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VIRTUOSI ABROAD

SOVIET MUSIC AND IMPERIAL

COMPETITION DURING THE

EARLY COLD WAR, 1945–1958

Kiril Tomoff

CORNELL UNIVERSITY PRESS

Ithaca and London

To Lilia

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

1. Shostakovich and The Iron Curtain

2. Dueling Pianos

3. From a Musical Holiday to the Tchaikovsky Competition

4. Oistrakh on Tour, Richter at Home

5. Oistrakh and the Impresario

Epilogue

Notes

Bibliography

Index

Acknowledgments

I have benefited from intellectual engagement, research funds, companionship, and friendship from many sources. Without that support, I could not have written this book. Research in Moscow’s archives began long before the topic had crystallized. I gathered some materials while I was still a graduate student supported by a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Abroad Fellowship. Subsequent research trips were funded in part by the Faculty Senate of the University of California, Riverside. My time in Moscow was made both more comfortable and more interesting by the logistical support, warmth, and friendship of Elena Drozdova, Leonid Weintraub, Aleksei Balashov, and Alla Ipatova. The research itself was facilitated by the professionalism and dedication of the entire archival staffs at RGALI, RGASPI, GARF, and RGANI, but I am particularly indebted to Galina Albertovna Kuznetsova, Dmitrii Viktorovich Neustroev, and Oleg Vladimirovich Naumov.

My greatest debt as a historian is to Sheila Fitzpatrick, whose support and intellectual engagement have continued unabated in ways both large and small in the years since I left the University of Chicago. Her approach to historical investigation and writing still shapes mine. She read first drafts of all the chapters in this book, and her supportive, penetrating critiques and advice helped me immeasurably. Her erudition and generosity also saved me from committing a blunder in one chapter in particular. My ideas about the intersection of the national, the imperial, and the global in the mid-twentieth-century world were also shaped by conversations with Ronald Grigor Suny and György Péteri and in engagement with two intellectual communities, the History Department at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) and the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. My colleagues and graduate students at UCR provided periodic sounding boards and an extremely supportive environment for research, for which I am grateful. For their contributions, I am especially indebted to Catherine Allgor, Lynda Bell, David Biggs, Thomas Cogswell, Jonathan Eacott, Ann Goldberg, Piotr Gorecki, Alexander Haskell, Randolph Head, Georg Michels, Michele Salzman, Dana Simmons, Sterling Stuckey, Heather VanMouwerik, David Wagner, Amelia Warinner, Jeremiah Wishon, and the graduate students in my reading seminar on nation, empire, and transnational history in the winter of 2010: Carlos Dimas, Jordan Downs, Joshua Hudson, Gurveen Khurana, Elliott Kim, Jeno Kim, Katy Skoog, Ulices Pina, Stephen Teske, and Kevin Whalen.

This book emerged out of a larger research project in 2012–2013, during a marvelously stimulating year of research, writing, intellectual engagement, and camaraderie while I was a senior fellow at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. For the vibrant intellectual community they created and fostered there, I thank Laura Adams, Anna Aleksanyan, Robyn Angely, Nelly Bekus-Goncharova, Julie Buckler, Katie Genovese, Ekaterina Khodzhaeva, Ingrid Kleespies, Nadiya Kravets, Andrej Krickovic, Robert Kusnierz, Anastasia Likhacheva, Erika Monahan, Gayane Novikova, Kelly O’Neill, Tommaso Piffer, Anvarjon Rahmetov, James Richter, Bruno Sergei, Yaroslav Shulatov, Morena Skalamera, Hugh Truslow, Alexandra Vacroux, the members of the Russian and East European History Workshop, Historians’ Seminar, and Working Group on Central Asia and the Caucasus, and especially Timothy Colton, Serhii Plokhii, and Terry Martin.

