Leonard Hussey

Inside Russia Today

Significance of the Novel, Not by Bread Alone

(March 1957)

From Labour Review, Vol.2 No.2, March-April 1957, pp.43-45.
Leonard Hussey is a pseudonym of Brian Pearce.
+ part of a typical Stalinist review from the USSR by the aptly named Dymshyts.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Editors are pleased to publish this outline of the theme of a remarkable novel recently published in Russia. Many readers of Labour Review are just beginning to grasp the true nature of the bureaucracy which at present rules Russia. This outline will help them to realise, in real, live flesh and blood terms, how this bureaucracy exercises its rule. It is important to realise that what is meant by the term bureaucracy here is not the pettifogging red-tape methods which characterise so many state offices in Britain, Russia and elsewhere. What is meant rather is what the word bureaucracy says – the rule or dictatorship of a caste of officials – in this case Party bosses. Not by Bread Alone describes how this large and brutally cynical gang or caste of Party officials, who, under the leadership of Stalin, usurped the democratic powers of the Workers’ Soviets, live their privileged and petty lives. Since 1929 these bureaucrats have ruled Russia with a bloody rod of iron. By distorting the planned economy of the nationalised industries, often in their own personal interests, they have prevented the workers and peasants reaping the fruits of the Soviet Revolution of 1917.

But this novel also shows the instability of the Russian bureaucracy, which has already been exposed in Hungary and Poland. It shows how they live in fear of the revival of genuine workers’ democracy – for such a revival threatens their privileges and their power.

The fact that this novel was ever written (it must have been started soon after the death of Stalin) is itself significant of present day trends in Russia. That it has been published and publicly discussed is clear proof of the fact that the days of the Russian bureaucrats are numbered. Those who read and understand this outline will not be surprised when the tocsin sounds for the regeneration of the Russian Revolution, for the reintroduction of Soviets and workers’ democracy and for ending of the domination of the world socialist movement by the Drozdovs and their lackeys in the capitalist world. – Editors

During the discussion of Dudintsev’s novel which took place at the Central Writers’ Club in Moscow (reported in Literaturnaya Gazeta of 27 October, 1956) the writer Ovechkin mentioned that a number of persons in high places, who thought they recognised themselves in the “negative” characters in this story, had attempted to get it suppressed. A considerable period did indeed elapse after the novel’s initial appearance in serial form (in the August, September and October, 1956, numbers of the magazine Novy Mir) when it was doubtful, in spite – or perhaps because – of the public’s enthusiasm, before it was announced that Not By Bread Alone would come out in book form. And it has still not appeared in book form ...

The intense interest which the book has aroused generally, and the alarm it has at the same time provoked in certain quarters, are easily understood, for Not By Bread Alone is the sharpest exposure that has yet appeared of the social antagonisms within Soviet society. Dudintsev shows us a bureaucracy living in privileged conditions that contrast with the poverty of ordinary workers; he shows us, too, these people making hypocritical use of Party catchwords and phrases to cover their self-seeking activities, and their employment of ruthless methods to crush anybody who seems to threaten their established positions – without regard either to justice or to the effect on the public welfare. Many and various aspects of the way of life and ideology of the bureaucratic stratum are sketched by the writer in the course of his story about Lopatkin, a struggling inventor whom we follow through his long, persistent campaign to get his machine taken up by the authorities and secure recognition for his work, in face of every kind of discouragement and victimisation by vested interests. This brief analysis of the novel’s content is given here since it may be regarded as an important sociological document.

First, we are shown the material privileges enjoyed by the bureaucracy. At the very beginning. when we meet Drozdov, the manager of a great industrial plant in Siberia, our attention is drawn to the good housing of the “commanding personnel” of the plant, set apart from the miserable adobe cottages in which the ordinary workers are living. Drozdov’s wife, Nadya, is a teacher, and when she visits the home of one of her pupils to discover what the other children mean when they tell that the reason why this girl gets bad marks is that her home conditions are so wretched, she is appalled by the poverty she finds. Nadya later befriends Lopatkin, who is a lodger in this cottage; he has been refused help in his work by her husband. (Even for drawing paper, which is scarce in Russia, he is dependent on the good offices of one of Nadya’s teacher colleagues). Nadya sells a fur coat of hers in order to give Lopatkin money to help him continue with his work. She becomes increasingly unhappy about the privileged standard of living she enjoys as her husband’s wife. For example, when she goes to their country cottage in the summer she remains indoors because she feels ashamed to meet the eyes of the local collective farmers as they toil in the fields. Drozdov advises her not to invite her colleagues from school to a party he is holding at their home, as the other teachers will only envy her for all the things she possesses which they have to do without – “it’s like Mozart and Salieri,” he explains.

