Western Styles Infect Soviet Youth

Rock music had been known in the Soviet Union pre-1972, but it was a western phenomenon followed mainly by young people. As James von Geldern mentions, like opera is usually thought to be sung exclusively in Italian, rock was thought to be sung exclusively in English. The thought of hearing rock music sung in Russian seemed crazy and definitely not as cool. With western culture on the rise among so many young people, parents, teachers, and the media expressed their concerns with letters and even magazine articles mocking the westernized youth.

Soviet educators were alarmed by how western influences were affecting their students. A teacher in Moscow in June 1972 wrote a letter expressing his or her concern for the students. It talks about how girls wear too much eye makeup and boys have shoulder length hair. How students need to be wearing school uniforms and be deterred from wearing foreign patches. It also mentions that teachers need to be protecting these young people and that more literature needs to be published for teachers and parents on this issue. That parents who are supporting their children in wearing what they want to wear should

“consider that youngsters sometimes go from trying on foreign fashions to trying on foreign ideas.”

In 1973 the satirical magazine Krokodil wrote a piece called In The World of Cockroaches, mocking the westernized youth of Soviet society. It’s a story about a guy named Goga who lays on the coach all day, has been rejected by collage three years in a row, and just listens to his tape recorder for hours. A cockroach comes to him and says based on his life for the past three years the cockroaches have decided to accept him into the Grand Fellowship for Domestic Parasites. He brings along the girl next door and they become cockroaches. At first the new life is cool because it’s all about going out at night to get food. Goga and his girlfriend would stay out and listen to music all day. Over time they got lazy and wouldn’t even go out for food and instead took crumbs from others. Soon other young cockroaches began to act like them and the elders disliked it. They decided they no longer wanted Goga and Sonka and returned them to human life. This article is really saying something about how Soviet society feels about westernized youths if even cockroaches that live in rot and decay didn’t even want them living with them.

Krokodil Magazine from the 1940s

Overall these sources show how most adults in Soviet society were worried about how western culture was affecting young people. That parents and teachers needed to protect their youth or else they’d end up like Goga and Sonka, which would ultimately reflect poorly on their society.

Below is a video demonstrating how young listeners of popular music used the black market to distribute records.

Shadows on the Sidewalks (1960)


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Khrushchev: Stuck in the Past

Nikita Khrushchev was a very “forceful”, as James von Geldern would put it, critic of the arts. He was quite threatened by any new or unfamiliar styles of art, and would immediately present those thoughts to the artist, egged on by his colleagues. With the vast new styles of modern art and music developing in the early 60s, Khrushchev, worried and confused by these trends, would give his crudest opinions to the artists right there at the exhibitions.

Khrushchev (1963)

At the Manege Exhibit on December 1, 1962, here are just a few of Khrushchev’s opinions on music and art he encountered:

“I would say that this is just a mess…It consisted of some messy yellow lines which looked, if you will excuse me, as though some child had done his business on the canvas when his mother was away and then spread it around with his hands.”

“I don’t like jazz. When I hear jazz, it’s as if I had gas on the stomach. I used to think it was static when I heard it on the radio.”

“Or take these new dances which are so fashionable now. Some of them are completely improper. You wiggle a certain section of the anatomy, if you’ll pardon the expression. It’s indecent.”

“As long as I am president of the Council of Ministers, we are going to support a genuine art. We aren’t going to give a kopeck for pictures painted by jackasses.”

“He can paint and sell these if he wants, but we don’t need them. We are going to take these blotches with us into communism, are we?”

“But who ordered it? And why? This painting shouldn’t have been hung in the exhibition.”

“It’s a pity, of course, that your mother is dead, but maybe it’s lucky for her that she can’t see how her son is spending his time.”

“People tell me that I am behind the times and don’t realize it, that our contemporary artists will be appreciated in 100 years.”

The last quote stuck out to me, because it was what I was thinking the entire time reading his thoughts. He is stuck in the past and has zero respect for any new types of art forms, but to him and others art was all about staying within the tradition of Soviet socialist art. We see this all the time even today that the older generation, not all but a lot, want to stay within tradition and anything else is too out of the box and wrong.

Breakfast by A. Vasnetsov

In a different article, the December 1st exhibition is mentioned to be “in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Moscow branch of the Artists’ Union.” This exhibition had more than 2,000 works of art on display, and was created by Moscow artists over a 30-year period. The art varied in theme, style, and technique, and were created by masters of art as well as newcomers. More than 100,000 people had visited the exhibition and there was great interest in it. However, we’ve already seen above some of the comments Khrushchev made that night. The more traditional crowd discussed how many works deviated from the Soviet socialist art. When asked what he thought of the exhibition as a whole Khrushchev’s response was:

“In a number of cases it would appear that the organizers of the exhibition have fallen under the sway of those who defend weak and unacceptable works, who have manifested liberalism. Such a policy cannot lead to a further upsurge Of the Soviet art of socialist realism.”

