Cult of Personality два: электрическая бугиля

Today’s resources put a lot of emphasis of the effect of media both on the people and the government. The article about Shnurov paints him as a chaotic neutral activist must like the writers of World War 2 era literature. In both cases their goals and ideals lined up with the government and promoted a co-operation that benefited the both of them. This cooperation stopped once the two groups stopped benefitting from each other. The image Putin attempted to portray as a leader was one of power and strength. The photo slideshow of Putin as well as the two pro-Putin music videos paint him as a glorious leader and a strong hand to lead Russia. As compared to Kompromat, Putin used the media as a positive tool, music being one of the most effective as it better hit the younger demographic coming to age in the post soviet era. As compared to Boris Yeltsin, Putin radiated ideals that Russia wanted in a leader and would not be pushed around or easily swayed. The willingness to give up certain human rights shows that more than anything, Russia wanted stability in these turbulent times. When Putin returned after Medvedev the tone had shifted. People now saw through the guise that Putin had put up and saw him as a liar and a cheat. Shnurov ideals had not changed, but they no longer lined up with the public’s idea of Putin and created dissonance between the two messages.

Discussion Questions:

What was it that drove the obsession with Putin similar to Stalin’s cult of personality? What are the similarities? What are the differences?


If Putin had not made it clear that he was intending to return to power and that he was basically behind Medvedev the whole time, would the turmoil that ensued have actually happened?


Is it clear whether or not Shnurov actually intended to be an advocate for Putin in the early stages or did it just happen?

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Under the influence of rock’n’roll

The excerpts from Yurchak’s book discuss how Western music, particularly jazz and rock and roll, had become increasingly popular amongst Soviet youth in the 1950s and onward. This went hand in hand with the increasing fascination over Western culture, in which things like fashion, style, and film also became subsumed into Soviet youth culture. In part this was a reaction to the concept of the “Imaginary West”, where citizens of the Soviet Union could only experience Western imagery and culture through a various select lense. The Soviet Union decree was that Western culture could be admired, but also had the capacity to be steeped in cosmopolitan, bourgeois ideals. This became especially true in the post-World War II era as more Western music began to filter in. The consumption and performance of this music was like act of rebellion for Soviet youth and it was often distributed through underground, bootlegged mediums such as being pressed on old X-rays like vinyl record or on a homemade cassette recording. Most notably, Soviet officials were worried that American rock music could be used as an “ideological weapon” as Yurchak says, because of its capacity to incorporate heavy political messages in the lyrics as well as being birthed out of a culture of rampant materialism and capitalism. However, this did not stop the music from being the music of forward-thinking, young Soviets, often for the sheer futuristic and seemingly alien nature of the music itself.


How does the progressive nature and seemingly dangerous allure of rock music during that time period play into the longstanding notions of an “Imaginary West”?

And how did official Soviet response to the music impact this? How about the role of the komsomol, which targeted youths in particular?

Compared to other depictions of samizdat activities we’ve, how does this inform your ideas of the movement or its progression over time?

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“Good” and “Bad” Soviet Literature

In our readings for today, we were given two examples of writing from the Soviet period: An excerpt from Time Forward, a production novel by Valentin Kataev; and “The Adventures of a Monkey”, a short story by Mikhail Zoshchenko.

Time Forward is, to my eye, in perfect accordance with the model of Soviet literature outlined by Andrei Zhdanov in “Soviet Literature: The Richest in Ideas”. It depicts a cement mixing team beating their shift record with technical ingenuity, dedication, and exhausting enthusiasm. I’d be curious to see, in fact, if anyone can pick out any passages in the text that don’t support Soviet hegemony.  A second question: where does the excerpt we read fall within the model plot outlined by Katerina Clark in her 1981 analysis of the genre?

The quick version of Clark’s model is below. It’s also worth taking a look at her expanded description starting on page 255.

  1. Arrival in the microcosm
  2. Setting up the task
  3. Transition and trials
  4. Climax
  5. Pep talk from a mentor
  6. Finale

Unlike Time Forward, “The Adventures of a Monkey” does not obviously adhere to the Socialist Realism model. It is wholeheartedly denounced in our statement from the Central Committee: “Resolution on the Journals Zvezda and Leningrad“:

Zoshchenko’s most recently published story, “The Adventures of a Monkey,” (Zvezda, no.5-6, 1946) presents a crass lampoon of Soviet daily life and Soviet people. Zoshchenko depicts Soviet manners and Soviet people in distorted, caricatured form, slanderously presenting Soviet people as primitive, uncultured, stupid, with narrow-minded tastes and morals.

This appraisal is quite mystifying from my own cultural perspective. Its a silly story to be sure, so none of the characters are paragons of virtue,  but I wouldn’t say that the text portrays the Soviet people as primitive, uncultured, or stupid. Is humor possible in Socialist Realism?

