20th Century Russia

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  • Rock Goes Russian

    Posted on November 17th, 2014 katiewells9 No comments

    Estrada, or stage music, was the preferred music of 1973. It rarely addressed the social issues of the time, but rather focused on the official boundaries of Soviet discourse. The musical establishment of the time “controlled the business through exclusive rights to lease stages, issue recording contracts, contract for radio and television appearances, or to place songs on the official lists of sanctioned music.”

    David Tukhmanov, an honored member of the Union of Composers, composed the hit song “My Address is the Soviet Union,” which addressed Soviet patriotism and the shared view of their greatness and strength. The lyrics of the song allowed for him to be a little more experimental with his music, even including the electric guitar.

    Very few performers were able to act outside of the Soviet system, including Bulat Okudzhava or Vladimir Vysotskii. These two artists were extremely popular by 1973 allowing them to be known throughout the Soviet Union on scratchy, unofficial tape recordings.

    Tatyana Nazarenko: Dance Floor (1977) Rock music spread slowly but inexorably across the Soviet Union, helped by tape recorders and other ingenious homemade recorders. The surest sign of its permanence was when it replaced traditional dance music in villages and provincial towns.

    Tatyana Nazarenko: Dance Floor (1977)
    Rock music spread slowly but inexorably across the Soviet Union, helped by tape recorders and other ingenious homemade recorders. The surest sign of its permanence was when it replaced traditional dance music in villages and provincial towns.

    While rock ‘n’ roll was not the approved form of music and performing of the time, 1973 brought it to the borders of the Soviet Union. The Belorussian band, Pesniary (Songsters), kept within the limits of traditional Soviet music, while indulging in a slight taste for electronic music.

    “At first we tried to sing like the Beatles. And we probably weren’t any worse than, say, the Happy Fellows or the Blue Guitars. But before long we started to feel that this wasn’t us,” said the Songsters.

    The Songsters eventually found themselves through folk music. “It may be a surprising combination of instruments, but how subtly and tastefully the Songsters bring us the soul of Belorussia!”

    Rock ‘n’ roll entered the Soviet Union stage as an English phenomenon. The early rockers sang American or English songs, often not understanding what they were singing about. The culture was “strictly imitative” in that sense and it was not until Andrei Makarevich that Russian rock was created. Makarevich was the lead singer of Time Machine, a Moscow band created in 1968. He began writing rock songs in the early 1970s and showed the Soviet people that rock music could be applicable to their lives as well.


  • The Corn Campaign

    Posted on November 3rd, 2014 katiewells9 No comments

    The 1960s brought with them a multitude of agricultural and economic changes beginning with the realization that in order to improve anything, the Soviets needed to grow more crops to feed the livestock. Nikita Khrushchev stated in 1954, “There will be no communism if our country has as much metal and cement as you like but meat and grain are in short supply.” He hit the nail on the head with that statement, showing a change in Soviet leadership and priorities. Thus began the corn campaign.

    Soloviev: Hybrid Seeds are the Rule for High Corn Harvests! (1956) Source: International Poster Gallery. 1998.

    Soloviev: Hybrid Seeds are the Rule for High Corn Harvests! (1956)
    Source: International Poster Gallery. 1998.

    Khrushchev made use of every opportunity to make corn the official fodder crop; including importing seed corn from the United States, establishing a corn research institute in the Ukraine, a new scientific journal titled Corn, a Corn Pavilion, and an increase of hectares of corn.

    Besides making use of these tactics, culinary experts created over 50 recipes with corn as an ingredient to increase production and purchase of it. Corn was becoming a vital aspect of Soviet life, but at what cost?

    Although Khrushchev’s original plan was smart, it was not executed properly. Instead of “concentrating on more efficient methods of cultivating, fertilizing, and mechanically harvesting corn, Soviet agricultural authorities continued to expand corn acreage to areas lacking in appropriate climatic conditions and sufficient labor supplies.” The Soviet’s made unreasonable estimates of production that were never fulfilled.


    Life Magazine: The Cornball Act Down on the Farm (1959) Khrushchev visit to an American corn farm, with a goal of bolstering his program against Soviet critics, attracted considerable attention in the United States as well.

    Life Magazine: The Cornball Act Down on the Farm (1959)
    Khrushchev visit to an American corn farm, with a goal of bolstering his program against Soviet critics, attracted considerable attention in the United States as well.

    According to D. Korolev, Russian Republic First Deputy Minister of Trade, “The production plan for fresh frozen corn was 1,000 tons, and 39 tons were produced. There were no valid reasons for the nonfulfillment of the plan.” These insufficiencies damaged the Soviet agriculture and Khrushchev’s reputation as a wise leader.

