to revolution. The alternative way of Russia according to Ilyin was to develop due conscience of law (правосознание) of an individual based on morality and religiousness. Ilyin developed his concept of the conscience of law for more that twenty years until his death. He understood it as a proper understanding of law by an individual and ensuing obedience to the law. During his life he refused to publish his major work About the Essence of Conscience of Law (О сущности правосознания) and continued to rewrite it. He considered the conscience of law essential for the very existence of law. Without proper understanding of law and justice the law would not be able to exist.

Attitude towards monarchy
Another major work of Ilyin, "On Monarchy", was not finished. He planned to write a book concerning the essence of monarchy in the modern world and its differences from the republic consisting of twelve chapters, but he died having written the introduction and seven chapters. Ilyin argued that the main difference lay not in legal matters but in the conscience of law of common people. According to Ilyin the main distinctions were the following:

in monarchy the conscience of law tends to unite the people within the state while in a republic the conscience of law tends to disregard the role of the state for the society;
monarchical conscience of law tends to perceive the state as a family and the monarch as a pater familias while the republican conscience of law denies this notion. Since the republican conscience of law praises individual freedom in the republican state people do not recognize the people of the state as a family;
monarchical conscience of law is very conservative and prone to keeping traditions while republican conscience of law is always eager to rapid changes.
As is said before Ilyin was a monarchist. He believed that monarchical conscience of law corresponds to such values as religious piety and family. His ideal was the monarch who would serve for the good of the country, would not belong to any party and would embody the union of all people whatever they beliefs are. However he was critical about the monarchy in Russia. He believed that Nicholas II was to a large degree the one responsible for the collapse of Imperial Russia in 1917. His abdication and the subsequent abdication of his brother Mikhail Alexandrovich were a crucial mistake which led to the abolition of monarchy and consequent troubles. He was also critical of many figures of the emigration including the Grand Prince Cyril Vladimirovich who had proclaimed himself the new tsar in exile.

Attitude towards fascism
A number of Ilyin's works (including those written after the German defeat in 1945) treated the subject of fascism. However, Ilyin was staunchly opposed to Nazism in his writings, particularly its xenophobic character.

Although Ilyin was related by marriage to several notable Jewish families he was accused of antisemitism by Roman Gul, a fellow émigré writer. According to a letter by Gul to Ilyin the former expressed extreme umbrage at Ilyin's suspicions that all those who disagreed with him were Jews.





Vladimir Ilich Lenin

prime minister of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
original name Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov

born April 10 [April 22, New Style], 1870, Simbirsk, Russia
died Jan. 21, 1924, Gorki [later Gorki Leninskiye], near Moscow

Founder of the Russian Communist Party, leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and architect and builder of the Soviet state.

Born to a middle-class family, he was strongly influenced by his eldest brother, Aleksandr, who was hanged in 1887 for conspiring to assassinate the tsar. He studied law and became a Marxist in 1889 while practicing law. He was arrested as a subversive in 1895 and exiled to Siberia, where he married Nadezhda Krupskaya. They lived in western Europe after 1900. At the 1903 meeting in London of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, he emerged as the leader of the Bolshevik faction. In several revolutionary newspapers that he founded and edited, he put forth his theory of the party as the vanguard of the proletariat, a centralized body organized around a core of professional revolutionaries; his ideas, later known as Leninism, would be joined with Karl Marx’s theories to form Marxism-Leninism, which became the communist worldview. With the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1905, he returned to Russia, but he resumed his exile in 1907 and continued his energetic agitation for the next 10 years. He saw World War I as an opportunity to turn a war of nations into a war of classes, and he returned to Russia with the Russian Revolution of 1917 to lead the Bolshevik coup that overthrew the provisional government of Aleksandr Kerensky. As revolutionary leader of the Soviet state, he signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany (1918) and repulsed counterrevolutionary threats in the Russian Civil War. He founded the Comintern in 1919. His policy of War Communism prevailed until 1921, and to forestall economic disaster he launched the New Economic Policy. In ill health from 1922, he died of a stroke in 1924.

founder of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), inspirer and leader of the Bolshevik Revolution (1917), and the architect, builder, and first head (1917–24) of the Soviet state. He was the founder of the organization known as Comintern (Communist International) and the posthumous source of “Leninism,” the doctrine codified and conjoined with Marx’s works by Lenin’s successors to form Marxism-Leninism, which became the Communist worldview.

If the Bolshevik Revolution is—as some people have called it—the most significant political event of the 20th century, then Lenin must for good or ill be regarded as the century’s most significant political leader. Not only in the scholarly circles of the former Soviet Union but even among many non-Communist scholars, he has been regarded as both the greatest revolutionary leader and revolutionary statesman in history, as well as the greatest revolutionary thinker since Marx.

