A fascinating passage from Katerina Clark’s Petersburg: Crucible of Cultural Revolution (pages 285-86):
Gorky and Panfyorov were, at this critical moment, arguing about language, or more specifically about whether the extensive use of substandard folk language in literature (a characteristic of Panfyorov’s Bruski) represents, as Gorky termed it, “language pollution,” and as such should be excluded from Soviet literature. Panfyorov was supported in this argument by the Old Bolshevik author A.S. Serafimovich and several other prominent writers. The issue was laid to rest when M.P. Yudin, the nonliterary, Party-appointed head of the Writers Union‘s Organizational Committee and the other spokesman on literature at the Seventeenth Party Congress, supported Gorky at the Committee’s plenum in March 1934.
A debate about language is never innocent. It is no wonder this one was put to an end by statements from on high. Starting from such earlier disputes as that between Lomonosov and Tredyakovsky in the eighteenth century, or the series involving Admiral Shishkov, Karamzin, Pushkin, and others that heralded the emergence of modern Russian literature early in the nineteenth, debates on language have tended to mark interstitial times in Russian cultural history. In the Soviet period, the impact of such debates became decidedly more political. Consider Stalin’s famous essays on linguistics of 1950 that reversed the base / superstructure model in this sphere and ended the sway of Marr‘s school in linguistics; in so doing, they set in motion, or were a sign of, a major reorientation in Soviet culture that was intensified during the thaws under Khrushchev.
Arguments about language are often arguments about authority and system. As was said in a Literary Gazette editorial when the canonical theory of socialist realism was being worked out: “The struggle for cultured language [kul'tura yazyka] is at the same time a struggle for the language of socialist culture and even more broadly a struggle for socialist culture in general.” A similar position was taken by the Party spokesman at the First Writers Congress, A.A. Zhdanov, who in his speech to the Congress (a canonical source for the theory of socialist realism) stated: “In order to be an engineer of human souls one must struggle actively for cultured language [kul'tura yazyka]. . . .” Thus “cultured language” was a cornerstone of socialist realism, together with “Party-mindedness” (partiynost’) and the “positive hero.”
I referred briefly to the first-mentioned debate in the third paragraph of this post.