The Legend of Laika

From its birth, the Soviet Union valued technological progress and advancement. This tradition of advancing technology and information continued until the fall of the Soviet Union. One of the most valued ways of expanding technical knowledge was the Space Race. The Space Race spurred a fascination in the beyond and was the inspiration for much of the popular culture of the time.

With the launching of Sputnik in 1954, the Soviet Union gained respect and admiration from the international scientific community. The launching of Sputnik was a landmark achievement in moving towards man’s ability to travel space, but at this time the Soviet Union preferred the use of space dogs to operate their ships(Source). Sputnik II launched with Laika, a street dog from Moscow, in tow up 2,000 feet from the streets she came from. Unfortunately, Laika did not make it home, but her legend and star power lived on through popular culture(Source).

4967208430_f5f05e968e_o(Soviet postcard depicting Laika)(Source)

Even though Laika did not make it home, her memory was preserved through postcards, children’s books, and other avenues of popular culture. However, in these renderings of the story of Laika, people often gave her a happier ending where she did not suffer from oxygen deprivation because most of this content was intended for children to enjoy. Beyond the Soviet Union, even people in America were fascinated by Laika. However, there was also a large amount of pushback against using dogs in a suicide mission in the States because of their inability to consent to such experiments. The Time’s editorial board called this practice “morally, spiritually, and ethically wrong.”(Source).  However, most people were fascinated by the idea of space travel, and Laika served as a glimmer of hope for the possibility of Soviet space travel.

While Laika would not be the last dog to adventure into space, she will forever be a national icon embodying the effort and will of the Soviet people to reach Space. While the debate on the ethics of using animals for experimentation lives on, the legend and sacrifice of Laika the Space Dog will be remembered forever.

Wellerstein-Laika(Laika in a training capsule before the launch of Sputnik II) (Source)

Lost Love and Suspended Romance

The years that marked World War II were full of emotions related to the brutality and sacrifice Soviet soldiers endured during wartime. Many parents lost their children, children often lost parents, and lovers had to endure long spans of separation and the distinct possibility that their partner would not return.

The civilians often felt the urge to cope with issues of love lost or suspended love through art and song. Artistic expression has always had an important role in dealing with emotional turmoil, providing a space for catharsis that people could find comfort in. An example can be found in Konstantin Simonov’s wartime song, “Wait For Me”(Song). In the song he pleas for his lover to wait for his return from the War. The song spoke to and comforted millions of people put in the same situation by war-torn Europe(Source).

Konstantin-Simonov

(Konstantin Simonov)

Outside of the fight against fascism, which was no doubt a huge motivating factor in people’s will to continue to fight, in many ways, people personalized the war effort especially when love and romance are involved. Due to a resurgence in traditional gender roles and relationship structure, people went to war to fight for the safety of their loved ones, making love an important motivator for Soviet soldiers. An example of this can be found in the song, “The Blue Kerchief” by Jerzy Petersburgsky and Yakov Galitsky. This emotional song touches on taking the sorrowful emotions surrounding separation and using them to stay strong while fighting the war. “It’s all for our loved ones, our nearest and dearest that we go to war, The machine-gunner fights for the blue kerchief that those dear shoulders wore.”(Mass Culture in Soviet Russia, 373, ebook). These lyrics give us a glimpse into the motivators and values of the Soviet people in a time where far too many people lost their lives in the struggle against German fascism.

Jerzy Petersburgsky and Yakov Galitsky, “The Blue Kerchief”. In Mass Culture in Soviet Russia, edited by James von Geldern and Richard Stites, 372-373.

 

Terror Trials

During the Russian Revolution, we saw glorious images of proletariat heroes. We saw shining workers and sophisticated art designed to evoke pride in Russia’s backbone: the laborers. The transition to a Communist society did not happen smoothly, or without purging the people who were considered class-traitors and bourgeoisie by the new regime. Looking at the artists and their works during this period of terror can give us insight into the experiences of those who lived these events.

