SMITHY, THE -
The Smithy (Kuznitsa) was founded in late 1919 by a group of proletarian poets who believed that the practical work of the Proletkult was holding back the development of their creative possibilities. In essence, the Smithy poets merely wanted to work and create among themselves, without having to get involved in the Proletkult's mass activity and mass education projects. The Smithy promised to offer writers "complete freedom in the choice of literary method and style."
The Smithy agreed with the Proletkult's position regarding the nature of literature. Their literary manifesto stated:
Art is just as necessary for the proletariat as are its army, its transportation system, and its factories.... It is becoming an exceptionally keen instrument for the organization of the future Communist society.
The main images and themes of the Smithy were labor, machines, and the masses--not the individual proletarian. One Smithy poet (A.K. Gastev) wrote of "the mechanization not only of gestures, not only of production methods, but of everyday thinking, coupled with extreme rationality." Also celebrated in the works of the Smithy poets were internationalism, collectivism, and revolutionary romanticism. Symbolism and abstraction were not uncommon in these early works.
Some Smithy poets developed a trend known as "cosmism", which was an attempt to go beyond the concrete, earthly revolutionary struggle and include the whole of the universe in the revolutionary movement. Some saw this as a type of escapism. Marxist critic P.S. Kogan, however, expressed the opinion that "cosmism is the result of the poet's faith in the unlimited might of labor and science." In any event, it marked a separation from the daily political struggle of the proletariat and its party.
In October 1920, the Smithy organized a congress of proletarian writers. At this congress, the All-Russian Association of Proletarians Writers (Vserossiiskaya Assosiatsiya Proletarskykh Pisatelei), or VAPP, was founded.
The introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP) was greeted by most members of the Smithy with disappointment and disillusionment. Smithy poets Vladimir Kirillov, Mikhail Gerasimov, G. Sannikov, and S. Obradovich portrayed the NEP as the death of the revolution. Many Smithy members left the Party. They also suggested that the VAPP be disbanded and efforts to organize proletarian literature nationally be abandoned. A second group considered this attitude to be a form of isolationism and a demonstration of a contempt for younger writers. These latter writers left the Smithy and formed the "October" group. In their manifesto, the October writers declared:
The group of proletarian writers calling itself the Smithy, formed in the beginning of 1920, has lately, in our opinion, turned into a small, insignificant and isolated circle of comrades with interests which are far from answering to the tasks of the developing struggle of the proletariat on the ideological front....The Smithy is an organization which retards the development of the younger forces of proletarian literature.
In the early days, the Smithy saw its mission as that of education, of helping writers perfect their craft. But pressure from outside (e.g., October, VAPP, etc.) as well as some of its own members, gradually brought about a change in the Smithy outlook, accepting a more overt political role. So, in 1923, the Smithy declared itself "a shock detachment in the forward positions of the ideological and artistic front" in the struggle for the "strengthening of the dictatorship and the realization of the workers-peasant democracy on the path toward a communist society." Previously, the Smithy had advocated the study and mastery of the previous artistic styles, but now they called for the rejection and overthrow of bourgeois art, particularly the styles of symbolism, futurism, and imagism. Henceforth, the Smithy asserted, proletarian art should be of a grand, monumental style.
Nonetheless, Smithy's feud with VAPP continued. In the autumn of 1924, the Smithy--along with the Pereval ("Pass") group, took part in an conference whose goal was the creation of an anti-VAPP block to oppose the creation of proletarian-writer organizations of a mass character.
In 1925-1926, prose writers (F. Gladkov, N. Lyashko, V. Bakhmetev, etc.) rose to prominence in the Smithy, and the poets became less influential. With this shift also came a reorganization of the Smithy's work. The normal "reading" sessions of the Smithy were replaced with work divided into various sections: criticism, prose, poetry, film scenarios, and sketch-writing.
In April 1930, in the era of industrialization and socialist reconstruction, the Smithy proclaimed that realism was the proper style for proletarian art. At this time, the Smithy also reversed course and attempted to become a mass organization, citing the sharpening nature of the class struggle in the nation and the need for a Bolsheviklike intolerance in the defense of proletarian art from the hostile influences of rightist opportunism and leftist deviations. The Smithy now suppored the consolidation of all proletarian literary organizations.
The Smithy, however, never did manage to become a truly mass organization. This was perhaps due to the diverse artistic methods and social origins of its members (proletarians, peasants, even a few former petty-bourgeois).
In October-November 1930, another split occured within the ranks of the Smithy. After a preliminary purge, both wings were accepted into RAPP.
Like all other independent literary organizations, the Smithy was dissolved in 1932 in connection with the creation of the Soviet Writers Union.
During its lifetime, the Smithy published the journals Smithy (Kuznitsa, 1920-1922) and The Workers' Journal (Robochii zhurnal, 1924-1925).
Brown, Edward J. "The Proletarian Episode in Russian Literature 1928-1932. Octagon Books. New York. 1971<.br>
Terras, Victor. "Handbook of Russian Literature". Yale University Press. 1985