Today we continue our work-through of this essay by publicist Vladimir Mozhegov. And in this segment, we start getting to the nitty-gritty details of how witty rascal-poet Alexander Pushkin was transformed into a Soviet demi-god beyond reproach.
Astute readers will see a parallel between this process, and a similar process, occurring a decade earlier, in which Soviet leader Lenin was transformed into a mummy. Both processes are connected, both take extraordinarily talented men and transform them into almost-unrecognizable deities. These processes serve to consolidate the national consensus, they legitimize the new Russian socialist state, replacing the earlier Russian Empire of the Romanovs. The building of a new era requires the creative combination of past and present eras. As Hegel might have said: Thesis – Antithesis – Synthesis. Oh, snap!
Pushkin was not always considered untouchable. Indeed, as Mozhegov notes, in 1918, at the height of the Russian Civil War and so-called “Red Terror”, angry peasants looted and burned down the Pushkin hereditary estate in Mikhailovskoe-Trigorskoe-Petrovskoe. The same fate accrued to the library of the Tsarskoselsky Lyceum where a young student Pushkin had studied. These peasants apparently did not appreciate Pushkin’s well-formed iambic tetrameters in Eugene Onegin. Oh well, shit happens during turbulent times. Tsk tsk – boys will be boys, and revolting peasants will always be revolting.
Just two years after these uncouth and violent events – and Culture Commissar Lunacharsky is issuing the order to publish mass quantities of classics, including Pushkin’s complete works.
In 1922 begins a series of official annual events, commemorating Pushkin’s death. At these evening readings, Lunacharsky praises Pushkin, calling him “the Russian spring, the Russian morning, the Russian Adam.” Lunacharsky compares Pushkin to the greatest writers of Europe: Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Schiller and Goethe.
In 1925, the highest organ of the Russian government, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, issued a special decree turning the Pushkin family estate in Mikhailovskoe (near Pskov) into the town “Pushkin Hills”, and by 1927 the entire area had been renamed to “Pushkin” region.
Historical sidebar: the All-Russian Central Executive Committee (ВЦИК РСФСР) was the executive branch of government of Russia between the years 1918 to 1937. Recall that the Bolshevik Party led the second phase of the Russian Revolution under the slogan “Government to the Councils”. In Westie lore, this slogan (Вся власть Советам) is usually translated as “All power to the Soviets”, which is not so much a bad translation as a deliberate misinterpretation, making a proposal for political reform sound more like a power grab. The Russian word власть has two meanings: “power” (as in raw power); and the more neutral word “government“. Make of that homonym what you will, but it was in the latter sense that the Bolsheviks, particularly Lenin in his April (1917) Theses, proposed that the existing councils of workers, peasants and soldiers, which were springing up everywhere, take over the actual functioning of government. Replacing the obsolete Tsarist-era Duma, or Parliament.
Anyhow, with the victory of the Bolshevik Party in the October Revolution, the councils (soviets) did indeed take over the governing powers, and the Duma was obsoleted and sent packing. The local governmental organs, the soviets would meet to elect delegates to the higher bodies, the highest being the All-Russian Congress of Soviets. This body in turn either appointed or elected (I’m not sure which) members of the committee which formed the executive branch (ВЦИК). Which brings us back to this body starting to set aside towns and regions named after Pushkin, along with the various estate restorations and associated museums, etc.
Continuing this trend of official Pushkin Appreciation: In 1930-1931, under Lunacharsky’s editorship, the complete set of works of Pushkin was finally ready for publication. This collection included, in the Soviet style, copious commentaries written by literary critics. And many of the commentators giving a pro-Soviet slant to various of Pushkin’s works.
A Life Devoted To Literature
Towards the end of 1935 a decision was made at the highest levels of the government, to prepare a huge Jubilee for the Pushkin Centennial. The planning was entrusted to a man named Andrei Sergeevich Bubnov, the Soviet Commissar for National Enlightenment.
Bubnov was born in 1884 in the town of Ivanovo-Voznesensk, in a middle-class merchant family. He graduated from school in 1903, then studied at the Moscow Agricultural Institute, from which he was expelled for “revolutionary activities”. He joined the Russian Social-Democratic Party, using his “underground” nik of “Khimik” (“Chemist”). In May of 1905 Bubnov was one of the organizers, along with later Soviet leader Mikhail Frunze, of a 72-day strike of Ivanovo workers.
In 1912 Bubnov was elected to the Central Committee of the Bolshevik faction of the Party. After the Revolution, he served in various governmental and military posts as a Commissar. In 1918 Bubnov joined the “Ultra-Left” faction of the Bolsheviks which opposed the Brest-Litovsk Truce with Germany proposed by Lenin’s faction. During the Civil War, Bubnov served in various military campaigns in the Red Army, especially in the Ukraine. In 1921 he helped to suppress the Kronstadt Uprising, which was led by the Socialist Revolutionary Party against the Bolsheviks.
In the 1920’s Bubnov continued to serve in various Party, military, and governmental posts, including Editor of the Red Army newspaper “Red Star”. Between the decade 1924-1934 Bubnov continued to serve on various sub-committees of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. From 1929-1937 he was the Commissar of Enlightenment, which is what brought him into our current story, as he was put in charge of organizing the Pushkin Centennial.
Bubnov was probably poring over and annotating his collection of Pushkin’s poems on that fateful night, 17 October 1937, when NKVD burst into his house and arrested him as an Enemy Of The People. On August 1, 1938 Bubnov was sentenced to death, then taken out and shot that very day.
Bubnov’s story does not end with his death, though. On 14 March 1956 he was officially rehabilitated by the Party; and a week later was reinstated as a Party member. Nonetheless it was difficult for him to continue performing his Party duties, since he was mouldering in his grave….
Returning to happier times: Before his untimely arrest, Bubnov did a bang-up job organizing the Pushkin celebrations. His committee included important functionaries, noted Pushkin scholars and other cultural figures of the time.
[to be continued]