Soviet Writers Congress 1934


The Debate on Socialist Realism and Modernism

Written: 1935, and published as a leading article in Literary Critic in the Soviet Union;
Source: Gorky, Radek, Bukharin, Zhdanov and others “Soviet Writers’ Congress 1934”, page 7-12, Lawrence & Wishart, 1977;
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive ( 2004;
Transcribed by: Jose Braz for the Marxists Internet Archive.

The first All-Union Congress of Soviet .Writers took place in August 1934. During the days when this congress was in session, it is not too much to say that the whole Soviet Union, with all its millions of workers, concentrated its attention upon questions of literature.

From all corners of the Union came hundreds and thousands of letters addressed to the congress, containing congratulations, warm greetings, practical suggestions and advice. These letters were written by workers, by collective farmers, by students at schools and colleges, by young Pioneers, by scholars and scientists, by engineers, by artists; they one and all expressed the greatest love for Soviet literature and for its creators.

Numerous delegations, representing millions of readers, appeared and spoke at the congress. The speeches which they delivered from the rostrum of the congress sounded like one mighty demand addressed to Soviet writers - to find great artistic expression for the new life, for the new people, for the new social and personal relations existing among them.

The significance of this congress cannot be understood unless one grasps this - its most remarkable and characteristic feature. What is the meaning of this indissoluble link uniting li1erature with the millions of the working population, who not only address messages of greeting to it, but also take active part in discussing its most vital questions? It means that literary work in the Land of Soviets is becoming the affair of all the toilers.

And this event - the Soviet Writers’ Congress - was a truly historic event, testifying to the unexampled growth of culture in the U. S. S. R.

A tremendous cultural revolution is going on in the Soviet Union. This Soviet era is sometimes compared with antiquity or with the Renaissance period, the basis of this comparison being such general outward attributes as vivid personality, bravery, mass festivals, the flourishing of art, etc.

But in reality how much more sublime is this Soviet era, how much richer is it not only from the point of view of quantitative development in the sphere of technique, industry, culture and so forth, but also from that of the social relations existing among people!

Millions and tens of millions of the working population are taking part in the building of the socialist society, millions are to an ever greater extent coming to enjoy the advantages of culture, attaining the heights of knowledge, science and philosophy. Here lies the decisive feature of this era, and in this respect it cannot be compared with any other period of historical development.

In the Soviet Union the works of such authors as Gogol and Belinsky, Flaubert and Balzac, Pushkin and Chernyshevsky are published in editions, of hundreds of thousands. These books are bought up so quickly that they are difficult to obtain on the market.

Small volumes of Pushkin or bulky tomes of Belinsky’s works are becoming “articles of mass consumption.” And it is precisely these profound processes of the cultural revolution which go to explain that tremendous interest of which the Soviet Writers’ Congress was made the centre.

Up to the time of its first historic congress Soviet literature traversed a tremendous path. It was in the fire of civil war, in the fierce class battles of the post-war period, in the heroic years of the First Five- Year Plan, that Soviet literature came into being.

The process of the creation of Soviet literature has been a most varied one; each and every national republic, each and every region of the U. S. S. R. was the scene of this process. In each one of them a single socialist literature was created in different national forms, in different languages, in different conditions. But all the literatures of the Soviet Union’s national republics were united by singleness of aspiration, singleness of ideas, singleness of aim.

Soviet literature is an all-Union literature - as Maxim Gorky was able to declare with perfect right at the congress. The reports read at the congress on the literature of the peoples inhabiting the Soviet Union and the speeches and works of the many writers, poets and dramatists from among the national minorities are the best proof of the truth of these words.

One of the most valuable results of the congress was that it made known to both writers and readers the tremendous achievements of literature in the languages of national minorities, that writers and critics were convinced that it is impossible to write, argue or form judgments about Soviet literature unless the whole wealth of this all-Union literature is taken into account.

Thus Soviet literature, varied in language and single in ideas, reviewed the results of its development at the congress. In his great report, which constituted the main and central report at the congress, Maxim Gorky defined the place and the significance of Soviet literature in the literature of the world, showed the ideological and stylistic peculiarities which distinguish it from the literature of the bourgeoisie, gave an appraisal of its present state and outlined the tasks of further development.