Early life » The making of a revolutionary
It is difficult to identify any particular events in his childhood that might prefigure his turn onto the path of a professional revolutionary. Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov was born in Simbirsk, which was renamed Ulyanovsk in his honour. (He adopted the pseudonym Lenin in 1901 during his clandestine party work after exile in Siberia.) He was the third of six children born into a close-knit, happy family of highly educated and cultured parents. His mother was the daughter of a physician, while his father, though the son of a serf, became a schoolteacher and rose to the position of inspector of schools. Lenin, intellectually gifted, physically strong, and reared in a warm, loving home, early displayed a voracious passion for learning. He was graduated from high school ranking first in his class. He distinguished himself in Latin and Greek and seemed destined for the life of a classical scholar. When he was 16, nothing in Lenin indicated a future rebel, still less a professional revolutionary—except, perhaps, his turn to atheism. But, despite the comfortable circumstances of their upbringing, all five of the Ulyanov children who reached maturity joined the revolutionary movement. This was not an uncommon phenomenon in tsarist Russia, where even the highly educated and cultured intelligentsia were denied elementary civil and political rights.

As an adolescent Lenin suffered two blows that unquestionably influenced his subsequent decision to take the path of revolution. First, his father was threatened shortly before his untimely death with premature retirement by a reactionary government that had grown fearful of the spread of public education. Second, in 1887 his beloved eldest brother, Aleksandr, a student at the University of St. Petersburg (later renamed Leningrad State University), was hanged for conspiring with a revolutionary terrorist group that plotted to assassinate Emperor Alexander III. Suddenly, at age 17, Lenin became the male head of the family, which was now stigmatized as having reared a “state criminal.”

Fortunately the income from his mother’s pension and inheritance kept the family in comfortable circumstances, although it could not prevent the frequent imprisonment or exile of her children. Moreover, Lenin’s high school principal (the father of Aleksandr Kerensky, who was later to lead the Provisional government deposed by Lenin’s Bolsheviks in November [October, O.S.] 1917) did not turn his back on the “criminal’s” family. He courageously wrote a character reference that smoothed Lenin’s admission to a university.

In autumn 1887 Lenin enrolled in the faculty of law of the imperial Kazan University (later renamed Kazan [V.I. Lenin] State University), but within three months he was expelled from the school, having been accused of participating in an illegal student assembly. He was arrested and banished from Kazan to his grandfather’s estate in the village of Kokushkino, where his older sister Anna had already been ordered by the police to reside. In the autumn of 1888, the authorities permitted him to return to Kazan but denied him readmission to the university. During this period of enforced idleness, he met exiled revolutionaries of the older generation and avidly read revolutionary political literature, especially Marx’s Das Kapital. He became a Marxist in January 1889.

Early life » Formation of a revolutionary party
In May 1889 the Ulyanov family moved to Samara (known as Kuybyshev from 1935 to 1991). After much petitioning, Lenin was granted permission to take his law examinations. In November 1891 he passed his examinations, taking a first in all subjects, and was graduated with a first-class degree. After the police finally waived their political objections, Lenin was admitted to the bar and practiced law in Samara in 1892–93, his clients being mainly poor peasants and artisans. In his experience practicing law, he acquired an intense loathing for the class bias of the legal system and a lifelong revulsion for lawyers, even those who claimed to be Social-Democrats.

Law proved to be an extremely useful cover for a revolutionary activist. He moved to St. Petersburg (from 1914 to 1924 known as Petrograd; from 1924 to 1991 known as Leningrad) in August 1893 and, while working as a public defender, associated with revolutionary Marxist circles. In 1895 his comrades sent him abroad to make contact with Russian exiles in western Europe, especially with Russia’s most commanding Marxist thinker, Georgy Plekhanov. Upon his return to Russia in 1895, Lenin and other Marxists, including L. Martov, the future leader of the Mensheviks, succeeded in unifying the Marxist groups of the capital in an organization known as the Union for the Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class. The Union issued leaflets and proclamations on the workers’ behalf, supported workers’ strikes, and infiltrated workers’ education classes to impart to them the rudiments of Marxism. In December 1895, the leaders of the Union were arrested. Lenin was jailed for 15 months and thereafter was sent into exile to Shushenskoye, in Siberia, for a term of three years. He was joined there in exile by his fiancée, Nadezhda Krupskaya, a Union member, whom he had met in the capital. They were married in Siberia, and she became Lenin’s indispensable secretary and comrade. In exile they conducted clandestine party correspondence and collaborated (legally) on a Russian translation of Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s Industrial Democracy.

Upon completing his term of Siberian exile in January 1900, Lenin left the country and was joined later by Krupskaya in Munich. His first major task abroad was to join Plekhanov, Martov, and three other editors in bringing out the newspaper Iskra (“The Spark”), which they hoped would unify the Russian Marxist groups that were scattered throughout Russia and western Europe into a cohesive Social-Democratic party.

