“I see no God up here.” These are probably the most famous words Gagarin spoke while in space, words that obviously are quite striking but profound. To understand this first we must understand the man, A simple Russian citizen would would rise to height none had ever achieved. Yuri Gagarin: the first man in space. Gagarin become something much more than a man and more than a Cosmonaut, his trip (the first of its kind) made him a god. The likes of which had not been seen since Stalin but this was no artificial popular movement. Gagarin did something that then was profound, amazing, and some thought was impossible. More →
Through the late 1930’s the Soviet union was experiencing a new more quiet change. While propaganda was a standard in the USSR there was a more serious influence that was occurring at the top. During this period Stalin had grown even more paranoid, and while the Purges rooted out his possible rivals and nay sayers Stalin was taking actions that would serve to solidify his power with future generations and laborers of the Union. In a move that many other dictators make Stalin sought to make him self the Premier in the soviet union in more than just his status. Stalin pushed and succeeded in making himself almost like the god of the soviet union. Portraits hung like a deity, his name in songs and story. Stalin made himself bigger than life, bigger than his true self.
In this photo of girls exercising in a soviet class room notice the large photo of Stalin.
Beneath reads “Cheers to the great Stalin”
These changes came to be known as the cult of personality. Photos and paintings of Stalin in public buildings, offices, and class rooms were soon everywhere. In school children were taught history doctored by Stalin and his followers to include him more in the revolution. In these changes to history Stalin also whitewashed other leaders roles so that they could not pose any threats. Soon Stalin was considered almost as a god. His photo everywhere his presence felt in everything and even whole cities named for him. As the war creeped closer Stalin tightened his grip and control on the USSR and while he did this many watched star-y eyed.
In this video we can see just how much Stalin had the common man under his trance.
With his cult of personality Stalin almost insured his rule over the USSR for the coming decades. With these historical changes and the wave of glorification he created for himself Stalin would be the USSR’s unquestioned leader until his death In fact when his lies and atrocities were exposed some were so shocked there were heart attacks reported when they were exposed by then Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The Following video is more for a little humor but think about what its saying. And then think that most Soviet people would have never thought their great and glorious Comrade Stalin would ever do such things and certainly not for personal gain or pleasure.
Russia and the Soviet Union is of course a large state and within its borders falls many different ethnic groups. Following the mass culture push by the party, regional and ethnic cultures still remained. Among these groups there was a special case, that of the Jewish people. The Jews have historically been a prosecuted people however as a whole extremely persistent and resilient. Although Antisemitism is found almost everywhere in the world the Soviet Union was adamantly against any form of discrimination among its populace (officially). The Jewish people did present an issue however, due to there religious beliefs and elements of their culture the Jewish people of the USSR never fully assimilated into Russian culture. The party leaders were aware of this and had a plan. The government decided to create a new state for Soviet Jews, a land in the eastern territory along the boarder with China. This new collective Jewish homeland would be called: Birobidzhan.
Birobidzhan was marketed in mass to the Russian Jews and was offered as the new Jewish promise land. A place were Jews could live together free of persecution and discrimination in a communist, Jewish utopia. Many efforts were made to convince Jews to move their lives east. Propaganda was created in the forms of posters, advertisements, and film. Theses Propaganda pieces utilized not only Russian but the Yiddish language. Yiddish is a regional language used by European Jews. While Hebrew is the historical language of the Jewish people at that time it was a dead language while Yiddish was very much alive. Yiddish would ultimately become the official language of Birobidzhan and is seen on many of the propaganda posters. But out of all of these efforts the greatest in my opinion was that of a film. A story of one Jewish family who left the city’s they called home to move to the wilderness and new Jewish homeland out east.
“Seekers of Happiness” a film made to attract settlers to this new Russian Israel was not only a good propaganda piece but a very successful film in itself. The story follows a Russian family as the leave the city to build a new home in Birobidzhan. along the way we see standard Russian propaganda but along with it a love story. A man in the film named Pinia helps serve not only as comedy but also as a warning to capitalist coming to this new land. Pinia is obsessed with gold in the region and his greedy almost comical “Jewish money grubbing” act not only severs to show how bad capitalist are but also carries some antisemitic undertones. Which is surprising to see in a Jewish film. Ultimately Pinia is exiled from his family due to his greed and his sister marries a non Jewish man who ultimately serves as a propaganda peace as well. The film shows a utopia created by like minded Jews who follow the ideals of socialism and collectivization, but it was successful as a movie itself. The film was viewed in several nations and is still considered a prized film in the Jewish Film Society.
Although the film was successful, Birobidzhan ultimately was not. The project only had around 14,000 migrants and the life was hard. Many who left the city for the plow struggled and life in this new land was difficult. ultimately the great purges that swept through the USSR would greatly effect Birobidzhan.
If you would like to see the film you can find it in its entirety and original Russian here:
“Vodka, the Church, and the Cinema” This writing by Leon Trotsky provides a glimpse into what Trotsky envisioned the new culture as. As one of the leaders of this new soviet endeavor Trotsky looked towards the future but also the past. He saw how the old fit with the new, and how the old would not work with this new nation of workers. Trotsky was an idealist, and a firm believer in this new communist world. However, in this writing we can see just how disconnected he was. Trotsky not only wished to fundamentally change Russia’s political and social structure but also its cultural structure. In doing this he set out to utilize a new player, cinema.
Trotsky first realized that Russia had devolved into an alcoholic state. This state had been produced by the czars and their monopoly on vodka that not only kept the people drunk and preoccupied but also filled their pockets. Trotsky recognized its use and potential but also realized that this would not fit in his new Culture. This pathological drinking would not create an educated and active proletariat. Trotsky however did understand that this would be a difficult change for the people to make so he needed to find a replacement for this entertainment.
Also on Trotsky’s chopping block was religion. He held that religion was a façade, a thing people just go through the motions of. He described that religion was empty and pointless and only served as a means to find some meaning or for entertainment. Trotsky seriously believed that almost all Russian people believed as he did that religion is a farce. He believed that it was only a means of pacifying the masses and in fact that everyone just went through the motions and now faith actually existed.
To replace these two facets of Russian culture cinema was the answer. Trotsky held cinema as the new way forward for Russian culture. It would serve as a venue for education as well as entertainment for the masses. A lever that the government could control and use for its purposes. Cinema would become the new way of controlling the people, a new method of propaganda and manipulation. This idea is genius and mad at the same time though. We can see Trotsky is a man of great resolve for the formation of a new culture however he is clearly out of touch. I believe that in reading this proposed plan we can see just how disconnected the party leaders would become from the people and why in the end the Soviet government would fall.