To what extent was cultural life after Stalin deformed by political “thought-police” — or conversely, to what extent were the artists of the day generating plays, poems, paintings, and cinemas that actually reflected their own world view?
Deleted draft chapter from The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy (1996)
“Intellectuals,” “professionals,” “artists,” and “scientists” earn their living by producing and distributing ideas. In the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe they are collectively called “the intelligentsia” — a broad term that can also include bureaucratic administrators, but which mainly refers to the creators of ideas. An individual member of this social stratum can be referred to as an “intelligent.” In this chapter we shall consider the situation of the artistic members of the intelligentsia, and in the following chapter the situation of scientists and scholars in the period preceding perestroika. To what extent was cultural life after Stalin deformed by political “thought-police” — or conversely, to what extent were the artists of the day generating plays, poems, paintings, and cinemas that actually reflected their own world view and a pervasive consensus within their society?
Works of art cannot answer this question of themselves, for one cannot be sure what might have been expressed in them if there had been no censorship. To be sure, even Western artists are hampered by a kind of “commercial censorship.” However, Soviet cultural workers were unquestionably more vulnerable than their Western counterparts, for there was no open market for their ideas — no potential buyers except the party and the state, which exercised a monopolistic control over the distribution of their works. From one period to another, the degree of repression varied; so too varied the degree of compromise required of the intelligentsia for the privilege of reaching an audience.
Within months of the dictator’s death in 1953 the survivors of the Gulag began to come home. Cultural liberalization did not begin immediately, but only after the execution later that year of the chief of Stalin’s secret police, Lavrenti Beria. Little by little, intellectuals begin to feel safe conversing in public and even publishing critical ideas. The period became known as “the thaw.”
During the heady days of the thaw, conversations were frank and frequent. Even the term glasnost came into use during that time. Idea-workers, needing to recover their society’s truths, began to assemble regularly in private apartments as groups called kompanii; they danced, drank, listened to jazz, and talked throughout the night. As Ludmilla Alexeyeva recalls,
Kompanii emerged in a flash in the mid-1950s, stayed vibrant for a decade, then faded away. Russian history has not seen anything like them before or after. It was all remarkably simple: the kompaniya had sprung up as a social institution because it was needed. Our generation had a psychological, spiritual, perhaps even a physiological need to discover our country, our history, and ourselves.1
The thaw generation of liberal intelligentsia would identify themselves permanently as the “children of the Twentieth Party Congress,” or the “sixty-niks” , though actually the thaw began by the mid-fifties and was over by the mid-sixties. By the time Stalin’s body was removed from Lenin’s mausoleum in 1961, bold literary works had appeared in print by, for example, the historian Roy Medvedev2, the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko3, the novelist Vladimir Dudinstsev4, and a group of intellectuals connected with the thick journal, Novy Mir, which in 1962 even published Solzhenitsyn’s novella about life in a Gulag camp, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. This work had even more influence on public opinion that the author’s massive later work, The Gulag Archipelago.5 A few theatres in Moscow — notably the Contemporary Theatre6 and later Yury Lyubimov’s Taganka theatre — were staging provocative plays.
The thaw was an intoxicating period for the intelligentsia, a period resembling in some respects the sixties in the West. There was even, for example, a considerable relaxation of sexual mores, though it did not match the Western “sexual revolution.” The intelligentsia gained access to certain Western books for the first time. Yevgeny Rashkovsky, a Moscow philosopher, recalls being thrilled7 to read American sociological theories by Talcott Parsons and Robert K. Merton; his emotional responsiveness surely surpassed that of Western sociology students of the day.
Mikhail Gorbachev and Raisa Maksimovna Titorenko just missed this open cultural renaissance in Moscow; they became students at Moscow State University in 1950 and 1949 respectively.8 They married in 1953, the year of Stalin’s death, when they and almost everyone else were Stalinists (at least in public), and moved away to Stavropol in 1955 — too early to participate personally much in the public cultural liberalization in the capital. In fact, Gorbachev behaved during his university years as a properly strict Komsomol leader, even kicking out other members for breaking the rules.9 Nevertheless, he showed a bold streak too, as for example during a wave of anti-Semitism that swept through the university after Stalin accused a group of Jewish doctors of assassination under the guise of medical treatment. One student began to smear a Jewish student, Vladimir Lieberman. Mikhail Gorbachev leapt to his feet and defended his friend, fiercely berating the anti-Semite for being a “spineless beast.”10 Gorbachev’s roommate, Rudolf Kolchanov, recalls private conversations in the dormitory for which they all could have been jailed.11
Len Karpinsky, a writer who was only two years younger than Gorbachev, notes that “discussions like this were rather widespread, though secret, in the late 1940s and early 1950s. We took some risks. For example, several of our university classmates were arrested …”12 According to the eminent poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “Gorbachev is a man of our generation. He was one of those students who crowded in to hear the poetry readings and political debates of the 1950s. We poets were the first to attack Stalinism, bureaucracy, anti-Semitism, and all the restrictions in our lives.”13
Many of these university friends would later become prominent “sixty-nik” social critics. For example, Merab Mamardashvili and Yuri Levada were both especially close friends of the Gorbachevs and both of them married girls who were roommates of Raisa. Mamardashvili would later gain world fame as a philosopher,14 but would run into so much political opposition that he would move to Georgia, where cultural life remained somewhat freer than in Russia15 and where he could speak openly. Gorbachev lost touch with him, but Raisa continued to read his works16 until his death in 1990. In her memoirs she praises him for his attempts to cool nationalistic passions in Georgia.17 Levada is now perhaps the most eminent sociologist in Russia, specializing in public opinion research, but he too experienced intellectual repression at first hand during the early 1970s. As head of the department of Social Change at the Institute of Sociology, he was personally subjected to scarring criticism for being too open, and all the staff of his department were fired, along with almost all the other scholars at the institute who were acquainted with Western sociology.18
Among the other friends of the Gorbachevs during their university years were Zdenek Mlynar, Rudolf Kolshanov, Natasha Rimashevskaya, and Dimitri Golovanov. Mlynar, a Czech, would become the secretary to the reformist president, Alexander Dubcek, during the Prague Spring. After Russian tanks crushed that liberalization movement, he would move to Austria where he still works as a political analyst. Gorbachev kept in touch with him and met with him occasionally during his years in Stavropol. Rudolf Kolchanov would become editor of Trud, a newspaper for trade unions with the largest circulation of any Soviet paper. Rimashevskaya, a member of Gorbachev’s four-person study group, would become director of a Moscow institute that studies socioeconomic conditions. Golovanov would become for a time the producer of the most important television program in the Soviet Union, the nightly Vremya, and be consulted regularly by Gorbachev as an opinion-maker. Raisa’s memoirs also list some of the famous professors with whom they studied at Moscow State University: Asmus,19 Rubinshtein, Leontyev,20 Lurye,21 Oiserman, and Narski.22 She does not mention that she also studied with Alexander Zinoviev, a philosopher who later emigrated to the West and wrote a satirical book called Homo Sovieticus. This scathing description of the “flexible” character traits required for a careerist’s success in the Soviet establishment, was among the books most severely repressed by the KGB. He also wrote an unflattering book called Gorbachevism.23
The thaw lasted less than a decade. Only much later in life would the “sixty-niks” attain enough power to implement their ideals openly, after having spent most of their careers in a culture that froze over again almost as soon as it had thawed.
THE NEW FROST
In the early sixties, the limits of the thaw were becoming defined, and from then on, the rules continually tightened. In December of 1962, Khrushchev visited an exhibition of modern art at the Manege gallery, and showed his disapproval with a tantrum. In 1965, two intellectuals, Yuli Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky, were arrested for publishing abroad, under pseudonyms, articles that criticized the Soviet state. The next year a new law was enacted that further limited the right of dissent, imposing up to three years imprisonment for “slandering the Soviet social and political system.” The liberal intelligentsia’s flagship journal, Novy Mir, came under attack in 1968 when some members of its editorial board were sacked. In 1970, its editor-in-chief, Alexander Tvardovsky, was replaced and by the next year, the journal had come to resemble other, ordinary publications.