At the end of the night Khrushchev stated that yes these artists are creative, but people don’t understand it, and therefore will reject it. If we can’t tell if a man or a donkey created this art, the artist needs to “work for the people.” A few months later in March 1963 he did a similar thing with music. He created a “Declaration on Music in Soviet Society,” where he essentially said we’re not going to ban your music, but we’re going to tell you what’s bad about it and what you should be listening to:

“No one proposes to declare a ban on any of these styles and genres. But we want to stipulate our own attitude towards music, its tasks and its creative direction.”

“Of course, I have no pretensions to claim that my feeling for music should become a general norm for everyone. But we refuse to encourage people who pass off cacophony for real melody and who regard music universally loved by the people as obsolete.”

Overall Khrushchev says that though he isn’t banning what we can listen to, we should really be careful because anything new and modern is hard to take in and indecent. That we need music that is going to inspire soldiers to be heroes and that we need this political stand in our art and music.

Khrushchev was just really stuck in this traditional mindset that life and art were so linked together that people couldn’t be creative and create something other than Soviet socialist art. Khrushchev actually ended one artists’ career and lost him his studio. After Khrushchev’s death in 1971 his family actually hired that man, Ernst Neizvestnyi, to create the memorial for his grave.


Gravestone for Nikita Khrushchev by Ernst Neizvestnyi (1971)


The “Real” 1950s Soviet Woman

In the 1950s the ideal Soviet women would be a homemaker, feeding and taking care of her children, her home, and her husband in addition to looking good and having time for leisure activities like reading or going to the cinema. But this was not the reality of all Soviet women. Many had no time to bond with their children let alone read a newspaper. There was what was called “the double burden,” which was the workload women faced between work and home and it was appearing more and more in press in the 1950s (von Geldern).

The Machine-Turner Andreeva (1955)

In the source “It Is Her Right” from 1954, we see working women and their struggle with balancing work and home. One factory worker, Nataliia Mikhailovna, explained how she gets home late only to have to cook, wash, and sew for her two children. She worries she won’t find the time to go out with her daughter, “I know that it is my duty and, indeed, my right and joy to go out with her, but I simply can’t manage it.” Another factory worker, Maria Mikhailovna Danshina, was unable to find childcare for her young daughter so she was forced to live with constant worry leaving her in the care of her six-year-old brother while at work. Since she worked the late shifts, she would go to bed very late only to get up to list of things to do in the morning before work. In this society there was this assumption that women would just find the time to read or spend quality time with their children. “It Is Her Right” asks the question of what is this city doing to help women, noting that there was only one laundry and one dressmaker in the city. It also notes that mothers aren’t just meant to feed and wash their children’s clothes, but “a mother should take them out for walks, read to them, take them to the cinema, and, finally, simply talk with them and reply to all their childish ‘hows’ and ‘whys’.” Not just mothers, but women in general should also have the opportunity to experience the culture around them by having time to attend lectures, concerts, read, and continue their educations.

In The Toy Factory (1960)

There were also women who wished to have a more independent life, a life beyond their families. In Aleksandr Fadeev’s novel Fadeev On The Housewife, we see a woman, Tina, who was once independent and full of hope, but has since lost all that due to dropping everything for her family. I am not entirely sure if this is a true story or a character inspired by real women at the time. Nevertheless Tina asks her husband a question one morning implying she would like to go back to work. She sees his worry but he says he is concerned for her and doesn’t want her to end up like another man’s wife who is a secretary. The woman works then takes care of her baby, her mother-in-law, younger sister, and has significantly aged in two years. After he denying her request she feels defeated. Tina thinks about how she has the right to have a family and work, and feels unequal to the women working. She also thinks about the other men and women who work with her husband and how they are closer to him and he sees them more as equals. Even though she had the right to go to work, Tina was scared into thinking she would mess up her marriage if she went, which seemed to be a common tactic back then.

In 1955 when the ban on abortion was lifted women now had the right to control her reproduction, but the government was still going to try and prevent that. There was a huge antiabortion campaign, which covered various areas, with over 20,000 antiabortion lectures in one city alone. There were pamphlets saying “Don’t deprive yourself of motherhood,” and films like the 1956 film Why Did I Do That?, which talked about how abortion could ruin a woman’s chances of motherhood in the future. In 1962 the antiabortion campaign got to men through For You, Comrade Men. This was used as a manipulative tactic for men to use on the women in their lives. It talks about how great motherhood is and that it will unite your family and bring a positive effect on the mother. It also talks about the dangers of the abortion and how you don’t really know how skilled the doctor is. It also has an example conversation between a woman who had an abortion and one thinking about it. The first woman says there were complications and she probably won’t be able to have more children. The second woman says that her and her husband want to wait because they don’t have a good home, to which the first woman replies that it doesn’t matter because you’ll be depressed without the laughter of a child.

