Mass Culture in Soviet Russia: Tales, Poems, Songs, Movies, Plays, and Folklore, 1917-1953

Mass Culture in Soviet Russia: Tales, Poems, Songs, Movies, Plays, and Folklore, 1917-1953

Mass Culture in Soviet Russia: Tales, Poems, Songs, Movies, Plays, and Folklore, 1917-1953

Mass Culture in Soviet Russia: Tales, Poems, Songs, Movies, Plays, and Folklore, 1917-1953


Offers an array of documents, short fiction, poems, songs, plays, movie scripts, and folklore to offer a look at the mass culture that was consumed by millions in Soviet Russia between 1917 and 1953. This work focuses on the entertainment genres that both shaped and reflected the social, political, and personal values of the regime and the masses.


James von Geldern

The Bolsheviks were journalists long before they were state leaders, and they never forgot the impact of a well-aimed message. Newspapers were the lifeline of the underground party. Formative ideological and political debates were conducted in them; reporters and deliverers evolved into party cadres; and readers became rank-and-file supporters. At times, newspapers smuggled from abroad kept the Party alive; and Lenin’s editorials often forestalled factional division. Revolutionary struggle taught the Bolsheviks the value of mass media and confirmed their belief that culture is inherently partisan. in times of political turmoil, they exploited it skillfully. Illegal front-line newspapers helped demoralize troops and turn them against the Great War; effective propaganda helped win the Civil War. Yet the revolutionaries knew that the same weapons could be used against them—by newspapermen, vaudevillians, and others. Lenin and Trotsky had been lampooned: horns were drawn sprouting from their heads and barbed tails from their rears, and they were accused of treason, a sting they never forgot. When they took power, they protected themselves by denying the opposition access to public opinion; printing presses, theaters, movie houses were all eventually confiscated and placed under state monopoly. the Bolsheviks considered these measures necessary and just.

Soviet authorities were never ashamed of their monopoly on culture. They considered the policy progressive. Culture was a weapon of class struggle, available to acquaint people with the socialist program. Allowing the enemy access to mass media would have seemed criminally stupid, and neglecting propaganda a disservice to the people. To debate the ethics of censorship was a waste of time; the Bolsheviks’ concern was to mold popular values, and they needed a way to reach the masses, reflect the wishes of the state, and censure alien ideals.

The Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917 complicated rather than eased the task of propaganda. Before the Revolution, the main enemies had been apparent: landowners, tsarist bureaucrats, and bourgeois capitalists. the greatest challenge was to avoid the police. When they became masters of the state, the Bolsheviks were confronted by new adversaries, including the supposed ignorance of those whom they claimed to represent. To rule a socialist society, they had first to win over its citizens.

Building socialism was a frustrating task. For every triumph there was a setback, often delivered by the laboring classes themselves. the response to frustration was frequently brute force, which was evident in all aspects of government activity. in culture, the rare gestures at leniency which marked the first decade of Bolshevik power were offset by crude attempts at regulation. “Class-alien” artists found employment difficult to come by; polemical skirmishes became increasingly frenzied.

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