Transitional Art – A New Soviet Populism. – Kliuev, a Revolutionary “Fellow Traveller” – Yessenin And The Imagists – The Unformed Realism of the “Serapion Fraternity” – The Retrogressional Realism of Pilnyak – Rustic or Peasant-Singing Poets – The “Changing Landmarks” Group – Neoclassicism or “Revolutionary Conservatism”
Non-revolutionary or non-October literature, as we characterized it in the first chapter, is now in reality a past stage. At first, the writers placed themselves in active opposition to October, denying all artistic recognition to everything connected with the Revolution, just as the teachers refused to teach the children of revolutionary Russia. The non-October character of literature, therefore, not only expressed the deep alienation that lay between the two worlds, but it became also a tool for active politics, the sabotage of the artist. This policy annihilated itself; the old literature is now not so much unwilling, as unable.
Between bourgeois art, which is wasting away either in repetitions or in silences, and the new art which is as yet unborn, there is being created a transitional art which is more or less organically connected with the Revolution, but which is not at the same time the art of the Revolution. Boris Pilnyak, Vsevolod Ivanov, Nicolai Tikhonov, the “Serapion Fraternity”, Yessenin and his group of Imagists and, to some extent, Kliuev – all of them were impossible without the Revolution, either as a group, or separately. They know it themselves and do not deny it, do not feel the necessity of denying it, and some even proclaim it loudly. They do not belong to the literary job-holders who are beginning little by little to “picture” the Revolution. They are not even the “Changing Landmarks” group, because in this is implied a breach with the past, a radical change of front. The majority of these writers just mentioned are very young, between twenty and thirty. They have no revolutionary past whatever and if they broke away from anything at all it was from bagatelles. In general their literary and spiritual front has been made by the Revolution, by that angle of it which caught them, and they all have accepted the Revolution, each one in his own way. But in these individual acceptances, there is one common trait which sharply divides them from Communism, and always threatens to put them in opposition to it. They do not grasp the Revolution as a whole and the Communist ideal is foreign to them. They are all more or less inclined to look hopefuully at the peasant over the head of the worker. They are not the artists of the proletarian Revolution, but her artist “fellow-travellers”, in the sense in which this word was used by the old Socialists. If non-October (in essence anti-October) literature is the moribund literature of bourgeois land-owning Russia, then the literary work of the “fellow-travellers” is, in its way, a new Soviet populism, without the traditions of the old populism and – up to now – without political perspective. As regards a “fellow-traveller”, the question always comes up – how far will he go? This question cannot be answered in advance, not even approximately. The solution of it depends not so much on the personal qualities of this or that “fellow-traveller”, but mainly on the objective trend of things during the coming decade.
However, in the dualism of the point of view of these “fellow-travellers”, which makes them doubtful of themselves, there is a constant artistic and social danger. Blok felt this dualism of morals and art more deeply than the others; in general, he was deeper. In the reminiscences of him, written by Nadezhda Pavlovich, there is the following sentence: “The Bolsheviks do not hinder the writing of verses but they binder you from feeling yourself a master~ he is a master who feels the axis of his creativeness and holds the rhythm within himself." In the expression of this thought there is a certain indefiniteness so common to Blok, and besides, we are dealing here with reminiscences, which, as everyone knows, are not always accurate. But the inner resemblance to truth and the significance of this sentence make one believe it. The Bolsheviks hinder one from feeling oneself a master because a master must have within himself an organic, irrefutable axis and the Bolsheviks have displaced the main axis. None of the “fellow-travellers” of the Revolution – and Blok was also a “fellow-traveller”, and the “fellow-travellers” form at present a very important division of Russian literature – carry the axis within themselves. And therefore we have only a preparatory period for a new literature, only études, sketches, essays – but complete mastery with a reliable axis within oneself, is still to come.
Bourgeois poetry, of course, does not exist, because poetry is a free art and not a service to class.  But here is Kliuev, a poet and a peasant, and he not only recognizes it, but repeats it, underlines it, and boasts of it. The difference is that a peasant poet feels no inner call to hide his face, neither from others, nor, above all, from himself. The Russian peasant, oppressed for centuries, reaching upward, spiritualized by populism in the course of the decades, never instilled in those few poets who were his own the social or artistic impulse to conceal their peasant origin. It was true in the old days as in the case of Koltzov and it is still more true these latter years in the case of Kliuev.
It is exactly in Kliuev that we see again how vital is the force of the social method of literary criticism. They tell us that a writer begins where individuality begins and that therefore the source of his creativeness is his unique soul and not his class. It is true, without individuality there can be no writer. But if the poet’s individuality and only his individuality is disclosed in his work, then to what purpose is the interpretation of art? To what purpose, let us ask, is literary criticism? In any case, the artist, if he is a true artist, will tell us about his unique individuality better than his babbling critic. But the truth is that even if individuality is unique, it does not mean that it cannot be analyzed. Individuality is a welding together of tribal, national, class, temporary and institutional elements and, in fact, it is in the uniqueness of this welding together, in the proportions of this psychochemical mixture, that individuality is expressed. One of the most important tasks of criticism is to analyze the individuality of the artist (that is, his art) into its Component elements, and to show their correlations. In this way, criticism brings the artist closer to the reader, who also has more or less of a “unique soul”, “artistically” unexpressed, “unchosen”, but none the less representing a union of the same elements as does the soul of a poet. So it can be seen that what serves as a bridge from soul to soul is not the unique, but the common. Only through the common is the unique known; the common is determined in man by the deepest and most persistent conditions which make up his “soul”, by the social conditions of education, of existence, of work, and of associations. The social conditions in historic human society are, first of all, the conditions of class affiliation. That is why a class standard is so fruitful in all fields of ideology, including art, and especially in art, because the latter often expresses the deepest and most hidden social aspirations. Moreover, a social standard not only does not exclude, but goes hand in hand with formal criticism, that is, with the standard of technical workmanship. This, as a matter of fact, also tests the particular by a common measure, because if one did not reduce the particular to the general there would be no contacts among people, no thoughts and no poetry.
If you take away from Kliuev his peasanthood, his soul not only will become orphaned, but nothing at all will remain of it. For Kliuev’s individuality is the artistic expression of an independent, well-fed, well-to-do peasant loving his freedom egotistically. Every peasant is a peasant, but not everyone can express himself. A peasant who can express himself and his self-sufficient world in the language of a new artistic technique, or rather, who has kept his peasant soul through bourgeois schooling, is a big individuality, and such a one is Kliuev.
The social basis of art is not always so transparent and irrefutable. But that is only because, as has already been said, the majority of poets are bound up with the exploiting classes which, because of their exploiting nature, do not speak of themselves in the way they think, nor think of themselves in the way they are. However, in spite of all the social and psychological methods by which class hypocrisy is maintained, the social essence of a poet can be found even if it is diluted in the most subtle form. And not to understand this essence, leaves the criticism of art and the history of art hanging in the air.
To speak of the bourgeois character of that literature which we call non-October, does not therefore necessarily mean to slander the poets who are supposedly serving art and not the bourgeoisie. For where is it written that it is impossible to serve the bourgeoisie by means of art? Just as geologic landslides reveal the deposits of earth layers, so do social landslides reveal the class character of art. Non-October art is struck by a deathly impotence for the very reason that death has struck those classes to which it was tied by its whole past. Without the bourgeois landholding system and its customs, without the subtle suggestions of the estate and of the salon, this art sees no meaning in life, withers, becomes moribund and is reduced to nothing.
Kliuev is not of the rustic school; he is not peasant-singing; he is not a populist; he is a real peasant (almost). His spiritual countenance is truly a peasant one, a North peasant one at that. Kliuev, like a peasant, is individualistic; be is his own master, he is his own poet. The earth is under his feet, and the sun is above his head. A well-to-do peasant proprietor has grain in his bin; milking cows in his barn; carved weather-cocks on the crest of his roof – his economic self-consciousness is solid and self-reliant. He likes to boast of his household, of his prosperity and of his clever management – as Kliuev does of his talent and of his poetic manner. It is as natural to praise oneself as to belch after a heavy feast or to make the cross over one’s mouth after a yawn. Kliuev has studied. When and what we do not know, but he manages his knowledge like a well-read person and also like a miser. If a well-to-do peasant should accidentally carry a telephone receiver out of the city, he would fix it in the main corner of the room not far from the ikon. In the same way, Kliuev embellishes the main corners of his verses with India, Congo and Mont Blanc; and Kliuev loves to embellish. A simple, scraped harness yoke is only owned by a peasant out of poverty or shiftlessness. A good peasant has a carved yoke painted in several colors. Kliuev is a good poet-master endowed with abundance: he has carvings, cinnabar, vermilion, gilt and lintels everywhere, and even brocades, satins, silver and all kinds of precious stones. All this shines and plays in the sun and one might even think that the sun is his, a Kliuev sun, because truly in this world there exists only he, Kliuev – his talent, the earth under his feet and the sun above his head.
Kliuev is a poet of a closed-in world, inflexible in its essence, but none the less of a world which has changed greatly since 1861.  Kliuev is not a Koltzov: one hundred years have not passed in vain. Koltzov is simple, submissive and modest. Kliuev is much more complex, exacting, ingenious. He has brought his new poetic technique from the city, as a neighboring peasant might bring a phonograph; and he uses poetic technique, like the geography of India, only for the purpose of embellishing the peasant framework of his poetry. He is many-colored, often bright and expressive, often quaint, often cheap and tinsel-like – and all this is on a firm peasant basis.
Kliuev’s poems, like his thought and like his life, are not dynamic. There is too much ornamentation in Kliuev’s poetry for action – heavy brocades, natural colored stones, and all manner of other things. One has to move about cautiously not to break and destroy. And yet Kliuev has accepted the Revolution, which is the greatest dynamics of all. Kliuev accepted it not for himself alone, but together with all the peasantry, and accepted it in the manner of a peasant, too. The abolition of the noble estate pleases Kliuev. “Let Turgenev cry about it on a shelf.” But the Revolution is, above all, a city one; without the city there could have been no abolition of the nobles’ estates. Here is where Kliuev’s dualism arises in relation to the Revolution – a dualism, again, which is characteristic not only of Kliuev but of the entire peasantry. Kliuev does not love the city, he does not recognize city poetry. The friendly-enemy tone of his poems is very instructive where he urges the poet Kirillov to reject the thought of factory poetry, and to come into his, the Kliuev pine-woods – the one source of art. Of “industrial rhythms”, of proletarian poetry, of the very principle of it, Kliuev speaks with the natural contempt that comes to the lips of every “strong” peasant, when he glances at the propagandist of Socialism, the houseless city worker, or, what is still worse, the vagabond. And when Kliuev condescendingly invites the blacksmith to lie down for a while on an embroidered peasant bench, it is like a rich and broad-backed peasant from Olonetz charitably offering a piece of bread to a hungry hereditary Petrograd proletarian, “in city rags, in heels worn on city stones”.
