It was the Best of Times and it was the Worst of Times

The revolution in Russia was the beginning and end of a lot of things but it truly is the events leading up and the fallout that hold great importance. Mass culture in particular was one of the areas that suffered greatly in the violence and sudden change of the revolution. Russia mass culture, including music, literature, and other forms of entertainment, often focused on stepping over the bounds of the current social norms particularly sexual social norms. The farther the bounds crossed the more sensational it grew. But a number of intellectuals and Bolsheviks saw sex itself was a distraction from the suffering and exploitation and nothing more than an ‘opiate of the masses’ similarly to religion according to Marxism.

This entertainment class flourished under Tsar rule and kept its power and freedom but all of that came crashing down in the revolution. This culture could only have been a factor that was a pushing force on the revolution, what was seen as sexual depravity by the Bolsheviks that was distracting the masses from their real pain and exploitation. This form of escapism that was very available and present to the masses was an obstacle in the eyes of revolutionaries from mobilizing the masses to come together as one force. The revolution required high emotions of righteous fury from the masses and the entertainment industry pushing moral ambiguity would only dissipate such. Only revolutionary and workers songs had a place in the revolution.


This image truly says it all. The common working Russian man throwing down the temptress of entertainment who is there to do nothing more than distract him from his greatest purpose. The destruction of the pre-revolution mass culture in Russia is important as a measure of before and after the revolution. The ideals of the Bolsheviks are represented greatly throughout many aspect of the revolution but the loss of literature, music, and movies, now restricted to only certain topics showed a social step back. Mass culture was focused on escapism in Russia at this time, escape from the miserable working conditions, escape from the toll of the war on everyone but also an escape from the masses purpose according to the revolutionaries. It was an obstacle that needed to go and stay down after the revolution. Some pieces of literature that are pre-revolution are an enlightening read on the development of the popularity of revolutionary ideals. Almost any book by Fyodor Dostoyevsky includes a section of the book that comments on the new Marxist ideal. Crime and Punishment (1866) in particular speaks on how the ideals were either ridiculed by the middle class or seen as only the topic of university student styled intellectuals. How far these ideals have come and effect history itself is shown in a timeline of music, literature, movies and almost all other form of mass culture.



List of Media that relates to revolutionary ideals:

-Almost books by Dostoyevsky but Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov in particular

-The Peddlers (song) (1916, Varia Panina. Transposed from a Hungarian csardas. Lyrics: Nikolai Nekrasov)

-Little Creole Boy (song) (1918, Aleksandr Vertinskii. Sung by the author)

-Evgenii Bauer: Life for a Life (movie) (1916)








8 thoughts on “It was the Best of Times and it was the Worst of Times

  1. WOW! What a post!! I love the pun in the name and the cover photo; it made me laugh. I love your post because the entertainment and media aspect is not something that is commonly looked at when talking about the February and October revolutions of Russia. This was really unique for that reason, but in addition, you added examples and photos of what you were talking about. I liked how you focused on escapism and how “…a number of intellectuals and Bolsheviks saw sex itself was a distraction from the suffering and exploitation.” This demonstrates great reasons why Russia’s mass culture transformed in the way that it did. Great post, I love this!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a great topic! I agree with Nhi that mass culture is an important but oft-overlooked aspect of revolutionary change. In this case, you’ve touched on two key themes of the Soviet project that are intertwined here in ways that might seem disconcerting or contradictory, but actually support each other. The first is the debate about “what is art” — aka the “entertainment vs. enlightenment” debate. Popular urban culture might be petit-bourgeois and distract red-blooded workers from the revolutionary tasks at hand, but if this is supposed to be ‘the people’s” revolution, then how could the people’s culture be “bad.”? So that’s a contradiction.
    And the second issue is the tension between emancipation (specifically female emancipation) and the messages you identify in the Stenka Razin poster (I’m always tempted to call him “Stinky Rozin”). Anyway, the manly peasant rebel throwing the female entertainment temptress down sort of says it all…..


  3. Great post – I also like the focus on how the revolution affected culture! One thing that’s interesting is that although it’s accurate to say that the restriction of media to certain subjects was “a social step back,” many Soviet citizens made amazing artistic achievements. In cinema, for instance, many groundbreaking films were made, even though they were restricted in subject. “Man with a Movie Camera” (1929), “Potemkin” (1925), and “Strike!” (1925) are all highly regarded by modern filmmakers. It’s interesting how these filmmakers excelled despite limitations on their creativity.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a fantastic post. You did a great job detailing the Soviet’s ideological motivations to restrict and change music, literature, and films. Its interesting that they saw escapism as a distraction from the suffering needed to attain class consciousness. Something tells me that you are going to love Soviet mass culture when we get into it. Great use of your sources and images!


  5. This is really an interesting post. The change in relations between men and women as a result of this cultural shift is truly fascinating. As you were discussing the changes in attitudes towards sex, I began to wonder how this change affected the role of women in society. Were they seen as seductive temptresses? And how did they distinguish between those who were and those who weren’t? How did marital relations change as a result and how did this impact the Russian home? This topic brings to light a lot of controversial topics that would be fascinating to delve into. Overall, a great article!


  6. I loved this post! You did an amazing job on showing how the mass media changed as a result of the Russian Revolution. The Bolsheviks saw any form of literature, music, or plays as something that took away from focusing on the suffering of the people and the main goal of destroying social classes. The emphasis placed on this led to an entirely new type of mass media. I also really enjoyed the posters you put into your post as they perfectly represented every part of your post!


  7. I really enjoyed reading this post! Revolutionary time periods are an interesting place to see the evolution, or rather sudden change in mass culture and I think it’s really cool you focused on that, I wasn’t aware of this occurring! I do know, from previous courses that during the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution (in Communist China) Mao issued a radical upheaval of mass culture (similar to what you’ve wrote about here!) The connections are very interesting!


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