Engineers of Soviet Souls: The Problem of Arkadij Gajdar

Soviet writers were, as Stalin said, “engineers of the soul,” and this applied doubly to Soviet children’s writers. Children’s literature in the Soviet Union received significant attention as the Party tried to find ways to properly educate Soviet children according to the tenets of Socialist Realism and to prepare this new generation to inherit the “bright future” in store for them. As Lidija Ginzburg and others have noted, however, many established writers turned to children’s literature not only out of civic altruism, but also out of self-preservation: children’s literature offered a safer, freer venue for their talents. In the works of these authors, readers sometimes found double-voicedness or aesopian criticism: Kornej Čukovskij’s “Tarakanišče” is one famous example. Lev Loseff also treated Evgenij Švarc’s “Drakon” in this vein. Arkadij Gajdar constitutes an original example of a Soviet writer for children. A former Red Army officer, Gajder willingly carried the Soviet struggle off the battlefield and to the writing desk. Aside from war correspondence, he wrote exclusively for children, penning, not without talent, inspiring tales of correct Soviet moral development based on his own biography. In contrast to the traditional view of Gajdar as a model Soviet writer, Marietta Čudakova explored in detail evidence of double-voicedness in Gajdar’s later tale “Sud′ba baraban′ščika” (“The Fate of a Drummer Boy”). Indeed, a comparison of the relatively flat Soviet propaganda of an early work like “Škola” with the complexity of “Sud′ba baraban′ščika” suggests that Gajdar’s conception of his responsibility to young readers changed and became more problematic in the context of Party control. In contrast to the “underground” messages found in Švarc and Čukovskij, which are of an ideological and political nature more easily read by adults, Gajdar’s “hidden” meaning is still directed specifically at children. In several ways,“Sud′ba baraban′ščika” polemicizes with the ethos of Pavlik Morozov and, arguably, addresses the confusion and alienation felt by children of compromised parents. In this way, Gajdar remained, even as a “problematic” writer, a writer for Soviet children.