    Although corn was not succeeding as well as had been hoped, other crops were doing better. “Party and economic agencies are carrying out substantial work on improving the utilization of irrigated lands, specializing the farms, furnishing excavating equipment and vehicles and irrigation equipment, and training cadres of equipment operators and irrigation workers on the collective and state farms,” said P. Shelest in 1964. “Today great efforts are being exerted to raise the yield of all agricultural crops by 1965 and to ensure a sharp upsurge in animal husbandry.”

    The agricultural increase in the 1960s was a step in the right direction for the Soviets and what they were trying to accomplish during that time. They had all of the right ideas, but when it came to executing them they lacked the right methods.

  • Literary Life

    Posted on October 27th, 2014 katiewells9 No comments
    Iurii Annenkov: Portrait of the Poet Boris Pasternak (1921)

    Iurii Annenkov: Portrait of the Poet Boris Pasternak (1921)

    Boris Pasternak was a poet in 1956 after the Thaw of 1954 that created some trouble due to his literary work. The Thaw, written by Il’ia Ehrenburg, was the first example of poets and novelists experimenting with their literary content, although it was timid and short lived.

    From 1956-1957, Soviet writers began to test the limits of expression, beginning with Khrushchev’s Secret Speech. “On February 24, 1956 before assembled delegates to the Communist Party’s Twentieth Congress as well as observers from foreign Communist parties, Nikita Khrushchev delivered a speech denouncing Stalin for his transgressions. The speech was “secret” in the sense that it was read in a closed session without discussion and was neither published as part of the congress’ proceedings nor reported in the Soviet press.” Although, the speech was held in private, several copies were given to certain secretaries and other officials, which the U.S. State Department was able to get their hands on and then released it. 

    Nikita Khrushchev

    Nikita Khrushchev

    After the release of the speech, two reports were written in response to it. One of the reports was by Aleksei Surkov, a conservative secretary of the Writers Union, who “delivered a predictable speech on the ideological tradition of socialist realism.” The other report by Mikhail Sholokhov, “stunned and delighted delegates by ridiculing Surkov and the pretensions of all literary administrators in sometimes salty language.” This was the start to a new era of Soviet literary expression.

    Boris Pasternak was one of those authors to test the limits of the Soviet literature when he submitted his secret novel, Doctor Zhivago, to Novyi mirThe literary magazine rejected his novel saying: “The thing that alarmed us in your novel is something that neither the editors nor the author could change by partial deletions or corrections: We are concerned here with the very spirit of the novel, with its pathos and with the author’s view of life as that view really is or, in any case, as it is formed in the mind of the reader. We feel it is our direct duty to speak to you about this as people to whose views you may or may not attach importance, but whose collective opinion you have no grounds for considering prejudiced and which, therefore, is at least worth hearing out.” (Novy mir Letter

    Pasternak did not think that this would be the case after many of the other literary works that were published around this time. He sent his work to an Italian publisher and had success there, with English and French translations following soon after. He did not receive the same type of praise from the Motherland, but instead faced severe backlash in both his professional and personal life. He won the Nobel Prize for his work in 1958, but refused to even go and accept his award. Pasternak remained an outcast until his death two years later in 1960.

    The case of Boris Pasternak and several other authors from around his time period were the last of their kind to be stomped out by the Stalinist regime.

  • The Hunt For Food

    Posted on October 20th, 2014 katiewells9 No comments

    In September 1941, the city of Leningrad was under seige by the German which lasted until January 1944. According to one Leningrader’s diary, “We have returned to prehistoric times: life has been reduced to one thing — the hunt for food.”

    Upon seizing the city, the Army Group North under General Ritter von Leeb severed the main rail line to Moscow; cutting off necessary supplies. The main goal of the Germans was to “terrorize and starve the population into surrender.” And their goal was working.

    “September 11: The siren is howling again like a dog when someone is dying. This is the twelfth time today … the antiaircraft guns are pounding and just now a bomb screamed overhead, there was a dull thud and then a terrific explosion, and then came the usual shattering of windowpanes. Then another thud, and another and another. Well, so far Elizaveta and I have escaped harm, In the last three days ninety-one enemy planes were downed over Leningrad.”  – Petr Kotelnikov, Diary. 1941-1943

    The people of Leningrad began to do what was necessary to survive, including dismantling wooden houses to burn for warmth. Soon the only route left to receive food and supplies was across the frozen Lake Ladoga and then by rail spur through German-held territory. This route was not always reliable and food rations were continually reduced week by week.

    water mine

    Image 1 of 5 – Getting water from a broken main (1942) Water was precious during the siege and women and children made daily trips to dip it from water mains. Source: Boris Skomorovsky and E. G. Morris: Siege of Leningrad. New York: Books, Inc.. 1944.

