Already we have had ourselves a vigorous debate (see the Comment section) whether Zhdanov was really all that a great a leader; or if he was an incompetent un-proactive boob, sort of like a Russian version of Michael Brown, of Hurricane Katrina fame. In which case, did this Stalinist flak make so many mistakes and errors in judgement, that he inadvertently increased the amount of “necessary” losses due the people of Leningrad?
I wasn’t there, nor am I an historian, so I don’t know the answer to these questions. All I can say is that the author of this piece, Vladimir Siryachenko, is an admirer of Mr. Zhdanov and does NOT think that he is a booby. This final part of this series comprises a brief biography of the personage in question. So, without further ado:
A Man Is Born
Andrei Alexandrovich Zhdanov was born in the city of Mariupol (today’s Ukraine) on 26 February 1896, into a middle-class and well-educated family. Andrei’s grandmother (on his dad’s side) was an accomplish pianist, who enjoyed playing pieces by Liszt, Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Grieg. From her, Andrei inherited a fine musical ear and a love of music. Which might explain his genial idea of staging the Shostakovich concert during the time of Leningrad’s greatest ordeal.
The notion that Andrei only had a basic “Aggie technicum” education is a myth. In actuality, he studied at the prestigious Petrovsko-Razumovskaya Academy (today’s Тимирязевка – the Moscow Agricultural Academy). And also at the Moscow Commercial Institute. Which he never graduated from, as World War I intervened.
By the time he went off to war, Andrei was an ideologically convinced Social-Democrat. He joined the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social-Democratic Party as early as 1915, making him officially an “Old Bolshevik”.
By the age of 26, Andrei Zhdanov was already the Chairman of the Gub-Ispolkom (Gubernia – “regional” Executive Committee of the Communist Party) of the city of Tversk. His career advanced rapidly. Within two years the Party Central Committee sent him to Nizhniy Novgorod, where he was elected Secretary of the Gubernia and Krai Committees.
Ideological Battles and High Culture
In the 1930’s a big debate erupted in Soviet society about the problems of studying (Russian) history. Some mistakes had been made in the 1920’s, when the study of Russian history was excluded from the schools (!) I guess this happens after every revolution (and counter-revolution, for that matter): the inconvenient past is scorned and denied. And then the inevitable Hegelian swing-back: Public opinion had shifted, and the Communists decided it would be a good thing to educate children on the past deeds of such figures as Alexander Nevsky, Dmitry Donskoy, Kuzma Minin, Dmitry Pozharsky, Bogdan Khmelnitsky, Peter I, Alexander Suvorov, Fedor Ushakov, Mikhail Kutuzov, Vasily Chapaev, and Nikolai Shchors. Writers and film directors hastened to create works based on these amazing historical personalities.
Zhdanov’s son Yury was later to reminisce: “My father had an organic distaste towards aesthetism, snobbery, aristocratism, decadence, and modernism. His striving was to make as broadly accessible as possible the cultural riches of world civilization. Even before the war, it was his initiative in the USSR to make accessible (to the population) the classic works: from Homer, Plutarch and Hippocrates to Sinclair, Dreiser, and Rolland. The Soviet Union published the complete works of Hegel, Spinoza, Berkeley, Schelling, Descartes, Helvétius, Didero; the works of Newton, Galileo. Economists were able to read the works of Adam Smith and David Ricardo; political scientists and philosophers read the works of Tommaso Campanella, Thomas Moore, Fourier, Saint-Simon, and Owen.
[yalensis: And factor in, that all these works were translated into Russian, in order to make them accessible to the masses – a MAMMOTH endeavour!]
By the end of the war, it was said that Zhdanov, now a member of the Central Committee and Politburo, was Stalin’s chosen successor. Within the Politburo Zhdanov’s main job was in the field of ideology.
To this day, the liberal intelligentsia are angry with Zhdanov for his 1946 sally against the magazines “Zvezda” and “Leningrad”. It is said that Stalin, the more moderate of the two Party leaders, advised Zhdanov not to take it so personally, in his polemics against certain writers, such as Zoshchenko. Another satirical writer who incurred Zhdanov’s ire was Alexander Khazin [yalensis note: the original incorrectly gives the writer’s first name as Mikhail]. Instead of writing about military heroics, these satirical writers preferred a gentle humorous approach to life’s foibles. Khazin, who had never been on the front lines during the war, penned negative portrayals of ordinary people riding the Leningrad trams. Sensing proto-kreakls at work, Zhdanov was highly offended by these works. In his personality, Zhdanov was a “maximalist”, not to mention highly ideological and opinionated. Having lived through the extreme stress of the Leningrad blockade, he was intolerant to those who treated the war carelessly. Zhdanov even invented the term “internal emigration” to define parasitical intelligentsia who like to eat and sleep well and expect to be praised, but don’t lift a finger to help the common good. And these same types keep repeating: “Everything is better in the West!” [yalensis: Nothing ever really changes, does it?!]
The year is 1947. The country is in ruins. The Cold War. The atom bomb. In between performing his core functions of defending his country and trying to rebuild from the war, Stalin also starts to dabble in the areas of philosophy and political economy. Zhdanov supports him in this. The Central Committee votes to conduct an open philosophical discussion.
Speaking in front of eminent Soviet scholars, Zhdanov expresses his thought, that not one of these professional philosophers, in all the 30 years of Soviet power, has produced one single idea that has enriched the world of human thought.
Zhdanov stresses that the victory of the Soviet Union in the war is also a victory for socialism, and for the ideas of Marxism-Leninism. This victory has infuriated the imperialists. All the dark and reactionary forces have combined to combat the ideas of Marxism-Leninism. Which, in itself, is a living growing philosophy which needs to be developed and nurtured by the best minds available.
A year later, on 31 August 1948, Andrei Zhdanov died, at the age of 52. It is believed that the stress of the war years shortened his life.
And the author ends his piece with this paragraph, which I translate in full:
In August of 1941, when Zhdanov bore the responsibility for the fate of Leningrad, a certain person in far-away Chita Oblast, had turned 4 years old. This person was to grow up and become the initiator of the renaming of Leningrad [back to St. Petersburg]; and was to go on to slime the memory of the man [=Zhdanov] who helped to save it. This person was the immoral political hack named [Anatoly] Sobchak.