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pavilions, each with a conspicuously high tower. Unfortunately, the Nazi tower
was taller. However, Soviet of¬cials were not overly downcast, because they
could claim that their pavilion contained a better collection of German books
than could be found in the pavilion of the Third Reich. The world could see
that they were the better champions of German culture: since 1933 Soviet
publishing houses had put out scores of German books, some in German, and
others in Russian or Ukrainian translation.113 They also prided themselves on
publishing versions of the German classics that were free of the bowdlerization
to which the Nazis subjected them.
In effect, the Soviets were challenging the Nazis to a battle over texts, a
battle over who has the right to claim the title of guardian of true culture, over
which texts represent that “true” culture and which the “false,” and over who
has the right to decide. Their regime won thereby the right to lead Europe.
The Soviet challenge was not, however, bound to deter the Nazis unduly
since they held book culture in relatively low regard, seeing it as an impediment
to a virile and victorious nation. An eyewitness report on the Berlin book
burning from the special correspondent of Izvestiia describes how a professor
of “political education” in addressing the crowds drew a comparison between
the “intellectual” brought up on hitherto existing philosophies and the “type
of a simple soldier” who was previously considered “uncultured.” “It was not
idealist-humanist philosophy that won battles in the world war,” he continued,
“but the silent philosophy of the simple soldier.”114

Symptomatically, Johannes Becher reported to a meeting of the secretariat of MORP (the

Comintern-sponsored International Society of Revolutionary Writers) that some proposed for
the Paris conference the slogans “Defense of the Soviet Union,” “Struggle against Capitalist
War,” and “Struggle with Fascism,” but these slogans were like the ones proposed at the
Kharkov writers™ conference in 1930, so he opposed them. After a long discussion it was
decided to make the conference for the defense of culture (Doklad tov. I. Bekhera. Sekretariat
MORPa,” Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv sotsial™noi i politicheskoi istorii (RGASPI) f .495,
op. 30, d .1076, l. 12, l. 15).
“Stellungnahme zu einigen Frage der Schriftsteller Arbeit in Paris,” RGASPI, f 495, op 30, d

1076, l. 77.
Simone Barck et al., ed., Exil in der UdSSR, Band I/I (Leipzig: Phillipp Reclam jun., 1989),

L. Kait, “Publichnoe sozhzhenie knig. Germanskoe srednevekov™e,” Izvestiia, 12 May 1933.
Mutual Perceptions and Projections 433

Soviet commentators, by no means averse to militarism, nevertheless
weighted the contrast differently.115 Radek, for example, in a Pravda arti-
cle of 21 November1935, “Conversation with a Foreigner” (Razgovor s ino-
strantsem), compares German military commanders unfavorably with their
Soviet counterparts and, to establish this, makes the point that Germans are
incredulous to learn that Soviet military commanders are trained in philosophy.
He further contends that German military commanders have long been capti-
vated by the notion of intuition, partly derived from a distorted appropriation
of Bergson, and more recently they have abandoned even that and regressed to
an infatuation with Wotan of German mythology, “a dated god,” something
Radek calls “hard to reconcile with a belief in tanks which, by the way,” he
adds optimistically, “will not help them.”116
This charge represents a variant on the notion of the Nazi as essentially irra-
tional and premodern in his outlook “ backward (as Nazis for their part often
labeled the Russians, too). But Radek also adduces as an indicator of German
decline the fact that Clausewitz based his theories of military strategy on the
French Revolution. This is typical of Soviet commentary on the Nazis during
the years of the Popular Front. Rather than advance the Russian Revolution
as a model for an enlightened society, they emphasized the French, which was
conveniently not only the ¬rst great milestone in the canonical progression to
October (the French Revolution “ the Paris Commune “ the Russian Revolu-
tion of 1905“17), but also central to the narratives of the Popular Front. In
a similar vein, Koltsov compared those attending the Paris Congress for the
Defense of Culture with the French encyclopedists.117
At the sequel to the Paris Congress of 1935, the one that took place in
Madrid and Valencia in 1937, the theme implicit in Radek™s article of the
necessity of combining the sword with the book was further underlined. Those
meeting in Madrid, with fascist shells bursting about them as they conferred,
declared somewhat quixotically that “the most dangerous weapon for fascism
is not soldiers or weapons but the written Word.”118 As Koltsov put it, “What
should a writer do in the Civil War in Spain? He has to ¬ght with his weapon “
the word. Byron with his work did more for freeing all of mankind than he did
with his death for freeing a single land.”119
The second con¬‚agration of 1933, the Reichstag ¬re and the subsequent
trial of Dimitrov and company, played a much more prominent role in the

See also Radek™s characterization of Nazi Germany in his speech to the First Writers Congress

of August 1934.
Karl Radek, “Razgovor s inostrantsem,” Pravda, 21 November 1935.

