A. K. Voronsky

Life and Works of a Bolshevik Literary Critic


Aleksandr Voronsky once remarked that he had two loves: literature and revolution. As a young Bolshevik, he actively participated in the Revolution of 1905 in Russia, and shared the fate of many in the wake of that revolution's defeat: prison and exile. From 1917 on, he helped establish and defend the Soviet regime ushered in by the October Revolution. In particular, he played leading roles in the Bolshevik Party in Odessa, Ivanovo, and finally Moscow.

It was in Ivanovo that he also developed his skills as an editor of the city's major newspaper, "Rabochii krai," and as a writer of almost 400 articles from 1918-1920. The paper caught Lenin's eye, and Voronsky was summoned to Moscow where he founded a new "thick" journal, "Krasnaia nov'" [Red Virgin Soil], in 1921. It was on the pages of this journal that many of the most important theoretical problems facing Soviet culture were debated, and many of the best writers were published.

The history of the Soviet Union and the Bolshevik Party from 1917-1937 is exceedingly complex, and Voronsky's life was inseparably bound up with all the major inner-party struggles. By 1923, he joined forces with an grouping inside the party headed by Leon Trotsky, which was actively fighting alarming signs of bureaucratic degeneration in the Soviet Union during the first years of the New Economic Policy (NEP). By 1924, when Stalin and Bukharin announced the policy of building "socialism in one country," the Left Opposition around Trotsky fought a prolonged battle in defense of the perspective of world socialist revolution. The outcome of this battle was intimately linked to the fate of the socialist revolution not just in Russia, but in Europe and China.

Against the background of these events, Voronsky published many of his own articles and edited hundreds of works by other authors. He was ceaselessly engaged in polemics with many tendencies that had emerged in Russia: the proletarian culture movement, the critics and writers grouped around "Na Postu" and "Lef", as well as the members of "Molodaia gvardia" and "October." He defended many of the writers known as "fellow-travelers," and served as de facto leader of the writers' group "Pereval." By late 1927, however, with the defeat of the Left Opposition, Voronsky was removed from official editorial positions. In February 1928 he was expelled from the party and arrested in January 1929.

After several months of exile in Lipetsk, Voronsky was allowed to return to Moscow in late 1929. The next eight years of his life were devoted to a defense of the principles of Bolshevism, under conditions in which these principles were being systematically attacked by the ruling party elite led by Stalin. As an Old Bolshevik, Voronsky shared the tragic fate of the generation which prepared and carried out the October Revolution. Continuously hounded, humiliated, and threatened with reprisal, these revolutionaries tried to find a modus vivendi in an increasingly hostile political environment. Some felt that with the upsurge of the revolution outside the borders of the Soviet Union, they would have the chance to break the stranglehold of the Stalinist regime.

Meanwhile, denied the opportunity to publish articles of literary criticism, Voronsky turned to writing his memoirs, which trace in thinly fictionalized form the life of a young revolutionary in Russia. The first volumes of "In Search of Living and Dead Water" present his life up through the Prague Conference of 1912. The next volume, which continued through the years of revolution and civil war, was confiscated by the NKVD when Voronsky was arrested for the last time on February 1, 1937. This manuscript has never been found in the KGB archives, where it still resides if it was not destroyed in 1937.

After several months of interrogation, Voronsky was tried on August 13, 1937, condemned to death and probably shot the same day. As with most victims of Stalin's Great Terror, Voronsky's works were removed from Soviet libraries, and his name was erased from Soviet history.

As the child of an "enemy of the people," Voronsky's daughter, Galina, was arrested in 1937 and spent many years in the camps and in exile in Kolyma. When she finally returned to Moscow during the Khrushchev "thaw," she contacted anyone in the Communist Party who might possibly assist in rehabilitating her father. Twenty years after his death, Voronsky was rehabilitated in February 1957. This act marked only the first step in the struggle of many years, during which Galina fought heroically to restore the memory of her father and arrange the publication of his works. As can be seen from the bibliography, she was not alone in defending Voronsky's heritage, but she was unsurpassed in her tenacity. After Galina's death in December 1991, Voronsky's granddaughter, Tatiana Isaeva, has continued the battle where her mother left off.

In the West, Robert Maguire's pioneering study of "Krasnaia nov'," published in 1968, set the standard for subsequent research. The lack of access to Soviet archives meant, however, that many questions remained unanswered, especially with regard to Voronsky's political evolution.

During 1985-1987, while I was writing a dissertation on Voronsky's literary-critical views, the process known as "perestroika" began to unfold in the Soviet Union. One could hardly imagine in 1987 that, by the end of 1991, the Soviet Union would collapse, bringing in its wake, among other things, the possibility of working in Communist Party archives. It is on the basis of such archival work that much of the material for this website has been gathered.

The list of people who have contributed to gathering this material is long. As organizer of the website, I can only acknowledge the great debt owed to many who have devoted themselves to a study of Voronsky's life and works. Readers who wish to find out more may contact me, or refer to the considerable amount of information that has been published in article and book form.

The Goal and Structure of this Website

This website hopes to help clear away the remnants of Stalinist falsification with regard to Voronsky's life and writings, the literary process of the 1920s and 1930s, and the political struggles of that time. In addition, it has long been a weakness in the West that Marxist literary criticism is usually discussed with little direct knowledge of Voronsky's contribution to this tradition. This site intends to correct that weakness by making available for the English-speaking audience as many translated texts as possible, a goal that has already been advanced by the publication of an anthology of Voronsky's writings by Mehring Books. With the translation of new material, the website intends to grow considerably over the next few years.

Aside from Voronsky's own writings, we hope to present as many documents, photographs, cartoons, sketches, articles, etc. which deal with aspects of Voronsky's life and heritage. At every point we welcome corrections, contributions, and suggestions from our readers.

Lastly, although a number of people are participating in the creation of this website, for the time being please address all enquiries to me, since I am directly responsible for the content of the site.

Frederick Choate

Berkeley, 2001

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