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Soviet power over cultural life


Brezhnev in USSR
Brezhnev in USSR

The Soviet regime at first encouraged experimentation and, where possible, Marxist-inclined work in the arts and sciences. It expelled several hundred independent-minded intellectuals in 1922, but tolerated organizational and stylistic diversity until the early 1930s. The inauguration of Stalin’s first Five-Year Plan in 1928 led to tightened political controls over cultural activity; calling for a “literary front” to assist in the struggle to fulfill the economic plan, the regime expected writers to glorify its goals. In 1932 the government ordered the creation in each cultural field of a unified association devoted to “the mobilization of Soviet writers and artists around the problems of building socialism.” An official Union of Writers, controlled by the Communist Party, held its first congress in 1934; analogous “creative unions” then appeared for architects, cinematographers, composers, visual artists, and journalists. In 1936 all work contracts for most artists came under state control. The sciences were likewise expected to bolster state interests, and the party required scientists to move away from theoretical research to more utilitarian projects.

Government thought highly enough of the fine arts and sciences to give them generous funding. Yet the money came with many strings attached. Artists after 1932 were bound to the dogma of socialist realism, whereby (in the words of the Union of Writers’ charter) they were to engender “a true and historically concrete depiction of reality in its revolutionary development” and assist in “educating the workers in the spirit of communism.” Adherence to this state-mandated cultural movement was enforced primarily through the oversight of the artists’ unions. In science, where there was no tidy formula for political correctness, researchers took their work assignments from above and were expected to trim their opinions to the prevailing line.

Stalin’s purges of artists and intellectuals in the 1930s and the stifling pressure for conformity administered after World War II took an appalling toll on cultural development.

Several so-called thaws occurred under Khrushchev, alternating capriciously with campaigns against deviance. Brezhnev-period policy was stringent in the arts and relatively lenient in science. The Gorbachev era brought an unprecedented relaxation in controls. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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