    This image depicts the citizens of Leningrad using a broken main to drink water. Along with struggling to find drinking water, people were forced to eat what they could get their hands on, including mice, rats, cats, dogs, birds, bark, tooth powder, glue, and even human flesh when given no other option. (900 Days)

    In January 1944, the seize finally ended with approximately 800,000 dead of starvation and 200,000 killed by bombings.

    The people of Leningrad fought for their lives during the two-and-a-half year seize. They attempted to keep the morale up by creating competitions with extra rations as the prize, young healthy looking men and women were filmed performing in athletic events, and many other events were broadcasted by radio. The goal of the government and activists was to keep life as normal as possible so that people had a reason to keep hope and continue on each day.

    July 28: I visited an exhibition of paintings done by Leningrad artists. We are besieged yet we organize exhibitions. It is snug and clean at the exhibit with rugs and flowers and the paintings themselves. I do not dare to judge of the artistic merits of the paintings but I dare say this; that there has never been such an exhibition before in the entire world. I do not think Troy or Carthage or the cities besieged by Attila and Alaric held painting exhibitions!” – Petr Kotelnikov, Diary. 1941-1943

    The people of Leningrad were memorialized in monuments, poetry, music, art, and many other forms.

    Leningrad is a prime example of the determination the Russian people exhibited during World War II. The citizens of Russia all saw it as their responsibility to do whatever it took to win the war; whether that meant fighting for their country on the front line or plowing the fields back home.


    The Russians were able to win the war because of this perseverance which was a direct result of the Stalinist system in place. According to William C. Fuller, “Paradoxically the USSR won the war both because of and despite the Stalinist system.” (Frost, p. 385) Stalin made poor decisions at the beginning of the war, but was able to pull it together and become a symbol of national unity by the end.

  • Life Under Stalin: Childhood or Cult?

    Posted on October 13th, 2014 katiewells9 No comments
    thanks stalin

    Thank you, Comrade Stalin, for our Happy Childhood (1936) Source: Diane P. Koenker: The Soviet Union since 1917. 2002.

    “The slogan “Thanks to Comrade Stalin for our happy childhood” rang without irony for children who were cared for, believed in the society that cared for them, and accepted its structures of authority.” (Childhood Under Stalin

    Stalin worked hard to create the impression that he was a benevolent and caring ruler both domestically and abroad. He had songs and videos created to show how ‘happy’ Russian children were, but instead they came across as forced and fake. One of these videos is titled “Classroom Like a Playground,” in which the children are shown ‘playing’ in class, but instead look bored and miserable. This is just one of the many examples of how Stalin attempted to make Russia look like something it wasn’t.

    While he wanted Russia to look good to the outside world, he definitely wanted the children of Russia to love him more. He made programs that required all children be educated, both academically and politically, under the Program of the Komsomol. This Program also states, “The Communist League of Youth, in all its work, is guided by the words of Stalin: “to master knowledge, to forge new cadres of Bolsheviks- -specialists in all branches of knowledge–to study, study in the most persistent way. ” The League strives to raise the cultural and technical standard of the working classes to the level of fully qualified engineers.”

    Stalin not only wanted all children to be educated, but he wanted them to be educated well and help to create a new Russian society in which the working class was equal to all those previously held higher than them. He believed that the best way to accomplish this goal was to start with the children, hence his portrayal of childhood under Stalin.


    D. Grinets: Thanks to Comrade Stalin (1937) Thanks to the Party, Thanks to Dear Stalin for a Happy, Joyful Childhood Source: Dawn Ades, Tim Benton, David Elliot, Iain Boyd Whyte, eds.: Art and Power: Europe under the Dictators 1930-45. London: The South Bank Centre.

    To help enhance the image of childhood in Russia, Stalin enacted the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissaries of the USSR, On Criminal Penalties for Minor Children. This decree was an attempt at the quickest extermination of juvenile delinquency with just four articles laying out new punishments for criminal behavior. These articles were strict and final, leaving no room for argument or self defense. It was a quick and easy way to weed out the good children and put the bad ones in their place.

    Stalin wanted to remove juvenile delinquency from Russian society completely and in turn create child pioneers, paving the way for his newfound society. These young pioneers were the key to Stalin’s plans because they represented what the future could hold. In a way Stalin created a cult of children creating the future he and Lenin both saw fit for the nation.


