Soviet Writers Congress 1934
Speech: delivered in August 1934 (Zhdanov died on 31st August 1934).
Source: Gorky, Radek, Bukharin, Zhdanov and others “Soviet Writers’ Congress 1934”, page 15-26, Lawrence & Wishart, 1977;
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2004;
Transcribed by: Jose Braz for the Marxists Internet Archive.
COMRADES, in the name of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) and of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, permit me to convey to the first Congress of Soviet Writers and to all writers of our Soviet Union-with the great proletarian author, Maxim Gorky, at their head-flaming Bolshevik greetings.
Comrades, your congress is convening at a time when the main difficulties confronting us in the work of socialist construction have already been overcome, when our country has finished laying the foundations of a socialist economy - achievements which go hand in hand with the victory of the policy of industrialization and the building of Soviet and collective farms.
Your congress is convening at a time when under the leadership of the Communist Party, under the guiding genius of our great leader and teacher, Comrade Stalin, the socialist system has finally and irrevocably triumphed in our country. Consistently advancing from one stage to the next, from victory to victory, from the inferno of the Civil War to the period of restoration and from the period of restoration to the socialist reconstruction of the entire national economy, our Party has led the country to victory over the capitalist elements, ousting them from all spheres of economic life.
The U.S.S.R. has become an advanced industrial country, a country whose socialist agriculture is organized on the largest scale in the world. The U.S.S.R. has become a country in which our Soviet Culture is growing and developing in exuberant splendour.
The victory of the socialist system in our country has resulted in the abolition of parasite classes, the abolition of unemployment, the abolition of pauperism in the countryside, the abolition of city slums. The whole aspect of the Soviet land has changed. The mentality of its people has been radically altered. The “illustrious persons” of our country have come to he the builders of socialism, the workers and collective farmers.
Closely linked up with the victories of socialism in our country is the strengthening of the Soviet Union’s position at home and abroad, the growth of its weight and authority in international affairs, its increased significance as the shock brigade of the world proletariat, as a mighty bulwark of the coming world proletarian revolution.
At the Seventeenth Congress of our Party, Comrade Stalin gave a masterful, unsurpassed analysis of our victories and of the factors conditioning them, of our position at the present time and of the program for further work in completing the building of a classless socialist society. Comrade Stalin gave an exhaustive analysis of the backward sectors in our work and of the difficulties which our Party and, under its leadership, the million-strong masses of the working class and collective farm peasantry, are waging a tireless, day-to-day struggle to overcome.
We must at all costs overcome the backward state of such vital branches of the national economy as railway and water transport, commodity circulation, non-ferrous metallurgy. We must make all efforts to develop livestock breeding, which constitutes one of the most important sections of our socialist agriculture.
Comrade Stalin laid bare the very roots of our difficulties and shortcomings. They result from the fact that our practical organizational work does not come up to the level which is required by the political line of the Party, to the demands with which the carrying out of the Second Five Year plan confronts us. That is why the Seventeenth Party Congress set us the urgent task of raising our organizational work to the level of those tremendous political tasks with which we are faced. Under the leadership of Comrade Stalin, the Party is organizing the masses for a struggle for the final liquidation of capitalist elements, for overcoming the survivals of capitalism in economic life and in the consciousness of people, for completing the technical reconstruction of the national economy. Overcoming the survivals of capitalism in the consciousness of people means fighting against all relics of bourgeois influence over the proletariat, against laxity, against loafing, against idling, against petty-bourgeois dissoluteness and individualism, against an attitude of graft and dishonesty towards public property.
We have in our hands a sure weapon for the overcoming of all difficulties that stand on our way. This weapon is the great and invincible doctrine of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, embodied in life by our Party and Soviets.
The mighty banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin has triumphed. It is to the victory of this banner that we owe the fact that the first Congress of Soviet Writers has gathered here. Were it not for this victory, your congress would not be taking place. Such a congress as this can be convened by none save us Bolsheviks.
The key to the success of soviet literature is to be sought for in the success of socialist construction. Its growth is an expression of the successes and achievements of our socialist system. Our literature is the youngest of all literatures of all peoples and countries. And at the same time it is the richest in ideas, the most advanced and the most revolutionary literature. Never before has there been a literature which has organized the toilers and oppressed for the struggle to abolish once and for all every kind of exploitation and the yoke of wage slavery. Never before has there been a literature which has based the subject matter of its works on the life of the working class and peasantry and their fight for socialism. Nowhere, in no country in the world, has there been a literature which has defended and upheld the principle of equal rights for the toilers of all nations, the principle of equal rights for women. There is not, there cannot be in bourgeois countries a literature which consistently smashes every kind of obscurantism, every kind of mysticism, priesthood and superstition, as our literature is doing.