A version of chapter 1 first appeared as "‘Shostakovich et al.’ and The Iron Curtain: Intellectual Property and the Development of a Soviet Strategy of Cultural Confrontation, 1948–1949," in Writing the Stalin Era: Sheila Fitzpatrick and Soviet Historiography, edited by Golfo Alexopoulos, Julie Hessler, and Kiril Tomoff, 133–56 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). It is reproduced here in a revised and expanded form with the permission of Palgrave Macmillan. I presented preliminary versions of chapters 2 and 3 to the Annual Convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies in November 2009 and of chapters 4 and 5 at the Russian History Winter Quarter Speaker Series at UCR in February 2011, Pomona College’s Oldenborg Center in April 2011, and at the Midwest Russian History Workshop at the University of Chicago in April 2012. I thank the participants in all these venues for their helpful feedback, but especially the discussants and organizers who made them possible: Julie Hessler, Oliver Johnson, Larissa Rudova, Luz Forero, Faith Hillis, and Dana Immertreu. The book and its individual chapters also benefited from friendly conversations with Golfo Alexopoulos, Stephen Bittner, Pauline Fairclough, Matthew Lenoe, Ethan Pollock, Andrew Sloin, and Alison Smith.

Catriona Kelly, Doug Rogers, and Mark Steinberg read a first draft of the manuscript, and their careful, insightful, and thought-provoking critiques made the final book much better. I am particularly indebted to John G. Ackerman at Cornell University Press, who expressed early enthusiasm for the project and worked both tirelessly and generously on it even after he had retired from the press. His attentive reading, editorial expertise, and wisdom were indispensable. I also thank Roger Haydon at Cornell for agreeing to oversee the last stages of the publication process. John found two remarkable readers, both of whom provided uncommonly extensive, perceptive, and helpful critiques that improved the book immensely. David Engerman revealed himself as one of those readers. I am especially grateful to him for his support of this project and for long conversations in Cambridge and Belmont while the book took form. The final result may not entirely satisfy these readers, but the book is better as a result of their generous and thoughtful efforts, and I am grateful to all of them.

Finally, I thank my friends and family for sustaining me throughout. We received a warm welcome in Belmont, Massachusetts, not just from colleagues I have already thanked but from a remarkable number of old friends: Siobhan O’Neill, Karsten Kueppenbender, Kiril Kueppenbender, Etienne Kueppenbender, Ronan Kueppenbender, Joanna Dunn, Ed Amer, Sally Martin, and Stephanie Wratten. In Riverside, I am grateful for my friends Bart Kats, Vanda Yamaguchi, Kurt Schwabe, Citra Schwabe, Emily Garabedian, Kevin Esterling, Tomma Velez, and Brett Pollard. I am very fortunate to have a loving and supportive sister and in-laws: Alyssa Tomoff, Andrew Gagne, Gareth and Denny Geering, Christopher Geering, Julianne Rainbolt, Deborah Geering, David Nash, Deborah Macmillan, Daniel Macmillan, Gareth Geering (the younger), Martha Geering, Wilder Nash, and Etienne Gagne. My grandparents, William C. and Ruth Skibbe, cultivated my interest in history as a child and continue to encourage and inspire me as I think about the past. My parents, Joan and Carl Tomoff, enabled the Harvard year, endured truncated family visits, and provided constant understanding and a patient ear. But the sacrifices of living with a historian, itinerant through the research and writing and distracted while revising, were primarily borne by Lisa Geering Tomoff and Lilia Tomoff. To Lisa, I am particularly grateful for the love and support entailed in packing up and moving for a year, tolerating the loneliness of having her spouse halfway around the world or buried in a computer screen late into the night after a teaching day’s absence, and for providing the insights and expertise of a professional orchestral musician. To Lilia, who attended four different schools in four years to accommodate this project, whose cheerful brilliance keeps me hopeful about the future, and who kept us all laughing with her exasperation that Dada was still just writing the introduction (?!), I dedicate this book, finally complete.

