Pravda 28 January, 1949 Friday
P. 3

About one anti-patriotic group of theatre critics

 

 

The enormous ideological, artistic, and educational power of Soviet literature (as well as Soviet painting and theater) results from its close, direct, and deep connection with life. Soviet literature (drama) is dear and close to Soviet people, because they find in it a reflection of their work, feelings, and ideas, and because it responds to their needs, participating with them in socialist construction, in the ceaseless movement forward to communism. Soviet theater, in artistic forms, shows the life-giving strength of Soviet patriotism that made heroism in our country a mass [phenomenon], and raised our average man ten heads higher than any representative of the bourgeois world. Intimately connected with all the historical creativity of the people is the profound and vital source of socialist realism. And here are the life-giving springs of Soviet patriotism, because it is not possible to create something new in the life of the Soviet people without being devoted with one's entire soul to the Soviet earth, without burning with the flame of love for one’s own people, the creator of Communist society.

This is said to Soviet writers and playwrights by the Bolshevik Party, guiding the building of Communism. Socialism realism is just as inseparable from living, ardent loving interest in the life and activities of the people, from deep and noble patriotic feeling, as bourgeois braggart-cosmopolitanism is connected to indifferent and nonchalant treatment of the people and their creativity, to a neutral, emasculated and cold aestheticism and formalism.

The entire history of leading Russian literature teaches this. The passionate struggle of Belinsky for realism was permeated with lofty patriotic feelings, because artistic truth, which he demanded from writers, playwrights, and actors, is rooted in passionate love for their own people, and love of the fatherland, which gave birth to the struggle for its freedom from tyrants. Belinsky called aestheticism “art for art’s sake,” a game of art, which is why aestheticism of every kind is not only false but antipopular, reactionary in its essence, antipatriotic and treasonous.

The precepts of Belinsky, supported and developed by Chernyshevsky and Dobrolyubov, penetrated all leading Russian literature and developed its noblest traditions. These Coryphaeuses of Russian criticism, great enlighteners, showed in their very appearance what it must be to a critic of realist literature and theater. It is impossible even to this day to reread Belinsky’s articles on theater without emotion. He saw in artistic creations, expressed on stage, the strongest means for the realization of his revolutionary-democratic ideas. Belinsky ardently loved his people, he knew them -- and he demanded that the Russian people portrayed by the theatre be the same as their history actually made them.

Things have changed since then, when Belinsky wrote about the theater. The Soviet people have cast off the bearers of social reaction, liquidated completely the class of exploiter-parasites; The creativity of the people has unfolded wonderfully in every branch of life. Socialist construction, the inspired patriotic uplift during the Great Patriotic War, the immense all-union achievement of creative work which followed the war, the development of new features in the character of the Soviet people, unending innovation in production and in science -- these are all most worthy subjects for art, literature and poetry. And the best writers of the Soviet people, caught up by the same creative enthusiasm by which all the people live, strive to make their own contribution to the common cause, remembering that as highly our Party values any honest ideological work for the benefit of the people, so too does the Party highly value the work of writers, calling them “engineers of the human soul.”

The Party has many times pointed out what miserable and destructive consequences result from a writer being out of touch with the life and struggle of the Soviet people, as well as how the great ideas of Soviet patriotism can enrich and inspire the creativity of a writer. Unbridled cosmopolitanism is not only antipopular, but also infertile. It is harmful, like those parasites in the vegetable world which gnaw the sprouts of healthy crops. It serves as a path for reactionary bourgeois influences hostile to us.

The Party in its decisions regarding the struggle on the ideological front has paid special attention to Soviet criticism. The critic is the first propagandist for new, significant, and positive developments in literature and art. Especially important is the role of the theatre critic. He must transmit widely, through the printed word, the action of artistic theatrical forms. The authentic Soviet critic, loving his work, is devoted to socialist art. He can only be an ardent patriot, he can only be proud, when a new work appears on stage, even if it is still insufficiently perfected but boldly advances a new idea, producing a new image of Soviet man. The theater critic is the theater’s first helper in the search for what is the best, truest and most gifted embodiment in artistic forms of how the nation lives.

Unfortunately, criticism, and especially theatrical criticism has been the most backward area in our literature. Moreover, it is precisely theatrical criticism that up to recently retained nests of bourgeois aestheticism, sheltering an antipatriotic, cosmopolitan, and putrid treatment of Soviet art.

 

* * *

 An antipatriotic group of epigones of bourgeois astheticism has emerged in theater criticism, which is penetrating our press, and, in a most brazen way, has been active in “Theater” magazine and “Soviet Art” newspaper. These critics have squandered their importance before the people; they have revealed themselves as bearers of rootless cosmopolitanism, deeply repulsive and hostile to the Soviet people; they impede the progress of Soviet literature, braking its forward motion. The feeling of national Soviet pride is alien to them.

