I’m reading Katerina Clark’s Moscow, the Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Evolution of Soviet Culture, 1931-1941, whose surprising thesis is that the Soviet 1930s, generally considered a time of socialism-in-one-country retrenchment in which contacts with the world beyond Russia’s borders were looked on with disfavor, actually involved a fair amount of such contact, and here’s a particularly surprising example:
The demise of RAPP [abolished in 1932] was for most writers liberating. The change was almost immediately reflected in Literaturnaia gazeta, where in recent years RAPP had been the driving force. Its editorial board was revamped—now to include Koltsov—and the amount of material it published about Western writers and intellectuals increased exponentially, with regular columns such as “Literary New York” and items on current developments in English culture by Prince Dmitry Sviatopolk-Mirsky, who had recently returned from London after twelve years in emigration.
Most striking were the intermittent articles extolling such members of the Western avant-garde as Joyce, Dos Passos, Picasso, and the French Surrealists. By 1935 a Pravda editorial, “The Style of Soviet Culture,” was citing Balzac, Goethe, Shakespeare, and Tolstoy as its models. And in 1932 Koltsov founded and edited a new journal, Za rubezhom (Abroad). “Boy” was not just meeting “tractor,” he was also encountering Western culture.
Who knew? Not me, anyway.
Addendum. A later paragraph that drives home the point:
The Soviets established their superiority over the Nazis in part with tremendous investment in publication of German books, boasting the largest publishing house of German books outside Germany (VEGAAR) and authorizing 250 titles in German a year at its height, not to mention a lot of German literature published in Russian or Ukrainian translation.
And both Joyce (Ulysses) and Céline were translated and published in the mid-’30s!