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The Rise of Cultural Pluralism

"Gorbachev Factor"

Alongside institutional interest groups, whose growing influence was “softening” and “thawing” the Soviet monolith, other groups began to appear that were less formalized and yet increasingly assertive, voicing concern over various aspects of Soviet development.  

The cover of the Novyi mir literary magazine

The appearance of these informal groups of writers, journalists, scientists, and other intellectuals became possible when the quarter-of-a-century-long “deep freeze” of Stalinist tyranny was replaced by the more liberal cultural and ideological atmosphere of the Khrushchev period. The direction and essence of changes that would rock the Soviet Union in the final phase of its history under Gorbachev were, to a significant extent, prepared by the ideas and activities of these groups. From the mid-1950s this relative liberalization affected literature and cinematography, painting and music, and natural and applied social sciences. All this served to transform the monotonous cultural landscape of the Stalin era, leading to the development of cultural and academic pluralism.

In particular, the autonomous activity of writers and journalists led to the appearance of a number of groupings of the literati usually clustered around major literary magazines, such as Novyi mir, Nash sovremennik, Oktiabr’, Yunost’, and Molodaia gvardia. Artists, filmmakers, composers, and actors also had their own informal groupings. Despite being poorly structured, these diverse interests and their representatives articulated independent opinions and beliefs and sought to express them in their artistic explorations. All this enabled Soviet art and culture of the 1970s to develop into a rich and varied scene.

The Soviet authorities, no doubt, were aware of the dangers of cultural autonomy for the purity of the obligatory “party spirit” that had to permeate works of Soviet artists and writers, yet they refrained from rooting out resolutely all shoots of cultural pluralism. Partly, this was because they hoped that the growing cultural diversity might help diffuse tensions in society by channeling the emotional and social energies of the better-educated and socially active citizens into creative search and cultural activities. Partly, it was an attempt to compensate for the growing disenchantment of the intelligentsia with Communist ideals and to fill in the spiritual void that was opening up in an increasingly demoralized society.

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