Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Stalin and Gorky

Hard to imagine Stalin as a theater-goer, but to read Volkov's account in The Magical Chorus, Stalin had a very active interest in the theater.  He was especially drawn to the work of Gorky and Chekhov.  He also liked Bulgakov and a number of other playwrights of the era.  His closet relationship was with Gorky, who interceded any number of times on the behalf of writers and artists who had run afoul of authorities, with Stalin sometimes giving them a reprieve.  However, Stalin's sympathies didn't extend to Futurists and Absurdists, whose works he openly despised.  Such was the case with Nikolai Zabolotsky, whose absurdist pieces resulted in him being labeled a peasant poet, despite his strong socialist leanings.  Zabolotsky managed to survive the purges but not without scars.

Stalin preferred the socialist realism of Gorky, whose plays were very popular at the time.  Stalin and Gorky shared a deep mistrust for peasant writers. Gorky suffered the stain of this association, even if he felt he was acting as a buffer between the remaining Russian avant-garde and Stalin.  This association undermined efforts by Stalin and Gorky to repatriate some of the major artists living abroad, as they both felt it was imperative to form a strong cultural base for the  Soviet Union.  As it was, Stalin invested heavily in cultural activities, unlike his predecessor Lenin, who saw little value in the theater or the arts in general.  Stalin came to see it as a great propaganda tool, eventually shifting his interest toward cinema, which could reach a far wider audience.

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