Platonov, Andrei Platonovich. (pseudonym of Andrei P. Kliemtov) Born on 1 September 1899 (20 August, Old Style) in Voronezh. Controversy exists about the actual date of birth, however, and some experts fix it at 28 August (16 August, Old Style).
Platonov's father was a train engineer, metal worker, and a self-taught inventor.
Between the years 1906 and 1914, the young Andrei attended the church and town schools. Then in 1914, as the eldest of 11 children, he began to work. He worked as a train engineer's assistant, a caster at a pipe factory, and in a train repair shop. He later recalled:
I lived and languished because life had turned me straight away from a child into an adult, denying me a youth. Before the Revolution I was a child, and after it there was no time to be a youth, no time to grow up--one had to frown and struggle right away.
In 1918, Platonov began to study in the electrotechnical division of the Voronezh Railroad Polytechnic. In that same year he began his literary career, publishing articles, poems, and stories in various newspapers and journals, including Voronezhskaya kommyna, Krasnaya derevnya, Zheleznii put', Prizyv, and others.
In 1920, the Voronezh Union of Proletarian Writers sent Platonov to Moscow as a delegate to the founding congress of the All-Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (VAPP). A questionnaire at the congress asked each delegate to identify the literary trend or school to which he or she belonged. Platonov's answer was typically independent: "None. I have my own."
Platonov's first book, Electrification (Eletrifikatsiya) was published in 1921. In it, he preaches about the revolutionary power of electricity, which will profoundly change human nature. A book of poetry, Deep Blue (Golybaya glubina) followed in 1922. This volume was favorably received by critics, including the poet Valery Briusov, who commented on the "excellent promise of this young proletarian writer."
Despite this literary success, Platonov, still infused with a sense of social obligation, was not ready to give up his practical work, particularly in light of the drought which afflicted the Voronezh region in 1921. As Platonov later put it:
The drought of 1921 had an exceptionally strong effect on me, and, being a technician, I could not occupy myself with the contemplative occupation of literature.Between 1921 and 1922, Platonov served as the chairman of the special local drought-fighting commission.
In February 1926, Platonov, in his capacity as land-improvement specialist, was elected to the Central Committee of the Union of Agriculture and Forest Work. In June of that same year, he moved to Moscow along with his wife, Maria Aleksandrovna, and his son, Platon. A month later, however, Platonov lost his job, creating a very difficult position for him. The union began hounding him, trying to get him to give up the special housing he had been assigned; and Platonov was forced to sell his books to keep from starving.
In the autumn of 1926, Platonov again found work--chief of the department of land reclamation in Tambov. Here, Platonov experienced a sudden spurt in his literary output. He produced the tale Ethereal Highway (Efirnii trakt), The Sluices of Ephiphany (Epifanskiye shliuzy), and Gradov City (Gorod Gradov). The Sluices of Ephiphany deals with the historical attempt of Peter the Great to create a waterway connecting the Baltic, Black, and Caspian Seas. In the story, the grand visions of Peter and his engineer are foiled by the seemingly poor and petty elements of popular life.
Writing to his wife, who remained in Moscow, Platonov commented on his sudden upsurge in literary production:
For now, my heart, mind and this dark will of creation remain with me; the muse will not leave me....Wandering in the backwoods, I have seen such sad things that I can't believe that somewhere there exists a luxuriant Moscow, art and prose. But it seems to me that real art and real thought can be born only in such a backwoods.
Returning to Moscow in March of 1927, Platonov continued his literary work, completing the stories Secret Man (Sokorvennii chelovek), Yamsakay Village (Yamskaya sloboda), and Nation Builders (Stroiteli strany). A collection of Platonov's works was published in 1927 and a second one came out in 1928. The Origin of a Master (Proiskhozhdeniye mastera), which constitutes the first chapter of the novel Chevengur, followed in 1929. Other works from this period include Che-Che-O and Doubting Makar (which evoked the wrath of RAPP critic Leopold Averbakh).
In 1929, Platonov's novel Chevengur was prepared for publication. The novel tells of a journey to the fantastic city of Chevengur where communism is being built at an accelerated pace. Here, imperfect human beings who are not ready for communism must die off as soon as possible so that future generations may take their place. Final approval for the novel, however, could not be obtained, and it remained unpublished during the author's life time. Concerning not only this failure of publication, Gorky told Platonov: "Don't be angry. Don't be bitter....All will pass, the truth alone will remain."
In the autumn of 1929, Platonov visited various kolkhozes and sovkhozes. In early 1930, he finished the tale Benefit - A Poor Man's Chronicle (Vprok - Bednyatskaya khoronika), a satire on collectivization. Publishers, however, turned down the work, finding a "mistaken" tone in it. Finally, in 1931, Krasnaya Nev' (Red Virgin Soil), edited by Aleksandr Fadeev, printed the work. When editing the story, Fadeev had underlined the passages he thought should be excised for political reasons. The typographers, however, misunderstood Fadeev's markings; and, instead of being deleted, the politically suspect passages appeared in the journal in bold face type. This made Stalin's job much easier when the journal turned up on his desk. The tale infuriated Stalin, who labeled it a "kulak's chronicle" and branded the author as "scum" (svoloch'). A special session of the Politburo was called to condemn Fadeev's journal publishing for Platonov's "kulak and anti-Soviet story". Knowing which way the wind was blowing, Fadeev quickly changed direction and published an article condemning the story which he himself had approved. He called Platonov a "class enemy" and a "kulak agent" in disguise.
