- Pushkin Is Our Comrade
The people read books carefully and slowly. Being hard workers, the people know how much of reality must be transformed, experienced, and suffered so that a real thought emerges and a precise, true word is born. Therefore the laboring person’s respect towards the book and the word are much higher than that of the intellectual with a prerevolutionary education. The new socialist intelligentsia that emerged among people of physical labor keeps its own, so to speak, old-proletarian, genteel relationship to literature. We have seen how young engineers, agriculturalists, and naval lieutenants, all of them people of the working class, spent half an hour reading one small poem by Pushkin, whispering every word to themselves for better, more plastic mastery of the piece.
The seriousness of their relation to the human spirit, to art, is as great as the seriousness of their relation to work on a submarine, an airplane, or a diesel engine––if not greater. These people do not need Gershenzon’s advice to read more slowly in order to see the plants of poetry that live under the thick ice of superficial, apathetic attention.1 Now the reader is himself a creative person, and each has a field for inspired poetic work that is limited only by an imaginary horizon. No matter that this poetic activity may consist not in poems but in the Stakhanovite movement, for example. What matters is that this work requires heartfelt inspiration, a strenuous mind, and a public conscience.
Pushkin himself has said that without inspiration it is impossible to work well in any sphere of activity, even in geometry. “God knows I cannot write books for money…,” Pushkin reported from Mikhailovskoe in the fall of 1825.2 Stakhanov also did not descend into the mine for an additional [End Page 101] pay packet one pre-autumn night in 1935. And at the beginning of their work the Krivonosite engine drivers3 followed their artistic feeling for the machine; they were not at all concerned about bonuses or a salary raise. Rather, both Stakhanov and Krivonos and their successors could have suffered from repressions––and some Stakhanovites were indeed subjected to them, because the enemy, whether conscious or unconscious, dark or bright, was near the Stakhanovites, and is near them to this day.
It is always possible to humiliate, to tarnish the frontrunner, the inventive person. “You’ll split the rails, and we’ll come to a standstill forever!” said the backward railroaders to the Krivonosites. “Why don’t you service the course in a new way: for high speed and with a heavy load––like we service the trains!” the Krivonosites answered. The risk of art has always existed for an artist of any kind of weapon––whether a poet or an engineer. The task of socialism is to lessen this risk to naught because creative, inventive labor lies at the very essence of socialism. Pushkin’s risk was especially great: as we know, he always walked “the path of disaster,” almost constantly feeling himself on the eve of the prison fortress or the labor camp.4 The grief of imminent loneliness, of oblivion, of being deprived of the chance to write, poisoned Pushkin’s heart.
Again storm clouds above meGathered in silenceJealous fate threatensMe with violence……………………………But, anticipating separation,That inevitable, fearsome hour,To clasp your hand, my angel,I hurry for the last time.(“Foreboding”)5
But this grief, once it has appeared, was always overcome by the creative, universal, optimistic Pushkinian reason; this was evident in the aforementioned poem (“To clasp your hand, my angel”) and especially in the next one: [End Page 102]
Be proud, be proud, O singer; and you, ferocious beast,Play with my head forthwith;It’s in your claws. But listen and know this, you heathen:[…] you’re still a pygmy, trifling pygmy.(“André Chenier”)6
And the enemy himself, Pushkin’s “ferocious beast”––the virulent autocracy of Nicholas, who had the poet at gunpoint at all times––did not only evoke Pushkin’s anger or despair. No: rather, he laughed even more at his enemy, wondered at...