Introduction

In April 1958, a young Texan named Van Cliburn stood on a Moscow stage acknowledging the audience’s stormy applause as he was named the winner of the First International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition. Van Cliburn would later thank those audiences through the Soviet press, while extolling the Russian musical heritage being developed in the Soviet Union: Tchaikovsky is one of my most loved composers. I was twelve years old when I first performed his First Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. Since then, my whole short life as a musician, I have loved the work of this genius of humanity…. I still cannot get over the realization that I have walked in the classrooms and corridors of the Moscow Conservatory, where the spirit of Tchaikovsky still lives, where music is so loved and valued…. I want to assure all my Soviet friends and the excellent public who listened to me with such attention and friendly disposition that I will work tirelessly to perfect my art. Thank you very much!¹ It seemed a major upset, an American stealing the top prize at the Soviets’ own competition. But by the time the piano competition concluded, the Soviet domination of international music competitions was so well established that even the minister of culture welcomed the opportunity to show off Moscow as a center of global musical culture and the Soviets as magnanimous, fair-minded hosts. Van Cliburn’s win helped demonstrate Soviet evenhandedness and played the role of the exception that proved the rule of Soviet domination. After all, just two weeks earlier, six Soviet violinists had finished in the top eight of the First International Tchaikovsky Violin Competition. Like the controversial Soviet basketball gold at the 1972 Olympic Games or the Miracle on Ice in 1980, Van Cliburn’s Tchaikovsky win became a signal moment in the cultural Cold War—because it was such a surprising exception.

A year later, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and visiting American Vice President Richard Nixon stood in the model American kitchen constructed in Moscow to introduce Soviet audiences to the wonders of American consumer goods. Khrushchev famously said to Nixon, let’s say America has been in existence for 150 years and this is the level she has reached. We have existed not quite forty-two years, and in another seven years we will be on the same level as America. When we catch you up, in passing you by, we will wave to you. Then if you wish we can stop and say: Please follow up. Plainly speaking, if you want capitalism you can live that way. That is your own affair and doesn’t concern us. We can still feel sorry for you but since you don’t understand us—live as you do understand.² It was the summer of 1959, and Khrushchev’s statement evinced a still comparatively new Soviet emphasis on consumption and acknowledged that satisfaction of the population’s desire for consumer goods was the ultimate measure of systemic success.³ Considering just how far a Soviet economy nearly obliterated during World War II and still plagued by chronic inefficiencies lagged behind a U.S. economy that was far larger and far more focused on delivering consumer goods, why would Khrushchev stake the legitimacy of his system on a claim that in retrospect appears so outlandish? A deeply held ideological belief in the superiority of the Soviet system and the inevitability of its historical triumph was surely a major factor. But there was another reason as well: wherever Khrushchev and other interested observers looked in the direct cultural competition between the Soviet Union and the United States, they saw actual Soviet triumphs that justified their faith in the ultimate victory of their system.

The parade of Soviet laureates who dominated international music competitions and drew glowing praise from Western music critics presented an image of Soviet cultural development, even sophistication, to the rest of the world, scoring propaganda victories for the Soviet system. Those cultural successes intensified the Cold War in the 1950s, but they masked—even from Soviet leaders such as Khrushchev—the comparative weakness of the Soviet system, which was quietly but steadily being submerged within the U.S.-dominated global capitalist economic and legal system. Success emboldened the Soviets to engage the United States on whatever terms the Americans proposed. When the Cold War intensified again in the 1960s and 1970s, and the terrain of its major clashes shifted into the realms of economic development and popular culture, the Soviets could not hope to compete on the terms, essentially set by the United States, to which they had already agreed. The seeds of the eventual Soviet collapse would not sprout for decades, but they were already planted even at the Soviet high-water mark of the late 1950s. Virtuosi Abroad uses the lens of classical music to reveal how—in competition after competition—Soviet short-term success hid from view a more decisive integration into a global order dominated by the United States.

This claim—that Soviet success in the Cold War’s cultural competitions of the late 1940s and 1950s propelled the Soviets to intensify the struggle, led them to overestimate their ultimate chances of success, and simultaneously laid the groundwork for the ultimate integration of the failed Soviet Union’s successor states into a U.S.-dominated world order—depends on a reconceptualization of both the nature of the Cold War and the sources of the globalization that is widely considered to have succeeded it as the dominant structure of world history. The linchpin connecting the Cold War and globalization is empire. The Cold War was a struggle between imperial projects, the U.S. and the Soviet. The first postwar decade witnessed the collapse of the British and French empires in the face of decolonization movements across the world, but their disappearance did not spell the end of empire.⁴ Instead, these years saw a fundamental transformation in the nature of empire itself, as its metropolitan centers shifted from Europe to the United States and Soviet Union. Neither the Soviets nor the Americans sought empires that resembled those of Great Britain, France, the Habsburgs, or the Romanovs, yet each of them sought to integrate the world into its own economic, political, and cultural system. This domination by integration constituted a fundamentally new form of empire. To make it happen, practitioners in the new metropoles—Moscow, Washington, New York—co-opted the rhetoric of national liberation to suggest that membership in the new system would be emancipatory, modern, and universally beneficial.

