Don’t look for it at the corner news stand or in the promotionals from Publisher’s Clearing House. Except for professional Soviet watchers, few Americans even know of the existence of Culture and Life, an “illustrated monthly magazine of the Union of Soviet Societies for Friendship and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries,” published in English, Russian, French, Spanish, and German at the Izvestia Printing Works. Founded in 1957, C&L promotes international appreciation for the strength and vitality of Russian culture. Or at least tries to. If Soviet weaponry were on a par with their publishing, we could forget all about star wars.
Technically, the magazine is primitive. While most American presses long ago converted to offset technology, C&L is still stuck with the same letterpress techniques they began with 37 years ago. The type is dirty, uneven, and often broken. Photos—mostly black and white, with a few color—are cloudy, with no better than newspaper resolution. Screens are ill-aligned, and the proofreaders deserve (and may get) 10 years in Siberia. The text abounds with hilarious violations of English diction, syntax, and idiom. “The bright gifts of Yuri Tynyanov were a display of his entity and lively interest in the culture of the new Soviet society,” we are told, while “transferring the arms race into outer space is something between a Sword of Damocles and a Pandora Case.” A sociologist shares “his ideas about a research” in which “we offered women to evaluate the behavior and way of life to their husbands.” If we begin to suffer anxieties under these assaults on our language, never fear: the work of a leading Soviet painter caresses us with details that “rock you to sleep like sea waves, and we gradually lose the idea about the reality of our bearings.”
The reader’s “idea about the reality of our bearings” does not grow much steadier when he attends to the themes which govern C&L‘s pages. In a typical article, “The world must remem ber its saviours,” Vasily Morozov, “military observer at the Novosti Press Agency and recipient of the USSR State Prize,” sets the record straight on his country’s role in Eastern Europe:
The liberation of a number of European and Asian countries by the Soviet Armed Forces, and the temporary presence of Soviet troops in their countries had nothing to do with the “exporting” of the socialist system. It simply provided more favourable opportunities for truly democratic developments. The people’s democratic and socialist revolutions in those countries were prepared by their internal situation. They were not “imported” on the bayonets of the Soviet troops, as Western bourgeois historiography and propaganda have been trying to prove. When we explore the prerequisites for the revolutions in the liberated countries we must always stick to historic truth.
No doubt it is a dogged determination to stick to historic truth that prompts the editor of a Polish magazine to tell C&L that despite unnamed “difficult problems,” Poland will remain “a reliable friend and ally of the Soviet Union.” “Only in the family of the socialist community nations,” he avers, “can we live and develop as a nation, which is totally sovereign, with the guaranteed inviability of our fron tiers.” Since this comment was made in the presence of editors from Hunga ry and Czechoslovakia, his point is clear.
Other contributors—who all write in a tone of unrelenting earnestness, without the slightest hint of irony or playfulness—are likewise eager to tell us of the marvels of the Soviet world. One hails “the steady growth of well being” enjoyed by the average Soviet family of four (why, they have a three room apartment and are even saving towards a car!), while a second lauds the humane and ecologically sensitive oil communities of Siberia. A third writer interviews a poet and a composer who pooled talents to produce the inspiring song Cowards Do Not Play Hockey! Elsewhere in these pages we find a portrait of the achievements of an Estonian singer who “won great popularity with his Blind Musician devoted to three famous singers: Ray Charles, Jose Feliciano and Stevie Wonder” (all of apparently unknown nationality).
Here and there they do concede that everything in Russia is not perfect, at least not yet. A Soviet economist admits that love of work is not yet “a norma for every individual in this country” and that the Soviets do “lag behind the USA in such spheres as per capita consumption.” But he is quick to add that socialism is uniquely suited for raising “the importance of labour in the scale of value” and to explain away the absence of consumer goods by pointing to “the initially low economic level of pre-revolutionary Russia and the ravages of two wars ” In another article—surely the best in the magazine—a Party demographer concedes that “divorce is on the upsurge” and reports on research to solve the problem. His conclusions—which point the finger at the “negative character” of “a nagging wife”—should give food for thought for the many feminists in this country who have wedded their cause to the hard left:
I do hope that the reader will not gather the impression that we are trying to blame only women for conflict situations in a family…. However, we would like to say to women, for they are the guards of a family hearth . . . don’t you think you reproach men too often? . . . Think, dear women, think.
But promoting domestic bliss by putting women in their place is a secondary consideration for C&L. Feature after feature stresses the dedication of Soviet scientists, artists, writers, and statesmen to “the struggle for peace.” According to C&L, people around the world are becoming “in creasingly convinced that the USSR is honestly dedicated to the cause of peace.” The Afghans, the reader is informed, especially understand this devotion because of the 25 years of service rendered by the Soviet Society for Friendship and Cultural Relations with Afghanistan. Lately, the “comprehensive activities” of this Society “have been raised to a considerably higher level than before.” The editors offer no reason for this increased activity, but they point with pride to the establishment of the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Prizes in 1981, “a memorable event for cultural contacts” be tween the two countries. Be assured that in Afghanistan, “the Society will go on strengthening the effort for peace.” Peace at any price.
The chief barriers to global serenity, it seems, are in the West. The United States—land of widespread poverty, unemployment, and capitalist exploitation—is the chief culprit. Singled out for censure is the American “star duels” technology being developed by men “compared to whom the Hitlers and Eichmanns, and the rest of the butchers of the Third Reich appear to be just white-winged angels.” A leading Soviet scientist warns C&L readers that because of “the arms race imposed by the imperialists,” we are on the brink of “a mass annihilation of human race [sic], an irreparable damage to the coming generations.”
Alas, “the West deliberately brainwashes people” by distorting “the true intentions” of peace-loving Russia. And who, after all, can really believe in “Western freedom and democracy” after seeing that “peace demonstrators are arrested in West Germany”? Things are so bad in the West that C&L can find evidence of Western discontent and injustice in “even the most biased bourgeois newspapers” and in official U.S. government sources. (Where are the CIA censors when we need them?) Those tired of Western brainwashing may write for a subscription to 13/15 Sapunova Proyezd, 103674 Moscow-Centre, GSP-2, USSR. Hurry! It’s not too late to order the perfect Christmas gift for all your favorite people: William Sloan Coffin, George Kennan, Teddy Kennedy, Alexander Cockburn, Jesse Jackson. The list is as long as the bow they draw when they’re talking about their favorite country.