Up to the point at which Lenin began working on Iskra, his writings had taken as their focus three problems: first, he had written a number of leaflets that aimed to shake the workers’ traditional veneration of the tsar by showing them that their harsh life was caused, in part, by the support tsarism rendered the capitalists; second, he attacked those self-styled Marxists who urged Social-Democrats and workers to concentrate on wage and hour issues, leaving the political struggle for the present to the bourgeoisie; third, and ultimately most important, he addressed himself to the peasant question.

The principal obstacle to the acceptance of Marxism by many of the Russian intelligentsia was their adherence to the widespread belief of the Populists (Russian pre-Marxist radicals) that Marxism was inapplicable to peasant Russia, in which a proletariat (an industrial working class) was almost nonexistent. Russia, they believed, was immune to capitalism, owing to the circumstances of joint ownership of peasant land by the village commune. This view had been first attacked by Plekhanov in the 1880s. Plekhanov had argued that Russia had already entered the capitalist stage, looking for evidence to the rapid growth of industry. Despite the denials of the Populists, he claimed, the man of the future in Russia was indeed the proletarian, not the peasant. While attempting to apply the Marxist scheme of social development to Russia, Plekhanov had come to the conclusion that the revolution in Russia would have to pass through two discrete stages: first, a bourgeois revolution that would establish a democratic republic and full-blown capitalism; and second, a proletarian revolution after mature capitalism had generated a numerous proletariat that had attained a high level of political organization, socialist consciousness, and culture, enabling them to usher in full Socialism.

It was this set of principles that Lenin adhered to after he read Plekhanov’s work in the late 1880s. But, almost immediately, Lenin went a step beyond his former mentor, especially with regard to the peasant question. In an attack on the Populists published in 1894, Lenin charged that, even if they realized their fondest dream and divided all the land among the peasant communes, the result would not be Socialism but rather capitalism spawned by a free market in agricultural produce. The “Socialism” put forth by the Populists would in practice favour the development of small-scale capitalism; hence the Populists were not Socialists but “petty bourgeois democrats.” Lenin came to the conclusion that outside of Marxism, which aimed ultimately to abolish the market system as well as the private ownership of the means of production, there could be no Socialism.

Even while in exile in Siberia, Lenin had begun research on his investigation of the peasant question, which culminated in his magisterial Development of Capitalism in Russia (published legally in 1899). In this work, a study of Russian economics, he argued that capitalism was rapidly destroying the peasant commune. The peasantry constituted for the Populists a homogeneous social class, but Lenin claimed that the peasantry was in actuality rapidly stratifying into a well-off rural bourgeoisie, a middling peasantry, and an impoverished rural “proletariat and semi-proletariat.” In this last group, which comprised half the peasant population, Lenin found an ally for the extremely small industrial proletariat in Russia.

Iskra’s success in recruiting Russian intellectuals to Marxism led Lenin and his comrades to believe that the time was ripe to found a revolutionary Marxist party that would weld together all the disparate Marxist groups at home and abroad. An abortive First Congress, held in 1898 in Minsk, had failed to achieve this objective, for most of the delegates were arrested shortly after the congress. The organizing committee of the Second Congress decided to convene the congress in Brussels in 1903, but police pressure forced it to transfer to London.

The congressional sessions wore on for nearly three weeks, for no point appeared too trivial to debate. The main issues, nevertheless, quickly became plain: eligibility for membership and the character of party discipline; but, above all, the key questions centred around the relation between the party and the proletariat, for whom the party claimed to speak.

In his What Is To Be Done? (1902), Lenin totally rejected the standpoint that the proletariat was being driven spontaneously to revolutionary Socialism by capitalism and that the party’s role should be to merely coordinate the struggle of the proletariat’s diverse sections on a national and international scale. Capitalism, he contended, predisposed the workers to the acceptance of Socialism but did not spontaneously make them conscious Socialists. The proletariat by its own efforts in the everyday struggle against the capitalist could go so far as to achieve “trade-union consciousness.” But the proletariat could not by its own efforts grasp that it would be possible to win complete emancipation only by overthrowing capitalism and building Socialism, unless the party from without infused it with Socialist consciousness.

In his What Is To Be Done? and in his other works dealing with party organization, Lenin articulated one of his most momentous political innovations, his theory of the party as the “vanguard of the proletariat.” He conceived of the vanguard as a highly disciplined, centralized party that would work unremittingly to suffuse the proletariat with Socialist consciousness and serve as mentor, leader, and guide, constantly showing the proletariat where its true class interests lie.

At the Second Congress the Iskra group split, and Lenin found himself in a minority of opinion on this very issue. Nevertheless, he continued to develop his view of “the party of a new type,” which was to be guided by “democratic centralism,” or absolute party discipline. According to Lenin the party had to be a highly centralized body organized around a small, ideologically homogeneous, hardened core of experienced professional revolutionaries, who would be elected to the central committee by the party congress and who would lead a ramified hierarchy of lower party organizations that would enjoy the support and sympathy of the proletariat and all groups opposed to tsarism. “Give us an organization of revolutionaries,” Lenin exclaimed, “and we will overturn Russia!”