    Long Live Young Pioneers! (1939) Long Live Young Pioneers — the worthy replacements for the Leninist-Stalinist Komsomol Source: New Gallery. 2000.

     Childhood under Stalin might not have been what we expect childhood to look like, but he did sincerely care about the impact they would make on the world and Russia. He wanted the children of the 1930s to make his and Lenin’s dream of revolution a reality, he had faith in them. He educated them and attempted to reduce juvenile delinquency. From afar, none of his ideas were all that different from what other countries hope for from their children, but the way he went about making those ideas a reality were a bit outrageous. So you decide, did the youth under Stalin live a normal childhood or were they the youngest members of a cult organization?

  • The Bolshevik

    Posted on September 15th, 2014 katiewells9 No comments



    What was the relative importance of immediate events, long-term social and economic developments, the crisis in political authority, and the stresses of the war to the revolutions of February and October, 1917?

    Weak and changing political authority combined with growing unrest in citizens and a war to fight, is enough to topple any state or nation. Russia was no different. In 1917, citizens of Russia were continuing to display their distrust and overall unrest with the government. Much of this came from the fact that the tsar was continuing to take more power for himself and ignoring the wishes of the people.

    This growing unrest led to strikes in January and February of 1917, “the majority of the strikes linked economic grievances to political concerns and agendas. On International Women’s Day (February 23), women textile workers protested shortages while standing in line for bread, instigating a wave of riots and demonstrations that soon engulfed the capital.” (Did the War Cause the Revolution?) Propertied classes saw the autocracy’s ineptitude and began to worry about their future in the postwar world, while the lower levels of society continued to see their grievances ignored and their tolerance was running out.

    After the February Revolution, people had difference expectations of life in Russia from that point on (and in the end, no one was very happy). This led to the rise of the Bolsheviks. Lenin, the Bolshevik leader, returned to Russia and ran the party with a very clear and consistent message: “peace, bread, and land.”

    The continued unrest and disappointment played a direct role in the October Revolution, as well as Lenin’s power hunger. The Bolsheviks created the Military Revolutonary Committee (MRC) and proceeded the storm the Winter Palace on October 24.

    I chose to highlight the photo above because it really stood out to me as a powerful representation of what was occurring at the time in Russia. According to the Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, the Bolsheviks’ main focus was soley on gaining power. This statement is what I see depicted in the image. There are thousands upon thousands of people storming the streets led by The Bolshevik.

    Another area that the photo brought to my attention was the conflict of culture and its place in Russian society. The idea that “cultural production should be subordinate to the state, was unthinkable to the revolutionaries of October, and the most compelling claims to a cultural revolution were staked by independent artists.” (Culture and Revolution)

    These events and others are what led directly to both of the revolutions of 1917. I believe that had all of the events leading up to the revolutions, as well as the economic standing and social unrest of the time, not occurred or been the case, the revolutions would not have happened. History has a way of repeating itself and Russia saw that from 1905 to 1917. Every issue played a role in the revolutions in some way or another, especially their involvement in WWI.





    Russia a History.


  • Father Gapon vs. ‘Our Father’

    Posted on September 8th, 2014 katiewells9 No comments

    Bloody Sunday began as a call from the people, to their leader to make the changes they saw necessary. It ended in the death of hundreds.

    ?????In 1904, an Orthodox priest named Georgii Gapon mobilized thousands of workers into his ‘Assembly of Factory Workers’. Originally, the purpose of the organization was to provide a safe outlet to discourage people from radical movements in places such as tearooms and public lectures, but they soon spiraled out of control. By 1905 Gapon’s organization led a march on the Winter Palace with a petition for Tsar Nicholas, ‘our father’.

    This petition was written by intellectual advisors, but also included the desires of the workers and the common man.

    petition        Tsar-Nicholas-II

    “We are impoverished and oppressed, we are burdened with work, and insulted. We are treated not like humans [but] like slaves who must suffer a bitter fate and keep silent. And we have suffered, but we only get pushed deeper and deeper into a gulf of misery, ignorance, and lack of rights.” (The ‘Bloody Sunday’ petition to the tsar (1905))

    Their demands included having open communication with their employers, reducing the workday to eight hours, agree on wages, provide medical care, and have acceptable working conditions. These requests seem simple and obvious today, but the Tsar did not see them in that light. He refused to even accept the petition from the people by failing to appear at the palace. He went a step further to show his contempt for the people’s actions by authorizing open fire on any advancing petitioners.


