Writer-Parasites, March 1978 (48.19)

<<No 48 : 14 March 1978>>

Writer-Parasites (48.19) and In the Central House of Writers (48.20)

Writer-Parasites (48.19)

Since the beginning of 1978, the activity of the administrative authorities aimed at classifying a number of writers living in the USSR as ‘parasites’ or ‘persons leading a parasitical way of life’ (the best known of the previous cases of this type was the Leningrad trial of Joseph Brodsky in 1964) has been stepped up.

At the beginning of January police officials visited the flats of Vladimir Kornilov (CCE 45), Vladimir Voinovich (CCE 32) and Lev Kopelev (CCE 45) – all expelled at different times from the USSR Writers’ Union – and those of Georgy Vladimov, who left the Writers’ Union (CCE 47), and the historian, writer and publisher Roy Medvedev (CCE 37). An ‘explanation’ of the sources of their income was demanded from each of them.

Kornilov and Kopelev were not at home when the police called.

The local policeman asked Kornilov’s wife where her husband worked: “A statement has been made that he has no employment.” “By whom?” “I am unable to say.” Kornilov’s wife said that her husband is a member of the Pen Club. “Is it on the telephone?”

Kopelev’s wife explained that her husband is a pensioner. “I told them so,” said the embarrassed policeman.

Vladimov and Kornilov, summoned next day to a police station, gave short written explanations to the effect that they live, as befits writers, on literary earnings. Kornilov was again summoned to the police station on 25 January and Vladimov on 11 March; each of them referred in addition to the agreements made with them for the publication of their works, moreover Vladimov stated that he did not consider it necessary to enter into further explanations and attempts to force him to do so would be quickly made known by him to the press and the public.

Georgy Vladimov, 1931-2003


At the beginning of January Voinovich was away from Moscow. On his return he received from the lift operator a summons addressed to him, but he refused to go to the police station. At the beginning of February, he was again sent for by the police. Voinovich declared that he would not go voluntarily to the police station and conveyed the following to the head of the police station:

“Explanation: in answer to the inquiry of the local police official, I hereby explain that my books are published in many countries of the world, in many languages and in large editions, and, like any well-known writer, I earn sufficient to support myself and my family. I consider the given explanation to be exhaustive.

V. N. Voinovich, writer

corresponding member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts, corresponding member of the International Pen Club (an international writers’ organization), honorary member of the American Mark Twain Society.”


In January 1978, a man introducing himself as an acquaintance called on Lev Kopelev. He had come to convey the following information:

A certain scholar, an economist, sent the Party central committee a letter in which he expressed his anxiety about the dualization of public awareness that has been created in our country: official propaganda and information are in contradiction with the unofficial information that has now become generally available through foreign radio broadcasts. He wrote that in such a situation it was impossible to travel to the West. The scholar was invited for conversations ‘up above’.

A KGB official took part in the conversation. The scholar’s interlocutors said they were concerned by the same problem, but they assured him that it would be resolved in the very near future: the flow of unofficial information would come to an end. People who trans-mitted such information were faced by a free choice: either they left Moscow for some town that was closed to foreigners, or — and this would be best for everyone — they left the country; otherwise, it would be necessary to deal with them according to the law. The people concerned were those such as Kopelev, Kornilov, Voinovich and Vladimov. To the scholar’s question as to whether this was not a return to Stalinism, the reply was: ‘Under Stalin they would have been put straight into prison, but we are giving them a choice.’ The scholar’s interlocutors added that the people they had mentioned knew about the choice before them — they had been asked more than once to make up their minds quickly.


In November 1977 Yury Gastev (CCEs 34, 35, 45), mathematician, philosopher and writer, was given an official warning about ‘parasitism’ at a police station.

Gastev has not had a permanent job since the end of 1975, when he was forced to resign his job ‘at his own wish’. Since then he has several times tried unsuccessfully to find work within his profession.

At the end of April 1976, soon after the first summons to the police station, Gastev was expelled from the Journalists’ Union (author of several dozens of review and popular-scientific articles, he was in the scientific journalism section). At the end of July 1977 Gastev concluded a work contract under which he became literary secretary to G. N. Vladimov, but at the end of November he was summoned to the police station and told that the contract was invalid, since Vladimov himself was considered by the police to be a person without definite occupation.

There and then Gastev was given an official warning that if he did not start work within a month he would be made criminally answerable under article 209 of the RSFSR Criminal Code.

