History of the Soviet Union, 1961-1968: Anti-Parasite Law to Thaw Poets
By Dr. Lewis Siegelbaum / 09.24.2015
Professor of Russian and European History
Michigan State University
People’s Public Order Detachment / Dzherzhinskii District, Moscow
Full employment, achieved in the course of the First Five-Year Plan (1928-31), was widely celebrated in the Soviet Union as indicative of the advantages that Soviet workers enjoyed over their counterparts in the capitalist world. But what about able-bodied citizens who refused to engage in socially useful labor or evaded work? The 1936 Constitution embraced the moral precept that “he who does not work shall not eat,” but it was only towards the end of the decade that workers who were absent from work without excuse or who quit their jobs without authorization were made criminally liable and subjected to imprisonment. These Draconian measures were not repealed until 1956 when a thoroughgoing reform of labor legislation was initiated. The new laws facilitated job-changing, made it more difficult for workers to be dismissed, and otherwise were part of the liberalization process of the Khrushchev years.
The Blind Can See… (1956) / Moscow: Pravda
Within this context, the decree issued by the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR on May 4, 1961 entitled “On Strengthening the Struggle with Persons Avoiding Socially Useful Work and Leading an Anti-Social, Parasitic Way of Life” seems to represent a volte face. Its provision for banishment of such individuals “to specially designated places for a term of from two to five years” certainly was anything but liberal. Yet, like the people’s volunteer detachments (druzhiny) established throughout the USSR by a decree of March 2, 1959 as well as the statute of July 3, 1961 that reinstituted comrades’ courts within the RSFSR, the “anti-parasite” decree was couched in terms of popularizing the administration of justice. For along with the people’s courts, sentences banishing “parasites” could be “issued by a group of toilers working together in a factory, shop, office, organization, collective farm and collective-farm brigade.”
We Won’t Let You Do a Bad Job! (1968) / Posters from the Former Soviet Union
Whatever the intent of the law, it opened the door to obvious abuse. In September 1965 the sentencing power accorded to groups of toilers was removed. Abuse of a different kind, however, persisted, as illustrated by the law’s application in some well-known cases of dissidents who, having been thrown out of their jobs, subsequently were subjected to banishment as “anti-social parasites.”
Fight Against Superstition
Wedding on Tomorrow Street, by Iurii Pimenov (1962) / Embassy of the Soviet Union in the USA
An ironic chapter in de-Stalinization was that the Great Leader’s tolerance of the Orthodox Church was renounced along with his more vicious policies. Khrushchev himself was the instigator of the anti-religious campaign that began in 1957, but reached its apogee in August 1961 with passage of new legislation on parish life. Rescinding a wartime agreement that made priests the legal administrators of their parishes, a hastily-convened Synods of Bishops transferred power to newly constituted parish councils. Accusations were made subsequently that local communist activists packed many village councils; the indisputable consequence was that over the next three to four years, over half of existing Orthodox parishes were disbanded by their councils, and approximately ten thousand churches were closed. The spiritual legacy of the church was attacked: four out of eight seminaries shut their doors, and many monasteries were closed and converted to secular institutions. This included the Kiev Crypt Monastery, birthplace of Orthodox spirituality.
Valentina Tereshkova Marries Nikolaev, photo by Iurii Krivonosov (1961) / Photodome
An unattractive feature of the campaign was the thuggish physical harassment used at the local level. Churches were converted to schools, clubs and museums by night and under police guard; young worshippers were restrained from entering churches, and deprived of educational opportunities when they persisted. Priests were attacked physically or by reputation, as when the local press leveled accusations of drunkenness and debauchery.
How Everything Got Started…, by G. Val’k (1968) / “Fighting Pencil Group”
Crude attacks were inspired above all by frustration. Faith still had a hold on many Soviet citizens, and in the case of the Baptists and other groups, state campaigns only strengthened their resolve. Communist authorities recognized the need to replace religion in young minds. The Society for the Dissemination of Political and Scientific Knowledge was revitalized, and stepped up its program of aggressively atheistic popular lectures for the general public. In 1963 the organization was renamed Znanie, or Knowledge. A semi-popular journal with a similar agenda began publication in September 1959 under the title Science and Religion (Nauka i religiia). Its first issue turned readers’ attention to recent successes in space flight. There can be no god, it asserted, since the moon rocket had made no contact with the heavenly firmament on its way into space. Such arguments seemed to have little impact on readers, many of whom maintained their faith. In the early 1960s the state tried a tack that had been proposed by Lev Trotsky in the 1920s. It created new socialist life cycle rituals, building grand Wedding Palaces to accommodate them.
