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NDE are the national educational radio network presents special of the Week this week from Yale University New Haven Connecticut from its series called Yale reports. When solution it's in won the last Nobel Prize for Literature a great many people in the West heralded the tribute paid to this great Russian writer not only for its intrinsic honor but for the possible chance that the Soviet government would relax its restrictions on intellectuals and allow Solzhenitsyn to travel to Stockholm to receive the award. The Soviet government finally did give Solzhenitsyn permission to go to Stockholm but on the unacceptable condition that he would not be allowed to return to his own country. Socialism is but one of many Russian intellectuals today who find themselves trapped in the snare of government bureaucracy and party idiology. Some defect some smuggle out their works others work within the system and hope for a freer atmosphere some day. Today on email reports to scholars concerned about the climate for intellectuals in Russia discuss the present situation. They are Viktor Elesh
Benziger professor of Russian literature and George Steiner visiting professor of romance languages at Yale. Mr. Steiner. At the time one soldier in it's in was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. A good many of us in the West and I understand a good many people in Russia hope that the Soviet government would take the occasion to allow its greatest writer to go and speak freely in the outside world and to receive publicly this immense on up. In fact as we know what happened was a contrail not only could he not go but in recent weeks the attacks on him have been of a big Kuli vicious and Stalinist guy and I think made the worst because in this human being a greatness transcending his stature as a writer and honesty total integrity pierces through it every moment I imagine Victor you may correct me that his reputation with the ordinary Russian is
even greater than was Pasternak's it was more a writer's writer that this is to many Russians the representative voice of their own civilization at the moment. Were you at all surprised were you hopeful that perhaps this time there might be a change of atmosphere. No George I was vaguely hopeful. But the very very good lever referring to the so in fact I was not so for it. It was quite apparent that was the impression that which we had in the West that the matter was heard in abeyance and to put in your leave the last moment it seems that there are some relatively reasonable people who are trying to do or to judge the reasonable and the decent thing. I didn't really believe that they would prevail. I thought that what I had thought that the government would take just about the course of action which it took. I didn't think that they would flatly refuse
him a visit. I did think though that they would confront him it was a kind of dilemma which Pasternak had to face. You can go if you wish but don't come back now. There was perhaps a slight difference in that as far as I know they didn't say it overtly or explicitly but they can paint a vicious campaign which you mention in the which were waged against I was and it's and from the very first moment clearly indicated that the danger of his being prevented from returning to work there. And so to. Atmosphere was produced which they knew would make it impossible for him to go because the last prospect that he could vision was an equanimity or that of emulation. What makes one particularly desperate in this case is that the ease of use of a simple word no greater Russian patriot is no great Reich a certain respects in storage story who is more
possessed of the totality of Russia as a country of its language of its genius. And we in fact would speak more for them now. We are surely dealing with men whatever their cruelty or whatever their opportunism are not stupid they know everything we're saying here and thinking how do you interpret their fundamental motive on such a decision when they're dealing with a man like that whose whose total decency and dignity for Russia they can guarantee. No I want your job. It's really very difficult to figure out their motives because there is I agree with everything was said and there was no question that they're not doing themselves any good by taking the scores of actions. I think they are truly narrow minded political hacks. I think it is conceivable. It is most unlikely that they don't see his greatness or Eve. When
they fail to understand it they know it for a fact that he appeals to hundreds of thousands of illiterate Russians but I don't see that they can comprehend that I don't share. There are reasons why it is so and it is entirely possible that quite apart from that you never to bow vicious political rhetoric that would follow the sort of thing. It is entirely possible that they'd consider that a slap in the face of the Soviet regime and in fact that they felt embarrassed is of course entirely their fault. That is also quite understandable because it was their decision taken quite a while ago to place the men whom even they have Guinea if to shun Cocos other greatest living classic in the position of an outcast. When this outcast no this was a legit enemy of the people is the note. But even the Swedish Academy the serious doubt is expressed about him to put it
