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SOVIET WAR LITERATURE ERNEST J. SIMMONS THE development of Soviet literature over the last twenty-:five years is as heroic and self-sacrificing a story as the development of Soviet industry. Writers underwent nearly every conceivable vicissitude~ they sufferel cold and hunger in the early days; they were afflicted with one period of severe regimentation during the first Five-Year Plan, and they contended with ali those conflicting forces born of revolution, civil war and the incredibly swift social, political and economic reconstruction of their vast country. All of them listened to the music of the revolution, but many -could not whistle these harsh, discordant notes, and hence fell silent. Further, millions and millions of people, who had just learned to read, were demanding books and more books, not so much for the sake of entertainment, but poetry, :fiction and dra~a in which the heroes and heroines would dignify and justify the tremendous sacrifices that the masses were making in building a new world for themselves. Writers attempted to meet this demand, ;;1nd in their literature they tried to live up to the dictum of Lenin:«Art belongs to the people; it must be rooted in and grow· with their feelings, thoughts and desires." Eventually great authors emerged, like Mayakovsky, Pasternak, Tikhonov, Aseyev, Tvardovsky, Aleksei Tolstoy, Fedin, Katayev, Fadeyev, Zoshchenko and Sholokhov. And the enduring works· they were publishing in the years just before the war embodied the principle of socialist realism. These Soviet writers had learned to regard man with all possible optimism, while at the same time not eschewing the severest criticism of the oppressive conditions surrounding ·man. In their way they gave allegiance to a new kind of humanism, a socialist humanism, that presupposed a socialist society> in which the individual and the community were no longer two hostile but two complementary factors aiding each other's growth. They had little patience with destructive criticism aimed aga,ipst society, or with the scepticism and cynicism of so much of our own recent realistic literature. For the socialist realism of Soviet literature confirms existence as activity, as creation, as the fulfilment of man's potentialities, the consummation of his victory over the forces of nature. Gone forever is the superfluous hero of 251 252 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY so much of Russian literature before the revolution. The ideal Soviet hero is a man of action; more specifically, he is a hero of labour, for labour as a theme in Soviet life and literature is always·linked with heroism. The hero's personality is vivid, but he is not an individualist; for his heroism is inevitably social, a marked contrast to the supremely individualistic and anti-social heroes of our own literature today. In short, socialist realism attempts to integrate literature and life; its aim is not only to reflect life, but . to shape it, to imbue it with significance, to direct the ·creative present to a more creative future. The invasion of Russia by the Nazis brought to a halt the remarkably progressive development of Soviet literature, as it brought to a h~lt aU the progressive, constructive forces of the country and transformed them into forces of destruction-destruction of the enemy. The whole art world~ like every other human endeavour in the U.S.S.R., was immediately mobilized for the new duties that war thrust upon the people. Every author, great and small, came forward to declare publicly his devotion to the cause of victory. Their collective sentiments are well ·summed up in a public statement of Aleksei Tolstoy: There is one trait in the Russian character. In life's difficult moments, in times of adversity, he easily relinquishes the things he has grown used to, that made up his daily life. He may just have been an ordinary man, one of many. He is called upon to be a hero. And he becomes one. And that is quite natural to him. This is my country, mY native land, my fatherland,-there is no feeling in life warmer, deeper, and more sacred than love of you. Almost to a man Soviet writers are actively engaged in some form or other of war work...


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pp. 251-257
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