Yevgeni Yevtushenko was a famous Soviet poet. In the early 1970s, 100,000 copies of his new book of poetry sold out in a few days. A hundred thousand copies of a collection of poetry is an insane number. There are 2,5 times as many people in the US, and who’s the poet who can sell 100,000 copies? And in under a week?
Of course, Yevtushenko was talented, so people liked his poetry. These are legit good poems. But even great poetry rarely finds that many readers. Only the tiniest minority has the capacity to enjoy poetry, and that’s OK. But the biggest reason why the book sold out like this was that people perceived Yevtushenko as anti-Soviet. This was utterly ridiculous because nobody got published in the USSR who wasn’t approved and promoted by the regime. To get a 100,000-copy publishing contract, you needed to be a huge favorite with the regime. Soviet publishers weren’t expected to make a profit. Their goals were 100% ideological.
Yevtushenko helped the regime channel the protest feelings of the public in a way that allowed people feel subversive while not doing anything against the regime. Each totalitarian society has these little escape valves, these little outlets for popular resentment. And there are always intellectuals who lend themselves to the task of creating an illusion of subversion while eating out of the regime’s hand. You know them by the vagueness, by the “we are all in on the secret” attitude, and the incapacity to say anything that would seriously annoy the regime.