Viacheslav P. Polonsky

Life and Works of a Marxist Literary Critic, Editor and Historian


            Viacheslav Polonsky is perhaps best known for his many books on the Russian anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin. Appearing throughout the 1920s, these books arose in spirited and often bitter debate with Leonid Grossman, Yuri Steklov, David Riazanov, and others.

            Born in 1886, Polonsky belonged to a generation that was entering early adulthood when the 1905 Revolution broke out in Russia. Polonsky initially joined the Mensheviks, whom he would leave after the October Revolution in 1917 to join the Bolsheviks. In between, he would endure exile, then study at the Commercial Institute and Psychoneurological Institute. Soon he was publishing articles of literary criticism in «Вестник знания» [Herald of Knowledge], «Всеобщий ежемесячник» [Universal Monthly], «Новая жизнь» [New Life], «Летопись» [Chronicle] and others less well known.

            During the Civil War, Polonsky displayed great organizational and editorial skills while producing many of the books, journals, leaflets and posters for the Red Army.

            By 1920, Polonsky published his first book on Bakunin. Several more would follow. In 1921, however, he began a decade of editorial work for literary journals, which would also play a major role in the intellectual life of the Soviet Union. The first journal he founded was «Печать и революция» [Press and Revolution]. Each issue contained articles of literary criticism, as well as invaluable bibliographical material covering all the burning issue of the day, from science and politics to literature and history. Then, in 1925, Polonsky joined «Новый мир» [New World], which was edited by Lunacharsky and Steklov. Polonsky served as the main editor of this literary journal from 1926-1931.

It was a stormy time to edit a literary journal. Voronsky's journal, «Красная новь» [Red Virgin Soil], was locked in battle with journals oriented toward the proletarian culture movement and ЛЕФ [Left Front of Art]. While largely sympathizing with Voronsky, Polonsky developed his own views which differed on some issues (particularly on the role of intuition in artistic creativity). From the standpoint of the proletarian culture theoreticians, Polonsky was almost as odious as Trotsky and Voronsky, and was often linked to them in the literary debates.

            There are complex issues surrounding Polonsky's political sympathies during the 1920s as Stalinism began to arise. While clearly supportive of the Left Opposition led by Trotsky, it is not certain what role Polonsky played. He was not a prominent leader of the opposition, but by the end of the 1920s, he is known to have collected money and other aid for exiled oppositionists. From 1929-1931, he came under increasing attack on the literary front, which was related in part to his association with leading oppositionists. On a trip to Magnitogorsk in 1932, he contracted typhus and died before his 46th birthday.

The Goal and Structure of this Web Site

The main goal of this web site is to gather information about Polonsky's life and writings. Whenever possible, texts and translations will be supplied. Material from the archives in Russia will be introduced, and we hope to address certain gaps in Polonsky's biography in future years. We would appreciate any information supplied by readers of this site.

Frederick Choate
Berkeley, 2005

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