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International Socialism, Autumn 1964




From International Socialism, No.18, Autumn 1964, p.33.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Literature and Revolution in Soviet Russia 1917-62
Ed. Max Hayward and L. Labedz
OUP, 25s.

This symposium wants it both ways: when its symposiasts attack Zhdanov and socialist realism their criteria are purely literary; but when they praise Babel, Olesha, Pasternak and others their criteria are crudely political. Thus, when one of them wants to say that Russia isn’t what it officially presents itself to be, he writes:

‘In any culture, there is a gap between the ideal image of what its present situation, values, vitalising principles, mission in the world and ultimate future are or will be, and between the realities of its concrete existence.’

So much for the image gap. On the other hand, one of the more innocuous and readable contributors sums up the achievement of Evtuschenko and company as follows:

‘(Their poetry cannot) develop except by teaching the level of elegant or even brilliant commentary on subjects which are bound to appear to us (my emphasis) rather insipid and light.’

So much, presumably, for Prufrock’s cups of tea. Is such shoddiness of thought – these are typical specimens – to be excused by the paucity of genuine voices on which these symposiasts touch? Or do they touch on what they want to, out of a total absorption in politics whose counter-revolutionary nature is incomprehensible to them? In any case, as literary history this is a useless farrago. But its problems, like those of Soviet literary historians, are far from being literary ones.

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