I first posted about my re-reading of the journals of the late Polish dissident Kazimierz Brandys here.
In this day and age of “alternative facts”, it’s interesting to read an entry in his journals (p. 96-97) about what passed for such in his own time. In 1948, as a young Socialist, he and other Polish writer, the poet Konstanty Galczynski, were invited to Russia to attend a commemoration of the October Revolution.
Arriving in the nick of time to the Bolshoi Theater where the ceremonies were being held, he and his compatriot were shown to their seats as the flashbulbs of cameras burst one after the other; he could very well remember that there were four rows of seats up on the stage, with 12 people on them. Stalin was absent, but for his huge portrait in the backdrop. Molotov was presiding on the podium. Brandys recognized a few Politburo men on the first row — Mikoyan, Boroshilov. On the second row, he could not miss Marshal Budeny’s distinctive black moustache. The third and fourth rows were occupied by less familiar faces, “people wearing dark suits and uniforms.”
He writes on:
I saw it all quite clearly with Molotov standing at the podium, lit by flashbulbs. He spoke for over an hour, stuttering each time he said Stalin’s name: “St-St-Stalin.” During the entire speech, the stage, the red table, and the four rows of the presidium were before my eyes…after the meeting, we were taken back to our hotel. We ate dinner; then Galcznyski and I fell asleep on the wide double bed. I was up first in the morning, awakened by a rustling sound at the door. Still Sleepy, I jumped out of bed and noticed the edge of a paper that had been slipped under the door. It was a copy of Pravda, redolent of fresh ink.
Most of the front page was taken up by a photo showing the opening of the commemorative meeting: Molotov at the podium, the presidium table with Malenkov in the middle….I scrutinized the photograph. There were only two rows of chairs behind the table; the third and the fourth had vanished, replaced by a uniformly dark background. I was unable to grasp what the photograph was presenting. The truth? A fiction? both? Or was I seeing things?
I finally woke up Galcynzski and handed him the paper. Neither of us knew what to think.
When the two of them returned to Poland, they went to see the poet Adam Wazyk, to seek his counsel. Wazyk had spent the war in Russia; surely he knew more about the Russian mindset than both of the. And so, they handed to them the offending copy of Pravda as the poet sat in the editorial offices of the newspaper Kuznica (The Forge).
The poet’s response:
He looked at me with all the dignity of a Siamese cat and asked me just what I wanted to know and what I did find so surprising. I told him that there had been a third and fourth row, and so why weren’t they in the picture?
“That’s simple,” said Wazyk. “The people in the third and fourth rows still don’t deserve to be seen in an edition of several million copies.”
All right then, I persisted, but that means that the photograph isn’t true.
“Politically it is true,” Wazyk cut me short dryly.
That ended our conversation.
One of my first lessons in dialectical thinking.
In case you forgot, Pravda is the Russian word for truth.