Left: They Began Bratsk Hydro-Electric Station, by Iurii Stanislavovich Podliaskii (1957) / Wikimedia Commons
Right: The Turbines (1961) / Wikimedia Commons
“In the Bratsk Station, Russia, your motherly image shimmering unfolded itself to me.” So wrote Evgenii Evtushenko, native son of Siberia, in his epic poem, Bratsk Station (1964), which celebrated the Bratsk High Dam (Bratskaia GES). Built across the Angara River at Padun Gorge, the Bratsk High Dam took its name — which in Russian means “brotherly” — from the seventeenth-century village that was buried at the bottom of one of the largest artificial bodies of water in the world, the Bratsk Sea. Construction on the three-mile long dam began in 1955, succeeding despite the brutal cold and supply difficulties caused by the remote location. The reservoir-sea began to fill on September 1, 1961, eventually raising the level of the river at the dam site by 479 feet. The first hydroelectric turbine went into operation in November 1961, and by 1969 there were eighteen turbines with a total capacity of 4.5 million kilowatts, greater than any in the world up to that time.
Left: At the Bratsk Hydro-Electric Station, by Vladimir Ovchinnikov (1958) / The Leningrad School 1930-1990, by S.V. Ivanov
Right: Postcard from Bratsk (1961) / Wikimedia Commons
Attracted by high wages and the spirit of camaraderie and adventure characteristic of major construction projects of earlier decades, young people flocked to the dam site from throughout the Soviet Union. Many of them were recruited by the Komsomol. The resident population of Bratsk city, which increased from 43,000 in 1959 to 155,000 by 1970, was remarkably young, averaging 27 years of age in the latter year. The dam itself employed approximately 800 people, but many times that number worked in factories powered by the dam, including a wood-processing combine capable of turning five million cubic yards of wood into various products, and an enormous aluminum plant, the Soviet Union’s largest.
Left: The Builders of Bratsk, by Viktor Pokov (1961) / Wikimedia Commons
Right: Bratsk High Dam (1961) / Wikimedia Commons
Symbolizing the conquest of nature, the Bratsk High Dam powered industry that significantly degraded the environment and itself contributed to the depletion of species of fish in the Angara and nearby Lake Baikal. If to Evtushenko it represented the triumph of the human spirit, then to Valentin Rasputin, another Siberian writer, its flooding of the island and village of Matyora (linguistically suggestive of both “mother” [mat’] and “dry land” [materik]) was indicative of the heavy price paid by technological progress.
Kalinin Prospect, photo by Viktor Akhlomov (1977) / Wikimedia Commons
Late in 1961 a literary anthology published in Tarusa, a tiny town nestled not far Moscow on the Oka River (Kaluga Province), caused a major rush on bookstores. Alarmed cultural guardians quickly ordered the 75,000 copies of the book removed from stored shelves, but not before many had been bought and begun to circulate among readers. A courageous defense by the older writer Konstantin Paustovskii prevented any further measures from being taken. An already celebrated poet appearing for the first time in prose in the collection was Bulat Okudzhava. Okudzhava had already endured hard times from the literary establishment in the 1950s for his guitar poems, which he sung himself in a less than perfect voice, accompanied on a guitar for which he knew no more than a few chords. Sung first for friends who made homemade recordings, copied and recopied again, the songs eventually reached an underground audience of millions across the Soviet Union before being officially recognized and distributed. Tape recorders were a brand-new consumer technology, which authorities had not yet thought to regulate.
Young Okudzhava performing (1959) / Wikimedia Commons
Okudzhava sang of the sweet and melancholy moments in life, of comfortable corners and uncomfortable ironies. His songs about his wartime experience, told from the confused and saddened viewpoint of the seventeen-year old he was when he volunteered for the front in 1942, had a power that bombastic official works could not. Though he rarely ventured into politics, his wistfulness and sincerity were so immense that official writers and composers found him a threat. But Okudzhava did not depend on official recognition, and his popularity protected him. When he died in 1997, he was mourned as only the most cherished representatives of Russian culture could be.