Mikhail Kol™tsov, “Otchet sovetskoi delegatsii na kongresse zashchity kul™tury v Parizhe.

Rasshirennoe zasedanie pravleniia SP SSSR ot 21 iunia 1935 g.,” Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi
arkhiv literatury i iskusstva (RGALI) f 631, op. 15, d. 47, l. 24.
This is actually a quotation from Gorky and the emphasis is his. Quoted in Willi Bredel,

“Vorwort,” Das Wort no. 9 (1937): 6.
Mikhail Kol™tsov, [address to] “Zweiter internationaler Schriftsteller Kongress,” Das Wort no.

10 (1937): 70.
Katerina Clark and Karl Schlogel

development of a Soviet (as opposed to a German antifascist) countermytho-
logy “ even more so than the burning of books “ as did no doubt the fact that
Dimitrov, a leader of the Comintern in Berlin, and most of the accused (two
other Bulgarians and van der Lubbe, a member of a Dutch splinter communist
organization) were not Germans and hence their conduct there could not be
construed as exemplifying Germanness.
The Reichstag ¬re burned on 27 February 1933, not long after the Nazis
came to power, but the accused did not come to trial until late September 1933.
By then many international intellectuals had taken up the cause of the accused,
issuing a Brown Book (from Paris and London), which exposed the weaknesses
in the case for the prosecution,120 and staging a counter trial in London.121
The Brown Book was released the day before the trial and undermined its
Throughout the trial, Pravda published several items on it daily, generally
on page 1. Koltsov, active in the international effort on behalf of Dimitrov
and his alleged co-conspirators, contributed many of these. In the articles the
trial was often represented as mere “theater” (a charge, incidentally, that has
commonly been leveled against the Soviet show trials of 1936-8), farce, or
comedy.122 Later, the impending Nazi trial of the German Communist leader
Ernst Thalman was represented in similar terms.123
The Nazis in their conduct of the trial contributed to this characterization.
At times the trial verged on farcical melodrama, especially in the famous con-
frontation between Dimitrov and Goring, who had sought to turn the trial into
a crusade against the Communists. Most of Goring™s venom, and indeed the
focus of the trial, was directed at Dimitrov. On 4 November he appeared there
in person dressed in a brown tunic, riding breeches, and polished jackboots. In
the exchange with Goring, and indeed throughout the trial, Dimitrov emerged
as calm, reasoned, and con¬dent of his cause. Goring, by contrast, became
increasingly hysterical as their confrontation continued, turning beet red and
screaming threats at him. The trial ended with an acquittal for the Communists
(other than van Lubbe, who was executed in January 1934). Dimitrov was not
released until he was made a Soviet citizen in February 1934; he made a tri-
umphal return to the Soviet Union and was elevated to head the Comintern. In
narratives published in the Soviet press, many extravagant claims were made
for the signi¬cance of the victory in the Dimitrov trial, which was often pro-
claimed a turning point for the Nazis, a “¬asco” that was the impetus for their
(alleged) decline in power.124 Some claimed that the Popular Front emerged
out of Dimitrov™s defense at his trial.125 Certainly it was a propaganda coup

For some details on Soviet involvement in the activities of the committee for the defense of

those accused of burning down the Reichstag see RGASPI f. 538, op 3, d 154.
Kond., “Pokazaniia svidetelei na londonskom protsesse,” Pravda, 17 September 1933.

E.g., Mikh. Kol™tsov, “Besprimernoe zrelishche,” Pravda, 24 September 1933.

Pravda, 28 November 1935.

Rudolf Braun, “Rot Front, tovarishch Tel™man,” Pravda, 3 March 1935.

Wilhelm Pieck, “Leiptsigskii signal,” Pravda, 10 December 1936.
Mutual Perceptions and Projections 435