mildly. The judgment and the decency of the Soviet government. Perhaps there was another rather more specific in that other operational reason for not letting him go in the fact so she needs and is certain that he was you. The greatest Russian patriot. It is preposterous to assume that he would surrender his country or that he will try to jeopardize Russia's standing in any way in his speech in Stockholm. But he would deliver a Lincoln speech in behalf of creative freedom. The principal who just suffered through all those hate and feel lost you as a student and a very long term student of Russian history. As a layman there is one constant bustle. Now there are good moments for instance we know now in through the crush of memoirs in somewhat more detail the soul in its earlier book on the concentration camps was even also revised. That certain risks were taken though drunk aided but
not very drunk aided because Nate's of Babi Yar was allowed and so on. Now I as an outsider first of all think we're all excessively naively great for these brief moments of decency but going beyond our attitude suppose we had on the table in front of us Victor some of the nineteenth century text I'm thinking of Christine. And think of the mess TRA people before the word communism a bunch of ism existed said for a turn 80. Russian bureaucracy will muzzle and destroy every free voice for ever it has used and will use the right to travel as a weapon either of imprisonment or short term reward. What I'm trying to drive at is to me the central question. Are we not dealing with an endemic structure. If we had to work deeper than politics almost if we had something which is climate but climate of the spirit lamp of the soul or something which surrounds a people its civilization and its history. For example during the very brief free period of the 1920s what
I value asking you and I know it is a very difficult question is are we ever. What are we always wrong to be momentarily hope for. Are we dealing something which one should in fact look at in the normal logical way of rational opportunistic expediency. I was dealing with something which you would already see in Russian history eternally and certainly much much before this. No George this is a crucial question and it's one of which would have to be answered at least in part in the affirmative. There is certainly nothing new about cultural regimentation and the repression. Of course there's nothing uniquely Russian about it but there is nothing new about it in Russia. The distrust of the mind the distrust especially of the imagination is a normal bureaucratic or autocratic tradition in Russia. And obviously if once things are back to their worst 19th century autocrat of the moniker as the first and the way in which he dealt with supposed skin and it was some of the
lesser but still distinguished members of Pushkin's generation. When one looks at it one sees is striking. And this is more Finot. Between the Soviet regime and this phase at least after I was to talk of it in fact Nikolai the first can be considered perhaps it could that's a sought after style and they felt control in that he is known in addition to having imposed a rigid censorship on the witcher and having persecuted a number of writers and poets. He is known to have returned to Pushkin copy of Bally's Godunov. There was the suggestion read in the style of a Walter Scott. Now this was one instance of when the Czarist regime was trying to influence positively at the well the nature of the man of the Russian the church in addition to blocking its subversive aspects.
And this is only fairness to the corrupt and the repressive and inefficient to challenge the regime. Something of a difference between the Soviet and the recent police of yet the period of what we still undermost saw so and girls. There was censorship and rather then an effort to moan to the torture. This of course effort is impossible. Ag without the first overt ideology be it was outed to the telly interconnects. I think it's fair to say that as far as the plight of the Russian writer was concerned the thing's got even the world's under Stalin. Then they were under that solves their somewhat better now than they were under starting. But we do have to come to some kind of conclusion. A persistent. The bureaucratic tendency toward cultural repression which
is part and parcel of the Russian tradition and which is not easily done away with. In addition to it on the top of it we have the totalitarian legacy is that Stalin his heritage somewhat watered down somewhat undermines and Stalin but still fundamentally in force and that is why. I would say that it is not easy to envision. In view of the last just past the period in which it ideal for the able to briefly the. However I would say it is not impossible to envision it provided. And this I don't think is likely to happen in the very near future. Provided that the nature of the political system which dominates us. Change what makes this a paradox. The Bolshevik system. And I know that it is a very complicated relation between Bolshevik theory and present
practice but nevertheless bartering system with its immense emphasis on literacy with its own very great intellectual heritage a heritage of clandestine triumphs through books through argument through the life of the mind. After all this is or was a great revolution of an intelligentsia if ever one can use that. It dry and it brought literacy. It brought a sense of classic literature to Russian life which one only has to walk down any provincial Russian Street today as you and I know do see the book Barrows with the dickens and Scott the bells at the big dog or the Shakespeare. This is not propaganda one knows it is a dissemination of great literature. On a scale no regime has ever attempted. And to the furthest recesses of the population. And so there is here a particularly grim paradox regime that fears the word. At the same time as it has used it so enormously in triumphantly.
