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Beneath The Iron Curtain: The Development of Popular Music under the Socialist Regimes of

World War II & Beyond

Among the numerous publications on popular music, only a select few have dabbled with
music under a socialist political climate. As a result, there exists a certain bias among several
entities as far as political ideologies and doctrine are concerned. The development of popular
culture in socialist states may not necessarily be worlds apart compared to their capitalist
contemporaries, but any differences maybe due to regulations imposed by the governing body,
policies imposed by the state, commercial limitations and possibly a different role of popular
culture as far as state ideology is concerned. In conjunction with the above statements, this paper
aims to determine the position of popular music in certain regimes while being governed under a
socialist climate.

Socialism in this modern day and age is credited as the collaborative brainchild of esteemed
philosopher and socialist, Karl Marx and his counterpart and fellow compatriot Friedrich Engels.
However, similar notions of socialism existed in a much earlier part of recorded history. The great
Greek philosopher Plato envisioned a state where the populace shared anything and everything from
property, wives and even children. A quote from his journal titled The Republic reads as follows:

"The private and individual is altogether banished from life and things which are by nature private,
such as eyes and ears and hands, have become common, and in some way see and hear and act in
common, and all men express praise and feel joy and sorrow on the same occasions.

Richard Pipes, Communism: A History, (London, United Kingdom: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001), 35
The above statement suggests that the notion of socialism existed far before the introduction of
contemporary Marxist theories beginning in the late 19th century. It also expresses implicitly in the
above statement the most ubiquitous ideals of socialism - common ownership of belongings, the
equal distribution of wealth and an environment where all men are equal. Among numerous regimes
to adopt a socialist style government, the most infamous of all was the now defunct Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics (USSR), whose roots stretch to one of the bloodiest conflicts ever to occur on
the face of this earth - World War I.

Enter the First World War, a conflict so vast that it came to be known by many as The
Great War. Mainly a war of attrition that consumed vast quantities of material and lives, it was the
first recorded instance of modern warfare and a showcase of the marvels of industrialisation. 20th
century innovations such as wireless communication, machine guns, armoured vehicles and aircraft
only managed to stoke the fires of war that ravaged most of the world. Additionally, a wave of
Nationalism swept across the globe that saw many eager, overenthusiastic men, young and old
alike, ready and willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for King and Country. This combination of
factors resulted in one of the bloodiest conflicts in recorded history to ever occur on the face of the

By far the most marked effect of the war was the formation of several independent countries
from their former imperial masters. Austria-Hungary was divided into Austria, Hungary,
Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia among others. The Ottoman Empire was partitioned into most of
the modern Arab World and the Republic of Turkey.

The former Russian Empire was forced to secede modern day Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Lithuania
and Poland upon withdrawal from the war in 1917 due to pressure from its own internal conflict -
The Russian Revolution, the ultimate outcome of which led to the dismantling of the long standing
Tsarist regime and the installation of a Bolshevik Communist government known as the Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Curiously enough, while the Bolshevik Communists were keen to dismiss and replace
anything and everything associated with the old guard of their imperial predecessors, the one thing
they left untouched were the education systems for both music and ballet. The education systems
since then remain largely unchanged that to this day, music students throughout the Russian
Federation and most of its successor states enjoy the same curriculum taught to the likes of great
Russian musicians such as Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Prokofiev among others some
hundreds of years later.

Since music was considered to be an integral part of Russian culture, post Tsarist Russia
under intermediate Communist Soviet rule embraced and supported music as well as musical
institutions. Most content however, was extensively censored and edited in accordance to state
regulations. The practice of censorship was also in keeping with communist principles and ideology
regarding the development of a healthy and progressive communist society. In addition, the Soviets
also realised the feasibility of harnessing music as potentially powerful and influential propaganda
tool. A quote from Lenins publication, O Kulture i Iskusstve (About Culture and Art) reads as

Rustem Hayroudinoff, The Agony and the Ecstasy: My Musical Training in Soviet Russia, Gramophone - The
Worlds Best Classical Music Reviews,
"Every artist, everyone who considers himself an artist, has the right to create freely according to
his ideal, independently of everything. However, we are Communists and we must not stand with
folded hands and let chaos develop as it pleases. We must systemically guide this process and form
its result."