Starting from February 1978 the trade-union district committee stopped recording payment of dues on the contract between Gastev and Vladimov.

Gastev was not accepted for work at the Institute for Improvement of Professional Skills, where he had been sent at the Institute’s request by the City Labour Bureau.

At the beginning of February he started work as senior research officer at the Central Research Institute for the Technology of Tractors and Agricultural Machinery, but after a week he was told that there was no vacancy for him.

In the Central House of Writers (48.20)


On 21 December 1977, the critics sector of the Moscow section of the Writers’ Union held a literary discussion in the conference hall of the Central House of Writers on the theme “We and the Classics”. Discussion went on from 4 pm to 11 pm in a tightly packed hall and was, in the opinion of those present, unprecedented in the literary life of recent years for the frankness with which those who spoke expressed their literary and other opinions.

The tone of the discussion was set by the speeches of critics and literary specialists Palievsky, Kunyayev, Kozhinov and Zolotussky who belong to a grouping characterized by sharp hostility to ‘modernism’ and great hopes for the national traditions of Russian culture. (See, for example: P. Palievsky, The Paths of Realism, Moscow, 1974; O. Mikhailov Faithfulness, Moscow, 1974; the publicistic writings of M. Lifshits over the last 15 years, etc.) Their acknowledged ideologue is the critic P. N. Palievsky (since autumn 1977 he has been deputy director of the Institute of World Literature). His speech, which opened the discussion, contained a series of propositions which provoked fierce polemics. Chief of them was the thesis of the break with the Russian classical tradition which took place in the twenties, and the re-establishment of this tradition in the thirties and forties. He emphasized that the ‘complex historical conditions’ of the thirties ‘did not prevent the great writers Bulgakov and Sholokhov from creating their best works at this period’. Despite the unhappy condition of people in a purely human sense, despite the harsh fate of artists (and leftists also — ‘but they themselves raised the sword, and by the sword they died’) it was precisely in the thirties and forties that the ‘fusion of the classical tradition with popular culture’ took place.

Assessing the contemporary situation, Palievsky noted a worrying symptom — the impossibility of resisting avant-garde tendencies through the press, and also the crisis of the classical repertoire in academic theatres.

The poet Stanislav Kunyayev stated that he considered it incorrect to include the poetry of E. Bagritsky in the classical tradition. In Kunyayev’s opinion, Bagritsky broke entirely with the humanism and popular orientation of the Russian classics. His long poem ‘Ballad of Opanas’ was anti-peasant and anti-common people, while the main positive hero of this poem, food-squad commissar Kogan, was a rapist and a robber. (Retort from the hall: ‘It was Lenin, not Bagritsky, who thought up the food-squads!’). In Bagritsky’s poetry, continued Kunyayev, there was neither a sense of tragedy nor a purging, but only malice. He saw the roots of this in the poet’s hostility to the people’s way of life, including hostility to his own origins, i.e. to the way of life of the small Jewish towns of his childhood, about which he writes with hatred (the poem ‘Origin’).

To Bagritsky’s antihumanistic creed (‘But if it — the age — says “Lie”, then lie. And if it says “Kill”, then kill’) Kunyayev opposes a different moral code, whose bearer was Osip Mandelstam, who continued the Russian humanistic position (“The wolfhound-age hurls itself on my shoulders. But I am no wolf by blood.”)

Poet and critic V, Kupriyanov supported Palievsky and those who thought like him in his estimation of the gulf between the Russian classics and the present day. The cause of this, in Kupriyanov’s opinion, is the ‘loss of a metatext’, which for 19th century culture was provided by the Gospels.

Many of Palievsky and Kunyayev’s opponents spoke as frankly as they did, and considered it equally unnecessary to adorn their speeches with the ideological and political cliches usual on such occasions. Among those objecting to the advocates of a ‘return to roots’ and the opponents of the ‘avant-garde’ was the film-director A. Efros, the poet Ye. Yevtushenko, the critic A. Borshchagovsky and others.

Yevtushenko accused Palievsky of ‘retrospective complacence’ towards the life and work of Bulgakov in the 1930s. ‘How can one not understand the tragedy of an artist whose best, most loved creation was not published?’ He recalled that Russian classical literature, despite all the ‘beer-drinking’ patriotism and the official, servile patriotism, had with Chaadayev’s voice produced a patriotism ‘with open eyes’.

Borshchagovsky noted that one must not separate literary renaissance from the tragic fates of writers.

