Russian Association of Proletarian Writers

views updated


Better known for its persecution of other writers than for its own literary efforts, the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (Rossysskaya assotsiatsia proletarskikh pisateleiRAPP) played a major role in the politicization of the arts in the Soviet Union. RAPP's members argued that Soviet literature needed to be proletarian literature (i.e., literature written for, though not necessarily by, members of the working class); all other literature was perceived as anti-Soviet. Therefore RAPP's leaders claimed that the Communist Party should assist RAPP in establishing the dominance of proletarian literature in the Soviet Union. RAPP reached the height of its power during the Cultural Revolution (19281932), and it is often viewed as the epitome of the radical artistic movements that characterized this tumultuous period.

The group, founded in 1922, was known variously as the Octobrists, Young-Guardists, or VAPP (the All-Union Association of Proletarian Writers) until May 1928, when it changed its name to RAPP. Its early membership, drawn mostly from the Komsomol (Communist Youth League) and Proletkult (Proletarian Culture) movement, was disappointed with the Party's retreat from the radical policies of the civil war period, and wished to bring a militant spirit to the "cultural front." They issued violent diatribes against non-proletarian writers, particularly the so-called fellow travelers, writers with a sympathetic, but ambivalent, attitude towards the Bolshevik cause.

RAPP's early petitions for party support led to the Central Committee's highly ambiguous June 1925 resolution "On the Policy of the Party in the Area of Belles Lettres," which recognized the importance of proletarian literature, but also called for tolerance of the fellow travelers. This was seen as a relative defeat for RAPP, and the group's claims were muted over the next two years. In 1927, however, RAPP's willingness to connect literary debates with ongoing party factional struggles won it the backing of the Stalinist faction of the Central Committee. This backing, which included financial subsidies, allowed RAPP to gain control over major literary journals, to gain influence within the Federation of Soviet Writers, and to expand its membership. By extending political categories of deviation to the arts, RAPP helped to create the crisis atmosphere and militant spirit that facilitated Stalin's rise to power.

RAPP now championed a poorly developed literary style dubbed "psychological realism" and continued to demand that literature be made accessible to working-class readers. Over the next four years, RAPP used its new powers to continue its campaign against any writer or critic who refused to follow its lead. Many of RAPP's targets, who included Boris Pilniak, Yevgeny Zamiatin, and Alexei Tolstoy, found it difficult to publish their work under these conditions, and some were fired from their jobs or even arrested; Vladimir Mayakovsky's 1930 suicide was due in part to RAPP's persecution. RAPP also became a mass movement during this period, its membership growing to ten thousand, as it promised to mentor worker-writers who were expected to create the literature of the future.

Although RAPP was the best-known proletarian artistic group of the Cultural Revolution, its tactics and ideas were adopted by similar groups in fields such as music, architecture, and the plastic arts. RAPP had local branches throughout Russia and affiliated organizations in each Union Republic. There was also a sister peasant organization (the All-Russian Society of Peasant Writers, or VOKP). RAPP's most important leaders included the critic Leopold Averbakh, the playwright Vladimir Kirshon, and the novelists Alexander Fadeyev, Fyodor Panferov, and Yuri Libidiensky.

By 1931, RAPP's inability to produce the promised new cadres of working-class writers, continued persecution of many pro-Soviet authors, and claims to autonomy from the Central Committee led to its fall from favor with the party leadership. The Central Committee's April 1932 resolution "On the Restructuring of Literary-Artistic Organizations" ordered RAPP's dissolution. Its eventual replacement, the Union of Soviet Writers, was more inclusive and acknowledged its subordination to the Party. Without the complete politicization of literature spearheaded by RAPP, however, the powerful new Writers' Union was unthinkable.

See also: cultural revolution; union of soviet writers


Brown, Edward J. (1953). The Proletarian Episode in Russian Literature, 19281932. New York: Columbia University Press.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. (1978). "Cultural Revolution as Class War." In Cultural Revolution in Russia, ed. Sheila Fitzpatrick. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Kemp-Welch, A. (1991). Stalin and the Literary Intelligentsia, 19281939. London: Macmillan.

Maguire, Robert A. (1987). Red Virgin Soil: Soviet Literature in the 1920s, rev. ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Brian Kassof

About this article

Russian Association of Proletarian Writers

Updated About content Print Article