Attacks on Intelligentsia: Early Attacks

In the years immediately following their accession to power in 1917, the Bolsheviks took measures to prevent challenges to their new regime, beginning with eliminating political opposition. When the freely-elected Constituent Assembly did not acknowledge the primacy of the Bolshevik government, Vladimir Lenin dissolved it in January 1918. The Left Socialist Revolutionary Party, which protested the action, withdrew from the Bolshevik coalition in March, and its members were automatically branded enemies of the people. Numerous opposition groups posed military threats from various parts of the country, placing the survival of the revolution in jeopardy. Between 1918 and 1921, a state of civil war existed.

Bolshevik policy toward its detractors, and particularly toward articulate, intellectual criticism, hardened considerably. Suppression of newspapers, initially described as a temporary measure, became a permanent policy. Lenin considered the Constitutional Democrats (Kadets) the center of a conspiracy against Bolshevik rule. In 1919, he began mass arrests of professors and scientists who had been Kadets, and deported Kadets, Socialist Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, and Nationalists. The Bolshevik leadership sought rapidly to purge Russia of past leaders in order to build the future on a clean slate.

These harsh measures alienated a large number of the intellectuals who had supported the overthrow of the tsarist order. The suppression of democratic institutions evoked strong protests from academics and artists,who felt betrayed in their idealistic belief that revolution would bring a free society. Writers who had emigrated shortly after the revolution published stinging attacks on the new government from abroad. As a result, further exit permits for artists were generally denied.

The disenchantment of the majority of intellectuals did not surprise Lenin, who saw the old Russian intelligentsia as a kind of rival to his "party of a new type," which alone could bring revolutionary consciousness to the working class. In his view, artists generally served bourgeois interests, a notion that fueled the persecution of intellectuals throughout the Soviet period.

Lenin to Gorky

Attacks on Intelligentsia: Renewed Attacks

The pattern of suppressing intellectual activity, with intermittent periods of relaxation, helped the party leadership reinforce its authority. After 1923, when threats to the revolution's survival had disappeared, intellectuals enjoyed relative creative freedom while the regime concentrated on improving the country's economic plight by allowing limited free enterprise under the Lenin's New Economic Policy.

But in 1928, the Central Committee established the right of the party to exercise guidance over literature; and in 1932 literary and artistic organizations were restructured to promote a specified style called socialist realism. Works that did not contribute to the building of socialism were banned. Lenin had seen the need for increasing revolutionary consciousness in workers. Stalin now asserted that art should not merely serve society, but do so in a way determined by the party and its megalomaniacal plans for transforming society. As a result, artists and intellectuals as well as political figures became victims of the Great Terror of the 1930s.

During the war against Nazi Germany, artists were permitted to infuse their works with patriotism and to direct them against the enemy. The victory in 1945, however, brought a return to repression against deviation from party policy. Andrei Zhdanov, who had been Stalin's spokesman on cultural affairs since 1934, led the attack. He viciously denounced such writers as Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, and Mikhail Zoshchenko, who were labeled "anti-Soviet, underminers of socialist realism, and unduly pessimistic." Individuals were expelled from the Union of Writers, and offending periodicals were either abolished or brought under direct party control.Zhdanov died in 1948, but the cultural purge known as the Zhdanovshchina continued for several more years. The noted filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein and great composers such as Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitrii Shostakovich were denounced for "neglect of ideology and subservience to Western influence." The attacks extended to scientists and philosophers and continued until after Stalin's death in 1953.

Marietta Shaginian's Novel

Attacks on Intelligentsia: Censorship

Creative writers enjoyed great prestige in both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union because of literature's unique role as a sounding board for deeper political and social issues. Vladimir Lenin believed that literature and art could be exploited for ideological and political as well as educational purposes. As a result, the party rapidly established control over print and electronic media, book publishing and distribution, bookstores and libraries, and it created or abolished newspapers and periodicals at will.