In the discussion which followed Gorky’s report speeches were delivered by writers - eminent masters of language - who belong to the generation of the “old intelligentsia.” They told of their development as thinkers and artists, of all their doubts and waverings, and of how they came to link their fate irrevocably with that of the proletariat. This was the main, dominant note in the speeches of these writers, and their words at the congress sounded like a confirmation of the victory of the Bolshevik Party, which has constantly guided the movement of literature and educated writers in the spirit of Bolshevism.

The second result of the development of literature in the U.S.S.R., demonstrated with absolute clarity at the Writers’ Congress, was complete ideological and political unity of Soviet writers, who consciously take their stand on the platform of the Soviet power, on the positions of the Communist revolution, consciously setting them selves the task of contributing by means of their literary works to the victory of socialist construction.

At the same time the congress was a tremendous literary event in Soviet and world revolutionary literature.

In the discussions which followed the reports on Soviet literature, on dramaturgy and on poetry, scares of most vital questions were raised, embracing the whole complex mass of problems involved in the creation of belles lettres. In this respect the records of the congress represent a most valuable document.

The central question discussed at the congress was that of how to portray the new man in works of art. And in close connection with this all-important problem scores of other questions were raised - questions of new forms, subjects, themes, methods of work, images old and new, etc.

Profound processes are at work today in Soviet literature. Today, as never before, writers are studying and investigating real life, accumulating raw material for works; collective works are appearing, with the first rough sketches, not yet polished to completion; diaries are being written, various records are being kept, more and more attempts are being made to express reality in new forms, etc, etc.

Prior to the congress Soviet writers created a number of images and literary types of the new man, and there are some among these which are executed with talent and will long be remembered. But as a whole, all these represent only a rough design for the monumental portrait of the new man which must be created by literature. To present a full, worthy portrait, a profoundly artistic, masterful portrayal of the socialist man, to depict him in his most essential relations, with tremendous artistic power rising to the level of the great writers of the past, to show his new feelings, concepts, passions, perception of life-such is the great talk. of Soviet literature, a task which will determine a whole. stage, a whole epoch - and moreover a decisive epoch - in the creation of socialist literature.

This applies to all spheres of literature - prose, poetry and drama alike. Soviet poetry, despite all its achievements, was justly subjected to severe criticism at the congress for its insufficiently high level of culture, for provincialism, for the fact that many poets are lacking in deep ideas and feelings. Soviet poetry falls short of that wide revolutionary sweep, of those bold flights of thought proper to a socialist epoch. Poets should understand that in such an epoch a poet who does not wish to lag behind or take refuge in the backyards of poetry must live attuned to the great ideas and passions of this epoch, must march in step with it, his poetic scales proportionate to the scales of the time.

Great successes have been achieved in the sphere of drama and the theatre. But Soviet dramaturgy too, is confronted by great problems, contains the same shortcomings as are to be met with in other branches of Soviet literature. At the congress speeches were delivered by the representatives of different dramatic tendencies, who gave different definitions of the tasks confronting playwrights.

One of the things that lent a special interest to the congress was the presence of a large group of foreign revolutionary writers, who, in their speeches delivered from the rostrum of the congress, declared their solidarity with Soviet writers.

Soviet literature is still in its youth, but the best evidence of its great Bolshevik wisdom is the fact that some of the greatest writers in capitalist countries of the West and of the East are turning their gaze in its direction, are voluntarily and consciously choosing it as their intellectual guide, and are holding it up before the whole world as an example of a genuinely vital and progressive literature.

The congress showed that Soviet writers are fully aware of the place they occupy as the advance guard of international revolutionary literature, which is scoring one success, after the other.

The socialist era and the socialist people of this era are creating a literature in their own image.

A heroic epoch gives birth to heroic literature; heroic people call into being heroic artists.

The first All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers was a congress of great revolutionary passions, of profound ideas, of mighty creative aspirations and impulses.