With this type of criticism they try to discredit the leading developments of our literature and art, violently tearing down precisely that which is patriotic and politically dedicated work, under the pretext of alleged artistic imperfections. It is useful to recall that in their day, the creative work of the great author Maxim Gorky, and such valuable works as “Spring Love” by K. Trenyov and others were subject to the exact same attacks by the ideological enemy.

The image of a worker-revolutionary Nile has profound ideological meaning in the play “Philistines” by M. Gorky. But the critic Yu. Yuzovsky, amidst Jesuitical praise in an address on the play, attempted to suggest to the reader that Nil was “an imperfect image by Gorky,” that the author speaks “here like a pamphleteer, not always caring about plausibility. This is interference of political journalism with the artistic fabric of the play.”

"Artistic fabric," the logic of the subject supposedly violated by Nile's actions in the splendid creation of Gorky -– here is the mask of the bourgeois aesthete, with which he conceals his antirevolutionary, antipatriotic essence, attempting to belittle the courageous, noble form of one of the first Bolshevik worker-revolutionaries, as represented by the great proletarian writer A. M. Gorky.

This same Yu. Yuzovsky, speaking through clenched teeth words of grand encouragement, with a mocking quip along the line of “plot” criticism writes about Surov’s play “Far from Stalingrad,” the Stalin Prize-winning play “The Conquerors” by B. Chirskov, about the role of Zoya in the play “True Story,” for which the actress N. Rodionova was awarded the Stalin Prize. The critic Yu. Yuzovsky finds nothing better than, prattling about this role, to write of the "white wreath on the altar." “This lyric poetry of self-sacrifice,” writes the critic, "is very far from the romanticism which we seek."

His article is full of mockery, in which he ridicules the “happy, cheerful” appearance of the heroes of Soviet plays, alleges that dramatists not infrequently wander "off the subject," about the "smugness" of the hero, about tendencies supposedly "undermining our art" and that playwrights frequently do not want to “think” and thereby supposedly do not allow “their hero to think.” But what is the cost of this reasoning: “Once the hero is Soviet, it is obligatory...for him to gain the victory – this kind of philosophy has nothing in common with the dialectics of life.” Tracing out wretched scribblings, trying to attach to himself an air of false wisdom, this abominable critic sniggers at “the mystical presumption of compulsory success, each time the Soviet hero struggles.” The word “presumption,” as is well known, means “an assumption which is considered true until its correctness is rejected.” [This] deliberately vague phrase of the critic gains an especially outrageous effect, when one takes into account that it was written in 1943, after the great victory of the Soviet Army at Stalingrad. And this is its harm: as a delusion clothed in recondite form, it tries to surrender behind criticism of artistic deficiencies, in the struggle with “artistic demobilization.” No, here is not only concealed, but also open struggle against aspirations to portray the whole, all-conquering character of the Soviet people.

In the articles of A. Gurvich, there is another form of deception, different from that of Yu. Yuzovsky. A. Gurvich makes a malicious attempt to set a classic against Soviet drama, to discredit Soviet dramaturgy, using the authority of ... Turgenev. Speaking of Soviet performances, he opines: “Just one representation has made us excited, made us feel something substantial and real... this was Verochka in A Month in the Country by Turgenev... We... felt in the depths of our soul that only once has this shy, passionate girl extended her hand across the century and over the heads of the many heroines of our plays to Zoya Kosmodem’yanskaya and joined her in a hearty handshake."

Let us dot the “i.” Gurvich’s “we” are those who lack a sense of Soviet patriotism, people who do not really value either the image of Zoya Kosmodem’yanskaya, or the productions of our literature, which the Soviet people appreciate for truthful reflections of the heroic beauty of our life, of the beauty of the spiritual world of Soviet people.

But what conception can A. Gurvich have about the national character of the Russian Soviet people, if he writes that in the "good-natured humor and naively trusting optimism” of the plays of Pogodin in which allegedly were expressed the “national character of the playwright’s mentality,” the audience saw its own reflection and “experienced the joy of recognition,” because, he says, “the Russian people are not strangers to good nature."

This is a slander against Russian Soviet people, a vile slander indeed. And it is exactly because placidity to us is profoundly alien, we cannot but condemn these attempts to slander the national Soviet character.

In the form of Ivan Shadrin from the play “The Man with a Rifle,” A. Gurvich sees a conflicted man who was seized by the waves of revolution and “was floundering in useless opposition,” before giving in to its powerful current. This was said about the peasant-soldier, who met Lenin, about the man, whose consciousness was awakened by the influence of a worker-Bolshevik.

The Party supported and continues to support all new and cutting edge literature and art, it gives a decisive rebuff to efforts to discredit creations imbued with the spirit of Soviet patriotism, relentlessly it exposed and continues to expose antipatriotic attacks.

