Note 4: Anti-Stalinism, anti-Sovietism

It's important to understand the distinction which Solomon Volkov draws here. During the "thaw" years (1956-1966) and the early Brezhnev era (1966-1974), it was, in theory, possible for the relatively free dissident intelligentsia (those lucky enough not to be deprived of the means of earning a living, or imprisoned, internally exiled, expelled, or incarcerated in psychiatric wards) to express cautiously anti-Stalinist views, provided that they made it clear that they were not, as a consequence, proposing anti-Soviet views. In practice -- as Volkov and Shostakovich discovered -- this was not so.

In actual Soviet reality, to publicly express, let alone linger on, anti-Stalinist views was highly unwise -- indeed, potentially injurious to one's career. This was partly because the apparatus of Soviet power then remained essentially intact as Stalin had left it (as did the priviliged nomenklatura); and partly because few dissidents genuinely stopped at anti-Stalinism, privately regarding the entire Soviet "experiment" as a disaster from start to finish. Being "anti-Stalinist but not anti-Soviet" was a game which dissident writers quickly learned to play during the late 1950s and early 1960s, invoking the official euphemism of "the cult of personality" (of J. V. Stalin). Yet the history of Soviet magazine publishing during the Sixties is a cautionary record of endless evasion, revision, bowdlerisation, and outright censorship on the part of editors and associated apparatchiki. Not until glasnost was any explicitly anti-Stalinist fiction published.

As for the Soviet Constitution, it was a notoriously worthless document drafted, on Stalin's orders, shortly before the onset of the fiercest excesses of the Terror in 1936-8 so as to make the USSR appear to the outside world to be a virtuously democratic and law-abiding state. As such, the 1936 Constitution was a grim standing joke among older intelligenty. (Solzhenitsyn, for example, remarked that it never went into effect... even for a single day.) When the dissidents of the 1960s and 1970s appealed to the Soviet Constitution with reference to the principle of freedom of expression, few if any of them could possibly have done so in anything but a spirit of irony, however determined.

Such is the context of the distinction drawn by Volkov between Shostakovich's anti-Stalinism and his circumspect caution with respect to being seen as anti-Soviet. The composer's calculation seems to have been that, whilst young firebrands were not then permitted to denounce Stalin in so many words, he, Shostakovich, as a cultural elder statesman, might be allowed more leeway -- always providing that he didn't overstep the mark by being explicitly anti-Soviet. For him, this would have constituted a strategic withdrawal from the sort of front-line anti-Sovietism heard in the Thirteenth Symphony (a work whose suppression by Soviet agencies he seems to have regarded with real fury). Accordingly, the refusal of publication for Testimony would have represented, for him, a further (enforced) step backwards from telling the truth. While perhaps momentarily surprised by this, and probably angry about it, he must have understood that, under Brezhnev and his Stalinist Old Guard during 1970-74, the Soviet Union was freezing over again.

In fact, of course, Testimony is implicitly anti-Soviet from start to finish. No hint of redeeming light is allowed to obtrude amid the bitter gloom. The book's references to Lenin are, at best, darkly ambiguous, while its anecdotes of cultural life after Stalin's reign are as sour and contemptuous as those appertaining to 1928-53. Indeed, it would be puzzling if this were not so -- especially since we now have the near-unanimous testimonies of Elizabeth Wilson's witnesses, the explicit anti-Soviet mockery of Shostakovich's letters to Isaak Glikman, and the often harrowing stories behind the Eighth Quartet, the Thirteenth Symphony, and many other works composed from 1953 onwards. Contrary to those who would have us believe that Shostakovich endorsed Soviet Communism and deplored only the "aberration" of Stalin's dictatorship, the evidence -- as Vladimir Ashkenazy insists -- is that he detested the entire Soviet system from end to end and top to bottom. (Such is my understanding of Solomon Volkov's view of Shostakovich, from our letters and conversations.)--I.M.

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