Remember there were even literary pretensions in Stalin personally. Not only a seizes on linguistics which in Brant is not stupid if I may close Bence's And but he's very complicated relations to certain writers in the 1920s and early Surtees he was not different to it's own hatreds in these matters. No it didn't and this is absolutely true and let me say that you know we're in the stone in this phase to the east of the Bolshoi because Jean this indeed beatable genuine deeply felt a respect for culture and literature. This it wellness of the importance of literature which is rather rare among politicians became a not a blessing in disguise but a curse. Paradoxically. It is true that the Marxist tradition of cause imposes on its representatives seriousness how you
seriousness with respect to the teacher and the pledge of literacy and almost So as you suggested the increased access to the classics of course Russian and went to a twitcher. It was in than do but result of the revolution and this is still part of the legacy undermined distorted wall to the Agassi of the Revolution of 1917. However the what enter the scene rather early in the game rather before starting was only sort of silly telly and finally took telly to talk to the telly in assumption that the regime in which embodies history was a capital age that then a gene which unknown was what's good for the people and what's good for mankind has a right to lay down the line in all matters including literature and it's this remarkable memoir I have. Just don't understand what you're so brilliantly reviewed recently in The New Yorker. Clearly shows this was in a sense the beginning of the
end. But intellectuals Well in part by the by their sense of importance but sense of centrality to this new society. And in doing so on this sort of end of the letter in the 1920s they started seven doing their creative the intellectual and artistic freedom not on the when Stalin's took to the term in theirs and took over. On the one hand the conformists I doze well into one of the most privileged economic positions in the state at the same time writers who were not quite conformist. Well ruthlessly destroyed and paradoxically part of the of the snus was the tribute to the to the sense with the regime head that to the Twitchell was important. Can I break in for a moment because this is something fascinating. You're saying many of our new young extreme leftists particularly in Europe I'm thinking say
not Stalinism but Leninism and are now wearing Leninist labors. Do I understand you rightly that that mechanism you speak of you said specifically before Starlin is already a Leninist principle would this be a fair interpretation of what you've said. Very much so very much so you know I think. Personal flaws of which which became institutionalised was the snus which was part and parcel of the style in this mode of moral being shaping and nearly destroying that which I would have been early into learning. Then there was a different sort of man learning that had I think in his last years he was torn between Also Italian principles and residual respect for many representatives of the free into the gents including some of his political opponents and Gokey with whom he had a very complicated
relationship. But where he at least and also in the case of music he was worried at times about trying to regimented life have ways later it swung in. If we can move for a moment from literature another course of surprise and certainly of great sadness lies on the science front. What I have in mind is this a good many of us who saw Soviet scientists particularly in England over the past few years where there have been many and very cordial exchange and even long term visits from the academy. They were careful people enormously. Student tactfully but reading between the lines they said look this kind of stuff can't go on much longer because to have a first rate scientific technology you must have open windows constant exchange with the West. Free access to publication free debate they say. Just stick with us if they want us to produce the kind of science which makes Russia a world power in the age of the moon rocket. They cannot treat us that way. They said
one of the insurances for Czarist in Stalinist tyranny was that the great modern scientific community the freemasonry of modern science played almost no role yet and one Listen to this and it sounded extremely sensible and I've been saying that what you've been writing about the historian and his question will there be a Russia in 1984. I'm thinking of Sarkar off the physicist who's been a leader of free opinion might care but worry at the moment is that if we said all this openly to the Politburo they'd say in the end we prefer to fall behind even in the most vital races of science than the most vital contest rather than open any real window we think we can just squeeze by while keeping the windows closed. I only impression it is less hope for today than in this book. Nick did in a few years ago when there seemed to be a much freer intelligentsia. Of the scientists and isn't it fascinating that in the lists of people signing for soldier needs signing for Daniel
and the people protesting trying to help. There are now a great many prominent scientists I think associated with the new movement and even we samizdat with the underground publication of documents and letters and essays. But it doesn't seem to be helping very much either. It won't. Yes this is a very interesting phenomenon. I have mixed feelings about it that is either tomorrow or the people are saying and trying to do. I have mixed feelings about it in terms of its effectiveness or what it portends on the one hand it is correct it is the clear Russian and a very appealing phenomena. To see the scientists and the little intellectuals work so closely together it's in terms of the basic values in terms of their basic very roof last. There is no question of two cultures. They are both the two intellectual cultures fight together. Good for you. It begins bureaucracy and autocracy. It is very moving. Merely a biographical axid in the soldier needs in was an
engineer examination. This almost coalesces what you said. This kind of unity what frightens me is that I think they're going to treat those men pretty much like they do the great writers. Though it's much easier answer than it's an himself suggested in the first circle to isolate them under very comfortable conditions while keeping them at work. Poets don't operate this way but electronic engineers do. Victor as as we sit here in our great safety and I talk this way from outside. The question that presses upon one I'm looking at some of the latest figures which have just been published in The Observer in London of the sort of January which say that the concentration camp population now again exceeds 1 million and that in the terrible prison It reminded me of the maximum prison one hundred miles east of Moscow. There are several hundred leading writers thinkers and professors who were almost literally being done to death. The question when asked is first is
there anything one can do from outside. And secondly and you would be really the one to answer this do it Jim. To do anything from outside dangers as one would help. No one is not sure of cause one is not sure because there one has to speculate about so many aspects of the situation and because of one and this goes for all of us hasn't talked to a sufficient number of interested parties. No I was in a position however and some of us about perhaps most to talk to some dissident Russian intellectuals and I would say they are not a homogeneous group by any means. They disagree on many things but it seems to me that the by and large a goodly. Residual effectiveness of at least some public voters the increase in the West they would much rather have us do this then or not.
