Folklore for Stalin: Russian Folklore and Pseudofolklore of the Stalin Era

Folklore for Stalin: Russian Folklore and Pseudofolklore of the Stalin Era

Folklore for Stalin: Russian Folklore and Pseudofolklore of the Stalin Era

Folklore for Stalin: Russian Folklore and Pseudofolklore of the Stalin Era

Synopsis

After the First Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934, folklore, like literature, became an instrument of the political propagandist. Folklorists devoted considerable efforts to attending to what purported to be a rebirth of the Russian epic tradition, producing works of pseudofolklore that as often as not featured Joseph Stalin in the hero's role. Miller's account of this curious episode in the history of popular culture and totalitarian politics, and his synopses and translations of "classic" examples of folklore for Stalin, seek to serve as a resource not only for the study of contemporary folklore but also for the political scientist.

Excerpt

It is easier to swim with the current than against it, and in the same way it is easier to accept popular fashions than to criticize them. Stalinist Russia (as well as the entire Soviet Union) made a cult of folklore, and especially Russian folklore, since the Russians dominated the Union. But in that cult, real, authentic folklore hardly found a place; what was largely substituted for it were popularized adaptations of folk art. Countless phonograph records were pressed of popular songs or what Russians call "romances," most of them stemming from individual composers and having little in common with folk sources and nothing in common with a folk style of interpretation. In the dance, the same lack of authenticity, characteristic of such ensembles as the Moiseevtsy, even won an international reputation.

This cult of folklore was sufficiently hegemonic that for much of the Stalin era no film could be made without a folklore episode. (The vogue seems to have begun with the film Chapaev, since the great Soviet films on the Revolution lack such episodes.) It might be argued that no real harm was done in this. Yet a principal implication of the cult was that folklore as such was a leading indicator of ethnicity and ethnic culture. Under the critical dogma of socialist realism, literature and indeed all art were supposed to manifest narodnost', a term that is untranslatable, at least in any simple way. Narodnost' is a generalized abstract noun that derives from narod: the latter term has no fewer than three meanings: 1) nation; 2) people; and . . .

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