Abortion has Dangerous Consequences (1965) : Don’t condemn yourself to solitude!
Stop! (1968) : Stop! Now abortion seems necessary. But remember, it might forever deprive you of the happiness of motherhood!

Women may have had certain rights about working or their bodies, but with this ideal Soviet woman image of listening to their husbands and being good homemakers, they were constantly torn between what looked good and what was realistic to care for their families and themselves.


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Between Shades of Gray

Over spring break I read Between Shades of Gray (published March 2011), a young adult historical fiction novel by Ruta Sepetys. The story follows a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941 who is taken from her home with her mother and younger brother by the NKVD (Soviet secret police). They are put on a crowded, dirty train car for weeks only to end up in a work camp in the coldest part of Siberia.

I read on the back of the book that the author, Ruta Sepetys, did extensive research because this is based on her family’s own history of the deportation of minorities. After some googling I found the book’s website linked with an interview of her explaining the history and her research process for this novel.

When she was visiting her cousins in Lithuania she asked to see photos of her grandfather, but they informed her that they had to burn all of them because he was a high-ranking officer in the Lithuanian military and would have been executed by Stalin, so they couldn’t let anyone know they were related to him. After digging and learning more about her history she realized she needed to tell this story that so many people don’t know about.

I was not familiar with the deportation of minorities other than knowing about the Holocaust so I found all of this pretty surprising, but “ethnic cleansing” was actually not new during WW2. During WW1 the Ottoman Empire did a very similar thing with the Armenian population and engaged in genocidal massacres, and Russia removed Germans and Jews as well (von Geldern). “Within months of the Nazi invasion in 1941, at least 400,000 citizens of German descent living along the Volga were transported eastwards to Central Asia and Siberia” (von Geldern).

The Baltics (Lithuania, Latvia, & Estonia) are on the western side of Russia. In 1939, Stalin and Hitler signed a non-aggression pact leaving the Baltics to Stalin. In 1940 the Baltics were annexed into the Soviet Union and disappeared from maps. Stalin then started drafting lists of people thought to be anti-Soviet like: military, doctors, lawyers, business owners, teachers, librarians, priests, and even children. Though they committed no crimes they were arrested, separated by men & women and children. They were stuffed into cattle cars, men sent to prisons and women sent to Siberia.

NKVD Forced Labor Camp

In order to tell this story Ruta Sepetys visited Lithuania several times interviewing survivors, historians, family members, and members of parliament. She also spent time inside train cars and soviet prisons. She said she specifically chose to write about the people sent to the Artic because they had some of the worst living conditions.


Several situations from the novel were taken directly from survivors’ experiences. One survivor, Irena, spoke to Sepetys for hours. One situation used in the novel was when young Irena walked over to the train car holding her father and other men. Her father gave her his wedding ring and told her that her mother would need to sell it for food. Sepetys also mentions that in her interviews with survivors some say that NKVD had secretly helped them, which occurs in the novel as well.

Looking over a decree by Stalin about deported minorities I noticed things mentioned in the novel as well like “settlers will be allowed to take with them personal items, clothing, household objects, dishes and utensils, and up to 500 kilograms of food per family.” In the novel the main character, Lina, is able to pack a suitcase with clothing and some personal items even as the NKVD is yelling at them to leave. The decree also mentions that property and building will be taken over. Before they leave their home Lina’s mother starts breaking all her beautiful plates because she doesn’t want the NKVD to use it.

Sepetys says that her goal for writing the novel was that it will end up in schools and libraries and that this part of history, which many don’t know about, won’t be lost.







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The Muslim East

For this week’s blog post I decided to focus on the question: what role did nationality and religion play in the formation of the Soviet State? I first checked out the subject essay by Lewis Siegelbaum, “The Muslim East” to see if I could get an overview of what was going on between the Soviet government and the Russian/Eastern Muslims. What I got what that, “the Soviet government for its part appealed to “Moslems of Russia and the East” to throw in their lot with the revolution, promising them the inviolability of their faith and customs and national self-determination.” (Siegelbaum) After reading two primary sources about this topic I have to concur with this statement.