The discussion of economics also went through a period of freedom, followed by an abrupt new clampdown. “Market socialism” was openly promoted in the Soviet Union and even in the other Eastern bloc countries by such economists as Gennady Lisichkin24 until 1968, when Czechoslovakia’s experiments along those lines were repressed by an armed invasion and the very term was banned.25
It is primarily Khrushchev himself who must be blamed for restoring orthodoxy to Soviet intellectual life. However much credit he earned for breaking Stalinism’s hold on the society, his personal limitations and dictatorial ways began to hamper the reform process that he initiated. For this reason, many who liked the thaw actually favored the overthrow of the First Secretary. Georgi Arbatov, who was already a rather senior official in the Central Committee, writes in his memoirs,
You would have assumed that everything Khrushchev had done for the Soviet people while he was leader of the Party and the nation would have guaranteed him considerable popularity. As it turned out, he had none. … He really believed he had fulfilled his mission by exposing Stalin as an individual. He did practically nothing, however, to remove the deep deformities to which all aspects of life in our society were subjected.26
As Khrushchev’s English-language interpreter, Viktor Sukhodrev (now an official at the United Nations) recalls,
VIKTOR SUKHODREV: Khrushchev had become too self-important and dictatorial. He became his own opposite, as it were, by cracking down on budding democracy, on literature, the arts — all of which he had let up. He had loosened the reins on them by debunking Stalin and everything that Stalin stood for. But in the end, Khrushchev stopped listening to anyone’s advice. We thought that, because they toppled Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Kosygin would be again for more openness. Otherwise, why would they undertake the whole exercise?27
As to Khrushchev’s ouster in October 1964, Arbatov concedes that
I and, I think, the great majority of those who supported the Twentieth Party Congress, were anxious and confused; we were disappointed, then regained hope; we drifted in uncertainty. We still believed that after the coup, Brezhnev was preferable to the other candidates and therefore deserved our support. It soon became apparent that the country was being pushed to the right by Brezhnev’s rivals…28
Nevertheless, at that time no one expected Leonid Brezhnev to hold office long, if only because his brain was so obviously mediocre. In fact, he lasted eighteen years, and instead of introducing further reforms, he created new institutions for controlling the culture and repressing dissent. The Gulag population never grew to the same order of magnitude as during Stalin’s period, but as late as 1989, there were still over one million prisoners in the Soviet Union — a proportion near the highest of all nations.29 Of these, the number of political prisoners was large enough to deter most other “intelligents” from criticizing the regime.
Institutions of Cultural Orthodoxy
But threats of imprisonment were not the main means of chilling Soviet culture and maintaining political orthodoxy; it was other institutions that achieved that objective. In fact, the Communist Party was able to avoid controlling intellectual work directly, granting that privilege to other state-supported institutions instead.
Soviet editors, directors, and producers working in publishing houses, theatres, the broadcasting institutions, and newspapers were responsible for maintaining conventional standards, just as their counterparts do in the West. In addition, book manuscripts had to be approved by a censorship body, Glavlit, before they could be published. However, the most effective control of creative work was maintained through ostensibly voluntary unions of writers, architects, journalists, cinematographers, theatrical workers, designers, artists, and composers — all enforcing ideological orthodoxy. An unguarded statement about the regime would jeopardize one’s job, in a society where the government was the only employer and where it was a crime for males (except students) to be unemployed. The criminal code of the Russian Republic recommended penalties as high as 3 years in a camp for “parasitism.” A union card constituted proof of employment that protected the member30 from prosecution.
Membership also offered both economic benefits and great prestige. Consider, for example, the Union of Soviet Writers, which was founded in 1934. It had branches in all republics and a branch in Moscow with more than 2000 members.31 Many writers who did not belong to the Union of Soviet Writers were able to earn a living anyway, but at a much lower level. The union could provide a good apartment, medical care, access to country retreats, and even special food stores.32 It could recommend particular authors for prizes offered by government agencies. It published its own “thick journals” that included novels, plays, poems and stories. Through deployment of these incentives, the Party was able to maintain the fiction that writers were independent. Writers knew what was expected of them: to produce optimistic, upbeat stories showing that the Soviet Union was rapidly progressing toward a happy condition of communism.33
Such sanctions were partially successful, but there was nevertheless a rich underworld within the intelligentsia. Like millions of other Soviet citizens, creative workers listened to foreign radio programs and circulated samizdat (unapproved and unpublished manuscripts written inside the society) and tamizdat (unapproved books and articles written abroad and smuggled into the country).
The children of the intelligentsia, moreover, were not always as compliant as their worried parents; in fact, the sons and daughters of “intelligents” (especially in Moscow and Leningrad) were the most enthusiastic participants in a nonconformist subculture. For example, as a child the politician and cultural critic Boris Kagarlitsky had lived in an apartment complex reserved for members of the writers’ union, where he overheard conversations every day about the problems of the Khrushchev period. As a youth he would work on samizdat journals and later, in Gorbachev’s period, would become as a writer himself.34
The son of another writer, Nikolai Khramov35 joined the independent peace movement [the Moscow Group for Trust] at the age of fifteen or sixteen. He became famous abroad when the foreign radio stations publicized his kidnap and punitive induction into the army. Khramov, who in the early 1990s became an organizer with the Transnational Radical Party, explains that during his teens he did not discuss politics much with his father.
NIKOLAI KHRAMOV: He was like the majority of the so-called Russian intelligentsia. He was a writer — not a famous, officially-supported writer but he was not an oppositional writer. Of course, inwardly he did not accept the communist regime, but he was in very comfortable circumstances. … When he learned about our group [the Moscow Group for Trust] he was furious. We hadn’t lived together almost since my birth, so there was not a big conflict within the family because I was with my mother and he had another family. After perestroika, after he left the Communist Party, our relationships changed. He joined the Radical Party, participated in its conference, and made some interventions. He even told my mother that he is proud of me.
Thus even while their voices were muffled throughout the post-thaw period of stagnation, many members of the intelligentsia maintained critical inwardly and expressed their views to a small circle of trusted friends in “kitchen” conversations or while walking in the woods at their dachas. Whether intentionally or not, they brought up their children also to be critical. Though apparently dormant, the seeds of perestroika were alive. Several of our interviewees recalled what it was like to try to be an honest artist during the years after culture re-froze.
Maria Andreevna Chagodaeva is a dignified, white-haired art historian whom I interviewed at her workplace, the Institute of the History of Arts. Recalling the orthodoxy that had been imposed by the Communist Party, she exclaimed, “Everything was politics!”
MARIA A. CHAGODAEVA: If a person believed in God, that was politics. If a musician was keen on avant garde compositions, that was politics. Politics penetrated into everything — even how to feed your baby! If an artist painted a still life in a cubist style, he was considered a dissident. I’m a historian and I write only the truth, but that in itself was considered a protest. Much that I wrote was crossed out by the editor. On the other hand, samizdat existed. For example, one of my manuscripts was typed and copied several times. And although some artists were forced to leave the country, most stayed — people like the poet Okudzhava, the novelist Trifonov, the stage director Lyubimov36 — and were able to deliver hints to their audiences. For example, the ballad singer Vladimir Vysotsky was not allowed to perform in a big concert hall, but he could do so in a little club.
Everything was dangerous — not only political issues, but even writing about anything sad or tragic. The authorities wanted only a cheerful image of the Soviet citizen. For example, the movie Scarecrow was about the persecution by other children of a little girl who was not pretty. That movie was forbidden, though its story is one that can happen anywhere in the world.