Lenin spared no effort to build just this kind of party over the next 20 years, despite fierce attacks on his position by some of his closest comrades of the Iskra days, Plekhanov, Martov, and Leon Trotsky. They charged that his scheme of party organization and discipline tended toward “Jacobinism,” suppression of free intraparty discussion, a dictatorship over the proletariat, not of the proletariat, and, finally, establishment of a one-man dictatorship.

Lenin found himself in the minority in the early sessions of the Second Congress of what was then proclaimed to be the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDWP). But a walkout by a disgruntled group of Jewish Social-Democrats, the Bund, left Lenin with a slight majority. Consequently, the members of Lenin’s adventitious majority were called Bolsheviks (majoritarians), and Martov’s group were dubbed Mensheviks (minoritarians). The two groups fought each other ceaselessly within the same RSDWP and professed the same program until 1912, when Lenin made the split final at the Prague Conference of the Bolshevik Party.

Challenges of the Revolution of 1905 and World War I
The differences between Lenin and the Mensheviks became sharper in the Revolution of 1905 and its aftermath, when Lenin moved to a distinctly original view on two issues: class alignments in the revolution and the character of the post-revolutionary regime.

The outbreak of the revolution, in January 1905, found Lenin abroad in Switzerland, and he did not return to Russia until November. Immediately Lenin set down a novel strategy. Both wings of the RSDWP, Bolshevik and Menshevik, adhered to Plekhanov’s view of the revolution in two stages: first, a bourgeois revolution; second, a proletarian revolution (see above). But the Mensheviks argued that the bourgeois revolution must be led by the bourgeoisie, with whom the proletariat must ally itself in order to make the democratic revolution. This would bring the liberal bourgeoisie to full power, whereupon the RSDWP would act as the party of opposition. Lenin defiantly rejected this kind of alliance and post-revolutionary regime. Hitherto he had spoken of the need for the proletariat to win “hegemony” in the democratic revolution. Now he flatly declared that the proletariat was the driving force of the revolution and that its only reliable ally was the peasantry. The bourgeoisie he branded as hopelessly counterrevolutionary and too cowardly to make its own revolution. Thus, unlike the Mensheviks, Lenin henceforth banked on an alliance that would establish a “revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.”

Nor would the revolution necessarily stop at the first stage, the bourgeois revolution. If the Russian revolution should inspire the western European proletariat to make the Socialist revolution, for which industrial Europe was ripe, the Russian revolution might well pass over directly to the second stage, the Socialist revolution. Then, the Russian proletariat, supported by the rural proletariat and semi-proletariat at home and assisted by the triumphant industrial proletariat of the West, which had established its “dictatorship of the proletariat,” could cut short the life-span of Russian capitalism.

After the defeat of the Revolution of 1905, the issue between Lenin and the Mensheviks was more clearly drawn than ever, despite efforts at reunion. But, forced again into exile from 1907 to 1917, Lenin found serious challenges to his policies not only from the Mensheviks but within his own faction as well. The combination of repression and modest reform effected by the tsarist regime led to a decline of party membership. Disillusionment and despair in the chances of successful revolution swept the dwindled party ranks, rent by controversies over tactics and philosophy. Attempts to unite the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions came to naught, all breaking on Lenin’s intransigent insistence that his conditions for reunification be adopted. As one Menshevik opponent described Lenin: “There is no other man who is absorbed by the revolution twenty-four hours a day, who has no other thoughts but the thought of revolution, and who even when he sleeps, dreams of nothing but revolution.” Placing revolution above party unity, Lenin would accept no unity compromise if he thought it might delay, not accelerate, revolution.

Desperately fighting to maintain the cohesion of the Bolsheviks against internal differences and the Mensheviks’ growing strength at home, Lenin convened the Bolshevik Party Conference at Prague, in 1912, which split the Rsdwp forever. Lenin proclaimed that the Bolsheviks were the RSDWP and that the Mensheviks were schismatics. Thereafter, each faction maintained its separate central committee, party apparatus, and press.

When war broke out, in August 1914, Socialist parties throughout Europe rallied behind their governments despite the resolutions of prewar congresses of the Second International obliging them to resist or even overthrow their respective governments if they plunged their countries into an imperialist war.

After Lenin recovered from his initial disbelief in this “betrayal” of the International, he proclaimed a policy whose audacity stunned his own Bolshevik comrades. He denounced the pro-war Socialists as “social-chauvinists” who had betrayed the international working-class cause by support of a war that was imperialist on both sides. He pronounced the Second International as dead and appealed for the creation of a new, Third International composed of genuinely revolutionary Socialist parties. More immediately, revolutionary Socialists must work to “transform the imperialist war into civil war.” The real enemy of the worker was not the worker in the opposite trench but the capitalist at home. Workers and soldiers should therefore turn their guns on their rulers and destroy the system that had plunged them into imperialist carnage.