Professor S. Lominadze, in a rejoinder to Palievsky on the fruitfulness of the 1930s and 1940s in the history of Russian culture, recalled that the discussion ‘is being conducted on the anniversary of the birth of a man who laid an indelible and tragic stamp on this epoch’ (i.e., Stalin, Chronicle).

Many of those who spoke, spoke of the works of various writers of the twenties that have not been published to this day. This theme was raised by Borshchagovsky, who mentioned the fact that Vsevolod Ivanov’s novels The Kremlin and U had to this day not been published. Lominadze criticized the volume Pre-October Russian Poetry in the series ‘Library of World Literature’, from which the verses of N. Gumilyov are absent although he is mentioned in the preface. V. Kupriyanov, who had taken part in compiling this volume, said in his speech that in the initial stages of printing, Gumilyov’s verses had been retained, but then it had been ordered that they be removed. According to Kupriyanov, a certain person had arrived and said: “The Bolsheviks have already shot Gumilyov once.” (It is interesting to compare the latter piece of information with the rumours circulating recently in Moscow about a forthcoming or already accomplished judicial rehabilitation of Gumilyov in connection with the so-called ‘Tagantsev plot’, and about the publication of a collection of his verses which would supposedly follow this, Chronicle).

A. Efros after his speech (he spoke third, after Palievsky and Kunyayev) received and read out a note with the following content: ‘What is your attitude to the Russian theatre? Open your own national theatre and mutilate the classics there as much as you like.’

Evidently this note gave Yevtushenko an opportunity to express himself about anti-Semitism and to link this theme with the subject of discussion. He said that Russian classical literature had never confined itself to a cult of the soil, and the best of the Slavophiles had never permitted themselves to exalt their own people at the expense of other peoples. Russian classical literature had through the lips of Korolenko branded antisemitism, and hatred for antisemitism had ‘remained forever the heritage of the Russian intellectual’. Literary specialist V. Kozhinov stated that he was disturbed by the hysteria that had arisen after Palievsky and Kunyayev’s speeches. Judging from his speech, he had taken Yevtushenko’s philippic as directed at himself and those who thought like him.

The polemics were conducted in exceptionally sharp tones, and an attempt by the first secretary of the Moscow section of the Soviet Writers’ Union, critic F. Kuznetsov, to return the discussion to “scholarly, theoretical consideration of the subject” had no success. The speakers did, however, restrain themselves from sticking political labels on people. Exceptions were interventions from the hall, such as during Kunyayev’s speech, and also the speech of critic Yu. Seleznev. He accused critic V. Solovyov, who had shortly before emigrated from the USSR (CCEs 45, 46), of Zionism. Seleznev endeavoured to prove that Solovyov’s articles published in the Soviet press were textually close to the works of Zionist ideologues, and was indignant at ‘the loss of vigilance and the ignorance’ of editorial workers who had given Solovyov the opportunity to publish on the pages of Soviet publications.

Several people spoke outside the framework of the unfolding polemic. Some of the speeches (for example that of the writer A. Bitov) were extremely thoughtful. However, to summarize them falls outside the scope of the Chronicle.

Closing the discussion, Ye. Sidorov, who was in the chair, said that it had been interesting and expressed a desire for a repetition of such undertakings. However, the reaction of the Cultural Department of the CPSU Central Committee to the discussion was negative. According to information that is not fully substantiated, St. Kunyayev was reprimanded at the Writers’ Union, and the official of the union’s administration responsible for the discussions at the Central House of Writers was also reprimanded.

Several independently-made records of the discussion have been circulated in samizdat. The materials of some of them have been used here.


On 10 February 1978, an evening called ‘A Meeting with Norilsk’ was held at the Central House of Writers. K. Simonov was in the chair.

After several people had spoken, talking of the heroism of the first builders of Norilsk, the Kalmyk poet David Kugultinov, who was sitting in the presidium, took his turn to speak. Kugultinov said that he too had built Norilsk and had lived in barracks — behind barbed wire, Kugultinov also spoke of the fate of his people and of other peoples deported at the end of the war.

David Kugultinov, 1922-2006


A young poet recited his poetry at the evening; it was dedicated to the prisoners who had built Norilsk, among whom had been his parents, who were present in the hall. They were warmly greeted by the audience.

All the contributions were received very sympathetically by those present.

Summing up, K. Simonov supported the proposal put forward by several of those who had spoken — to erect a memorial in Norilsk to its first builders.