SOVIET CIVILIZATION: A Cultural History by Andrei Sinyavsky


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Energetic, anti-academic, valuable cultural history of the USSR since the Revolution, by the exiled Russian (For Freedom of Imagination, 1971) who spent seven years in Siberia for writing fiction published in the West under the pseudonym Abram Tertz (Goodnight!, etc.). Sinyavsky emigrated to Paris in 1973. Sinyavsky takes a tragicomic view of the Soviet way of life leading up to Gorbachev and the restructuring of perestroika--which he scores for present-day anti-Semitism, xenophobia, ethnic conflict, and the creation of a new (mythical) ""class enemy"" and ""ideolosical saboteur,"" the Russophobe, a Soviet citizen who hates Russia. ""A powerful, militant Russian nationalism is arising to shore up and protect the Soviet Empire . . . [T] he [disintegrating] Soviet Union at the moment is like a garage full of cans of petrol which are giving off so much vepour that the place is ready to explode."" Sinyavsky's history of the decades of Communist expansion is surprisingly refreshing. He finds the religion of Marxist-Leninism prefigured by several of Dostoyevsky's characters, including Ivan Karamazov. The idea behind the Revolution was the offer of a state system ""that sees itself as the best, most advanced model in the history of the world,"" with the Soviet Union an island utopia encircled by a sea of capitalism. ""For Lenin, the value of life was purely a function of its use to the Party cause,"" an idea, Sinyavsky points, out, echoed by Mayakovsky and the Futurists. The scholarly Lenin was followed by Stalin, the self-appointed State Church, from whom bloomed the repressions of the 30's and for whom secrecy was the mainspring of power. He kept a keen eye on Soviet literature, but tolerated his severest critic, Mikhail Bulgakov, whose The Master and Margarita presents Stalin as Satan. Stnyavsky shows (ironically) the new Soviet way of life, the communal Soviet man, the new Soviet language. Richly absorbing--and merciless.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1990
Publisher: Arcade--dist. by Little, Brown