Lenin’s policy found few advocates in Russia or elsewhere in the first months of the war. Indeed, in the first flush of patriotic fervour, not a few Bolsheviks supported the war effort. Lenin and his closest comrades were left an isolated band swimming against the current.

Lenin succeeded in reaching neutral Switzerland in September 1914, there joining a small group of anti-war Bolshevik and Menshevik émigrés. The war virtually cut them off from all contact with Russia and with like-minded Socialists in other countries. Nevertheless, in 1915 and 1916, anti-war Socialists in various countries managed to hold two anti-war conferences in Zimmerwald and Kienthal, Switzerland. Lenin failed at both meetings to persuade his comrades to adopt his slogan: “transform the imperialist war into civil war!” They adopted instead the more moderate formula: “An immediate peace without annexations or indemnities and the right of the peoples to self-determination.” Lenin consequently found his party a minority within the group of anti-war Socialists, who, in turn, constituted a small minority of the international Socialist movement compared with the pro-war Socialists.

Undaunted, Lenin continued to hammer home his views on the war, confident that eventually he would win decisive support. In his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1917), he set out to explain, first, the real causes of the war; second, why Socialists had abandoned internationalism for patriotism and supported the war; and third, why revolution alone could bring about a just, democratic peace.

War erupted, he wrote, because of the insatiable, expansionist character of imperialism, itself a product of monopoly finance capitalism. At the end of the 19th century, a handful of banks had come to dominate the advanced countries, which, by 1914, had in their respective empires brought the rest of the world under their direct or indirect controls. Amassing vast quantities of “surplus” capital, the giant banks found they could garner superprofits on investments in colonies and semi-colonies, and this intensified the race for empire among the great powers. By 1914, dissatisfied with the way the world had been shared out, rival coalitions of imperialists launched the war to bring about a redivision of the world at the expense of the other coalition. The war was therefore imperialist in its origins and aims and deserved the condemnation of genuine Socialists.

Socialist Party and trade-union leaders had rallied to support their respective imperialist governments because they represented the “labour aristocracy,” the better paid workers who received a small share of the colonial “superprofits” the imperialists proffered them. “Bribed” by the imperialists, the “labour aristocracy” took the side of their paymasters in the imperialist war and betrayed the most exploited workers at home and the super-exploited in the colonies. The imperialists, Lenin contended, driven by an annexationist dynamic, could not conclude a just, lasting peace. Future wars were inevitable so long as imperialism existed; imperialism was inevitable so long as capitalism existed; only the overthrow of capitalism everywhere could end the imperialist war and prevent such wars in the future. First published in Russia in 1917, Imperialism to this day provides the instrument that Communists everywhere employ to evaluate major trends in the non-Communist world.

Leadership in the Russian Revolution
By 1917 it seemed to Lenin that the war would never end and that the prospect of revolution was rapidly receding. But in the week of March 8–15, the starving, freezing, war-weary workers and soldiers of Petrograd (until 1914, St. Petersburg) succeeded in deposing the Tsar. Lenin and his closest lieutenants hastened home after the German authorities agreed to permit their passage through Germany to neutral Sweden. Berlin hoped that the return of anti-war Socialists to Russia would undermine the Russian war effort.

Leadership in the Russian Revolution » First return to Petrograd
Lenin arrived in Petrograd on April 16, 1917, one month after the Tsar had been forced to abdicate. Out of the revolution was born the Provisional Government, formed by a group of leaders of the bourgeois liberal parties. This government’s accession to power was made possible only by the assent of the Petrograd Soviet, a council of workers’ deputies elected in the factories of the capital. Similar soviets of workers’ deputies sprang up in all the major cities and towns throughout the country, as did soviets of soldiers’ deputies and of peasants’ deputies. Although the Petrograd Soviet had been the sole political power recognized by the revolutionary workers and soldiers in March 1917, its leaders had hastily turned full power over to the Provisional Government. The Petrograd Soviet was headed by a majority composed of Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary (SR), or peasant party, leaders who regarded the March (February, O.S.) Revolution as bourgeois; hence, they believed that the new regime should be headed by leaders of the bourgeois parties.

On his return to Russia, Lenin electrified his own comrades, most of whom accepted the authority of the Provisional Government. Lenin called this government, despite its democratic pretensions, thoroughly imperialist and undeserving of support by Socialists. It was incapable of satisfying the most profound desires of the workers, soldiers, and peasants for immediate peace and division of landed estates among the peasants.

Only a soviet government—that is, direct rule by workers, soldiers, and peasants—could fulfill these demands. Therefore, he raised the battle cry, “All power to the Soviets!”—although the Bolsheviks still constituted a minority within the soviets and despite the manifest unwillingness of the Menshevik–SR majority to exercise such power. This introduced what Lenin called the period of “dual power.” Under the leadership of “opportunist” Socialists, the soviets, the real power, had relinquished power to the Provisional Government, the nominal power in the land. The Bolsheviks, Lenin exhorted, must persuade the workers, peasants, and soldiers, temporarily deceived by the “opportunists,” to retrieve state power for the soviets from the Provisional Government. This would constitute a second revolution. But, so long as the government did not suppress the revolutionary parties, this revolution could be achieved peacefully, since the Provisional Government existed only by the sufferance of the soviets.