The Soviet Union was a heavily centralized multinational state constituted in part by the domination of a vast and differentiated periphery by a powerful core that sought total control over the state’s politics, economy, and ideological production.⁵ It was, as Ron Suny has written, a composite state structure in which the metropole is distinct in some way from the periphery and the relationship between the two is conceived or perceived by metropolitan or peripheral actors as one of justifiable or unjustifiable inequity, subordination, and/or exploitation.⁶ Yet the Soviet Union was a new form of empire, combining the foreign domination of traditional empires with a modernizing agenda that sought to transform and homogenize domestic society in ways that resembled other modern mobilizational states.⁷ As Mark Beissinger notes, it constituted a new form of empire whose crucial contributions were its denial of its imperial quality and its use of the very cornerstones of the nation-state system…as instruments of nonconsensual control over culturally distinct populations, thereby blurring the line between state and empire.

The other new empire, the United States, also denied its imperial character, perhaps even more convincingly since the instruments of nonconsensual control often operated more subtly in the American empire than they did in the Soviet.⁹ Indeed, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and especially after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, scholars of international relations and critics of the militarist foreign policy of the post-Cold War United States alike turned their attention to a debate about twenty-first-century American imperialism. Many of these scholars and other commentators understood contemporary developments to be a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy from the Cold War to a new imperial mode. Some used empire primarily as a term of condemnation; whereas others convincingly posited the shift as merely a change in tactics, a continuation of imperial domination of the capitalist world established by the United States after World War II.¹⁰ In any case, both postwar superpowers constituted new forms of empire seeking to subjugate as much of the world as possible by incorporating the remnants of disintegrating traditional empires into their own systems.

Each of these projects of imperial integration was predicated on the superpowers’ universalist claims. For the United States, universalism was paradoxically rooted in firmly held conceptions of American exceptionalism. According to this strain of American political thought, what is posited as exceptional about the United States—its particular combination of, in layman’s terms, democracy, freedom, liberty, free market capitalism—is also an exemplary model for the rest of the world. Indeed, manifest destiny had provided the ideological underpinnings for American expansionism and a justification for U.S. imperialist activity on the North American continent in the nineteenth century and abroad at least as early as the Spanish-American War. That U.S. ideologues saw in their system a model for the rest of the world also endowed American expansionism with a universalizing character.¹¹ The Soviet Union, too, entered the postwar period guided by universalist visions and programs. The dialectical materialism of Marxism, the teleological millenarianism of the most exuberant strains of Marxism-Leninism, and the inherent logic and self-justifications of Stalinist nationalities policy all contained strong strains of developmentalism—the notion that societies, cultures, and/or peoples can be arranged on a hierarchical scale from least to most developed, with those at the bottom striving to catch up with those at the top.¹² What made this developmentalism universalist in the Soviet case was its fusion with the idea of the Revolution, the messianic notion that the Great October Revolution inaugurated the final stage of humanity’s inevitable progress to communism.¹³ Though this messianism was always mediated by a calculated Leninist realism, its underlying universalism drove the Soviets, like their American counterparts, to imperial expansion.

To be integrated into the Soviet empire was eventually to become communist. To be integrated into the American empire was eventually to participate in what came to be called globalization. The two empires projected different social, political, economic, and cultural systems of organization. These differences constituted the binaries of the Cold War world: market versus planned economy, liberal representative government versus party dictatorship, mass entertainment and high modernist arts culture versus socialist realism and its successors, even NATO versus the Warsaw Pact. These oppositions were never absolute or cleanly dichotomous, but they captured an essential characteristic of the postwar order: the United States and Soviet Union represented competing modern empires with global ambitions.¹⁴

As they pursued those ambitions, both contributed to the emergence of a global world. Most theorists realize that globalization was a complex, long-term process that has been underway for centuries, if not millennia. Still, the rapid global expansion of competitive European imperialism in the 1870s and the subsequent rise of the United States and Japan as the first modern non-European imperialists are generally recognized as marking a major acceleration.¹⁵ The other decisive period of globalization is identified as beginning in the early 1970s (1974 often gets pride of place), with the period in the middle understood as being a sort of pause.¹⁶ The destruction of the world economic system in the Great Depression certainly constituted a distinct break in the trend toward globalization, and in Europe it inaugurated a desperate struggle among three dominant ideological systems: liberalism, with its capitalist economy and representative democracy; communism; and fascism. During World War II the first two allied to destroy the fascist states only to return to the conflict between themselves at war’s end.¹⁷ The destruction of fascism inaugurated, earlier than most theorists of globalization suggest, a period of global competition between the Cold War’s two universalist imperial projects and laid the groundwork for an even more rapid acceleration of globalization later in the century.