Kliuev accepts the Revolution because it has freed the peasant, and he sings many of his songs to it. But his Revolution is without political dynamics and without historic perspective. To Kliuev it is like a market or a sumptuous wedding where people come together from various places, get drunk with wine and song, with embraces and dances, and then return to their own houses: their own earth under their feet and their own sun above their heads. To others it is a republic, but to Kliuev it is the old land of Russ; to others it is Socialism, but to him it is the dead and gone dream-city of Kitezh. He promises paradise through the Revolution, but this paradise is only an exaggerated and embellished peasant kingdom, a wheat and honey paradise: a singing bird on the carved wing of the house and a sun shining in jasper and diamonds. Not without hesitation does Kliuev admit into his peasant paradise the radio and magnetism and electricity; and here it appears that electricity is a giant bull out of a peasant epic and that between his horns is a laden table.
Kliuev evidently was in Petrograd at the time of the Revolution. He wrote in the Krasnaya Gazeta, and he fraternized with the workers, but, as a shrewd peasant, Kliuev, even in those honeymoon days, weighed in his mind whether in one way or another any harm would come from all this to his, the Kliuev household, that is, to his art. If it should seem to Kliuev that the city did not appreciate him, then he, Kliuev, would at once show his character and raise the price of his wheat-paradise as compared with the industrial hell. And if they should reproach him for something, he would not hunt long for a word, but he would lay his opponent low and praise himself strongly and convincingly. Not so long ago Kliuev started a poetic quarrel with Yessenin, who decided to put on a tail-coat and a high hat and who announced this in his poems. Kliuev saw in this treason to his peasant origin and quarrelsomely soaped the younger man’s head for him in just the same way as a rich elder brother would scold a younger one who had taken into his head to marry a town hussy and join the down-and-outs.
Kliuev is jealous. Somebody advised him to refrain from holy words. Kliuev became offended:
It seems neither saints nor villains exist
For the industrial heavens.
It is unclear whether he himself believes or does not believe. His God suddenly spits blood and the Virgin Mother gives herself to some Hungarian for a few yellow pieces. All this sounds like blasphemy, but to exclude God from the Kliuev household, to destroy the holy corner where the light of the lamp shines on silver and gilded frames – to such destruction he does not consent. Without the lamp, everything is unfulfilled.
When Kliuev sings of Lenin in “hidden peasant verses”, it is not very easy to decide whether it is for Lenin or against Lenin. What a dualism of thought, of feeling and of words! And at the basis of all lies the dualism of the peasant, that bast-shod Janus, who turns one face to the past and the other to the future. Kliuev even rises to song in honor of the Commune. But they are just songs of praise – “in honor to”. “I don’t want the Commune without the peasant oven.” But the Commune with a peasant oven is not a reconstruction of all the foundations of life in accordance with reason, with compass and yardstick in hand, but the same old peasant paradise.
The golden sounds
Hang like clusters on the tree;
Like halcyon birds, the words
Settle on the bronches. – The Brass Whale
Here are the poetics of Kliuev in their entirety. Where is there here revolution, struggle, dynamics, a striving towards the new? Here we have peace, a charmed immobility, a tinsel fairyland. “Like Halcyon birds, the words settle on the branches.” This is something curious to look at, but a modern person cannot live in such an environment.
What will Kliuev’s further road be – towards the Revolution or away from it? More likely away from the Revolution; he is much too saturated with the past. The spiritual isolation and the aesthetic originality of the village, despite the temporary weakening of the city, are clearly on the decline. Kliuev seems also to be on the decline.
Yessenin (and the entire group of Imagists – Marienhof, Shershenevich, Kusikov) stand somewhere at the crossing of the road between Kliuev and Mayakovsky. Yessenin’s roots are in the village, but not so deep as those of Kliuev. Yessenin is younger. He became a poet at the time when the village was shaken up by the Revolution, when Russia was shaken up. Kliuev was formed entirely in the pre-War years, and he responded to the War and to the Revolution only within the limits of his backwoods conservatism. Yessenin is not only younger but also more flexible, more plastic, more open to influences and to possibilities. Even his peasant underpinnings are not the same as those of Kliuev; Yessenin has neither Kliuev’s solidity, nor his somber and pompous sedateness. Yessenin boasts that he is arrogant and a hooligan. But if the truth must be told, his arrogance, even his purely literary arrogance (The Confession) is not so terrible. Still, Yessenin is undoubtedly the reflection of the pre-revolutionary and revolutionary spirit of the peasant youth whom the disturbed life of the village has driven to arrogance and turbulence.
The city has told on Yessenin more sharply and clearly than on Kliuev. Here is the point where the undoubted influences of Futurism come in. Yessenin is more dynamic, to the extent that he is more nervous, more flexible, more responsive to the new. But Imagism is the reverse of dynamics. The self-sufficient meaning of the image is bought at the expense of the whole; the parts become separated and cold.
It is said incorrectly that the abundant imagery of the Imagist Yessenin flows from his individual tenderness. As a matter of fact, we find the same traits in Kliuev. His verses are weighted down with an imagery which is even more isolated and immobile. At bottom, this is not an individual, but a peasant aesthetics. The poetry of the repetitive forms of life has at bottom little mobility and seeks a way out in condensed imagery.
At any rate, Imagism is overladen to such an extent with images that its poetry seems like a beast of burden and therefore slow in its movements. An abundance of imagery is not in itself an evidence of creative power; on the contrary, it may arise out of the technical immaturity of a poet who is caught unawares by events and feelings which are artistically too much for him. The poet almost chokes with images and the reader feels as nervously impatient to get on as fast as possible to the end as when one listens to a stuttering speaker. In any case, Imagism is not a literary school from which one can expect serious developments. Even the tardy arrogance of Kusikov (“the West at which we Imagists sneeze”) seems curious and not even amusing. Imagism is perhaps only a stopping point for a few poets of the younger generation who are more or less talented, but who resemble one another in one thing only, that they are all still unripe.
Yessenin’s effort to construct a big work by the Imagist method has proved inadequate in Pugachev. And this is so regardless of the fact that the author has unloaded his heavy imagery quite considerably and stealthily. The dialogue nature of Pugachev got the better of the poet rather mercilessly. The drama in general is a most transparent and unyielding form of art; it has no room for descriptive and narrative patches, or for lyric outbursts. Through the dialogue, Vessenin came out into clear waters. Emelka Pugachev, and his enemies and his colleagues, are all without exception Imagists. And Pugachev himself is Sergey Yessenin from top to toe: he wants to be terrible, but he cannot. Yessenin’s Pugachev is a sentimental romantic. When Yessenin introduces himself as a somewhat bloodthirsty hooligan, it is amusing; but when Pugachev expresses himself like a romantic, burdened with imagery, it is worse. The Imagist Pugachev becomes a bit ridiculous.
Though Imagism, having hardly existed, is gone already, Yessenin himself is still of the future. To foreign journalists he declared himself more left than the Bolsheviks. This is in the natural order of things, and frightens no one. At present Yessenin, the poet, who may be more left than we sinners, but who smells none the less of medievalism, has begun his “wander-years”, and he will not return the same as he went. But we will not surmise. When he returns, he will tell us himself.
The “Serapion Fraternity” - Vsevolod Ivanov & Nikolai Nikitin
The “Serapion Fraternity” are youngsters who still live with the brood. Some of them have not come to the Revolution through literature, but have come into literature through the Revolution. Just because they trace their brief pedigree from the Revolution, they, some of them at least, have an inner need to move away from the Revolution, and to protect the freedom of their work from its social demands. It is as if they feel for the first time that art has its own rights. The artist David (in N. Tikhonov) immortalizes at the same time both “the hand of the patriot murderer” and Marat. Why? “But so beautiful is the flash of the wrist to the elbow, splashed with the cherry-like paste.” Quite often the Serapions go away from the Revolution or from modern life in general and even sometimes from man and write about Dresden students, Biblical Jews and tigresses and dogs. All this gives merely an impression of a groping, of an attempt, of a preparing. They absorb the literary and technical achievements of the pre-revolutionary schools without which there could be no movement forward. Their general tone is realistic but as yet quite unformed. It is too early to estimate individually the “Serapion Fraternity”, at least within the covers of this work. In general they indicate, among many other symptoms, the renascence of literature on a new historic basis, after the tragic collapse. Why do we relegate them to being “fellow-travellers” of ours? Because they are bound up with the Revolution, because this tie is still very unformed, because they are so very young and because nothing definite can be said about their tomorrow.
The most dangerous trait of the Serapions is that they glory in their lack of principles. This is stupidity and thickheadedness. As if an artist ever could be “without a tendency”, without a definite relation to social life, even though unformulated or unexpressed in political terms. It is true, that the majority of artists form their relation to life and to its social forms during organic periods, in an unnoticeable and molecular way and almost without the participation of critical reason. The artist takes life as he finds it, coloring his relation to it with a kind of lyric tone. He considers its foundations to be immovable and approaches it as uncritically as he does the solar system. And this passive conservatism of his forms the unseen pivot of his work.
Critical periods do not allow an artist the luxury of an automatic and irresponsible elaboration of social points of view. And whoever boasts of this, whether insincerely or even without pretense, is masking a reactionary tendency or has fallen into social stupidities or is making a fool of himself. It is, of course, possible to do youthful exercises in the spirit of Sinebriuchov’s stories, or in the manner of Fedin’s novelette, Anna Timofeevna, but it is impossible to give a big or a significant picture and even in sketches one cannot hold out long without troubling one’s head about social and artistic perspectives.
The novelists and poets who were born of the Revolution and who are still very young, being almost in their swaddling clothes, try, in the search for their artistic individualities, to get away from the Revolution which has been their environment and in which milieu they have yet to find themselves. From this come the tirades of the “art for art’s sake” which seem very significant and bold to the Serapions, but which in fact are a sign of growth at best and an evidence of immaturity in any case. If the Serapions would get away from the Revolution entirely, they would reveal themselves at once as a second-rate or third-rate remnant of the discarded pre-revolutionary literary schools. It is impossible to play with history. Here the punishment follows immediately upon the crime.