Only Soviet literature, which is of one flesh and blood with socialist construction, could become, and has indeed become, such a literature--so rich in ideas, so advanced and revolutionary.
Soviet authors have already created not a few outstanding works, which correctly and truthfully depict the life of our Soviet country. Already there are several names of which we can be justly proud. Under the leadership of the Party, with the thoughtful and daily guidance of the Central Committee and the untiring support and help of Comrade Stalin, a whole army of Soviet writers has rallied around the Soviet power and the Party. And in the light of our Soviet literature’s successes, we see standing out in yet sharper relief the full contrast between our system the system of victorious socialism - and the system of dying, moldering capitalism.
Of what can the bourgeois author write, of what can he dream, what source of inspiration can he find, whence can he borrow this inspiration, if the worker in capitalist countries is uncertain of the morrow, if he does not know whether he will have work the next day, if the peasant does not know whether he will work on his plot of ground tomorrow or whether his life will be ruined by the capitalist crisis, if the brain worker has no work today and does not know whether he will receive any tomorrow?
What can the bourgeois author write about, what source of inspiration can there be for him, when the world is being precipitated once more - if not today, then tomorrow - into the abyss of a new imperialist war?
The present state of bourgeois literature is such that it is no longer able to create great works of art. The decadence and disintegration of bourgeois literature, resulting from the collapse and decay of the capitalist system, represent a characteristic trait, a characteristic peculiarity of the state of bourgeois culture and bourgeois literature at the present time. Gone never to return are the times when bourgeois literature, reflecting the victory of the bourgeois system over feudalism, was able to create great works of the period when capitalism was flourishing. Everything now is growing stunted - themes, talents, authors, heroes.
In deathly terror of the proletarian revolution, fascism is wreaking its vengeance on civilization, turning people back lo the most hideous and savage periods of human history, burning on the bonfire and barbarously destroying the works of humanity’s best minds.
Characteristic of the decadence and decay of bourgeois culture are the orgies of mysticism and superstition, the passion for pornography. The “illustrious persons” of bourgeois literature - of that bourgeois literature which has sold its pen to capital - are now thieves, police sleuths, prostitutes, hooligans.
All this is characteristic of that section of literature which is trying to conceal the decay of the bourgeois system, which is vainly trying to prove that nothing has happened, that all is well in the “state of Denmark,” that there is nothing rotten as yet in the system of capitalism. Those representatives of bourgeois - literature who feel the state of things more acutely are absorbed in pessimism, doubt in the morrow, eulogy of darkness, extolment of pessimism as the theory and practice - of art. And only a small section - the most honest and far-sighted writers - are trying to find a way out along other paths, in other directions, to link their destiny with the proletariat and its revolutionary struggle.
The proletariat of capitalist countries is already forging the army of its writers, of its artists - the revolutionary writers whose representatives we are glad to welcome here today at the first Congress of Soviet Writers. The detachment of revolutionary writers in capitalist countries is not large as yet, but it is growing and will continue to grow every day, as the class struggle becomes more intense, as the forces of the world proletarian revolution grow stronger.
We firmly believe that these few dozens of foreign comrades who are here today represent the nucleus, the core of a mighty army of proletarian writers which will be created by the world proletarian revolution in capitalist countries.
That is how matters stand in capitalist countries. Not so with us. Our Soviet writer derives the material for his works of art, his subject-matter, images, artistic language and speech, from the life and experience of the men and women of Dnieprostroy, of Magnitostroy. Our writer draws his material from the heroic epic of the Chelyuskin expedition, from the experience of our collective farms, from the creative action that is seething in all corners of our country.
In our country the main heroes of works of literature are the active builders of a new life-working men and women, men and women collective farmers, Party members, business managers, engineers, members of the Young Communist League, Pioneers. Such are the chief types and the chief heroes of our Soviet literature. Our literature is impregnated with enthusiasm and the spirit of heroic deeds. It is optimistic, but not optimistic in accordance with any “inward,” animal instinct. It is optimistic in essence, because it is the literature of the rising class of the proletariat, the only progressive and advanced class. Our Soviet literature is strong by virtue of the fact that it is serving a new cause - the cause of socialist construction.
Comrade Stalin has called our writers engineers of human souls. What does this mean? What duties does the title confer upon you?
