Opportunism in Slavic Studies

A professor of Slavic Studies is stunned to discover that totalitarian regimes actually put some effort into the propaganda they produce:

The most common question I get asked about children’s literature under Lenin and Stalin is: wasn’t it just propaganda? Well, yes and no. Yes, because for most of the period from 1917–1953 (that is, from the October Revolution to the death of Stalin), the state controlled all publishing and the state had a special interest in educating children with socialist values. But no, because calling something propaganda sometimes assumes that it is flat, uni-dimensional, straight-faced, and tedious – and this children’s literature is colourful, funny, inventive, touching, and witty. And the illustrations are beautiful.

Actually, after the death of Stalin there was no easing of propaganda directed at children and the state still controlled all publishing. But let’s not expect too much from a person who is surprised to find out that colourful and witty propaganda is still propaganda.

I was interested in the book at first but then I saw the whole “well, it’s not really propaganda” and “during the so-called July Days of 1917 there was growing street violence, which was blamed on the Bolsheviks” (which is like saying that street violence in Portland in July of 2020 was blamed on antifas.) The author is trying to whitewash the USSR, and it’s pathetic and ridiculous. But it’s what pays, so I don’t even blame her for this sad, ridiculous opportunism.

Slavic Studies is a dying field, and it’s very clear why.

5 thoughts on “Opportunism in Slavic Studies”

  1. “well, it’s not really propaganda”

    In everyday US English (and I suppose in Canada as well) the word “propaganda” isn’t really about the format (as is the case in many other languages) but it’s an aesthetic judgement about the content which is assumed to be (morally) bad, false, ugly and not worthy of serious attention.
    So I can see why she wants to distance herself from the word in a piece intended for a general audience….


    1. That content was morally bad and false. But she can’t afford to see it because it would mean expressing a mildly unpopular opinion, and God forbid an academic should do that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “That content was morally bad and false”

        But often enough visually interesting… that alone is enough to to make it not propaganda (in the traditional sense). Though the main point that western academics seem loathe to say anything bad about the Soviet Union (or Cuba or North Korea or ……) is certainly disgusting.


  2. Propaganda is often visually interesting / appealing / competent. Look at Spanish Civil War propaganda posters. And propagandistic music can be played in tune, imagine that! Of course they are going to want to dress up the message in attractive form.


    1. Oh, our Soviet propaganda music was the best. I still tear up when I hear some of the iconic Soviet songs. And our movies! They were works of art. Beautiful, powerful stuff. I sometimes watch them even though I know they are pure propaganda. But even now they are so seductive.

      There was this one post-war movie titled “The Cossacks of Kuban.” Prisoners in the Gulag were tortured with that movie. And it’s still a powerful movie even though I know what it is and how it was used.

      It would be so easy if propaganda were created by talentless, stupid people. But no. Some of the most brilliant minds of our culture worked on this stuff.

      Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita,” which critics call “a love letter to Stalin” with great reason is a beautiful work of art.


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