Communist Party ideology influenced the creative process from the moment of artistic inspiration. The party, in effect, served as the artist's Muse. In 1932 the party established socialist realism as the only acceptable aesthetic -- measuring merit by the degree to which a work contributed to building socialism among the masses. The Union of Writers was created the same year to harness writers to the Marxist-Leninist cause. Goskomizdat (State Committee for Publishing Houses, Printing Plants, and the Book Trade), in conjunction with the Union's secretariat, made all publishing decisions; the very allocation of paper became a hidden censorship mechanism. Glavlit (Main Administration for Literary and Publishing Affairs), created in 1922, was responsible for censorship, which came later in the creative process. The party's guidance had already affected the process long before the manuscript reached the censor's pen. The Soviet censorship system was thus more pervasive than that of the tsars or of most other recent dictatorships.

Mikhail Gorbachev needed to enlist the support of writers and journalists to promote his reforms. He did so by launching his policy of glasnost' in 1986, challenging the foundations of censorship by undermining the authority of the Union of Writers to determine which works were appropriate forpublication. Officials from the Union were required to place works directly in the open market and to allow these works to be judged according to reader preferences, thereby removing the barrier between writer and reader and marking the beginning of the end of Communist party censorship.

List of Persons

Statistical report of March 21, 1988, from V. Chebrikov, chairman of the KGB, detailing 1987 investigations of the distribution of anonymous publications hostile to the Soviet government and the Communist Party.

Statistical Report

Attacks on Intelligentsia: Suppressing Dissidents

The Communist regime considered dissent in the Soviet Union a repudiation of the proletarian struggle and a violation of Marxism-Leninism, and thus a threat to its authority. The proletariat was seen as selflessly striving for progress in the building of socialism, whereas the bourgeoisie was seen as selfishly fighting to maintain the status quo. According to Marxist ideology, class struggle was the engine of change in all social development. Vladimir Lenin's ideological contribution was to make the party itself the exclusive "vanguard of the proletariat" and thus the final arbiter of what was proletarian or bourgeois. The secret police was enlisted to enforce the party's ideology and to suppress dissent.

Because the party's legitimacy rested on the basic correctness of its ideology, failures in practical policy were never attributed to ideology itself. To maintain the party's ideological authority, religion had to be condemned outright, and history periodically revised to match the current party line. Books and magazines viewed as no longer politically correct were removed from libraries. Scientists, artists, poets, and others, including many who did not think of themselves as dissidents but whose work appeared critical of Soviet life, were systematically persecuted and even prosecuted.Often they were declared either enemies of the state and imprisoned, or insane and committed to punitive mental hospitals.

To speak for human rights or to support freedom of expression was to question the very basis of Marxism-Leninism and the legitimacy of the party's rule. Among those harassed and persecuted were world-renowned artists and scientists, including Nobel Prize winners Boris Pasternak, who was forced to refuse his prize; Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who was forcibly removed from the USSR; and Andrei Sakharov, who was expelled from the Academy of Sciences and internally exiled to a closed city.

A prime mover of change was Mikhail Gorbachev, whose policy of glasnost' allowed freedom of expression and resulted in the abandonment of Marxist-Leninist ideology and a loss of legitimacy for the party.

Letter about Pasternak

In a telegram from 1971, noted Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov supports the protests of two dissidents, V. Fainberg and V. Borisov, who have been hospitalized in a Leningrad psychiatric institution for "asocial behavior." An accompanying memorandum from the USSR Minister of Health affirms the legitimacy and advisability of hospitalizing the two dissidents in the institution, run by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and denies the use of mind-altering medications in their treatment.

Sakharov's telegram to the Minister of Health, March 5, 1971, concerning the treatment of political prisoners Fainberg and Borisov, who were being held in a Leningrad psychiatric hospital, and reports on the matter by various officials.

Please follow the guided tour or have a look at one of these showcases:

When you have seen them all you should walk back to the entrance hall.