For fun, we can also try to apply Clark’s model plot to “The Adventured of a Monkey”.

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A Brief History of Music from Peter I to Nicholas II

Hello! Since we just watched The Rite of Spring, I figured it might be appropriate to have some works of music from the other Cultural Revolutions we’ve studied, as well as an additional piece composed roughly contemporaneously to compare with The Rite of Spring. Without any further ado, here they are:

Peter I: J. S. Bach, Harpsichord Concerto in d minor (BWV 1052) – Composed 1717-1723

Catherine I: G. F. Handel, Overture to Giulio Cesar in Egitto – Composed 1724-1725

Peter II: A. L. Vivaldi, Flute Concerto #2 in g minor (RV 439) “La Notte” – Composed 1728

Anna: G. P. Telemann, Paris Quartet #1 in g minor – Composed 1737-1738

Ivan VI: C. P. E. Bach, Concerto for 2 Harpsichords in F Major – Composed 1740

Elizabeth: J. C. Bach, Symphony #4 in D Major, Op. 18 – Composed 1750-1760

Peter III: F. J. Haydn, Cello Concerto #1 in C Major – Composed 1761-1765

Catherine II: W. A. Mozart, Piano Concerto #20 in d minor – Composed 1785

Paul I: J. Marsh, Symphony #6 in D Major – Composed 1796

Alexander I: L. v. Beethoven, Piano Concerto #5 in E♭ Major “Emperor” – Composed 1805

Nicholas I: M. I. Glinka, Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila – Composed 1837-1842

Alexander II: P. I. Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto #1 in b♭ minor – Composed 1874-1875

Alexander III: N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov, Capriccio Espagnol – Composed 1888

Nicholas II: S. V. Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto #3 in d minor – Composed 1909

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Third times the charm?

Previously in class we discussed a rise in the intelligentsia of the Slavophiles and Westernizers. In the Saunders reading for today we are presented with the intelligentsia again but a much more radical one. The previous radical intelligentsia, the slavophiles and the westernizers, share a fair amount of similarities to the intelligentsia of today’s reading. They both were deeply discontent with their society and sought to change it and they were both fairly ineffectual at it. The similarities end there however. The new radical intelligentsia did not debate the questions of westernizers or slavophiles but of socialism, statism, and terrorism. Despite their drastic change in ideology and occasionally successful act of terrorism the intelligentsia of the 1860s and onwards managed to accomplish nothing at best and at worst set Russia back in the case of reforms according to Saunders. They found themselves in the same situation as the previous intelligentsia and the Decembrists. Why did the new intelligentsia fail like their predecessors despite being much more similar to the actually successful revolutionaries of the Bolshevik party?

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The Rise of the Intelligentsia

In the wake of the Decembrist Revolt in 1825, those individuals with educated backgrounds were left questioning their place in society. The Saunders reading calls them the “post-Decembrist” and points at the “social displacement” as a catalyst for the emergence of the 1840 Intelligentsia. The nobles felt themselves being displaced, while the non-nobles sought upward movement now that they had been educated. The discontent that the two groups share is not what divided them, but instead their ideology. After the events in 1825 it became evident to the people that direct action would be met with harsh consequences, but discussion and sharing of ideologies was able to continue. Even with a Nicholas’ edict of 1827 that limited secondary school and universities, people were still able to get educated and form their own ideas from their studies. This combined with Nicholas’s copyright laws in 1828 that encouraged publishing by making it more profit centered made it easy to foster ideas and discussion. Even when censorship became harsher later in Nicholas’s reign publications still were able to imply their more radical ideas that the government would not approve of. Saunders argues that the increased censorship and need to write subtly bolstered the Intelligentsia instead of weakening them. The need to read closely and to search for meaning allowed for both deeper and much more imaginative interpretations as to what the writer truly wanted to convey in their works. The quote by Herzen in 1850, “Superficially Russia remained stationary under Nicholas I, but deep down everything changed, questions became more complicated and solutions less simple,” does well in explaining the growing movement and dissident community of intellectuals. As well as giving a rise to many journals and works of literature, another thing that gave rise to the Intelligentsia movement were the small private circles that people gathered in. These private circles allowed for sharing of ideas openly that would not be allowed in publications with fellow intellectuals.

The two groups that defined this movement were the Slavophiles, and the Westerners. While they were two different groups they shared a lot in common, in the words of Saunders “the two sides disagreed about means more than ends,” and in my opinion best summed up by Herzen when he compares the two groups, “like Janus, or the two headed eagle, they and we looked in different directions while one heart throbbed within us.” The Slavophiles main idea was a return to older Russian traditions, while not wanting to throw out the advances afforded to them through association with the West, they wish to reclaim a Russian identity. The Westernizers do not claim as outlined of a goal as the Slavophiles but have ideas that center around embracing the ways of their western counterparts.

