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Revelations from the Russian Archives


The pattern of suppressing intellectual activity, with intermittent periods of relaxation, helped the party leadership reinforce its authority. After 1923, when threats to the revolution's survival had disappeared, intellectuals enjoyed relative creative freedom while the regime concentrated on improving the country's economic plight by allowing limited free enterprise under the Lenin's New Economic Policy.

But in 1928, the Central Committee established the right of the party to exercise guidance over literature; and in 1932 literary and artistic organizations were restructured to promote a specified style called socialist realism. Works that did not contribute to the building of socialism were banned. Lenin had seen the need for increasing revolutionary consciousness in workers. Stalin now asserted that art should not merely serve society, but do so in a way determined by the party and its megalomaniacal plans for transforming society. As a result, artists and intellectuals as well as political figures became victims of the Great Terror of the 1930s.

During the war against Nazi Germany, artists were permitted to infuse their works with patriotism and to direct them against the enemy. The victory in 1945, however, brought a return to repression against deviation from party policy. Andrei Zhdanov, who had been Stalin's spokesman on cultural affairs since 1934, led the attack. He viciously denounced such writers as Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, and Mikhail Zoshchenko, who were labeled “anti-Soviet, underminers of socialist realism, and unduly pessimistic.” Individuals were expelled from the Union of Writers, and offending periodicals were either abolished or brought under direct party control.

Zhdanov died in 1948, but the cultural purge known as the Zhdanovshchina continued for several more years. The noted filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein and great composers such as Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitrii Shostakovich were denounced for “neglect of ideology and subservience to Western influence.” The attacks extended to scientists and philosophers and continued until after Stalin's death in 1953.

Memoradum on Marietta Shaginian's novel

Translation of memorandum

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