This ultimately culminated in the establishment of the Soviet art movement and style known as
Socialist Realism, the guidelines to which were introduced by Soviet writer Maxim Gorky in the
earlier part of the 20th century at the First Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934. Subsequently, this
standard was used as a benchmark against which all creative artists in the USSR were judged.

The term Socialist Realism was coined to describe various realistic art styles developed in
the Soviet Union, most of which were mostly used as propaganda tools. Socialist Realism
encompasses mostly realistic visual art but also includes music to a lesser degree. To quote British
historical writer Brian Moynahan, "clean-limbed workers performed heroic deeds to a back-drop of
Red flags. , Socialist Realism often depicted the endeavours, struggles and triumphs of the
common man amidst the harsh realities of Russian life; often with a slight touch of romanticism as
it tried to depict the Soviet regime in a positive light.

Jazz, a highly popular form of music throughout most of the West, mostly enjoyed the
reception and privileges accorded to most styles of classical music in the Soviet Union.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, O Kulture i Iskusstve (About Culture and Art), (Moscow, 1957), 519-520
James von Geldern, 1934: Writers' Congress - The First Congress of Soviet Writers, Seventeen Moments in Soviet
Nicholas Reyland, Engineering the Soul - Socialist Realism in Central European Music: 1945-1955, (United
Kingdom: Cardiff University, 10th March 2001)
Jazz was first introduced to Soviet audiences by Valentin Parnakh, often touted as the father of jazz
music in the USSR. While a student at Sorbonne University - now known as the University of Paris,
during a six year self imposed exile, he was captivated by the jazz music he discovered there and
upon his return to the Soviet Union, he was said to have brought along jazz scores, saxophones,
tam-tams and muted trumpets with him.

On October 1st 1922, the jazz band he founded - the First Eccentric Orchestra of the
Russian Federated Socialist Republic - Valentin Parnakh's Jazz Band, made its national debut at
the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts in Moscow. On May 1st, 1923, Parnakhs band was invited
to perform for members of the Third Communist International at a state organised agricultural expo.
Ironically, it was reported by the press that for the first time jazz music was performed at official
state celebrations, never before in the West. The hugely successful Soviet musical, Vesyolye
Rebyata (Jolly Fellows), featured a jazz soundtrack and starred Soviet jazz singer Leonid Utyosov,
who would later go on to be bestowed the title of the People's Artist of the USSR in 1965. Upon
the outbreak of World War II, the USSR was aligned with the Allied Powers - among which were
the United States of America, which led to the populace being encouraged to listen to jazz.

American jazz artists of the time such as Sam Woodings Chocolate Kiddies and Benny
Peytons Jazz Kings were also well received to critical acclaim in the USSR. Peytons ensemble in
particular was so successful that they subsequently extended their tour of the USSR while
Woodings tour took all of three months.

Jan Vanhellemont, Jazz Music in the Soviet Union, The Master and Margarita,
The Website of the City of Taganrog, Arts and Culture - Valentin Parnakh,
Cyril Moshkow, FAQ: Is There Jazz in Russia, Really? - The Russian Jazz Web Central,
Wooding himself was quoted as saying Much to our amazement, our Russian engagements were
the best in all Europe. There were no disturbances, and everywhere our music seemed to please
immensely. The USSR even went beyond the promotion of jazz music statewide by sponsoring a
pianist by the name of Leopold Teplitsky to study jazz in America and to purchase the necessary
items to furnish the needs of a complete jazz ensemble. This he did and upon his return, he brought
with him numerous jazz arrangements and sheet music, record albums and musical instruments.
Teplitsky formed a fourteen-piece ensemble in 1927 which embarked on a nationwide tour the same
year. Billed as the First Concert Jazz Band, they proclaimed themselves as performers of the
latest fashion in American music and dance. Teplitsky even went as far as introducing himself as an
American on occasion.