Artists were no exception to these purges. Many artists saw their end during this period, so naturally fear amongst artists skyrocketed. Many people would try to secure their safety by denouncing other artists. This would be done in hopes of appearing loyal to the regime so they could hopefully, dodge execution (Source). The rewards for creating works that aide the Soviet message were plentiful. An example of this can be seen in the case of Aleksandar Gerasimov. Because of his 1938 work, Stalin and Voroshilov in the Kremlin, he was well liked amongst Soviet leaders. Gerasimov was even able to become wealthy from his other works like, “The Industry of Socialism”, which were rewarded monetarily (Source). By appealing to the intended imagery of the Soviets Gerasimov was able to attain a level of status in return.

Other artists like Demyan Bedny also used the Soviet’s desire to maintain their public image for their safety and sustainability as artists. While Bedny experienced the majority of his popularity in the Revolutionary Era, he continued to create poems that lend justification to the purges (Mass Culture in Soviet Russia, 301). Throughout his poem, We Dealt The Enemy a Cruel Counterblow, Bedny uses grotesque imagery to describe the people being purged, serving as a contrast to his positive description of a good Soviet. He uses language like, “Shame to the mothers that gave birth to these dogs of unprecedented foulness”, to dehumanize the people who have fallen to the Purge. In contrast, he uses language like, “Heading with Stalin toward our radiant destiny”, to envoke feelings of purity and saintliness amongst proud Soviets (Mass Culture in Soviet Russia, 302).  

Demyan Bedny, “We Dealt The Enemy a Cruel Counterblow”. In Mass Culture in Soviet Russia, edited by James von Geldern and Richard Stites, 301-302.

 

Rallying Cries

At the time of the Russian Revolution, the nation was in political turmoil. Many people were left on the fringes unable to efficiently keep up with the ever-changing politics and events taking place across Russia. This is due to a couple things, one being the geography of Russia. Russia is a huge landmass with many rural peasant villages, making information spread slow. The second being the inaccessibility of news to many people. This is due to the low literacy rate in Russia at the time (Source). Given that the Revolution is supposed to cater to and uplift the working classes, this posed a problem. The solution was art and culture that allowed people to better understand the changing political tides in Russia through theatre, music, and other creative endeavors.

In addition to making the Revolution more accessible art also served as a way to empower people to fight on the side of the Red Army. Art and Culture served as one of the more pervasive avenues of propaganda on either side. However, I will be focusing on the pro-Russian Revolution propaganda found in Mass Culture in Soviet Russia by Sheila Fitzpatrick. Many of these poems, many times set to song and read, chanted, or sung aloud served as a rallying cry for the Proletariats and inspired them to fight for the vision of a brighter and more equitable future (Mass Culture in Soviet Russia, 55). For example, “The Young Gaurd” written by Aleksandr Bezymensky used lyrics of comradery and passion to inspire young comrades and remind them why they are fighting in the first place:

“Comrades in the struggle!

Go forward, meet the dawn,

With bayonets and grapeshot

We’ll lay the road ahead.

Go forward bravely,

keep your step firm,

Loft the ensign of youth on high!

We are the Young Guard Of the peasants and working class.

We have ourselves experienced Indentured servitude.

Our youth passed by us unawares,

Ensnared in slavery’s net.

We carried chains around our hearts— The legacy of darkness.

We are the Young Guard Of the peasants and working class.

Standing by our forges,

And bathing in our sweat,

We created with our work Wealth for other men.

But that labor, in the end, Forged fighters from us all,

Us—the Young Guard Of the peasants and working class.

We lift high the banner!

Comrades, over here!

Come, you can build with us The Republic of Laborers.

To make work the master of the earth,

And join us in one family—

To arms! Young Guard Of the peasants and working class!”

This poem is quite literally a call to arms. It was written to have an effect on the listener. In other words, the poem relies heavily on pathos, the aspect of a work that uses emotion as a persuasive tool. This poem which was later turned into a song (Mass Culture in Soviet Russia, 55), struck a chord in many people and was useful in keeping the Proletarian people engaged in the fight.  

105210349_136160260246 Photo Portrait of Aleksandr Bezymensky (Source)

Source:

Aleksandr Bezymensky, “The Young Gaurd”. In Mass Culture in Soviet Russia, edited by James von Geldern and Richard Stites, 54-55.