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Stalin- Transcripts from Soviet Archives
To Comrade Demyan Bedny
J. V. Stalin
Excerpts from a Letter
December 12, 1930
Works, Vol. 13, 1930 ‐ January 1934
Your letter of December 8 received. You evidently want my answer. Well, here it is.
First of all, about some of your small and trifling phrases and insinuations. If these ugly ʺtriflesʺ were an accidental element, one could ignore them. But they are so numerous and ʺpour forthʺ in such a lively spate that they set the tone of your entire letter. And as everyone knows, it is the tone that makes the music.
In your estimation the decision of the C.C. is a ʺnoose,ʺ a sign that ʺthe hour of my (that is, your) doom has struck.ʺ Why, on what grounds? What shall one call a Communist who, instead of reflecting on the essence of a C.C. decision and rectifying his mistakes, treats it as a ʺnooseʺ?...
Dozens of times the C.C. praised you when praise was due. And dozens of times the C.C. shielded you (not without stretching things somewhat!) from the attacks of particular groups or members of our Party.
Dozens of poets and writers have been rebuked by the C.C. when they made mistakes. All this you considered normal and understandable. But when the C.C. found itself compelled to criticise your mistakes you suddenly started to fume and shout about a ʺnoose.ʺ On what grounds? Has the C.C. perhaps no right to criticise your mistakes? Is the C.C. decision perhaps not binding on you? Is your poetry perhaps above all criticism? Do you not find that you have caught a certain unpleasant disease called ʺconceitʺ? A little more modesty, Comrade Demyan. . . .
What is the essence of your mistakes? The fact that your criticism of shortcomings in the manner and conditions of life in the U.S.S.R.—an essential, imperative subject of criticism—which at first you carried out with considerable accuracy and skill, carried you away so that it began to turn in your works into slander of the U.S.S.R., of its past and present. Such are your ʺGet Down from the Ovenʺ and ʺWithout Mercy.ʺ Such is your ʺPererva,ʺ which I read today at Comrade Molotovʹs suggestion.
You say that Comrade Molotov praised your skit ʺGet Down from the Oven.ʺ It is very possible. I praised it perhaps no less than Comrade Molotov did, for it (as well as other skits) contains a number of splendid passages that hit the nail on the head. But there is a fly in the ointment which spoils the whole picture and turns it into a veritable ʺPererva.ʺ Thatʹs the point, and thatʹs what sets the tone in these skits.
Judge for yourself.
The whole world now admits that the centre of the revolutionary movement has shifted from Western Europe to Russia. The revolutionaries of all countries look with hope to the U.S.S.R. as the centre of the liberation struggle of the working people throughout the world and recognise it as their only Motherland. In all countries the revolutionary workers unanimously applaud the Soviet working class, and first and foremost the Russian working class, the vanguard of the Soviet workers, as their recognised leader that is carrying out the most revolutionary and active policy ever dreamed of by the proletarians of other countries. The leaders of the revolutionary workers in all countries are eagerly studying the highly instructive history of Russiaʹs working class, its past and the past of Russia, knowing that besides reactionary Russia there existed also revolutionary Russia, the Russia of the Radishchevs and Chernyshevskys, the Zhelyabovs and Ulyanovs, the Khalturins and Alexeyevs.
All this fills (cannot but fill!) the hearts of the Russian workers with a feeling of revolutionary national pride that can move mountains and perform miracles.
And you? Instead of grasping the meaning of this process, one of the greatest in the history of the revolution, and of being equal to the lofty tasks of a bard of the advanced proletariat—you retired to a quiet spot in the country and, after getting into a muddle between most tedious quotations from the works of Karamzin and no less tedious maxims from the Domostroi,* began to shout from the house‐tops that in the past Russia was an abomination of desolation, that present‐day Russia is one solid ʺPererva,ʺ that ʺlazinessʺ and a desire ʺto lie on the ovencouchʺ are well‐nigh national traits of the Russians in general and hence also of the Russian workers, who after achieving the October Revolution did not, of course, cease to be Russians. And this you call Bolshevik criticism! No, highly esteemed Comrade Demyan, this is not Bolshevik criticism but slander of our people, a discrediting of the U.S.S.R., a discrediting of the proletariat of the U.S.S.R., a discrediting of the Russian proletariat.
