Obituary: Alexander Chakovsky
Saturday 19 February 1994
ALEXANDER CHAKOVSKY was the powerful editor-in-chief of the Moscow weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta for 25 years, from 1962 to 1987. He was so influential that he could promote or kill a fellow writer. He had loyally served everybody in power from Stalin through Khrushchev to Gorbachev.
The Literaturnaya Gazeta was always a mouthpiece of the Kremlin but under Chakovsky it became one of the regime's most sycophantic and sickening propaganda sheets. In 1971, at the peak of his career as editor, he was made a candidate member and, from 1986, a full member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Even in 1954 he was a senior member of the powerful Soviet Writers Union, and in 1967 he became one of the union's secretaries. During this long period as an influential writer and editor - previously, from 1955 to 1963, he had been editor-in-chief of the monthly Inostrannaya Literatura ('Foreign Literature'), which published Western left-wing and Communist writers - he was active in the chorus of persecution by the Writers Union of Boris Pasternak after he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958. In 1964-65 he published pages of slander in his newspaper against the two writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, notoriously put on trial for publishing pseudonymous books abroad critical of the Communist system.
Chakovsky was born in 1913 in St Petersburg, the son of a clerk. He started as an electrical fitter and rose to become deputy head of the Economic Planning Department of the Moscow Bulb Factory. In 1936 he entered the elite Gorky Literary Institute, from where he graduated in 1938, the peak period of arrests among Soviet writers. As a student he had already become deputy editor of the monthly magazine Oktiabr and a literary critic.
Shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 he joined the Communist Party. During the war he was a war correspondent, at one time representing Mosfilm Studio, in 1941-42, and was present at the siege of Leningrad. In 1944 he published the novel This Was in Leningrad, followed by a second volume, Lydia (1945), and a third, Peaceful Days (1947). It was on this trilogy that he based his literary career.
For his next book, It's Morning Here (1949), he received the Stalin Prize in 1950. The next two decades saw the publication of the novels A Year of Life (1956), Roads We Choose (1960), The Light of a Faraway Star (1962) and The Bride (1966). He then returned to his Leningrad war theme - his five-volume novel The Blockade (1968-78) received the Lenin Prize.
In his war novels Chakovsky was at some remove from the truth; he wrote what was expected of him and in the style of 'socialist realism', the official literary dogma. In his other books he treated problems of the intelligentsia from the point of view of the government. When in The Blockade he presented Stalin in a positive light, this was too much even for the tastes of official Soviet critics.
Chakovsky was a careerist to the core and sang to the tune of whoever was in power; he was disliked by his colleagues and fellow writers for that. He remained a staunch Stalinist in his official duties, only resigning in 1987.
His only child, Katya, three times married, died aged 30 in a car crash in the Caucasus in 1982, and that broke him. In 1990 the Soviet Writers Union collapsed and he quietly disappeared from the public scene.
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