Though its role has often been ignored, the Soviet Union contributed in important ways to the emergence of this globalized world. Theorists of globalization have emphasized the growth of global cultural and capital flows that conditioned people to think of themselves and their immediate social contexts in relation to ideas, identities, communities, and processes that transcend not only these local contexts but even the boundaries of nation-states.¹⁸ The result is a compression of the world that is often cited as globalization’s most essential aspect. Though this compression has typically been understood as a function of the global reach of the U.S.-dominated capitalist economy, the Soviet Union posed its own different but equally universal vision of a globalized world, one that targeted domestic, developing postcolonial, and Western audiences. Both the Soviet vision and its competition with that of the United States contributed to the economic, political, and cultural developments that enabled the emergence of the transnational imagination fundamental to globalization.

Encounters between Soviet musicians and the West allowed individuals on both sides of the imperial divide to draw on different understandings of national and ideological belonging while contributing to the universalization of cultural technologies, cultural media, and financial structures for enabling cultural display. Similarly, the Soviets and the Americans both framed membership in a global community as a choice between their respective projects. The cultural diplomacy and musical competition described in this book expanded global awareness of both universalizing options, even if the realities of the Cold War allowed individuals little choice between the two in practice. Alternative, nonuniversal sorts of identity (nationality, for example) were subsumed within and transcended by both universalizing systems, so the universal itself became normalized over the course of the Cold War by the competition between the empires. Finally, the transimperial mobility of Soviet musicians and the agents who enabled it helped to constitute patterns of mediation between the global and the local. During the period of imperial competition explored in this book, Soviet efforts to establish and thereby influence cultural flows led them to participate, even to integrate into the economic and legal regimes that structured the capital flows that have been so crucial to theories of globalization.¹⁹ The dynamic relationship between competition and integration that animates this book’s analysis thus contributed to the most important elements and structures of globalization. And it did so during the early Cold War, before the period in which most globalization theorists have suggested their theories apply.

Soviet Music, Culture, and Cultural Empire

Music provides a particularly powerful lens through which to examine the dynamic relationship between competition and integration that characterized the cultural Cold War. On one hand, music was understood on both sides of the imperial divide to constitute a universal language, intelligible to audiences all over the world in a way that text-based cultural forms—including literature, theater, and even film—simply were not. On the other hand, its very abstraction has always made it more difficult to affix concrete meaning to music than to text-based art forms. This combination of abstraction and assumed universal intelligibility made music especially mobile internationally. Furthermore, Soviet musicians were spectacularly successful when they went abroad, either to participate in (and almost always win) international competitions or to concertize before large and enthusiastic audiences. Though American popular music, first jazz and then rock, eventually reached an even larger global audience, the excellence of Soviet virtuosi made music an area of particular Soviet success in the cultural Cold War.

Music was also a component of broader Soviet culture, typical in some ways and exceptional in others. When they embarked on the cultural Cold War, Soviet leaders operated with a particular understanding of Soviet culture and its potential usefulness in the imperial clash with the United States. They had always placed a high value on the production and dissemination of accessible art culture, which they thought had the capacity to remake human beings to suit a postrevolutionary society. The arts were central to the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary mission and played a constitutive role in the ever-changing definition and structure of Soviet society. The importance of the arts in reforging Soviet society was clear even in the earliest days of Soviet power, when they both generated and reflected the enthusiasm and anxieties of a revolutionary era.²⁰ But the 1930s saw the emergence of a more thoroughly institutionalized system for defining and disciplining Soviet culture: socialist realism.

