Folkloric design on a lacquerwork dish:

a scientist shows a cosmonaut the way

to heaven


The official dream of socialist plenty in the USSR was a lot of things: a Marxist prophecy, an economic goal, a tyranny’s wish for a happy ending.  But it was also an expression, by a very recently ex-peasant society, of the ancient peasant desire for feasts and fasts to stop their alternation, and feasts to last forever. ‘In our day’, Khrushchev told a crowd in 1959, ‘the dreams mankind cherished for ages, dreams expressed in fairytales that seemed sheer fantasy, are being translated into reality by man’s own hands.’  The Soviet Union not only promoted red plenty as a twentieth-century fairytale, it deliberately borrowed motifs from traditional Russian tales, and even tried commissioning new ‘Soviet’ tales and ballads from its official folk artists.  

Here, taken from Frank J Miller’s Folklore for Stalin (1990), are three quick instances of folk material being moulded by the times.  First comes a short extract from the 1939 ballad ‘Glory to Stalin’ by the White Sea singer Marfa Semenovna Kriukova, in which Stalin very directly takes over the ballad-role of good tsar; then there’s a modernised opening formula for tales, by the Soviet tale-teller I F Kovalev (1941); last, an extremely unofficial closing formula, actually employed by real peasants.  For more, including stories in which the Red Army fly on magic carpets and a wishing-ring illuminates all the mineral deposits in Siberia, see the links.


... And from that tower day and night,

In his military dress,

With a telescope in his hands,

With a gay smile,

He looks down and rules his country with care,

The great leader, the kind father,

Glorious, wise Stalin-light.

He looks and looks but can’t get enough.

He likes to hear everything with his keen ear.

He sees everything with his keen gaze.

He hears and sees how the people live,

How the people live, how they work.

He rewards them for good work:

He invites them to visit him in Moscow,

He meets them very kindly,

He speaks with everyone gaily,

He takes them to his bright chambers,

He seats them at hewn tables,

He seats them on soft chairs.

He asks, he finds out,

How they work, what they need.

He gives wise advice...


In a certain kingdom, in a certain land, namely the one in which we live, there

reigned a weak and lifeless, almost mindless tsar, who loved landowners,

capitalists, kulaks, and priests...


And so they lived, and so they prospered, until the Bolsheviks came to power...