Vsevolod Tvanov, who is the oldest and the most notable of the Serapions, is the most significant and the most weighty. He writes about the Revolution and only about the Revolution, but exclusively about peasant and out-of-the-way revolutions. The onesidedness of his theme and the comparative narrowness of his artistic grasp put an impress of monotony on his fresh and bright colors. He is spontaneous in his moods and in his spontaneity he is not sufficiently careful and strict with himself. He is very lyrical and his lyricism flows without end. But the author makes himself felt too insistently, comes forward too often in person, expresses himself too loudly, slaps nature and people on the shoulders and back too hard. As long as one feels that his spontaneity comes from his youth, it is very attractive, but there is a great danger of its becoming a mannerism. To the degree that spontaneity decreases, a broadening of the creative grasp and a heightening of technique must come in its place. This is possible only if one is strict with oneself. The lyricism with which Ivanov warms so much both nature and the dialogue, must become more secret, more internal, more hidden and more miserly in its expression. A phrase must be born from a phrase by the natural force of the artistic matter without the visible aid of the artist. Ivanov learned from Gorky and learned well. Let him go through this school once again, but this time backwards.
Ivanov knows and understands the Siberian peasant, the Cossack, the Khirgiz. Against the background of revolt, of battles, of fires and of suppressions, he shows very well the peasant’s lack of political impersonality in spite of his stable social strength. While in Russia, a young Siberian peasant, a former Tsarist soldier, supports the Bolsheviks, but on his return to Siberia he serves “Tolchak” against the Reds. His father, a bored and prosperous peasant, who was looking for a new faith, imperceptibly and unexpectedly to himself becomes the leader of the Red groups. The whole family breaks up; the village is burned. But as soon as the hurricane is over, the peasant begins to mark the trees in the forest for cutting down and begins to build anew. After swinging in various directions, Roly-poly tries to settle down firmly on his leaden base. In Ivanov various individual scenes reach great power. The scenes where the “conversation” between the Far Eastern Reds and a captured American takes place, or the drunken debauch of the rebels, or the Khirgiz searching for a “big God”, are splendid. But in general, whether Ivanov wants it or not, he shows that the peasant uprisings in “peasant” Russia are not yet revolution. The peasant revolt bursts forth suddenly from a small spark, unevenly, often cruel In its helplessness – and no one sees why it flared up or whither it leads. And never and in no way can the disjointed peasant revolt be victorious. In Colored Winds a hint is given as to the essence of a peasant uprising, in the figure of the city Bolshevik Nikitin, but it is vague. Nikitin in Ivanov’s story is an enigmatic bit of another world, and it is unclear why the peasant element turns around him. But, from all these pictures of Revolution in distant corners, there follows one undeniable conclusion, that there is being remelted in a great crucible and on a hot fire the national character of the Russian people. And Roly-poly will not come out of this crucible the same as he was.
It would be a good thing if Vsevolod Ivanov could also mature in this crucible.
Nikitin came forward clearly from among the Serapions within the past year. What he wrote in 1922 marks a big jump forward from what he did in the preceding year. But there is something just as disquieting in his rapid maturing as in the precocity of a youth. Anxiety is caused first of all by the manifest note of cynicism which is characteristic to a greater or lesser degree of almost all the youth today, but which in Nikitin assumes at times an especially evil character. The question is not of rude words, nor of naturalistic excesses – though excesses are always excesses – but in a challengingly crude and apparently realistic approach to people and events. Realism, in the broad sense of the word, that is, in the sense of an artistic affirmation of the real world with its flesh and blood and also with its will and consciousness, may be of many kinds. One can take man, not only social, but even psycho-physical man and approach him from different angles – from above, from below, from the side, or walk all around him. Nikitin approaches, or more accurately steals up to him – from below. That is why all his perspectives of man become crude and sometimes even disgusting. Nikitin’s talented precocity gives the fellow an especially ominous character. It is a road that leads to a blind alley.
Under these verbal improprieties and naturalistic debauches is hidden a lack of faith or a dying out of faith, and this is true not only of Nikitin. This generation was caught in the whirl of great events without any preparation, political, moral or artistic. It bad nothing that was stable, or, rather, conservative, and therefore the Revolution conquered it easily. But because the conquest was easy, it was extremely superficial. The young people were caught in the whirl and all of them, Imagists, Serapions, etc., became Dissenters, semi-consciously starting from the conviction that the fig-leaf is the main emblem of the old world. It is very instructive that the generation which was caught in its adolescence by the Revolution is the worst, not only among the urban intelligentsia, but also among the peasantry and even among the working-class. It is not revolutionary, it is turbulent and has the ear-marks of anarchistic individualism. The succeeding generation which rose under the new regime is much better; it is more social, more disciplined, more exacting towards itself and its thirst for knowledge is growing Seriously. It is this youth which gets along so well with the “old fellows”, with those who were formed and strengthened before March and October of 1917, and even before 1914. The revolutionism of the Serapions, as of the majority of the “fellow-travellers” of the Revolution, is much more related to the generation which came too late to prepare for it and too soon to be educated by it. Having approached the Revolution from the wrong side of a peasant and acquiring this half Dissenter’s point of view, these “fellow-travellers” become disillusioned, and the more so, the more clearly it appears that a revolution is not a thing of joy, but a conception, an organization, a plan, a work. The Imagist Marienhof takes off his hat and politely and ironically bids good-by to the Revolution which has betrayed him (that is Marienhof). And Nikitin, in his story Pella, in which this form of a pseudo-revolutionary Dissenter finds his most perfect expression, ends with the innerly skeptical words that are not as coy as Marienhof’s but just as cynical: “You are tired and I have already thrown away the chase ... And now it is futile for us to be running after. There is no sense to it. Don’t look for dead places.”
We had heard this once before, and remember it very well. The young novelists and versifiers who were caught by the Revolution in 1905, turned their backs to it later with almost the same words. When they took off their hats to say good-by to this stranger in 1907, they seriously imagined that they had settled their accounts with it. But it returned a second time and much more firmly. It found the unexpected first “lovers” of 1905 prematurely aged and spiritually bald. For this reason – though to tell the truth, entirely without bothering much about it – it drew into its circle the new generation of the old society (along its very periphery and even at a tangent). But then came another 1907; chronologically, it is called 1921-22 in the shape of the NEP. The Revolution wasn’t such a splendid stranger after all. Only a trader’s and nothing more!
It is true these young people are ready to maintain on many occasions that they are not thinking of breaking with the Revolution, that they were made by it, that they are unthinkable outside the Revolution and cannot think so of themselves. But all this is very indefinite and even ambiguous. Of course they cannot separate themselves from the Revolution, in so far as the Revolution, although a trader’s one, is a fact and even an environment. To be outside the Revolution means to be among the émigrés. Of this there can be no discussion. But apart from the émigrés abroad, there are the internal ones. And the road to them lies along estrangement from the Revolution. He who has nothing more to run after is a Candidate for spiritual emigration. And inevitably this means artistic death, because there is no use of fooling oneself – the attractiveness, the freshness, the significance of the younger ones come entirely from the Revolution which they touched. If this be taken away, there will be a few more Chirikovs in the world, and nothing more.
Pilnyak is a realist and an excellent observer with fresh eyes and a good ear. People and things are not old and worn out for him and always the same, and only thrown into temporary disorder by the Revolution. He takes them in their freshness and uniqueness, that is, alive and not dead, and he seeks support for his artistic order in the disorder of the Revolution which is to him a live and fundamental fact.
In art as well as in politics – and in some respects art is like politics and politics like art, because both are art – a “realist” may look only at what is under his feet, notice only obstacles, minuses, holes, torn boots, broken dishes. Then politics will be in fear, evasive, opportunistic, and art will be petty, eaten with skepticism, episodic. Pilnyak is a realist. The question is only as to the standard of his realism. And a large standard is needed for our time.
Life in Revolution is camp life. Personal life, institutions, methods, ideas, sentiments, everything is unusual, temporary, transitional, recognizing its temporariness and expressing this everywhere, even in names. Hence the difficulty of an artistic approach. The transitory and the episodic have in them an element of the accidental and the accidental bears the stamp of insignificance. The Revolution, taken episodically, appears quite insignificant. Where Is the Revolution, then? Here lies the difficulty. Only he will overcome it who fully understands and feels the inner meaning of this episodic character and who will reveal the historic axis of crystallization that lies behind it. “Why do we need solid houses?” the sect of Old Believers used to say. “We are awaiting the coming of Christ.” Nor is this Revolution building solid houses, but instead, it makes removals, concentrations and barracks. The character of the temporary and of the barrack lies on all its institutions. But not because it is awaiting the coming of Christ, that is, contrasting its final aim with the present process of building life, but because, on the contrary, it is striving in endless gropings and experiments to find the best ways of building a house that is solid. Everything it does is merely sketches, études, rough drafts on a given theme. There were and there will be many of them. And there are many more unsuccessful ones than those which promised success. But all of them are filled with one thought, with one search. A single historic task inspires them. Gviu, Glavbum, are not simply correlations of sound, in which Pilnyak hears the wailing of the revolutionary elements. These are purposeful, working words, thought out and consciously put together (just as there are working hypotheses), for a conscious, purposeful, planful construction, such as has never been in the world before.
“Yes, in a hundred or one hundred and fifty years men will yearn for the present Russia, as for the days of the most beautiful manifestation of the human spirit. But my shoe is torn and I would like to sit abroad in a restaurant and drink a little whisky.” (Ivan and Mary) Just as a train of cattle cars, because of the confusion of hands, feet, bagmen and lights, cannot see a road 2,000 versts long, so Pilnyak tells us, because of a torn shoe and because of all the other discordancies and difficulties of Soviet life, one cannot see the historic turn made in these very days. “Seas and plateaus have changed places! For in Russia there is the beautiful agony of birth! For Russia is being divided into economic Zones! For in Russia there is life! For the waters are muddy with high floods from the black earth. This I know. But they see lice in the filth.” The question is put with very clear precision. They (the bitter Philistines, the deposed leaders, the offended prophets, the pedants, the stupid ones, the professional dreamers) see only lice and mud, when in truth above this there is also the agony of birth. Pilnyak knows this. Can he limit himself to sighs and convulsions, to physiologic episodes? No, he wants to make one feel birth. This is a great task and a very difficult one. It is good that Pilnyak has set this task to himself. But it is not yet time to say that he has solved it.
