A Nobel prize for literature in the service of reaction

Art and popular history can be powerful tools in manipulating people's minds, and the imperialists are well-versed in using both to bolster their parasitic rule.

Proletarian writers

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The following article was written by Comrade Mario Sousa of the Communist Party [Sweden] and is reproduced here with thanks.

When a journalist asked the secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius whether this year’s award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Svetlana Alexievich was political, she replied: “The prize is not political. It is possible to obtain the Nobel Prize despite one’s political opinions, but not because of one’s political opinions.”

Believe Sara Danius if you want. One person who did not believe her was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature herself. On the day she obtained the prize, Svetlana Alexievich declared she would make political use of the prize. “This means a lot to me. I think that my voice now has special importance. The authorities in Belarus and Russia cannot dismiss me with a simple gesture. Now they will be obliged to listen to what I have to say.”

And it’s not literature she’s talking about. The 8 million Swedish crowns (nearly a million dollars) Swedish prize money will be used to mount a political campaign in support of neo-liberalism and against socialism; against Belarus and Russia.

Svetlana Alexievich began with a trip to Paris and an interview with the newspaper Le Monde. Her first comment was a criticism of Putin’s policies. Strange! She isn’t Russian and she doesn’t live in Russia, but her first comment was a criticism of Putin.

She promised that she would repeat her criticism of Putin at the award ceremony when she received her prize. “I shall reflect on philosophical and literary issues, on the human condition, on Utopia and on art. Socially, things are different now. I have status. For instance, I have signed letters in support of Oleg Navalny and Nadiya Savchenko.” (Svetlana Alexievich: ‘Freedom is a long, hard road’ by Julie Clarini and Benedict Vitkine, Le Monde, 6 November 2015)

Who are Svetlana Alexievich’s two heroes? Oleg Navalny is the brother of Alexei Navalny, known for his speeches at fascist demonstrations in Moscow. Oleg Navalny was convicted of defrauding two private companies in Moscow of half a million dollars. He was sentenced to three and a half years in jail. Brother Alexei Navalny was given a suspended sentence. (See Opposition figure Navalny guilty of embezzlement, gets 3.5yrs suspended sentence, RT, 30 December 2014)

Nadiya Savchenko is a Ukrainian helicopter pilot on trial in Moscow, accused of complicity in the assassination of two Russian journalists who were working in Donetsk. When the Aidar fascist battalion was formed after the 2014 coup, she left the regular army and joined Aidar, in spite of the fact that it had no helicopters.

She is accused of having provided the exact location where the two Russian journalists could be found, and where they were bombed and killed. She was arrested by the Lugansk/Donetsk militia and sent to Moscow. Nadiya Savchenko is also a parliamentary representative of Yulia Tymoshenko’s extreme rightist party. (See Ukrainian pilot arrested in Russia to be released when Poroshenko becomes US president, Pravda, 11 July 2014)

Svetlana Alexievich is giving her unconditional support to a criminal convicted in Russia and a fascist from Ukraine. Alexievich sought to position herself politically well to the right, and the campaign mounted by the French right wing has served her well in promoting this objective.

Furthermore, Alexievich told Le Monde: “The war in the Donbass is a military aggression against Ukraine, an occupation. Without Putin there would never have been a civil war.” She also says that today’s Ukrainian orientation to the west has been a success.

So a bankrupt Ukraine, where democracy has ceased to exist, is a success as far as the Nobel prizewinner is concerned. Unemployment, corruption, huge price rises for food, home rentals, electricity and heating, very difficult living conditions, the war and nazi battalions, the violence against the people – these either don’t exist for Svetlana Alexievich or simply don’t bother her at all.

Her support for the 2014 coup is absolute and her political agenda is clear from her books. In her 2013 book Secondhand Time, she wrote with distaste about the young people in her Belarus homeland and in Russia who exhibit radical thinking.

“They dream of revolution and go around wearing red t-shirts emblazoned with portraits of Lenin and Che Guevara … In society there has arisen a longing for the Soviet Union and for the cult of Stalin. Half the young people aged between 19 and 30 think that Stalin was an important politician … Once again, everything Soviet is popular. ‘Soviet’ cafes, for example.”