But [some] people, infected with remnants of bourgeois ideology, still try here and there to poison the healthy, creative atmosphere of Soviet art with their rotten spirit. Sometimes more openly, sometimes in more hidden form, they try to wage their fruitless struggle, doomed to shattering defeat.

The sting of aesthetic-formalist criticism is not directed against truly harmful and inferior work, but is instead directed against progressive and superior works that portray Soviet patriots. And this exactly is evidence that aesthetic formalism serves only as a cover of an antipatriotic nature.

Critics of such a type felt especially comfortable in the musty atmosphere of an association of theatre critics attached to the VTO (All-Russian Theatrical Society, chairman G. Boyadzhiev), the Playwrights' Union commission on drama (where A. Kron presided). There the inner [mind] is revealed in all its ugliness, of those who in other places speak in disguise, frequently hiding the depraved substance of their statements behind pseudo-scientific flourishes, abstruse language, and deliberate evasions, needed only to obscure the essence of their activity.

It is there that theater critic A. Borshchagovsky, being silent about works which distort Soviet reality and images of the Soviet people, directed the flame of his antipatriotic criticism against A. Sofronov’s play “Moscow Character” and the Maly Theater where the play was given. That same A. Borshchagovsky, who in his time smeared the play “On the Steppes of the Ukraine” by A. Korneichuk, subsequently conceived the idea to defame such works as “Our Daily Bread” by N. Virta, and “A Great Fate” by A. Surov, among others.

It was there, that the critic L. Malyugin took up arms against such deeply patriotic productions as “The Great Power” by B. Romashov, “Our Daily Bread” by N. Virta, and “In One Town” by A. Sofronov, which have earned broad acceptance by the public.

The critic E. Kholodov made attacks against the plays “In One Town” and “Our Daily Bread” at a meeting of the VTO.

In that time when the tasks of struggle against rootless cosmopolitanism and displays of bourgeois influence alien to the people, stand clearly before us, this critic finds nothing better to do than to discredit the most advanced manifestations of our literature. This causes direct harm to the development of Soviet literature and art, and impedes its forward motion.

But this is what, as we have seen, A. Gurvich, Yu. Yuzovsky and others are doing with their so-called “work.” Their hollow, turgid “authority” has up to now not been properly exposed. The vicious views of the critics Borshchagovsky, Gurvich, Yuzovsky, Varshavsky, and Boyadzhiev, based on antipatriotic positions, nurture all kinds of distortions, alien to the people, in the work of various critics.

Based in this is such mocking derision made by A. Borshchagovsky against the artistic director of the Maly Theater K. Zubov at a so-called “creative conference” during a discussion of the play "Moscow Character."

“When Zubov begins to say with emotion that Sofronov breathes the ideas of our times, a kind of effusion, a kind of religious rite is happening at that moment within the whole being of the director-artist. I relate this pseudo-classical temperament to a Soviet-themed play at the Maly Theatre.

What is this, if not an attempt to smear and defame both the author of a Party-themed play and our country’s oldest theater, actively working with modern Soviet topics?

Let us quote the ardent, sincere words from the speech of K.A. Zubov, which resulted in the embittered sneers of the critic:

"I wish to say, first of all, a few words about why the Maly Theater agreed to present the play ‘Moscow Character' ... Sofronov’s play is imbued with such greatness, such joy, such vital faith in our life, and such optimism, that it is impossible to be silent about it. This deserves support... It seems to me that poetic comedy, pure comedy, optimistic comedy infectious with faith in our life, in our reality, in our future, in those ideas by which we live, which we breathe, – this already is so important that one cannot deny oneself the pleasure of working with it. This is what was alluring about the theater ... You, together with him (the dramatist – Ed.), are filled with faith in our wonderful reality... This [faith] we must observe first of all, or, speaking further, whether the plot is correct. ... the Theater ... ardently protects the author in this sense and has the right to expect assistance - but not 'criticism' which cuts off hopes, which leaves the possibility of not believing in one's own power."

These words can be applied to all the best plays, saturated with pride for our great Soviet Motherland, and by our filial love for her.

And they well expose the harmful role of that group of critics, which seeks to divert drama and theatre from themes inspired by a sense of Soviet patriotism.

The editorial staff of “Literaturnaya Gazeta” took an especially unappealing position on the question of relationship to the contemporary repertoire, and specifically, to the play "Moscow Character." "Literaturnaya Gazeta" in an editorial report with the pretentious headline “Conversation on the Fates of the Repertory” (from 4 December 1948), gave prominence to a vicious report by A. Borshchagovsky on a meeting about new plays and joined his malevolent attacks against the line of the Maly Theater in staging contemporary patriotic plays.

* * *
How did the critics react to certain recommendations made by the Party about the dramatic repertory of theaters and measures for its improvement? Were they motivated by firm and reasonable party criticism to reassess their attitudes? Did these critics occupy themselves with self-criticism?

