Come Fly With Us

The 1960’s was an era of precarious relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. The decade started out with proxy clashes by the two superpowers, followed by near nuclear war, and various other close calls. However, this turbulent period of hostility started to change and move towards a detente between the two sworn enemies; this was, in part, due to Khruschev’s sweeping economic, cultural, and political reforms taking place in conjunction with De-Stalinization.

One often overlooked cultural “reform” that played a great role in “normalizing” relations between the U.S. and Soviet Union in the wake of earlier crises was the establishment of the Moscow to New York route by Aeroflot and Pan-American Airways. A concept that originally came to fruition under the De-Stalinizing USSR in 1958, the partnership between the Russian Aerospace company Aeroflot and U.S. based Pan-American took nearly a decade to materialize, as detailed below in a clipping from a FLIGHT international magazine in July 1968.

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In 1966, the U.S. signed into effect the US-USSR Air Service Agreement that allowed for bilateral air service between the two countries; and on July 15 1968, the first inaugural flight from Moscow landed in New York at JFK Airport. For the first time since the dawn of the Cold War, an opportunity was presented to Americans and Soviets alike (albeit very limited) to experience the other side’s world in a direct manner. It opened up a broad new world of cultural exchange that could only come to fruition by way of radical political reform, which would have never happened without De-Stalinization (Harris). While not an economically beneficial venture, the significance of this “airline diplomacy” was worth all the costs incurred by Aeroflot and Pan AM.

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The agreement between the airlines had a clause that allowed distribution of advertisement materials within the US and USSR- this became a weapon, in a sense, for the U.S. because it allowed PAN AM to distribute its famous beautiful and worldly calendars in the Soviet Union. This gave a glimpse to Soviet citizens of the glamorous and exotic fruits of capitalism that they had so long heard demonized by their Government (Baldwin). It could be argued that because of the Aeroflot and PanAM agreement and their advertising campaigns, this agreement helped influence culture and reshape the perception of the West in the Soviet Union and help de-demonize Soviets to the American people .

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The bi-weekly service between the Moscow and New York continued until the 1980s when there was a cooling of relations between the US and USSR over Afghanistan, and ended in 1991 with the collapse of the USSR and Pan-American Airlines as well. Ultimately, the introduction of flights between New York and Moscow and the partnership between a Russian and American airline company, ushered in a new era of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and USSR while impacting and even inspiring reform of the cultural, political and economic landscapes of both nations.

Sources/Works Cited:

Baldwin, J. P., & Kriendler, J. (2011). Pan American World Airways: Aviation history through the words of its people. Saint Augustine, FL: BluewaterPress.

Harris, S. (2015, August 31). Aeroflot and Pan Am. Retrieved April 09, 2018, from http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1968-2/aeroflot-and-pan-am/

International, F. (n.d.). MOSCOW-NEW YORK AT LAST. Retrieved April 09, 2018, from https://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1968/1968 – 1275.html

Pan Am Series – Part XLI: Flying to the USSR – 1. (2014, July 19). Retrieved April 09, 2018, from https://jpbtransconsulting.com/2014/07/19/pan-am-series-part-xli-flying-to-the-ussr-1/

 

 

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Hero of the Soviet Union

“None the less the greatest credit for victory in the war surely belongs to the Soviet population itself. It was the Soviet men and women who sowed the fields, operated the lathes, stormed enemy positions, and survived siege and occupation. They often did so with signal heroism under conditions of unspeakable deprivation”- William C. Fuller, pp. 390.

“For us, there was no land beyond the Volga”- Vasily Zaitsev

 

In the summer of 1942, the German forces undertaking the southern advance in the Soviet Union started an offensive in the region around Stalingrad. The purpose of this offensive was to deal a death blow to the Soviet fuel supply by seizing the oil field of Baku; without their oil, the Soviet war effort would be crippled and German victory would be certain. During the initiation of this offensive, Hitler ordered the German Sixth Army to take the namesake of the Soviet leader, Stalingrad, a city embanked along the Volga.

