From International Socialist Review, Vol.31 No.1, January-February 1970, pp.37-46.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
“Under our great leader Chairman Mao’s close attention, the modern revolutionary Peking opera, Taking the Bandits’ Stronghold, has been refined and revised many times to bring it to an ever higher degree of perfection ... Here we publish the libretto of the opera as it was staged in Peking in October, 1969, and recommend it to the masses of worker, peasant, and soldier readers on various fighting posts. All theatrical troupes are requested to take this version as the standard when they present the opera.” (Hsinhua, Peking, November 2, 1969.)
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“The crimes of Stalin cannot be covered up indefinitely, or the truth opposed forever – because these were crimes committed against millions of human beings, and they demand illumination. What influence does concealing them have on the youth? The young are not stupid, they understand. I do not take back a single line, not a single word of my letter to the writers’ congress. I said in it, ‘I am content. I know that I will fulfill my duty as a writer in all circumstances and perhaps after my death with greater success and greater authority than during my life. No one can bar the road to truth: I am ready to die so that the truth might advance.’ Yes, I am ready to die and not just be expelled from the Writers Union.” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s testimony to the Ryazan section of the Union of Writers of the USSR, November 4, 1969.)
* * *
The “Great Chinese Cultural Revolution” and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn stand at opposite poles on the profound question of the relation of the creative artist to the revolutionary state. It is a question that is as hotly contested in Cuba today as in Russia in the period of the October revolution and Vladimir Mayakovsky’s lifetime – the subject of the two essays which follow.
Following in the footsteps of the worst malformations of the Stalin regime, the ruling bureaucracy in China opened its “Proletarian Cultural Revolution” with attacks on “bourgeois representatives” in such fields as literature and the arts, the drama, movie-making, education, dancing, opera, journalism and publishing. Today it asserts the right to control the artist and art down to the last word and it has sanctioned a vast destruction of the masterpieces inherited from China’s past.
Solzhenitsyn and his courageous colleagues in the Soviet Union, like the Czechoslovak Writers Union and Literarni Listy – which fired the first salvos in the struggle against the Novotny regime – are defending the principle of free expression in the arts, in the best traditions of Marxism. Revolutionary socialism has nothing in common with bureaucratic tyranny over the arts. This is the theme of the essays on Mayakovsky.
The noted Russian poet committed suicide in 1930. This date is significant because it occurs after the expulsion of the Trotskyist Left Opposition and the triumph of the Stalin faction in the Soviet Communist Party. Mayakovsky’s life and his poetry consequently spanned the rise and the first chapter of the degeneration of the Russian revolution. Both essays appear here for the first time in English. Jose Revueltas, one of the most outstanding writers of Latin America, is known for such novels as El Luto Human (Human Sorrow) which won the Mexican National Prize for Literature in 1943. A longtime member of the Communist Party, Revueltas began to drift away from it and to attack the Stalinist “socialist realism” it stood for in the late forties. As a result of his role in the Mexican revolutionary youth movement, Revueltas was arrested and imprisoned in October 1968, at the height of the Diaz Ordaz government repressions. His essay on Mayakovsky was written in Lecumberri prison in April and there translated into English by Daniel Camejo Guanche, a fellow prisoner. (Camejo was subsequently released, August 1, 1969, while Revueltas remains a prisoner.)
Leon Trotsky’s article first appeared in the Bulletin of the Left Opposition, in May 1930. It will shortly be reprinted by Merit Publishers in an anthology entitled: Leon Trotsky on Literature and Art.
Last updated on 25 June 2009