Max Hayward: Writers in Russia: 1917-1978; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; San Diego, CA.

by Charles A. Moser

At the time of his premature death in 1979, Max Hayward was among the finest Western interpreters of contemporary Russian literature in the Soviet Union. As one of Britain’s most accomplished Slavists, he had obtained a research position at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford for use as his chief base of operations, though he always remained a bit of an academic outsider. Relieved of most teaching duties, he devoted his energies to translating—either alone or in collaboration with others—such central modern literary documents as Abram Tertz’s (Andrei Sinyavsky’s) The Trial Begins, the two lengthy volumes of Nadezhda Mandelstam’s memoirs, Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago, and Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, not to mention a number of lesser-known works. In addition to translating, he also wrote numerous introductions, articles, and essays, primarily on the subject of 20th­ century Russian literature. As things turned out, though, he never published an entire book of his own, and it is that deficiency which his close American associate Patricia Blake has set out to remedy with this volume, which she edited.

Patricia Blake has remained even more thoroughly outside the academy than Hayward: she has worked for many years as an editor at Time magazine, specializing in contemporary Soviet culture. Like Hayward, she has made significant and serious contributions to our comprehension of the Russian enigma as an editor and interpreter of the best writing to come out of the Soviet Union since Stalin’s death. She, like him, has functioned as a “custodian of Russian literature in the West, until such time as it could be restored to Russia,” Both Hayward and Blake accepted an important responsibility to both Western and Russian culture. And each found in the other a loyal friend.

Miss Blake prefaces this volume with a lengthy memoir of Hayward, an essay wholly sympathetic to him and his views but one which at the same time maintains a fine and objective balance in its presentation. The bulk of the book consists of Hayward’s writings, most of which were previously published, and many of which illustrate his magnificent gift for encapsulating vast sweeps of Russian cultural history in graceful English for the intelligent nonspecialist and specialist alike. To be sure, the first essay violates the book’s declared chronological limits, for it surveys the entire history of the Russian Empire in 45 pages in a way which could scarcely be improved upon. Two long essays treat Soviet Russian literature as a whole; one article deals with the dissidents in Soviet literature as of the very early 1960’s; and a thought-provoking piece analyzes the theory and dismal practice of “socialist realism,” the “basic method” of Soviet literature. The volume’s second section includes generally shorter essays on individual contemporary writers: Pasternak, Akhmatova, Solzhenitsyn, and Sinyavsky, for all of whom Hayward felt a special affinity. The volume ends with a very useful selected bibliography of Hayward’s works.

In addition to his remarkable ability to synthesize large amounts of material for the nonspecialist, Hayward displayed an invaluable faculty for seeing the important things clearly, sensibly, and in a proper philosophical perspective. He valued truth and those who told it; he prized artistic and intellectual freedom; he unhesitatingly supported those who risked much to defend truth and freedom under the totalitarian conditions of Soviet society. In his essays on the history of the Russian Empire down to 1917 he argues that the October Revolution, though perhaps unavoidable, was a tragedy for the development of Russian society and culture, and that prerevolutionary Russia compared favorably even with mid-Victorian England. “In retrospect,” he writes, “there seems little doubt that, but for the war and the Revolution, Russia would have developed into a liberal bourgeois democracy in which Moscow and Petersburg might easily have come to outshine the capitals of Western Europe.”

But war and revolution did supervene, which led to the eventual imposition of severe political and cultural controls by the state, controls aimed at buttressing the objectives of the government that have endured down to the present day. And it was the contemporary situation which aroused Hayward’s concern.

In his trenchant discussion of the doctrine of socialist realism in literature—which requires that writers make unmistakably clear their faith in socialism’s ultimate triumph—Hayward maintains that the approach is intrinsically hostile to lyric poetry, but that Stalin “had a kind of superstitious appreciation of the supreme worth of those very few who in every generation stand outside and above their age.” And he attributes to that “superstitious appreciation” the ability of such literary giants as Boris Pasternak (in my view the greatest Russian 20th-century poet, and quite possibly the greatest poet of this century in any language) and Anna Akhmatova to survive the purges that swept away so many of their contemporaries.