No. It was precisely criticism which turned out beyond the capacity of these sorry critics. They did not want to undertake self criticism because that they were afraid to reveal their complete ideological bankruptcy. But neither did they stop their activity, now directly aimed against the directives of the Party, joint and antipatriotic activity. The roles divided. Some leaders of this group burrowed into the stuffy committees of the VTO. Here, with their pals gathered around them, they began to manufacture fake “social opinion” against new Soviet plays, and in fact, against the Soviet repertory in general.

Some began to portray themselves as mysterious “silent ones.” But as a matter of fact, they weren’t silent. In the plenum of the Union of Soviet Writers there were read quotations from transcripts of speeches of these “silent ones” – shameful and ignorant effusions, breathing hostility against the modern Soviet repertory, against the patriotic works of our dramatists.

Hissing and bearing malice, trying to create some literary clandestine organization, they denigrated everything superior that was appearing in Soviet dramaturgy. They did not find a good word for such plays as “The Great Force,” "Moscow Character," "Our Daily Bread," and "A Great Fate." The target of their malicious and spiteful little thrusts were, especially, plays awarded the Stalin Prize.

Of course there are quite a few deficiencies in many plays in the modern Soviet repertory. It is understood that they are all subject to constructive, comradely criticism, both ideological and artistic. But esthete gossips were not concerned with and did not think about such criticism. They completely disparaged these plays exactly because these plays, for all their shortcomings, are imbued with Soviet ideology and adherence to its principles. They pose the most important political questions, and help the Party and the Soviet people in the struggle against toadyism before bourgeois importations, in the struggle against red tape, rapaciousness, and preponderance of private interests over society's. All these plays nurture Soviet patriotism and strive to show on stage, by means of artistic forms, everything new and progressive that is developing in Soviet society.

Bankrupt long ago, Yuzovsky and Gurvich were "silent." Next came Borshchagovsky and others, penetrating from the specialized fine arts into the general press and hiding behind noisy phrases that same hostility to the embodiment in artistic forms of the ideas of Soviet patriotism.

We recall the words of Comrade Stalin: “I can say that quiet concealment is not criticism. But that would not be true. The method of concealing, which is a particular method of neglect, also shows itself as a type of criticism, foolish and ridiculous, it is true, but nevertheless a type of criticism.”

Attempts to keep silent, attempts to swindle with criticism instead of an open, principled raising of a question will not help this antipatriotic group of critics.

Before us are no accidental, isolated mistakes, but a system of antipatriotic views, causing harm to the progress of our literature and art, a system which should be destroyed.

It is not by accident that rootless cosmopolitans attack the work of the Arts Theatre and the Maly Theatre which are prides of our nation. They endeavor to undermine faith in their works, when these theatres, the best in the world, produce plays on Soviet themes [and] reveal images of Soviet people.

The principal task of Party criticism is the ideological defeat of this antipatriotic group of theatre critics.

The recent plenum of the directorate of the Union of Soviet Writers set the foundation for the unmasking and destruction of this antipatriotic group of critics.

Our criticism must keep in mind that it is called on to support the leading, patriotic tendencies in literature and art, unceasingly to propagandize all the best they have developed; boldly, on principle, to expose existing deficiencies, and to nurture writers and artists in the spirit of Soviet patriotism.

* * *
Soviet dramaturgy and Soviet theatre stand on the correct path. Soviet art is nourished, in an unprecedented way in the history of culture, by the very rich sources of socialist construction. But these sources are only open to that person who himself participates in the creation of a new life, in the struggle for communism. Who looks upon this life from the side, through the dispassionate eyes of an i ndifferent onlooker, that [person] inevitably is left behind.

It is necessary to decisively once and forever put an end to liberal connivance at all these petty aestheticisms lacking a healthy sense of love for the Motherland and its people, not having anything for a soul, except petulance and puffed-up conceit. It is necessary to clean the artistic atmosphere of these antipatriotic philistines.

Our playwrights and dramatists must become ever closer to the life of the people, to their work, to their leading figures, to the amazing new phenomena in the cities and on the kolkhozes, closer to the vigorous sproutings of Communist life and Communist morality! It is worthwhile to enter into [this] life, to plunge into its very soul, -- and love for the Motherland, for the people will open up innumerable sources of artistic forms. We see this in those works which found such a warm reception with the Soviet reader and audience. He is exacting, this reader and spectator, the most pure, ideological, and noble, in the world. He strictly criticizes mistakes and blunders. But he lovingly supports the writer, dramatist, when he sees in him warm and genuine patriotic interest in the great deeds of the people.

Party-minded Soviet criticism will smash the bearers of views alien to the people, it will clear the field for fruitful activity of the Soviet theatre and accomplish those tasks which are set before it by the Party and the people.