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The Battle of Stalingrad, as it is now known, would become among the longest and bloodiest battles in the history of warfare, and turn the tide of the Great Fatherland War in favor of the Soviet Union. The Battle of Stalingrad demonstrated the strength of the Soviet spirit and the essence of what this historic fight really was: it was a battle not for just a city, but for the survival of the Fatherland and its citizens. Hundreds of thousands of brave men and women would go out and fight with “signal heroism under conditions of unspeakable deprivation”- but one man stood out among all the rest. His name was Vasily Zaitsev.

Born in the Ural Mountains in 1915, Vasily Zaitsev spent most of his early years hunting in the harsh winter conditions with his grandfather and brother; during this time, he learned his marksmanship skills that would earn him fame moving forward. After finishing his schooling in his teen years, Vasily served in the Soviet Navy in various administrative positions, away from any combat role. Following the onset of Operation Barbarossa, Vasily requested transfer to a front line unit to fight back against the Nazi invaders. Vasily’s request was granted, and in the late days of September he crossed the Volga river with the 284th rifle division and linked up with the 62nd Army at Stalingrad. Снайпер_Герой_Советского_Союза_Василий_Зайцев_объясняет_новичкам_предстоящую_задачу._Сталинград._Декабрь_1942_г.jpg

Vasily’s skill with a rifle quickly brought him fame within Stalingrad, as he killed nearly 300 enemy fighters during the Battle, including an enemy officer at 800 meters with the standard issue Soviet fighting rifle, the Mosin Nagant. Most notably ( veracity still unconfirmed), Vasily went head to head with the Commander of the Berlin sniper school during the battle, ultimately killing the officer (referred to as Heinz Thorvald/Erwin Konig). Vasily also began to command and teach a unit of snipers during Stalingrad, in hopes of changing the tide of the battle with a strategy known as “sixes”. The “sixes” strategy  taught by Vasily allowed soviet snipers to cover large areas in teams, compensating for their limited troop numbers in the earlier months of the Battle. His students, the “zaichata”, would go on to be credited with over 6000 kills during Soviet involvement in World War II.

When asked why he joined the fight, and continued after his grievous injury, Vasily was quoted as saying “For us, there was no land beyond the Volga”. His story is so notable, and still talked of today, because Zaistev was the embodiment of the Soviet Defender, of Stalin’s order No. 227 (Not One Step back), and the resilience of the Soviet people over all. Vasily represented the national realization that this war was ” a national struggle…for the survival of Russia” (pp. 391) . For his bravery and contribution to the defeat of the Germans at Stalingrad, Vasily Zaistev was given Russia’s highest military honor, the Hero of the Soviet Union medal.

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It was this attitude and type of heroism that allowed the Soviets to persevere through the horrors they suffered through at Stalingrad and the entirety of the War in Russia. This token heroism was not limited to Vasily alone; citizens from all walks of Soviet society came to arms in defense of their beloved homeland to ensure its survival. This remarkable Battle, and the remarkable men and women who fought it, changed the course of the war through their grit and resilience in the face of the greatest enemy they had ever faced. By pushing the Germans out of Stalingrad, the Soviets essentially turned the tide of the war and helped trigger the Nazi’s to retreat back into Germany- the momentum gained allowed the Soviets to follow in pursuit, and ultimately sack Berlin at the end of the War.

 

Prominent Russians: Vasily Zaitsev. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2018, from https://russiapedia.rt.com/prominent-russians/military/vasily-zaitsev/

The Nazi Tide Stops. (2017, June 18). Retrieved March 26, 2018, from http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1943-2/the-nazi-tide-stops/

 

 

Maksim Gorky

The 1930s in the USSR was a period of great change on the cultural front, a period in which revolutionary values were replaced with Stalinist ideology and policies. A crucial part of this “Great Retreat”, as it is now called, was the re-unification of literature with Party values; thus making a move away from the past two decades of revolutionary writing and culture that had been brewing in Russia. The central figure in this recalibration of literature and culture within Russia was embattled but renowned author Maksim Gorky. Gorky would become the first president of the Union of Soviet Writers and the founder of Socialist Realism in Russian Literature, which would serve as an essential part of the Stalinist propaganda machine.

