About A.I. Solzhenitsyn, 26 June 1968 (2.5)

<< No 2, 30 June 1968 >>

On 26 June 1968 a leading article in Literaturnaya gazeta [the weekly Literary Gazette] and a letter printed in the same issue from Alexander Solzhenitsyn (dated 21 April 1968) raise for the first time in the pages of the Soviet press the question: What has happened to the unpublished writings of Solzhenitsyn?

Among other things,  Literaturnaya gazeta fulminates against a number of Solzhenitsyn‘s letters, starting with his well-known letter to the Fourth Writers’ Congress [1967], and against the open letter sent by Veniamin Kaverin to Konstantin Fedin (Litgaz does not, however, provide the addressee’s name). All these documents exist in samizdat. Last year’s letter to the congress is widely known. The Chronicle provides here a survey of subsequent documents circulated in 1968.

The Serapion Brethren (1920s)

Konstantin Fedin (1st left), Veniamin Kaverin (2nd right seated) with Mikhail Slonimsky, Nikolai Tikhonov, Yelizaveta Polonskaya, Mikhail Zoshchenko, Ilya Gruzdev and ?Lev Lunts

After the ban on publication of Solzhenitsyn’s novel Cancer Ward in the Novy mir monthly, the writer Veniamin Kaverin wrote a letter to one of the initiators of the ban, Konstantin Fedin. Today Board Chairman of the Writers’ Union, as a young man Fedin (like Kaverin) was a member of the well-known literary group The Serapion Brethren. Kaverin’s letter contains a warning that the unpublished novel would remain extant in thousands of typed copies and would be published abroad:

“Possibly, there are to be found among the leaders of the Writers’ Union people who think that they will be punishing the writer by consigning him to literature published abroad. They will punish him with world fame, which will be utilized by our enemies for political ends. Or is it their hope that Solzhenitsyn ‘will mend his ways’ and start to write differently? This is ridiculous in the case of a writer who constitutes a rare example, and who insistently reminds us that we are functioning in the literature of Chekhov and Tolstoy.”

In April chapters from Cancer Ward appeared in the literary supplement to the London Times [Times Literary Supplement, TLS]. Subsequently, there were announcements of the forthcoming publication of this novel in a number of Western editions and, quite recently, of the novel The First Circle as well. After the TLS publication Solzhenitsyn sent a letter to a number of Writers’ Union members saying that Cancer Ward had got abroad because the Union Secretariat prevented it being printed in Novy mir. Four documents were appended to the letter:

  • Solzhenitsyn‘s letter to all the Secretaries of the Writers’ Union, dated 12 September 1967;
  • an account of the Secretariat meeting of 22 September 1967;
  • a letter of 25 November 1967, from K. Voronkov, a Secretary of the Writer’s Union;
  • and Solzhenitsyn’s letter to the Secretariat of 1 December 1967.

These documents demonstrate the attitude and responsibility of the Union Secretariat as concerns publication of Cancer Ward and the campaign of persecution and slander surrounding the writer’s name.

In April Solzhenitsyn sent a further letter to Novy mir, to Literaturnaya gazeta and to members of the Union in connection with a telegram sent to Novy mir by the editors of Grani [NTS-funded emigre quarterly]. The telegram says that KGB sent a copy of Cancer Ward to the West through Victor Louis, to provide a pretext for not publishing the novel in the Soviet Union. One of the questions Solzhenitsyn asks is: Who is Victor Louis?

The following may be said. Victor Louis is a Soviet citizen and [Moscow-based] correspondent of the London Evening Star [in fact, Evening News]. In the late 1940s and early 1950s Louis was in a political corrective-labour camp and was already well known as a provocateur. In recent years, it is said, he has been involved in handing over to the West a number of writings not published in the Soviet Union. In so doing he has acted as an agent provocateur, as when he sold a doctored version of the memoirs of [Stalin’s daughter] Svetlana Alliluyeva to the West German periodical Stern.

Solzhenitsyn concludes his letter with the words:

“This episode causes one to ponder on the strange and obscure channels through which the manuscripts of Soviet writers manage to reach the West. It is an urgent reminder to us that literature and literary works must not be reduced to a profitable commodity for any kind of operator who holds a foreign travel visa. Works by our authors must be allowed publication in their own country — not handed over for exploitation by foreign publishers.”

It has become known that some readers of Literaturnaya gazeta, in reply to the article about Solzhenitsyn, have cancelled their subscription [CCE 9.9, item 2], notifying the post office of their decision and returning their receipt to Alexander Chakovsky, the weekly’s chief editor.