Soviet anti-rock and roll propaganda film

If there was one thing Americans and the Soviets could agree on in the 1950s, it was that rock and roll was totally going to ruin the youth. Of course, there was some disagreement as to how , exactly, that ruination would come about. While American parents fretted about sex, drugs, and inter-racial dating, the Soviet authorities seem to have been largely concerned with rock music making kids lazy and unproductive.

The whole point of this video—in which some troubled teens are picked up behind the GUM while dealing bootleg records, and are then given a stern talking-to by authorities and peers—seems to be that indulging in rock music, booze, and black market imports means you won't be working as hard to build the future of the country. You are, in effect, stealing from your comrades and stealing from yourself. You aren't really living. You're just a shadow, ignoring the real wonders of the world, in favor of passing fancy. In the end, the bad seeds are rehabilitated and come together—in true, "Hey everybody, let's put on a show!" style—to make a poster decrying their former decadence. And, of course, the poster is a big hit with all the comrades on the streets of Moscow. Way to go, kids!

It all comes across as sort of, hilariously, mellow, compared to the panic you sense in American anti-rock screeds. And yet, I'm sure this film was deadly serious.

Bonus: The footage of the bootleg records, themselves, which were apparently "pressed" onto used X-ray plates. For a bunch of lazy ne'er-do-wells, that's some serious ingenuity.

Thanks to Yenisei for Submitterating! I think that he or she also did the subtitle translations for this video.


  1. The first bit reminds me of a Russian version of Godard’s Breathless.

    Also, “x-ray rock n’ roll” is a great name for a song.

  2. A Russian friend of mine (now a professor in the US) remembers watching these propaganda films back in the 70’s. One story was designed to prove America was filled with poor people, and showed a beggar on Fifth Avenue in NY. But, according to my Russian friend, the effort backfired. While the film did follow a vagrant in tatters walking the streets, all everyone noticed was that the store windows were FILLED with luxury goods! America was truly rich, and a stark contrast from Moscow…

  3. According to a German teacher of mine, it would seem that “Dallas” was a factor in the fall of the wall. Actually, he told me this years before the wall came down — the two video systems in use at the time, PAL and SECAM made it possible for East Berliners to see shows from West Berlin (albeit in black and white), and they liked the luxurious accoutrements shown in decadent Western nighttime soaps.

    Those animated Soviet propaganda shorts (mentioned here) seem to betray a certain envy as well, carefully wrapped in layers of disdain, for the wild West, at least as it existed in their imagination.

  4. You’re welcome Maggie, I indeed did the translation and it was a pleasure. I am really fascinated with Universal Subtitles, so much that I’m starting a blog where I’ll be translating similar cultural artefacts and curiosities.
    A bit of clarification: these lads are stilyagi (, a cultural phenomenon born in the 50s, once ridiculed and prosecuted and now somewhat glamorised. There’s a recent film of the same name where a short episode shows the process of “pressing” these Roenthgenizdat plates in very convincing detail (closer to the end of the clip):
    And yes, you’re right, this seems a lot calmer than most McCarthyist commie scare flicks.

  5. I think the most interesting thing here is the similarities between US anti-rock propaganda and Soviet anti-rock propaganda… Despite the differences, they have some things in common, as Maggie points out. Also, I think that both sides eventually settled on the tactic of cooption rather than outright banning of rock culture. There were later on some legit rock bands in the Soviet Union (though they had it tougher in the Soviet union in many ways – you had to stick to more strict rules obvious set by the government, etc). Artemy Troitsky (whose name I originally got from a commenter here a couple years ago, actually!) did an overview of Russian Rock that you can still find sometime:

    If you are interested in Rock/Jazz culture in the Eastern Bloc at all, I’d highly recommend Uta G. Poiger’s book on Jazz and rock in Germany during the cold war, Jazz Rock and Rebels: Cold War Politics and American Culture in a Divided Germany. It can be found at Amazon:

    It’s an incredibly interesting and more complex story than you’d think… my biggest complaint is that she ignores the GDR/Soviet connection and focuses on the US/FRG/GDR dynamic. Other than that, it’s a good (academic) history of rock and jazz in the cold war. Fortunately, this has been something that academics have been interested in more often lately.

    Of course, of all the Communist states, Yugoslavia had probably the most well developed rock scene, not surprising given the access that they had to Western goods compared to the Soviet Bloc…

  6. Is it just my ignorance showing, or does the evil music seem to have more in common with bebop than early rock and roll? Sounds more hep than hip to my ear.

    1. Maybe not bebop per se but definitely more jazz than rock and roll. I guess to the Soviet propaganda bureaucracy, this is close enough.