Pilnyak has no theme because of his fear of being episodic. True, he has a hint of two, three, and even more themes which are drawn in all directions through the texture of the story; but only a hint and without the central pivotal meaning which generally belongs to a theme. Pilnyak wants to show present-day life in its relations and in its movement and he grasps at it in this way and in that, making parallel and perpendicular cross-cuts in different places, because it is nowhere the same as it was. The themes, more truly the theme possibilities, which cross his stories, are only samples of life taken at random, and life, let us note, is now much fuller of subject matter than ever before. But Pilnyak’s pivot is not these episodic and sometimes anecdotal subjects. But what? Here is the stumbling block. The invisible axis (the earth’s axis is also invisible) should be the Revolution itself, around which should turn the whole unsettled, chaotic and reconstructing life. But in order that the reader should feel this axis, the author himself must have felt it and at the same time must have thought it through.
When Pilnyak, without knowing at whom he was aiming, hits Zamyatin and other “Islanders” and says that an ant does not understand the beauty of a female statue because it sees nothing but small projections and grooves as it creeps over it, he has spoken to the point and sharply. Every great epoch, whether it is the Reformation or the Renaissance or the Revolution, must be accepted as a whole, and not in sections or in little parts. The masses, with their invincible social instinct, always participate in these movements. In the individual this instinct attains the level of a generalizing reason. But the spiritually mediocre are neither with the one nor the other; they are too individualistic to share in the perceptions of the masses and too undeveloped for a synthesized understanding. Their share is the bumps and grooves on which they bruise themselves with philosophic and aesthetic curses. How is it with Pilnyak in this matter?
Pilnyak scrutinizes very aptly and sharply a section of our life and in this lies his strength, for he is a realist. Beyond this he knows and proclaims this knowledge of his aloud, that Russia is being turned into economic zones, that the beautiful agonies of birth are taking place within her and that in the confusion of lice and curses and bagmen, the greatest transition in history is being accomplished. Pilnyak must know this since he proclaims it aloud. But the trouble is that he only proclaims it, as if he were contrasting these convictions with the vital and cruel actual existence. He doesn’t turn his back on revolutionary Russia; on the contrary, he accepts it and even praises it in his own fashion. But he merely says so. He cannot acquit it artistically because he cannot grasp it intellectually. Therefore Pilnyak often willfully breaks the thread of his narrative with his own hands in order to tie the knots himself quickly, end to end, to explain (somehow or other), to generalize (and very badly) and to ornament lyrically (sometimes beautifully and much more of ten superfluously). Pilnyak tied a great number of such purposeful authors’ knots. His whole work is dualistic, sometimes it is the Revolution that is the invisible axis, sometimes, very visibly, it is the author himself who is timidly rotating around the Revolution. Such is Pilnyak today.
As to subject matter, Pilnyak is provincial. He takes the Revolution in its periphery, in its back yards, in the village, and mainly in the provincial towns. His Revolution is a small town one. Still, even such an approach can be vital. It can be even more organic. But to be that you cannot stop at the periphery. You have to find the axis of the Revolution which is neither in the village nor in the district. You can approach the Revolution through the small town, but you cannot have a small town line of vision on it.
A district council of the Soviets – a sled road – “Comrades, help me in” – bast shoes – sheepskins – the waiting line to the Soviet house for bread, for sausages, for tobacco – Comrades, you are the sole masters of the Revolutionary Council and township – oh, sweetheart, you give little, so little! (this in reference to sausages) – it is the last decisive battle – the International – the Entente – international capitalism ...
In such bits of discussion, of life, of speeches, of sausages and of anthems, there is something of the Revolution; a vital part of it grasped with a keen eye, but as if in a hurry, as if rushing past. But something is lacking there that would tie these bits together from within. The idea which underlies our epoch is lacking. When Pilnyak pictures a cattle car, you feel the artist in him, the future artist, the potential future artist. But you do not feel the satisfaction which comes from solving contradictions, which is the greatest sign of a work of art. It is just as perplexing as before, and even more so. Why the train? Why the Cattle car, and what have they in them that is of Russia and for Russia? No one asks Pilnyak for an historical analysis of a cattle car in a cross section of life and a cross section of time, or even, what is more, for a prophetic announcement towards which he inclines so futilely himself. But if Pilnyak himself had understood the cattle car and its connection with the course of events, it would have been transmitted to the reader. But at present the foul cattle car moves along without any justification, and Pilnyak, who accepts it, only creates doubt in the reader’s mind.
One of Pilnyak’s latest works, The Snowstorm, proves the kind of great writer he is. The meaningless dreary life of the filthy provincial philistine perishing in the midst of Revolution, the prosaic senseless routine of everyday Soviet life, and all this in the midst of the October storm, is painted by Pilnyak not as a unified picture, but as a series of bright spots, of apt silhouettes and clever sketches. The general impression is always the same – a restless dualism.
“Olga thought that a revolution was like a snowstorm – and the people in it were like flakes.” Pilnyak thinks the same, not without Blok’s influence, who took the Revolution exclusively as an element, and because of his temperament, as a cold element; not as a fire – as a snowstorm, “and the people in it are like snowflakes”. But if a revolution is only the might of an unbridled element playing with man, then where do the days of the most beautiful manifestation of the human spirit come in? And if the agonies can be justified, because they are the agonies of birth, what is it, in fact, that is being born? If you have no answer to this you will have a torn shoe, lice, blood, snowstorm and even leap-frog, but not revolution.
Does Pilnyak know what is being born from the agonies of Revolution? No, he does not. Certainly he has heard said (how could he not but hear!) but he does not believe it. Pilnyak is not an artist of the Revolution, but only an artistic “fellow-traveller”. Will he become its artist? We do not know. But at present he is not. Posterity will talk about “the most beautiful days” of the human spirit. Very well, but what was Pilnyak in those days? Unclear, hazy, dual. Is it not for this reason that Pilnyak is afraid of the events and of the people who define strictly and who give a meaning to what is happening? Often Pilnyak passes the Communist by with respect, a little coldly, sometimes even with sympathy, but he passes him by. You seldom find a revolutionary workman in Pilnyak, and what is more important, the author does not see and cannot see with the latter’s eyes the things that are happening. In The Bare Year he looks at life with the eyes of his various characters, who are also all “fellow-travellers” of the Revolution, and here is disclosed another remarkable manifestation: the Red Army does not exist for this artist of 1918-1921. How does that happen? The first years of the Revolution were, above all, years of war, and the blood rushed from the heart of the country to the fronts and peripheries, and there for several years it was spilt in great quantities. During those years the workers’ vanguard put all its enthusiasm, all its faith in the future, all its renunciation, its clarity of thought, and its will into the Red Army. The urban revolutionary Red Guard at the end of 1917 and the beginning of 1918, in its fight for self-preservation, spread to the front in divisions and battalions. Pilnyak pays no attention to this. The Red Army does not exist for him. That is why the year 1919 is bare for him.
But somehow Pilnyak must answer the question, what is this all for? He must have a philosophy of revolution of his own. Here is a most alarming disclosure. Pilnyak’s philosophy of history is absolutely retrogressional. This artistic “fellow-traveller” reasons as if the road of the Revolution leads backwards, not forwards. Pilnyak accepts the Revolution because it is national, and it is national because it pulls down Peter the Great and resurrects the Seventeenth Century. To him the Revolution is national, because he thinks it retrogressional.
The Bare Year, Pilnyak’s principal work, is marked absolutely by this dualism. The basis, the foundation, the ground of it is made up of the snowstorm, of witchcraft, of superstition, of wood sprites, of those sects which live in the same state of ages ago, and for whom Petrograd means nothing. On the other hand, in passing, “the factory became resurrected” owing to the activity of groups of provincial workers. “Is there not a poem here, a hundred fold greater than the resurrection of Lazarus?”
The city is robbed in the year 1918-1919, and Pilnyak hails this, because it suddenly appears that even he has “no use for Petrograd”. On the other hand, still in passing, the Bolsheviks, the men in leather jackets, are “the pick of the flabby and uncouth Russian people. In leather jackets – you can’t dampen them. This we know, this we want; this we have decided, and no turning back”. But Bolshevism is the product of a city culture. Without Petrograd there would have been no selection from the “uncouth people”. The witches’ rites, the folk-songs, the age-old words are the foundation. But the “Gviu, the Glavbum, the Guvuz! Oh, what a blizzard! How stormy it is! How good it is!” It is very good, but ends do not meet, and that is not so good.
Indeed, Russia is full of contradictions and of the most extreme contradictions at that. Side by side with sorcercrs’ incantations is the Glavbum. How the little literary men turn up their noses contemptuously at this new syllabic formation, and Pilnyak repeats: “Guvuz, Glavbum ... how nice!” In these unusual temporary words – temporary as a camp, or as a bonfire on a river bank (for a camp is not a house and a bonfire is not a hearth) – Pilnyak sees reflected the spirit of his times. “How nice!” It is good that Pilnyak sees this. But how shall one deal with the city which the Revolution, though city born, has damaged so heavily? Here lies Pilnyak’s failure. He has not decided, either intellectually or emotionally, what he will choose out of the chaos of contradictions. But one must choose. The Revolution has cut time in half. And though in present-day Russia, the sorcerers’ incantations exist side by side with the Gviu and the Glavbum, they are not on the same historic plane. The Gviu and the Glavbum, no matter how imperfect, tend forward, while the incantations, no matter how “folklike”, are the dead weight of history. The sectarian Donat is splendid. He is a stumpy peasant and a horse-thief with strict rules (he does not drink tea). He, if you please, is not in need of Petrograd. The Bolshevik Archipov is also very fine. He manages the district and at daybreak memorizes foreign words from a book and he is clever and strong and says, “function enegretically”, but what is more important, he himself functions energetically. But in which one of them is the Revolution? Donat belongs to the unhistoric, to the “green" Russia, to the undigested Seventeenth Century. Archipov, on the contrary, belongs to the Twenty-first Century, even though he does not know his foreign words well. If Donat proves the stronger, and if this sedate pious horse-thief carries away both capital and railroad, then it will be the end of the Revolution and at the same time the end of Russia. Time has been cut in two, one-half is living and the other half is dead, and one has to choose the living half. Pilnyak cannot decide and hesitates to make his choice, and for the sake of conciliation, he puts a Pugachev beard on the Bolshevik Archipov. But these are all theatricals. We have seen Archipov – he shaves.
