On the Question of the Journals ‘Zvezda’ and ‘Leningrad’

Speech at the Meeting of the Organisational Bureau of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks). (9th August 1946)

J.V. Stalin

We, Leninists, proceed from the assumption that journals, whether scientific or belletristic, cannot be apolitical. I am saying this because many of the writers working as editors-in-chief, and other writers as well, think that politics is the government’s responsibility, the Central Committee’s responsibility. Politics, they say, is not their business. A person produces a good, belletristic, fine piece of writing so it needs to be published in spite of the fact that there are rotten passages that may disorient our youth, corrupt them. This is the point where we disagree with many literary persons, who hold leading positions in publishing houses. To put it bluntly, we demand that our comrades – the best in the field of literature and writers will be guided by the notion, without which the Soviet power cannot exist, id est – politics, so that we could bring up our youth not in a devil-may-care way, not without ideology, bring up people not of the Zoschenko type as they propagate the absence of ideological principles and say: ‘To hell with your criticism. We want to rest, to live, to have a good time’, and that is the reason why they write such empty, redundant things, not even sketches or short stories, but things akin to emetic powder. Is it possible to tolerate such people in literature? No, it is not. We cannot have such people among those who must educate our youth. And you – comrade editors, members of editorial boards, writers – must take this into consideration. The Soviet system cannot tolerate the upbringing of our youth with a devil-may-care attitude or with the absence of ideological principles, that is why our comrade writers must improve. Zoschenko writes. Others are busy and they are not given space in a journal, but for Zoschenko the place is always there. This is called an apolitical attitude towards the common cause.

Second. Friendly relations and not a political approach to a writer, but friendly relations. This results from the apolitical attitude of literary people, they simply do not criticise because of friendly relations with people. That is no good at all. Here liberalism flourishes at the expense of the state and at the expense of the correct upbringing of our youth. What is more vital – friendly relations or state interests? I think – it’s the second. People get adjusted, get accommodated. Don’t be afraid of criticism. Nothing will move without criticism. I will say even more. A person who is not able to look at himself critically, to check his own work, who is not able to ask himself at the end of the day: “And how was my work today?” – such a person cannot be a Soviet person, such a person is a coward. I will say more. This person does not have the courage to speak the truth about himself. That is why many do not like to be criticised. But we welcome people who criticise us. It is not pleasant, but we welcome them, because a person may rot without criticism. When a disease in an organism is neglected, it spreads its tentacles much deeper. The quicker the disease is found out, the better, the livelier, the quicker the recovery. It is the same with certain people, with anyone of us. Criticism must be faced with fortitude, one must have the courage to sum up one’s work every day and ask oneself, – couldn’t I work better. Yes, I have results, but couldn’t I achieve more? Only under such conditions a situation will be created for people to perfect themselves, to advance. Our leading literary persons lack this quality. Because of friendly relations they would want to waive the interests of our youth, the interests of our state. It is an impossible situation.

These are general preconditions. But what practically comes out of it? We would like our editors to differ in journals. There are responsible editors and non-responsible editors, it can be understood like this. It is all wrong. We need to have one chief editor in a journal who is accountable to the party, to the state, to the people for the direction of his journal. Together with him there must be a highly responsible editorial board and his deputy. But there must be only one person who carries the responsibility for the whole literary production, who leads the journal and who is capable of being accountable to the state and to the party. It is necessary to have people, at least one person in an editorial board who has the right to criticise writers publishing their works. If a distinguished person generally, but a dumbbell in the questions of literature, is appointed, then no one will listen to him and he will have no possibility to rightfully criticise. So, there must be one authoritative person, who knows literature. He might be writing once himself, he might have the experience, but there must be a person who can have the full right to give marks to authors. So that he could say: ‘I have read this work. I consider this work to be the best one, but there are some bad passages.’ So, there must be a person among the editorial staff who is able to criticise, to help a young writer on the right way up. It is important for editors to make it a rule not to offend anybody, but to consider for example, that Akhmatova’s authority lies in the past, and at present what she writes is just rubbish, but they cannot say it straight in her face: ‘Look, this is 1946. Thirty years ago you might have written good things in the past, but we are the journal of the present’. It is important to have the courage to speak like this.

Are our journals private enterprises, certain independent groups? Of course not. In other countries a journal is an enterprise like a factory that gives profit. If it doesn’t give profit, it is closed down. These are private enterprises of certain independent capitalist groups, of British lords. But, thank God, we don’t have such a rule. Our journals are the journals of the people, of our state, and no-one has the right to adapt themselves to the tastes of people who do not want to accept our tasks and our progress. Akhmatova and others – we don’t care about them. We have our own interests – to teach the youth, to uphold their interests, to bring up the new generation that is active, has a belief in its cause, is courageous while facing difficulties, ready to overcome all the troubles. Is it possible for Anna Akhmatova or that clown of a writer Zoschenko to teach the youth? What the hell? Why treat them so ceremoniously?