City Square and Lenin (1925)

In December 1917 Stalin and Lenin wrote from the Council of People’s Commissars an “Appeal to the Moslems of Russia and the East”. When I first read this all I could think of was it sounded like an email from a presidential candidate trying to get you to donate money. “Great events are taking place in Russia…A new world is being born…The power in the country is in the hands of the people…” They start is off with how the war is over and they are changing. That we are all free now thanks to the leader of this revolution, the Soviet of People’s Commissars. Then they get to their main point, “in the face of these great events we turn to you, toiling and disinherited Moslems of Russia and the East.” They are saying your beliefs and culture is free now because of the Soviets and we need you to help defend them. They mention that you won’t be a slave, but we still really need to you fight against Europe. “We await your sympathy and support in this cause of building a new world.” So did this work? Did they appeal to the Moslem people?

Turkmen Horsewomen (1924)

After reading the second primary source my answer is yes. In June 1923 the Russian Administration for Religious Affairs of Russian Moslems made a “Proclamation to All Moslems in the World”. The proclamation starts by saying that the oppressor of Islam (the British) is going after the Soviet government (the protector of the oppressed). It’s a short document essentially saying that the whole Moslem community believe everything the British are saying about the Soviet’s to be untrue, and that the Soviet government had always supported them. “The Moslems of the whole world must not forget this and must thank the Soviet Government. We, the Moslems of Russia, consider the Soviet Government the protector of the oppressed and declare to the four hundred million Moslems of the world the necessity of full support of the Soviet regime.”

So to answer the question, the Soviet State needed more people on their side of the revolution so they appealed to people who also needed support. Whether or not they believed or agreed with the Moslem people is not really the point here. They made them an offer and almost 6 years later the Moslem people were still fighting for them, so it seems up until this point it worked for both sides.



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What is an Octoberist?

For this week’s blog post, one of the options was to talk about something that interested us about The Revolution of 1905. After reading Chapter 8, I decided to explore into what the October Manifesto is and who the Octoberists are, as well as look into a few things that are associated with those terms like Duma, Alexander Guchkov, and the Union of October 17.

Demonstration 17 October 1905 by Ilya Repin

According to the textbook, Emperor Nicholas II issued the October Manifesto on The 17th of October. This manifesto was a sort of promise to have an elected legislative body, civil & religious liberties, and (for the first time in Russian history) the right to organize unions and political parties (Page 255). This manifesto served as a forerunner to their first constitution. While this document was a response to the Revolution of 1905, it did not actually put a stop to the revolution according to the textbook.

As mentioned above, one of the terms was to have an elected legislative body. This legislative body was known as the Duma. The whole purpose of this body of government was to limit the power of the Tsar, when in fact the Duma still allowed the Tsar to veto anything he wanted. Nicholas still wanted to maintain power so he simply created laws that would allow him to continue to control everything.

Shortly after the October Manifesto was issued, a new political party was created. The Union of October 17, or the Octoberist Party was a right wing or far-right political party led by Alexander Guchkov (who according to the textbook was at some point a chairman of the Duma). This party, while all for a constitutional monarchy and Tsarist government, would only cooperate with the government as long as they fulfilled the manifesto. This party was also closely tied with Sergei Witte, who influenced Nicholas over the October Manifesto. The Octoberists wanted a stronger parliament and government, as well as quicker reforms.

Alexander Guchkov

I’m interested to see what this party goes on to do after the Revolution of 1905.


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The Historic Town of Suzdal

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 2.17.08 PM
View of Suzdal’ from the Kamenka River
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. View of Suzdal’ from the Kamenka River, 1912. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04449 (58)

“View of Suzdal’ from the Kamenka River” is a photo of the town of Suzdal taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii in 1912. I was drawn to this photo not only because of it’s coloring, but the town itself looks like a place I would like to visit one day. Funny enough after googling Suzdal I discovered one of their main tourist attractions is the Cathedral of the Nativity, which if I am not mistaken is the cathedral on the cover of our textbook. Seeing this made me wonder more about this town.

Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral, Suzdal, Russia      1         51sBcVm4wdL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

Suzdal is east of Moscow and located on the Kamenka River as seen in the photograph. It is one of the oldest towns in Russia (1024) and was actually the capital of the principality in the 12th century, Moscow being one of its subordinates as it was not a very developed city yet. Over the centuries they had a pretty large decline in political importance, a lot of it having to do with the capitol being moved (Vladimir). In the 1860s merchants were attempting to get the Trans-Siberian Railway to be built through Suzdal. Unfortunately their plan failed and the railroad was built in the new capitol 20+ miles away. Today Suzdal is not the politically powerful city it was in the 1100s. It’s now one of the smallest towns in Russia with a population of less than 10,000, with its largest industry being tourism.



Regardless of how much this town had changed from the beginning, it seems to be an incredibly historic town that I definitely would like to see someday.

Source and Image Information:

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