The Making of Socialist Realism


Russian W4033
Spring 2005

MW 2:40-3:55

201 Lehman Hall (Barnard)

Prof. Rebecca Stanton

226D Milbank, x4-3313

rstanton [at] barnard [dot] edu

Office hours: Thurs. 4-6 and by appt.





In the period 1917-1934, the world of Russian letters sustained numerous complex, impassioned, and largely simultaneous debates about the purpose, value, and influence of literature; the appropriate aesthetic response or responses to the Russian Revolution; and, most importantly, the course to be charted by the practitioners of the new, Soviet, literature.  The object of this course is to examine the ways in which Russian literature, literary criticism, and literary theories responded (and contributed) to the abrupt change of political context brought about by the Russian Revolution, culminating in the formal adoption of Socialist Realism as the official method of Soviet literature by the Union of Soviet Writers in 1934.



  • Regular attendance and participation in seminar discussion.
  • Final paper of article length (graduate students) or 10 pages (undergraduate students), on a topic chosen in consultation with the instructor, and due on the last day of class.




The following books have been ordered into Labyrinth books (112th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam).  They will also be made available on reserve in Butler Library. 

NOTE: the editions of Envy, Chapaev, Cement, and Quiet Flows the Don on reserve differ from those ordered for the class, so if you are able to afford the expense, it would be preferable for you to buy those texts.
  • Carl Proffer, ed., Russian Literature of the Twenties (Ardis)
  • James von Geldern and Richard Stites, eds., Mass Culture in Soviet Russia (Indiana UP)
  • Leon Trotsky, Art and Revolution (Pathfinder)
    (NB: this book is optional; Literature and Revolution is also available online: )
  • Boris Pilnyak, The Naked Year (Ardis)
  • Isaac Babel, Collected Stories (Penguin 20th Century Classics)
  • Yury Olesha, Envy (NYRB)
  • Fyodor Gladkov, Cement (Northwestern UP)
  • Dmitri Furmanov, Chapaev  (UP of the Pacific)
  • Mikhail Sholokhov, Quiet Flows the Don (Vintage)
  • Andrey Platonov, The Foundation Pit (Northwestern UP)
  • Valentine Kataev, Time, Forward! (Northwestern UP)  This book is currently out of print, so we are not going to read it.

Any other readings (marked with an asterisk in the schedule) will be distributed in photocopy form.




Topics and Readings



W 19

Introduction: literary movements, factions, and confrontations of the 1920s.




I. The Revolution in Russian literature; responding to new contexts.

M 24

*Aleksandr Blok, “The Twelve,” “Scythians,” “The Intelligentsia and the Revolution,” “The People and the Intelligentsia.”



Von Geldern and Stites, Mass Culture…, xi-xxvii

Trotsky, “Alexander Blok” (in Literature and Revolution)



II. Fellow Travelers.

W 26

Boris Pilnyak, The Naked Year

M 31

The Naked Year, cont.
Trotsky, “The Literary ‘Fellow-Travelers’ Of The Revolution” (in Literature and Revolution)



W 2

Vsevolod Ivanov, Armored Train 14-69 (in Russian Literature of the 1920s)

M 7

Isaac Babel, Red Cavalry (selected stories TBA)

W 9

Red Cavalry, cont.

M 14

Yury Olesha, Envy, Part One

W 16

Envy, Part Two

M 21

Evgeny Zamiatin, We (in Russian Literature of the 1920s)

W 23

We, cont.

M 28

Mikhail Bulgakov, “The Fatal Eggs” (in Russian Literature of the 1920s)          
Von Geldern and Stites, Mass Culture…, 90-112



W 2

*Mikhail Zoshchenko, selected stories from Nervous People
Ilf and Petrov, “How the Soviet Robinson Was Created” (in Russian Literature of the



III.  LEF, Opoyaz, Oberiu

M 7

*Mayakovsky, “At the Top of My Voice”

* Kharms, “Incidences” (selections)

Trotsky, “Futurism” and “The Formalist School Of Poetry And Marxism” (in
       Literature and Revolution)

Von Geldern and Stites, Mass Culture…, 86-89

“A Slap in the Face of Public Taste” and “What is LEF Fighting For?” (in Russian
       Literature of the 1920s


IV. The Proletarian Moment in Literature.

W 9

Trotsky, “Proletarian Culture And Proletarian Art” (in Literature and Revolution)

Kirillov, “We” (in Russian Literature of the 1920s, under “Smithy Poets”)

“VAPP Platform” and “On Party Policy in the Field of Belles-Lettres” (in Russian

       Literature of the 1920s)          

Von Geldern and Stites, Mass Culture…, 3-6, 16-17, 22-29, 56-68



Spring Break



V.  In Search of Red Tolstoy

M 21

Dmitri Furmanov, Chapaev 

W 23

Chapaev, cont.


M 28

Chapaev, cont.

W 30

Chapaev, cont.




M 4

Fyodor Gladkov, Cement

W 6

Cement, cont.


M 11

Mikhail Sholokhov, Quiet Flows the Don

W 13

Quiet Flows the Don (cont.)

M 18


Quiet Flows the Don (cont.)

W 20

Quiet Flows the Don (cont.)

M 25


Andrey Platonov, The Foundation Pit

W 27

The Foundation Pit (cont.)


M 1

VI.  The End of the Beginning: Unity, Uniformity, and a Union.

*Speeches from the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers, 1934