    2. To give you a bit of historical perspective: an incredibly diverse Soviet jazz scene (pretty much official – eg Leonid Utesov, Alexander Tsfasman etc) had been developing for decades, although it suffered severe repressions in the 40s. At the same time, Penny M. von Eschen, an American historian, claims that jazz was used by the State Department as an ideological weapon against the USSR (

      1. So what does Von Eschen say comes first — the repression or the use of jazz as a cold war weapon? If you haven’t read it, that is the conclusion Uta Poiger comes to about East Germany as well. Jazz (and rock to a less extent) at first has some official acceptance, then is rejected as it becomes clear that West Germany embraces it. The shift in West Germany (and US) position regarding jazz/rock from a public menace to a private family issue, and even to a cold war weapon, seems to proceed the changes in East Germany, Poiger argues….

        I need to read that book by Von Eschen…. I’ve heard good things about it.

  7. That title would be more readable if “anti-rock and roll” was written as a single word: anti-rock-and-roll.

  8. I would say, it’s rather anti-jazz (“music that resembles the screeching of car brakes”). Too early for anti-rock and roll. The film appears to be produced mid-late-50’s. Not so much against jazz, rock, and whatnot. It’s against certain lifestyle and black-market activities deemed to be wasteful and erosive from the point of collective effort to bring about the blissful state of communism. As for jazz and rock to hit the streets in the early 70’s, the genres as such were never banned wholesale. In fact, the soviets liked jazz (its non-burlesque type) because jazz in its origins manifested struggle by the oppressed. It was properly considered a grass-root black revolutionary music opposed to commercial entertainment.

    1. Well yes you’re right, but still the whole ‘music on bones’/Stilyagi movement is more associated with rock-n-roll, hence the headline. Of course, people of the older generation, like the great sax player Alexey Kozlov who’s written several books about the era, would beg to differ, but my father’s first Roentgenizdat was a Bill Haley.
      By the end of the 70s, by the way, the Soviet state realised that neither criminal persecutions or public shaming had worked and employed a different strategy. As mindysan33 has correctly noted, there were ‘official’ Soviet rock bands – some of which were actually quite good and often subversive, shoving a finger to the state behind its back – but what’s really amazing is the degree to which the underground and its adversary actually intertwined. The Leningrad Rock Club was established by the KGB, it’s a well-known fact, as well as several other rock clubs across the USSR, and among the KGB officers there were rock connoisseurs who would quash illegal gigs by day and listen to Led Zeppelin and The Bad Seeds by night.
      And yes, the Yugoslavian 80s rock scene is amazingly diverse and reaches far beyond rock as a genre – the industrial/musique concrete of early Laibach is just one obvious example. They had their own original post punk/new wave movement exemplified in the Paket Aranzman compilation of 1980 (,, check it out if you’re interested in a whole layer of musical counterculture completely unheard of in the West but which shaped a whole generation of a former Socialist country. BTW, Yugoslavia technically isn’t the East Bloc – it was one of the Non-Aligned State, thanks to Josip Broz Tito, the man who had enough balls to say ‘no’ to Stalin.

  9. Considering the time and place, nice propaganda and production value.

    “It is great luck to live your life as a human being and not turn into an empty shadow.”

    Maybe, if you had talent, you had to work for the party . . .

  10. to voiceinthedistance>

    ah. they simply dismiss it as worthless and silly. they don’t claim it evil or anything to that effect. In fact, the flick is not about music. it’s about lifestyle and certain activities that do not contribute to (or take away from – as in the case of bootlegging) the main purpose of soviet citizenry.

  11. “jazz was used by the State Department as an ideological weapon against the USSR”. Right. No need to be a historian to make this point, though. Jazz was most certainly used as a delivery system. Everything in the Voice Of America playlists was used as an instrument of ideology. What is really interesting is the following. When jazz was employed as such an instrument by the Voice of State Department (late 40s – 50s), it was widely considered an inferior, savage type of music in the US in general and most explicitly by the US political and cultural establishment of the time. The genre was taken to represent American lifestyle (only because it was in high demand in Europe! – not in the US); while, paradoxically, blacks were not even citizens in America, deprived of the basic rights and hanging on the social and economic margins (if not on the trees)!

  12. That was not a fallacy on my part. What I was saying was that attitudes towards jazz as it is depicted in this Soviet propaganda movie were not much different from the general attitudes to jazz at home in the US at that time – where it too was considered a silly and morally erosive music, to say the least. This is why it is remarkable how it nevertheless wound up as a “propaganda weapon” promoting American values in Europe (as a non-value in fact).

  13. No, I’m not accusing you of fallacy, you’re making a perfectly good point. It’s interesting to note, though, that jazz was portrayed (and persecuted) in the USSR as the music of the rich of America. I can instantly visualise a cartoonish Capitalist with his top hat, monocle and cigar twitching to doo-wop:
    The cartoon above is ‘Mister Twister’ circa 1960s featured on this compilation:
    And behold, a BoingBoing reference:

    Soviet animation style changed again with the thaw of the late ’50s, and animators like Anatoly Karanovich (“Mister Twister,” 1963) adopted the simplified, linear style made popular in America by UPA Pictures (of “Gerald McBoing-Boing” and the Mr. Magoo cartoons). The tone is darker and more embittered as “Animated Soviet Propaganda” moves into the ’70s and ’80s: Vladimir Tarasov’s expressionistic “Shooting Range” imagines a Times Square where the unemployed are mowed down for sport.

