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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union


Throughout Soviet history, the arts have played an integral role in influencing the population. In particular, literature has served as the main political instrument through which the leadership has regulated cultural currents. As, by Stalin's definition, the "engineers of human souls," writers were required to bolster policies sanctioned by the leadership. All writers, whether or not members of the party-controlled Union of Writers, submitted their works for party approval. After Stalin's death, writers experienced a brief literary thaw when some party constraints lessened. Not until the late 1980s, however, did the regime loosen its previously confining strictures on literary form and content.

The regime exercised strict controls over other forms of art as well. The leadership's political line dictated the content and form of cinema, theater, music, the plastic arts such as painting and sculpture, and the graphic arts. The party used the cinema screen to portray its societal ideals. Directors had to produce films praising the regime and exhorting moral conduct. On the stage, playwrights and actors operated within the party's controlled framework under which themes had to be approved in advance of a performance. Musicians wrote and played only music sanctioned by the regime for public performances. Art galleries displayed works approved by party officials. In the 1980s, however, artists began to express harsh and painful themes in their works, sometimes cutting a fine line between permitted and forbidden subjects. In the post-Brezhnev period, the government vacillated between imposing more restrictive artistic controls and allowing greater freedom of expression. After 1985 the Soviet artistic world experienced a number of contentious debates about the liberties allowed to artists.

Data as of May 1989