Artists want to tell about things that touch them. They don’t think it’s a protest. Sometimes we can’t understand what was wrong with this or that movie or book. Probably the official who was reponsible for it was just afraid that if some higher-up disliked it, he would get into trouble for having accepted it, so he blocked everything that looked suspicious.”
How did officials react here to Western criticism of Soviet kitsch?
CHAGODAEVA: It wasn’t printed. It supported the professionals who knew about Western views, but only on the private level. The Western magazines were closed in the libraries. If an official art exhibition failed somewhere we could only hear gossip about it, for in the newspapers here there would be only praise.
How did artists and intellectuals support each other?
CHAGODAEVA: The fight was going on all the time. We held each other’s hands and our friendships were important. I tried to support the artists — attend their exhibitions, tell the truth about their paintings. It was impossible to publish my appraisals, but at least I could pronounce them. Another example is that of Shmalinov, the Head of the Soviet Union of Artists. One of our art critics had signed a letter protesting the witch-hunt against Solzhenitsyn, and Shmalinov received a letter ordering him to arrange a public discussion of that critic’s deeds and to fire him. Shmalinov didn’t reply. He just hid the letter and nothing ever happened. That was a rare case. More often people would be penalized for honest acts. In my own case, I was not allowed to travel abroad because I had a pen-friend in Israel. I was not refused permission directly but my applications were always “lost.” Or a person couldn’t defend his post-graduate thesis and get the doctorate, or wouldn’t be promoted.
Were you personally ever able to win in some small way?
CHAGODAEVA: Often I had to protect artists. For example, there was a remarkable artist, Tyshler, who was eighty when his exhibition was arranged in 1978. Before it could open, a commission of the Moscow Party Committee were supposed to look at the paintings and “accept” them. The commission consisted of uneducated but powerful Party women. They pointed at the paintings and said, “Take that one way, and that one.” Tyshler was alone facing them. The leaders of the Union of Artists heard about it and did not come to the opening that evening. There were lots of visitors but no representatives of the Union’s governing body. Tyshler was in despair. I was a member of the Union’s Bureau and I took charge. I made a speech about the Party commission and how beautiful the pictures were. We brought back the pictures that had been taken away and put them on the floor near the walls. The evening turned out to be a triumph for Tyshler and I was not punished.
How large would you say this layer of society was — those who tried to protect each other and their art?
CHAGODAEVA: Within the intelligentsia the percentage was huge — the brightest and most talented people were involved in it. I can’t remember anyone who was talented and didn’t participate in it. In fact, those who had been gifted but who began to compromise with power, soon lost their spirit and their gift. Still, lots of people understood but kept silent, and among the common people the protests were silent — through such means as hard drinking.
I have heard that the difference between the reforms of Khrushchev and Gorbachev was that Khrushchev didn’t respect intellectuals and Gorbachev did. Is that so?
CHAGODAEVA: The main difference is that if Khrushchev didn’t like certain paintings, he closed the exhibition. But Gorbachev never expressed any evaluations. Never “I like it,” or “I don’t like it.” His wife sometimes said such things, but he knew what the results would be if he said it. So he only said, “Thank you. It’s very interesting.”
Stalin was a movie enthusiast who viewed every film that was made or imported to the Soviet Union; he was a particular fan of the Hollywood actress Deanna Durbin. Not one film was permitted to be released without his personal approval, nor was a single film put into production without it. He even gave his okay to all the scripts that were to be used.37 However, the production of Soviet films declined during his reign to five or six a year.
With the thaw came a revival; by 1955, there were 66 new Russian films released. Cinemas were not supposed to be subsidized, but when attendance began to drop off, officials simply concocted a supposed average number of viewers to justify the costs of continuing production. There were a few commercially successful films, but in order to keep the industry alive, popular foreign films were imported. These made good money and subsidized the bad Soviet films.38 When Gorbachev came to power, about 150 movies a year were being produced for movie theatres and clubs, plus about 100 a year for television. The numbers have decreased since then, mostly because of competition with a growing television industry.39 However, there remains a huge audience; cinema attendance is three times more common per capita than in the United States and 15 times more common than in Britain.40
Western films were fairly frequently seen in the Soviet Union. In addition to those shown in the commercial cinema houses, in Brezhnev’s time it became common for two or more work organizations to share popular foreign films by arrangement between themselves. For example, if a school had access to a state film fund, it might make an agreement with a research group to show them, say, The Godfather or Love Story. In exchange the research group might bring a different interesting film to the school, or else repay the favor by delivering a lecture to a class.41
By international agreement, almost every country has one national film theatre that has special rights regarding copyright. Such theatres are allowed to show almost all films. The Soviet film archive is a research institute that was was established in 1927, but not until 1966, during the thaw, did it establish “Illuzion,” its showcase theatre. Those who lobbied to create such a theatre argued that it would allow the Moscow audience to see the great revolutionary Soviet films, but of course they understood that the theatre would be allowed to show a wide array — though far from all — of foreign films as well. Illuzion showed many pre-war Hollywood films, old silent German masterpieces, old Russian films by Eisenstein, and more recent films by, for example, Bergman, Fellini, and Bunuel. There were six screenings a day, all open to the public, who always packed the hall. From the beginning, Illuzion showed trashy Hollywood movies along with brilliant works. The institute supports a staff of research workers who deliver lectures, make catalogues, filmographies, and provide simultaneous translations into Russian for the audiences. Many films were prohibited (Dr. Zhivago, for example, was not screened in Moscow until 1989) but Illuzion nevertheless provided a window on the world and in this way contributed to changing Soviet mentality. Because the people who came there or worked there were not active dissidents, it was not particularly repressed. I interviewed Grigory Libergal, a researcher at the theatre.
GRIGORY LIBERGAL: Many people of high rank were (and still are) the patrons for Illuzion — people prominent in politics, in culture, in arts — and God only knows what they acquired there that made their views change. Illuzion was a small operation, an outlet for film historians, for those crazy people who were interested in old stuff, so why bother about them? But the production of new films was considered dangerous and there was always a power play centered around them.42
The production of new films was managed by two organizations: Goskino (the State Committee on Cinema), which was accountable ideologically to the Party’s Central Committee, and the Filmmakers’ Union. Formally censorship was limited to a few such matters as preventing the disclosure of military secrets, but the actual practice of censorship was pervasive and deadening.
This can be seen in the fate of Andrei Tarkovsky, whom some critic consider the world’s greatest filmmaker after World War II. Tarkovsky produced only seven films in his lifetime. Though none of them had political themes, he experienced conflict with authorities every step of the way because of his unwillingness to compromise with censors. His masterpiece, Andrei Rublev was made in 1967 and won the Cannes prize. Based on the life of a fifteenth century icon painter, the film is striking for its cinematography and mood, but there seems to be no plot and the events on the screen seem obscure — as is the case, I understand, with all Tarkovsky films. Andrei Rublev was released throughout the world from a pirated print, since the Soviet Union did not want to sell it outside the country and would not release it inside the country. Tarkovsky went abroad, made his last two films in Italy and Sweden respectively, and was stripped of his Soviet citizenship. He died in of cancer Paris in 1986 while considering returning to his homeland, where glasnost was just beginning. His films have grown in popularity since his death, because some of them have had lengthy censored portions restored.
Tarkovsky was by no means exceptional in being restricted by the censors. Yet it would be the filmmakers who would take the first bold steps organizationally to seize democratic control of their own union. In 1986 the Filmmakers’ Union would vote to overthrow their reactionary leaders and instal others who would stop consigning films to the shelf. The first democratically-elected president was the director Elem Klimov, who shared the management of the union with another director, Andrei Smirnov. I interviewed Smirnov in June 1992 about how censorship had affected his own career.
