Faust Reinvented in Communist Russia

The Russians: HIS 341

Faust Reinvented in Communist Russia

Bulgakov’s fascinating work The Master and Margarita is a retelling of Goethe’s story, Faust, but used as a satire to expose the negative aspects of Russian communism in the 1930’s. In this work Bulgakov uses Satan and his minions in an atypical fashion, to be the exposés of truth and uncovering the hypocritical righteousness of the communist intellectuals and elites. Bulgakov’s criticisms range from the housing crises of his day to atheism. It is not surprising therefore that it was not published in Stalin’s Russia.

Woland, i.e. Satan and his cohorts are not the typical demons in Bulgakov’s book. They do seem “hell bent” on mischief and amusement but contain their wrath and punishment for citizens of Moscow that Bulgakov feels deserve it. They resemble agents of a wrathful god, more than miscreants bent on chaotic destruction. An excellent example of this is how Woland and his compatriots treat Nikanor Ivanovich, the housing manager at 302 Sadovaya St. This episode his also pivotal because Bulgaokov is extremely critical of the housing shortage in Russia at this time and the corruption and greed utilized by those in power in the Communist party to take advantage of the housing situation. Bulgakov writes:

“Nikanor Ivanovich quite expected him to add, ‘You’ve got quite an appetite, don’t you Nikanor Ivanovich!’ but again Korovyov surprised him. ‘You call that money! Ask for five thou, he’ll pay it.’

No sooner had the chairman left the apartment, then a low voice came from the bedroom, ‘I didn’t like that Nikanor Ivonovich. He’s a skinflint and a swindeler. Can’t we make sure that he doesn’t come around again?’

‘Messire, your wish is my command!’ Korovyov replied from somewhere, but in a pure and resonant voice, not a quavering one.”

Korovyov then proceeds to magically exchange the Russian currency in Ivonovich’s apt into American currency and tells the police that Ivonovich is speculating in foreign currency (a serious transgression), and has him captured.

Woland and his fellow demons are not doing this out of spite though, but are the executors of Bulgakov’s anger at the communist system. This is done two-fold. He is angered that the housing shortage exists and his being profited from by Party leaders. Also, it is ironic that he uses Woland’s agents to use the Party’s infuriating measures to have the villain Ivonovich punished, anonymous slander. Bulgakov is showing the reader that the lack of privacy in Russia’s cramped cities is made intolerable by the eagerness of its citizens to slander anyone of their neighbors. It is this system that creates paranoia and a lack of camaraderie, which infuriates Bulgakov.

Bulgakov uses the story of Pontius Pilate as a metaphor for the Communist state of Russia. He uses the time old story in a unique way. He tells of how Jesus/Ha-Nozri/Yeshua, is not exactly the man from the Gospels. He shows that the Gospel stories are misinterpreted tales, that stem from the truth but have become twisted and quite out of context from what the historical Jesus said and accomplished. This is not meant to be used as an argument against religion or Christiantity in general but is a parallel with socialism. Socialism preached by Marx had become a twisted, misinterpreted system, enacted in Communism. Lenin is symbolized by Ha-Notsri, the teller of pure truth and peace. Levi, the disciple of Ha-Notsri, is a parallel of Lenin who misinterprets his master’s message even though he is devoted to him. Lenin’s master of course being Marx. Pilate is the metaphor for Stalin who worked with Lenin as Pilate worked with Levi, to expand the word of Marx but in the end is the one who destroyed him by destroying his message.

It is not difficult to understand why Stalin and his cohorts would not allow The Master and Margarita to be published. Disguised in a story of the Devil in Russia is a barely hidden scathing satirization of Communist Russia and the negatives it produced in the economy, culture, and in the Russian people themselves. Not only is this novel offensive to Communist Party members because it proclaims powers beyond those of Communist intellectuals, embodied in God and Satan, which goes against the atheist stance of the State, but