Despite jazzs early successes in the USSR, all this was about to change post-war. With a
changing political climate beginning with Joseph Stalin rising to power in the late 1920s, jazz was
increasingly being discriminated against by the state as a symbol of capitalist decadence and
bourgeois individualism, which could hardly be tolerated according to communist ideals. Maxim
Gorky was known to be openly opposed to jazz, even going as far as associating jazz with narcotics,
eroticism and homosexuality. His views on jazz were explicitly expressed in an earlier article titled
O Muzyke Tolstych (The Music of the Degenerate) published by the communist newspaper
Pravda in 1928 which reads as follows:

The dry knock of an idiotic hammer penetrates the utter stillness. One, two, three, ten, twenty
strikes, and afterwards a wild whistling and squeaking as if a ball of mud was falling into clear
water; then follows a rattling, howling and screaming like the clamor of a metal pig,

Alan M. Ball, Imagining America: Influence and Images in Twentieth-Century Russia, (Maryland, USA: Rowman &
Littlefield, 2004), 98 - 99
the cry of a donkey or the amorous croaking of a monstrous frog. The offensive chaos of this
insanity combines into a pulsing rhythm. Listen to this screaming for only a view minutes, and one
involuntarily pictures an orchestra of sexually wound-up madmen, conducted by a Stallion-like
creature who is swinging his giant genitals

Throughout the states educational institutions, any aspiring jazz student or teacher who was caught
playing jazz would subsequently be dismissed from the state conservatories without question.
During the Great Purge instigated by Joseph Stalin from 1934 - 1939, jazz musicians and listeners
alike were imprisoned as political prisoners. Publicly known jazz groups were forcibly disbanded
while others who remained went to great lengths to avoid being recognised and labeled as jazz
bands. Both Leopold Teplitsky and Valentine Parnakh were charged with sabotage and spent ten
years apiece in the notoriously brutal Soviet Gulag labour camps. It should be interesting to note
that although the arrests and imprisonment of numerous Soviet jazz artists, many others escaped the
same fate. Rather, it was discovered that musicians who were unfortunate enough to fall victim to
the Great Purge had, at an earlier time, traveled and established contacts abroad. This was a move to
effectively cut off and isolate the Soviet Union from the rest of the world due to an increase
hostility towards anything and everything seen by the state as foreign in nature.

Russian jazz writer Alex Kan also documented the widespread circulation of underground
or samizdat journals, publications and records during those dark times.

Maxim Gorky, O Muzyke Tolstych, (Moscow: Pravda, 1928)
Wendell Logan, Satrina Yrina and Victor Lebedev, The Development of Jazz in the Former Soviet Union: An
Interview With Victor Lebedev, (Center for Black Music Research - Columbia College Chicago & University of Illinois
Press, 1992), 229
Martin Lcke, translated from German by Anita Ip, Vilified, Venerated, Forbidden: Jazz in the Stalinist Era,
(United States: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2007), 2 - 5
Stemming from the Russian term samizdat which meant self-published, censored publications
and material were passed by hand from one to another. Prohibited journals and publications were
painstakingly copied by hand and disguised ingeniously as seemingly harmless books while x-ray
plates were used to recreate playable copies of regular phonograph records. Bassoonist for the
Moscow Composers Orchestra (MCO) Alexander Alexandrov recalls many a night where the KGB
halted numerous jazz concerts with hardly a warning: Many times in the 1980s some well-dressed
gentlemen might arrive and switch the electricity off.

