I’ve just gotten to Chapter 6, “Canonization of the Party-State Voice,” of Michael S. Gorham’s 2003 Speaking in Soviet Tongues (see this post), in which, after describing the competing ideals of Russian language use that appeared after 1917 (the make-everything-new revolutionary, the peasant-oriented popular, and the imitate-the-classics national), Gorham focuses on the turn to the “party-state voice” that triumphed under Stalin in the mid-1930s, which began with Gorky’s review of Fyodor Panfyorov’s novel of collectivization Bruski, of which three volumes had so far appeared to near-universal acclaim:
His comments, appearing in The Literary Gazette (Literaturnaya gazeta) in January 1934, admonished Panferov for his verbiage and carelessness, citing in particular his overuse (and misuse) of dialect and his graphic distortion of words in an attempt to capture nonstandard pronunciations. Gorky questioned the author’s apparent belief that “Dal′’s dictionary still hangs over the Russian literary language” […]
Gorky’s critique set off a yearlong debate in the writing community that quickly assumed an even more politically and socially charged tone. One of Panferov’s more prominent allies, the writer Aleksandr Serafimovich, countered Gorky’s remarks by defending Bruski for its authentic depiction of everyday life in the countryside and its raw portrait of muzhik strength. Gorky responded in kind, criticizing the book again for littering the Russian language with words that did not exist and chiding the reviewer for glorifying the “strength of the muzhik.” “Permit me to remind you,” he wrote, that the strength of the muzhik is a socially unhealthy force and that the consistent cultural and political work of the party of Lenin and Stalin is aimed precisely at exterminating from the consciousness of the muzhik that ‘strength’ that you are praising.” As in earlier writings on the topic, Gorky’s critical frame directly linked style and politics — authority in language with the authority of the state. […] Invoking the antirural discourse of Marx and Lenin to complement his own vocabulary of “extermination,” Gorky went on to wonder how it could be possible “to express the heroism and romanticism of the reality created in the Union of Socialist Soviets” using an “idiotic language”? […]
With the exception of some of Panferov’s allies from the disbanded Association of Proletarian Writers, participants in the debate generally sided with Gorky, including writers such as Mikhail Sholokhov and Lidiia Seifullina, renowned for their own heavy use of dialect and vulgarisms in fiction. Seifullina justified her earlier narratives by arguing that the “primitive” state of the village at that time left no other option […].
Less out of Gorky’s culturist concerns for a basic level of literacy than in an effort to solidify the stature of the party-state, lower-level critics writing on cultural policy eagerly latched on to the patriarch’s arguments and used his rhetoric about national authority and identity. In the process, all three of the models discussed earlier — the revolutionary, the popular, and the national — underwent considerable refinement, if not total transformation.
(This development was discussed a few years ago in this post.) Gorham goes on to describe the 1935 Interpretive Dictionary of the Russian Language as “the linguist Dmitrii Ushakov’s realization of Lenin’s wish to replace Dal′’s nineteenth-century lexicon with a ‘real’ dictionary of the Russian language”:
Echoing the discourse of party-state purism inspired by Gorky and his followers, Ushakov’s introduction dismissed Dal′’s work for its focus on “bourgeois vernacular and peasant language,” praised the new lexicon’s inclusion of postrevolutionary “innovations” to Russian, and finally invoked the authority of both Lenin and Gorky in staking its claim as “a weapon in the struggle ‘for the quality of the language spoken every day by literature, the press, and millions of laborers,’ ‘for the purification of a language that is good, clean, accessible to millions, [and] truly of the people [narodnyi].”
Such interpretations defused once and for all the hopes of those who advocated that the spoken language of the people be raised to the status of a language of power, advocating instead a return to the already established Russian literary language, newly refined with ideological grounding in Bolshevik authority.
Purification! When I hear talk of purity, I release the safety catch on my Browning.