The sorcerer Egorka says: “‘Russia is wise in herself. The German is clever, but his mind is foolish ...’ ‘And how about the Karl Marxes?’ one asks. ‘He is a German,’ I say, ‘and therefore a fool.’ – and Lenin? – ‘Lenin,’ I say, ‘is a peasant, a Bolshevik, and you must be communists ...’ Pilnyak himself is hiding behind the sorcerer Egorka, and it is very disturbing that when he speaks for the Bolsheviks he speaks openly and when he speaks against the Bolsheviks, it is in the half-witted tongue of a sorcerer. What has he that is deeper and more real? Might not this “fellow-traveller” change at one of the stations into the train going the other way!
The political danger here produces an immediate artistic one. If Pilnyak should insist on resolving the Revolution into peasant revolts and peasant life – it would mean a further simplifying of his artistic methods. Even now Pilnyak does not present a picture of the Revolution, but only its base and background. He has laid on the base with good, bold strokes, but what a pity if the master should decide that the base is the whole picture. The October Revolution is an urban one, a Petrograd and Moscow one. “The Revolution is still going on,” Pilnyak remarks in passing. The entire future work of the Revolution will be directed towards the industrializing and modernizing of our economy, towards making more precise the processes and methods of reconstruction in all fields, towards uprooting the idiocy of village life, towards making human personality more complex and enriching it. The proletarian revolution can be technically and culturally completed and justified only through electrification, and not through a return to the candle, through the materialistic philosophy of a working optimism and not through woodland superstitions and stagnant fatalism. It would be too bad if Pilnyak should want to become the poet of the candle with the pretensions of a revolutionist I This, of course, is no political harm – no one would think of dragging Pilnyak into politics – but a most real and genuine artistic danger. The fault lies in an historic approach, which comes from a false point of view and from a crying dualism. This results in a deviation from the most important aspects of reality, and in a reduction of everything to the primitive, to the socially barbaric, to the further roughening of artistic methods, to naturalistic excesses, insolent but not courageous, for they are not carried to the end. Further on, before you know it, it will lead to mysticism and to mystic hypocrisy (as per the passport of a romanticist), which is the complete and final death.
Even now Pilnyak shows his romanticist passport every time he is in difficulty. This is especially true when he has to show his acceptance of the Revolution, not in vague and ambiguous terms, but quite clearly. Then he makes immediately (in the manner of Andrey Biely) a typographical recession of several quads and in quite a new tone announces: Do not forget, please, that I am a romanticist. Drunkards very frequently have to display great solemnity, but also sober people have often to pretend that they are drunk to escape from difficult situations. Does not Pilnyak belong to the latter? When he insistently calls himself a romanticist and asks that this should not be forgotten, does not the frightened realist who is lacking horizon speak in him? The Revolution is not at all a torn boot, plus romanticism. The art of the Revolution does not at all consist in not seeing the truth or in transforming the stern reality by an effort of the imagination into the vulgarity of the “legend in the making” for oneself, and for one’s own use. The psychology of “the legend in the making” is contrary to the Revolution. With it, and with its mysticism and its mystifications, began the counter-revolutionary period which came after 1905.
To accept the workers’ Revolution in the name of a high ideal means not only to reject it, but to slander it. All the social illusions which mankind has raved about in religion, poetry, morals or philosophy, served only the purpose of deceiving and blinding the oppressed. The Socialist Revolution tears the cover off “illusions”, off “elevating”, as well as off humiliating deceptions and washes off reality’s make-up in blood. The Revolution is strong to the extent to which it is realistic, rational, strategic and mathematical. Can it be that the Revolution, the same one which is now before us, the first since the earth began, needs the seasoning of romantic outbursts, as a cat ragout needs hare sauce? Leave that to the Bielys. Let them chew to the very end the Philistine cat ragout with Anthroposophic sauce.
For all the significance and freshness of Pilnyak’s manner, his mannerisms because they are frequently imitative, are troublesome. It is difficult to understand how Pilnyak could have fallen into artistic dependence on Biely, and on Biely’s worst sides at that. There is the tiresome subjectivism which takes the form of frequently repeated nonsensical lyrical interpositions; the rabid and irrational literary argumentation which swings back and forth from ultra-realism to unexpected psycho-philosophical discourses; the arrangement of the text in typographic terraces; the unrelated quotations which are brought in by mechanical association; all of which are unnecessary, boresome and imitative. But Andrey Biely is cunning. He covers the holes in his teaching with a lyrical hysteria. Biely is an Anthroposophist, he acquired wisdom from Rudolph Steiner, he kept vigil in the German mystic temple in Switzerland, he drank coffee and ate sausages. And as his mystic philosophy is meager and pitiful, a half sincere (hysterical) charlatanism and a charlatanism strictly according to the dictionary have crept into his literary methods, for the sake of covering this up – and the farther he advances, the more this is true. But why should Pilnyak find this necessary, or can it be that Pilnyak is also preparing to teach us the tragi-consoling philosophy of redemption with a sauce made of Peters’ chocolate? Does not Pilnyak take the world as it is in its corporeality and value it for that? Why, then, this dependence on Biely? Evidently, like a curved mirror, it reflects Pilnyak’s inner need of a synthetic picture of the Revolution. The gaps in Pilnyak’s spiritual grasp cause his weakness for Biely, the verbal decorator of spiritual failures. But for Pilnyak, this is a road downward, and it would be good for him if he could throw off the semi-buffoonish manner of the Russian Steinerite, and would move upward on his own road.
Pilnyak is a young writer, but, none the less, he is not a youth. He has entered the most critical age, and his great danger lies in a premature and sudden venerability. He hardly ceased to be promising when he became an oracle. He writes like an oracle; he is ambiguous, he is obscure, he hints like a priest, he instructs, though really it is he who needs to study and to study very hard, because his ends are not socially or artistically correlated. His technique is unstable and uneconomical, his voice breaks, his plagiarisms strike the eye. Perhaps all these are the inevitable ailments of growth, but there must be one condition – no venerability. Because if self-satisfaction and pedantry lurk behind the broken voice, then, even his big talent will not save him from an inglorious end. Even in pre-Revolutionary days, this was the fate of many of our promising authors, who plunged at once into venerability and were smothered in it. The example of Leonid Andreyev should be entered into the primers for promising writers.
Pilnyak is talented, but his difficulties are also great. One needs to wish him success.
The Rustic Or Peasant-singing Writers
It is impossible to understand, to accept or to picture the Revolution, even partially, if one does not see it in its entirety, with the objective historic tasks which are the goal of its leading forces. If this is missed, then the pivot and the Revolution are gone. The latter disintegrates into episodes and anecdotes which are either heroic or evil. It is possible to make rather clever pictures, but it is impossible to recreate the Revolution, and it is, of course, impossible to reconcile oneself to it – because, if there is no purpose in the unheard-of sacrifices and privations, then history is a mad-house.
Pilnyak and Vsevolod Ivanov and Yessenin seem to try to drown themselves in a whirlpool without reflection and without responsibility. They do not dissolve themselves, in the sense of becoming unseen. This would be something to praise them for, not reproach them with, but they do not deserve praise. On the contrary, they are too well seen – Pilnyak, with his coquettishness and mannerisms, Vsevolod Ivanov, with his suffocating lyricism; Yessenin, with his over-weighted “arrogance”. The trouble is that between them and the Revolution, as the subject matter of their work, there is no ideological distance which would secure artistic perspective. The want of both desire and capacity on the part of the literary “fellow-travellers” to grasp the Revolution by merging with it, and yet not to dissolve in it, to grasp it not only as an elemental power, but also as a purposeful process, is a social and not an individual trait. The peasant-singing intelligentsia forms the majority of “fellow-travellers”. The intelligentsia cannot accept the Revolution by leaning on the peasant, without being silly. That is why the “fellow-travellers” are not revolutionists, but fools of the Revolution. Until the alarm is sounded, it is unclear to what they are reconciling themselves – to the Revolution as a starting point of a persistent movement forward, or because in some respects it has moved us back. For there are facts enough for either category. The peasant, as is known, tried to accept the Bolshevik and to reject the Communist. This meant that the kulak, the richer peasant, tried to rob both history and the Revolution by trampling under him the middle peasant. After driving out the landlord, he wanted to carry off the city piecemeal, and to turn his broad back to the State. The kulak does not need Leningrad (at least, not in the beginning) and if the capital becomes “mangy” (Pilnyak) then it serves her right. Not alone the peasant pressure on the landlord – immeasurably significant and invaluable in its historic consequences as it is – but also the peasant’s pressure on the city, is a necessary element of tile Revolution. However, this is not the entire Revolution. The city lives and leads. If you give up the city, that is, if you let it be torn to pieces economically by the kulak and artistically by Pilnyak, then there will remain no Revolution, but a violent and bloody process of retrogression. Peasant Russia, deprived of the leadership of the city, not only wilt never get to Socialism, but will not be able to maintain itself for two months, and will become the manure and the peat of world imperialism. Is this a political question? It is a question of a life attitude, therefore also a question of great art, and on this question one must pause.
Not so long ago Chukovsky urged Alexey Tolstoi to reconcile himself with revolutionary Russia or with Russia, regardless of the Revolution. And Chukovsky’s main argument was that Russia is the same as she always was, and that the Russian peasant will not exchange his ikons or his roaches for any historical gingerbread. Chukovsky evidently feels that in this phrase there is a very large sweep of the national spirit and an evidence of its ineradicability. The experiment of the brother-housekeeper in the monastery who passed out a roach in the bread for a raisin is extended by Chukovsky to all Russian culture. The roach as the “raisin” of the national spirit! What a low national inferiority this is in fact, and what a contempt for a living people! It would be well enough if Chukovsky himself believed in ikons. But no, he does not, for if he did he would not be mentioning them in the same breath with roaches, though in the village hut the roach hides willingly behind the ikon. But as Chukovsky has his roots entirely in the past, and as his past in its turn maintained itself on the moss-covered and superstitious peasant, Cbukovsky makes the old national roach that lives behind the ikon the reconciling principle between himself and the Revolution. What a shame and a disgrace! What a disgrace and a shame! These intellectuals studied their books (on the neck of that same peasant), they scribbled in magazines, they lived through various “eras”, they created “movements”, but when the Revolution came in earnest, they found refuge for the national spirit in the darkest corner of the peasant but where the roach lives.
