Writing Screenplays About the Earth
by Aleksandr Dovzhenko
(Speech to the Secretariate,
Union of Soviet Writers, 1953)

his year I wrote a play about a kolkhoz. Moreover, 24 years ago, on the eve of collectivization, I wrote a screenplay and did a movie about collectivization entitled Earth. This was, it seems, the last silent film in our cinema. Just now I proposed to the Ministry of Culture undertaking a trilogy about the kolkhoz. I wanted to write three screenplays and do three films. But these days getting even a single film done is a minor miracle or heroic accomplishment, so the comrades looked on my talk about three films as a fantasy, or at least a wish with no hope of fulfillment.

Nonetheless, I have already written the first part of this trilogy, a drama entitled The Descendants of Zaporozhian Cossacks. This play is dedicated to a complicated theme which has been avoided by many comrades and filmmakers: the theme of the liquidation of the kulaks as a class and the beginning of the establishment of kolkhozes (the 1930s).

Taking on this theme, I thought about it for several years. So permit me now to share several of my thoughts with you—thoughts which perhaps aren't connected to any particular work of literature published this year; thoughts, so to speak, of a general nature.

The way I look at it, there is something of an unsettled accounted between kolkhoz workers and writers. The problem of "the kolkhoz worker and the writer" is enormous. "Kolkhoz worker" is not an appointed office whose occupant can be removed whenever he is displeasing or unwelcome; it is an activity. A kolkhoz worker is a life-long creator of bread for the state and for the people. "Writer" is also not an office, but a life-long creator of spiritual food for the people. Therefore, it's easy and interesting for a kolkhoz worker to speak with a writer and for a writer to speak with a kolkhoz worker. And today, in my opinion, this conversation is one of the most important conversations which concerns the building of communism.

Certainly, it is a fact that in 1930 new tasks rose up to full height in front of a large part of the population of the great Soviet Union. It was as if the roofs had been ripped off their huts. All questions of everyday life demanded new solutions. Everything got all mixed up, and everything demanded a solution simultaneously. Is it not a noble task for the artist to show this?!

It seems to me that not all is well on our kolkhoz front. Today, kolkhoz workers make up not 85% of the population of the Soviet Union, but just 50%; but this is the 50% that stands at the physical bases of our life. Let's try to look at this group as part of the overall plan.

To start with, I want to say that we are far from having a complete knowledge of kolkhozes and kolkhoz workers. Questions of production and other matters have still not been solved on the kolkhoz; there are moods of indifference and pessimism. But what do we know about this? Our knowledge of the kolkhoz comes from brief trips to help during the harvest or from visits to our dachas. And there is the condescending attitude to people of the kolkhoz village, hidden behind the debates about the contention that the kolkhoz worker supposedly has two souls, that a petty-bourgeois landowner lives in him, and so on.

Perhaps all of this is true. But for the artist to say that the kolkhoz worker has two souls is to say that the artist himself lacks even a single soul. I mention this because we are far from the life of the kolkhoz. Many of us don't have the proper realization of what great labor people put into the bread, milk and eggs, into everything that we get from the kolkhoz. Therefore, we poorly present the process of kolkhoz labor, its temperament, its essence.

The theme of the kolkhoz is for us a theme of the greatest labor valor, as long as we work it out not in our study, not in our imagination, but in the deed, in the fields. I imagine a colossal surge of forces in the village, passions of inner strength, endurance, dedication to the state, and a burning belief in everything that is the best in the world. In the course of twenty-five years this surge—the equal of which humanity has never seen—raised our people in general and the people of the kolkhoz in particular. Therefore it seems to me that we must make a maximum effort to learn about the life of the kolkhoz and to describe it for the future of humanity, for our descendants, so that in fifty years, after reading our works, people will say, "What excellent people were living at the beginning stages of communism."

It is precisely in this area that I see my duty to the kolkhoz worker, to whom I would like to be of service. I want him to see his portrait painted in all colors and making use of all brushes. I want him to see what greatness he contributes to the history of mankind even though he frequently has only a poor hut and clothing and shabby equipment, details which we often overlook in our search for the lofty truth".

It seems to me, comrades, that, out of all motivations, we are too taken with this "lofty truth", which is cold and sometimes covered over with a thin veneer of reality; we allow it to elbow out the simple, real, and actual truth. We forget the huge price this "lofty truth" sometimes costs our government.

I, like you, was deeply happy in September of this year to read the historic and joyous resolutions of the Central Committee of the Party concerning the growth of our agriculture. And I think that each of us, reading these resolutions, felt the great importance they have for our people.

At this meeting, comrades have spoken about sketch-writing. I understand the passionate calls of comrade Mikhalevich1 for clear and high-quality sketches demonstrating an understanding of the matters discussed. And his compliments for Virgin Soil Upturned2 are also understandable. But today we interpret journalist Mikhalevich's compliments in two ways. On one hand, they are a high appraisal of the work of Mikhail Sholokhov. On the other hand, they are a reproach for that fact that, before Virgin Soil Upturned, our literature produced no other works—of equal or even superior quality—digging through the layers of our the kolkhoz life of our people.

The words of Zakrutkin3 clearly rung out when he addressed the reduction of the population on poorly performing kolkhozes and the disintegration of such kolkhozes. We have not analyzed these phenomena; they have been out of our field of vision, even though it touches upon the fate of hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of people. We have not been sufficiently cognizant of the danger posed by these phenomena; or we have feared that describing them would cause harm. Hardly! It's all a question of how you write, how you understand the truth of life, how you interpret real facts. The truth must always be present within a work of art; and when it is present, such a work will bring joy not only to us, but to the entire world.

I would like one of us to write a book—beautiful and rich—about people and about love for working on the earth. We must draw a picture of kolkhoz labor, of people, of the rising and setting of the sun; we must create a work of art about the earth, about its fruits and its riches. This is not a peasant problem or a kolkhoz problem; this is a problem about the building of communism. This is a problem about the harmony between workers and farmers. We must write a work of art telling a story of this harmony and demonstrating therein our goals.


1Mikhalevich: A.V. Mikhalevich, sketch and screenplay writer.

2Virgin Soil Upturned: Novel by Mikhail Sholokhov.

3Zakrutkin: V.A. Zakrutkin: Prose writer, winner of the Gorky State Prize of the RSFSR.

Source: Aleksandr Dovzhenko. Dumy u karty rodiny. Lenizdat 1988. Leningrad.

Translated by Eric Konkol

Return to:

Address all correspondence to:

© 2012 All rights reserved.