After 1917 the newly established Soviet regime did not move immediately into cultural politics with full force. Writers, artists, and intellectuals enjoyed a modicum of freedom during the 1920’s, although there were many who saw the handwriting on the wall and emigrated to the West. By 1934, however, the Soviet dictatorship had extended its write to all areas of culture, and for the next two decades enforced it with extreme ruthlessness and with all the repressive apparatus of the state. Despite all this, Hayward believes, the entire effort did not achieve its objectives:


Soviet cultural policy … has failed to harness literature and the arts (except by debasing them) to its aim of the social and moral transformation of man in a new image. It has failed to enlist the support of anyone truly gifted in the younger generation. It has failed even to retain the allegiance of those of the older generation who once thought of service to it, not as bondage, but as a kind of higher spiritual freedom.


The extent of that failure could be vividly measured by the cultural and intellectual influence that such poets as Akhmatova and especially Pasternak, who never bowed at all to the demands of the authorities, enjoyed among the Soviet intelligentsia. Indeed, as World War II approached its conclusion, Pasternak decided that if things did not improve after the end of the conflict he would write a novel which would be “a challenge to everything Stalin and his regime stood for,” in Hayward’s words. And so in 1946 he began Dr. Zhivago, a work which, through the power of art, called into question all the assumptions of those who made the October Revolution. Even the dullest within the Soviet establishment recognized the impact Dr. Zhivago could have within even the most firmly established totalitarian state: consequently it has never appeared in the Soviet Union, and will not appear there in the foreseeable future, although it is among the greatest of contemporary novels. Soviet leaders may not be the most intelligent of men, but they instinctively comprehend the symbiotic relationship between politics and culture, as did Hayward when he defended Dr. Zhivago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich against some of their Western detractors who sought to separate the two spheres entirely.

In any case, once the bonds of cultural repression had been loosened after Stalin’s death, Pasternak’s influence spread until it engendered a number of “dissonant voices in Soviet literature,” to use the title of a collection published by Blake and Hayward in 1961. They in turn became ever more audible as the 1960’s unfolded, until, under the inspiration of such people as Sinyavsky and Daniel (the first writers ever imprisoned in the Soviet Union for their writings alone) and especially Solzhenitsyn, the authorities faced something resembling a cultural rebellion with inescapable political implications. And Hayward was there, working untiringly to publicize these new developments in Soviet culture throughout the world.

With the growth of both samizdat and contacts with the West which the Soviet leadership did not wish to terminate, it became clear that a new strategy would be required if this cultural disaffection were to be contained. The Soviet leaders decided that the tack which would do them the least harm would be to expel their cultural dissidents from the Soviet Union (Pasternak had refused to go to Stockholm to receive his Nobel Prize for fear he would be prevented from returning to his homeland). Thus there was an unprecedented eviction of the flower of the Russian cultural intelligentsia from the Soviet Union, a great wave that swept out not only writers like Solzhenitsyn, Aksyonov, Sinyavsky, Voinovich, and many others, but also dancers, painters, musicians, scholars, people in every field of cultural endeavor, often with established reputations, who were forced to find a path through alien cultures—although, to be sure, they have formed clusters in certain localities where they can sustain their own culture.

It is difficult to foresee the ultimate result of this massive cultural bloodletting. In the short run, it undoubtedly strengthens the Soviet regime internally, since it removes sources of active dissension. That may be an ominous signal that the Soviet Union plans to intensify its military pressures upon us: by eliminating dissident intellectuals the Soviet leaders may be effectively clearing the decks for action. In the long run, however, the loss of the most creative people in the Soviet Union—even in areas seemingly remote from politics—may lead to cultural and political stagnation and the ascendancy of bureaucratic hacks. Cultural freedom is linked to political freedom: where cultural freedom is diminished, political freedom must be circumscribed as well. Max Hayward understood that fact, and so he worked to support and strengthen those inside the Soviet Union who took great risks for the sake of cultural freedom. At the same time, he recognized that he was merely a “custodian”: if Russian culture is truly to flourish, it must do so within its own borders. It is an irony of history that, by acting as he did, Hayward may have promoted the destruction of a freer Russian culture within the Soviet Union by helping to create the conditions which led to the recent expulsions. But as an honorable man he could not have done otherwise. If Russian culture within the Soviet Union is temporarily crippled, the guilt lies upon the heads of the Soviet leadership, and not upon Max Hayward’s conscience. The ironies of history cannot constrain the consciences of individual men.


Dr. Moser is professor of Slavic at the George Washington University, Washington, DC