The following letter of Stalin which appeared on the 25th February, 1952 in ‘Pravda’ was published under the signature of ‘A Group of Writers’ and defended the author V. Latsis from criticism of his novel on the collectivisation movement in post-war Latvia. It is not clear why Stalin published his views in this manner but it may be supposed that he did not wish to intervene in a literary debate with the full weight of his authority which might foreclose any further discussion. The files relating to the works of Stalin which are located in the former CPSU Archives reveal that this letter was to be published in volume 15 of his ‘Works’. This, and the other volumes after the thirteenth which had been planned, never saw the light of day. The dummy of volume 14 had been printed and the forthcoming publication of the completed book received passing mention in the Literaturnaya Gazeta of January 12, 1956. The anti-communist turn in the following month at the 20th Congress of the CPSU killed off the continuation of this project. Consequently huge gaps have existed in the available Stalin oeuvre in the last half-century for the not inconsiderable period between January 1934 and the death of the leader in March 1953 notwithstanding the publication under Khrushchev and Brezhnev of important diplomatic interventions by Stalin related to the Second World War.
Some time back an article entitled ‘Discussion of V. Latsis’ novel The New Shores’ by M. Zorin from Riga appeared in Literaturnaya Gazeta (15 December 1951).
As is well known, this novel was published in Russian translation in three numbers of the magazine Zvezda in 1951.
In this article M. Zorin informs us about the discussion held in Riga by the Artists’ Council of the Latvian Gosizdat, where the novel was subjected to severe criticism. The correspondent describes the negative remarks by the participants of the discussion, but himself refrains from any interference in the discussion. This is an act of slyness by the author. In actuality, judging by the selection of the facts and the emphasis on certain aspects of the discussion, the correspondent is expounding his own negative opinion of the novel. The discussion is only an excuse for this and this petty cunningness was necessary for M. Zorin only so he would be able to absolve himself of the responsibility.
M. Zorin contends that the main hero of the novel is Aivar, the adopted son of the kulak Taurin, who breaks ties with the family of Taurin and goes over to the side of the people. M. Zorin maintains that the axis of the novel is Aivar. This is incorrect.
However we may approach the novel, either from the point of view of the number of pages dedicated to Aivar, or from the role assigned to him in the novel, in no way can Aivar be the main hero. If we do have to talk of a main hero, then one can consider Jan Lidum, the old Bolshevik from amongst the farm labourers, who is superior to Aivar in his understanding of social responsibilities and his standing amongst the people as well as party circles. The organisation’s faith in Aivar is not complete. He is entrusted with some jobs but is under the watchful eye of the organization. Only after Aivar successfully fulfils the assignment of the drainage of the swamp and deals with his former step-father the kulak Taurin in a befitting manner does the question of his induction into the party get discussed.
The main merit of Latsis’ novel, however, is not in its depiction of individual heroes, but in the assertion that the main and real heroes are the Latvian people, the simple hardworking people who were till yesterday scared and beaten and today take heart and create a new life. Latsis’ novel is the epopee of the Latvian people, who have broken with the old bourgeois order and are building the new, socialist order.
M. Zorin further claims that the discord in the family of Taurin and the break up of Aivar with Taurin is incidental and an unimportant episode, that this episode should not be taken as the basis of the novel. This is also incorrect.
Firstly, as has been stated earlier, the break up of Aivar with Taurin is neither the basis nor the vital incident of the novel. It is only one of the incidents. The basis of the novel is the movement of the Latvian peasantry for constructing the kolkhoz in the village.
Secondly, it is absolutely incorrect that the discord in Taurin’s family and Aivar’s break with this family is coincidental and is an unimportant episode. In his novel V. Latsis depicts the transitional period from the bourgeois-nationalistic power in Latvia towards the Soviet order, from individual land ownership to the kolkhoz structures in the village. The distinctive feature of this period is that the old order, old foundations, old customs and rituals are breaking up, brothers are rising against brothers, children against their fathers, families are breaking up, including the kulak families. Therefore it is not coincidental that the storm of the new people’s movement burst itself into the family of the kulak Taurin and decomposed it. Not only the family of Taurin, but it also engulfed the family of the middle peasant-cum-subkulak – Patseplis, snatching away her son Jan and daughter Anna and drawing them into the people’s movement. Only those people who do not know life and believe in the superiority of the kulaks can think that the kulak families and the subkulaks can withstand the blows of the people’s movement, that in this period of break up the kulak families and the subkulaks can as though remain preserved. No, the break-up of the family life of the kulaks and the subkulaks in this period of the kolkhoz movement is not incidental or an isolated episode but the natural law of life. That is why, therefore, V. Latsis, as an expert on life and a great writer could not disregard this and depicts the process of the break-up of the kulak and subkulak family life.
After having said this, it is clear that all that M. Zorin puts forward about the ‘ideological vices’ and ‘ideological derangement’ of the novel The New Shores are empty words. In order to convince the public about the validity of such charges, it is necessary to have a more serious arsenal than a shallow, ambiguous report from Riga. Such leftist attacks on V. Latsis cannot be accepted as arguments. On the contrary, such attacks show an absence of any solid arguments.
We are of the opinion that V. Latsis’ novel The New Shores is a great achievement of Soviet fictional literature; it stands out, both ideologically as well as politically from the beginning to the end. We would like that Pravda should voice its opinion about this novel.
25th February, 1952.
RGASPI (delo No. 135, F. 71, O. 10).
L.K. Grigoriev, ‘Stalin,sobytiya I dokumenty’, opyt istoriko-arkhivnogo, kontrpropagandistskogo issledovaniya, Electronic publication, Moscow, 2002, pp. 47-49.
Translated from the Russian by Neelakshi Suryanarayan.
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