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Maksim Gorky (real name Aleksey Maksimovich Peshkov) was born in 1868, and at or around the age of 5,  taken in at a young age by his grandparents after the death of his father. After moving in with his grandparents, Peshkov exposed to the harsh realities of life for the working class in Russia, which played a role in influencing his  pseudonym “Gorky” (bitter, in Russian). Gorky’s childhood and early adulthood consisted of hard labor and impoverishment, and played an important role in influencing Gorky’s writing and thoughts on the individual, capitalism, labor, and literature itself. Gorky’s candid nature and ability to embody in his writing the “idealism and optimism of Socialism” mixed with his realist style, helped him capture the struggles that many Russians had faced in the first two decades of the 20th Century, especially his unfinished work “The Life of Klim Samgin”.

In the burgeoning days of the 1917 Revolution (and after) Gorky was openly critical of Lenin during the 1917 Revolution (and after), which resulted in his banishment.  Gorky’s work following his exile by Lenin ended up catching the eye of Stalin and the Party in the late 1920s and early 1930 . Stalin personally visited Gorky in 1931, applauding his work “A Girl and Death”, gaining Gorky reinvitation to the USSR.

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Gorky reads “A Girl and Death” to Stalin in this painting by Viktor Govorov

Upon his return, Gorky initially campaigned on the behalf of the Party and State and helped chair the newly established writers Union. In 1934, Gorky told the delegates of the First Congress of Soviet Writers that the Party was “offering to us the right to teach one another. TO teach, meaning to share with one another our experience” about the reality and struggles faced by the millions of working class people in Russia. Yet, Gorky was unafraid to point out flaws in Stalin and the Communist parties tactics when he felt it was necessary. In a letter to Stalin, Gorky took great issue with the Party’s approach to educating and agitating its base, saying

“The emigre and bourgeois press bases its perception of
Soviet reality almost entirely on the negative information which
is published by our own press for self-criticism with the aim of
education and agitation.”

 

Gorky’s campaigning and candidness made him a valuable asset to Stalin and the Party, helping influence the Party’s  structuring of the Writers Union,  which would serve as the basis of how the other cultural unions were developed in its aftermath. However, Gorky’s involvement with both the Socialist Realism movement and the Writers Union slowly faded due to his disillusionment with Stalinism in mid-years of the 1930s; this flip against Stalinism was notable because during his first few years back in the USSR, Gorky had written small pieces aggrandizing Stalinist tactics. Gorky would soon meet his demise in 1936, under suspicious circumstances some attribute to Stalin’s disappointment with Gorky’s disillusionment and private criticism of him. Ultimately,  Gorky’s role in influencing Socialist Realism, and thus the propaganda machine that came to be in Russia under Stalin, would have a lasting effect on the Soviet Union throughout the 20th century.

 

Sources:

Gorky, M. (n.d.). Letter for Gorky to Stalin. Retrieved March 19, 2018, from https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/f2gorky.html

Hingley, R. F. (2017, November 15). Maxim Gorky. Retrieved March 19, 2018, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Maxim-Gorky

Von Geldern, J. (2015, October 07). Writers’ Congress. Retrieved March 19, 2018, from http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1934-2/writers-congress/

 

Image Sources:

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Maxim-Gorky

Viktor Nikolaevich GOVOROV. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2018, from http://horvath.members.1012.at/govorov.htm

From War to Revolution

 

In the years leading up to the Revolutions of 1917, the Russian Empire’s status as a “great power” was increasingly insecure as a result of (among many other things) the devastating loss Russia faced in the Russo-Japanese War; the events and backlash of Bloody Sunday; as well as its innumerable losses faced in WWI.

The loss of the Russo-Japanese War and Bloody Sunday could be argued to be among two of the more important events leading up to the Revolutions of 1917. The Russo Japanese War was a devastating loss for Russia due to the national shame and anguish as a result of a “great power” such as Russia losing to a much smaller and (in Russian eyes) less sophisticated nation and force. Unrest resulted throughout Russia, coming to a head during the events of “Bloody Sunday”, when Russian troops fired unto a protest led by Father Gapon killing scores and igniting the Revolution of 1905. But it was the aftermath of these events, in addition to WWI, that led ultimately to the Revolutions in 1917. Tsar Nicholas II issued the October Manifesto and engaged in a “constitutional experiment”, in attempts to qualm the issues of the working class and address the concerns over religious and civil liberties. Despite this, the autocracy continued to engage in repression of fringe and radical groups, ironically drawing more of the disenfranchised lower class to said groups (such as the Bolsheviks) who would ultimately lead to the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty and usher in the Revolutions of 1917.

octobermanifesto Pictured: The October Manifesto

World War I also exacerbated the open wounds that existed in Russia after the Revolution of 1905 and ultimately helped drive the country to Revolution in 1917. What many Russian’s expected to be a victory turned into a nightmare; crushing defeats at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes; half a million casualties and one million Russian POWs during the Great Retreat of 1915; lack of supplies on the battlefront and food shortages  on the homefront; and a failing war effort under Nicholas II all created and culminated in the final pressures that brought on the Revolutions of 1917.

