While one part of the 1930s seemed to focus on how much life in Russia had improved under the Soviet Union and specifically the policies of Joseph Stalin, on the other hand, there was a great amount of fear, due to domestic policies like the Purges and international pressures, like the eve of World War II. As a result of the pressures faced by the artists, a new form of art known as Soviet realism became quite popular. The poem “Narkom Yezhov” by folk poet Dzhambul Dzhabaev is an excellent example of Soviet realism, as it incorporates accessibility to the newly literate Russian (dostupnost), Russian ideals and spirit (narodnost), and the spirit of the Soviet Party (partiinost).
“Narkhom Yezhov” is based on the Soviet leader Nikolai Yezhov. Yezhov was the head of the NKVD during the deadliest stage of the Purges. He helped to create the Purge Commission, and used that position along with his role at the helm of the NVKD to extend the Purge from Stalin’s enemies within party leadership to the general Russian population as a whole. Millions died in the ensuing liquidation processes. However, by 1940, Yezhov himself had displeased Stalin, and found himself executed by the very process he had helped to create.
Yezhov reached the height of both his power and cruelty in 1937, the year that Dzhabaev came out with his poem that exalted him. In the poem, Yezhov is depicted as being a god-like man who “Lenin and Stalin sent to us” in order to aid the Kazakh peasants in their fight against the rich landowners who abused them. Dzhabaev addresses Yezhov in the poem, saying, “You are a sword, bared calmly and fiercely… You’re the eye of the nation, brighter than diamonds.” This praise hardly seems fitting for a man known throughout most of the Soviet Union as “Stalin’s Poison Dwarf” (a reference both to his cruelty and his short stature).
The poem “Narkom Yezhov” is a great example of Soviet realism, as it is in the form of traditional Kazakh folklore, which makes it accessible to the common peasants, and it also incorporates the spirit of both Russia and the Party by praising Yezhov’s valor and by making a Party leader seem like a god. The glory of the poem can also be seen as an attempt to mask the horrors of the time period in which it was written, another key facet of Soviet realism.
Mass Culture in Soviet Russia, “Narkom Yezhov”, pages 298-300.