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Under its director, Alexander Tvardovsky, Novy Mir had long been peen pushing at the boundaries of what could be published in the Soviet Union. It was through Tvardovsky's personal enthusiasm and influence that One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich had been published. But Tvardovsky was himself a Marxist-Leninist and a faithful supporter of the Soviet government. Indeed he was, until the mid-sixties, a deputy to the Supreme Soviet and even a member of the Central Committee which was supposedly charged with administering the country while the Supreme Soviet was not in session (the real government however was the Politburo, supposedly responsible to the Central Committee). Solzhenitsyn's The Oak and the calf (13) is largely an account of his intense, conflicted relationship with Tvardovsky. It was Tvardovsky's honesty and love of good writing that had enabled Solzhenitsyn's fame, which was his best, possibly only, weapon and defence. But his relations with Tvardovsky required him to - if not exactly define himself as a Leninist, at least conceal the depths of his anti-Leninism.

(13) Alexander Solzhenitsyn: The Oak and the calf - a memoir, translated by Harry Willets, Collins/Harvill press, 1980.

As an illustration of this relationship there is the case of his play The Feast of the Victors(14) This was one of his earliest writings, dated 1951 in the work camp at Ekibastouz, committed to memory (it was written in verse, though there is no hint of this in the French version I have read) and written down later. In it, he takes a favourable view of the Vlassovite army, made up of POWs and deserters from the Red Army, which fought alongside the Germans in the Second World War. In an earlier article in this series I quoted Dmitri Panin complaining that the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago hadn't been sufficiently sympathetic to the Vlassovites, and I quoted a quite vigorous defence of them that appears in the third volume, prefaced with the remark that it is only after passing through the horror of the first two volumes that the reader would be in a position to understand it.

(14) The play was not published in Russian until 1981. An English translation - Victory celebrations - was published together with The Prisoners and The Love-girl and the innocent, also plays, in 1985 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The version I have read is the French translation in Alexandre Soljénitsyne: Oeuvres dramatiques  - tome 3 des oeuvres complètes, Fayard 1986. In an author's note Solzhenitsyn says 'The play was not circulated in samizdat. It is published today [presumably 1981 - PB] for the first time.'

In September 1965, a copy of The Feast of the Victors was confiscated by the KGB, together with The First Circle. For Solzhenitsyn this was a disaster ' 'the greatest misfortune in all my 47 years ... harder for me to bear' than the arrest in 1945 (Oak and the calf, p.103) The seizure of The First Circle  was bad enough but the seizure of The Feast of the Victors, together with his verses written in the camp, was 'a still worse disaster ... This was the real thing, and all that had come before a mere foretaste of disaster! Bridges were breaking and crumbling beneath my feet - prematurely and ingloriously.'  (p.106)

Michael Scammell, in his biography of Solzhenitsyn (15) underplays the radicalism of The Feast: 'In an era of genuine anti-Stalinism it might almost have passed the censorship, except for the sympathetic passages on the Vlassovites, the very mention of whom triggered an automatic and genuine loathing in Soviet readers at that time.' (p.328).

(15) Michael Scammell: Solzhenitsyn, Paladin Books, 1986 (first published in 1985).

But that of course is the point. For a Soviet readership it was the equivalent of such modern Western taboos as holocaust-denying or indeed expressing admiration for Stalin. We might think in this context of the case of David Irving and how he is regarded in Western Europe (the more so since Irving, like Solzhenitsyn, though for a rather longer period of time, did enjoy a period of respectability). The KGB strategy was to print limited editions of The Feast and The First Circle (so far as I can see the shortened 'Circle 87', the bowdlerised version Solzhenitsyn had prepared in the hopes that Tvardovsky might publish it) showing them to selected influential people - the way the British government used the 'Black diaries' attributed to Roger Casement comes to mind. Among the influential people in question was Tvardovsky but he refused to read it on the grounds that it had been improperly stolen from the author. He asked Solzhenitsyn for a copy but he claimed the one stolen by the KGB was the only copy he had. He did eventually say Tvardovsky had his permission to read the KGB copy but Tvardovsky still refused. I have little doubt he would have had difficulty coping with the support for the Vlassovites. It may be that he instinctively felt this and that might explain his refusal to read the play even when he had Solzhenitsyn's permission.

At any rate we can see what a very honourable man Tvardovsky was but also the delicacy of Solzhenitsyn's position, relying on and feeling very obliged towards a man who was still his ideological opponent. Which brings us closer to the incident concerning Vekhi.