Russia: Control of the People 1917-85


State control of Mass Media & Propaganda

  • Lenin and the Press: The Decree of Press 1917, gave govt power to close any newspapers that were counter-revolutionary
  • Revolutionary tribunal of the Press 1918- State powers to censor press. 
  • All-Russian Telegraph Agency (ROSTA) 1918- State control of all advertising and reporting
  • Glavlit 1922- employed professionals to censor all books for anti-communist ideas 
  • Propaganda under Lenin: Gustav Klutis, Photomontage to advertise Electrification campaign.
  • El Lissitzky, 'Beat the whites with the red wedge'. Abstract art 
  • Rosta produced film to support media 
  • Stalin's Media:
  • Censorship tightened, work of opponents banned
  • From 1928 Glavlit controlled access to economic data.
  • Press was forbidden to publish 'bad news'
  • Cult of Stalin, semi-divine figure, unique visions 
  • Propaganda focused on idealised images to promote socialism. 
1 of 9

Mass Media K & Brezhnev

  • Khrushchev encouraged publishing of readers' letter. 
  • Exposed profound social issues (alcoholism, inequalities, abuse etc.)
  • Satirical cartoons allowed, Krokodil poked fun at alcoholism and lateness
  • Censorship relaxed during Khrushchev's Thaws (1953-64)

Media Under Brezhnev:

  • Nostalgic
  • Focused on the victory of WW2
  • Focused on contemporary Russia
  • Stocked public desire for Consumer goods and fashion
  • Rich Russians exposed to western magazines
2 of 9

Personality Cults

  • The Cult of Lenin: 1918, Lenin's image used as a revolutionary symbol
  • Saintly, willing to suffer for his people
  • Didn't like the cult but recognised importance 
  • The Cult of Stalin: Emphasised legitimacy of Stalin (Lenin's heir)
  • Manipulation of history, Stalin fought the revolution with Lenin 
  • Photos edited since early 1930's
  • Presented as 'Vozhd', leader with ultimate authority 
  • From 1941, presented as Generalissimo (a military leader)
  • The Cult of Khrushchev: Criticised Stalin's cult
  • Images of Stalin dropped 1955-64 (continued to use cult of Lenin) 
  • K developed own cult; A disciple of Lenin 
  • Responsible for new successes, a hero of WW2, Great reformer of Soviet system
  • undermined by media.
  • Brezhnev; Lenin cult persisted,
  •  A great Leninist, Military hero, dedicated to world peace, true man of people
  • Counterproductive, Cult led to ridicule and mockery 
3 of 9

Attacks on religious Beliefs & Practises

  • 1917 Land Decree allowed seizing of Church Land
  • 1918 Decree Concerning Separation of Church and State, took away traditional privileges of Orthodox Church 
  • Cheka terrorised church, Orthodox priests massacred Jan 1918,
  • 1921, Introduced Living Church, alternative to Orthodox but never took off 
  • Lenin attacked Muslim institutions, threatened by loyalty 
  • Under Stalin: Churches closed, used as grain storage
  • Used NKVD to destroy Islamic groups, e.g. Sufi Groups in Turkestan 1936
  • War compromise, pragmatic alliance with church, 414 churches reopened 
  • Ending of religious censorship, over 2,600 more priests 1946-48
  • Under K: Religion had no place, Anti-religious campaign 1958
  • Closure of re-opened churches, 8000 to 5000 buildings 1958-64 
  • Anti-religious propaganda, 
  • Under Brezhnev: Ended anti-religion campaign. Supported anti-American Islamic group
  • Established Spiritual Board of Muslims, allowed Islamic leaders access to others. 
4 of 9