Chukovsky is merely less ceremonious, but all the rustic writers tend in the direction of a primitive nationalism smelling of the roach. Undoubtedly there are processes in this same Revolution which touch nationalism at various points. The economic decline, the strengthening of provincialism, the revanche of the bast shoe over the boot, home-brew and drink – all these are pulling (one can even say, have pulled) backward into the depths of centuries. And parallel with this can be seen a conscious return to the “folk” motif in literature. Blok’s great development of the city couplets (The Twelve), the notes of folk song (in Akhmatova, and with more mannerisms in Tsvetaeva), the wave of localism (Ivanov), the quite mechanical putting in of couplets, of rituals, and so forth, in the text of Pilnyak’s stories – all this has been undoubtedly called forth by the Revolution, that is, by the fact that the masses, just as they are, have taken the foremost place in life. One can point out other manifestations of a return to the “national”, which are pettier, more accidental and more superficial. For instance, our military uniforms, though they have something from French and from the disgusting Gallifé, begin to approach the medieval tunic and our old military cap. Though in other fields, fashion has not yet come forward because of the general poverty, there are grounds to assume a certain trend towards folk patterns which, even there, the Lord knows, are not so very profound. In the broad sense of the word fashion was foreign to us, and extended only to the possessing classes, thereby implying a sharp line of social demarkation. The advent of the workers as a ruling class caused an inevitable reaction against the borrowing of bourgeois patterns in various fields of life.
It is quite evident that the return to bast shoes, to home-made rope and to home-brew is not a social revolution, but an economic reaction, which is the main obstacle to revolution. In so far as a conscious turn to the past and to the “folk” is concerned, everything that has been done is extremely unstable and superficial. It would be unreasonable to expect the development of a new literary form from a city couplet or from a peasant song; it cannot go much beyond a “trickling in”. Literature will throw out excessive local words. The medieval tunic is already considerably internationalized now on the ground of economy in cloth. The originality of our new national life and of our new art will be less striking but much more profound, and will show itself much later. Essentially, the Revolution means the people’s final break with the Asiatic, with the Seventeenth Century, with Holy Russia, with ikons and with roaches. It does not mean a return to the pre-Peter era, but on the contrary, it means a communion of the entire people with civilization and a reconstruction of the material foundations of civilization in accordance with the interests of the people. The Peter era  was only a first step in the historic climb towards October and through October it will go further on and higher up. In this sense Blok has seen more deeply than Pilnyak. In Blok the revolutionary tendency is expressed in the finished verse:
At Holy Russia let’s fire a shot.
At hutted Russia
Thick-rumped and solid,
Russia, the stolid,
Eh, eh, unhallowed, unblessed. – The Twelve
The break with the Seventeenth Century, with the Russia of the peasant hut, appears to the mystic Blok as a holy affair, even as a state for the conciliation with Christ. In this archaic form the thought is expressed that the break is not imposed from without, but is the result of national development and corresponds to the profoundest needs of the people. Without this break, the people would have rotted away. The same idea that the Revolution is national in character is expressed in Briusov’s interesting poem about the old women; On the Baptismal Day in October:
On the square I was told
There where the Kremlin stood as a target,
They cut the thread and brought fresh hemp for the yarn.
What is the meaning of “national”? Here one must go back to the ABC’s. Pushkin did not believe in ikons and did not live with roaches and was not national. Nor was Belinsky national. One could name a few others without touching the contemporaries. Pilnyak considers the Seventeenth Century national. Peter is anti-national. It follows that the national is only that which represents the dead weight of evolution, from which the spirit of action has flown and which the national organism in the past centuries has digested and thrown off. It follows, then, that only the excrements of history are national. But we think it is quite the opposite. The barbarian Peter was more national than the whole bearded and over-decorated past which opposed him. The Decembrists  were more national than the official statehood of Nicholas the First with its serfdom, its bureaucratic ikons and its state roaches. Bolshevism is more national than the monarchist and other émigrés, and Budenny is more national than Wrangel, whatever the ideologists, mystics and poets of national excrements may say. The life and movement of a nation take their course through the contradictions which are embodied in classes, parties and groups. Dynamically the national and class elements coincide. In all the critical periods of its develop. ment, that is, in all the most responsible periods, the nation is broken into two halves – and national is that which raises the people to a higher economic and cultural plane.
The Revolution has issued from the national “element”, but that does not mean that only the elemental in the Revolution is the vital and the national, as those acquiescent poets of the Revolution seem to think.
To Blok the Revolution is a rebellious element: “Wind, wind – in all God’s world!” Vsevolod Ivanov seems never to rise above the peasant element. To Pilnyak the Revolution is a blizzard. To Kliuev and to Vessenin it is a Pugachev or a Stenka Razin insurrection. Elements, blizzard, flame, maelstrom, whirlpool. But Chukovsky – hc who was ready to make his peace via the roach – declared that the October Revolution was not real, because its flames were too few. And even that phlegmatic snob, Zamyatin, discovered an insufficiency of temperature in our Revolution. Here is the whole gamut from tragedy to horse-play. But in fact both the tragedy and the horse-play show the same passives contemplative and philistine romantic attitude towards the Revolution as towards a national elemental power unleashed.
But the Revolution is not at all only a blizzard. The revolutionary element of the peasant is represented by Pugachev, Stenka Razin and in part by Makhno. The revolutionary element of the city is represented by Father Gapon and partly by Khrustalev and even by Kerensky. This, however, is not yet the Revolution, but only riot or disorder on top of riot, as in the case of Kerensky. The Revolution is above all the struggle of the working-class for power, for the establishment of power, for the reconstruction of society. It passes through the highest points, through the most acute paroxysms of bloody fighting, but it remains one and indivisible throughout its whole course – from its first shy beginnings to its final ideal moment when the state organized by the Revolution will become dissolved into a Communist society.
The poetry of the Revolution is not in the booming of machine guns, nor in the struggle behind barricades; it is not in the heroism of the fallen, nor in the triumph of the victorious, because all these moments are found in a war of violence also. There, too, bloodshed will be found even more abundant; there, too, the machine guns will crackle; there, too, are victors and vanquished. The pathos and poetry of the Revolution consist in the fact that a new revolutionary class becomes master of all these instruments of struggle, and in the name of a new ideal to enrich man and to form a new man, it carries on a struggle with the old world, falling and rising until its final victorious moment. The poetry of the Revolution is synthetic. It cannot be changed into small coin for the temporary lyrical use of sonnet-makers. The poetry of the Revolution is not portable. It is in the difficult struggle of the working-class, in its growth, in its persistence, in its defeats, in its repeated efforts, in the cruel expenditure of energy which pays for every conquered inch, in the growing will and intensity of the struggle, in the triumph of its victories, as well as in its calculated retreats, in its watchfulness, in its assaults, in the elemental flood of mass rebellion, in the exact computation of forces, and in the chess-like movements of strategy. The Revolution began to grow with the first factory wheelbarrow in which the embittered slaves carried out their foreman; with the first strike in which they denied their hands to their master; with the first underground circle where Utopian fanaticism and revolutionary idealism fed on the reality of social wounds. It flowed and ebbed, swung by the rhythm of the economic situation, by its high points and by its crises. With a battering-ram of bleeding bodies it bursts open for itself the arena of the legal system of the exploiters, puts its antennae through and gives them, when necessary, a protective coloring. It builds trade unions, insurance societies, cooperatives, and self-educational circles. It penetrates into hostile parliaments creates newspapers, agitates, and at the same time makes an indefatigable selection of the best, of the most courageous, of the consecrated elements of the working-class, and builds its own party. The strikes are more frequently defeats than half-victories; the demonstrations are marked by new victims and by new blood – but all these form notches in the class memory, which strengthen and temper the union of the select, the party of the Revolution.
It does not act on a vacant stage of history, and it is therefore not free to choose its ways and its times. In the course of events, it will find itself forced to begin decisive action before it has the opportunity to gather the necessary forces; such was the case in 1905. From the height to which it is carried by self-sacrificing courage and by the clarity of its aims, it is doomed to be precipitated downward for the lack of an organized mass support. The fruits of many years efforts are torn from its hands. The organization which seemed omnipotent is broken and shattered. The best are annihilated, jailed, dispersed and scattered. It seems as if all is at an end. And the little poets who tinkled pathetically about it in the moment of its temporary triumph, begin to tune their lyres to a pitch of pessimism, mysticism and eroticism. The proletariat itself seems discouraged and demoralized. But after all, there has been cut into his memory a new and very important notch from which there is no turning back. And the defeat turns out to be a step towards victory. New efforts come with gritting of teeth and new sacrifices. Bit by bit the advance guard gathers its scattered forces, and the best elements of the new generation which are awakened by the defeat of the old, join it. The Revolution, bleeding but not vanquished, lives on in the dumb hatred which dwells in the workers’ quarters and in the villages which are suppressed but not dispersed. It lives in the clear consciousness of the small but tried old guard which, unfrightened by defeat, immediately takes an account of it, analyzes it, estimates it, weighs it, defines the new points of departure, detects the general line of development and points out the road. Five years after its defeat, the movement breaks forth again in the spring floods of 1912.
Out of the Revolution grew the materialist method, which permits one to gauge one’s strength, to foresee changes and to direct events. This is the greatest fulfillment of the Revolution, and in this lies its highest poetry. A wave of strikes grows up with an irresistible design, in which the deeper foundation of the masses and the experience of the Revolution of 19o5 are immediately felt. But the War, which was the logical outcome of all these developments and was also foreseen, intersects the line of the growing Revolution. Nationalism drowns everything. Thundering militarism expresses the will of the Nation. Socialism seems buried forever. But just at the moment of its imminent fall, the Revolution forms its most daring prognosis – to turn the imperialistic war into a civil one, and to have the working-classes take over the power. Amidst the noise of the armored cars on the stone streets, and amidst the ravings of Chauvinism in all languages, the Revolution gathers its strength at the bottom of the trenches, in the factories and in the villages. The masses grasp for the first time with poignant sagacity the inner relation of historical events. February, 1917, is a great victory for the Revolution in Russia. Yet this victory apparently condemns the revolutionary demands of the proletariat as destructive and hopeless. It leads to the era of Kerensky, of Tseretelli, of patriotic revolutionary colonels and lieutenants, of the many-worded, cross-eyed, suffocating, stupid, scoundrelly Chernovs. Oh, the sainted faces of the young village teachers and of the village scribes charmed by the tenor notes of Avksentiev! Oh, the deep revolutionary laughter of the democrats, and the mad howl of rage that followed it as answer to the speeches of the “tiny handful” of Bolsheviks! Yet the fall of the power of the “revolutionary democracy’ was foreordained by the deeper correlation of social forces, by the growing mood of the masses, by the foresight and activity of the revolutionary vanguard. The poetry of the Revolution lay not alone in the elemental rise of the October tide, but in the clear consciousness and in the tense will of the leading Party. In July, 1917, when we were crushed and driven out, when we were jailed and proclaimed spies of the Hohenzollerns, when we were deprived of fire and water, when the democratic press buried us under mounds of slander, we felt, though we were underground or in jail, that it was we who were the victors and the masters of the situation. In this predestined dynamics of the Revolution, in this her political geometry, lay her greatest poetry.