Alexievich told Le Monde: “I don’t recognise these people, I have lost friends. The young people especially surprise me. They have nice cars and clothes but they carry on being slaves. In the post-1990 generation, there is strong support for Putin.

“We thought that different kinds of people would arise, free people. This mentality has a lot to do with what their parents tell them about the provision of free health care and education, and Soviet social provision. Perhaps there is still hope. Or maybe to make this slave mentality disappear we need change at the top.”

Svetlana Alexievich wants a different kind of people – those in Russia and Belarus aren’t good enough. And she also wants to substitute the elite for the people.

She had already displayed this arrogance in an interview in 2012 with Swedish media on the subject of the people of Belarus and president Lukashenko: “I live in a country where over half the population supports a dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. It is not always possible for person like me, who belongs to the elite, to love simple people.”

Whatever one might think of Lukashenko, one thing is certain – that he defends publicly-funded schooling, health care and education and has stood in the way of the thieves of international capitalism. He obtained over 80 percent of votes in the 2015 presidential election.

What does Svetlana Alexievich want to do about this choice made by ‘simple people’? How does she want to bring about change ‘at the top’? Would it be through fascists and a coup d’état, as happened in Ukraine?

Svetlana Alexievich’s books are a mirror of her thought. The books consist of interviews, mostly interesting stories of people’s lives. They are journalistic works about life during the Soviet era. In media commentaries, the books are referred to as unique works, and Sara Danius of the Swedish Academy waxed lyrical describing Svetlana Alexievich’s work as “documenting society in the Soviet Union”. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature “for her polished work, a monument to suffering and courage in our era”.

This plaudit is strange for anyone familiar with literature on the subject of the lives of people in the Soviet Union and in the second world war. Books on both subjects abound in their millions, written over the last seven decades by numerous authors, both well-known and unknown.

These books often take the same point of departure as does Svetlana Alexievich. The claim by Sara Danius of the Swedish Academy that there is something unique about Alexievich’s work isn’t true. Are the 18 members of the Swedish Academy really so ill-informed about the matter?

So, where is the difference? How was Svetlana Alexievich able to capture the Nobel Prize for Literature?

Hers is not the art of the novelist as classically understood, and none of her chorus of media admirers suggest otherwise. A Gabriel Garcia Márquez, a Wole Soyinka, a Nadine Gordimer or a José Saramago [all previous prize winners], Svetlana Alexievich definitely is not. There is no powerful prose, drama or vision here. Her books consist of interviews and their words are those of the interviewees. So what is it that makes Svetlana Alexievich’s journalistic work appropriate for a Nobel Prize?

The only common theme in Alexievich’s works is a constant attack on the Soviet Union and on socialism. This is put forward in the books’ introductions and also in the interviews – even though the interviewees often make clear how much they loved their countries and how they were prepared to make any sacrifice for them.

Some interviewees withdrew their permission for Alexievich to publish their stories. Perhaps they had been belatedly informed that Alexievich would use the interviews to attack what they loved.

In her well-known book War’s Unwomanly Face, Svetlana Alexievich asserts that only during the war were women accepted as soldiers in the USSR, and that afterwards they were put aside and forgotten. The book was very popular among feminists as evidence of how, yet again, women were unfairly treated by the evil communists.

But, in fact, reality was never like that: the title of the book is a lie. It is possible that there were women who were treated unfairly as a result of stupidity, or as a result of shortages in a ruined country. But the truth is that in general women soldiers always held a special place in the hearts of the Soviet people. War veterans, both men and women, with their war medals, are always at the centre of celebrations on public holidays in eastern European countries.

Only in the new Ukraine so beloved of Svetlana Alexievich are the war medals of veterans of the war against Nazism prohibited. In their place, at the centre of political life today are the representatives of the fascists who invaded the Soviet Union. But on this subject, she has no word to say.

What marked out Svetlana Alexievich for her Nobel prize were her neo-liberal campaigns against socialism and the Soviet Union and her attacks on Presidents Putin and Lukashenko, who have stood in the way of the bandits of international capitalism in eastern Europe.

The magnificence of the struggle of the people for a life of dignity is of no importance to Svetlana Alexievich, but is only something to be used in order to elevate herself onto bourgeois pedestals.