ANDREI SMIRNOV: I was quite young — about twenty — when I got the diploma as a film-maker and with one of my colleagues I made one fiction film and two shorts. I was very hopeful. At that time I may have been the youngest director in the world. Then the first long action film we tried to do was an adaptation of a well-known novel, A Handful of Earth43 by Grigory Baklanov. He was one of a group of young and talented Russian writers who had fought in the war and were challenging the official point of view of it, as expressed in conventional Russian films and novels. It was one of the novels of the truth in the trenches — very human and to this day one of the best novels about the Second World War. This novel, though strongly criticized by the official critics, was successful with the public, but our movie failed completely. What we produced was quite different from what we had intended, since any kind of violence, of roughness, of real unhappiness had to be cut out.
You know when you start a film that the price for producing it is that you will have to give up at least one scene. And once you start to compromise, you keep losing. You have to be very attentive, very strong, very hard pursuing your aim to do it. We had little experience at the time, so we lost.
Economically Soviet filmmaking was not just silly but completely mad. For one person who tries to produce something, there are hundreds of people who are paid by the state, whose job consisted only of controlling this producer. Thousands of people who still work on the Moscow films now, when our conditions are quite different, who don’t produce anything themselves. They only hinder those who do. When these people are shown a frame showing the evil of war, the blood, the wounds, they always say, “It shocks the spectator.”
I say, “I want to shock the spectator.”
“Aesthetically it is wrong. You must not do it.”
“But in the war there were wounds and blood.”
“But the way you show it, if people didn’t know the final result of the war, they would think that we’d lost it, because there’s so much blood, so much suffering in your film.”
And in a way, they were right. The so-called successes of our war machine were paid with millions and millions of lives. Germany, which supposedly lost the war, lost 7,000,000 Germans, while I’m sure there were at least 35,000,000 Soviets lost.
Anyway, most of my attempts to make movies were stopped by censorship. I made six movies that stayed on the shelf — the first one for 21 years, the second for 16 years. I was out of the establishment and normal communication. And finally after my last film 13 years ago I left directing. I tried to change my profession to writing scripts, but I wasn’t very successful. Of a dozen scripts, only two were produced. I wrote two plays and finally one of them was produced. It was the cow that nourished my family for ten years. Then for several years I worked here in this building, the Filmmakers’ Union.
You know, the sound and the image are created on different films. Only at the final moment is there a mixing where you put all the sound on one film, and only after that are both united in one print. We used to have about two days after the first print was ready before we had to present it to the committee for approval. During that time we had a chance to invite our friends in to see the film that we had really made. Then the struggle would begin. But of course, a lot of us used to hide this only print to conserve it. The police worked hard to put one director into jail because he was going to emigrate to Israel. They came to his apartment and found a print of his film and charged him with stealing it.
Another director made a film that was on the shelf for 21 years, but he kept those scenes in his garage all that time and when perestroika began, he tried to restore them. It was useless because the film, of course, was too old and he didn’t really succeed with it, but it is a heroic example.
About 25 years ago a minister banned the presenting of films for approval in a print. It should only be in its working state on two films, which meant that you never had the print before the approval. We had found the authentic version of Andrei Rublev by Tarkovsky only because it was made a year before this edict. There had been an hour and a quarter cut from it. That’s a lot of time. The rhythms in the uncut version that we now have are quite different and it has been shown everywhere, but it was only thanks to the fact that it was possible to have a print.
Do all of his films exist in the authentic version?
SMIRNOV: No, The Mirror was badly cut. It was great film, the second best of all Tarkovsky’s creation. It is still a great film, but it was spoiled very much, and so were all the others. It was impossible to conserve a brilliant scene from Solaris. They all perished.
You did make one commercially successful film, didn’t you?
SMIRNOV: Yes, Belorussian Station. It reached about 53,000,000 spectators in one year. This film was also changed and also suffered a lot before it was allowed to be shown, but finally it got very flattering press coverage. In fact, before it was distributed there were such good reviews in the official press that I was afraid for it. Filmgoers assume that if a film is officially said to be good, it’s shit. The best publicity for a film at that time was hard criticism in the newspaper.
But I was invited to present my film to delegates of the Party Congress and I made a speech there. It was the beginning of `71 and there were all those Marxists that I despised. I tried to offend them — and I succeeded. The person who presented me to the audience and said, “Dear delegates, you are tired after a full working day in the Kremlin but we will try to distract you a little. You’ll see a film which has recently been dedicated and which was finished just for the opening of the Party Congress.”
I was offended enormously and I said so to the audience. I said, “I’m insulted at this presentation. It’s not something made especially to distract you. That doesn’t interest me at all. You may leave now. For you it is one hour and a half of maybe distraction or maybe not. For me it’s three years of work and all kinds of trouble for me and my family. But I don’t object to the fact that your Congress has begun just at the moment when I have finished my film.”
It was a great scandal. The head of the Filmmakers’ Union was pale. I was called and questioned by the director of the studio and by the Secretary of the Filmmakers Union, but I didn’t answer. The person in the room of the Secretary was a KGB agent and I said “I don’t want to speak about it — I was drunk, I don’t remember.” He knew, of course, that I hadn’t been drunk.
And there was another time when the film was shown to the Supreme Party School, the special school for high ranked Party posts. They asked me insulting questions: “Are you a member of the Party?” I said that a well-mannered person does not ask such questions. I said, “I never have been in your party and never wanted to be in it.”
There was a kind of silence that I shall never forget. Wonderful silence. But I understood that I had gone a little too far. I said, “I can explain to you why I never wanted to enter the Party, because my convictions are quite honest and I belong to the philosophical school of anarcho-individualism.”
I understood very well what price I would pay — I wouldn’t be allowed to go anywhere, to have a foreign passport. My colleagues were angry with me because the film had had a good chance to win the national prize but it lost after that. I was never a dissident but it was not always very dangerous to tell the truth.
Like other aspects of Soviet culture, the cinema remained generally repressed until the 1986 rebellion of the the Filmmakers’ Union.There was, however, one conspicuous exception — Repentance, a film that was that was completed in 1984 but hidden by the director himself, Tengiz Abuladze, a Georgian. The film is an allegorical attack on Stalinism. The villainous central character looked like Lavrenti Beria, wore a black shirt like Mussolini and an armband like Hitler, and spoke in Stalin’s voice. It was in Georgian with Russian voice-over.
Before beginning the film Abuladze had consulted in detail with Eduard Shevardnadze, who was then the Internal Affairs Minister of Georgia, the republic that had already progressed farthest toward freedom. Theatrical directors were generally able to stage plays in Tbilisi that would have been banned in Moscow. Shevardnadze had previously acted on behalf of another Georgian film director who had been imprisoned for dissent,44 and he encouraged Abuladze to shoot his film, though he doubted that it would ever be distributed widely. Funding had to be provided by the Georgian republic, and a studio lot had to be chosen where the filming could not be closed down on orders from Moscow. Shevardnadze saw an early version of the film before moving to Moscow in his new role as Foreign Minister. Soon thereafter, orders did come to destroy the only copy of the film. Abuladze quickly tried to duplicate it, but those who helped him were charged with “anti-Soviet” work.
In Moscow, Shevardnadze’s conscience soon began to bother him for abandoning Abuladze. Finally he asked Gorbachev to see Repentance, which had already gathered both supporters and opponents. At that point the Politburo was still opposed to raking over the historical records of Stalinism in public. Nevertheless, Gorbachev assured Shevardnadze that he would soon give Abuladze’s film the green light.45 When at last it was released in 1986, it was seen by 17 million people in three weeks.46
The Russian tradition in theatre has been called a “preaching theatre.” That is, it is not considered enough for playwrights to diagnose society’s ills; they are supposed to propose cures. That is why famous actors receive many letters from ordinary people. As the famous senior actor, Mikhail Ulyanov has commented,
People write to me about everything and with all kinds of questions and requests. “What is love?” “What shall I do?” “Help me get an apartment.” “Help me with money.” “My child is sick.” “What did Stalin do to our country?” “My daughter wants to be an actress.” I know what people are thinking from these letters. They write to me personally because as an actor I have preached a certain point of view and taken certain positions. People also … write for help because we have this massive, indifferent bureaucracy and they need a human response…. I go home at night after running around all day and people are still calling me for help. … Our actors are considered civic figures.47
Despite being civic figures, throughout the period of stagnation theatrical workers were unable to produce plays that criticized the regime. At best, criticism might be implied through metaphorical allusion — but the censorious Ministry of Culture could read between the lines as well as anyone else, and they banned plays that overstepped limits. In fact, as in the other arts, many of the limits had nothing to do with politics. Thus during the first year of perestroika Bulgakov’s novel Master and Margarita was published posthumously after languishing “in the drawer” for a whole generation, and soon the Taganka Theatre produced it as a play. Its theme is a version of the Faust legend and its only moral message is a stress on the importance of personal and artistic integrity — yet that was enough to make it a risky production.
