Thursday, December 21, 2017

Rehabilitating Soviet Novelist Who Warned of Western Penetration of Soviet Union

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 20 – Few Soviet novelists have as bad a reputation both among Russian liberals and Western scholars as Vsevolod Kochetov, whose 1969 diatribe novel, What Do You Want? has been attacked as obscurantist or worse by people ranging from liberal editor Aleksandr Tvardovsky to the gray cardinal of the Kremlin Mikhail Suslov.

            In the novel which was published by Oktyabr but not issued as a separate book in the Soviet Union except in a small and then confiscated edition in Belarus, Kochetov describes how a former SS officer working with a Russian émigré comes to the Soviet Union to spread Western values and ultimately weaken the communist regime.

            This Western plot, Kochetov says, is ultimately defeated by the vigilance of some but far from all Soviet people; and he more than implied that the leadership of the country had failed to recognize just how dangerous threats of this kind were and how they could under certain circumstances lead to the destruction of the Soviet Union.

            For this novel and for his other writings and statements in a similar vein, Kochetov was attacked as one would expect by Soviet liberals; but he was also condemned by the most conservative members of the communist establishment. Only four years after his novel appeared, Kochetov was driven to suicide – and Suslov decided that even that could not be reported.

            For most of the last 50 years, Kochetov’s reputation has remained bad; but now in the 105th year of his birth, Vladimir Malyshev, a Russian nationalist critic, is seeking to resuscitate him as “the write who predicted the mechanism of the destruction of the USSR” and whose warnings remain important for Russia now (

                That pro-Western Russian liberals should have attacked Kochetov, Malyshev says, is completely expected; but that they should have been joined in “a united front” by the leadership of the CPSU was the real problem – and an indication of the continuing threat that the novelist warned about a half century ago.

            Is it not the case, Malyshev says, that something similar is happening today when the Russian police suspect director Kirill Serebrennnikov of theft of state property, but “the entire Moscow ‘elite’ appears at the Bolshoy for the premier of his ballet and demonstratively gives him an ovation?”
Few read Kochetov now, the Russian critic says; but that is unfortunate because as one critic pointed out, his novel was, albeit at a lower artistic level, like Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed, a depiction of the real threats to Russia that people across the political spectrum did and do not want to face. 

            Kochetov’s work, Malyshev concludes, “is not simply a novel: it is a novel as prediction.” It described with precision the instruments that could be used and in Malyshev’s view are being used to destroy Russia. He thus should be read once again, and his arguments taken seriously. 

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