Bulat Okudzhava / Wikimedia Commons
Born in 1924 to an Armenian mother and a Georgian father who was shot in the 1937 purges, Okudzhava was a man of Russian culture and the quintessential Muscovite. In this he was a Soviet person. The folkways of his beloved home city are celebrated in many of his songs, perhaps most famously in his “Arbat.” Long after much of that tangled old district fell to builders in the 1960s and 1970s, it lives on in Okudzhava’s songs. And his example gave birth to the bard movement, singers of guitar poetry who would forever elude official control, and whose intimate songs distributed by modern tape technology opened a space for free discourse in Soviet society.
Left: Nikita Sergeevich’s argument, photo by Dmitrii Baltermants (1957) / Wikimedia Commons
Right: Make Way for the Corn!, by Viktor Govorkov (1955) / Wikimedia Commons
Just as he promoted the Virgin Lands Program as a solution to the grain problem, so Nikita Khrushchev touted the expansion of corn cultivation as a solution to the livestock problem. “There will be no communism if our country has as much metal and cement as you like but meat and grain are in short supply,” he remarked in early 1954. To increase the supply of meat, Khrushchev sought at every opportunity to popularize corn as a fodder crop. Seed corn was imported from the United States, a corn research institute was established in Ukraine, the Ministry of Agriculture issued a new scientific journal entitled Corn, a Corn Pavilion was opened at the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition, and sown acreage of corn rose from 4.3 million hectares in 1954 to 18 million hectares in 1955. Thanks to favorably hot weather during two successive years’ growing seasons, corn harvests were abundant. It appeared that “Mr. Corn” (“Kukuruzshchik”) had achieved another agricultural “miracle.”
Left: Hybrid Seeds are the Rule for High Corn Harvests!, by Soloviev (1956) / International Poster Gallery
Right: The Cornball Act Down on the Farm, by Life Magazine (1959) / Life Magazine, October 5, 1959
But rather than concentrating on more efficient methods of cultivating, fertilizing, and mechanically harvesting corn, Soviet agricultural authorities continued to expand corn acreage to areas lacking in appropriate climatic conditions and sufficient labor supplies. By 1960 total acreage had increased to 28 million hectares and reached 37 million by 1962. The latter year, cool and rainy in the spring and early summer throughout European Russia, proved disastrous for corn. Some 70 to 80 per cent of the acreage planted died. Even in southern regions, where grain corn harvests rose from four million tons in 1953 to 14 million in 1964, yields remained low and labor inputs averaged three times higher than inputs for wheat. What made matters worse was that all the while, hay production had declined throughout the country, from 64 million tons in 1953 to 47 million in 1965. Collective farmers’ suspicions of corn as an “alien” crop were vindicated, but not before a great deal of damage had been done to Soviet agriculture and Khrushchev’s reputation as a wise leader.
KPSS – Glory!, by Boris Berezovsky (1962) / Wikimedia Commons
On April 12, 1961 proud Soviet citizens and anxious Americans awoke to the news that the first human being had successfully ventured into space. This was Soviet test pilot, now cosmonaut, Iurii Gagarin. His flight was the culmination of many years of experimentation by the Soviet space program under the leadership of Sergei Korolev. Gagarin’s flight represented the crowning achievement of Soviet scientific prowess and its educational system, garnering international prestige for the Soviet Union.
Left: Glory to the First Woman-Cosmonaut!, by Iu. Gershin and G. Nadezhdin (1963) / Moscow: IZOGIZ
Right: Greeting the First Cosmonaut Back to Earth, by Mikhail Khmelko (1961) / From Soviet Socialist Realist Painting, 1930-1960s, by Matthew Cullerne
The space program embodied the strengths and weaknesses of the Soviet approach to technology. It enjoyed top priority of the state, and thus received all necessary resources, but it was heavily dependent on the military ballistics program. The independent and innovative Korolev did much of his work as a prisoner in a special laboratory camp (sharashka).
Left: Tereshkova Flight, Izvestiia headline (1963) / Russian Antiquity
Right: Gagarin Flight, Komsomol’skaia Pravda (1961) / Russian Antiquity
Gagarin was a genuinely popular hero, particularly among Russians. Raised in the Russian countryside during the Great Patriotic War, and plucked from his village by the space program as trainee, Gagarin embodied the opportunities abundant in Soviet society for the Russians who readily identified with him. He was the first of many celebrated space heroes, including his well-known successor German Titov, and the first woman cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, who ventured into space on June 16, 1963.
