Re: Russian Slang in Heinlein's Work (was Tolerance for Dissent on Extropians)

From: Mike Lorrey (
Date: Wed Aug 08 2001 - 08:00:00 MDT

Lee Corbin wrote:
> Mike Lorrey wrote
> > ...Heinlein's use of russian slang in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress"
> > was part of a general attempt to get SF recognised by the leftists
> > who controlled (and generally still do) what as accepted as
> > "lit'rature" in the 50's & 60's.
> Would you please explain further your belief that Heinlein was actually
> pandering to leftists when he utilized Russian slang in that book? I
> naively thought that it was because he foresaw a greater role for the
> Soviet Union in the future than has so far turned out to be the case.

Ever since the 1930's, science fiction has been dismissed by the
literary establishment as 'pulp', i.e. "Not Our Kind, Dear" writing, not
literature at all. A major part of this distain for science fiction
among the literary intelligentsia is that the intelligentsia in the 20th
century, as has been illustrated by Greg Burch's writing, has been
generally of an anti-technology left-wing bent. Kuhn of Harvard launched
his assault on the ramparts of objective science in the early 50's,
which has resulted generally in the current left wing and public distain
of science as simply one more battleground of class warfare that the
white male establishment uses to enforce its patriarchy.

The golden age writers like Heinlein, Campbell, Clarke, and others saw
this coming. L Ron Hubbard retreated into his cult, while Azimov
retreated into treating science like a religion. Heinlein was constantly
experimenting with various ideas to spread SF and 'free thinker' ideas
in society. He was always, you'll notice, sublimating sexual ideas in
his juvinile novels, and eventually published Stranger in a Strange Land
which helped launch the sexual revolution.

Heinlein was very concerned about the perceived growing influence of the
USSR in the world in the 50's and 60's, and with the exposure of the
Cambridge spy ring in this period, it became clear to many that the
socialist and communist movements in the west were closely tied with the
Communist Party in the USSR, as has been confirmed in the Venona Files.
Communist cells in California contained many Hollywood stars and
writers, who were constantly under pressure from the political officers
in their cells to adapt their work to communicate communist propaganda
in the US media.

While the McCarthy hearings DID violate the civil rights of many
Hollywood people, this does not mean that they were not communists, or
that they were not being influenced by political officers.

Heinlein's travels to the USSR, his learning of Russian, etc were all in
order to learn more of the truth about what was going on behind the iron
curtain, and his articles on his travels in the USSR, even under the
shepherding of Party apparatchiks, portrayed a very different country
from that promoted by the Party propaganda in the west.

Campbell and Heinlein, as well as De Camp and others had wanted to break
into literary respectability for a long time. The early pictures of SF
'conventions' I've seen were not the huge popular things we see today,
but small, insular coffee table and conference room type things that any
Extropian of today would find rather familiar. They KNEW that their
ideas were of paramount importance to the future of humanity. Heinlein
and others figured out that fiction focused on ideas didn't fly with
western literary authorities, they needed to develop excellent
characterization skills, and focus stories around people. Idea based
fiction is generally characteristic of Russian literature (one reason
why SF is always so much more respected in Russia).

Despite all the characterization work, they didn't fool the literary
establishment. They were leftist enough to recognise that 'all art is
propaganda', and that SF was art that had dangerous ideas in it.

Still, Heinlein experimented with different styles (as literary
experimentation was the rage in the 60's) hoping something would catch.
SIASL seemed to have been the most effective at sneaking in under the
wire, since it dealt little with technology. It was almost exclusively a
character centered novel, albiet one that embraced a rather severe
anarchist ethic, which appealed to some literary types, and Michael
Valentine Smith's religous group was organized as a commune, so that was
politically correct as well.

Where SIASL succeeded somewhat in disguising anarchistic individualism
as communal utopia, Heinlein attempted to go further with TMIAHM in many
areas: rejecting the idea of world government, of centralized economic
control, and of reexamining all precepts of political organization, as
well as advocating ideas like 'rational anarchism', and polygamy.
Heinlein disguised these ideas under the cloak of a classic class
struggle, of serfs (lunies) against the king (Earth government), cloaked
in revolutionary theory, discussions of cell structured organizations,
agit-prop activities, along with strains of the French, US, and Russian
revolutions. The use of Russian slang in the novel was in excess of the
number of actual Russians on the moon. It actually seems that there were
far more chinese on the moon at the time than Russians, so I'd expect to
have seen more chinese slang than russian.

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