Attacks on Opponents of the Government

  • Lenin introduced Cheka 1917, (Dzerzhinsky) to target counter-revolutionaries. 
  • Broad definition, supporter of tsars, socialists, trade unionists. 
  • Before 1921: requisitioned grain, torture/ execution of opponents
  • During NEP: Class enemies (rich traders, Western clothed women, Westernised youth)
  • Political trials, trial of socialist revolutionary leaders. 
  • Stalin: NKVD Used against party instead
  • Yagoda: 1934, treated soviet leaders w/ respect, slow purging. Turning point as used on CP
  • Trial of 16, Zinoviev & allies 1936
  • Yezhov, 1936-38, The Great Terror, Yezhovschina. 1.5mil arrested 10% population 635k deported, 680k executed
  • Trial of 17, Trotsky and supporters 1937
  • Beria: Mass execution and deportation, 1944 460k Chechens deported. 
  • Leningrad Affair 1949, 200 members of party arrested.
  • Trial of 21, Bukharim and allies including Yagoda 1938.
  • First atomic bomb 1949. 
5 of 9

Dissidents and Popular Discontent 1967-85

K's de-Stalinisation reduced the use of terror, Brezhnev concerned of controlling opponents but no return of mass terror.

  • Andropov's suppression of dissidents, 1967-82: Suspicious of K's liberalisation, preferred targetting of specific individuals, who refused to reform (dissidents)
  • Allowed 100k artists to leave the USSR
  • Repressive Psychiatry, sent opponents to asylums 
  • Sakharov & Solzhenitsyn biggest dissidents, bother forced to exile, immune due to support
  • Helsinki Agreement 1975: used by dissidents to embarrass govt (HR agreement)
  • 1982-85 popular discontent: loss of faith in the system due to:
  • Alcoholism, disincentives, demand for western goods, poor labour discipline
  • Dealing with discontent: Anti-corruption, investigated senior officials
  • Anti-alcohol campaign, workers sacked for drunkenness 
  • Operation Trawl, anti-drunkenness and anti-absenteeism campaign
  • Unable to sustain campaigns due to health 
6 of 9

The State and Cultural Change 1917-53

  • Established Prolekult (1917-29) to nurture the Proletarian form of Art. 1920 300 studios set up.
  • Lenin was critical as it wasn't universal. October 1920 Prolekult lots its independence. 
  • The Avant-garde 1917-29: Revolutionary art, geometric shapes to create new forms of art
  • Graphic posters during the civil war
  • Alexander Rodchenko, photomontage celebrating revolution
  • Socialist Realism 1930-53. Stalin argued art should use traditional techniques 
  • Realistic Art
  • Novels had to follow ordinary plots Fyodor Gladkov's 1924 'Cement' novel
  • Focus on building socialism 
  • Lenin and Stalin painted as revolutionary symbols

Transformed from free and independent to govt dominated and highly conservative. 

7 of 9

The State and Cultural Change 1950s-1985

  • Thaws & Nonconformity, 1954-64
  • 1953-4, publications that criticised Stalin's terror allowed
  • 1956-7, following Secret Speech, critical of party bureaucracy under Stalin
  • 1961-62, following removal of Stalin's body, critical aspects of Stalin's rule
  • Nonconformity 1950s: wanted to challenge alcoholism & laziness 
  • Poster Campaign to challenge these (Popular Oversight
  • e.g. The Lazy Bureaucrat 1961
  • Campaign against Style Hunters 1950s-60s  
  • Abandoned Cultural liberation 
  • Brezhnev organised Sinyavsky-Daniel Trial 1966, writers of anti-soviet material, sent to labour camps 

Dissident Artists

  • Secret shows: Samizdat 1970s exposed dullness of communist life 
  • Bulldozer exhibition 1974, art exhibition bulldozed 
8 of 9

The Secret Police NAME CHANGES

Lenin:Cheka 1917-21

GPU 1922 

Stalin:OGPU 1922-34

NKVD 1934-41

NKGB 1941-46

MGB 1946-54

K& Breznhev: KGB 1954-91

9 of 9


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Russia - 19th and 20th century resources »