    These petitioners were unarmed and many of them were women and children. As news spread of the Tsar’s actions, many people turned against him almost immediately. This Bloody Sunday led to the 1905 Revolution and the attempt for reform within Russia.

    1905      newspaper


    revolution article

    In a journal article I found called “An American View of Bloody Sunday,” by William Askew, he brings to the attention of the reader some of the many misconceptions that can be had surrounding the events of Bloody Sunday. This article was written in 1952 and published in the Russian Review vol. 11. The article begins by asking questions regarding Gapon’s true motives, whether or not the petitioners made it to the Winter Palace, and if Tsar Nicholas gave the okay for the military to open fire. Askew finds an answer for these questions in a letter from Robert S. McCormick, the United States ambassador at St. Petersburg at the time.

    It was very interesting to find a report so opposite to what other sources report from around that time period.

    The one thing that has continuously gone through my mind while researching more about Bloody Sunday is Tiananmen Square Massacre. Tiananmen Square occurred in 1989 in China when hundreds of college students protested the government and military tanks were brought in to put a stop to them. The rest of the world did not agree with the use of such force to shut down protestors and western governments imposed economic sanctions and arms embargos.

    thetankman    Chinese Army Crushes Tiananmen Square Protest






    Freeze, G. L. (2009). Russia a history. United States: Oxford University Press.


  • From Zindans to Black Dolphin

    Posted on August 31st, 2014 katiewells9 No comments

    russian prisoners

    This photo shows a zindan, a traditional Central Asian prison, with prisoners and a Russian guard. A zindan is “in essence a pit in the earth with a low structure built on top.” I chose this photo because one day over the summer I came home to my three siblings watching a Netflix documentary titled Russia’s Toughest Prisons. They could not stop talking about how interesting it was and the differences between Western prisons and the ones shown in the documentary. I decided to watch it a few days later and saw the differences my siblings had mentioned.

    The documentary focused on three prisons in Russia, Black Dolphin, Vladimir Central Prison, and Prison Camp 17.

    Black Dolphin is the top most security prison in the country with each of its inmates averaging 5 murders. Inmates have absolutely no interaction with anyone beside their roommate and the guards. Each day they have ‘physical activity’ during which they are brought to a caged room to pace for 90 minutes, never ever seeing the sun. At Black Dolphin, the stress position is enforced for every inmate when they are out of their cell at all times. The stress position forces an inmate to bend over at the waist, with his head down, while being handcuffed. This puts the inmate into a state of submission, while also keeping him from learning the layout of the prison.

    Vladimir Central Prison is also a maximum security prison, like Black Dolphin, housing some of the most dangerous offenders in Russia. It is said that Stalin’s son was an inmate there for his time in prison. Unlike Black Dolphin, the inmates in Vladimir Central Prison are able to interact with one another on a daily basis, they are not confined to their cell for the entire day. A large part of life at Vladimir Central is tattooing. Inmates get tattoos to show how long their sentence is, what crime they committed, or (for the older inmates) their rank amongst the inmates.

    Prison Camp 17 is a much lower security prison compared to both Black Dolphin and Vladimir Central Prison. The inmates there are all first time offenders, typically related to drug use or sales. They are able to go outside and move freely throughout the prison. The inmates work during their sentence and some are even visited by friends and family, unlike the other two prisons.

    This photo, Prisoners in a Zindan with Guard, shows how far Russia’s penal system has come today. No longer are their prisons a hole in the ground, but instead top security institutions that house some of the world’s most dangerous criminals.

    While watching the documentary and learning more about Russian prisons, I noticed a few differences between Russian prisons and American (or western) prisons. The first difference was the level of security of the prisons, the second was the length of the sentences for the crime committed, and the third was the style and meaning of their tattoos. These first two differences were a little shocking to me because some inmates at Black Dolphin were serving 18 year sentences for killing two people, while in America that same charge would most likely result in a life sentence. The tattoos really stood out to me because here in America the style of prison tattoos is extremely different. In Russia, their tattoos revolved around a religious theme with different images representing different things. It was interesting to see how in different countries tattoos can be so different in style and meaning.

    This photo represents how our world has changed and how our society now puts so much focus and attention on the penal system and criminal activity.

    The image is titled: Prisoners in a Zindan with Guard

    Created by: Prokudin-Gorskiĭ, Sergeĭ Mikhaĭlovich, 1863-1944, photographer

    The permanent record: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/prk2000002573/

    Prison Information: Russia’s Toughest Prisons and http://www.crimelibrary.com/photogallery/prison-tattoo-field-guide.html