Union of Soviet Writers

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The Union of Soviet Writers (Soiuz sovetskikh pisatelei ) was the first creative union organized by the Communist Party to solidify its influence on the arts. The Party leadership considered literature and other arts to be potent weapons which could work for or against them. For almost sixty years, the Union employed a mixture of enticements to mobilize writers behind the Party's agenda, and punishments to discipline those believed to have transgressed.

The Union's creation marked the final step in the politicization of Soviet literature. It replaced the less-inclusive Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP), which was dissolved in 1932. The new Union was open to all loyal Soviet writers. Although the Union's creation was announced in May 1932, its founding Congress did not occur until August 1934. In the interim, an Organizational Committee dominated by Party officials developed the vaguely defined aesthetic doctrine of Socialist Realism, which became the guiding tenet of Soviet literature. Maxim Gorky was also involved in the Union's creation, though scholars disagree about his actual role. The Union's First Congress was a widely publicized event, with speeches by leading writers and prominent political figures.

The Union had chapters at the All-Union, republic, regional, and city level; however, there was no Russian Republic chapter until 1955. In theory, the Union's activities were funded by membership fees; in reality it was heavily subsidized by the Soviet state. The Union's controlling body was known at different times as the Presidium, Secretariat, or Litburo (Literary Bureau). Appointments to this body were controlled by the Communist Party's Central Committee. Union leaders, who were often little-known writers, were expected to ensure the implementation of Party policies in literature. By having writers police one another, the Central Committee created the illusion of peer review and undermined group solidarity.

The Union oversaw Soviet literary journals and ran its own publishing house, Sovetskii pisatel. It organized meetings where writers were encouraged to discuss themes favored by the Party, and local chapters sometimes held preliminary readings of members' works. Its main task, however, was to reward or punish writers, depending on their level of cooperation with the Party's agenda. The Union controlled many aspects of its members' everyday lives, from housing, medical care, and vacations, to access to consumer goods; the quality and extent of these benefits depended on writers' cooperation. Rewards could be considerable. As a result, election to the Union was a coveted prize.

On the other hand, the Union could publicly censure members or prevent the publication of their work. Under Stalin, Union leaders were expected to sanction members' arrest or execution. After 1953, however, the Union's worst sanction was expulsion from its ranks. Not only were expelled members deprived of access to Union resources, but they could no longer publish in the Soviet Union. Only Union members could engage in writing as their main profession. The poet Joseph Brodsky, who was not a Union member, was arrested in 1964 as a social parasite.

The Writers' Union provided the template for other creative unions, such as those for composers, filmmakers, and artists. The Union's influence ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union, though some branches have reconstituted themselves. The

Russian Federation branch has become a bastion of extreme nationalism.

See also: brodsky, joseph alexandrovich; gorky, maxim


Brown, Edward J. (1982). Russian Literature Since the Revolution, rev. ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Garrard, John and Carol. (1990). Inside the Soviet Writers' Union. New York: The Free Press.

Soviet Writers' Congress. (1934). The Debate on Realism and Modernism in the Soviet Union. London: Lawrence and Wishart, Ltd.

Brian Kassof

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Union of Soviet Writers