Khrushchev on the Arts
Contemplative Khrushchev, photo by Iurii Krivonosov (1963) / Photodome
Spontaneous, direct, forceful, enthused: all these words could characterize Nikita Khrushchev in his role of critic of the arts. Anything but sophisticated. Heir to a tradition in which heads of state could comment authoritatively on art, and threatened by unfamiliar inartistic expressions from many directions, Nikita Khrushchev took it upon himself to redirect the creative folk of his country towards the virtues of socialist realism. Whether it was young poets exercising their freedom on Maiakovskii Square, or artists abandoning realist form for incomprehensible abstractions, Khrushchev was like many of his compatriots confused and more than a little bit worried by the trend.
New Trends in painting (1956) / Moscow: Pravda
Khrushchev was accustomed to issuing trite reiterations of Soviet platitudes on art, such as his 1957 demand for close ties between art and the life of the people. Developments in 1961 and 1962 inspired a more aggressive stance, which culminated in a 1962 visit to an art exhibit in the Moscow Manege, sponsored by MOSSKH (Moscow Section of the Artist’s Union) to mark its 30th anniversary of existence. Flanked by political cronies such as ideologist Mikhail Suslov, recently-appointed KGB chief Aleksandr Shelepin, and Culture Minister Ekaterina Furtseva, and conservative artists such as Sergei Gerasimov and Boris Ioganson, Khrushchev gave vent to his crudest reactions, egged on by his comrades. When he reached the works of the abstract artist Ernst Neizvestnyi, he uttered the phrase “dog shit.” Incensed by such barbs from a man who knew nothing about art, Neizvestnyi, a highly decorated war veteran, pulled off his shirt and showed Khrushchev the scars covering his back. The embarrassed Khrushchev embarked on an hour-long debate with the artist which brought them to no agreement, but did spark a grudging mutual respect.
Gravestone for Nikita Khrushchev, photo by Neizvestnyi (1971) / Wikimedia Commons
Neizvestnyi suffered no brutal consequences, certainly not the job in a uranium mine promised him by Shelepin. He did lose his official status as an artist, and thus his studio; beginning a process that would drive him into emigration. Though Khrushchev should be commended for his honesty, he also revitalized a dismaying tradition of the crudest possible criticism of art that would only disappear with the Soviet Union itself. When he died in 1971, his family turned to Neizvestnyi to create the memorial for his grave in Moscow’s Novodevichii Cemetery. Capturing the paradoxes of the man and critic, he placed the gilded head of a smiling Khrushchev against a background of black and white stone.
The Khrushchev Slums
Left: The Southwest District of Moscow (1956) / Moscow: Pravda
Right: Courtyard of a New Apartment, by G. Ogorodnikov (1966) / Moscow: Pravda
In what has been described as an economy of “planned shortages,” the Soviet Union was never able to adequately — not to speak of comfortably — accommodate its urban population. Still, despite several waves of urbanization, average per capita urban living space did increase over the long haul. If in 1926, each urban resident occupied a mere 5.8 square meters of living space, then in 1961 (the year in which for the first time half of the entire population was recorded as residing in cities), it stood at 8.8 square meters. By 1980, it was to rise further to 13.0 square meters. There were considerable variations from one republic to another. For example, in 1961, per capita living space varied from a low of 7.8 square meters in Uzbekistan to a high of 12.2 in Latvia. In terms of the type of accommodation, as of 1965, 31.6 percent of urban residents in the RSFSR lived in private individual homes, 55.6 percent lived in apartments, 6.4 percent sublet privately, and 6.4 percent lived in hostels. Of all apartment dwellers in Leningrad in 1965, 55.6 percent lived in so-called “kommunal’nye kvartiry” (typically abbreviated as “kommunal’ki and popularly known by their initials as “kaka” which in Russian, as in English, is suggestive of defecation), that is, accommodation in which as many as four families shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. The corresponding figure for Gorky was 30 percent and it was considerably lower in newer towns such as Togliatti and Naberezhnye Chelny.
Left: New Apartment District, by E. Migunov (1973) / Moscow: Pravda
Right: New apartment construction (1962) / Wikimedia Commons
Housing construction received a major boost in the fifth five-year plan (1951-55) when investment reached almost twice the amount of the preceding planning period. It more than doubled again in the next five-year plan period (1956-60) when it amounted to an all-time high of 23.5 percent of total capital investment. Quality of construction and amenities were sacrificed for the sake of easing the shortage of housing. Many of the apartments constructed in the 1950s were prefabricated four- and five-story buildings, popularly known as khrushcheby, a play on the word trushcheby, which means slum. In his memoirs, Khrushchev claimed that “Throughout my career, I was concerned with the problem of providing housing for our citizens,” and took credit for initiating the construction of high-rise apartments on the outer fringes of Moscow. “To use the words of John Reed,” he wrote, “we ‘shook the world’ with our massive program to build housing for our people.”
