And since the ideological sphere was attached to the ideal (although Stalin had succeeded in ideologizing even genetics, and of course, ruled to destroy it), it had an amazing effect on spiritual life: Soviet media, mass culture, and urban planning were all oriented not toward real society, but toward non-existent people who, as they joked then, were no strangers to anything superhuman.
The country's most-circulated newspaper, Pravda, whose articles were written as if by artificial intelligence (and not the current ChatGPT, but something likewise from the 1970s, with vacuum tubes and punch cards); the anchormen on evening TV news; and professional actors all spoke the same inhuman language. The film industry produced films with very talented actors and directors, and without skimping on production costs, even knowing that movies about the lives of Marx, Lenin, and lesser Communist leaders would be failures. Likewise, singers sang about them in operatic voices from the stage, despite probably being well aware that no one would buy their records and listen to them in their own homes for pleasure. Despite everything, the “dead” Soviet regime continued to exist, but if under Stalinism it had been easy to drive the “cogs in the machine” into the cinema to watch another film “about Ilyich,” not caring what the average man really wanted, in the Brezhnev years there was less rigidity, more common sense, and real demand began to mean something not only in light industry, but also in culture.
Such different communists
The only thing that remained of the original requirements of totalitarianism was the need not to challenge the communist doctrine. However, by that time its limits were so blurred (the Soviet communist of the 1970s being guided not by Marx, but by the materials of the last plenum of the Central Committee) that loyalty to Lenin's ideas could mean anything. From the point of view of the CPSU, the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, who embraced, in his texts, something like Eurocommunism; the ultra-Stalinist Vsevolod Kochetov, who headed the conservative magazine Oktyabr (incidentally, when his deputy, Vladimir Maksimov, left in the late 1970s for the West, where he headed up the influential anti-Soviet magazine Kontinent, he did not have to change his views — it was just that in the official space of the USSR by that time, no one needed political views in the classical sense); the monarchist Vladimir Soloukhin; and the anti-Semitic pogromist Ivan Shevtsov all remained formally within the Soviet framework when spreading their views, even if these were far from Brezhnev’s slogans. As long as one referred to Lenin at the right moment, one could call for shootings, pogroms, or market reforms — the system no longer noticed such nuances.
Researchers of Soviet culture often divide it mechanically into “official” and “unofficial,” assuming that true freedom under totalitarianism is only possible outside the official discourse, which is the domain of hypocritical opportunists. But sorting through the iconic names of the last two Soviet decades, you can see among them many writers and poets whose texts it would not be a surprise to see in émigré and samizdat editions (is there much of the Soviet in Yuri Trifonov, Bulat Okudzhava, or Valentin Rasputin? The list goes on: even The Master and Margarita was first published in 1966 in a Soviet literary magazine decorated with the slogan “Proletarians of all countries, unite,” and its preface was written by the Stalin Prize-winning poet Konstantin Simonov, himself by no means a dissident), as well as theater and film directors who are far from the official Soviet canon (these include not only the master of festival arthouse Andrei Tarkovsky and Yuri Lyubimov from the Taganka Theater, but also Eldar Ryazanov and Leonid Gaidai, who were beloved by mass audiences for their films, which were not about Lenin and look quite fresh even now).
Alla Pugacheva, the undisputed number-one pop superstar of that period, was proud that her repertoire did not include a single song in the genre of "civil lyrics," only ones about love and a woman's soul. The audience understood and appreciated this — and when, in an innocent song about summer in 1979, Pugacheva used the phrase "my big country," many fans considered it an unacceptable compromise, though they quickly forgave her, perhaps because she brought the works of forgotten or banned avant-garde poets — Osip Mandelstam, Marina Tsvetaeva, Semen Kirsanov — to a wider audience by using these poets’ verses in her song lyrics.