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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Chapter 9. Mass Media and the Arts

SINCE THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION of 1917, the leadership of the Soviet Union has used the mass media and the arts to assist in its efforts at changing and regulating society. To propagate values encouraging the construction and stabilization of the new regime, Vladimir I. Lenin, the Bolshevik (see Glossary) leader, centralized political control over the mass media and the primary forms of artistic expression. He drew upon nineteenth-century Russian radical views that advocated politicizing literature and challenging tsarist government policy through artistic protest. Lenin's successors manipulated the mass media and the arts in ways that preserved and strengthened the regime and the party's supremacy.

Leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) believed that strict control over mass media and the arts was essential for governing the country. "Socialist realism"--an aesthetic formula calling for the portrayal of Soviet society in a positive light to inspire its constant improvement along the lines of Marxist-Leninist ideology--was implemented under Joseph V. Stalin. The regime required the media, literature, and the arts to adhere to this formula. A vast bureaucracy, which included party and government censorship organs and official political, military, economic, and social unions and associations, together with self-censorship by writers and artists, ensured a thorough and systematic review of all information reaching the public. Under the leadership of general secretary of the CPSU Mikhail S. Gorbachev, however, Soviet mass media and the arts in the late 1980s were experiencing a loosening of the controls governing the dissemination of information. Nevertheless, the principle of party and government control over newspapers, journals, radio, television, and literature, which helped to ensure the regime's stability, remained firmly intact.

The technological revolution in the 1970s and 1980s, however, hindered rather than helped the regime control mass media and the arts. New technology disrupted party and government domination of mass media and the arts and enabled the population to gain greater access to unsanctioned, globally available information. But the regime needed to employ the same technological advances to maintain its influence and power. The mass media linked the leadership to the population, and the socialist (see Glossary) system required a politicizated media to endure. The regime's attempt to use this new technology while regulating the global flow of information to Soviet citizens presented one of the most difficult challenges to the leadership, particularly in light of Gorbachev's campaigns for public discussion, democratization, and societal restructuring.

In the late 1980s, newspapers, journals, magazines, radio, television, films, literature, and music espoused poignant, sensitive, and often painful themes that had previously been taboo. The party deemed greater tolerance for criticism of the regime essential in order to placate the intelligentsia and encourage it to support efforts for change. Indeed, the censors eased their restrictions to the point where, in the late 1980s, penetrating historical analyses critical of previous Soviet leaders (including Lenin) and stories about the rehabilitation (see Glossary) of banned writers and artists filled the pages of newspapers, magazines, and journals. Previously proscribed information also appeared in television and radio broadcasts and in film and stage performances. Relaxation of restrictions was also apparent in classical music, jazz, rock and roll, and the plastic arts.

Data as of May 1989