In the first place, it means knowing life so as to be able to depict it truthfully in works of art, not to depict it in a dead, scholastic way, not simply as “objective reality,” but to depict reality in its revolutionary development.
In addition to this, the truthfulness and historical concreteness of the artistic portrayal should be combined with the ideological remolding and education of the toiling people in the spirit of socialism. This method in belles lettres and literary criticism is what we call the method of socialist realism.
Our Soviet literature is not afraid of the charge of being tendencious.” Yes, Soviet literature is tendencious, for in an epoch of class struggle there is not and cannot be a literature which is not class literature, not tendencious, allegedly nonpolitical.
And I think that every one of our Soviet writers can say to any dull-witted bourgeois, to any philistine, to any bourgeois writer who may talk about our literature being tendencious: “Yes, our Soviet literature is tendencious, and we are proud of this fact, because the aim of our tendency is to liberate the toilers, to free all mankind from the yoke of capitalist slavery.”
To be an engineer of human souls means standing with both feet firmly planted on the basis of real life. And this in its turn denotes a rupture with romanticism of the old type, which depicted a non-existent life and non-existent heroes, leading the reader away from the antagonisms and oppression of real life into a world of the impossible, into a world of utopian dreams. Our literature, which stands with both feet firmly planted on a materialist basis, cannot be hostile to romanticism, but it must be a romanticism of a new type, revolutionary romanticism. We say that socialist realism is the basic method of Soviet belles lettres and literary criticism, and this presupposes that revolutionary romanticism should enter into literary creation as a component part, for the whole life of our Party, the whole life of the working class and its struggle consist in a combination of the most stern and sober practical work with a supreme spirit of heroic deeds and magnificent future prospects. Our Party has always been strong by virtue of the fact that it has united and continues to unite a thoroughly business-like and practical spirit with broad vision, with a constant urge forward, with a struggle for the building of communist society. Soviet literature should be able to portray our heroes; it should be able to glimpse our tomorrow. This will be no utopian dream, for our tomorrow is already being prepared for today by dint of conscious planned work.
One cannot be an engineer of human souls without knowing the technique of literary work, and it must be noted that the technique of the writer’s work possesses a large number of specific peculiarities.
You have many different types of weapons. Soviet literature has every opportunity of employing these types of weapons (genres, styles, forms and methods of literary creation) in their diversity and fullness, selecting all the best that has been created in this sphere by all previous epochs. From this point of view, the mastery of the technique of writing, the critical assimilation of the literary heritage of all epochs represents a task which you must fulfill without fail, if you wish to become engineers of human souls.
Comrades, the proletariat, just as in other provinces of material and spiritual culture, is the sole heir of all that is best in the treasury of world literature. The bourgeoisie has squandered its literary heritage; it is our duty to gather it up carefully, to study it and, having critically assimilated it, to advance further
To be engineers of human souls means to fight actively for the culture. of language, for quality of production. Our literature does not as yet come up to the requirements of our era. The weaknesses of our literature are a reflection of the fact that people’s consciousness lags behind economic life - a defect from which even our Writers are not, of course, free. That is why untiring work directed towards self-education and towards improving their ideological equipment in the spirit of socialism represents an indispensable condition without which Soviet writers cannot remold the mentality of their readers and thereby become engineers of human souls.
We require a high mastery of artistic production; and in this connection it is impossible to overrate the help that Maxim Gorky is rendering the Party and the proletariat in the struggle for quality in literature, for the culture of language.
And so our Soviet writers have all the conditions necessary for them to produce works which will be, as we say, consonant with our era, works from which the people of our times can learn and which will be the pride of future generations.
All the necessary conditions have been created to enable Soviet literature to produce works answering to the requirements of the masses, who have grown in culture. Only our literature has the chance to be so closely connected with the readers, with the whole life of the working population, as is the case in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The present congress is in itself peculiarly significant. The preparations for the congress were conducted not only by the writers but by the whole country together with them. In the course of these preparations one could clearly see the love and attention with which Soviet writers are surrounded by the Party, the workers and the collective farm peasantry, the consideration and at the same time the exacting demands which characterize the attitude of our working class and collective farmers to Soviet writers. Only in our country is such enhanced importance given to literature and to writers.
Organize the work of your congress and that of the Union of Soviet Writers in the future in such a way that the creative work of our writers may conform to the victories that socialism has won.
Create works of high attainment, of high ideological and artistic content.
Actively help to remold the mentality of people in the spirit of socialism.
Be in the front ranks of those who are fighting for a classless socialist society.