Shanghai beginning in the 1930s and 1940s was the epitome of a modern and developed
China. A melting pot of cultures, Shanghai was not only home to Chinese peoples from throughout
the mainland but also hosted expats from around the world. With British forces occupying the city
after Chinese defeat during the First Opium War, the island of Hong Kong was ceded to Britain and
the Qing Dynasty government was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. Shanghai was
initially conceived as a centre of international trade and business. Increasing European interest in
developing Shanghai as a means of trade with China led to the establishment of several expatriate
communities within the city beginning with the European, American and Japanese merchants who
arrived in the mid and late 19th century. However, The beginning of the 1920s saw a mass exodus
of classically trained White Russian (Russians loyal to the Tsarist regime and against the newly
established Bolshevik communist government) and Russian Jewish musicians, eager to escape the
newly formed Soviet Union and start afresh in this bustling Asian metropolis.

Peter Culshaw, How Jazz Survived the Soviets, The Telegraph, 14th Nov 2006,
Susanna Hoe and Derek Roebuck, The Taking of Hong Kong: Charles and Clara Elliot in China Waters, (United
Kingdom: Routledge, 1999), 203
Anonymous, All about Shanghai and Environs: The 1934-35 Standard Guide Book, (China: The University Press,
160 Avenue Edward VII, Shanghai, 1934), 33
The 1930s and the outbreak of World War II saw the arrival of European Jewish refugees fleeing
the wrath of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich.

At this time however, there were already American, Filipino and other Oriental type bands
regularly performing at various venues and nightclubs throughout Shanghai, some of which still
stand even to this day. Their repertoire featured Chinese popular songs, American style jazz and
show tunes of the time. This combination of both foreign and local cultures led to the golden age of
popular music in Shanghai and China contributed toward the creation of Shanghai jazz - one of the
earliest and most successful styles of Chinese popular music.

Shanghai jazz was effectively an eclectic and exciting mix of East and West; of the old
meeting the new. Characterised by bold, punchy nuances evocative of tango, rhumba and foxtrot,
most arrangements also prominently featured string sections as a nod to the big bands and
orchestras of the western Hollywood-Broadway tradition. All this was overlaid with Chinese
instruments featuring traditional Chinese harmony and pentatonic scales. Chinese musician Li
Jinhui, is mostly credited with the success and development of Shanghai popular music. The Bright
Moon Ensemble of his creation was the first all-Chinese jazz band of its kind. Lis proteges; the
product of various institutes established by himself, would later go on to witness even greater
successes. Among them include the songstress Zhou Xuan, one of the Seven Great Singing Stars of

Liu Ling Woo, Shanghai Sanctuary, (New York City: TIME Magazine, Thursday, July 31st, 2008)
Chen Szu-Wei, Popular Music, Vol. 24, No. 1: The Rise and Generic Features of Shanghai Popular Songs in the
1930s and 1940s, (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, January 2005), 107 - 108
Simon Broughton and Mark Ellingham, World Music: Latin and North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific,
Volume 2, (United Kingdom: Rough Guides Publishing, 2000), 55
Nie Er, a former violinist of the Bright Moon Ensemble, would later jointly compose the song
March of the Volunteers together with Chinese Poet Tian Han, which was subsequently adopted
as the national anthem of the Peoples Republic of China following the communist takeover in

In addition, an explosive growth in the wireless broadcasting industry saw about half of
Chinas radio stations established in Shanghais metropolitan area alone by the 1930s. American
jazz, Peking Opera and other styles of music were suddenly made available to the masses at the
twist of a radio knob. Three major record companies were operating in Shanghai at the time namely
Path-EMI, RCA-Victor and a Chinese owned company that went by the name of Great China.
These factors only managed to contribute to an already sprawling market which was not only
concentrated in China but also catered to the needs of the Overseas Chinese diaspora in various
locales abroad.

Another recorded incident which attests to the success of Shanghai popular music has to do
with Zhou Xuans wartime single, When Will You Return?. Released in 1937 at the height of the
Second Sino-Japanese war, the song proved highly popular as well as controversial due to several
connotations various political parties attached to the supposed hidden meaning behind the
song.The ruling Kuomintang Nationalist Party of the time interpreted the song as a secret message
beckoning the return of communist forces to Shanghai. The leftist Communist Party of China ruled
that the song was an epitome of the decadent, capitalist lifestyle of Shanghai. Japanese authorities
saw the song as a love song against foreign oppression.

