Soviet Baby Boomers – Soviet Patriotism and Anti-Americanism

One important topic of Raleigh’s book is Soviet patriotism and anti-Americanism of the Soviet baby boomers. This topic with an emphasis on Soviet patriotism and rejection of negative aspects of capitalism prevailed in all student diaries from the early stage of the Soviet middle school (5-7 grades) through the years in the high school (8-10 grades) and the first college years through the 1960s and the 1980s. For the authors of those diaries a Soviet child was a patriot of his socialist “motherland.” Despite the fact of the growing influence of western cultural products, which became available during the détente in the 1970s, and beginning of cultural fixation over such products like movies, popular music and fashion in the last years in high school and the first years in college, the mental construction of the young man in the diaries is still based on the dichotomy of “Soviet patriot vs. western capitalism.”[1]

The most popular Soviet movie for children during the late 1960s and early 1970s was Yevgenii Sherstobitov’s film Aqualangi na dne, which was released in 1965. The story of a brave Soviet boy, who tried to help the Soviet border guards to catch a foreign spy in a small Soviet resort town on the Black Sea coast, inspired millions of the Soviet children. As one of them noted in his diary after watching this film the second time, in July of 1971, “I want to be like Sashka Kharitonov to help to arrest a spy who was an enemy of my country.”[2] Many years after the author of that diary still recalled how influential these patriotic Soviet images were for a mental construction of his own self. At the same time the images of the films from the “capitalist West” (which were made mostly by the leftist, anti-capitalist inclined, film directors like Stanley Kramer or Sydney Pollack) helped the authors of “summer diaries” to justify their construction of the Soviet self.

The first the most popular American comedy film that opened the Brezhnev era in Soviet Ukraine and became the new movie sensation was a Stanley Kramer’s film of 1963, It’s Mad, Mad, Mad World. It was released in the Soviet Union in late 1965, and was shown in eastern Ukraine for the first time in full theaters with all tickets sold out during January-February of 1966.[3] According to the Soviet film magazine statistics, this film became one of the most popular foreign films that were shown in the Soviet Union in 1966.[4]

Stanley Kramer’s hilarious comedy tells the story of a search for buried treasure by at least a dozen people, all played by well-known entertainers of their day. After a car accident, a group of complete strangers (including Milton Berle, Jonathan Winters, Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, and others) witness how a dying driver (Jimmy Durante) identified the location of hidden money. This story of buried treasure triggered a conflict-ridden hunt, watched over carefully by a suspicious cop (Spencer Tracy). This treasure hunt involves more and more people and creates various humorous situations. As an eleven-year-old Aleksandr Gusar summarized in his summer diary on May 31, 1970, “my Mom and I watched a very funny, two-parts (dvukh-seriinyi) American film in color about a search for money which was buried under the trees, a combination of which looked like the English letter ‘W.’ The main characters were chasing each other for more than two hours; then they found money and lost everything at the end.”[5]