October was only a crowning of these, and at once it brought with it immense new tasks and immeasurable difficulties. The ensuing struggle called for the most varied methods and means, for mad assaults by the Red Guard, for the formula of “No war, no peace”, and for temporary capitulation before the ultimatum of the enemy. But even in Brest-Litovsk, when first we refused the Hohenzollern his peace, and later signed it without reading it, the revolutionary party did not feel itself vanquished, but rather the master of tomorrow. It helped the revolutionary logic of events by its diplomatic pedagogics. November, 1918, was the answer it received. True, historic foresight cannot have mathematical precision. Now it exaggerates, now it underrates. But the conscious will of the vanguard becomes a greater and greater factor in the events which prepare the future. The responsibility of the revolutionary party deepens and becomes more complex. The Party organs penetrate into the thick of the people, feel, evaluate, foresee, prepare and direct developments. True, the Party retreats more often during this period than it attacks. But its retreats do not change the general line of its historic action. They are the episodes, the curves of the great road. Is the NEP “prosaic”? Of course! Participation in Rodzianko’s Duma, Submission to the bell of Chkheidze and of Dan in the first Soviet, the negotiations with von Kullmann at Brest.Litovsk, were also not very attractive. But Rodzianko and his Duma have gone. Chkheidze and Dan have been overthrown, just as von Kullmann and his master. The NEP came. Came, and will go away. The artist, for whom the Revolution loses its aroma, because it does not remove the smells of the Sucharevka market, is empty-headed and small. Given all other necessary conditions, he only will become the poet of the Revolution who will learn to grasp it in its entirety, to regard its defeats as steps toward victory, to penetrate into the plans of its retreats, and who will be able to see in the intense preparation of forces during the ebb tide of the elements, the undying pathos and the poetry of the Revolution.
The October Revolution is profoundly national. But it is not only a national element – it is a national academy. The art of the Revolution must pass through this academy. And it is a very difficult course.
Because of its peasant foundation, and because of its vast spaces and its patches of culture, the Russian Revolution is the most chaotic and formless of all revolutions. But in its leadership, in the method of its orientation, in its organization, in its aims and tasks, it is the most “correct”, the most planful and the most finished of all revolutions. In the combination of these two extremes lies the soul, the internal character of our Revolution.
In his pamphlet on the Futurists, Chukovsky, who has on his tongue what the more cautious ones have on their mind, names the fundamental weakness of the October Revolution: “In externals it is violent and catastrophic, but in essence it is calculating, brainy and shrewd.” They would have recognized in the end a revolution which is only violent, only catastrophic. They, or their direct descendants, would probably have founded their pedigree from it, for a revolution which is not calculating and not brainy never would have carried its business to the end, that is, it never would have carried out the victory of the exploited over the exploiters, and never would have destroyed the material basis which is at the bottom of the retainer’s art and the retainer’s criticism. In all former revolutions, the masses were violent and catastrophic, and it was the bourgeoisie who was calculating and shrewd and who, thanks to this, reaped the fruits of victory. The gentlemen aesthetes, romantics, elementals, mystics and agile critics would have accepted without difficulty a revolution in which the masses showed enthusiasm and self-sacrifice, but no political calculation. They would have canonized such a revolution according to a well-established romantic ritual. A vanquished workers’ revolution would have found a magnanimous aesthetic recognition on the part of that art that would have come in the train of the victor. A very comforting perspective, indeed. But we prefer a victorious revolution, though deprived of artistic recognition by that art which is now in the camp of the vanquished.
Hertzen said that Hegel’s doctrine is the algebra of revolution. This definition can even more correctly be applied to Marxism. The materialistic dialectics of the class struggle is the true algebra of revolution. In the arena visible to the external eye, are chaos and floods, formlessness and boundlessness. But it is a counted and measured chaos, whose successive stages are foreseen. The regularity of their succession is anticipated and enclosed in steel-like formulas. In elemental chaos there is an abyss of blindness. But clear-sightedness and vigilance exist in a directing politics. Revolutionary strategy is not formless like an element, it is finished like a mathematical formula. For the first time in history, we see the algebra of revolution in action.
But these most important traits – clarity, realism, the physical power of thought, a merciless consistency, a lucidity and solidity of line, which come not from the village, but from industry, from the city, from the last word of its spiritual development – are the fundamental traits of the October Revolution, and they are entirely foreign to the “fellow-lravelers”. And this is why they are only “fellow-travellers”. And one has to say it to them in the interest of that very clarity and lucidity of line that is in the Revolution.
The Insinuating “Changing Landmarks” Group
In Russia, a journal which is supposed to be the organ of the “Changing Landmarks” group, Lezhnev attacks, with all the might that is in him, and which is not much, the whole “Changing Landmarks” group in general. He accuses them, not without reason, of a belated Slavophilism. True, they do sin a little in this respect. The effort of the “Changing Landmarks” group to become related to the Revolution is very praiseworthy, but the ideologic crutches which they use for this are very clumsy. One would think that this somewhat unexpected campaign of Lezhnev would be welcomed. But it is not. The “Changing Landmarks” group, though hobbling helplessly and clumsily, is changing color and seems to be coming nearer to the R.evolution, while LeZhnev bravely and boldly goes further and further away from it. If he is embarrassed by the Slavophilism of Kluchnikov and Potechin, which is tardy and not carefully thought out, it is not because it is Slavophillsm, but because it is ideology. He wants to free himself from all ideology whatever. He calls this acknowledging the rights of life.
The whole article is constructed very diplomatically, and is thought out to the very end. The author liquidates the Revolution, and with it, in passing, also the generation which made it. He constructs his philosophy of history as if it were a question of defending the new generation which is now growing up in Soviet Russia against the old people, against the idealistic democrats, the doctrinaires, and so forth, among whom Lezhnev also includes the Constitutional Democrats, the Social Revolutionists and the Mensheviks. But what is the new generation which he accepts, and which he takes under his wing? At first it seems that it is the very same generation which abruptly cut off democratic ideology and all its fictions, which established the Soviet regime, and which, well or badly, is leading the Revolution further. It seems so at first, and Lezhnev suggests this impression for a subtle psychologic reason; it is easier this way to enter into the confidence of the reader, so that afterwards he can take him into his own hands. In the second part of the article there appear not two generations, but three; the generation which prepared the Revolution, but which, in accordance with the general rule, proved incapable of accomplishing it; the generation which accomplished its “heroic” and “destructive” aspects, and the third which is called upon not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. This new generation is characterized somewhat indefinitely, but all the more insinuatingly. They are the strong, the builders without prejudices, and without anything superfluous. In Lezhnev’s opinion all ideology is superfluous. Revolution, don’t you know, like life in general, “is made just as a river flows, just as a bird sings, and is not in itself teleological”. This philosophic vulgarity is accompanied by nods in the direction of the doctrinaires of the Revolution, among whom are all and everyone who is armed with a theoretic doctrine of revolution, and who sees definite aims and creative tasks ahead of the Revolution. In fact, what does it mean that life “in itself” is not teleological, and that it is created just as a river flows? About what life is here the question? If the question is about physiologic metabolism, then it is more or less correct, though here man has recourse to teleology in the form of the culinary art, of hygiene, of medicine, etc. In this lies the difference between his life and a flowing river. But life consists also of something which is higher than physiology. Human labor, that very thing which distinguishes man from the animal, is thoroughly teleological; outside of the rationally directed expenditures of energy there is no labor. And labor occupies a place in human life. Art, even the “purest”, is thoroughly teleological, because if it breaks with great aims, no matter how unconsciously felt by the artist, it degenerates into a mere rattle. Politics is embodied teleology. And revolution is condensed politics, bringing into action a mass of many millions. How, then, is revolution possible without teleology?
In connection with this, Lezhnev’s relation to Pilnyak Is significant in the highest degree. Lezhnev declares Pilnyak to be a true artist, almost the artistic creator of the Revolution. “He perceived it, he carried and he carries it within himself.” ... In vain, says Lezhnev, is Pilnyak accused of dissolving the Revolution into the elemental. In this very thing, it seems, lies Pilnyak’s power as an artist. Pilnyak “grasped the Revolution, not from without, but from within, gave it dynamics, disclosed its organic nature”. But what does it mean to understand the Revolution from within? It would mean to look at It with the eyes of its greatest dynamic force, of the work-mg-class, of its conscious vanguard. And what does it mean, to look at the Revolution from without? It would mean to see in the Revolution only an element, a blind process, a blizzard, a chaos of facts, of people and of shadows. This is what it would mean to look at it from without. And it is in this way that Pilnyak looks at it.
