Culture in the Fight for Peace

Dmitri Shostakovich

Dear Friends in the Hall! Dear friends throughout the world! I am a musician, that is to say, a representative of one of those forms of art the language of which is the same for all peoples of the globe.

I would naturally prefer to converse with you and with all people by means of a piano or orchestral score. I should like my art to help you to have an easier life, to work more joyously, to love more profoundly, but – and again I repeat – the language of music does not know the word ‘war’. For this reason my conscience directs me to speak not in musical notes, but in words.

Today in Korea it is not only musical notes, books and pictures that are burning – the houses in which people lived are burning and, what is more terrible than anything else, they are burning together with people in them, with children in them. Yet the bourgeois press and radio complacently spread throughout the world the statements of people who for some reason are convinced that not only are their safes fireproof, but also their palaces, and who demand that the conflagration be spread to all lands and to all continents.

The world is seized with alarm. Instead of asking one another ‘Will the sun shine tomorrow? people are asking ‘Will war break out tomorrow?’

I know that no symphony, no novel – not even the Venus de Milo –  can give back their homes to the homeless Koreans or, still less, bring back to life their murdered children. But surely science and art can do something to save other homes, to prevent bombs and fire from putting an end to the games of living children?

I am proud that in my land the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. has instituted special prizes ‘for the consolidation of peace among the nations’, to be awarded annually to those who, by their creative work and their public work have made great contributions to the defence of peace throughout the world. These prizes bear the name of the great Stalin.

In the face of the common danger nothing could create an atmosphere of mutual understanding more rapidly and easily than science and art. Only one thing is needed for this, a simple condition, easily realised: the workers in the field of culture of every nation should be given the opportunity to bring their achievements before other nations and to convey their thoughts to them.

In other words, it is necessary to organise the exchange of all cultural values – belonging to the past, to the present and even those which exist only as a supposition for the future – among all the peoples of the globe.

Some time ago I heard a long argument over the bourgeois radio to the effect that European civilisation has to be defended from the Asiatics, and I learned that this defence was to be undertaken by Mr. Churchill’s son-in-law (I cannot remember his name), and that the Asiatics are not only the 1,000 million population of Asia, but the whole Soviet people. From the same lips – or perhaps from others (you must forgive me, I have a bad memory not only for Mr. Churchill’s relatives but also for those who hold his views) – I learned that for these gentlemen European civilisation is a synonym of Christian civilisation....

A little while ago, with my Seventh Symphony, I attempted, as far as lay in my power, to speak out against the fascist barbarity which also proclaimed itself a paladin of the West, and, as previously, I consider it to be barbarity when attempts are made to reject or belittle the culture of other countries which, it should be mentioned, are frequently older than European countries. Before pluming oneself on any given national culture, its achievements should be assessed; it will then appear that many of the paladins of the Far West are simply ignoramuses. Culture does not amount to the total number of electric bulbs in the country, but to the sum of its spiritual light, and it should burn for all people on earth or else it virtually becomes nothing but the cold glitter of advertisement.

Our enemies know that false arguments on the subject of culture lack conviction, and they are fighting culture in other and more effective ways, and, in particular, by boycott. They accuse us of not always publishing translations of foreign authors quickly enough; of selecting for translation what we need most, what is closest to us. But they make no selection at all – they simply do not print Soviet books. In the United States of America Soviet books are not published. A ban? No, there is no ban, only a conspiracy of silence.

In France there have been special debates about banning Russian films. Bans have been imposed on these films in France and in several other countries as well. In France, Italy and other countries art exhibitions of the people’s democracies have been banned. This applies not only to works of art but also to the people of art.

We have always welcomed the arrival in our land of eminent writers, whatever views they have held. Of the Americans our land has recently been visited by Steinbeck – I do not believe he has ever complained of his reception. Yet Britain has just refused admission to such writers as Fadeyev, Tikhonov, Ehrenburg and Simonov.

