Brickbats: Soviet Edition

Soviet officials tried to diminish the achievements of America and Europe in the late 1940s. They renamed imported food to appear Russian, and claimed credit for numerous innovations. Camembert was changed zakusochnyi (“snack cheese”) to disguise its French origins. According to a newspaper, the Palace of Versailles is a copy of the palaces that Peter the Great built. Soviet encyclopedias mistakenly attribute the first successful plane flight to Alexander Mozhaysky (Russian inventor).

Josef Stalin authorized the increase of automobile production after World War II. With only 6,000 cars produced in 1946, and 10,000 in 1947 there wasn’t enough. The waiting lists of trade unions spanned as far as 6 years.

In 1970, a Soviet criminologist determined that—due to widespread scarcity of housing, consumer goods, and materials needed for manufacturing—corrupt economic practices like bribery and embezzlement accounted for one-quarter of all crimes in the Soviet Union.

Soviet leader Nikita Chrushchev advocated the increase of corn, a suitable crop for both livestock and people to overcome agricultural deficiencies. The country’s corn production soared from 4.3million to 18million hectares between 1954 and 1955. By 1962, it had grown to 37 million hectares. The country was focused on growing more corn, but it didn’t emphasize sustainable or efficient farming. It also did not consider the appropriate conditions for growth. In 1962, a cool, rainy spring and summer killed off 70–80 percent of the plantings.

The Soviet Union wanted all businesses to spend 1% of their revenues on advertising in 1966. This was despite no market competition and no goods or services to promote.  Between 1967 and 1991, Russia’s single advertising agency created ads for cars, minced chicken and hot air showers. Many of these products were never produced and Russians couldn’t buy them.

Humorous game show KVNIn 1961, Soviet television launched a show called “The Challenge”, which featured competing teams of college students. Part quiz show, part improvisational comedy, it quickly became a national craze. The show’s humorous content was soon censored as Soviet power became less repressive during the late 1960s/early 1970s. The show was cancelled in 1972, despite its popularity. It was revived on the airwaves again in 1986.

Khrushchev allowed Soviet-funded state-funded Soviet artists to try out other styles, in addition to the socialist propaganda of Socialist Realism. Khrushchev, however, insulted and condemned the abstract and experimental artwork his policies led to at a Moscow art show in 1962. Khrushchev suggested to the artist that many of them were “pederasts”, and even threatened with jail. He didn’t keep his threat, but the freeze was over and Socialist Realism was enforced once more.

Mikhail Gorbachev started a campaign in 1985 to combat alcoholism, shortly after he took over control of the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev banned alcohol sales at 2 p.m., and closed down vineyards and distilleries in Moldova (now Moldova), and Georgia. The efforts led to a spike in organized crime, and black markets. Gorbachev ended the campaign in 1987 after the state lost enough revenue to create budget deficits.

Sources: Michigan State University, “Seventeen Minutes in Soviet History” archive; Soviet Spiel: Why is the U.S.S.R. Rakesh Krishnan Sinha produced ads for products that are not yet available. Russia BeyondJ.M. Cramer, Western Political Quarterly, Volume 30, Issue 2