One of the common myths about the Soviet Union is that music, art and culture were restricted, censored, dull and grey; that these were under full control of the Communist Party and that foreign music or influences in the cultural sphere were strictly prohibited.
We see this myth constantly regurgitated by Anglo-American media, a recent example of which was an article published on the 23rd of July 2022 by Tom Taylor for Far Out Magazine, titled “Rock ‘n’ roll and McDonald’s: How western culture breached Soviet Russia and whether it will survive the war”.
In this article we can enjoy reading the most absurd tales of individual heroes pulling off daring feats to try and spread western rock ‘n’ roll and Punk music in Soviet Russia. But was this something that average Soviet citizens cared about in the slightest? Or were these heroes simply foreign agents trying to create scandals in Soviet Russia to gain attention so that the western press could spin such stories? After all, the youth in the West seemed to like their own music and were not going out of their way to get hold of Soviet music, so why would the Soviet youth go out of their way to get hold of western music when they had their own?
It is very telling when Tom Taylor turns his attention to Putin’s present day Russia to smear it with the same brush – this is such a common practice amongst the imperialist press. He says:
“However, unrest rules the roost once more and unlike Gorbachev, Vladimir Putin has been willing to go to war with the youth over any subversiveness shown in the face of his despicable Ukrainian invasion. And in May of this year, after 32 years, McDonald’s pulled out of Russia. Where does this leave its spiritual ally rock ‘n’ roll?”
Of course since McDonald’s has now packed its bags and left Russia – condemning them to a healthier diet – this can only signify a return to the pre-Gorbachev Soviet times that imperialists hate so much.
So let us examine how western propagandists like Tom Taylor smear Russia today, and perhaps we will notice a pattern in how this type of propaganda is constructed that will help understand how the anti-Soviet myths came about in the first place.
How does Tom Taylor argue that Putin is waging a “war” against the Russian youth over subversiveness about the special military operation in Ukraine? What evidence does he present to back his claim? He only uses Pussy Riot and Yulia Tsvetkova as examples to make his case, but who are they?
Pussy Riot is a punk-rock band of anarchist feminist LGBT activist women, who exclusively perform illegal, unauthorised guerrilla gigs in co-opted public spaces such as inside the Moscow Cathedral, to gain as much attention as possible by breaking the law in provocative and shocking ways, showing utter contempt for the authorities and Russian society. In any democracy such distasteful and offensive acts would not be tolerated. When interviewed for the western press they express their vehemently anti-Putin views, ticking all the western propaganda boxes, and of course none of what they do is for the sake of art and all of it is to provoke a response from the authorities so that western propagandists can spin stories about how Putin persecutes artists and doesn’t allow dissent and so on and so forth. Agents like Pussy Riot are part and parcel of the imperialist propaganda war against Russia, who target the vulnerable naive youth and try to turn them against Putin.
Next up is Yulia Tsvetkova, a feminist LGBT activist (surprise surprise) who was accused of spreading pornography because of her website “vagina monologues” in which she compiled a collection of close-up photos of vaginas claiming this to be art. This resulted in comical Western headlines like CNN’s “In Russia, portraying women’s bodies can get you arrested”. It’s as though the Western definition of art is anything that is illegal in Russia, because that way Russia can be found to censor art. The specific purpose of this “art” is clearly to provoke a legal response in order for the western propagandists to spin the story of censorship and lack of freedom. Yulia in reality is a talentless agent of US imperialism and plays the same role in Russia as does Ai Weiwei in China. Do we notice a pattern yet?
The author thinks that these two examples of a criminal gang and a fraudster trying to sell pornography as art are sufficient to prove that Russia doesn’t tolerate dissent or that Putin is waging a “war” against the youth of Russia over subversiveness about the special military operation in Ukraine. But for an honest reader these examples only show a pattern of imperialist lies that stretches far and wide through space and time. How about finding a single example of someone who was arrested exclusively for their dissenting opinion without breaking any laws?
In contrast to Russia, the imperialist countries are full of such cases of citizens who are persecuted and imprisoned for doing nothing wrong except expressing dissenting opinion. The English language even has a word for this, McCarthyism, the meaning and origin of which are well known and reflect a long Anglo-American tradition of flouting the law to crush dissent. What is happening to Julian Assange? What did the Spanish rapper Pablo Hasel do other than express dissenting opinion? Why did Edward Snowden seek refuge in Moscow? Why is Evan Neumann seeking protection from the FBI in Belarus? Why did the FBI raid the homes of the leaders of the African People’s Socialist Party in the USA last week?