In 1930, Platonov finished his novel The Foundation Pit (Kotlovan). A nightmarish, almost surreal work, it follows the wanderings of a worker who has been fired for thinking too much on the job. Setting off on a quest for truth and meaning, he ends up on a crew digging the foundation pit for a gigantic proletarian edifice. Workers are then sent to the countryside to assist in the collectivization campaign. Some of them are murdered. Peasants slaughter and gorge themselves on their livestock to keep it from being collectivized. Kulak and sub-kulak forces are liquidated. A proletarian bear, adept at sniffing out kulaks, keeps everyone awake with his noisy hammering; and an activist advances peculiar theories on the significance of the tvordii znak (hard sign) in the Russian alphabet.
Platonov found himself accused of slandering the "new man", the progress of socialist transformation, and the general line of the party. Platonov wrote a letter to Pravda and Literaturnaya gazeta acknowledging his error. The editors, however, refused to print the letter, correctly noting that the subtext was infused with irony. Platonov also sent letters to Gorky and Stalin, neither of which was answered. In addition, Platonov admitted the error of his ways at a writer's meeting held on 1 February 1932, confessing that his works were "of no interest or use to the Revolution." Most at the meeting were not confident that Platonov could transform himself, pointing to the absence to date of any politically correct works.
Platonov's 1932 play Fourteen Little Red Huts (Chetirnadtat krasnykh izbushek) touches on the trauma, hunger, and death which accompanied the rapid collectivization of agriculture. It also lampoons Western intellectuals, such as George Bernard Shaw, who visited the Soviet Union in 1931 and confidently reported that there was no famine or hunger.
With his works now unpublishable, Platonov, in 1933, wrote to Gorky: "Can I be a Soviet writer, or is this objectively impossible?" Gorky did not respond to the question.
During the early 1930s, Platonov continued practical work, serving as an engineer and instructor.
In March of 1934, Platonov joined a group of writers touring Turkmenia. Based on the impressions gathered on this trip, Platonov produced several literary works, including the tale Dzhan, the story Takyr, and the article On the First Soviet Tragedy. But of all these works, only Takyr was published.
In the beginning of 1936, Platonov was included in a collective whose task was the creation of a book about the heroes of railway transport. His first contribution, the story Immortality (Bessmertiye), was uncharacteristically met with popular and critical approval. The negative criticism resumed, however, with his next story, Among Animals and Plants (Sredi zhivotnykh i rastenii). Platonov was attacked for abandoning the "heroic" material and for employing irony which knew no limit.
Platonov managed to get a book of stories, The River Potudan (Reka Potudan), published in 1937. It was his first book publication since 1929. Critic A. Gurvich found this new book harmful, citing the "religious spiritual construction" of Platonov's hero.
Also in 1937, Platonov was working on a novel to be called Journey from Leningrad to Moscow in 1937.
In May of 1938, Platonov's son, then just 15 years old, was arrested for "anti-Soviet agitation" and sent to the gulag.
Beginning in 1936, Platonov had written literary reviews for various papers and journals. A collection of these articles was to be published in 1939. Publication was stopped, however, when the articles became the subject of stinging attacks on the pages of the Party's theoretical journal Bolshevik.
Increasingly, the only literary work for which Platonov could get paid were his writings for children. But even here his works were not always welcome. A series of plays which he wrote for the Central Children's Theater were never staged during his lifetime.
In early 1941, Platonov's son, Platon, was released from the prison camps, thanks to the intercession of novelist and Supreme Soviet deputy Mikhail Sholokhov. In the camps, Platon had supposedly contracted tuberculosis and he eventually died of it in 1943.
When the Great Patriotic War came to the Soviet Union, Platonov became a front-line correspondent for the Army newspaper Krasnaya zvezda. During the war, four books by Platonov were published: Inspired People (Odukhotvorennye liudi, 1942), Stories of the Motherland (Rasskazy o rodine, 1943), Armour (Bronya, 1943), and V storonu zakata solntsiya, 1945.
After the war, Platonov's difficulty with publication resumed. Particular hostility was occasioned by his story The Family Ivanov (Sem'ya Ivanova). In 1947, critic V. Ermilov labeled the entire of Platonov's post-war work as a "slander against Soviet power." Again it was only his work for children which could be published, and again this only thanks to Mikhail Sholokhov.
Andrei Platonov died in Moscow on 5 January 1951 of tuberculosis, which he supposedly contracted from his son.
Kornienko, N.V. "Ya prozhil zhizn'." Osnovniye daty zhizni i tvorchestva A.P. Platonova. 2000.
Dryzhakova-Altshuller, Elena. in Handbook of Russian Literature ed. Victor Terras. Yale University Press. 1985
Torchinov V.A., Leontiuk A.M. Vokrug Stalina. Istoriko-biograficheskii spravochnik. Sankt-Peterburg, 2000.