One of the parts of the reading that I found most relevant was in the conclusion where Saunders mentions that the Helgian believes that all the intellectuals of the period seemed to share “implied movement.” While the Decembrist’s that came before them tried to push towards a new age and took action towards it, the “Intelligentsia” that arose in the 1840’s during the reign of Nicholas I spent all of their time discussing their ideas and instead of actually acting for a change in the status quo that their writings and discussions talked about, instead laid the groundwork for future generations to enact the change that they “threatened.”

Discussion questions

How important was the fact that Nicholas I started censoring the work that was being published more heavily? Would the movement have actually gained the footing it did if there was less need for subtly that forced people to read so closely into the meaning of their journals and books?

Saunders points to examples of the Slavophiles and the Westernizers both working together and against each other. He also brings up the fact that they both have similar goals with only a few polarizing ideas. Seeing as both groups had individuals with very similar ideas would it have made sense for the two groups to work together instead of separately?

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The Peterhof

The Peter and Paul Cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Petersburg. The Cathedral houses the remains of all the Russian tsars and tsarinas from Peter I to Nicholas II (whose remains were delivered in 1998), minus Peter II and Ivan VI. Credit Wikipedia.

Statue of Peter the Great at the Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Petersburg. This statue is supposed to more accurately reflect what Peter the Great may have actually looked like. Credit Ian Fries.

Opening the Peterhof museum video, there is a sweeping shot over two huge ponds in the center, flanked by hedge gardens. The round pond in the foreground is filled with large golden fish fountains. Cut to the second rectangular pond which has a large stone statue of Neptune, holding a trident and surrounded by men on sea horses at the base of the statue. Then there is a brief shot of the white palace roof, showing a large gilded spire. The walls of the palace are painted yellow with white columns and windows. In front of the palace is a step fountain with black and white tiles and gold statues, then a pond with a fountain shooting water vertically into the air, and finally a long canal leading to the sea. The statue in the center of the fountain is a man opening a lion’s mouth, eight jets of water shooting out around them and a ninth jet shooting from the lion. The gardens have a pair of two-tiered fountains that have gilded laurels on red granite tiles on the central pillar. Another fountain has water spilling down a black and white checkerboard onto a natural rock face. A third fountain has multiple small jets shooting up around an uncompleted rectangle supported by Greco-Roman style columns. A fourth fountain features a gold statue of a man wrestling a dragon.

The video continues on, but I feel the point is made: most of this iconography and architecture, is, obviously, not Russian. The style of the statues themselves, is neoclassical. This palace would not be out of place anywhere in 18th century Western Europe, and is highly reminiscent of Versailles or the later-built portions of Hampton Court.

However, there are also two buildings on the flanks of the main palace with gilded onion domes similar to an Orthodox church. This is a strictly non-Western piece of architectural design, and it makes me wonder why Peter would include it, because another piece of Petrine architecture, the Peter and Paul Cathedral (constructed between 1712 and 1733), does not feature onion domes. Which prompts the question: why does the palace of Peter the Great feature onion domes and not the cathedral he similarly dedicated?

How does the palace reflect more of Peter’s revolutionary desires to emulate western European culture and how is still a reflection of older Russian traditions? How does the palace reflect Peter’s revolutionary goals more generally?

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A true believer?

During Stalin’s time as head of the Soviet Union he embarked upon an enterprise to reshape a large part of soviet work life. This reshaping was based around the education of communists for the purpose of “mastering technology” and replacing the remnants of the bourgeoisie as technical advisor and industrial expert. The majority of these positions were still filled by members of the Russian bourgeoisie, in some instances the previous owners of a factory still helped run the plant as an advisor to the communist in charge. Many people in the Bolshevik party were satisfied with this arrangement for the time being, Lenin himself believed it was necessary in order to kick start soviet industry, but Stalin and his allies believed that this must be done away with and sought to remedy the problem as they saw fit.

The results were large efforts to get working class communists into higher education for several purposes. These efforts brought thousands of students into higher education and produced large amounts of educated communists. While these efforts were underway another great change was occurring. First the Shakty trial, which targeted the bourgeoisie experts the newly educated cadres were supposed to replace, and then the great purges in which the old leadership of the Bolsheviks, and anyone unfortunate enough to get caught in the way, were gotten rid of. Both of these groups were replaced by the newly educated communist cadres. As Fitzpatrick mentions in the end of the reading for today the timing of this is slightly suspect.

My question is were Stalin’s efforts to build up a class of educated workers who would go on to fill the cadres a genuine movement for both Stalin and its participants? The memoir of Pasha Angelina provides a positive view of this revolution as a glorious and uplifting one that portrays Stalin as a true believer in what is being accomplished. Is this a genuine portrayal of the creation of the “new Russian elite”?