The honest reader would recognise that each country has a sovereign right to their own culture and laws, and if they wish to avoid widespread pornography, the extreme objectification of women, the widespread use of drugs, perversion of minors and paedophilia etc. it is their sovereign right to do so. However, as we have outlined, one of the features of modern imperialism is that it uses extreme liberalism to attack other countries like Russia, not accepting their right to think or live differently. This is what is causing many social conservatives in the imperialist countries to start finding more in common with the Russians than with their own compatriots. Imperialism is creating insurmountable contradictions for itself and the writing is on the wall – it is destined to perish.
With these examples we gauge the height of Western hypocrisy when it comes to tolerance for political opinion and dissent, whether domestically or abroad. But Tom Taylor, confident in his delusional narrative, finishes up as follows:
“The dissident voices may have been forced into a degree of silence for now, but they are not gone. Thus, so long as peace returns, rock ‘n’ roll will never perish in Russia. And when there finally and thankfully is an acquiescence from the currency of power to the virtue of peace, new forms will of creativity will arise from the rubble of a wrecked culture. And the ripples will already begin to quietly reverberate with every court case won and every new artwork produce, it just takes a while to get organised and cohesive, but a collective resolve will ensure that it isn’t extinguished. That is the unifying power of music. As Pushkin said all along, “Happiness can only be found in communal pursuits.” At the moment, you have one man against millions, and in culture, that can’t last long.”
Essentially Tom Taylor is claiming that there is a mass movement of young rock ‘n’ rollers in Russia that is biding its time and will flourish after the current war to challenge Putin’s presidency. Unfortunately for Tom Taylor, in the real world, Putin’s popularity has only risen because of the special military operation in Ukraine and is estimated by Statista to be above 80%. This 20 year old western fantasy of overthrowing Putin is even more laughable now that Western leaders who oppose Russia are dropping like flies. We’ve so far seen the departures of Boris Johnson of Britain, Mario Draghi of Italy, Kaja Kallas of Estonia and expect more soon to follow. What these Western leaders have in common is that they are losing the support of their parliaments as a result of their plummeting popularity ratings amongst their electorates. The reason for this is that what they say about Russia is in fact true about the West i.e. it is the oligarchy against the people, appearing as “one man [or woman] against millions”. The bad news for the West is that millions of people may take time to learn, but they are nevertheless learning, that a change of “leader” is merely putting new lipstick on an old pig.
It is also worth noting that Russia has a flourishing culture and music scene full of artists that are popular among the youth and support Putin and the special military operation. These include names such as Andrei Pozdnyjov, Starovoitov, Branimir, Alexander F. Sklyar, Letov, BollywoodFM, Rich and more. An interesting case is Bardash, a Ukrainian hip-hop artist from the Donbass who because of his support of the Russian special military operation has been left by his Ukrainian wife who doesn’t allow him to see their child. He has had to flee Ukraine and then Georgia over fear for his life and now resides safely in Russia where he continues to make music.
In a delightfully ironic twist, one of the best responses to Tom Taylor’s lies about the Soviet Union and Russia comes from non other than a Soviet Rock ‘n’ roller by the name of Garik Sukachov. This response comes in the form of a collaborative song he directed featuring more than 20 different Russian artists (Sergey Shnurov, Vladimir Shakhrin, Alexander F. Sklyar, Oleg Garkusha, Sergey Chigrakov, Evgeny Margulis, Andrey Knyazev, Nastya Poleva (“Nastya”), Svetlana Surganova, Masha Makarova, the Children’s Choir of VGTRK, etc.) called “I’m staying”. The statement made by this song is that all the featured artists would rather work hard to earn their roubles than sell out their motherland for easy dollars. It is a declaration of support for Russia. It is a statement pointing out that foreign agents like Pussy Riot are only a tiny handful of sell outs and in no way, shape or form represent Russian artists.
Sukachov is the son of a red army soldier father who fought all the way to Berlin and a mother who survived the Nazi concentration camps. He grew up in Soviet Moscow and trained as a transport engineer but after some time changed his mind and decided to study theatre. After graduating as a theatre director he started his first band and has had a successful career in music ever since, forming several rock ‘n’ roll bands (even before Gorbachev) which makes him living proof that rock ‘n’ roll was legal in the Soviet Union. Moreover he supports the people of the Donbass and their right to self determination since the 2014 coup d’etat and he supports the special military operation of 2022 as well. This man is a living refutation of all of Tom Taylor’s claims about the Soviet Union and Russia.
Special thanks to Alena for the information about Russian artists.