And after that you want the C.C. to keep silent!
What do you take our C.C. for?
And you want me to keep silent on the ground that you, it appears, cherish a ʺbiographical tendernessʺ for me! How na´ve you are and how little you know the Bolsheviks. . . .
Perhaps, being a ʺliterate person,ʺ you will not refuse to listen to the following words of Leninʹs:
ʺIs the sense of national pride alien to us, Great‐Russian class‐conscious proletarians? Of course not! We love our language and our country, we are working most of all to raise her labouring masses (i.e., nine‐tenths of her population) to the level of the politically conscious life of democrats and Socialists.
It pains us more than anything else to see and feel the outrage, oppression and humiliation inflicted on our splendid country by the tsarist hangmen, the nobility and the capitalists. We are proud of the fact that these outrages have roused resistance in our midst, the midst of the Great Russians; that from this midst came Radishchev, the Decembrists and the revolutionary commoners of the seventies; that the Great‐Russian working class in 1905 created a mighty, revolutionary party of the masses; that at the same time the Great‐Russian muzhik was becoming a democrat, began to overthrow the priest and the landlord.
We remember that half a century ago the Great‐Russian democrat Chernyshevsky, who devoted his life to the cause of the revolution, said: ‘A miserable nation, a nation of slaves, from top to bottom—all slaves.ʹ The avowed and unavowed Great‐Russian slaves (slaves of the tsarist monarchy) do not like to recall these words. Yet, in our opinion, these were words of genuine love of country, love saddened owing to the absence of a revolutionary spirit among the masses of the GreatRussian people. That spirit was absent at that time. There is little of it now; but it already exists. We are filled with a sense of national pride because the Great‐Russian nation, too, has created a revolutionary class, it too has proved that it is capable of giving mankind splendid examples of struggle for freedom and for socialism, and not only great pogroms, rows of gallows, dungeons, great famines and great servility towards priests, tsars, landlords and capitalistsʺ (see Lenin, The National Pride of the Great Russians). 1
That is how Lenin, the greatest internationalist in the world, could speak of the national pride of the Great Russians.
And he spoke thus because he knew that :
ʺThe interests (not in the servile sense) of the national pride of the Great Russians coincide with the socialist interests of the Great‐Russian (and all other) proletariansʺ (ibid.). 2
There you have it, Leninʹs clear and bold ʺprogramme.ʺ This ʺprogrammeʺ is fully comprehensible and natural to revolutionaries intimately linked with their working class, their people.
It is not comprehensible and not natural to political degenerates of the Lelevich type, who are not and cannot be linked with their working class, their people.
Can this revolutionary ʺprogrammeʺ of Lenin be reconciled with that unhealthy tendency displayed in your latest skits?
Unfortunately, it cannot, and that is because they have nothing in common.
That is the point at issue and that is what you refuse to understand. Therefore, you must at all costs turn back to the old, Leninist road.
That is the crux of the matter, and not the inane lamentations of a frightened intellectual who goes around in a blue funk talking about how they want to ʺisolateʺ Demyan, that Demyan ʺwonʹt be printed anymore,ʺ and so on.
December 12, 1930
* Domostroi, a memorial of Russian literature of the 16th century — a code of social, religious, and particularly family conduct. It has come to be a synonym for a conservative and uncultured mode of life.—Tr.
1. See V. I. Lenin, Works, 4th Russ. ed., Vol. 21, p. 85
2. 2 See V. I. Lenin, Works, 4th Russ. ed., Vol. 21, p. 87.