In contrast to us who think abstractly, Pilnyak supposedly gave “an artistic synthesis of Russia and of the Revolution”. But in what way is a “synthesis” of Russia and of the Revolution possible? Did the Revolution appear from without, or from the side? Is not the Revolution the property of Russia? Is it possible to separate them, and then contrast Russia to the Revolution, and so synthesize them? This is equivalent to speaking of a synthesis of man and his age, or of a synthesis of woman and the birth process. Whence this monstrous combination of words and concepts? It comes from this very approach to the Revolution, from without and from the side. The Revolution, to them, is a gigantic but an unexpected event. Russia is not the real Russia, with her past and with that future which she had in her, but the habitual and possible Russia, which was deposited in their conservative consciousness, and which does not reconcile itself to the Revolution which has fallen upon them. And these people need the effort of logic and psychology, and a very big effort at that, to “synthetize” Russia with the Revolution and not damage their spiritual economy. An artist like Pilnyak, with his deficiencies and his weaknesses, is just made for them. To reject revolutionary teleology is, in reality, to reduce the Revolution to a temporary peasant revolt. Here lies the conscious and unconscious approach to the Revolution of the majority of those writers whom we have called “fellow-travellers”. Pushkin said that our popular movement is a revolt, irrational and cruel, of course this is a nobleman’s definition, but within the limitations of a nobleman’s point of view, it is profound and apt. As long as the revolutionary movement retains its peasant character, it is “not teleological”, to use Lezhnev’s phrase, nor “irrational”, if one prefers Pushkin’s. The peasantry has never in history risen independently to general political aims, and peasant movements have resulted either in a Pugachev or a Stenka Razin, and were repressed throughout all history, or they served as a basis for the struggle of other classes. A purely peasant revolution has never been anywhere. Whenever a peasantry were without leadership, either of the bourgeois democracy, as in the old revolutions, or of the proletariat, as with us, its movement only beat on the existing regime and shook it up, but it never ended in planful reorganization. A revolutionary peasantry was never capable of creating a government. In its struggle it built guerrilla bands, but it never created a centralized revolutionary army. That is why it suffered defeats. How significant that all our revolutionary poets, almost without exception, come back to Pugachev and Stenka Razin! Vasili Kamensky is Stenka Razin’s poet; while Vessenin is Pugachev’s. Of course it is not bad that the poets are inspired by these dramatic moments of Russian history, but it is bad and it is criminal that they cannot make their approach to the present Revolution otherwise than by dissolving it into blind revolts, into elemental uprisings, and so wipe out one hundred or one hundred and fifty years of Russian history, as if they had never been. As Pilnyak says, “peasant life is known – it is to eat in order to work, to work in order to eat, and besides that, to be born, to bear, and to die”. Of course this is a vulgarization of peasant life. However, artistically it is a legitimate vulgarization. For what is our Revolution, if it is not a mad rebellion in the name of the conscious, rational, purposeful and dynamic principle of life, against the elemental, senseless, biologic automatism of life, that is, against the peasant roots of our old Russian history, against its aimlessness, its non-teleological character, against the “holy”, and idiotic philosophy of Tolstoi’s Karataiev in War and Peace? If we take this away from the Revolution, then the Revolution is not worth the candles which were burned for it, and, as is known, much more than candles were burned for it.
However, it would be libelous, not only to the Revolution, but also to the peasant, to say that Pilnyak’s, or what is more, Lezhnev’s point of view is the true peasant approach to the Revolution. No, our great historic conquest consists in the fact that the peasant himself, clumsily and almost like a bear, with stops and retreats, is separating himself from the old, irrational and meaningless life, and is gradually being drawn into the sphere of conscious reconstruction. It will take decades before the philosophy of Karataiev will be burned and leave no trace of itself, but this process has already been begun, and has been begun well. Lezhnev’s point of view is not the peasant’s: it is the point of view of a philistine intellectual, who is hiding behind the back of the peasant of yesterday, because he does not want to show his own back of today. It is not very artistic.
Art, don’t you see, means prophecy. Works of art are the embodiments of presentiments; therefore pre-revolutionary art is the real art of the Revolution. In the almanac Shipovnik, which is filled with reactionary ideas, this philosophy is worked out by Muratov, and by Efros, each one in his own way, but their conclusions are the same. It is absolutely unquestionable that the War and the Revolution were prepared in the material conditions and in the consciousness of the classes. It is also unquestionable that this preparation was reflected in different ways in art. But this, at any rate, was pre-revolutionary art, the art of the languishing bourgeois intelligentsia before the Storm. We are talking, however, about the art of the Revolution, which was created by the Revolution and from which it draws its new “presentiments” and which in its turn it now feeds. This art is not behind us, but ahead of us.
The Futurists and the Cubists, who reigned almost unchallenged over the desert-like field of art in the first years of the Revolution, found themselves driven from the positions they first occupied. This was so not only because the Soviet budget was reduced, but because they did not have, and in their very essence could not have had, sufficient resources to solve their vast artistic problems. And now we hear that Classicism is on the way. And what is more, we hear that the art of Classicism is the art of the Revolution. And still more, Classicism is “the child and essence of the Revolution”. (Efros) Of course these are very cheerful notes. The one thing that is strange is, why Classicism should remember its kinship to the Revolution only after four years of reflection? This is a classic caution. But is it so true that the neo-Classicism of Akhmatova, Verkhovsky, Leonid Grossman and Efros, is “the child and essence of the Revolution”? In so far as the “essence” is concerned, this is going too far. But is not neo-Classicism a “child of the Revolution”, in the same sense in which the NEP is? This question may seem somewhat unexpected, and even out of place. And yet it is most appropriate. The NEP has found an echo abroad in the form of the “Changing Landmarks” group, and we are told the good news that the theorists of change accept the “essence” of the Revolution. They want to strengthen and to order its conquests, and their slogan is “revolutionary conservatism”. For us the NEP is a turn of the revolutionary trajectory, which, in its general direction, is going upward; for them, the turn is in the entire direction of the trajectory. We consider that the historic train has just begun to move, and that this is only a brief stop at a station for the purpose of taking on water and getting up steam. They think, on the contrary, that what ought to be preserved is this state of rest after the disorder of movement has finally stopped. The NEP has produced the “Changing Landmarks” group, and it is the NEP that has caused the discovery that neo-Classicism is the “child of the Revolution”. “We are alive; in our arteries, our pulse is whole and strong; its beat is in harmony with the rhythm of the current day, we have lost neither sleep nor appetite, because the past has passed.” . . . This is very well said. Perhaps even a little better than the author himself intended. The children of the Revolution who, as you see, have not lost their appetite because the past has passed! Children with an appetite, one cannot help saying. But the Revolution is not at all so easily satisfied that it will recognize as its own those poets who, in spite of the Revolution, have lost no sleep, and have not run away across the border. Akhmatova has some strong lines on why she did not go away. It is very good that she did not go away. But Akhmatova herself hardly thinks that her songs are of the Revolution, and tile author of the neo-Classic manifesto is in too much of a hurry. Not to lose sleep because of the Revolution is not the same as grasping its “essence”. It is true that Futurism has not mastered the Revolution, but it has an internal striving which, in a certain sense, is parallel to it. The best of the Futurists were on fire, and perhaps are still so. But Neo-Classicism is merely not losing its appetite. Neo-Classicism is very similar to the poetry of the “Changing Landmarks” group, that foster-sister of the NEP.
And this is only natural, after all. If Futurism was attracted towards the chaotic dynamics of the Revolution, tried to express itself in the chaotic dynamics of words, then neo-Classicism expressed the need of peace, of stable forms, and of correct punctuation. In the language of the “Changing Landmarks” group, this may be called “revolutionary conservatism”.
Shaginyan’s benevolent and even “sympathetic” attitude toward the Revolution, as is now evident, has its source in the most unrevolutionary, Asiatic, passive, Christian and non-resistant point of view. Shaginyan’s recently published novel, Our Destiny, serves as an explanatory note to this point of view. Here all is psychology, and transcendental psychology at that, with roots that go off into religion. There is character “in general”, spirit and soul, destiny noumenal and destiny phenomenal, psychologic riddles throughout, and to make the piling up of all this seem not too monstrous, the novel takes place in a sanatorium for psychopathics. There is the very splendid professor, a most keen-minded psychiatrist, who is also the noblest husband and father, and a most unusual Christian; the wife is a little simpler, but her union with her husband in sublimation to Christ, is complete; the daughter tries to rebel, but later humiliates herself in the name of the Lord; a young psychiatrist, in whose name the story is told, is entirely in accord with this family. He is intelligent, soft and pious. There is a technician, with a Swedish name, who is unusually noble, good, wise in his simplicity, of forbearing and submissive to God. There is the priest Leonid, unusually keen, unusually pious, and, of course, according to his avocation submissive to God. And all about them are crazy and half-crazy people, by whom on the one hand is revealed the understanding and profundity of the professor, and, on the other hand, the necessity of obeying God, who did not succeed in building a world without crazy people. There is another young psychiatrist, who comes here as an atheist, and of course also submits to God. These heroes discuss among themselves whether the professor recognizes the devil, or whether he considers evil impersonal, and they are inclined to get along without the devil. On the cover is written, 1923, Moscow and Petrograd! What wonders in a sieve – truly!
Shaginyan’s keen-minded, good and pious heroes do not call forth sympathy, but complete indifference, which at moments passes into nausea. And this is so, in spite of the fact that a clever author is evident, for all the cheap language and all too provincial humor. There is falseness even in Dostoievsky’s pious and submissive figures, for one feels that they are strangers to the author. Be created them in large degree as an antithesis to himself, because Dostoievsky was passionate and bad-tempered in everything, even in his perfidious Christianity. But Shaginyan seems really to be good, though with a domestic goodness only. She has enclosed the abundance of her knowledge and her extraordinary psychological penetration in the framework of her domestic point of view. She herself recognizes it, and speaks of it openly. But the Revolution is not at all a domestic event. That is why Shaginyan’s fatalistic submission is so strikingly incongruous to the spirit and meaning of our times. And that is why her very wise and pious people, if you will forgive the word, stink of bigotry.
In her literary diary, Shaginyan speaks of the necessity of struggling for culture everywhere and always; if people blow their noses into their five fingers, teach them the use of the handkerchief. This is correct, and strikes a bold note, especially today when, for the first time, the real bulk of the people are beginning consciously to reconstruct culture. But the semi-illiterate proletarian who is unused to the handkerchief (having never owned one), who has done with the idiocy of divine commandments once and for all, and who is seeking a way for the building of correct human relationships, is infinitely more cultured than those educated reactionaries (of both sexes) who blow their noses philosophically into their mystic handkerchief, and who complicate this unaesthetic gesture by the most complex artistic tricks, and by stealthy and cowardly borrowings from science.
Shaginyan is anti-revolutionary in her very essence. It is her fatalistic Christianity, her household indifference to everything that is not of the household, that reconciles her to the Revolution. She has simply changed her seat from one car into another, carrying with her hand baggage and her philosophic artistic handwork. It may possibly seem to her that she has retained her individuality more surely this way. But not a single thread points upward from this individuality.
1. I received from an experienced and well-read journalist a thundering letter, proving the class character of literature. My correspondent took the sarcastic sentence literally. I am afraid that this might happen with others. There are not too many attentive readers in the world. I am therefore driving this note home with this inscription: “Attention! This is irony!” – L.T.
2. 1861 saw the abolition of serfdom in Russia.
3. The era of Peter the Great.
4. The Decembrists staged the first insurrection of modern Russian history in 1825. Pushkin was involved them.