The mood I'm describing here is that of shestidesyatniki "people of the sixties." The term needs some explaining. Originally, it referred to Russia's progressive social figures of the 1860s and then became the self-appellation of the intelligentsia that took the Khrushchev Thaw and denunciation of the "personality cult" to heart as promises of Soviet socialism's evolution toward a more human form (the term was apparently first used in this sense by the writer and critic Stanislav Rassadin).
The shestidesyatniki matured in ideological battles between the liberal "stout monthly" Novy mir (New World) and the weekly Literaturnaya gazeta (Literary Gazette), on the one hand, and the conservative, or neo-Stalinist "fatty" Oktyabr (October) and the Soviet excuse for a glossy magazine Ogonyok (Little Light), on the other. Of course, the battles were fought entirely within the socialist ideological framework and in such language that most of the liberal message had to be extracted from between the lines. Besides, the liberals' main antagonist was not the hard-line Stalin-ists on the other side of the barricades but the censor, and in 1970 this arch-enemy won a decisive victory:
Novy mir's editor-in-chief, the poet Alexander Tvardovsky, was fired; with him went the people who had made the monthly a bastion of liberal thought, or what then passed for liberal thought.
After that, in 1974, Novy mir published a novel by one of Moscow's most reclusive writers, Vladimir Bogomotov, "tn August '44." an obvious counterpoint to Solzhenitsyn's "August '14." It was excellent Russian prose -1 really enjoyed translating chapters from it for Books and Arts - but the Moscow intelligentsia reacted rather hysterically to its subject matter - the heroic deeds of the dreaded SMERSH, an acronym for smert shpionam "death to the spies" designating Soviet wartime counterintelligence units. In terms of social impact, the situation was the mirror likeness of what happened in 1962, when Novy mir published Solzhenitsyn's "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisov-ich": At the time the event held promise of a future swing toward liberalization, while Bogomolov's book was seen as a portent of dire things to come, like vindication of Stalin, Beria, 1937, the Gulag, etc. etc. Silly, but quite in the jittery spirit of the times.
Afterwards, Novy mir, as the country's premier literary journal, was chosen as the vehicle for the publication of Leonid Brezhnev's notorious trilogy I have already mentioned in a previQus installment. They say that. as fiction goes, It wasn't all thai bad, but t still take pride in never having read any of it, except for the inevitable quotes in the papers.
But the real literary events in that era occurred not on the surface, not in books and magazines, but in the underground, and I do not even primarily mean here the so-calted samizdat "self-made publications," although it was an important part of the spiritual life of the intelligentsia's Fronde. Brezhnev's era was the time of incredible efflorescence of the underground "political" joke, or anekdot. In good company, one could spend literally hours listening to guys versed in the art, the so-called anekdotisty. Here's a couple of my favorites - a suitable ending. I believe, to this section on Brezhnevism.
Brezhnev, as all the world knows, was fond of hunting, and on one of his hunting excursions he fell into a deep hole, where he was eventually discovered by a bright youngster. Brezhnev told the boy, "Pull me out of here. boy, and I'll confer on you the title of Hero of the Soviet Union." The little chap ran home to get a rope, but when he returned, he had a rather unusual. tearful request to make. "Uncle Brezhnev," he said, "could you confer it on me posthumously?" "Sure I can. Why?" asked Brezhnev. "Father says, if I pull you out, he*ll kill me!"
The other one is a particular favorite of mine. as I helped in the making of it. The Umpteenth Congress of the Communist Party is in progress, and Comrade Brezhnev is mumbling through his speech. In the gallery, some people are craning their necks to see the speaker better. One guy asks the man in front, "Could you move slightly to the right? Thanks. Now could you bend forward a bit? Thanks. No, that's too much..." The guy in front asks in irritation, without turning, "Should I give you my field glasses, perhaps?" "No thanks, I've got my telescopic sight!" End of this story, but there's a sequel. The guy in the back row shoots, misses, is duly apprehended and taken to the KGB for interrogation. There follows the regular KGB routine:
strong light in the victim's face, rubber truncheons, who are your accomplices, the works. This goes on round the clock, and in an unguarded moment in the wee hours of the morning the KGB interrogator asks something straight from the heart: "Look, you asshole. how could you miss, with your teiescopic sight and all?" This really hurts. "You try rt yourself, with everybody shoving and pushing, "Let me have a go, no, tet me...'*'
This said more about the people's real attitude toward the "leader of the Leninist type" than an annual - subscription to Now mir ever could.