The Soviet Writers' Union and Its Leaders
Identity and Authority under Stalin
Imprint: Northwestern University Press
Winner, University of Southern California Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies
The Soviet Writers’ Union offered writers elite status and material luxuries in exchange for literature that championed the state. This book argues that Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin chose leaders for this crucial organization, such as Maxim Gorky and Alexander Fadeyev, who had psychological traits he could exploit. Stalin ensured their loyalty with various rewards but also with a philosophical argument calculated to assuage moral qualms, allowing them to feel they were not trading ethics for self‑interest.
Employing close textual analysis of public and private documents including speeches, debate transcripts, personal letters, and diaries, Carol Any exposes the misgivings of Writers’ Union leaders as well as the arguments they constructed when faced with a cognitive dissonance. She tells a dramatic story that reveals the interdependence of literary policy, communist morality, state‑sponsored terror, party infighting, and personal psychology. This book will be an important reference for scholars of the Soviet Union as well as anyone interested in identity, the construction of culture, and the interface between art and ideology.
List of Abbreviations
Introduction. The Writer/Cadre Oxymoron
1. "Mayakovsky's Choice"
2. The Orgkomitet: Marketing to Writers and Retraining Cadres
3. The Gorky-Shcherbakov Team Model: Seeking Common Ground
Intermezzo I. A Personal Psychology of Terror
4. Vladimir Stavsky and the Language Codes of Terror
Intermezzo II. Vulgar Sociologism and the Dual Self
5. General Secretary Fadeyev
6. Fadeyev’s Choice
Epilogue: Self-definition after Stalin
“This is the first serious historical narrative documenting the institutional history of Soviet literature. The author considers Soviet literature through the prism of politics, the social sphere, and its inner workings, thus seeking to fill a notable gap in the scholarship. It is not only an original but also a challenging work.” —Evgeny Dobrenko, author of Late Stalinism: The Aesthetics of Politics
“Any has written a meticulous history of the Soviet Writers Union (SWU) since its formation by Joseph Stalin in 1934 . . . This perceptive, well-annotated volume includes an insightful introduction, an epilogue, a substantial bibliography, and a helpful index.” —K. Rosneck, University of Wisconsin-Madison, CHOICE
"Any’s new history of the Soviet Writers’ Union is essential reading for historians of early-Soviet culture and politics. Scholars of socialist and post-socialist culture will learn much about the institution that would be adopted as a model throughout much of the world. Any has done the field a great service by digging through the inner worlds of prominent Soviet literary figures from whom many shrink away in disgust, offering insight both into their many moral failings and into their underlying humanity." —Jason Cieply, The Russian Review