Two Moscow theatres continued to stage bold, imaginative works throughout the Brezhnev years: the Contemporary Theatre (where one might see A Present-Day Idyll, which satirized bureaucrats) and the Theatre on the Taganka (where one might see Mother, the story of a future revolutionary crisis).48
The fate of the Taganka Theatre illustrates especially well the difficulties that creative workers faced during the period of refrozen culture. The innovative director, Yury Lyubimov, produced such plays as Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechuan. He headed the company from 1964 until 1983, when he finally emigrated to England. Lyubimov was forever clashing with Petr Demichev, the Minister of Culture who led the clampdown on creativity;49 Lyubimov was able to persist so long only because he had supporters within the upper levels of government. In fact, the names of those belonging to his network will reappear at several points throughout this book. Most of its members knew each other as reformers, worked together in several settings over many years, and eventually became leading protagonists in the drama of perestroika. Everywhere we went in Moscow, speaking with influential persons, our interviewees mentioned Lyubimov’s name and claimed proudly to have defended him during the gloomy years. Lyubimov was by no means a dissident, nor were his plays critical of the regime in any obvious sense. The attacks on him were animated simply by a desire to suppress everything original that might infect the society with a spirit of freedom. However, the existence of his supportive network within the Soviet establishment shows that among the intelligentsia the voices for reform did not completely lack power. Among the people who defended him were Lev Deliusin, Georgy Arbatov, Shakhnazarov,50 Fedor Burlatskii,51 and the physicist Petr Kapitsa, who during his last years was a close friend of Lyubimov’s.52 Most of these people had been advisers to Andropov at about the same time. As we shall progressively discover, their biographies have other similarities as well.
Lev Deliusin is a scholar who specializes on China; he formerly headed the China Department of the Oriental Studies Institute and, before that, the Institute of Information on Social Sciences. Now he is partially retired, though he still holds an appointment at Oleg Bogomolov’s Institute of Economics of the World Socialist System of the USSR.53 Deliusin is greatly respected by the dissident community for his exceptional integrity and his refusal to capitulate to pressure from the KGB and other totalitarian institutions. We interviewed him in Moscow in 1992 in his apartment, which was full of books, Chinese art, paintings by his friend Yury Vasilyev, and photographs of Yury Lyubimov, about whom we questioned him.
LEV DELIUSIN: It was a very interesting period. I was working with Andropov. He was a party bureaucrat but nevertheless he understood that we needed new ideas, new approaches in our relations with China and other countries. So our conversations with him were not limited to our work but we also discussed other matters, such as poetry, for example. . . . At the time of a campaign against Lyubimov my friends from TV went to Andropov and said that it would damage our relations with other contries and democratically minded people. And he gave instructions to the Minister of Culture not to put obstacles in the way of such [plays].54
Georgi Arbatov went so far when intervening on Lyubimov’s behalf that he jeopardized his own career. In December, 1982 he sent a note to Andropov, who had become general secretary only weeks before and who took offence and sent the note back to him, breaking off a relationship that had lasted many years. In his memoirs, Arbatov describes the quarrel, which he attributes partly to Andropov’s poor health.
GEORGI ARBATOV: I had written to Andropov that many intellectuals were disappointed with the appointments he had made during his term, in particular the nominations to the Central Committee Cultural Section and to a number of publishing houses and newspaper and magazine editorial boards. “Parallel to this,” I wrote, “a number of theatrical plays are being forbidden, including some that earlier had been permitted” [the Satire Theater and the Mayakovsky Theater had already been affected, not to mention the Taganka Theater]. I appealed to Andropov to “put a halt to the activities of certain officials until you yourself get around to looking into this area.”55
In his angry reply, Andropov wrote, “While in principle I regard Yury Lyubimov positively, I never gave him, or you, carte blanche to put on any play.”56
This quarrel deeply troubled Arbatov, but he found no way to overcome it from his side. However, about eight months later Gorbachev evidently took an initiative to help patch it up and phoned with joy in his voice, urging Arbatov to go see the general secretary immediately. Arbatov reports that they had a “warm meeting that moved me deeply, although some harsh words were said on both sides.”57
Nevertheless, even such loyal support as this proved insufficient. According to Boris Kagarlitsky, over a period of several years the Ministry of Culture had refused to authorize a single one of Lyubimov’s productions, and he was forced to leave the Soviet Union in 1983, being replaced at the Taganka Theatre by Anatoly Efros, who died shortly thereafter. Even within theatrical circles, Lyubimov had not received support. For example, Mikhail Ulyanov, the actor quoted above who claimed to be part of a “preaching theatre,” reportedly attacked both Lyubimov and Andrei Tarkovsky before a group of Western journalists for having emigrated from the Soviet Union.58 This is the Mikhail Ulyanov who in the same year, 1986, led a “democratic coup” in his profession that disbanded the old, compliant All Russian Theater Society and formed the more democratic Russian Theatre Workers Union, which he headed.59 Shortly thereafter both Tarkovsky and Lyubimov were invited to return to the Soviet Union. Tarkovsky died while considering the invitation and when, a few years later, Lyubimov did return, he faced as many political and personal conflicts as before his departure. He lives now in the famous Moscow “house on the embankment,” an apartment building Stalin had built for the Bolshevik elite before eliminating them, one by one.60
Bards and Beatles
As in the West, Soviet popular culture of the sixties may be most vividly remembered for its guitar-strumming ballad singers. Again, as in the West, this urban folk music is regarded as “protest music,” although the nature of the protest had to be more subtle in the Soviet Union than in such movement songs as “We Shall Overcome,” or “If I Had a Hammer.” Despite the metaphorical allusions that the poets and song-writers employed, their messages were understood and were socially consequential. Three ballad-singers were especially important during this period — Okudzhava, Galich, and Vysotsky — of whom only Okudzhava is still alive and performing in the nineties.
Bulat Okudzhava is the singer and song-writer who began that tradition in 1957, who inspired the other bards, and who remains a father figure to the Russian protest movement.61 During the thaw, he performed in many kompanii, strumming his guitar and singing his sad ballads about war (enlisted at eighteen, he had returned wounded) and about the Moscow street where he grew up, the Arbat. When tape recorders became available, all the intellectuals made copies of his songs. He worked as a free-lance editor at Novy Mir in those early days,62 yet he, too, needed the protection of prominent friends in high places.
LEV DELIUSIN: I argued with Andropov about Okudzhava because Andropov didn’t have objective information about this poet. I am a friend of Bulat Okudzhava’s and I criticized Andropov for believing the bad information that he had about him. [He had been told that] Okudzhava was a dissident and a bad man. But I told him that he had taken part in the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), that both parents were persecuted under Stalin, that his poems are good for our country, and that our young people will benefit a lot from reading them. And he changed his mind.63
Alexander Galich (real surname Ginzburg) wrote screenplays for a living, but he also wrote poems and songs that the censors did not see. On the day of the invasion of Czechoslovakia, he had been composing a song about the Decembrists, the members of an anti-Tsarist revolt in December 1825, whose movement failed and who were imprisoned, exiled, or executed. The next night Galich sang this at a kompaniya in the apartment of dissidents Lev Kopelev and Raisa Orlova,
We repeat their whispers,
We repeat their steps. No one has been shielded
By experience, yet. . .