Socialist realism encompassed many things. In the most general sense, it was a normative mode of perception for Soviets confronting a society in the midst of cataclysmic upheaval. In its most narrow applications, it constituted a poorly codified set of ideals meant to shape new Soviet artistic production in a way that promoted the normative mode of perception. Some scholars have even argued that it was an engine for the very realization of the Soviet Union as an aesthetic state and indeed of socialism itself.²¹ As a mode of perception, socialist realism required observers of Soviet conditions to apprehend characteristics of an ideologically determined radiant future within a decidedly imperfect, even squalid present. This mode of perception was ubiquitous in Stalinist society, in economic and social policy as much as in the arts. It provided justifications for the material privileges of elites, whose comforts were understood to point the way to a future society of material abundance. It undergirded the emergence of a specifically Stalinist ideal laborer, the Stakhanovite, who was understood to be the first appearance of an exponentially more productive future worker. And it provided a guide for interpreting the massive construction projects that were springing up across the Soviet Union during the rapid industrialization drive of the 1930s, which were understood to be—quite literally—the future in the process of becoming in the present.²²

The arts were meant to model and embody this mode of perception by portraying the radiant future in the process of its development, a call that was clearly articulated by Stalin’s head of ideology in the 1930s, Andrei Zhdanov, when he addressed the first Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934: Comrade Stalin has called our writers engineers of human souls. What does this mean? What requirements does this title impose on you? It means, first of all, to know life in order to be able to depict it correctly in artistic works, to depict it not scholastically, not lifelessly, not simply as ‘objective reality,’ but rather to depict reality in its revolutionary development.²³ This brief quote contains two of the paradigmatic phrases of the Soviets’ administration of cultural life, Stalin’s dictum about writers as the engineers of human souls and Zhdanov’s formulation of the requirement that the arts depict reality in its revolutionary development. Zhdanov continued by articulating the assumption that underpinned the Bolsheviks’ sense of the fundamentally important role of the arts in socialist society: Consequently, the truthfulness and historical concreteness of artistic depiction should be combined with the task of the ideological reworking and education of the toiling people in the spirit of socialism. This method of literature and literary criticism is what we call the method of socialist realism.²⁴ By definition, from the very beginning, socialist realism was thus imbued with a fundamentally pedagogical purpose of mass significance.

The importance of socialist realism’s pedagogical purpose to the regime meant that the ideas that were supposed to guide actual artistic production attracted constant attention from artists and periodic notice from party officials and government bureaucrats. These ideas were never well codified in any artistic field; instead, they developed over time through the elaboration of a series of positive and negative models. In literature, for example, socialist realism was eventually exemplified by a positive hero wending through a master plot that depicted the fundamental transitions of a Marxist-Leninist view of history as applied to the novel’s subject matter. How exactly writers crafted their novels changed over time, but positive hero, master plot, and what was called contemporary reality would remain essential components.²⁵ Painting was meant to be representational at the very least; it was also supposed to depict heroic, optimistic, positive themes.²⁶

In music, an accessible musical language was expected to express optimistic themes with triumphant or heroic conclusions. Structural or harmonic complexity and introspective or tragic themes were much less desirable. The gradual fusion of traditionally serious art music with traditionally light folk or other popular music forms was perhaps the most essential trait of ideal Soviet music, a point made explicitly in one of the most popular films of the 1930s, the musical comedy Volga, Volga.²⁷ Despite these vague guidelines, the assessment of artistic production, especially music, was always primarily a professional affair and seldom a matter for party elites. When politicians did intervene in ongoing artistic discussions, it was generally through harsh criticism of failed models in the press or Central Committee resolutions.²⁸

Whatever its ever-changing artistic parameters, and whoever determined acceptability within those parameters, the intended purpose of socialist realism and the justification for devoting so many resources and such high-level attention to it were, to reiterate Stalin’s axiom, to engineer human souls. Soviet culture was an essential tool for building a socialist society and the population that would inhabit it. It was meant to mold the worldviews of those who consumed it, at home and abroad. Though composers, playwrights, writers, poets, and artists were exhorted to produce work that appealed to a general audience, the actual preferences of those audiences were not decisive, even in the rare instances when they were actually consulted. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of evidence that Soviet culture did serve this intended purpose domestically, molding Soviet citizens’ views of the world around them and their own place in it.²⁹ Even after the restrictions of the narrowest interpretations of socialist realism’s artistic ideals faded during the Khrushchevian Thaw, the didactic function of culture in the Soviet system remained to the very end.

