‘Strange whim of the people’—writes Heinrich Heine—‘to ask for its own history from the poet, instead of the historian’. But the ‘people’ is right, and its whim is anything but extravagant. If Plato says that
Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you find the names of kings.
Was it the kings who dragged the masses on?
. . . Where did they go, the night the Chinese wall was finished,
Only literature, and more than any other literary genre, the novel, can give an answer to these Questions of a worker-reader, which Brecht posed in a celebrated poem.
If literature is the true historiography of humanity, and the one to which alone in the long run ‘the people’ gives its trust, nobody should be surprised at the pressures to which it is subjected, nor at the suspicious interest with which it is viewed by those who govern. But this is an interest which never goes to the literature in itself, but to what ideologically minded observers call ‘sectarianism’, ‘factiousness’, ‘partisanship’.
There is no impartial historiography, and thus no impartial literature either. Only the word does not have the same meaning irrespective of the object to which it refers. In a scientific work on the history of the communist party in the Soviet Union, however honest the author may be, one can tell from the first page how to judge it in the matter of partisanship. It is not the same for a novel about a communist builder.