Initially, Lenin’s fellow Bolsheviks thought that he was temporarily disoriented by the complexity of the situation; moderate Socialists thought him mad. It required several weeks of sedulous persuasion by Lenin before he won the Bolshevik Party Central Committee to his view. The April Party Conference endorsed his program: the party must withhold support from the Provisional Government and win a majority in the soviets in favour of soviet power. A soviet government, once established, should begin immediate negotiations for a general peace on all fronts. The soviets should forthwith confiscate landlords’ estates without compensation, nationalize all land, and divide it among the peasants. And the government should establish tight controls over privately owned industry to the benefit of labour.

From March to September 1917, the Bolsheviks remained a minority in the soviets. By autumn, however, the Provisional Government (since July headed by the moderate Socialist Aleksandr Kerensky, who was supported by the moderate Socialist leadership of the soviets) had lost popular support. Increasing war-weariness and the breakdown of the economy overtaxed the patience of the workers, peasants, and soldiers, who demanded immediate and fundamental change. Lenin capitalized on the growing disillusionment of the people with Kerensky’s ability and willingness to complete the revolution. Kerensky, in turn, claimed that only a freely elected constituent assembly would have the power to decide Russia’s political future—but that must await the return of order. Meanwhile, Lenin and the party demanded peace, land, and bread—immediately, without further delay. The Bolshevik line won increasing support among the workers, soldiers, and peasants. By September they voted in a Bolshevik majority in the Petrograd Soviet and in the soviets of the major cities and towns throughout the country.

Leadership in the Russian Revolution » Decision to seize power
Lenin, who had gone underground in July after he had been accused as a “German agent” by Kerensky’s government, now decided that the time was ripe to seize power. The party must immediately begin preparations for an armed uprising to depose the Provisional Government and transfer state power to the soviets, now headed by a Bolshevik majority.

Lenin’s decision to establish soviet power derived from his belief that the proletarian revolution must smash the existing state machinery and introduce a “dictatorship of the proletariat”; that is, direct rule by the armed workers and peasants which would eventually “wither away” into a non-coercive, classless, stateless, Communist society. He expounded this view most trenchantly in his brochure The State and Revolution, written while he was still in hiding. The brochure, though never completed and often dismissed as Lenin’s most “Utopian” work, nevertheless served as Lenin’s doctrinal springboard to power.

Until 1917 all revolutionary Socialists rightly believed, Lenin wrote, that a parliamentary republic could serve a Socialist system as well as a capitalist. But the Russian Revolution had brought forth something new, the soviets. Created by workers, soldiers, and peasants and excluding the propertied classes, the soviets infinitely surpassed the most democratic of parliaments in democracy, because parliaments everywhere virtually excluded workers and peasants. The choice before Russia in early September 1917, as Lenin saw it, was either a soviet republic—a dictatorship of the propertyless majority—or a parliamentary republic—as he saw it, a dictatorship of the propertied minority.

Lenin therefore raised the slogan, “All power to the Soviets!”, even though he had willingly conceded in the spring of 1917 that revolutionary Russia was the “freest of all the belligerent countries.” To Lenin, however, the Provisional Government was merely a “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie” that kept Russia in the imperialist war. What is more, it had turned openly counterrevolutionary in the month of July when it accused the Bolshevik leaders of treason.

From late September, Lenin, a fugitive in Finland, sent a stream of articles and letters to Petrograd feverishly exhorting the Party Central Committee to organize an armed uprising without delay. The opportune moment might be lost. But for nearly a month Lenin’s forceful urgings from afar were unsuccessful. As in April, Lenin again found himself in the party minority. He resorted to a desperate stratagem.

Around October 20, Lenin, in disguise and at considerable personal risk, slipped into Petrograd and attended a secret meeting of the Bolshevik Central Committee held on the evening of October 23. Not until after a heated 10-hour debate did he finally win a majority in favour of preparing an armed takeover. Now steps to enlist the support of soldiers and sailors and to train the Red Guards, the Bolshevik-led workers’ militia, for an armed takeover proceeded openly under the guise of self-defense of the Petrograd Soviet. But preparations moved haltingly, because serious opposition to the fateful decision persisted in the Central Committee. Enthusiastically in accord with Lenin on the timeliness of an armed uprising, Trotsky led its preparation from his strategic position as newly elected chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. Lenin, now hiding in Petrograd and fearful of further procrastination, desperately pressed the Central Committee to fix an early date for the uprising. On the evening of November 6, he wrote a letter to the members of the Central Committee exhorting them to proceed that very evening to arrest the members of the Provisional Government. To delay would be “fatal.” The Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, scheduled to convene the next evening, should be placed before a fait accompli.