Ho Wai-Chung, Social History, Vol. 31, No. 4: Social Change and Nationalism in China's Popular Songs (United
Kingdom: Taylor & Francis, Ltd., November 2006), 440 - 441
Chen Szu-Wei, Popular Music, Vol. 24, No. 1: The Rise and Generic Features of Shanghai Popular Songs in the
1930s and 1940s, (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, January 2005), 109
Ironically enough, the song became a number one hit in Japan where it was soon translated and re-
recorded for Japanese audiences by Japanese actress and singer, Shirley Yamaguchi.

As successful as it was at its genesis, Shanghai jazz likewise faced persecution and pressure
from both the Chinese Nationalists of the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China (CPC).
Both parties viewed this form of music as overly decadent and excessively Western in nature that it
should deserve the derogatory term of yellow music. Such a term roughly equates Shanghai jazz
to the level of pornography and indeed to the strictest of traditionalists, it was. Shanghai jazz was
often performed at cabaret shows and all but the sleaziest of venues and typically featured vocalists,
show girls and dancers dressed in glitzy, form-flattering cheongsams and skimpy clothing. The
government ruled that such entertainment only served to provide a pleasant distraction for citizens,
luring them away from more pressing matters such as nation-building and resisting western
influences. Western musical influences such as instrumentation and broadway style arrangements
which featured prominently in the style conflicted and contradicted with political doctrine of the
time which stressed and held in the highest regard more conservative traditional Chinese values
such as national identity, anti-feudalism and anti-imperialism.

The exploitation of various foreign treaties imposed upon China and an influx of foreign
powers only served to strengthen the resolve of anti-western sentiment within the populace, the
Kuomintang government and the left-wing Communist Party of China.

Ho Wai-Chung, Social History, Vol. 31, No. 4: Social Change and Nationalism in China's Popular Songs (United
Kingdom: Taylor & Francis, Ltd., November 2006), 441
Andrew F. Jones, Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age, (United States:
Duke University Press, 2001), 8
Chen Szu-Wei, Popular Music, Vol. 24, No. 1: The Rise and Generic Features of Shanghai Popular Songs in the
1930s and 1940s, (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, January 2005), 111
Due to his associations with yellow music Li Jinhui was branded a traitor by the Communist
Party of China following the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949 and was persecuted till his
death in 1967 amidst the cacophony and chaos of the Cultural Revolution instigated by Mao
Zedong. Despite this, Shanghai popular music continued to flourish and still manages to maintain
a huge following in both the young and old within China and the Overseas Chinese diaspora which
continues to this day.

Although falling just short of receiving the critically successful reception of their
predecessors in the more traditional, classical realm of music, jazz has since survived the
discrimination and tyranny so prevalent in the early days of socialist rule in Russia and China.
Indeed, both nations have produced many distinguished individuals who have become an integral
part in the development of jazz and popular music not only in their respective countries but also
internationally such as saxophonist Anatole Gerasimov who has performed with the Duke Ellington
Orchestra, John Scofield and Jaco Pastorius to name a few. Trumpeter Valery Ponomarev of Art
Blakey & The Jazz Messengers fame is now a successful band leader who also lectures at numerous
conservatories and music schools around the world. In various Chinese communities around the
world, many listeners, young and old, still wax lyrical about the golden age of Shanghai jazz and of
the Seven Great Singing Stars of China. Shanghai jazz bars such as the Fairmont Peace Hotel
have stood the test of time and still, the grizzled old-timers on the bandstand offer nightly
performances to a loyal base of listeners which is slowly growing, day by day.

