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New Left Review I/82, November-December 1973


Tamara Deutscher

The Maximov Phenomenon

It is a truism that Russian literature has been traditionally political: but it is still one that cannot be overlooked by any literary critic, or for that matter, any reader of Russian belles lettres. Both writer and bureaucrat in Russia, from opposite sides of the gulf that separates them, have been and are intensely concerned with the political and social message contained between the covers of the book. The typical Western bourgeois politician, more often than not, pays no attention to literary life and treats writers with a mixture of indulgence and indifference. It does not in general occur to governments that any danger is to be apprehended from literature. In the United States, even in the worst period of McCarthyism, highly political books circulated freely (while their authors—if they were foreigners—were denied entry visas, as if their bodily presence were more subversive than their ideas). Soviet writers and intellectuals today may derive a wry satisfaction from the tremendous importance which the State attaches to their work; their sense of mission is also heightened by the tense expectancy with which society listens to them. All this, however, is no compensation for the oppressive atmosphere, the dull-witted censorship, and often the cruel persecution to which they are subjected. Yet many of them are prepared to put themselves at risk in order to remain what they are, to say what they have to say, and to do what they feel they must.

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