On November 7 and 8, the Bolshevik-led Red Guards and revolutionary soldiers and sailors, meeting only slight resistance, deposed the Provisional Government and proclaimed that state power had passed into the hands of the Soviets. By this time the Bolsheviks, with their allies among the Left SR’s (dissidents who broke with the pro-Kerensky SR leaders), constituted an absolute majority of the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets. The delegates therefore voted overwhelmingly to accept full power and elected Lenin as chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, the new Soviet Government, and approved his Peace Decree and Land Decree. Overnight, Lenin had vaulted from his hideout as a fugitive to head the Revolutionary government of the largest country in the world. Since his youth he had spent his life building a party that would win such a victory, and now at the age of 47 he and his party had triumphed. “It makes one’s head spin,” he confessed. But power neither intoxicated nor frightened Lenin; it cleared his head. Soberly, he steered the Soviet government toward the consolidation of its power and negotiations for peace.

Leadership in the Russian Revolution » Saving the Revolution
In both spheres, Lenin was plagued by breaks within the ranks of Bolshevik leaders. He reluctantly agreed with the right-wingers that it would be desirable to include the Menshevik and Right SR parties in a coalition government—but on Lenin’s terms. They must above all accept the soviet form of government, not a parliamentary one; they refused. Only the Left SR’s agreed, and several were included in the Soviet government. Likewise, when the freely elected Constituent Assembly met in January 1918, the Mensheviks and Right SR majority flatly rejected sovietism. Lenin without hesitation ordered the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly.

The Allies refused to recognize the Soviet government; consequently it entered alone into peace negotiations with the Central Powers (Germany and her allies Austro-Hungary and Turkey) at the town of Brest-Litovsk. They imposed ruinous conditions that would strip away from Soviet Russia the western tier of non-Russian nations of the old Russian Empire. Left Communists fanatically opposed acceptance and preached a revolutionary war, even if it imperilled the Soviet government. Lenin insisted that the terms, however ruinous and humiliating, must be accepted or he would resign from the government. He sensed that peace was the deepest yearning of the people; in any case, the shattered army could not raise effective resistance to the invader. Finally, in March 1918, after a still larger part had been carved out of old Russia by the enemy, Lenin succeeded in winning the Central Committee’s acceptance of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. At last Russia was at peace.

But Brest-Litovsk only intensified the determination of counterrevolutionary forces and the Allies who supported them to bring about the overthrow of the Soviet government. That determination hardened when, in 1918, Lenin’s government repudiated repayments of all foreign loans obtained by the tsarist and Provisional governments and nationalized foreign properties in Russia without compensation. From 1918 to 1920 Russia was torn by a Civil War, which cost millions of lives and untold destruction. One of the earliest victims was Lenin himself. In August 1918 an assassin fired two bullets into Lenin as he left a factory in which he had just delivered a speech. Because of his robust constitution, he recovered rapidly.

The Soviet government faced tremendous odds. The anti-Soviet forces, or Whites, headed mainly by former tsarist generals and admirals, fought desperately to overthrow the Red regime. Moreover, the Whites were lavishly supplied by the Allies with materiel, money, and support troops that secured White bases. Yet, the Whites failed.

It was largely because of Lenin’s inspired leadership that the Soviet government managed to survive against such military odds. He caused the formation and guided the strategy of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, commanded by Trotsky. Although the economy had collapsed, he managed to mobilize sufficient resources to sustain the Red Army and the industrial workers. But above all it was his political leadership that saved the day for the Soviets. By proclaiming the right of the peoples to self-determination, including the right to secession, he won the active sympathy, or at least the benevolent neutrality, of the non-Russian nationalities within Russia, because the Whites did not recognize that right. Indeed, his perceptive, skillful policy on the national question enabled Soviet Russia to avoid total disintegration and to remain a huge multinational state. By making the industrial workers the new privileged class, favoured in the distribution of rations, housing, and political power, he retained the loyalty of the proletariat. His championing of the peasants’ demand that they take all the land from the gentry, church, and crown without compensation won over the peasants, without whose support the government could not survive.

Because of the breakdown of the economy, however, Lenin adopted a policy toward the peasant that threatened to destroy the Soviet government. Lacking funds or goods to exchange against grain needed to feed the Red Army and the towns, Lenin instituted a system of requisitioning grain surpluses without compensation. Many peasants resisted—at least until they experienced White “liberation.” On the territories that the Whites won, they restored landed property to the previous owners and savagely punished the peasants who had dared seize the land. Despite the peasants’ detestation of the Soviet’s grain requisitioning, the peasants, when forced to choose between Reds and Whites, chose the Reds.

After the defeat of the Whites, the peasants no longer had to make that choice. They now totally refused to surrender their grain to the government. Threatened by mass peasant rebellion, Lenin called a retreat. In March 1921 the government introduced the New Economic Policy, which ended the system of grain requisitioning and permitted the peasant to sell his harvest on an open market. This constituted a partial retreat to capitalism.

