“Human groupings have one main purpose: to assert everyone’s right to be different, to be special, to think, feel and live in his or her own way. People join together in order to win or defend this right. But this is where a terrible, fateful error is born: the belief that these groupings in the name of a race, a God, a party or a State are the very purpose of life and not simply a means to an end. No! The only true and lasting meaning of the struggle for life lies in the individual, in his modest peculiarities and in his right to these peculiarities.”
–Vasily Grossman, from his great novel Life and Fate
More on freedom:
“I used to think freedom was freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of conscience. But freedom is the whole life of everyone. Here is what it amounts to: you have to have the right to sow what you wish to, to make shoes or coats, to bake into bread the flour ground from the grain you have sown, and to sell it or not sell it as you wish; for the lathe operator, the steelworker, and the artist it’s a matter of being able to live as you wish and work as you wish and not as they order you to. And in our country there is no freedom – not for those who write books nor for those who sow grain nor for those who make shoes.” (Grossman, p. 99) He noted that “In people’s day-to-day struggle to live, in the extreme efforts workers put forth to earn an extra ruble through moonlighting, in the collective farmers’ battle for bread and potatoes as the one and only fruit of their labor, he [Ivan Grigoryevich] could sense more than the desire to live better, to fill one’s children’s stomachs and to clothe them. In the battle for the right to make shoes, to knit sweaters, in the struggle to plant what one wished, was manifested the natural, indestructible striving toward freedom inherent in human nature. He had seen this very same struggle in the people in camp. Freedom, it seemed, was immortal on both sides of the barbed wire.” (Grossman, p. 110)
— Vasily Grossman, Forever Flowing, trans. by Thomas P. Whitney (New York: Harper & Row, 1986)
3 Responses to “Our modest peculiarities and our right to them….”
It’s not often I come across a fellow admirer of Vasily Grossman. I’ve written about him:
Forever Flowing had a significant influence on me.
Keep on keeping on,
Very good stuff, by someone who had the opportunity to study this very carefully. Thanks for posting it.
@Charles, I wish that Grossman were better known. Even many of our Russian friends do not know his work well.