for the Soviet Union. A Soviet-made ¬lm about resistance in Germany, Gustav
von Wangenheim™s Fighters (Kampfer), that featured Dimitrov™s defense at the
trial, was shown all over the world to alleged great success, especially in New
The conduct of Dimitrov at the trial became in Soviet rhetoric a paradigm for
the true Bolshevik, one that was often alluded to in the press and in speeches,
marked in ceremonies, and used pedagogically. Central to the account was
the contrast between Dimitrov™s calmness and the Nazi (Goring) as the irra-
tional and weak hysteric. The photographer John Heart¬eld (then in exile in
Prague) generated a special photomontage (published in Pravda) in which a
small Goring (shot from behind) confronts a giant ¬gure of Dimitrov (fac-
ing the reader), as it was a synecdoche for the confrontation between the giant
Soviet Union and puny Nazi Germany.127 The German Nazi as hysteric became
a standard moment in Soviet cultural production seen most paradigmatically
in Grigorii Aleksandrov™s hit musical ¬lm The Circus (Tsirk, 1936), that uses a
pointed symbolic contrast of dark and light (black and white). Here the villain,
the German boss of an American circus performer, plays the cliched Nazi “
sadist, paranoid, racist, and hysteric.128
Typically Dimitrov was represented as a man of letters writing against the
Nazis like a Christian who keeps his faith in the catacombs. When a Com-
intern envoy visited Dimitrov in Moabit prison, Berlin, on May Day 1933 as
Dimitrov was awaiting trial, he reported that in his cell he was surrounded
by books and writing a diary, determined that ill health and a gloomy out-
look would not deter him.129 After his release, Dimitrov testi¬ed in a speech
to antifascist writers in Moscow in 1935 to literature™s “extraordinary role
in the formation of a generation of revolutionaries.” “Don Quixote was the
strongest weapon of the bourgeois writer in his struggle against feudalism and
autocracy,” he maintained, adding that Nikolai Chernyshevsky™s novel What
Is To Be Done? sustained him earlier through his trials when imprisoned in
Bulgaria, but particularly as he was awaiting the Leipzig trial.130

power over the pen: the soviet union
as a culture of letters
Why so much emphasis on letters in Soviet coverage of the Nazis and their
iconic opponents? This is more understandable in the case of the German exiles

“Erfolg des Dimitrov Films in New York,” Deutsche Zentral-Zeitung, 3 October 1936.

Dzhon Khart¬l™d, “Gering i Dimitov “ klass protiv klassa,” Pravda, 13 December 1933.

In this respect he provides a total contrast with the German prisoner-of-war hero of Boris

Barnet™s earlier ¬lm Outskirts (Okraina) of 1933. Note, also, the Nazi as hysteric was far
from unique to Soviet culture and can be seen in many Western examples, including Charlie
Chaplin™s The Great Dictator (1940).
RGASPI f .538, op.3, d. 163, l. 139.

Georgi Dimitroff, “Die revolutionare Literatur im Kampfe gegen den Faschismus,” Interna-

tionale Literatur, no. 5 (1935): 10“11.
Katerina Clark and Karl Schlogel

who sought to realize a diaspora nation. They no longer had economic, politi-
cal, or military power and were scattered over several countries. Thus, to put it
bluntly, all they had was language and culture. One is reminded of the Russian
emigr´ s from the Soviet Union who in 1925, after the border was closed and
emigration became a ¬nality, pronounced themselves the only true guardians of
the Russian cultural heritage and rallied together under the sign of Pushkin.131
But Soviet Russians were not in that position.
The privileging of lettered culture in the Soviet account of themselves and
their dismissal of the Nazis as unlettered “barbarians” is not just borrowed
from writers like Feuchtwanger but also has to do with de¬ning Soviet values
of the 1930s, which in¬‚ected their own representations of the Nazis. The rise
to power in Nazi Germany happened to coincide roughly with a signi¬cant
shift in Soviet political culture.
Over the years 1932“4, but most particularly in 1933, the year of the Nazi
takeover, the book burning, and the Leipzig trial, lettered culture acquired
enormous importance in the Soviet polity. Arguably, the 1930s were in Soviet
history a decade when written texts played a critical role in the culture system.
Rather as, in the Reformation, there was a turn to the fundamental texts of
Christianity and a spate of new exegeses, the 1930s became a time of textual
obsession and anxiety with rival claimants to exegetical authority. They were
in some senses launched with a spate of publications by the Marx-Engels-
Lenin Institute (IMEL) of texts by Marx and Lenin and commentaries on them
(several German intellectuals who would subsequently play signi¬cant roles in
the antifascist movement had worked on this project). The year 1933, the time
of the Nazi accession and the book burning, was also an anniversary year for
Marx and the high point in publicizing these endeavors with frequent articles
in Pravda and Izvestiia on IMEL and its latest publications.
Within the country a hierarchy evolved, structured in terms of power over
texts. It was orchestrated in terms of who had and who did not have access
to written documents, in terms of the right to control their content (ranging
from mere scribes at the lowest levels through ever higher degrees of authorship
and also of “editorship,” including censorship). Stalin had begun to spend an
inordinate amount of time vetting novels, ¬lms, and plays; he was the ultimate
censor. But in looking at each work Stalin™s main concern was the text (for an


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