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New Left Review I/189, September-October 1991


Nancy Condee and Vladimir Padunov

Perestroika Suicide: Not By Bred Alone

Milton produced Paradise Lost for the same reason that a silk worm produces silk. It was an activity of his nature. Later he sold the product for five pounds.

Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value (1861–63)

In this citation from Theories of Surplus Value, Marx tries by his very punctuation to keep cultural production separate from the marketplace. [*] The title’s pun refers both to Vladimir Dudintsev’s Thaw-era novel Not By Bread Alone (1956) and to the oft-characterized bred (raving, delirium) of the perestroika era. The economic stability—and abundance of bread—during Kruschchev’s Thaw period empowered the intelligentsia to assert in the name of the people that ‘man does not live by bread alone,’ but also (implicitly) by spiritual and cultural sustenance. The economic instability—and scarcity even of bread—during Gorbachev’s perestroika period has reduced the newly won cultural freedom celebrated by the intelligentsia to a kind of bred in the eyes of many discouraged citizens.The epigraph text in the original German reads: ‘Milton produzierte das “Paradise Lost” aus demselben Grund, aus dem ein Seidenwurm Seide produziert. Es war eine Betätigung seiner Natur. Er verkaufte später das Produkt für 5 £.’ Karl Marx, Theorien über den Mehrwert (1861–63) [Marx’s italics]. One hundred years later, his Soviet misinterpreters were still doggedly maintaining that separation. One hundred and thirty years later, Marx’s organicist notion of creative work reads like a utopian tract from an ancient—that is to say, pre-Marxist—civilization. It makes more sense that Milton, the poet, might write these lines about Marx than that Marx, the debunked political economist of Communism, could write these lines about Milton. [1] Research for this article was made possible by John G. Bowman faculty grants from the Nationalities Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Program, University of Pittsburgh and research grants from the Center for Russian and East European Studies, University of Pittsburgh. The article was written for the second annual meeting of the Working Group on Contemporary Soviet Culture, Berkeley, California, June 1991, sponsored by the joint Committee on Soviet Studies with funds provided by the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council. We would like to express our appreciation for the advice, support and assistance we have received from the members of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh and the members of the Working Group on Contemporary Soviet Culture, as well as Aleksandr Kabakov and Ol´ga Lipovskaya. The opinions expressed in this article bear no earthly resemblance to the views of the abovementioned. The authors take full responsibility for their own bred.

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