We need such an editor who is not afraid of telling the truth to writers, who will be aiming to teach the youth to be Bolsheviks-Leninists. If we hadn’t taught our youth to have belief in our cause, we would not have beaten the Germans. You know that, you know that better. That is why it is important to choose an editor who is able to head the business courageously without looking to the right or to the left, taking into consideration only the interests of the state, the interests of the proper education of the youth – this is what is most important.

Now, a few words about some journals in particular. The journal ‘Zvezda’ (The Star) has given a lot of good material. I would like Sayanov to stay as the editor-in-chief, if he agrees, if he really has the courage to be in the lead of a really combative journal. It so happens that a journal becomes a kind of a post-box – everything that has been received is consumed. Where is the difference between a post-box and a journal? The difference is in the way the material is accepted – the bad is put aside and the good is used. If Comrade Sayanov is able to work in a way that ‘Zvezda’ does not become a post-box and a store-house, but becomes a journal that guides the writers who write, a journal that provides the direction towards progress, I would vote for Sayanov. He is said to have a weak character, a weak will. Whether it is right or not, I do not know him personally, but by no means is it possible to let Zoschenko be published, because it is not we who must change tastes. It is he who must change. If he doesn’t want to change, he may go to hell!1)

Another journal – ‘Leningrad’. As I see the problem with both these journals is the lack of good material for publications. This may be the reason that sometimes they publish rubbish to fill in the space. It is not by chance that they started to publish double issues, the month is not indicated, the month is hidden. So, Comrade Sayanov stays silent, but he must explain why it so happens that the journal is distributed throughout the whole of Russia without indicating what month it was published in. Does it not happen because there is not enough good material and sometimes they have to use commodities of a compulsory assortment. It might be better for ‘Leningrad’ and for our people’s cause to have only one journal, to give it more paper, to introduce the best writers in it. Comrade Vishnevsky represents the matter in a very tragic way. But there is no tragedy at all.2 It is called rationalisation. (Laughter in the hall.) There will be one journal, having more paper, having a better quality of writers. If the journal advances, we might start three new journals in a way of setting new branches. There will be no surprise if five journals appear in Leningrad, nothing bad will come of it. But at present you might not have enough force and due to quantity you have to waive the quality. I think it is better to have one journal, but a good one instead of two lame journals. Lately ‘Zvezda’ has been short of people.

As for those who have come back from the war and want to lay their hands on the journal – there are different people among them. There are also high ranking officers from the military and they keep insisting, so you must not let such people be published. So what, if he has a high rank, but he is weak in literature?3 By no means such people can be allowed to be published. It shouldn’t disturb you, comrade editors, if past and present military officers who have become literary people, bother you. It shouldn’t disturb you, you criticise them as you criticise all the others. It should be known to you that the Central Committee will only praise you if you possess the courage to criticise such people who are high ranked, but understand little in literature. This is the case that Vishnevsky described, when one military officer visited him4). And if he is a blockhead? So you say: ‘Study, then we will respect you, if you haven’t studied, don’t demand what you don’t deserve’. But as for the high ranks – he was awarded for them, but literature doesn’t have to suffer, the interests of education don’t have to suffer. During the war these people fought excellently, but don’t think that there were no whimpering people and writers like Zoshchenko. There were many people. There were 12.5 million people in the army. Is it possible to suppose that all of them were angels, real people? Is it possible? Everything happened. These people must be welcomed like all the rest – if you write well, then – honour and respect to you, if you write badly – then study.

RGASPI F.558. Op.11. D. 1128. L. 24-30. Typewritten copy. Orthography of the original is kept.

‘Voprosy literatury’, September-October, 2003, pp. 289-294.


1 In the first variant it is said a somewhat differently: ‘Of course no Zoschenko can be let in there. It is not we that have to restructure our life and system according to Zoshchenko. If our life is better, then he has to change. If he doesn’t want to, let him go to hell’. (Ibidem, p. 21). So, Stalin was speaking about ‘life and system’, but in the last variant it was corrected into ‘tastes’.

2 Vs. Vishnevsky during the meeting of the Organisational Bureau said: ‘I would ask to retain the journal “Leningrad”, which is infinitely dear to us, but to appoint a new staff to the editorial board, to help the journal. It is our foremost joy.’ Stalin’s remark to this: ‘If the journal comes to an end, Leningrad will still stay’ (Literaturnye Front. Istoria politicheskoi tsenzury p. 207).

3 In the first variant: ‘So what, if they are military officers, so what if they are of high rank, but if they are weak in literature?’ (RGASPI. F. 558. Op.11. D. 1128. L. 22).

4 Vishnevsky at the meeting of the Organisational Bureau: ‘And very interesting people come. The other day a young poet came. With bright nice eyes. I look at him and think: “What does he need?” It occurs, he was interested in the destiny of the young generation, asked about the meaning of several words, said that he was wounded and failed to go along with the army to the West, and didn’t experience the victory. People produce thousands of questions. We have to deal with them, to explain.’ ((Literaturnye Front. Istoria politicheskoi tsenzury p. 205).

‘Bol’shaya Tsenzura’, Pisateli i zhurnalisty v strane sovetov 1917-1956, Compiled by L.V. Maksimenkov, Moscow, 2005, pp. 573-576.
Translated from the Russian.

Click here to return to the September 2013 index.