Think of your hero today. Are they an actor, actress, musician, family member, or athlete? Well the proud Soviet citizen of the 1960s has a clear answer to that difficult and very personal question. The Russian Cosmonaut became the nations champion, paraded around the country as a hero who triumphed against the United States.
Why were these astronauts heroes to the everyday Russian citizen? They embodied what was most ideal in a Soviet. Cosmonauts like Yuri Gagarin (the first man in orbit and pictured below) went to where no one else had gone before, to space. Men like Yuri and women like Valentina Tereshkova (the first woman in space) became icons and utopian symbols for the Soviet Union in their race against the United States.
Yuri Gagarin was one of these symbols or icons for the Soviet Union. He became the first human to orbit the Earth on 12 April 1961 making him a hero to many. This was clearly evident and portrayed when he paraded around Moscow after his flight. “Mausoleum is a huge crimson banner with a portrait of Lenin with the words: ‘Forward to the victory of communism!’… A solemn ceremony begins, dedicated to the great world-historic victory of the Soviet people, the success of the world’s first space flight by our dear compatriot comrade Yuri Gagarin.” This clearly shows the meaning behind the flight. It was not just a small step for man, but a giant leap for the Soviet spirit. The government used Yuri as a stepping-stone to show how the Soviet project was prevailing and nothing would stop their success. It is plain to see how this affected the culture and attitudes of the entire communist nation. It had raced the United States and won. Those inside the country must have felt that they would prevail against all odds.
 Moskva, Vecherniaia. “The Capital Meets Its Hero.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. September 29, 2015. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1961-2/first-cosmonaut/first-cosmonauts-texts/the-capital-meets-its-hero/.
Why was the Cold War cold? A question that has many answers and is asked by many young, aspiring history students. Well, one simple answer is, nukes. With the unveiling of atomic weapons by the United States in dropping two weapons unlike ever seen before came a race. This race wasn’t a very fun one because there really was no winner of the race. Actually, everyone would be dead if the race was ever fully completed. This concept called M.A.D. (mutually assured destruction) came from the Cold War. This war was one in which two super-powers maintained aggression toward each other, but was seemingly not openly violent/fighting. Atomic weaponry played a major role in containing direct war between the United States and Soviet Union because as mentioned previously, if these weapons were used it would end all life on earth.
All this talk about nuclear weapons and the world blowing up certainly doesn’t paint a pretty picture. The Soviet Union first began tested these new weapons on August 12th, 1953 in northern Kazakhstan. The workup toward the tests had started only seven years prior. The Soviet Union was now in a full arms race with the United States. Tedious work began on increasing the destructive power, size, arsenal, and overall technology for these weapons. They clearly have a lasting affect on today’s modern political environment. There are currently nine nuclear-armed nations all with the power to take out huge swaths of life with a single bomb.
It is clear that in the aftermath of World War Two, Stalin and the Soviet Union faced challenges in regards to nuclear proliferation and control. “Stalin’s regime made significant investments in military research and development, developed a plan to modernize its military hardware, and broke the American nuclear monopoly by acquiring its own atomic bomb in 1949.” Not only did Stalin place a heavy emphasis on the buildup of his nuclear arsenal, but also each of his successors did as well after his death. As modern day citizens, we all understand how nuclear weapons have affected society, culture, and politics since their entrance into the world.
 Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Hydrogen Bomb.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. October 05, 2015. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/hydrogen-bomb/.
 Freeze, Gregory L.. “Russia: A History” (p. 402). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.
Why are the youth important to society and the safety of governments? Its simple, they are the ones that will grow up and either support or revolt. Governments and personalities look to influence young generations in order to push societal views or norms. One example of this in modern day is singers/song writers who cater specifically toward a juvenile audiences.
The youth under the Communist ideology of 1917-1924 in the new Soviet Russia were unlike any other generation. “The youth of the Soviet republic was free of exploitation and the taint of bourgeois values that went along with it. But the young needed guidance”. This led Lenin and the Communist Party to try and step up to become the parental guardian figure. In turn, the Komsomol was created organizing the youth under Communist leaders and structures.
“Komsomol members generally prided themselves on the purity of their commitment to building a Communist society. They were particularly hostile to manifestations of religious belief, practiced a kind of revolutionary asceticism that excluded drinking, pre-marital sex, affectations of dress or engagement in the ‘frivolous’ activities of their peers”1. Similar to many religious ideologies, the members of the Komsomol believed in staying pure to the cause. But along with these beliefs came a push for education as well as practical work. As noted in Nikolai Bukharin Brining Up the Young Generation, literacy and education were of the upmost importance. But in addition, practical work was greatly needed. Practical work could include working in a factory and contributing to society as a worker. Additionally, this was not just an urban movement, but also spread to the countryside and peasantry. By 1927 the movement raised almost two million Russians.