Which as far as I'm concerned is a sufficient reason for doing it. In fact I know that one of the bravest intellectuals in Russia who is about in her 50s I think chided. A mutual friend who was visiting there recently for ear relative dearth of public protests regarding the Soviet intellectuals in the United States and of course Incidentally one of the answers given by my friend was that while this may have been too American to that Jews had their hands full as it was doing with their own dilemmas. Now incidentally this is a point which may very well be overstated or distorted. I think as intellectuals as people who care about freedom political culture intellectual freedom we have a
certain obligation to do what we can about abuses of power and destruction of freedom and it will in their work. The only question is what is its likely to do more harm than good. Now let me say simply this. It wanted to do. Terribly much good simply because the presence of your two regime is rigid enough petrified enough good enough and sufficient to feel full. I have the imagination to keep doing some of the things they are doing now as long as they can get away with it in Russia. And yet they're not completely immune to public pressure. As for instance the outcome of the downing got trial recently shot I didn't I was told for instance. No this is not a question of the public protest. I told very emphatically when I was in Russia in 69. The best thing the West could
do for Solzhenitsyn is to offer him a Nobel Prize. This was not meant as a simply political gesture. This man as so many Russians felt and like to the social needs and richly deserve the Nobel Prize. But the builder of his message was. Only 10 Jubal dramatic sign of recognition of sympathy on the part of any sizeable Western group can only hope. Perhaps we could conclude on a quite selfish point I absolutely subscribe to what you say but the obligation of anyone who cares for intellectual life and art for quite selfishly I don't think we can do without the Russian contribution. There are simply hundreds of points in one's own feelings and one's own needs in literature but I also sing in music and in science where Russian genius under these immensely adverse conditions continues to be one of the major creative forces anywhere in the world. And what I would dread most is if we were cut off from what they are bringing to us so that I sing in
ones attempts to yell to protest to learn more to go to hell being however feeble away in those attempts is something which also involves a great deal of our survival. There is just too much there of the pressure of humanity and of creation for us ever to write off or to say sorry. It isn't our own business. I really emphatically. And they go a stickly think it is. I couldn't agree more. As you are suggesting it's not just the I hope may need us or may use our help. It is also that we need them and we need them badly. As you're suggesting in more ways than one both in terms of there's been a remarkable and vital and exuberant contribution of the Russian genius at its best is still making to our spiritual wealth. But also and I am thinking here mainly about two men exogenous in an apartment I come out early. Some of the
wonderful demonstration of the indiscreet talked ability of Certainly human values. This demonstration unfortunately can be offered only under extreme circumstances under circumstances of stress when men's souls are very severely taxed but it is a demonstration of which we need today more than ever. I hate to mouth the humanistic cliches because there have been so much abuse on both sides of the aisle. But certainly there are reasons to doat the resilience of the human spirit. There have always been and today there are plentiful to see men stand up under utmost stress and often without any phones heroics in the most natural sort of way of this. The only thing to do and all for the kind of resistance to law is to oppression to
Special of the week
Issue 15-71 "The Climate of the Soul: Russian Intellectuals Today"
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Chicago: “Special of the week; Issue 15-71 "The Climate of the Soul: Russian Intellectuals Today",” 1971-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 5, 2021,
MLA: “Special of the week; Issue 15-71 "The Climate of the Soul: Russian Intellectuals Today".” 1971-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 5, 2021. <>.
APA: Special of the week; Issue 15-71 "The Climate of the Soul: Russian Intellectuals Today". Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from