Left: Moscow under Construction, by Mikhail Sokolov (1966) / Leonid Shishkin Gallery
Right: Maybe the apartment’s not big…, by F. Kurits (1969) / Moscow: Pravda
In the Moscow region, whole villages and farmland that had been cultivated for centuries were ploughed under to make way for new apartment blocks. The avatar of such housing developments was Novye Cheremushki, south of the city center. Later, the southwest district, Medvedkovo, and other outlying areas were subjected to the same process. Nevertheless, the new Party Program of 1961, which promised that “during the first decade of the building of communism (1961-70) the housing shortage will be eliminated …,” was far from having been realized.
Moral Code of the Builder of Communism
Left: The Park Bench (1958) / Wikimedia Commons
Right: Mutual Understanding (1962) / Wikimedia Commons
The “Moral Code of the Builder of Communism,” its compilers asserted, was superior to all other ethical systems. Presented as part of the official program at the twenty-second Communist Party Congress in 1961, the code consisted of twelve tenets. First and foremost was “devotion to the Communist cause, love toward the Socialist Motherland and to Socialist countries.” The remaining eleven principles were meant to govern human relations on all levels, from international to interpersonal.
Left: On the Balcony, by Mikhail Kostin (1960) / Wikimedia Commons
Right: Youth, by M. Klionskii (1957) / Wikimedia Commons
The code’s issuance represented the culmination of a process: over the course of the previous decade, Soviet party and government officials, scholars, and experts had developed, elaborated, and publicized the principles of Communist morality. Communist morality was supposed to replace coercion as a means of ensuring political and social stability and economic growth; it required political loyalty, hard work, and the proper conduct of private life. Under fully developed communism, public and private interests would be perfectly harmonized. But during the contemporary transitional period, in cases where conflicts arose, personal needs were to be subordinated to public priorities. Professionals and moralists in a variety of fields determined what attitudes and behaviors constituted a correct Communist private life, putting forth specific instructions about sex, love, marriage and child rearing. Trade union, party, Komsomol, and a host of new voluntary organizations were supposed to help enforce these standards. These groups included parent-school associations; apartment house committees; druzhiny, teams that patrolled the streets to arrest hooligans, drunks, and other disturbers of public order; and comrades’ courts, which were empowered to reprimand, fine, and shame people who neglected their children, disrespected their parents, damaged their apartments, or failed to get along with their neighbors.
Left: Parting at the Station (1960) / Wikimedia Commons
Right: On the Lake, by Leonard Gatov (1960) / Wikimedia Commons
Yet, at the same time, by 1961, Khrushchev’s reforms had increased individuals’ autonomy over their personal lives. The taming and restructuring of the secret police meant that, for the most part, state terror no longer disrupted family relations as it had under Stalin. Divorce became progressively easier to obtain, and the ban on abortion was lifted. The government launched an ambitious housing construction program with the goal of moving families out of communal apartments, barracks and dormitories and into their own individual apartments. The “Thaw” in literature and film meant that heroes were allowed to demonstrate their concern for intimate relations as well as production.
Her Glasses, by L.S. Samoilov (1964) / Moscow: Pravda
Thus the Khrushchev government provided new opportunities for professionals, officials, and volunteers to intervene in private life, but also new ways for people to evade, resist, and make use of that interference. Some ignored Communist morality or even made fun of it. For example, in 1961, the same year as the twenty-second party congress, a student at the Moscow Steel Institute wrote a comment in English on the blackboard that turned the Moral Code on its head: “Communism is women and wine.” Such rebelliousness was not the only reaction to Communist morality; other people selectively adopted aspects of it, and still others turned it inside out, using its language and supporting institutions to fulfill their individual aspirations. So for example, spouses sometimes accused one another of flouting Communist morality in order to reign in wayward spouses, subdue officious in-laws, or in divorce cases to support claims for custody of children or possessions. In other words, they used the language of Communist morality as a means of advancing the very individual interests that official moralists demanded they suppress. Evidence suggests that this was a strategy deployed more often by women than men. The fundamental gender inequality that persisted in Soviet society, despite claims to the contrary, made women more anxious to preserve marriages or claim possessions. Women received lower salaries than men and so were more often financially dependent on them. It was also more difficult for women to find new spouses; as a result of war casualties, women, especially those aged 35 and older, far outnumbered men. According to the recollections of one scholar, the complaining wife of the Khrushchev era was enough of a cliché to become the subject of a joke: How do women of various nationalities hang on to their husbands? The German by skilled housework, the Spaniard, by passion, the French by elegance, and the Russian by party committee.