Another essential component of Soviet culture developed according to what Katerina Clark has called a Great Appropriation: In building up its own image, Moscow appropriated both laterally (absorbing contemporary trends in other countries, primarily western European, but also American) and diachronically (appropriating Great Russian and European culture of the past).³⁰ This appropriated culture was taken on so thoroughly that it contributed an important and prominent component of what Vadim Volkov has called the common cultural horizon against which Soviet citizens determined whether or not they could consider themselves cultured individuals.³¹ Culturedness (kul'turnost') was a central positive value from at least the 1930s on, and a command of appropriated classics was essential to demonstrating it. Appropriation required the translation of literary works and both the performance and the interpretation of musical ones. Translating, performing, and interpreting the classics allowed Soviet culture to expand its canon to include Pushkin and Shakespeare, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, even Wagner.³² This expansion and appropriation necessitated displaying and projecting the results, especially to Western intellectuals and eventually to broad Western audiences as well.

Display and projection, in turn, transformed Soviet culture. Even in the early 1920s, the Bolsheviks had already begun to develop and institutionalize an elaborate system of cultural diplomacy directed primarily at the West (both the United States and Western and Central Europe, in different keys). Early Soviet cultural diplomacy sought to convince practitioners and audiences alike of the fundamental superiority of the Soviet system, a process that Michael David-Fox has shown entailed altering not merely the views but also the world views of the Soviets’ interlocutors.³³ The work of cultural diplomacy was often carried out by Soviet artists and other intellectuals, who were mobilized to work with leading foreign intellectuals and, eventually, to appeal to broader intellectual audiences abroad.³⁴ The encounter with Western intellectuals, the cultural heritage that they represented, and their reactions during visits to the Soviet Union shaped the early development of Soviet society in at least two main ways. First, the insistence on Soviet superiority both derived from and reinforced Soviet society’s profoundly hierarchical view of the world. Convincing Western visitors of that superiority contributed to the emergence of the socialist realist mode of perception itself. As David-Fox explains, many early guides, with their methods of ‘cultural show,’ were involved in an effort not merely to pull the wool over foreigners’ eyes, but to change or convert them. They tried to inculcate a mode of looking at the heritage of the past and the promise of the future that became relevant, even decisive, for Communists and Soviet citizens too.³⁵ Second, the instrumental co-opting of the Soviet intelligentsia that cultural diplomacy required contributed to a larger rapprochement between the Bolsheviks and the intelligentsia. At the moment that the intelligentsia was subjected to the discipline of emerging Stalinist systems of control in the early 1930s, the party assimilated intelligentsia values.³⁶ The resulting arrangement organized intellectual labor in institutions that were dominated by the party and state even while they remained juridically distinct. This arrangement afforded the Soviet creative intelligentsia an influential, constructive role in Soviet society and a great deal of maneuverability.³⁷

Both Clark’s Great Appropriation and David-Fox’s cultural show undergirded a claim that the Soviet Union was the most advanced global center of culture in the Western tradition. This claim is key to my characterization of the Soviet system after the war as a cultural empire.³⁸ Already by the mid-1930s, Soviet politicians (bombastically) and intellectuals (somewhat more tenuously) had posited the Soviet Union as the center of European culture. They did so as part of, in Katerina Clark’s words, a drive for greatness based on a determination to preside over culture and create a great culture both as the backbone of the system and guarantee of that greatness.³⁹ The great culture with which the Soviets confronted the postwar world combined socialist realism and the appropriated classics in a fusion that sought to democratize a common (Western) cultural heritage by making it more accessible to general audiences (regardless of the taste of those audiences). The Soviets claimed that this democratized cultural fusion was superior to both the banal standardization of commercial popular culture generated by the West (of which Hollywood was the epitome) and the inaccessibly complicated academicism of high modernism (for example, abstract expressionism and the musical serialism of the Darmstadt Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik). Cultural production was thus at the heart of the Soviet Union’s imperial ambitions from the start. After the war, and especially in the 1950s, the Soviets created or reinvigorated institutions that could realize those ambitions, first through the absorption of Eastern Europe into the Soviet cultural empire and then in