A Double-edged Sword of Soviet Propaganda: The Feuilletons of Mikhail Kol'tsov, Valentin Kataev, Il'ia Il'f and Evgenii Petrov

Anna Tumarkin, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The role of satire in post-revolutionary Russia has been the subject of numerous literary and political debates. In fact, the very need for satirical writing was questioned in the 1920s when the approach to literature was becoming increasingly dogmatic and critical views of the state were regarded as dangerous and subversive. As a result, the feuilleton, arguably the most popular satirical genre of the Soviet period, was officially limited to the role of ideological weapon in the struggle with “outside enemies” such as the bourgeois west, capitalism and religion or with remnants of Russia’s pre-revolutionary past, such as bureaucracy, illiteracy, alcoholism, etc.

At the same time, however, the feuilleton enjoyed a higher degree of freedom than other journalistic and literary genres of the time. Being published on the back pages of periodicals without the prospect of worldwide publicity, the feuilleton often reflected the hidden side of Soviet life. Unlike fiction that allowed for almost unrestricted idealization of Soviet reality, in the feuilleton such idealization had to be negotiated with the truthful reflection of everyday life. Such flexibility allowed the feuilleton to transcend its officially prescribed propagandistic function and, at least in the minds of its readers, become a unique way of social criticism.

Such a double-edged quality is particularly characteristic of the works of four prominent Soviet feuilletonists: Mikhail Kol'tsov, Valentin Kataev, Il'ia Il'f and Evgenii Petrov. Despite the critical nature of their work, all four of them were committed to the State and its ideology and subscribed to Anatalii Lunacharskii’s statement that within every artistic image must “beat a proletarian heart.” Nevertheless, it often takes a careful reader to see such allegiance in these writers’ oeuvre. In my paper I will analyze their depiction of Soviet society and the Soviet man and discuss their feuilletons’ role in the Soviet propaganda machine.

Selected Bibliography:

Felieton. Ed. Tynianov and Kazanskii. Leningrad: Academia, 1927.

Cockrell, Roger. Bolshevik Ideology and Literature, 1917-1927. Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2000.

Crooks, Carolyn S. The Soviet Fel'eton: Form and Function. Ph. D. Dissertation. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 1985.