From the moment Lenin came to power, his abiding aims in international relations were twofold: to prevent the formation of an imperialist united front against Soviet Russia; but, even more important, to stimulate proletarian revolutions abroad.

In his first aim he largely succeeded. In 1924, shortly after his death, Soviet Russia had won de jure recognition of all the major world powers except the United States. But his greater hope of the formation of a world republic of soviets failed to materialize, and Soviet Russia was left isolated in hostile capitalist encirclement.

Leadership in the Russian Revolution » Formation of the Third International
To break this encirclement, he had called on revolutionaries to form Communist parties that would emulate the example of the Bolshevik Revolution in all countries. Dramatizing his break with the reformist Second International, in 1918 he had changed the name of the RSDWP to the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), and in March 1919 he founded the Communist, or Third, International. This International accepted the affiliation only of parties that accepted its decisions as binding, imposed iron discipline, and made a clean break with the Second International. In sum, Lenin now held up the Russian Communist Party, the only party that had made a successful revolution, as the model for Communist parties in all countries. One result of this policy was to engender a split in the world labour movement between the adherents of the two internationals.

The Communist International scored its greatest success in the colonial world. By championing the rights of the peoples in the colonies and semi-colonies to self-determination and independence, the International won considerable sympathy for Communism. Lenin’s policy in this question still reverberates through the world today. And it offers another example of Lenin’s unique ability to find allies where revolutionaries had not found them before. By taking the side of the national liberation movements, Lenin could claim that the overwhelming majority of the world’s population, then living under imperialist rule, as well as the European proletariat, were the natural allies of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Thus Lenin’s revolutionary genius was not confined to his ability to divide his enemies; more important was his skill in finding allies and friends for the exiguous proletariat of Russia. First, he won the Russian peasants to the side of the proletariat. Second, while he did not win the workers to make successful Communist revolutions in the West, they did compel their governments to curtail armed intervention against the Bolshevik Revolution. Third, while the Asian revolutions barely stirred in his lifetime, they did strengthen the Soviet Communists in the belief that they were not alone in a hostile world.

By 1921 Lenin’s government had crushed all opposition parties on the grounds that they had opposed or failed to support sufficiently the Soviet cause in the Civil War. Now that peace had come, Lenin believed that their opposition was more dangerous than ever, since the peasantry and even a large section of the working class had become disaffected with the Soviet regime. To repress opponents of Bolshevism, Lenin demanded the harshest measures, including “show” trials and frequent resort to the death penalty. Moreover, he insisted on even tighter control over dissent within the party. Lenin’s insistence on merciless destruction of the opposition to the Bolshevik dictatorship subsequently led many observers to conclude that Lenin, though personally opposed to one-man rule, nevertheless unwittingly cleared the way for the rise of Joseph Stalin’s dictatorship.

By 1922 Lenin had become keenly aware that degeneration of the Soviet system and party was the greatest danger to the cause of Socialism in Russia. He found the party and Soviet state apparatus hopelessly entangled in red tape and incompetence. Even the agency headed by Stalin that was responsible for streamlining administration was, in fact, less efficient than the rest of the government. The Soviets of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies had been drained of all power, which had flowed to the centre. Most disturbing was the Great Russian chauvinism that leading Bolsheviks manifested toward the non-Russian nationalities in the reorganization of the state in which Stalin was playing a key role. Moreover, in April 1922 Stalin won appointment as general secretary of the party, in which post he was rapidly concentrating immense power in his hands. Soviet Russia in Lenin’s last years could not have been more remote from the picture of Socialism he had portrayed in State and Revolution. Lenin strained every nerve to reverse these trends, which he regarded as antithetical to Socialism, and to replace Stalin.

Leadership in the Russian Revolution » Illness and death
In the spring of 1922, however, Lenin fell seriously ill. In April his doctors extracted from his neck one of the bullets he had received from the assassin’s gun in August 1918. He recovered rapidly from the operation, but a month later he fell ill, partially paralyzed and unable to speak. In June he made a partial recovery and threw himself into the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the federal system of reorganization he favoured against Stalin’s unitary scheme. However, in December he was again incapacitated by semiparalysis. Although no longer the active leader of the state and party, he did muster the strength to dictate several prescient articles and what is called his political “Testament,” dictated to his secretary between Dec. 23, 1922, and Jan. 4, 1923, in which he expressed a great fear for the stability of the party under the leadership of disparate, forceful personalities such as Stalin and Trotsky. On March 10, 1923, another stroke deprived him of speech. His political activity came to an end. He suffered yet another stroke on the morning of Jan. 21, 1924, and died that evening in the village of Gorki (now known as Gorki Leninskiye).

The last year of Lenin’s political life, when he fought to eradicate abuses of his Socialist ideals and the corruption of power, may well have been his greatest. Whether the history of the Soviet Union would have been fundamentally different had he survived beyond his 54th birthday, no one can say with certainty.

Albert Resis



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