The guests who come are Drozdov’s own associates – the chief engineer of the plant, the manager of the coal trust, the secretary of the district committee of the Party, the chairman of the district Soviet, the manager of a nearby state farm, the district procurator and the manager of the district trade organisation. It would be wrong to describe these men as Drozdov’s friends since, as he tells his wife, a friend must be independent of you; the higher you go the more isolated you become. When we meet Captain Abrosimov, the examining magistrate who deals with the case of Lopatkin when he has been framed up by Drozdov and others, the author shows him to us as he emerges from the large new block of flats; inhabited exclusively by officers and their families, where he has his home. Throughout the book, emphasis is persistently laid on the comfort in which the bureaucracy live as compared with the general population. When Lopatkin visits a departmental office, on reaching the second floor he finds himself walking on a soft carpet and so, as Dudintsev puts it – “feels that he is drawing near the presence of the authorities”.

Secondly, we are shown how the bureaucracy make use of their power to add to their privileges. Drozdov’s second-in-command, Ganichev, the chief engineer of the plant, has a daughter at the school where Nadya teaches, and we glimpse the headmaster’s anxiety that this particular child shall be given good marks in all subjects, regardless of her actual attainments. (Ganichev’s daughter herself protests, however, when Nadya gives a mark better than she deserves to the poor worker’s daughter already mentioned, in order to encourage her). When Nadya goes into hospital to have a baby she finds that all the other patients in her ward have been shifted into the corridor, and she hears a nurse remark: “The heads’ wives are worse than the heads themselves”. When she protests against what has been done, the patients are brought back; but her husband, when he calls to visit her, points out that Ganichev’s wife will be coming into hospital the very next day, and the same thing will happen again, so that Nadya’s “revolt” has been merely a personal gesture, without any general effect. Drozdov has a pram made for Nadya’s baby in one of the workshops of the plant, and he arranges for a member of the staff to be sent on a fictitious official journey to Moscow so that he may accompany Nadya when she moves there, to help her with her luggage and so forth.

Thirdly, we observe the consummate hypocrisy that the bureaucracy employs to disguise or justify its selfish conduct. Drozdov is against Lopatkin’s invention because he is backing an inferior machine devised by an associate of his, Professor Avdiyev. The latter is a technologist who has “arrived”, a man of doubtful scientific talents but well-developed capacity for monopolising appointments and opportunities in his own particular field. Given Avdiyev’s established position, there is “a future before” anything that comes from him; which cannot be said of the inventions, however brilliant, of an unknown like Lopatkin. This is how Drozdov and his fellow-bureaucrats understand the matter among themselves. To Lopatkin, however, Drozdov gravely explains that good machines are the outcome of “collective thought”, and that is why his “individualist” offering has little chance of success. There is something aristocratic, Drozdov complains, about this sort of individual initiative; he, Drozdov, is a plebeian, and has a hereditary dislike for such “indispensables” as Lopatkin. (We are shown on several occasions that Drozdov, in spite of his wealth and status, is a man of uncouth manners and little culture). When a committee packed with Avdiyev’s hangers-on reject Lopatkin’s invention, Drozdov answers Lopatkin’s complaints with grave talk about “democratic decisions”. When Nadya criticises her husband’s brutal methods with his subordinates he has his answer ready. Everyone who appears before him, he explains, is in his eyes either a good or a bad builder of communism, a good worker or a bad one, that is all. Soviet society is engaged in creating the basis for communism, that is to say, material values; indeed, the most important spiritual value at the present time is the knowledge of how to work well. Nobody who is working, as he, Drozdov is, to lay the material basis for communism can properly be accused of “going to extremes”. Drozdov is a great reader of Stalin’s Dialectical and Historical Materialism. Nadya suggests to him that the famous “basis” is a matter of relations between people, not of material objects; but he dismisses her ideas as “nineteenth-century”.

When Nadya voices her indignation over the clearing of the hospital ward so that she could have it for herself, Drozdov explains that living-space is “one of those blessings which, at the present stage of social development, are distributed in accordance with the quantity and quality of labour performed”. “Equality-mongering,” he observes, “is a most harmful thing.”

