Countering the Counterculture

Just like in the United States, when rock first began to become popular in the USSR, it was widely considered to be tasteless and violent, and a sign that the younger generation had no respect for tradition or authority. In the Soviet Union, it had the added barrier of also being seen as “bourgeois propaganda” intended to infect Russian youth with capitalist thinking. It wasn’t considered to be serious music, but in fact “convulsions and desperate howls into a microphone by performers who give the impression of being on drugs.” However, instead of suppressing rock, all the disapproval did was push it underground, where it was able to develop a massive following.

Ironically, it wasn’t until glasnost, the policy of openness which allowed rock to become mainstream, that critics were able to get a sort of victory. By coming forward to play in major stadiums and with official sanction, rock lost its counterculture status somewhat. The music itself didn’t change much, but the concept of “fighting the man” that rock had developed out of was no longer valid when they were being paid by the man. The clubs that rock had developed out of weren’t the same when the big names were playing in big concert halls.

Chachin, Vladislav. “What We Think and Talk About: IN THE GRIP OF A MUSICAL FAD.” The Current Digest of the Russian Press, pp. 19–20. East View, dlib-eastview-com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/browse/doc/13625509.

Malikova, Viktoriia. “About Rock in Our Own Country.” Translated by James Von Geldern, Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 5 Jan. 2016, soviethistory.msu.edu/1985-2/the-leningrad-rock-scene/the-leningrad-rock-scene-texts/a-prophet-in-his-own-country/.

“The Leningrad Rock Scene.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 5 Jan. 2016, soviethistory.msu.edu/1985-2/the-leningrad-rock-scene/.

“Viktor Tsoi and Kino in Performance at the Leningrad Rock-Club.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, soviethistory.msu.edu/1985-2/the-leningrad-rock-scene/the-leningrad-rock-scene-images/#bwg204/1409.

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7 thoughts on “Countering the Counterculture

  1. What an interesting topic! It’s neat to see the parallels between cultural movements in the US and the USSR. As we’ve seen throughout Soviet history, many things they try to suppress continue to thrive, just in an “underground” venue. Why do you think that perestroika allowed rock to come back to the surface? And what do you think this shows about Soviet control in the 80s?

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  2. Everything from the United States seems to be bourgeois propaganda, even if it’s not practiced by the bourgeoisie themselves. If you look at who was appreciating rock in the United States at this time, it’d be pretty difficult to describe them as the bourgeoisie.

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  3. Thanks for this great blog! I love this sort of period in history! If you are interested in this period I would highly suggest watching the Vanished Empire!

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  4. The popularity of Rock and Roll in the Soviet Union surprised me because I always imagine the Soviet Union to be so strict in regard to their pass time activities. However, it does not surprise me that the music became so mainstream so fast because of their lack of culture before glasnost

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  5. Did rock artists commonly criticize the government in their music while the rock was still underground or was it purely a show of resistance more than criticism? I would imagine that if they continued to voice discontent even after coming “above ground” so to speak, that they would continue to appeal to the counterculture.

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