2.5 About Alexander Solzhenitsyn [26 June 1968]

<< No 2, 30 June 1968 >>

A leading article in Literaturnaya gazeta [the weekly Literary Gazette] of 26 June 1968 and a letter printed in it from Alexander Solzhenitsyn dated 21 April 1968, raise for the first time in the pages of the Soviet press the question of what has happened to the unpublished writings of Solzhenitsyn. Among other things,  Literaturnaya gazeta fulminates against a number of Solzhenitsyn’s letters, starting with his well-known letter to the [Fourth] Writers’ Congress, and against the open letter sent by Veniamin Kaverin to Konstantin Fedin (without however giving the addressee’s name). All these documents exist in samizdat form. Last year’s letter to the congress is widely known. The Chronicle provides here a survey of subsequent documents circulated in 1968.

After the ban laid on the publication in the Novy mir journal of the novel Cancer Ward, the writer Veniamin Kaverin wrote a letter to one of the initiators of the ban, Konstantin Fedin, the Board Chairman of the Writers’ Union; as young men, they were both members of the well-known literary group ‘The Serapion Brothers’. The letter contains a warning that the unpublished novel would remain extant in thousands of typed copies and would be published abroad:

“Possibly, there are to be found among the leaders of the Writers’ Union people who think that they will be punishing the writer by consigning him to literature published abroad. They will punish him with world fame, which will be utilized by our enemies for political ends. Or is it their hope that Solzhenitsyn ‘will mend his ways’ and start to write differently? This is ridiculous in the case of a writer who constitutes a rare example, and who insistently reminds us that we are functioning in the literature of Chekhov and Tolstoy.”

In April chapters from Cancer Ward appeared in the literary supplement to the London Times [i.e. weekly Times Literary Supplement]. Subsequently, announcements appeared about the forthcoming publication of this novel in a number of Western editions and, quite recently, of the novel The First Circle also. After the Times publication Solzhenitsyn sent a letter to a number of the members of the Writers’ Union to say that Cancer Ward had got abroad because the Union Secretariat prevented it being printed in Novy mir. Four documents were appended to the letter:

  • Solzhenitsyn’s letter to all the Secretaries of the Writers’ Union, dated 12 September 1967;
  • an account of the Secretariat meeting of 22 September 1967;
  • a letter of 25 November 1967, from K. Voronkov, a Secretary of the Writer’s Union;
  • and Solzhenitsyn’s letter to the Secretariat of 1 December 1967.

These documents demonstrate the attitude and the responsibility of the Union Secretariat as concerns publication of the novel and in the campaign of persecution and slander surrounding the writer’s name.

In April Solzhenitsyn sent a further letter to Novy mir, Literaturnaya gazeta and members of the Union in connection with a telegram from the editors of Grani [NTS-funded quarterly] to Novy mir. The telegram says that the KGB has sent a copy of Cancer Ward to the West through Victor Louis, to provide a pretext for not publishing the novel in the Soviet Union. One of the questions Solzhenitsyn asks is — who is Victor Louis? The following can be said about him: he is a correspondent of the London Evening Star [in fact, Evening News] and a Soviet citizen. At the end of the 1940s and beginning of the 1950s Louis was in a political corrective-labour camp and was already well known as a provocateur. In recent years he is said to have been involved in handing over to the West a number of writings not published in the Soviet Union, acting in so doing as a provocateur, as when he sold to the West German periodical Stern a doctored version of the memoirs of Svetlana Alliluyeva.

Solzhenitsyn concludes his letter with the words:

“This episode causes one to ponder on the strange and obscure channels through which the manuscripts of Soviet writers manage to reach the West. It is an urgent reminder to us that literature must not be reduced to a condition in which literary works become a profitable commodity for any kind of operator who holds a travel visa. The works of our authors must be allowed publication in their own country and not be handed over for exploitation by foreign publishers.”

It has become known that some readers of Literaturnaya gazeta, in reply to the article about Solzhenitsyn, have cancelled their subscription [see 9.9, (2) ], notifying the post office thereof and returning their receipt to Alexander Chakovsky, the weekly’s chief editor.