Dostoevsky in Soviet Times

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A 1971 Soviet Union stamp bearing Dostoevsky's likeness.

Fyodor Dostoevsky and his works have been enormously influential in Russian culture and form a cornerstone of Russian literature. However, during Soviet times authorities sometimes took issue with his works.

There are reasons that Marxists and the Soviet authorities might not be opposed to Dostoevsky. In fact, some Soviet-era scholars did attempt to frame him as a rebel in the early days of the USSR (Slonim 126). The fact that Dostoevsky himself was arrested, sentenced to death, and then sent to prison in Siberia for his involvement with a socialist group should earn him some credit in the eyes of Marxist ideologues (Suny 24). As well, he held contempt for the bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia, another fact that the Soviets would have felt comfort in (Suny 22-23). Finally, his portrayal of the plight of the working class in Crime and Punishment should also have been noteworthy (Slonim 126).

However, for much of Soviet history, the authorities deemed Dostoevsky and his works unfavourable to communism. After Dostoevsky’s death, he was heralded as a proponent of conservatism and reactionism by its adherents, an endorsement which earned him no love from Marxists before the Russian Revolution (Slonim 119).

During the 1930s, when Russian literature of the 19th century was celebrated in order to reemphasized Russian nationalism, to strengthen the Soviet republic, Dostoevsky was given less prominence compared to other writers such as Tolstoy, Chekhov, Pushkin and Gogol, as he did not fit the narrative pushed at the time of a progressive Russian intelligentsia as a precursor to Bolshevism (Suny 295). An example of this was his limited mention in a 1940 high school textbook on Russian literature (Slonim 120). It is also notable that prolific Dostoevsky literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin narrowly survived this era of Stalinism, his works only becoming widely read in the 1950s (Suny 230). However, it is also interesting that during this era, Stalin had a personal copy of Brothers Karamazov which he extensively reread and took notes in (Brinkley and Kostova).

However, Dostoevsky did achieve partial rehabilitation during the Second World War. His patriotic and anti-Teutonic sentiment was quoted in the press during the war as anti-Nazi propaganda (Slonim 126) The writer V. Ermilov emphasized Dostoevsky’s hatred of Prussianism and argued that it was one of the main ideas of The Possessed (Pachmuss 715).

However, the Marxist criticism of Dostoevsky was resumed after the war, in 1947, in a wave called Zhdanovism, named after the Soviet politician who instigated it (Pachmuss 717-719). The same V. Ermilov who had praised Dostoevsky’s anti-Prussianism during the war began a 1947 article with the statement “Today, as during his lifetime, Dostoevsky stands in the vanguard of reaction. His works have been fully and extensively exploited in the ferocious campaign against mankind initiated by the literary lackeys of Wall Street.” (Ermilov) This article marked the end of Dostoevsky’s rehabilitation and established a party line that he was anti-Soviet (Slonim 129).

However, in 1956 Dostoevsky became rehabilitated once more. During that year in the Soviet Union every Dostoevsky literary article printed argued that his works were anti-capitalist and emphasized the evils of social inequality (Pachmuss 720). That same year saw the circulation of a stamp bearing his likeness (Stamp Russia). This rehabilitation continued, and in 1971 a Dostoevsky museum opened in Leningrad in the building where he lived both in 1846 and in the years before his death (Fyodor Dostoevsky Literary Memorial Museum).


References

Suny, Ronald Grigor. The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. 2011

Slonim, Marc. “Dostoevsky under the Soviets” The Russian Review Vol. 10, No. 2 (Apr., 1951) pp.118-130

Pachmuss, Temira. “Soviet Studies of Dostoevsky, 1935-1956” Slavic Review Vol. 21, No. 4 (Dec., 1962) pp. 709-721

Brinkley, Tony and Kostova, Raina. “Stalin’s Brothers Karamazov” Hungarian Review Vol. 2 No.4 July 25 2011

“Museum” Fyodor Dostoevsky Literary Memorial Museum http://eng.md.spb.ru/museum Accessed March 27 2017

"USSR (Soviet Union) Postage - Stamps 1956 - 1960" Stamp Russia http://www.stamprussia.com/56.htm Accessed March 28 2017.

Erlimov, V. “Dostoevsky and Our Criticism” The Literary Gazette No. 66 1947