Lopatkin figures on a number of occasions as a pricker of the balloons of hypocrisy sent up by Drozdov and his like. When Drozdov is developing his favourite idea that “the collective” is cleverer than any individual that “we are worker-ants”, Lopatkin points out that in the field he is concerned with, one of these “ants”, Avdiyev to wit, has got himself into a position where it is he who decides what’s good for everybody else and what isn’t. When there is talk of the public money that would be risked if a machine such as Lopatkin’s were to be put into production, he points to the losses that have been incurred, to no purpose, but without question, in connection with Avdiyev’s machine. He is up against a bureaucratic fortress, he says; a group of “monopolists” operate a sort of collective security among themselves, guaranteeing each other against disturbance by any living ideas that may arise from the depths of the people. These monopolists seek only to “consolidate themselves in their office chairs, so as to go on making more and more money” while, thanks to them, the Soviet country lags behind others in technical progress in many fields. (Lopatkin speaks of the bitterness he feels when he sees crowds gathering with envious admiration around foreign diplomats’ cars when they stop in Moscow streets).

Finally, we see the bureaucracy using their power to intimidate and where necessary put out of harm’s way anybody who seriously challenges their position. Drozdov gets a young engineer into his power, thereafter using him as a tool, through discovering that he, a married man, has been making love to one of the girls he works with; Drozdov obliges the young man to write out an “explanation” of what happened, which he then locks in his safe as a security for good behaviour in the future. Lopatkin’s friend, Professor Busko, explains to Nadya the fear that subordinates have of allowing a complaint to reach their bosses, lest the latter become angry with them, for then, “farewell our country cottages ...”

Lopatkin is eventually framed on a charge of allowing Nadya, an unauthorised person, access to secret technical information in his possession, thereby violating State security. The examining magistrate who deals with Lopatkin is an expert, we learn, at ensuring that the judge sees any case he prepares in just the light that the public prosecutor wants. We see him putting aside, as a document “having no direct bearing on the case”, a memorandum by Lopatkin’s enemies asserting that he is a crackpot. If that is so, the shrewd examining magistrate reflects, his work can hardly be a State secret; Lopatkin’s persecutors are amateurs who think they can have it both ways, but fortunately he is there to streamline the case with his experienced skill. Lopatkin is questioned at length, and Nadya too, without either of them being informed what the charge against Lopatkin is, and in this way they are brought to contradict each other, to the examining magistrate’s satisfaction. At his trial before a military tribunal Lopatkin is not allowed to explain that Nadya has been rendering essential help to him in his work, for “this would involve a further revelation of State secrets”; nor to show that those who are accusing him are all men who have been blocking his path for years – this is slanderous, they have only done their patriotic duty by showing “vigilance”. He is sentenced to eight years in a corrective labour camp.

The book is full of little touches which serve to associate the bureaucracy with various reactionary features of Soviet ideology of the post-war period. The examining magistrate who interrogates Nadya tries to establish that Lopatkin’s claim that she is a co-author of his project is nothing but a cover for the sex relationship between them, and when he is chatting with the witness about her life as a teacher he observes that he is opposed to co-education: if you put boys and girls together, he cynically remarks, they start thinking too soon about co-authorship. The daughter of Ganichev, the chief engineer in Drozdov’s plant, changes her name from Jeanne to Anna because the latter is “better – more Russian”. Lopatkin remarks that when one of the big-shots in science or technology wants to refute his rivals he does not resort to experiment and discussion but “thinks up something like Weissmannism-Morganism”. The one member of the tribunal who had doubts about Lopatkin’s guilt, and the inventor’s friends who work to get his case re-heard, have to put up with abuse to the effect that they have an “a-political, idealist” outlook.

Though Lopatkin is at last released and rehabilitated and given a chance to work on his machine, his enemies are not displaced or shaken. Drozdov is even promoted to the rank of Deputy Minister! And there is perhaps an ironic symbolism in Lopatkin’s reflection on returning from Siberia to Moscow: “The same trolley-buses, the same houses, and the same wooden fence around the foundations of the Palace of Soviets.” The stopping of work on the construction of the Palace of Soviets, which had been conceived as a home for the Soviet Parliament and a monument to Lenin, has long been recognised as one of the signs of the definite arrival of a new epoch in Soviet history – what is now commonly called “the Stalin epoch”. While Lopatkin’s release shows that there are forces working for truth, justice and progress and that they can win victories, nevertheless there has been no fundamental change, and the Drozdovs continue to flourish. Konstantin Paustovsky, one of the writers who took part in the discussion mentioned at the beginning of this article, even affirmed on that occasion that Drozdovism is not a matter of a few individual bureaucrats, but a mass phenomenon, an entire stratum of Soviet society ...

and this “official” reply to Not By Bread Alone speaks for itself

The Truth of Life and the Artist’s Palette

Part of a critique of Not By Bread Alone (Leningradskaya Pravda, 18 December, 1956) by A. Dymshyts.