Just the same, no simpler
Are the tests of our times:
Can you come to the square?
Dare you come to the square?
Can you come to the square?
Dare you come to the square?
When that hour strikes?
In the kompaniya several people who were listening to this song glanced significantly at each other. The next day, seven demonstrators came to the square — this time it was Red Square — and unfurled banners protesting the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Of course, the KGB arrested them.64
In many of Galich’s writings the protest messages were less obvious. For example, his play The Sailor’s Rest, which dealt with the Nazis’ persecution of Jews during World War II, was banned because the censors proscribed the theme, evidently to prevent any stirring-up of sympathy for Jews. (Anti-Semitism was apparent in such Soviet practices as the restriction of access to higher education and jobs.)65 Galich became a dissident, joined the Orthodox Church, emigrated, and died abroad of an accident in 1977.
Victor Bulgakov, a long-time dissident and member of Memorial, told me about how the organization had been formed.
VICTOR BULGAKOV: A group of young people in their thirties (who had not themselves been victims of great repression) were singing one of Galich’s songs in their kompaniya. There was a phrase in one song saying that nobody will remember all the horrors of the Gulag. One of the men said, “Let’s make sure that everyone will remember these horrors.” Immediately they went to the street and began to collect signatures, appealing for the creation of a memorial society — a society that initially had only one purpose, to keep alive the society’s memory of the victims and of what Stalinism had meant for the nation. This organization, “Memorial,” later began charitable work too, but its main purpose is still the original one. Today, although it is explicitly a non-political organization, it has great political effects.
By far the most popular bard of the post-thaw period was Vladimir Vysotsky. Officially, he was an actor. He made many films and was attached to Lyubimov’s Taganka Theatre where, among other roles, he played Hamlet (Pasternak’s translation) and Brecht’s Galileo. Unofficially he was a bard. His gravelly voice reminds some Westerners of Bob Dylan, but unlike Dylan’s cool, sardonic style, Vysotsky expressed strong emotions and energy, whacking his guitar strings hard. Although he could not sing to large audiences and was continually harassed by the KGB, the technological simplicity involved in copying cassette tapes made him into the best known and most beloved artist of his generation. He sang of prison camp life, of war, of corruption, of the pomposity of bureaucrats, and of alcohol (he would die of drink, drug addiction, and heart disease at the age of 42). Everywhere one walked on Soviet streets, from open windows one could hear Vysotsky singing. Despite the efforts of the Communist ideologists to suppress his earthy verses, everyone listened to them, including the highest officials. Again it was the same circle — Arbatov, Shakhnazarov, Deliusin, Burlatsky, and their associates — who protected him to some extent with the general secretary.66
He also had another good friend who was close to Brezhnev: the famous interpreter Viktor Sukhodrev. I had heard that Brezhnev himself listened to Vysotsky’s songs, and asked Sukhodrev about it during an interview at the United Nations, where he is now an official. He did not seem surprised, though he thought that if Vysotsky had performed in person for Brezhnev, he would have been told about it. I asked why Brezhnev would have tried to suppress music that he himself listened to. In a way, I suppose it was a silly question.
VICTOR SUKHODREV: Because he believed what he was told, say by Suslov — that these songs were ideologically harmful. But he never thought that they could harm him. He was above all that. He read in translation some of these Western newspapers, but that didn’t mean that he would sanction their sale on Moscow newsstands.67
Sukhodrev did not make it a practice to intervene with either Brezhnev or Khrushchev on behalf of his friends. He did so on one occasion, however: After Vysotsky died in 1980, his widow, the French actress Marina Vlady, was expected to vacate their Moscow apartment, which had been registered in her husband’s name alone. Sukhodrev obtained special permission for her to continue living there.
The singer’s funeral became a mass event, with many thousands of his fans walking together in their grief. For a decade afterward, on the anniversary of his death thousands also made a practice to assemble at his grave. The critic Boris Kagarlitsky has written of Vysotsky,
When he was alive not one line of his was ever printed — except in the collection entitled Metropol’, published abroad — but as soon as he died the authorities’ attitude towards him improved. True, this change was facilitated by the way his funeral turned into a mighty popular demonstration. Vysotsky had to be transformed without delay from a bard of the opposition into a “popular Soviet poet and songwriter.” Reaction needs geniuses, but only dead ones. … Dead men do not give interviews to the foreign press or get mixed up in current political life.68
During the “period of stagnation” following the thaw the ideologists had promoted the work of foreign singers whose political views seemed to support the Soviet regime. The best-known American artists in this category were Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, whose repertoire before the Vietnam War featured songs from the Spanish Civil War, Cuban songs about the revolution, trade union songs, and so on. In his kitchen, drinking tea, I discussed Baez’s popularity with film critic and disk jockey Grigory Libergal, to whom I had just been introduced by his friend, the political analyst Victor Sumsky.
LIBERGAL: Baez was better known here than she was in America, proportionately, because she was the only American singer you could hear.
SUMSKY: That all changed once she changed her mind on the boat people. She started singing about Natalia Gorbanevskaya and all that.69
LIBERGAL: Yes, I met Baez when she was here in 1982. Before that, before ’79, before Afghanistan, she was something like Angela Davis in the Russian press, on Russian radio. Each mentioning of Baez was accompanied by epithets like “great,” or “wonderful.” From 1979 on there was no such singer. She came here and wasn’t allowed to perform.
That seems a straightforwardly political reason for being suppressed. But there were a variety of grounds for being considered a dissident, weren’t there?
LIBERGAL: Sure. If you didn’t write your poems in the traditional, approved way, but used a different rhythmic pattern, you were a dissident. Or if you wrote with traditional rhythmic patterns but deviated from an optimistic view of society, you could be considered dissident: case of Yevtushenko. Or in music, if you sang lyrics that were not considered appropriate, or accompanied on a guitar.
SUMSKY: Or even if you took your patriotism a little too seriously. Not exactly reliable.
How dangerous was it for people like yourselves to have tapes or videos that the censors had not approved?
LIBERGAL: With printed matter it was very dangerous. For example, you could go to jail if you were caught with Solzhenitsyn’s writings. They were copied on ordinary typewriters. Then with audio, only some very provocative songs were considered dangerous, but if, say, the dean of an institute knew that certain students were listening to Western music a lot, he would create problems. With video, before ’85 it was very dangerous because people were sent to camps. The state understood that video is potentially much more dangerous than an audio track of a song.
SUMSKY: There is one more liberating force: the fax machine.
LIBERGAL: And now the computer.
The dean who would have punished his students for listening to too much rock music, would he have seen the films too in his home? What hypocrisy!
LIBERGAL: Exactly. Everyone was doing it except a few who were truly conservative in their hearts. The video films were coming from ports where they had been confiscated and the owners had been sent to jail. The authorities kept the cassettes for themselves and even distributed them for money. The same thing happened with music records. But not printed matter. That was too risky. In the minds of those who governed, printed matter was a very serious thing. They knew how Lenin and Trotsky had started things by using leaflets. Nobody knew how Belanger had started the Second French Revolution of 1848 with his song.
You were a famous cult figure during the seventies with your radio show. You were the first person to play rock music on Soviet radio. How did that happen?
LIBERGAL: It started in late 1970 and continued until mid-1972. It was a weekly program, so we had about fifty shows, with five to ten songs per show. We played a bit of Russian rock, which was only emerging at that time. It was even more difficult to play the Beatles. They were forbidden but somehow we managed to squeeze them in.
SUMSKY: But you started with Let It Be.
LIBERGAL: Right. In the very first program I played the Beatles in the history of Soviet radio, it was the last song recorded by the Beatles. Ironically, the Beatles were already disbanded by then.
I have heard how popular you were, and how important rock music was to the whole generation of nonconformist youths.
LIBERGAL: That’s true. We received something between 10,000 and 20,000 letters each week, which was unheard of at that time. We were shut down quickly because, should we play and be unpopular, it wouldn’t have offended anybody, but since we were extremely popular that meant that other things were unpopular. I kept trying to do things, step by step, that had been unthinkable before. In January ’71 I wouldn’t try to play hard rock — it is noisy stuff — but I played it in ’72. We were gaining. Then the Minister of Broadcasting pulled the plug. He was Sergei Lapin, a big figure.
What was your history before you became a disk jockey?
LIBERGAL: While I was in the Moscow University in the Fine Arts Department I worked at the museum. When I was in the ninth grade, a friend of mine had a big German radio that could pick up Western programs despite all this jamming. That’s how we came to know about the Beatles so early. He started recording from short wave radio onto his tape machine. I picked up all the information I could about films and rock music. By 1969 my friends considered me an authority. By chance I was invited to help produce a radio program and then they offered me this program. It was called “Tape it Down.” There was constant fighting to make it go. It was a thirty minute program but we had to re-do it four or five times a week before our final version could pass all the red tape. If I made a program on Russian folk choirs there wouldn’t be any red tape, but doing a program on the Beatles — Oh, yeah! — quite a lot of red tape.
What was there about the Beatles that made the authorities nervous?
LIBERGAL: They were the embodiment of mental freedom. That’s what they’ve done to Western society and that’s what they’ve done to Eastern society. It was hard to pinpoint what this influence was, but it was felt by everybody. The youngsters felt it as a great liberating force, and the conservatives could understand the threat that it spelled for the old ways.
Viktor, you said you were a Beatles fan when you were young?
SUMSKY: There was a period of my life when the Beatles meant everything to me. Nothing else was important. I was much like a Western teenager. Later I gave a lot of thought to why it grabbed me so much and what was so good about it. I concluded that it was a model of an open mind and a unique example of the harmony of individuals. It was a collective that was not killing a person. Of course, as soon as you reach that, you juxtapose it with the idea of a repressive collective. I think those of us who were deep into the Beatles understood that intuitively, if not intellectually. However, today the current rock scene in Russia has disgusting examples that produce really fascistic feelings in people. The Beatles were such a cosmopolitan force! Everywhere in the world people were going crazy in a happy way.
You were both politically liberal that that time?
LIBERGAL: Yes. I listened to Western stations all the time. I knew 7 or 8 languages by then, which was necessary because it was the only source of information on many things when I started in 1960. Only if you could read Polish could you know what was happening in films. Poland was much freer than Russia at that time, so you could obtain a lot of information from the Polish or Czech or even Yugoslavian film magazines. They reprinted all the stuff from German and American magazines into Croatian. So we had to learn all these languages to obtain information.
The other day a Russian friend told me why she had decided to study English in school instead of German or French. It seems that she was a rock music fan when she was in primary school and all the songs were in English. She wanted to understand the lyrics. I wonder whether that explanation applies to very many people who are in their thirties now?
SUMSKY: I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of that. But I had been studying English before I heard about the Beatles.
In the West it is assumed that culture is not relevant to politics — and indeed, not necessarily important to the “real” side of life in any way. It is on the basis of that assumption that, by overwhelming consensus, almost anything goes when it comes to the production and distribution of cultural products such as films, music, literature, and paintings. It is almost entirely the market that determines such matters. Little censorship is imposed, and there are (to my mind) too few informal means of discouraging the display of pornography, violent entertainment, and other forms of trash.
However, if we counterpose the wild cultural environment of the West to the tight controls that prevailed in the Soviet Union, we are reminded of the value of artistic freedom.
The Soviets believed that culture was important and that it could even be dangerous. That is why Khrushchev threw a tantrum when viewing a display of modern art; he thought it mattered. The Party leaders actually feared artists and other creative people, who had to be regulated and monitored at all times. It was taken for granted that artists and writers had a dissident streak or two, simply because their work required it of them — even if their work contained no overt political content. Those who sold out completely to the power structure lost their talent.
Sometimes artistic events did influence real events in observable ways. For example, the ballad singer Galich stimulated some members of his audience to undertake a demonstration in Red Square. His songs were also the inspiration for the formation of Memorial, the organization that keeps alive the memory of the Gulag.
But such cases are rare. For the most part, it is hard to see a one-to-one connection between exposure to unorthodox art and the adoption of unorthodox behavior in other aspects of life. Art threatened the establishment if it showed a spirit of freedom. However, the connection was subtle and indirect, as Victor Sumsky concluded when reflecting on the impact of the Beatles. That group showed, he said, “a model of an open mind and a unique example of the harmony of individuals. It was a collective that was not killing a person. Of course, as soon as you reach that, you juxtapose it with the idea of a repressive collective.”
The odd thing is that even the highest-level and most reactionary Party officials listened to the very music that they tried to keep others from hearing. Brezhnev himself listened to Vladimir Vysotsky, a bard who can described as sort of a blend of Bob Dylan and John Lennon.
Besides the emotional effect of their work, artists played an important part in other ways in the social life of Soviet society. They played a unique role, enjoying much higher status than their Western counterparts. (No Western poet has ever been adored as much as are all prominent Russian poets.) They were regularly invited to social functions with the top Party officials, but nevertheless, almost all of the best artists were at least half-dissident, and most of them had friends who were total dissidents.
Network analysts like to trace the flow of ideas through social networks. It is clear that the Party officials constituted a highly conservative network that was relatively closed. Dissidents constituted another closed network. Ideas flowed around inside each of these discrete communities, each of which developed a subculture of its own through having a distinctive discourse. There was ordinarily no contact whatever between these two communities — the powerful nomenklatura and the proud world of dissidents. However, artists sometimes constituted a bridge linking the two networks. We see that, for example, in the network surrounding the theatrical director Lyubimov, who staged plays that were on the very edge of acceptability, and even beyond it. His close friends included Vysotsky and numerous even more critical intellectuals on the dissident side, but also Victor Sukhardrev (the interpreter for Khrushchev and Brezhnev), Fedor M. Burlatskii, Georgi Arbatov, Lev Deliusin, and the Nobel laureate physicist Peter Kapitza. Anyone who was situated as as a link between two discursive communities would have had interesting opportunities to spread ideas that would otherwise not have traveled so far. I am sorry that I cannot tell you what specific ideas were transmitted in that way. Unfortunately, even all his powerful friends could not protect Lyubimov. During Andropov’s term of office, when his friends should have had maximum influence, he found it necessary to leave the Soviet Union. Likewise, Tarkovsky and Vysotsky had support, but they still suffered penalties.
Thus it is evident that, for all the importance that was placed upon culture, the artists and creative producers of culture always had no means of escaping the heavy-handed control of the most reactionary politicians and Party bureaucrats in the country. The same limitations existed for other intellectuals who handled practical problems as well, as we shall see in the next chapter.
12,625 words (including footnotes)
1 Ludmilla Alexeyeva and Paul Goldberg, The Thaw Generation: Coming of Age in the Post-Stalin Era. Boston: Little, Brown, 1990), pp 83-84. Literally, the word kompaniya simply refers to any group of people, but it seemed to mean more than that to Alexeyeva and her friends.
2 Medvedev and his brother Zhores published several volumes of commentaries over a period of years under the title “Political Diary,” (Politichesky dnevnik)
3 His poem, Babi Yar, was published in 1961 in Literturnaya Gazeta.
4 Vladimir Dudintsev, Not by Bread Alone. Trans from Russian by Edith Bone (London: Hutchinson c. 1957).
5 At least this is the contention of Boris Kagarlitsky, The Thinking Reed: Intellectuals and the Soviet State from 1917 to the Present. Trans. by Brian Pearce (London: Verso,1988), p. 177.
6 under the leadership of Anatoly Efros
7 Yevgeny Rashkovsky interview in Moscow, June 1992.
8 For an account of their university years, see Raisa Gorbachev, I Hope: Reminiscences and Reflections. (New York: HarperCollins 1991), Chapter 3.
9 Gail Sheehy, The Man Who Changed the World: The Lives of Mikhail S. Gorbachev (New York: HarperCollins, 1990) p. 65.Sheehy’s chapter is based on interviews with his former classmates.
10 Sheehy, p. 75.
11 Sheehy, p. 76.
12 Len Karpinsky, “The Autobiography of a `Half-Dissident,’” in Voices of Glasnost: Interviews with Gorbachev’s Reformers, Stephen F. Cohen and Katrina vanden Heuvel (eds.) (New York: Norton, 1989), p 286.
13 Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “A Time for Summing Up,” in Voices of Glasnost: Interviews with Gorbachev’s Reformers, Stephen F. Cohen and Katrina vanden Heuvel (eds.) (New York: Norton, 1989), p 265.
14 His works address problems of rationalism, consciousness, language, and symbolism.
15 Interview with Marina Pavlovna Pavlova-Silvanskaya, March 1993.
16 “Interview with the First and Last President of the USSR,” Komsomolskaya Pravda, Dec. 25, 1991.
17 Gorbachev, I Hope, p. 49.
18 Boris Oreshene, interview in Moscow, July 1992.
19 She is perhaps referring to Valentin Ferdinandovich Asmus, a philosopher whose publications included work on Kant and theory of history.
20 She may be referring to Abramovich Leontiev, who wrote a textbook on Marxian economics.
21 She is perhaps referring to A.R. Luria, a developmental psychologist who studied how children learn speech.
22 I. S. Narskii was a philosopher whose publications include work on dialectical materialism, theory of logic, positivism, and Marxism and Existentialism,
23 Alexander Zinoviev is quoted by Gail Sheehy (page 80) as having a low opinion of Raisa Titorenko’s scholarly ability. His appraisal cannot be taken as entirely correct, however, since she received top marks in most courses. For a critical appraisal of Zinoviev’s writing, see Boris Kagarlitsky, The Thinking Reed, pp. 244- 250 and notes. Unfortunately, Kagarlisky’s review will seem obscure to anyone who has not read Zinoviev closely. See Alexander Zinoviev, Katastroika: Legend and Reality of Gorbachevism. Trans by Charles Janson. (London: Claridge Press, 1990).
24 Kagarlitsky, The Thinking Reed, p. 192. Lisichkin’s most influential book, Plan i Rynok [Plan and Market] was published in Prague just before the liberalization of that country that ended in the invasion.
25 The economist Gennady Lisichkin was a particularly influential theorist of market socialism in the sixties.
26 Georgy Arbatov, The System: An Insider’s Life in Soviet Politics (New York: Times Books, 1992), pp. 106-7.
27 Viktor Sukhodrev interview. Despite these harsh words about Khrushchev, Sukhodrev said he had a good personal relationship with him. After Khrushchev was deposed, Sukhodrev went to visit him in his dacha and wish him happy birthday, but he was called in by his superiors and gently warned not to do so again, if he wanted to keep his job.
28 Arbatov, The System, p. 126. Len Karpinsky writes in his “Autobiography of a `Half-Dissident’”(p. 289) that he and Yegor Yakovlev drank cognac to celebrate the removal of Khrushchev, expecting the change to speed up liberalization. Later they realized how wrong they had been and phoned Khrushchev on his 75th birthday to thank him and promise that they would fight to prevent the reversal of his reforms.
29 Vitali Vitaliev, Dateline Freedom (London: Hutchinson). Vitaliev is quoting the Minister of the Interior of the early perestroika period, Gen. Vlasov, who said in a press conference that at the beginning of 1989 there were one million three hundred persons in different sorts of forced confinement in the Soviet Union.
30 John and Carol Garrard, Inside the Soviet Writers’ Union (New York: Free Press, 1990), p 5.
31 Garrard and Garrard, p.3.
32 Garrard and Garrard, p. 5.
33 Garrard and Garrard, p. 11.
34 Kagarlitsky, pp. 351-53.
35 For a profile of Khramov, see Gale Warner, Invisible Threads: Independent Soviets Working for Global Awareness and Social Transformation (Washington, D.C. Seven Locks Press, 1991), pp 88-96.
36 Strictly speaking, this is not correct with respect to Lyubimov, but he did not leave the Soviet Union until 1983.
37 Interview with film critic Grigory Liberal in Moscow, June 1992.
38 Elem Klimov, “Learning Democracy: The Filmmakers’ Rebellion,” in Voices of Glasnost: Interviews with Gorbachev’s Reformers Stephen F. Cohen and Katrina vanden Heuvel, eds. (New York: Norton, 1989), pp. 234-35.
39 Richard Stites, Russian Popular Culture: Entertainment and Society Since 1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 169. Ian Christie reports that the official numbers claimed were twice that large. See his “The Cinema,” in The Soviet Union Today: An Interpretive Guide, 2nd edition. Edited by James Cracraft (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 287.
40 Ian Christie, “The Cinema,” in The Soviet Union Today: An Interpretive Guide, Second ed. James Cracraft, ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), p. 286.
41 Interview with Viktor Sumsky, Moscow, June 1993.
42 Interview with Grigory Libergal, Moscow, June 1992.
43 The title in English, An Inch of Soil, refers to the claim that an inch of soil gained in the war was worth unlimited human suffering and death.
44 Eduard Shevardnadze, The Future Belongs to Freedom. Translated by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick. (London: Sinclair Stevenson, 1991), pp. 32-33.
45 Shevardnadze, The Future Belongs to Freedom. pp. 172-73.
46 Archie Brown, The Soviet Union: A Biographical Dictionary (New York: Macmillan, 1990), p. 2.
47 Mikhail Ulyanov, “The Preaching Theater” in Cracraft, pp. 258-59.
48 Kagarlitsky, p. 205.
49 Demichev held that post from 1974 until Gorbachev had him replaced in 1986.
50 Interview with Georgy Shakhnazarov, Moscow July 1992.
51 Fedor Mikhailovich Burlatskii, Khrushchev and the First Russian Spring (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991).
52 Interview with Alexander Rubinin, long-time secretary to Petr Kapitsa, July, 1992.
53 Now the Institute for International Economic and Political Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
54 Interview with Lev Deliusin, Moscow, July 1992.
55 Arbatov, The System, p. 278-79.
56 Arbatov, p. 280.
57 Arbatov, p. 282.
58 Kagarlitsky, p. 321-22.
59 Stephen F. Cohen and Katrina vanden Heuvel, Voices of Glasnost: Interviews with Gorbachev’s Reformers (New York: Norton, 1989), p. 246.
60 This is the building Yury Trifonov described in his novel, The House on the Embankment . Trans. Michael Glenny (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986).
61 For much of this information I am indebted to Grigory Libergal and Viktor Sumsky.
62 Andreyeva and Goldberg, The Thaw, pp 101-3.
63 Interview with Lev Deliusin, Moscow, July 1993.
64 Andreyeva and Goldberg, p.218-19.
65 Kagarlitsky, The Thinking Reed, p. 108.
66 Arbatov writes in his memoirs, The System, ( p. 233) about a staff member at his institute who was to be expelled from the Party on orders of the Moscow City Committee for having made favorable comments about Vysotsky. In this case, Arbatov was able to prevent this outcome.
67 Interview with Viktor Sukhodrev, February 1993 in New York
68 Kagarlitsky, The Thinking Reed ,p 206.
69 Gorbanevskaya is a human rights activist and writer and one of the seven demonstrators who protested in Red Square against the invasion of Czechoslovakia. She was confined to a mental hospital for editing a book about this protest and the trial that followed it.