Perestroika and the Soviet Creative Unions

  • Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy


Soviet creative unions (tvorcheskie soiuzy) and the bureaucraticisation of cultural life that they entailed were perhaps the most peculiar feature of the literary and artistic process in the Soviet Union. The foundation for these institutions was laid by the 23 April 1932 decree of the Central Committee of the Communist Party ‘On the Restructuring of Literary and Artistic Organisations’ CO perestroike literaturno-khudozhestvennykh organizatsii’) the main points of which specified:
  1. 1.

    The Association of Proletarian Writers (VOAPP, RAPP) is liquidated;

  2. 2.

    All writers upholding the platform of the Soviet power and aspiring to participate in socialist construction are amalgamated in a single union of Soviet writers with its own communist faction;

  3. 3.

    An analogous change is to be made with respect to other types of art.’



Socialist Realism Union Membership Woman Writer Professional Union Soviet Society 
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  1. 1.
    Robert H. McNeal (ed.), Resolutions and Decisions of the CPSU 4 vols (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974) vol. 3, p. 116.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    A. I. Shchiglik, ‘Tvorcheskie soiuzy v sisteme sovetskoi demokratii’, in Tvorcheskie soiuzy v SSSR: Organizatsionno-pravovye voprosy (ed.) Ts. A. Iampol’skaia (Moscow: Iuridicheskaia literatura, 1970), pp. 13, 14, 15, 17, 18.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    The relationship of professional unions to creative unions in the arts is a fascinating subject. For one thing, certain types of ‘creative workers’ are more likely to be members simultaneously of a creative and of a professional union. Thus, for example, virtually all journalists and architects are permanently employed and therefore members of profsoiuzy, while this is not so often the case with writers. Evgenii Asse, a member of the administration of the Architects’ Union of the RFSFR, suggested to me that this dual membership has made a significant difference in the role the union has traditionally played in the lives of its members: ‘We all say that it is more of a club than a professional union’ (interview of 23 February 1990 in Moscow with Evgenii Asse). None the less, some ‘freelance’ writers and artists who were not admitted to their respective creative unions have found a haven of limited security — and therefore something of an alternative to the creative unions — in organisations such as, ‘professional writers’ committees’ (profkomy literatorov), the Union of Literary Workers ’(Profsoiuz rabotnikov kul’tury), and the Moscow Municipal Graphic Artists Committee (Moskovskii gorkom grafikov). See John and Carol Garrard, Inside the Soviet Writers’ Union (New York: The Free Press, 1990) pp. 108–10;Google Scholar
  4. Jamey Gambrell, ‘Notes on the Underground’, Art in America, November 1988, p. 131.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    For a brief overview of ‘Zhdanovshchina’ with particular attention to its effects on the Composers’ Union, see Boris Schwarz, Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia, 1917–1981 rev. edn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983) pp. 204–28.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    For an exposé of abuses of publishing by secretaries of the Writers’ Ufiion, see Vladimir Vigilianskii, ‘Grazhdanskaia voina v literature, ili o tom, kak pomoch’ chitaleliu Lva Nikolaevicha’, Ogonek, no. 43 (1988) pp. 6–8. Vladimir Voinovich’s 1987 work, The Fur Hat, pointedly satirises the distribution of privileges in the Writers’ Union.Google Scholar
  7. See Vladimir Voinovich, Shapka (London: Overseas Publications Interchange Ltd, 1988).Google Scholar
  8. 21.
    For Denisov’ s view of the new secretariat and his feelings about reform in the Composers’ Union, see L. Dolgacheva, ‘Novoe amplua Edisona Denisova’, Sovetskaia kul’tura, 17 February 1990, p. 10. Dolgacheva’s interview with Denisov was part of a series on the state of the unions published under the rubric ‘Dom soiuzov’ in Sovetskaia kul’tura in 1990. For interviews with Kirill Lavrov, head of the administration of the Union of Theatrical Workers, see ‘Vmeste — legche’, Sovetskaia kul’tura, 13 January 1990, p. 10; for A. Morozov, a member of the administration of the Artists’ Union,Google Scholar
  9. see N. Danilevich, ‘Kak vyzhit’ khudozhniku?’, Sovetskaia kul’tura, 3 March 1990, p. 10.Google Scholar
  10. 22.
    Rodion Shchedrin, ‘Strana nasha dolzhna vozrozhdat’sya’, Sovetskaia muzyka, no. 12 (December 1990), p. 10. For an evaluation of changes in the RFSFR Composers’ Union by its new head,Google Scholar
  11. V. Kazeninin, see ‘Kak zhivetsia v novoi tvorcheskoi federatsii? 100 dnei Rossiiskogo SK’, Sovetskaia muzyka, no. 9 (September 1990) pp. 57–59.Google Scholar
  12. 26.
    In their excellent article on cultural perestroika Nancy Condee and Vladimir Padunov suggested that the key to understanding the variations in the reform process as it had thus far unfolded in the different unions lay in distinguishing between those unions whose members were occupied primarily in ‘individual’ creative activities and those whose members were occupied primarily in ‘collective’ work: ‘whereas writing and painting are, almost exclusively, activities performed by individual artists, in relative privacy, cinema and theatre production are, by virtue of their media, essentially collective activities carried out as a set of public exchanges.’ Thus, they argued that the collective nature of film and theatre work helped promote the ‘turbulent reorganisations’ in those unions. See Nancy Condee and Vladimir Padunov, ‘The Frontiers of Soviet Culture: Reaching the Limits’’ The Harriman Institute Forum vol. 1, no. 5 (May 1988) p. 5.Google Scholar
  13. 29.
    N. Azhgikhina, ‘“Zhenshchina prizvana sdelat’ mir dobree”’, Press-biuro Komsomol’skoi pravdy’: Biulleten’ dlia komsomol’skikh gazet, no. 103, 14 December 1989, p. 1.Google Scholar
  14. 45.
    See Bill Keller, ‘Writers at the Barricades’, New York Times, 31 August 1991, p. 4,Google Scholar
  15. and Craig R. Whitney, ‘Union of Writers is also Breaking Apart’, New York Times, 14 September 1991, p. 4.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© International Council for Soviet and East European Studies and John O. Norman 1994

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  • Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy

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