Our guest speaker this past week in class was an extremely positive and informative insight directly into aspects of Russian culture. Even if received in the form of a relatively small sample, her anecdotes were valuable in bringing our coursework into real world scenarios within this realm of study. To bring this back into the topic of this week’s blogpost, she brought up how and why the Russian folk have such emotional and strong ties to the Second World War.
This post seeks to analyze this question, specifically through smaller facets of the overall cultural umbrella of the time.
One of these smaller facets is that of women and their relationship to the war. A captivating perspective of this comes in the form of the poem by Konstantin Simonov “Wait for Me” (1941). My initial thought was that this poem was from the perspective of a woman, but after reading it is obviously coming from that of a solider writing to his love waiting for him back home. The poem itself represents almost an allegory; an allegory that represents the primary questions asked for this blog prompt in regard to motivations for the war effort. These motivations for say the political/governmental machine were of course harsh, fight or flight purely defensive actions of for the government. But for the people? These motivations were their personal connections, for their family and friends, and their community at large. This is captivated in the “Russian Reader” quote “the necessity to defend the motherland was transmuted into a level of rage against the Germans that for many Russians justified any act of violence or atrocity committed against the enemy.” This manifestation of violence was a response to the corner these Russian citizens felt they were placed in to defend their culture. With a culture rooted in interpersonal relationships and family ties, the reasons to fight must have been clear to the Russians called to arms.
To me, the “how they won” question is obvious: they won as a result of sheer will, mostly manpower. The amount of Russians that volunteered, and ultimately died in the war effort can be considered a testament to the spirit and need to defend their land/families by the Russians.
The poem itself is littered with references to these family ties, speaking of not just their women waiting for them, but their mothers, sons, and daughters as well. The poem seemingly sheds light on the motivations for fighting without revealing directly these passions. But to the reader it is obvious, it is all rooted in family ties.
This week’s focus being on the shift from the positive roots of constructing socialism into the dark days of the second world war, I was immediately drawn into “If Tomorrow Brings War” by Vasily Lebedev and the Pokrass brothers (1938). Before launching into its connection to the larger aspects of socialist realism, upon reflection I instantly thought of a quote from someone I am struggling to remember the name of the man who said it, but it is “War is delightful to those who have never experienced it.” Ironically I saw the quote in a Call of Duty xbox game. (Not sure if that is a good or bad thing in the context of us millennials) This quote in connection to the lyrics represents the blind, censored, state sponsored nationalism that was a characteristic of socialist realism. The song is taken from the 1938 film of the same name, which is essentially a call to arms for the citizens of the state to rally around whatever cause it may be to defend their homeland. From a purely artistic standpoint it does this well, distracting the readers from the horrors and atrocities of war.
In the context of the socialist realism essay by James Von Geldern, he phrases three aspects of socialist realism as “best characterized by the watch words accessibility (dostupnost’), the spirit of the people (narodnost’), and the spirit of the party (partiinost’)”. The lyrics apply and play to the spirit of the people for obvious reasons, inspiring them to defend their country. “The country will rise, mighty and great, and cruelly crush the foe.” The more subtle undertones in these lyrics however, lie in the murkiness of the spirit of the party aspect of the song. The entire song is essentially a mask for defending the ideologies of the party and the Russian people, without truly coming outright and saying it, as the party and the state were so interwoven at this point in history. The simple language reinforces the socialist realism constructed by that of Joseph Stalin, which is exemplified in quotes such from him such as “socialist in content, national in form.” The nationalism and party undertones of this song represent the sort of vaugeness that socialist realism came to be known for as it progressed.
The poem is absolutely well written and succeeds in its goal of rallying the people and defending their country. When principles of socialist realism are connected back to this play, its overall structure and purpose becomes more clarified. I was unable to receive full acess, but an amazing resource for more information on this topic could be found in the Oxford Scholarship Online database: