teenage rebellion

5. Borya and Ruslan identify themselves as non-conformists. Consider the scenes where they talk about this issue (especially 18:00-24:00 and 32:00-34:00). What does “rebellion” mean to them? What does Borya mean when he calls it “romantic opposition” rather than genuine opposition? How do you understand the two friends dismissing their children’s generation as obsessed with money and not reading enough books? Do you think they posed a political threat to the Soviet system under Brezhnev? Why or why not?

Rebellion is relative to the situation one is going through and what is personally at stake. To Borya and Ruslan rebellion was more of a fun thing for them. They enjoyed the adrenaline rush and excitement that came from it. That’s what Borya means by “romantic opposition.” As students fighting the system was fun. I think that kind of rebellion is similar to what we consider in the US teenage rebellion. You do wild things that piss people off and break rules because it’s a fun adrenaline rush. At the time you might think you’re protesting conformity, but retrospectively you can see you were more in love with the thrill.

The two friends laugh at the way their kids are not book lovers. For them, reading books was an essential part of their childhood. They felt that books were a form of rebellion. All the news had to offer was updates about the communist party. These books captured real themes and ideas and probably inspired them. The two friends blame the fixation on money on American influence. They talk about how all Americans care about is making money and that money influences your worth as a human being in society. Which is kinda true. Kids everywhere are more interested in anything that is not a book though. 

I think as adolescents and as adults Borya and Ruslan would have presented a threat to the age of stagnation. Both of them pursued knowledge through books and books make people think and people who think can present issues to an otherwise stagnated society. Also as rabble rousing teens they could stir the pot and cause a ruckus. As the wizened adults that they are in this film, they would absolutely be a threat. They are both educated and have learned from their youth. They are both capable of seeing the inherent flaws of the system.

Social media but old Soviet Union version

Comrade chat 11-1

Sakharov identifies three major threats to “freedom of thought,” which he considers essential to human progress. Find the paragraph that begins “But freedom of thought is under a triple threat…” Read that paragraph and the next two. Do these threats still exist in 2020? If so, how do they show up in your own experience? Sakharov says that combatting them is the work of all people, but he reserves a special role for the intelligentsia. What would Lenin have thought of this idea? Does Sakharov convince you that the intelligentsia should play a special role?

Sakharov considers the three threats: censorship from the upper class, deliberate mass culture, and cowardly/egotistic/philistine ideologies.

In this lovely year of 2020 these threats still exist, just in a different form. Censorship comes from social media. Certain ideas are hidden by carefully crafted algorithms. A girl posting a photo in a sports bra is likely to get taken down. I’ve been censored and blocked by tik tok frequently. Mass thought and sheep people are all over the place on social media. People repost and share content without even verifying that that content is actually true. It’s a whole mass of idiots following a bunch of other idiots. Social media also gives a platform for crazy reckless stupid unfounded and dangerous ideals to be promoted. Anyone can post whatever they want to say. Things can get taken down, but they don’t always catch everything. Algorithms are more directed to sensory nudity and to censor violence and to sensor vulgar language. Radical ideas and misinformed issues are not very centered though. The principles that he talks about in his speech are still prevalent in our society just in a different way.

The intelligentsia are supposed to be educated people who assume positions of leadership. Sakharov believes that they should cater to the interests of the working class. It’s a sort of way to stop the intelligentsia from acting with caste biases. It’s ironic that Sakharov wants intelligentsia to play a special rule but also wants them to not be more special than other people. I was personally a little confused about that. I don’t think Lenin would have been on board. Sakharov wanted to favor one group of people in a certain class as crucial for his purposes. That isn’t in line with what Lenin would have advocated for. Sakharov questions if any group of people will look out for the working class instead of personal interest. And that’s exactly why I’m not convinced by his argument. That seems like some self doubt. Why is any group of people more suited to fix societal problems? Wouldn’t it take cooperation sad effort across the board?

Big Time Dreamer

Comrade chat 11-2

10. Gorbachev concludes this speech on a hopeful note. Read the last paragraph carefully. How does this shape our understanding of Gorbachev as a political reformer? Do you think it was possible, after 14 years of Brezhnev and stagnation to achieve the goal he sets out here? Do you think Gorbachev believes it, or is he trying to convince himself, too?

The first thing I noticed about his passage is his use of grandiose phrases and sweeping generalizations. Even the beginning, “we want to transform our country…”  is a pretty lofty goal (Gorbachev, 13). As a political reformer, we could just look at this one line to get a sense of what kind of leader Gorbachev is. He’s an idealist to the max. One thing Gorbachev does well in this conclusion is use the word we. This shows that he is at least smart enough to make his ideas seem like the Soviet Union’s ideas. 

In my opinion I think he set his goals a little too high. If he had maybe focused on one aspect of Soviet society at a time he might have been able to slowly change the stagnation. Trying to do too much too fast just overwhelmed the Soviet Union. 

To have such extreme ideals one would have to wholeheartedly believe in them. He says, “yes socialism is a system that serves man, his social and economical interests and his spiritual needs” and you have to have faith in your ideals if you are going to give a broad sweeping statement like this (Gorbachev,13). Gorbachev is trying to convince whoever is listening that his crazy laundry list of reforms is attainable. 

Underground Music

Comrade chat 10-1

7. An important issue raised in this chapter is the issue of freedom. The underground rock and roll and art scenes existed because Soviet citizens didn’t have free speech. If they wanted to listen to music or express a message with which the government did not agree, they had to do it out of sight. On the other hand, part of what made these scenes so vibrant is that their members didn’t have to worry about commercial success. They all had day jobs, housing, and health care guaranteed by the state. Looking back after the Soviet Union’s collapse, many artist and fans felt nostalgic for the safeguards of the Soviet Era. Which form of freedom do you think is more important? Would you trade freedom of speech for freedom from want? Why or why not?

Starving artist. When people want to start out as musicians or painters or writers we refer to them as starving artists. The idea is that the pursuit of a career in the arts is often difficult and often ultimately a failure. When the state guarantees your housing and health care etc. that takes a lot of the burden of being a human being off of your chest. The combination of the oppression of free speech and the basic security that the Soviet citizens were provided made for a vibrant music scene. You need motive and means. They had the means provided for them. Food would be on the table. And the motive is due to the lack of free expression. 

After the Soviet Union’s collapse, the means were taken away. Instead of enjoying music, people were more concerned about being able to put food on the table. Ultimately this would affect the music scene and as the question proffers, pit the freedom of speech against the freedom of want.

Personally, I would choose freedom from want. Especially as someone who is family oriented, I would prioritize taking care of my family members over everything else. Additionally, although this may be a loophole, it seems like even when freedom of speech was restricted people still found a way to express themselves. I wouldn’t be able to radio broadcast a controversial song or publish radical art. But in the privacy of my own home, even on a slight and miniscule level, I would still have freedom of speech. And freedom of speech can always exist in your mind and inner thoughts. Until they invent mind control chips but that’s a ways away in the future. 

the best (worst) of both worlds

Comrade chat 10-2

1. The main character of this novella, Olga, is meant to be a typical Soviet woman, living a typical Soviet life under Brezhnev’s developed socialism. How would you characterize her life? What possibilities are open to her? What limitations hold her back? What expectations do the people in her life place on her shoulders? What expectations does she place on her own shoulders? What insights does her story give us into the “double shift” or “double burden” of Soviet women’s lives?

Olga’s life at a distance seems like the best of both worlds. She balances having a respectable job with being a loving mother. However, as soon as you zoom in you see the reality of her situation. I would characterize her life as a lose lose situation. Olga achieved the opportunity to work in a lab. Which is a possibility that a lot of women at the time would not have considered. Olga also gets to have her family unit. Both of these things limit her. When she tries to get the kids ready for the day, she is late to work. When she stays late at work to finish her reports, she gets home late and upsets her husband. Olga does not have the ability to be devoted to both aspects of her life 100%. It’s not possible.

Despite the legitimate impossibility of working two demanding jobs 24/7, Olga expects herself to manage both being a mom and her job in the lab. Partially these expectations come from Dima. He is upset with her for coming home late and the next morning Olga describes herself as, “listening submissively to all the complaints and apologizing” (Baranskaya, 45). Even though she had to take care of something at work, Dima is mad at her for not being a “better” mom. He also wants her to quit her job and be a full time housekeeper. Olga’s boss at work also expects her to give 100% to her job in the lab. She is chastised for being late and for missing days when her kids were sick. Olga gets pressure from both of her responsibilities and even from herself. 

The entire novella made me think about how the dilemma that Olga faces is still prevalent in today’s society. Women are told that they can have a high power career or be a good mother. If the kids are sick, the woman has to stay home from work to take care of them. Our society and the typical family unit is not structured to allow two full time working parents. And the moms who do work are either considered not a good mom or not a good employee. If you are a stay at home mom you are chastised for not having a job. If you have a full time job as a woman and that’s your primary focus you are considered a bad mom. It was really interesting (albeit sad) that this theme is prevalent across two vastly different countries. 

snow white but soviet edition

comrade chat week nine video 2

. In the final scene, Kolya heads through the empty Metro station singing the film’s theme song. We’ve heard the music several times at this point, but this is the first time we hear the words. What is this song really about? How does it express the values and outlook of the Thaw generation? Why do you think it became a popular hit?

In Snow White and the Seven Dwarves there is a song that is whistled several times during the movie. There is only one part of the movie where Snow White puts the lyrics to the song. The song is called, “Whistle While You Work” and I thought it tied in well to the movie. Songs like this become popular because they get stuck in your head. I am currently singing this outloud much to the chagrin of my little brother. They are catchy. For that and because of its deep meaning, that’s why I think it became such a popular hit. Both songs are very catchy and upbeat and have lyrics that are relatable to most anyone.

The first time we hear the words is in the end. This is significant because it indicates a resolution albeit a comical one. In Snow White we finally get the words to the song right before the evil witch tries to kill her. She thinks everything is fine and is just focused on being a good little worker bee. Kolya is happily singing and wandering through the station. As we learned in lecture, the happy beginning of Khrushchev’s rule only lasted for a little while. Soon there were uprisings and death and tension etc. The fact that we hear the words only at the end seems to me like a “yay we think everything is fine and we solved our problems when in reality it’s gonna get worse” indicator just like in Snow White. Now I know that a disney princess and soviet worker do not have much in common but the parallels between work and singing really stood out to me. Even though Kolya isn’t actively working, the metro station was a place of work during the film.

The lyrics represent a more relaxed attitude that people were able to have at the beginning of the thaw. Plus there is a lyric that states, “under the snow I’ll find a violet And remember Moscow” which is a subtle nod at the current time period.

prodigal son

comrade chat week 9, video 1

 What role does Lenin play in this speech? In taking down Stalin, why does Khrushchev replace him with Lenin? Why not replace him with Khrushchev? Why replace him at all? Why might it be difficult to not replace him with somebody?

Every successful speech giver knows the benefit of riding on someone else’s coat tails. And any regular old Joe of the street can tell you the power of association of a famous name. “Yeah my sister’s husband’s cousin’s dog’s massage therapist also works with Keanu Reeves poodle.” And then average Joe is like oh damn we with the high rollers right now. This is not a twenty first century jedi mind trick. In fact, I think this is exactly what Khrushchev was trying to accomplish in his ~SeCreT SPeeCh.~

Lenin plays the role of the prodigal son. Stalin is the son that is already home. Khruschev is like the father. This is all from that one parable in Luke chapter fifteen. Lenin has been gone aka dead. The son Stalin has been the only one at home and boy has he been wreaking havoc. Then after years and years the father, Khruschev, sees his long lost son return and then there is a celebration. He tells everyone that his son, HIS SON, is the great one that has finally come back to him. Stalin feels sleighted. Lenin is celebrated. The moral of the story is blah blah blah forgiveness blah blah. I’m not sure what it is, that part isn’t relevant. 

What is relevant is how Khrushchev chooses to celebrate Lenin. This is an appeal to the emotions and assosciations the people have of/with him. Lenin is referred to as, “the genius of the revolution” because he put the history in the hands of the people (Krushchev). Khruschev uses lots of positive rhetoric when referring to Lenin. The void where Stalin was needed to be replaced. Khrushchev needed to unite his people. And you know what they say, nothing unites people like mutual hatred. I think Khruschev was trying to get his audience to rally around Lenin as a way to subliminaly cause them to hate Stalin. Stalin needed replaced because the people needed a new someone to rally around.

There’s a reason why Khrushchev mentions Lenin and not himself. Khrushchev mentions that, “Lenin detected in Stalin those negative characteristics which later resulted in grave consequences” (Khruschev). This gives a sense of power and wisdom to Lenin. Khrushchev shows him respect and puts Lenin above himself. This move makes him seem humble which would make him seem more favorable to the people. Also Lenin was much more well known than Khruschev and so replacing Stalin with Lenin packed more of a punch.

the love of my life

comrade chat week 8, second video

8. Zhdanov addresses Socialist Realism specifically in this speech. Consider the paragraph that begins with: “To show these great new qualities of the Soviet people…” Is this the same definition of Socialist Realism than we got in 1934? How is it similar or different? What specific tasks does it present? Think again about Zoshchenko’s “Adventures of a Monkey.” In your analysis, does it violate this definition? Why or why not?

I have decided that Andrei Zhdanov is the second love of my life. First place belongs to Anthony Hopkins aka Hannibal Lecter and no I do not care that he is 85, he is the love of my life. Zhdanov was all up in everyone’s business when it came to literature. In my opinion he really seemed to be the first person (given my limited knowledge of Russian history) who really took advantage of and utilized literature as a means to control aspects of society. Zhdanov was a big advocate for socialist realism and demanded that it was the only way to go. However, in this speech from 1946 I think he adopts a slightly different definition of socialist realism. 

Zhdanov wanted literature to be a beacon for all that is good, a beautiful representation of Soviet culture in 1934. He believes it is important to maintain integrity and represent the people accurately. By 1946 he gets a little more aggressive with it. Zhdanov considers writers, “on the forward fighting line” (Zhdanov). And uses other rhetoric that draws similarities between the literature and war culture. In 1946 he still acknowledges the importance of literature as a way for the people to rally around. But now he believes that literature must also be a weapon. Now literature is not just for defense of the soviet people. It is time to pick up the pen as a weapon and be on the offense. Zhdanov declares, “the task of Soviet literature is not only to return blow for blow against all this vile slander…but also boldly  attack bourgeois culture” (Zhdanov). The concept of anti bourgeois literature is the same for socialist realism as it was in 1934. But Zhdanov added a new component to the defintion. Thus the definition introduces offense as an important part of socialist realism as well as defense. 

When it comes to the monkey story, I think it is the kind of literature that Zhdanov would say is anti socialist realism. As it is a satire it would not strengthen nor defend the soviet image. It would instead serve against it. Which ultimately is why there were literary reforms and why Zhdanov readdressed and altered the definition of socialist realism. All in all, my boy Zhdanov was a little crazy but very passionate about literature. You gotta admire the tenacity and devotion and utter control freakness that was all for the sake of the Soviet Union.  

Sex, drugs, and rock n roll

Comrade chat chapter 8, 1 video

 Consider the case of the stiliagi, the young people who loved Western music and fashion. What are some ways historians have explained their fascination? Which explanation do you find most convincing? The stiliagi saw themselves as uninterested in politics. But were their activities subversive after all?

After reading about the stiliagi in chapter eight I was reminded of this book I read in my junior year of highschool. I could not for the life of me find the name of it. But it was about how teenagers in the sixties adopted this new culture and new attitudes that had never been seen before. It also talked about how the overall public view of sex changed during that time. They called it the sexual revolution. These teenagers and young adults were not intentionally trying to change culture. They were not trying to change societal norms. They were just having fun. Yet they had a profound impact on culture. In my opinion the stiliagi did something similar. The text asks, “Should it be seen as subversive or as a form of apolitical youthful rebellion” (Chatterjee, 163). As if the answer is binary. I think it was both. They engaged in their enjoyment of western culture because it was fun but also because it made the “old folks” mad. As a byproduct of their rebellion there were cultural changes. 

Historians cite a particular movie where the Indians fight against the yankees as a favorite of the stiliagi. They believe that the youth enjoyed this film because it portrayed American’s as the losers/bad guys. I do not agree with this explanation because stiliagi loved using American slang and listening to American music. The movie might have been “anti-American” but the rest of the things stiliagi enjoyed were not. I also do not agree that it provided, “an alternate form of masculinity” (chatterjee, 164) for those men who could not go to war. Stiliagi were focused on the American aesthetic. Aesthetic isn’t a macho concept, especially when stiliagi loved music and fashion. Ultimately, the most convincing reason for the way the stiliagi behaved is the good ole flame of teenage rebellion. 

Home, Can We Go Home?

The storyteller in “The Fate of a Man” goes through terrible hardships. His nationality causes him to undergo harm. When he was a prisoner of war, the Germans would, “beat you just because you are Russian” (Shokolov, 496). Luckily he breaks out of prison camp and then returns to the Soviet army. He brings them a German General and a briefcase full of valuable materials. The army appreciates and congratulates him for his efforts. Objectively, he has been a good soldier. He never sold out to the Germans and he aided his country by obtaining valuable information. In the end the man finally reconnects with his son. The two go from place to place because the mans sadness won’t let him stay in one place for long (Stokonov, 506). Unfortunately they have no place to call home, they are, “Two orphaned human beings…flung into unfamiliar places by the unprecedented hurricane of war” (Sholokov, 507). Yet Stalin’s policies dictate that prisoners of war should be executed as if they are traitors. This would have been generally understood by all soldiers at the time. Is the real reason the storyteller will never return to Russia due to the fear of execution or due to the traumatic memories of the family he lost there?