From the archive, 1 December 1952: Uncomfortable advice for Soviet writers

Soviet writers, castigated by Mr Malenkov in his recent speech to the nineteenth Communist party congress, have received a further jolt in the form of a leading article in “Pravda,” which issued to-day a stirring but unaccustomed call to them: “Write the truth! This must become the guiding principle of those who write prose or verse, of playwrights and literary critics.”

Put thus bluntly, “Pravda’s” injunction hoists Soviet writers on the horns of a dilemma which has been perplexing them for some time, though not as acutely as to-day’s call. They have been instructed to eschew the kind of writing where everything is lovely in the garden they describe, since novels and plays of this type, with which the Soviet literary market has hitherto been flooded, have found little favour with the reading public which knows that the garden is often overrun with weeds. To portray life as it is, however, would be in many cases, to “slander our grand and happy Socialist reality.”

Morals in question

“Pravda” insists the Soviet writer “must … bring out the lofty moral qualities and the positive characteristics of the ordinary men”. But in the same breath the writer is instructed to “sear with the flame of satire everything that is negative,” and in doing so he has found his conception of what is negative often differs from the official party view on this subject. The flame-thrower is an unwieldy weapon; and in using it to fire off satire the Soviet writer runs the risk of burning both the “lofty moral qualities” inherent in the party set-up and his own finger.

The problem is, perhaps, best exemplified by the case of the July issue of the literary magazine “Oktyabr” (one of the magazines criticised by “Pravda”) which published a play about party life that has received savage criticism in the Soviet press. The play has been condemned by the party’s literary spokesman because the author, Panferov, tried to do exactly what “Pravda” says – write the truth and describe, among other things, the moral laxity prevalent in a certain party organisation. One of the impressions he conveyed was that the bonds of marriage were not regarded highly by the leading personages – all party members – of the play, whose promiscuity he portrayed in a most unfavourable light.

His mention of this problem, of some importance in the Soviet Union to-day, earned him the official censure of the press. His play “distorted Soviet reality.” To-day’s call for truth is, apparently, only for the kind of truth that does not hurt the susceptibilities of the Soviet system.

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