“... V. Dudintsev is unquestionably a talented man of letters. Undoubtedly some of his heroes are a success, and others possess subtly indicated and movingly depicted traits of character. Some episodes in his book are tense and dramatic. But, on the whole, the novel is a failure. The writer has sustained a signal creative defeat.

“Truthfulness to life, observance of truth in circumstance and character is the paramount demand we are compelled to put before any contemporary work. Regrettably. V. Dudintsev’s novel is far from meeting this demand. Indeed, to a large extent. it goes against it ...

“One would think, from reading the novel Not By Bread Alone that all the links of the State machinery that are shown are filled with prospering careerists, who direct the central administration, boss the world of science and lord it in the judiciary. In the mind’s eye we see one single chain of scoundrels and careerists. Even episodic characters among the high-ranking officials in the book prove as a rule also to be villains. Take, for instance, the director of the Institute, a personage with the rank of General. At first he seems an exception to the rule. However, the author soon ‘corrects himself’ and shows this man as a cowardly, self-seeking egoist. Is there any need to prove how wrong this tendency of the author’s is? Can we agree with the author that the Avdiyevs, Tepikins, Fundators and other red-tapists and tricksters of the same kind, each individually portrayed by an acute and talented hand, really do personify one of the sections of our engineering science? For in Dudintsev’s novel, right up to the end, they are shown as holding undivided sway over an entire scientific headquarters and encountering, in fact, no public resistance or rebuff.

“Our people have hatred for bureaucrats and bureaucracy in their blood. The Party ruthlessly and implacably fights against bureaucrats. But, of course, there is no point in exaggerating the danger of bureaucracy, in inflating it. This at once gives an essentially lop-sided angle to the picture the novel takes from life. It shows the bureaucrats as an attacking force and, moreover, as an unshakeable force. The scoundrels who libelled Lopatkin and hauled him before the Court for swift and speedy sentence, escape scot-free, with retribution going no further than unpleasantness of an intra-office nature. No one draws any serious social conclusions from the Lopatkin case. As we see it, this is all because V. Dudintsev has failed to show in his novel our society’s chief directing force, the Communist Party.

“Our life, with the powerful guiding hand of the Party seeming to be absent, looks queer in V. Dudintsev’s novel ...

“The subject of an inventor’s struggle against conservatism and in-the-rut routine, against the time-servers of officialdom and bureaucrats who try to clamp down on scientific, and technical developments is not a new one for our literature. Recall Mayakovsky’s The Upas Tree, a feuilleton in verse, and again, his Bath-house ... In D. Granin’s novel, Those Who Seek, the principal hero, Andrei Lobanov, also wages an impassioned struggle for his invention – seeking, however, and finding, support from the Party in this struggle. In taking up a similar subject, V. Dudintsev expounds it in a way that runs counter to the truth of life, which has told also on the portrayal of the characters he wished to depict as ‘good’ heroes.

“V. Dudintsev’s world of ‘good’ heroes is a queer place. It is populated by persons with damaged souls, hurt emotions and a disturbed and not quite healthy psychic condition ...

“We cannot agree with the reviewer D. Platonov, who holds that these personages accord with Gorky’s formula: ‘Let us sing glory to the madness of the brave!’ As we know, it was with these words on their lips that revolutionary fighters went into battle to die and to win. Lopatkin has very little in common with them, and Busko even less.

“Any failure on the part of a writer, and especially, as in this case, failure in a big effort of writing, is to be regretted. But we should not attempt to conceal a failure. However bitter the truth, it must be faced. This should be noted in connection with V. Dudintsev’s novel, especially as it is instructive.

“Dudintsev’s wish was to write a work of social criticism. It goes without saying that criticism is called for. We ought not to hide the shortcomings in our life. We must pillory them in order to make the people’s life better. But criticism in works of literature should not develop into disparagement of the gains of our society and system. Behind criticism of our shortcomings one must always sense staunch faith in the strength of the Party and patriotic pride in the achievements of our Fatherland. It is only from these positions that there can be fruitful criticism of every impediment to the further development and growth of our society.

“V. Dudintsev’s novel is far removed from these positions. Thus, he has obviously retreated from socialist realism. He has lost his grip on the exact criteria of truth; under his pen the evil has been amplified to limitless proportions and the good has been spiritually impoverished. Anyone wishing to see what present-day Soviet life is like from the novel Not By Bread Alone will derive false conceptions and conclusions regarding our society and people.”

Last updated on 17.10.2011