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Pictured: Troops on the Russian Front

By February 23 1917 (the start of the February Revolution), Russia was crumbling from the inside. What started out as a shortage strike in the bread line evolved into riots and protests that consumed the capital, and eventually led to massive abandonment of post by Russian troops and demobilization of the Army; the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II form the throne; the end of the Romanov dynasty; and the formation of a fourth Duma and provisional government. The period of autocratic rule in Russia had come to an end, but still much more work was to be done to finally get the working class and the disenfranchised of Russia the liberties, rights, and empowerment they had desired for so long.

58cb1c2ac3618828698b456c.pngPictured: A U.S. Newspaper headline breaking the news of Tsar Nicholas II abdication from the Throne, the fall of the Romanov Dynasty

Ultimately, the events of Bloody Sunday (brought on in part by defeat in the Russo Japanese War), and the circumstances brought on by WWI within Russia, in combination with other factors at play, were the larger catalysts in bringing on the start of the Revolutions of 1917. Loss of confidence in Russia’s “great power” standing and the autocracy inability to refrain from repression helped bring on, among other things, the Revolutions that would reshape Russia’s trajectory throughout the 20th Century.

Sources:

Amazing news from Petrograd (Image): Western press caustic reaction to abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2018, from https://www.rt.com/news/381069-newspapers-react-nicholas-abdication/

“Context,” Module 03: 1917 – Did the War Cause a Revolution?, European History, accessed February 9th, 2018, http://www.dhr.history.vt.edu/modules/eu/mod03_1917/context.html.

The October Manifesto (Image). (2015, February 19). Retrieved February 11, 2018, from http://alphahistory.com/russianrevolution/october-manifesto/

Revolution in the Army Images. (2016, January 09). Retrieved February 11, 2018, from http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/revolution-in-the-army/revolution-in-the-army-images/#bwg5/202

Revolution in the Army,” Lewis Siegalbaum, Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, accessed February 9th, 2018, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/revolution-in-the-army/.

Hut of a Settler

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This photo was taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, in the Mugan Steppe area of the outer Caucasus region of the Russian Empire (Modern Day Azerbaijan). The photo depicts a “traditional Ukrainian house” built by peasant settlers, who moved to the outskirts of the Empire in hopes of finding arable and livable farming land on which they could make a living. In the background, you can see two women that, after a closer look, appear to be working on some sort of fence or wall to their property.

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I thought this photo was intriguing because it highlights the great contrast in architecture in the different areas of the Russian Empire. In one far reach of the Empire (the Caucasus and Black Sea region) the architecture appears to be much more primitive and rural (Hut of a Settler). As can be seen in other photos taken from the Caucasus region by Prokudin-Gorskii, the architecture is very similar to the “Hut of a Settler” picture. Contrast this to Prokudin-Gorskii’s “Spaso-Evfrosinevskii Monastery for Women, Three Versts from the City of Polotsk” photograph (Photo above the paragraph), taken in modern-day Belarus, in which the architecture is very polished, bright, and culturally significant. This contrast could potentially highlight not only a difference in architecture, but also a difference in culture, wealth, and significance to the Russian empire itself.

 

Prokudin-Gorskii, S. M. (1970, January 01). Mugan. Hut of a Settler from Kharkov Province. Grafovka. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.wdl.org/en/item/304/#contributors=Prokudin-Gorskii%2C Sergei Mikhailovich%2C 1863-1944

Prokudin-Gorskii, S. M. (1970, January 01). Spaso-Evfrosinevskii Monastery for Women, Three Versts from the City of Polotsk. View from the South. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.wdl.org/en/item/254/#contributors=Prokudin-Gorskii%2C Sergei Mikhailovich%2C 1863-1944