Another young moviegoer, fourteen-year-old Vladimir Solodovnik, during the first show of the American comedy in March of 1966 also noted that this film was funny and dynamic. However, at the same time he felt very uncomfortable about the main story of the film, a search for money. “It looks like everybody (in the film) was driven crazy by this search,” Solodovnik wrote, “the capitalist West is mad about money.” He concluded this entry with a remarkable phrase: “So our propaganda was correct, in America a human greed and lust for money is the most important driving force. Even the American film makers such as Stanley Kramer demonstrated this in their movies.”[6] Such ambiguous feelings about themes in Kramer’s film were present in another twelve-year-old boy’s writing. Andrei Vadimov noted, “It is funny to watch this hunt for money, but it’s good to know that we live in the normal country, safe and comfortable, without this American madness about money.”[7] Many Soviet filmgoers were shocked by realistic portrayal of human greed in a Kramer’s film. In Kramer’s comedy America looked “like an abnormal dysfunctional country” comparing to the normality and stability of the Soviet Union.[8] The American comedy about “a mad hunt for money” played the role of the “negative other” from the West in the imagining of “normal” Soviet identity by young filmgoers during the beginning of the Brezhnev era.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s Soviet college student watched the new American films like The Sandpit Generals, They Shoot Horses Don’t They, The New Centurions, Bless the Beasts and Children, The Domino Principle, Oklahoma Crude, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and 3 Days of Condor which presented mainly the leftist criticism of the American realities, contributing to the mental construction of positive identity of Soviet self. One college student, who loved American rock and roll and western movies, noted after watching in one week of August of 1982 such different American movies as The Domino Principle, Oklahoma Crude, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and 3 Days of Condor, “we perhaps have not enough products in our food stores and fewer cars on our roads, but our youth has much brighter future than those Americans.”[9] As Aleksandr Gusar commented in his diary after watching the American film, a police drama New Centurions, “it is good to live in the West when you have money and power, but it is very dangerous to live there if you are just an ordinary poor man. I would rather stay in my own country.”[10] Two anti-CIA thrillers – 3 Days of Condor by Sydney Pollack (1975) and The Domino Principle by Stanley Kramer (1977) – especially influenced the negative perception of America and of “Western imperialism” among Soviet college students. As some college students from eastern Ukraine explained in their writing, “The military industrial complex and the intelligence agencies rule the West. After watching Pollack’s and Kramer’s films, we understand that the capitalist West has no future.”[11] And another young author who watched these two American films after an Anderson’s O Lucky Man! movie in 1979, and who was the most enthusiastic rock music fan, noted “the capitalist society has some potential for modern development, but it suppressed by CIA and the military machine. That is why rock music was born to challenge and criticize the politics of the West!!! And all these films, like rock music, criticize the politics of the capitalists.”[12] As some of these authors later acknowledged, during the détente “Westernization” of the imagination for young Soviet consumers had certain ideological limits, and overall, it had an obvious very strong anti-capitalist bias.[13]

 

 


[1] According to a sociologist Thomas Cushman, the limited sources of foreign cultural practices always produce “an intense idealization” of the early available forms of such practices in the societies with strong ideological control and limitations. In the Soviet closed society the literature, music and films of “an important, but limited range,” Cushman explained, “was seized upon early on and became the central objects” upon which subsequent cultural practice was based. See Thomas Cushman, Notes from Underground: Rock Music Counterculture in Russia (New York: State University of New York Press, 1995), 43.

[2] Summer diary of Vasilii Leshchinskii, Cherkassy Region, Vatutino, July 2, 1971. See about this film in Sovetskii ekran, 1966, no. 1-3, and Novyny kinoekranu, 1966, no. 4.

[3] See Dneprovskaia Pravda, January 1 and January 12, February 16, 1966.

[4] Sovetskii ekran 1967, No. 10, p. 1-2.

[5] School diary of Aleksandr Gusar,  Dniepropetrovsk region, Pavlograd, May 31, 1970.

[6] School diary of Vladimir Solodovnik, Dniepropetrovsk region, Sinelnikovo, March 7, 1966.

[7] School diary of Andrei Vadimov, Dniepropetrovsk, July 5, 1969.

[8] Author interview of Vitalii Pidgaetskii at the Department of History, Dniepropetrovsk University, February 10, 1996.

[9] School summer diary of Oleg Grin, Kyiv, August 29, 1982.

[10] See a school diary of Aleksandr Gusar, July 5, 1975. New Centurions originally released in US in 1972 became very popular film in 1974-75 in the Soviet Union. See Sovetskii ekran, 1975, No. 10, p. 6. See how local periodicals described the American films, especially in E. Iakovlev, “Navazhdenie (kinoobozrenie),” Dneprovskaia Pravda, 1982, February 4, p. 3.