Anonymous, 1930 - 1949, Freemuse - Freedom of Musical Expression,
Cyril Moshkow, Anatole Gerasimov, - The Russian Jazz Web Central,
Valery Ponomarev, Biography, (2011)
Literature Review

Jazz is a style of popular music that has seen many forms and been embraced and denounced
throughout most of its relatively short history. Lcke (2007) maintains that while jazz in the USSR
moves between oppression, discrimination and persecution on one hand, it also received recognition
and support from the state on another. This is explained as a response to domestic and international
politics as well as a changing ideology and national doctrine. Events such as the Great Purge (1934
- 1939) were intended to rid the USSR of any traces of foreign influences such as jazz. On the other
hand, once the USSR formed an alliance with the United States and Britain in World War II, jazz
was used as entertainment on the front lines as it came to be associated with the United Sates. At the
wars end however, the position of arts such as music and jazz were jeopardised when it was again
decided that all decadent and capitalist elements should be singled out and eliminated.

Elsewhere in China, popular music such as jazz also faced similar persecution from the
authorities. Chen (2005) explains that Shanghai jazz was effectively a mix of both Chinese and
Western musical influences such as Chinese melodies and singing style intertwined with Western
orchestration and instrumentation. This was due to a prominent presence of both Chinese and
Western communities throughout Shanghai. While Shanghai jazz enjoyed critical reception from
audiences through China and abroad, it nevertheless received much criticism and restriction from
the government as it was viewed as overly decadent and unbecoming of contemporary Chinese
culture upon the communist takeover in 1949.

Pipes, Richard. Communism: A History. United Kingdom: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001.

Hayroudinoff, Rustem . The Agony and the Ecstasy: My Musical Training in Soviet Russia. Gramophone - The
Worlds Best Classical Music Reviews.

Lenin, Vladimir I. O Kulture i Iskusstve (About Culture and Art), Russia: Moscow, 1957.

Von Geldern, James. 1934: Writers' Congress - The First Congress of Soviet Writers. Seventeen Moments in Soviet

Reyland, Nicholas. Engineering the Soul - Socialist Realism in Central European Music: 1945-1955. United
Kingdom: Cardiff University, 2001.

Vanhellemont, Jan. Jazz Music in the Soviet Union. The Master and Margarita.

Anonymous. The Website of the City of Taganrog. Arts and Culture - Valentin Parnakh. http://

Moshkow, Cyril. - The Russian Jazz Web Central.

Ball, Alan M. Imagining America: Influence and Images in Twentieth-Century Russia. USA: Rowman & Littlefield,

Gorky, Maxim. O Muzyke Tolstych. Moscow: Pravda, 1928.

Logan, Wendell., Yrina, Satrina. Lebedev, Victor. The Development of Jazz in the Former Soviet Union: An Interview
With Victor Lebedev. Center for Black Music Research - Columbia College Chicago & University of Illinois Press,

Lcke, Martin. translated from German by Ip, Anita. Vilified, Venerated, Forbidden: Jazz in the Stalinist Era. United
States: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2007.
Culshaw, Peter. How Jazz Survived the Soviets. The Telegraph. 14th Nov 2006.

Hoe, Susanna. Roebuck, Derek. The Taking of Hong Kong: Charles and Clara Elliot in China Waters. United
Kingdom: Routledge, 1999.

Anonymous. All about Shanghai and Environs: The 1934-35 Standard Guide Book. China: The University Press, 160
Avenue Edward VII, Shanghai, 1934.

Ling Woo, Liu. Shanghai Sanctuary. New York City: TIME Magazine, Thursday, July 31st, 2008.

Szu-Wei, Chen. Popular Music, Vol. 24, No. 1: The Rise and Generic Features of Shanghai Popular Songs in the
1930s and 1940s. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, January 2005.

Broughton, Broughton. Ellingham, Mark. World Music: Latin and North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific,
Volume 2. United Kingdom: Rough Guides Publishing, 2000.

Wai-Chung, Ho. Social History, Vol. 31, No. 4: Social Change and Nationalism in China's Popular Songs. United
Kingdom: Taylor & Francis, Ltd., November 2006.

Jones, Andrew F. Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age. United States: Duke
University Press, 2001.

Anonymous. 1930 - 1949. Freemuse - Freedom of Musical Expression.

Ponomarev, Valery. Biography.