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

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This anthology offers a rich array of documents, short fiction, poems, songs, plays, movie scripts, comic routines, and folklore to offer a close look at the mass culture that was consumed by millions in Soviet Russia between 1917 and 1953. Both state-sponsored cultural forms and the unofficial culture that flourished beneath the surface are represented. The focus is on the entertainment genres that both shaped and reflected the social, political, and personal values of the regime and the masses. The period covered encompasses the Russian Revolution and Civil War, the mixed economy and culture of the 1920s, the tightly controlled Stalinist 1930s, the looser atmosphere of the Great Patriotic War, and the postwar era ending with the death of Stalin. Much of the material appears here in English for the first time.

A companion 45-minute audio tape (ISBN 0-253-32911-6) features contemporaneous performances of fifteen popular songs of the time, with such favorites as "Bublichki," "The Blue Kerchief," and "Katyusha." Russian texts of the songs are included in the book.

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I. The Revolution and New Regime, 1917—1927

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GASTEV (1882–1941), A RADICAL LABOR ORGANIZER AND REVOLUTIONARY CULTURE FIGURE, WAS HIMSELF A FACTORY WORKER, AND HIS VERSE POETICIZED THE ENVIRONMENT OF THE FACTORY FLOOR. HE LATER BECAME THE LEADER OF THE TAYLORIST MOVEMENT TO INCREASE LABOR EFFICIENCY IN SOVIET INDUSTRY. HE WAS EVENTUALLY PURGED BY STALIN AND DIED IN A LABOR CAMP.

Look! I stand among workbenches, hammers, furnaces, forges, and among a hundred comrades,

Overhead hammered iron space.

On either side—beams and girders.

They rise to a height of seventy feet.

They arch right and left.

Joined by cross-beams in the cupolas, with giant shoulders they support the whole iron structure.

They thrust upward, they are bold, they are strong.

They demand yet greater strength.

I look at them and grow straight.

Fresh iron blood pours into my veins.

I have grown taller.

 

II. The Stalinist Thirties

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THE FIRST TALE, A CHARMING BLEND OF CLASS ANALYSIS AND FOLKLORE, WAS RECORDED IN 1918 BY LIDIA SEIFULLINA FROM A WOMAN IN AN ISOLATED VILLAGE OF THE STEPPE. IT REPRISES A PREREVOLUTIONARY LEGEND FEATURING IVAN THE TERRIBLE. THE SECOND TALE, A SIMILAR EXAMPLE OF “SOVIET FOLKLORERECONCILING OLD NOTIONS AND THE NEW POLITICS, WAS COLLECTED IN A VILLAGE OF VYATKA PROVINCE. TOLD NO EARLIER THAN 1925, IT ECHOES A MOTIF COMMON LONG BEFORE THE REVOLUTION, IN WHICH THE TSAR WANDERED SECRETLY AMONG THE PEOPLE. NOTE THE PEASANTISMS AND RUSTIC SPELLINGS IN BOTH (RENDERED ROUGHLY HERE IN TRANSLATION).

HOW LENIN AND THE TSAR DIVIDED UP THE PEOPLE

AN ORENBURG FAIRY TALE

Once Tsar Mikolashka1 was approached by his most important general. “Once upon a time, your Royal Highness, in a faraway kingdom, there appeared a man who knew everything about all things. His rank was unknown, he had no papers, and he was called Lenin. And this very same man threatened: ‘I will go against Tsar Mikolai, make all his soldiers mine with one word, and all the generals, all the directors, all the noble officers, and you yourself, Tsar Mikolai, I will grind into dust and throw to the winds. I have a word that can do all that.’ ”

 

III. Russia at War

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MUSIC BY MATVEI BLANTER, ONE OF THE MOST PROLIFIC MASSSONG COMPOSERS OF THE 1930S AND 1940S. IN 1939, SOVIET FORCES WERE ENGAGED IN THE CONQUEST OF EASTERN POLAND, IN CONJUNCTION WITH HITLER; AND THEN IN THE WINTER WAR WITH FINLAND IN 1939–40. THE THEME OF A GIRL BACK HOME STANDING AT THE GATE WITH A KERCHIEF IS A MODERN ADAPTATION OF RECRUITMENT LAMENTS.

MY BELOVED

I marched off on the long campaign,

Into a distant land.

You waved your kerchief from the gate,

My beloved girl.

The Second Rifles brave platoon

Is now my family.

It salutes you with a bow,

My beloved girl.

To help my days pass quickly by,

In battles and at march,

Smile to me from far away,

My beloved girl.

 

IV. The Postwar Era

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THE PROLIFIC POGODIN WROTE THIS SCRIPT FOR THE MOST FAMOUS STALINIST POSTWAR FILM, RELEASED AT A TIME OF SEVERE SHORTAGES AND THE RAVAGES OF RECOVERY, AND DIRECTED BY IVAN PYRIEV—MASTER OF THE GLOSSY RURAL MUSICAL COMEDY. IT IS A HORSE OPERETTA ABOUT COSSACK COLLECTIVE FARMERS COMPETING IN A “COUNTRY FAIR” VENUE (LIKE RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN’S STATE FAIR, 1945) AND A COUPLE OF STANDARD LOVE PLOTS (DASHA SHELEST-KOVYLEV, VORON-PERESVETOVA). ISAAK DUNAEVSKY’S BRIGHT SCORE MAKES THIS A LIGHT-HEARTED FROLIC. BUT FROM THE OPENING CHORUS AMID FIELDS OF GRAIN TO THE TRADE PAVILIONS AND BOOTHS BULGING WITH CONSUMER GOODS, COSSACKS GAVE A DISTORTED PICTURE OF THE ECONOMIC LIFE OF RURAL RUSSIA. As THESE EXCERPTS SUGGEST, THE SIMPLE PLOT TWISTS AROUND THREE TENSIONS: A CONTEST BETWEEN TWO COLLECTIVE FARMS, A DIFFICULT LOVE BETWEEN THE CHAIRMAN AND CHAIRWOMAN OF THOSE FARMS, AND THE LOVE OF DASHA FOR A MEMBER OF THE OPPOSING FARM.

 

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