Workers gather on the square (1962) / Wikimedia Commons
On June 2, 1962 several thousand workers from the Novocherkassk Electric Locomotive Works (NEVZ) and supporters marched to the Communist Party’s headquarters in the center of the city to protest nation-wide price increases for meat and dairy products that had been announced two days earlier. Failing to heed a warning from the general in charge of troops stationed in and around the building, the crowd was dispersed by gunfire. A total of twenty-four people died and dozens were wounded. Subsequently, 114 persons were convicted on charges of causing “mass disorders” and committing “banditry,” and seven were sentenced to death and executed.
Novocherkassk Locomotive Works (1962) / Wikimedia Commons
As the KGB reported at the time, numerous individuals throughout the country expressed their disgruntlement with the price increases, called for strikes, and produced leaflets denouncing the decision. Why only at the NEVZ did workers walk off their jobs, seize the factory’s administration building, and engage in other acts of civil disobedience? Part of the answer lay in a recently implemented upward revision of work norms and the factory’s participation in a socialist competition campaign, both of which presupposed greater effort on the part of workers. It also would appear that the particularly insensitive factory director — who reportedly uttered to a protesting worker the Marie Antoinette-like phrase, “If there isn’t enough money for meat and sausage, let them eat pirozhki with liver” — added fuel to the flames.
Novocherkassk Locomotive Works / Wikimedia Commons
Whatever the provocation, the fact that the protest culminated in a massacre can be attributed to the indecision and disagreements among the four Politbiuro members who flew to Novocherkassk, and, ultimately, to fears among the authorities that the protesters were gaining the upper hand. In the aftermath of the shooting, the authorities did their best to cover up what had happened, but information of varying accuracy soon leaked out of the USSR and was relayed back to the country via Radio Liberty broadcasts. The first article devoted to the Novocherkassk events that was published by a Soviet newspaper appeared in June 1988, and it was followed by dozens of exposes. Since 1991, documentary films, articles, and books have appeared, and the entire affair was subjected to an official investigation by the Chief Military Procuracy. A monument has been erected on the site.
Time piece on Thaw poets / Time Magazine
In July 1958 Moscow authorities erected a monument to Vladimir Maiakovskii on what was then renamed Maiakovskii Square. By 1961 young Muscovites had appropriated for their own uses this monument to the “”best and most talented poet of our Soviet epoch” as proclaimed by Stalin, making it the gathering spot for youth. Most famous were the poetry readings, which could gather thousands, even in the dead of winter. The verse was pointed, irreverent, sometimes opaquely caustic, which authorities took to be anti-Soviet. By April they took action, driving young people from the square by force, and when gatherings persisted, using expulsion, provocation, persecution, and searches. On occasion even snow plows were used. Some poets were arrested, others committed to psychiatric care. By May new laws against parasitism (people avoiding socially useful work) were passed and used against the poets. All this took place in the two months following the space flight of Iurii Gagarin.
The disbanding of the open meetings, unnoticed by most Soviet citizens, might have been the most pivotal event of that eventful year. The gatherings served many as a first experience in open society, a public place where people could engage in open conversation and act as if they were free. Though some retreated into despair after the readings were closed, other members of the generation of 1961 continued the custom of dissent. Vladimir Bukovsky, who was beaten by police at Maiakovskii Square, became one of the first and most irreconcilable dissidents in Soviet society, a model for future dissenters. Informal practices of 1961, such as the distribution of carbon-copied poetry, gave birth to samizdat (self-publishing), the unsanctioned basement publication that would be the lifeline of future dissidents.
The poetry readings were the embryo of a civil society, but they also bred state practices of repression that would last through the 1980s. Jailing poets as parasites and dissidents as deranged became normal police measures in later years, and led to a string of brutal trials through the 1960s. Soviet psychology, already a weak profession, was further discredited when it was enlisted to pathologize dissent and a youthful longing for cultural expression. Much in the spirit of Khrushchev himself, the young poets were forthright adherents of the destalinization campaign, which caught its second wind in 1961. Yet no less valuable was the insistence of the same poets that there was an entire world of pleasures beyond politics that was central to human existence and, by implication, beyond Soviet discourse.