France, under quite comprehensible pressure, prevented Ehrenburg, on whose chest is pinned the ribbon of the Legion of Honour, from leaving the area of an airfield.

Allow me to say something about myself. At one time I was asked to leave the United States of America, and I was unable to perform at a number of concerts. Recently the British Broadcasting Corporation asked me to broadcast to its listeners – but the British Government, in refusing me a visa for Sheffield, decided not to distinguish between Shostakovich the delegate to the Congress and Shostakovich the composer. True, both Shostakoviches wish to serve the cause of peace.

Genuine culture always serves peace, and consequently acquaintance with the culture of any people, knowledge of any people, reduces the danger of war and increases the chances for peace. The defence of culture does not consist in isolation, in closing frontiers to culture and its faithful ally, truth, but in opening the gates to culture. No sooner does the culture of one people penetrate the frontier of another than it finds new friends, not people who hold the same views, not by any means, but friends who argue, who disagree, but who at the same time cannot imagine that these disputes should be settled by weapons.

The average American is being told that Soviet, Chinese, Polish cities should be bombed. I am profoundly convinced that if this average American were to become convinced of the world value –  which is outside time – of the Kremlin, of the treasures of the Peking museums, he would be profoundly indignant. Any attempt to level these monuments to the ground would appear to him to be monstrous. I am convinced that if that same American were to read Anna Karenina in full, and not digest extracts, of suggestive sections of a smart novel, he would never agree with the assertion that Russian people love and suffer differently from Americans. And having read several books by Soviet authors, he would exclaim: ‘These people want war? – Rubbish! They are people who want peace just as much as we do!’

And the greater the number of the books created in different countries that a man reads, the greater the number of symphonies he hears, the greater the number of pictures and films he sees, the clearer will it become to him how great is the value of our common, universal, single culture, and the bigger crime will it appear to him to be if any attack is made on either the culture or the life of anyone near or far, on the life of any man.

This is why I consider it to be the cause of all supporters of peace, and not only of workers in culture, to take every possible step to ensure cultural exchanges between the various countries. And I propose to our Congress that it approve a number of measures to implement, strengthen and develop this exchange:

In the field of science, to further the establishment of international scientific associations to embrace scientists of all countries; to organise scientific congresses in various capitals in turn; to organise visits by scientists (in groups or singly) to other countries to study scientific institutions, to read lectures, to study the country and the people; an exchange of literature between academies, universities and big libraries; the publication of periodical bulletins with annotations on literature published in other countries; the organisation of vacation visits by young people and students to other countries;

In the field of art: to organise tours by whole theatre companies, orchestras, ensembles and by individual performers; propaganda for all forms of creative work of other countries; the organisation of musical festivals which would acquaint the hearers with the music of other countries – national, popular and modern; the organisation of similar film festivals; the organisation of art exhibitions, of exhibitions of popular art;

To work for widespread participation in national celebrations, dedicated to memorable dates in the history of art, of representatives of the largest possible number of countries; to organise the celebration of such dates in other countries (I shall take the liberty of mentioning that my country has recently, for instance, commemorated on an extensive scale, the anniversaries of Goethe, Balzac, Voltaire, Bach, Chopin, Smetana, Cervantes);

To further the translation of literary works and the publication and performance of musical literature; the distribution of these works; the distribution of annotations to them and extracts from criticisms; extensive publication of the classics of world literature and music; the publication at reasonable prices of reproductions of paintings, sculpture and architecture.

I hope that our Congress will augment these or make new proposals.

We must take advantage of everything that can promote rapprochement and not dissension of people, mutual understanding and not the kindling of hatred.

On one occasion, after performing one of my works I received a short note: ‘I have known how terrible war is; it had seemed to me that I had experienced all its horrors. I thank you for reminding me of how beautiful peace is.’

Let everyone realise how terrible is war!

Let everyone realise how beautiful is peace!

We, who speak in the common language of mankind, the language of science and art, the language of culture, we must recall this to people everywhere and always!

Communist Review, January 1951, pp. 7-11.

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