The significance of this movement cannot be understated. It is clear from primary sources that the Communist Party looked to influence social norms and attempt to influence revolutionary values by shaping the youth. This significant aspect of the Russian Revolution shows how important the future generations were to the stability of the Communist Party and new beliefs beginning to take hold in Russia. And just as the contemporary American musician, Young Thug once said, “I just put anything on my back. I take what I have on hand.” The Communist Party looked to emulate these words by putting the young/youth on their back and shaping their lives.
 “Young Communists.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. January 29, 2016. Accessed February 25, 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1924-2/young-communists/.
 “Bringing Up The Young Generation.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. September 24, 2015. Accessed February 25, 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1924-2/young-communists/young-communists-texts/bringing-up-the-young-generation/.
“ I, son of the laboring people, citizen of the Soviet Republic, assume the title of warrior in the Worker-Peasant Army” (Solemn Oath on Induction into the Worker-Peasant Red Army).
Lenin and his Comrades wholeheartedly believed that a general standing Army was detrimental and only a characteristic of conformist nations. Therefore, the Imperial Russian Army was disassembled and formally turned into the Worker-Peasant Red Army. This brought a radical transformation from an Imperial Army to one of farmers and laborers tasked with defending the new state from foreign powers as well as internally from the White Army.
This drastic change in military behavior had far reaching effects on many parts of society. In April of 1918, the Soviet government instituted a draft to bolster its forces. This grew the Army to almost three million persons after only a year. Like the Soviets overturned in many aspects of political and social life, the culture of the new Red Army was very different than that of the ‘bourgeois’ states. One key alteration was the complete abolition of rank. Unlike almost every military organization before, a soldier would no longer salute, be distinct, or hold a title in order to make the military inclusive as well as equal.
Now, image an Army without a rank structure… any soldier would be able to give an order, any order could be refused because each person was equal, and it likely wouldn’t be clear who would be in charge. The forces might not be able to mass or coordinate without a leader according to this directive taken from the Soviet of People’s Commissars, Abolition of Military Ranks and Titles. Yet, this seems to almost contradict the Solemn Oath on Induction into the Worker-Peasant Red Army. “3. I accept the obligation to observe revolutionary discipline and unquestioningly carry out all orders of my commanders, who have been invested with their rank by the power of the Worker-Peasant government” (Solemn Oath). This is clear that there is a rank and file structure and therefore contradicts the previous years abolition of rank.
What this may show is that there were a wide number of developing aspects to military life after the revolutions of 1917. It is important to understand these key new aspects of life under the Soviets.
Image and Sources:
“Abolition of Rank in the Army.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 27 Aug. 2015, soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/red-guard-into-army/red-guard-into-army-texts/abolition-of-military-ranks-and-titles/.
“Red Army Oath.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 20 Sept. 2015, soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/red-guard-into-army/red-guard-into-army-texts/solemn-oath-on-induction-into-the-worker-peasant-red-army/.
“Red Guard into Army Images.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 9 Jan. 2016, soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/red-guard-into-army/red-guard-into-army-images/#bwg15/256.
“Red Guard into Army.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 25 Feb. 2016, soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/red-guard-into-army/.
There is a photograph found in the Library of Congress’ World Digital Library of a melon vendor in modern day Uzbekistan. Please look at the image shown below…
(Image found here)
Taken around the year 1911 by Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, the photograph elegantly shows the stark traditional nature of the city and people of which this is taken. The merchant is located in the city of Samarkand. He is dressed in traditional attire while sporting a white turban. This type of dress was traditional of Central Asian cultures at the time, according to the description by the Library of Congress. The city itself has a rich history that is important to understanding the context of the picture and how life in that city remained traditional as the world around it progressed. Samarkand has been a well established stop along important trade routes. “Samarkand first became a way station on the Silk Road in the 4th century B.C.E” (Samarkand – Geography & History). This led to a multitude of cultures and economic interests passing through the city shaping customs.
In addition to the location along the famed Silk Road, “the city of Samarkand was surrounded by oases and agricultural regions that supported the urban population. Traditional crops grown in the area included melons, watermelons, fruits, beans, and nuts” (Melon Vendor. Samarkand). The image shows the sale of such crops within a stall at a market. So, while there may have been many changes socially or economically within the Soviet Union at the time, this picture looks to stand the test of time. It appears as if the photographer could have been viewing the same stall hundreds of years earlier and seen no changes. It certainly doesn’t appear to be an semblance of 20th century technology anywhere in the photograph except for the actual picture itself. The coloring and enhancement techniques used by Prokudin-Gorskii were ahead of his time and very innovative.
This may possibly show how there was a juxtaposition between the traditional norms within Central Asian culture and the technology progression of the early 20th Century. It is very interesting to see the differences throughout the entire album that the Library of Congress provides.
“Samarkand – Geography & History.” Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Institution, festival.si.edu/2002/the-silk-road/samarkand-geography-and-history/smithsonian.
“Melon Vendor. Samarkand.” World Digital Library, Library of Congress, 1 Jan. 1970, http://www.wdl.org/en/item/2495/#q=Prokudin-Gorskii.