[11] School diary of Andrei Vadimov, Dnipropetrovsk, December 5, 1978. 3 Days of Condor was a 1975 US political thriller movie directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway and Max von Sydow. The screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel was adapted from the novel Six Days of Condor by James Grady. Set mainly in New York City and Washington D.C., this movie was about a bookish CIA researcher who discovers all his co-workers dead, and must outwit those responsible until he figures out whom he can really trust. The film addresses the perceived moral ambiguity of the actions of elements within the United States government during the early 1970s.  Another film, The Domino Principle was a 1977 US thriller film starring Gene Hackman, Candice Bergen, Mickey Rooney and Richard Wildmark directed by Stanley Kramer. In this film Roy Tucker, serving time for the murder of his wife’s first husband, is approached in prison by a man named Tagge on behalf of a mysterious organization with an offer: in exchange for helping him escape and start a new life, Tucker must work for the organization for a few weeks. Following his escape with cellmate Spiventa —whom the organization immediately kills—Tucker flies to Costa Rica where he is reunited with his wife Ellie. After a few idyllic days, the organization returns them to Los Angeles. There the details of his mission slowly unfold. He realizes he is expected to assassinate someone and refuses. The organization retaliates by kidnapping his wife. The next morning Tucker fires on his target from a helicopter, but the copter is hit by return fire and crashes. Tucker escapes, takes another hostage, demanding a plane and the return of his wife. At the airstrip, Tucker tells Tagge that he deliberately fired short. Tagge reveals that he had two other shooters in place, including Tucker’s supposedly murdered cellmate Spiventa, and that Tagge’s group has been manipulating Tucker for over a decade. Aboard the plane with Ellie, Tucker spots someone planting a toolbox in the back of Tagge’s car. Unable to get the pilot to abort take-off, Tucker watches helplessly as Tagge is blown up with his car. The couple returns to Costa Rica where Tucker sees his new life dismantled as quickly as it was assembled: his false passport destroyed, his money taken and Ellie killed. Spiventa and other agent arrive to kill Tucker but he gets the drop on them and dumps their bodies in the ocean. The film closes with a resolute Tucker vowing not to give in, unaware he is in the cross hairs of yet another assassin. [This full description of the movie is on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Domino_Principle].

[12] Summer school diary of Vasilii Leshchinskii, Cherkasy Region, Vatutino, August 22, 1979.

[13] See especially my interviews with Vadimov, Gusar and Suvorov.

About Sergei Zhuk

A former Soviet expert in US history, especially in the social and cultural history of colonial British America, Dr. Sergei Zhuk, moved in 1997 to the United States, defended his new (now American) Ph.D. dissertation about imperial Russian history at Johns Hopkins University in 2002. Now Sergei Zhuk is Associate Professor of Russian and East European History at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. His research interests are knowledge production, cultural consumption, religion, popular culture and identity in a history of imperial Russia and the Soviet Union.
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4 Responses to Soviet Baby Boomers – Soviet Patriotism and Anti-Americanism

  1. Miriam Dobson says:

    I would be interested to know more about these diaries and where they are preserved. Have you collected these from friends and acquaintances, or are they available in archives?

  2. sergei says:

    I collected only seven diaries from my friends and former classmates in Vatutino, Cherkasy Region and from Dnipropetrovsk Region in Ukraine. They include so-called “summer diaries” and they cover events from the late 1960s till beginning of the 1980s.
    I used those diaries in my posts.

    But I refer to the different, much richer, collection of personal diaries, which I plan to use for my new research project.
    I mentioned to Don and other participants of our discussion this collection of personal diaries, which was a result of my Russian colleagues’ efforts to collect the personal diaries of former Soviet citizens. They started this collection in the early 1990s.

    I suggested Don to use their collection (including Moscow student diaries) because a part of his research devoted to Muscovites. I put information about one of this archive:
    RGASPI: Russian State Archive of Social and Political History
    РГАСРИ: Российский Государственный Архив Социально-Политической
    Истории
    (formerly RTsKhIDNI: Russian Centre for the Preservation and Study of Documents of
    Recent History, founded on the basis of TsPA IML)
    This archive now houses the Komsomol Archive.
    Address: 103821 Москва, Больщая Дмитровка 15
    tel. 229-97-26; fax: 292-90-17
    email: rchidnil@online.ru

    You can find diaries’s collection also in Memorial archive as well.

  3. Don Raleigh says:

    Hmmm. In my book I did not discuss the anti-Americanism of the young Soviet baby boomers but, if anything, stressed the opposite point: they might have seen the American government as an imperialist power, but they harbored mostly positive attitudes about the American people and pop culture.

  4. sergei says:

    Yes, it’s true. In their post-Soviet interviews these “Soviet baby boomers” expressed their pro-American sympathies. I found the same when I had interviewed people for my “Rock and Roll in the Rocket City: The West, Identity, and Ideology in Soviet Dniepropetrovsk, 1960-1985″ project. Paradoxically, in their intimate writings, personal letters and diaries from the 1970s, as the children, these interviewees presented very controversial attitudes toward America and capitalism, sometime very hostile and very critical.

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