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The Spell of Stalinism

Discussion Question: To what extent did prisoners see themselves as participants in the Revolution?

The final scene of the reading by Ekaterina Olitskaia involves the prisoners singing the patriotic song “Wide is my Country”, despite the fact that the country they are praising is putting them in prison and dehumanizing them. This raises the question of whether, despite their imprisonment, the prisoners still feel a part of the Soviet project? As a side note, notice how the prisoners sing “Wide is my Country”, a song that is about Russia, as opposed to “The Internationale”, a song centered around the struggle for international socialism, perhaps showing the prisoners’ allegiance to a “socialism in one country” ideology as opposed to the permanent, international revolution espoused by Trotsky.

The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek claims that the difference between Stalinism and fascism is that in the gulgas, the prisoners signed a birthday card to comrade Stalin, while in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, no such thing ever took place. This is emblematic of the fact that under fascism, the group in power has the responsibility of ridding the earth of “impure” elements, while in Stalinism, even the prisoners, those who are seen as saboteurs of the state are still in their imprisonment considered a part of the revolutionary effort.

Obviously the narrator of the primary document does not see herself as part of the Stalinist program, as she still considers herself to be an SR even after the party was banned by the Bolsheviks. But what of the other people mentioned? Zinaida Tulub even after being imprisoned still considers herself a loyal Communist, even though she was never a member of the Communist Party. She views the fact that her book was approved by the party as validation by the party, despite the fact that she is now in prison. She almost views her imprisonment as a type of duty to the state, saying, “I’ll stay in prison, if I have to.” (Pg. 427) She goes further in downplaying the severity of her imprisonment to the extent that the thing she is most worried about is her cats at home, and not her livelihood overall.

The prisoner’s also demonstrate an attachment to the Soviet project by the fact that little solidarity among them forms. This is most poignantly seen in the scene in which the prisoners are angered over Olitskaia distributing the onions to the dorms equally. Instead of viewing themselves as a group oppressed by the state, they instead view themselves as individuals who are not really prisoners, but rather “mistaken prisoners”.

Another example of a woman who, despite her imprisonment still views herself as part of the revolutionary effort is the Tajik woman. Due to the fact that she was depicted in the newspapers handing flowers to Stalin, she believes that her imprisonment must have been a mistake, but that all of the people are around her are traitors. The Tajik women may not view her imprisonment as part of the Soviet program, but it is excusable, as the program of imprisonment in general is doing good work in making sure that wreckers are being purged.     

There are of course people in the reading who do not hold such views, such as the woman who miscarried after being beat by a guard. But was that the cruelty needed to break the spell of Stalinism?

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“Things Fall Apart; The Center Cannot Hold”: The Patchwork Nature of Russia in the 19th Century

From around 1820 to the end of the 19th century, Russia started a second phase of expansions, annexing territories in Central Asia until Russia controlled a major chunk of the area. However, all was not well in Russia or its controlled territories; issues of unrest in Russian control fostered budding nationalist movements and ideas, and the modernization attempts helped create intelligentsia circles across their territories.

From the western lands, those bordering Europe, Russia made attempts to keep the nobles happy by allowing them into upper-Russian politics; the upper circles in 19th century St. Petersburg held many Germans and Finlanders, and only Poles didn’t have a larger control in St. Petersburg, many Russians not trusting their patriotism to Poland and not Russia. In the Caucasus and neighboring territories, Russia entrenched itself further into the lands as a buffer against Turkey and the Ottomans and a potential trade-route to Iran, which was not received well by natives and led to war with the Caucasians for over a decade. In Central Asia itself, Kazakhstan and neighboring khanates were annexed to serve as a buffer and defense against Britain-controlled India. In the expansions into Manchuria, Russia hoped to add their own sphere of influence to China, before the Russo-Japanese War ended those dreams.

In most of Russia’s 19th century land actions, they seem to be reactionary or imitations of European frameworks and actions, but many issues stood in the way of their dreams of an colonial empire, from the stagnation of nobles in the annexed lands (and at home) compared to the growing middle-class and intelligenstia, to the financial issues, to the fact that there were too many minorities that would fight Russification but the stagnant elite would accept nothing else, and this would break sooner or later.

1.) “With Russia containing follow the pattern of European states in many ways, would you say this continued following of European patterns helped or hindered Russia more in the 19th century? What about the land expansions that were directly reactionary to the action of other powers?”

2.) “To help integrate the European border states, the nobles of these lands were involved in the higher politics of St. Petersburg. How do you think this lack of a majority-Russian ‘ruling elite’ might have been seen by other Russian nobles or by the lower classes? How might this ‘diversification’ of voices in higher politics might have helped or hindered policies?”

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