  14. Agree. Jazz was indeed an element of representation. I would say everything American was melodically coded in jazz – not just the rich. Representations of American “low-life” would go through jazz, too, but in a different tone for sure. Can’t think of an example, though.

    One important remark: I do not know of any case involving someone being persecuted for jazz in the USSR.

  15. I wouldn’t bet on Manukian as the most credible source. See, for example, the case of Eddie Rosner:

    After the war everything changed. By 1946 Stalin became increasingly hostile to Jewish people and also foreigners. In that year the Soviet censorship had all foreign art and music banned, even the leading Russian musicians, like Sergey Prokofiev and Dmitry Shostakovich were censored, and Rosner fell into disfavor and planned to emigrate from the Soviet Union. He was arrested by the Soviet KGB in the city of Lvov in the Ukraine, and then he was sent to a Gulag prison camp in Siberia on false charges of “anti-Soviet” treason with a ten-year sentence. For the next eight years Rosner continued to perform in the Gulag camp near Magadan, and was allowed to use music, or be used, to lift the spirits of other prisoners of the Soviet Gulag. He was released in May 1954, more than a year after Stalin’s death.

    Peculiar, though, is the permission to play jazz to lift the spirits of fellow prisoners. He must’ve had some powerful sympathisers among the camp’s administration.

    1. Not sure about it. Need to see documents where ban on foreign music (including jazz) was a part of central policy. I tried to locate such documents a while ago – could not find any. I would say foreign jazz and later rock was looked upon with suspicion by state bureaucrats (primarily those responsible for the mass media content). They might not allow a jazz concert on their premises or in their radio programs, but it was not persecuted – strictly speaking. Or perhaps on circumstantial grounds – as an item of black-market economy.

      “Today he’s playing jazz, and tomorrow he’ll be selling his motherland!” – that’s a good one. But still, this proverb may very well be a baseless poetic invention. I am inclined to think that all anti-jazz and rock-and-roll attitudes were limited to polemics in the newspapers.

  16. Also the immortal propagandist formula: “Today he’s playing jazz, and tomorrow he’ll be selling his motherland!” (it rhymes in Russian), parodied an innumerable number of times, e.g. recent “Today he’s playing grunge, tomorrow he’s Julian Assange!”. And since you obviously can read Russian, there’s a link for you.

  17. First that was some really crappy jazz, not rock. Little wonder they wanted to stamp it out.

    What the USSR didn’t understand was that you can have utopia AND rock and roll, you can have Utopia and new music and new art forms. Utopia has to be able to change or it can’t survive.

    But it’s kind of sweet, the expectations they had of people. It reminds me of an interview with Kwame Ture/Stokely Carmichael (53:45-55:13), that you must judge socialism by its principles not by socialists, like you must judge Christianity by its principles, not by Christians.

  18. Starr writes: “It is doubtful that any jazz musician on earth has ever been recompensed more generously within his society than Eddie Rosner in the Soviet Union during wartime.” This no doubt required of this 20-something German-born variety-show trumpeter some serious as well as masterly ass-licking. Or was he really THAT good plagiarizing Luis Armstrong? Wait. Who could really tell in the Soviet Union where there was not even enough bread? – not to mention American jazz records…

  19. Wiki says Rosner in the USSR was “persecuted” not for jazz, but for an attempt to illegally cross the Russian-Polish border. Rosner’s intended defection to the West is said to have been motivated by his frustrations brought about by changes in the official policy towards jazz and all other western things at the outbreak of Cold War. In practical terms, his frustration derived from his losing his free (billed to the Soviet citizens) four-bedroom apartment with a view on the Kremlin, concerts to the party apparatchiks (the name of his wonderful jazz band was “Stalin’s Band” – proper name, if you think about it), his private railroad car, his lavish salary (50 times higher than the average workers’ earnings) and so on… all of which, IMHO, was perversion to begin with and unbecoming of a jazz musician in the original meaning of this “profession”.

    For his “treason” (and treason it was, considering the benefits he ripped from his deal with the bloodiest repressive regime) Rosner got 10 years, served 8. Returned from prison basically back to fame (to his stupid variety-shows) – unlike other artists whose lives and careers were ruined permanently. The same year legally crossed the border to Poland. From there to the States. Later returned to his home in Germany. Finally a free man (no connection to mighty Uncle Joseph) living in a free society, hardly anyone was taking his jazz genius seriously. Died poor and forgotten in 1976.

  20. OK, you got me there. Rosner isn’t a great example. Thanks for the great link though, reading it through. The first time I met a reference to Willis Connover was in Alexey Kozlov‘s book, and, if he is to be believed, the ‘jazz as an ideological weapon’ worked brilliantly. A whole generation of kids (and later their own kids and younger siblings in case with rock) was simply infatuated with anything American, so much that they were willing to if not to risk their freedom (that’s a bit too far-fetched, yes) but at least to run into trouble of various degrees, from having their ideologically inconsistent coifs trimmed to being expelled from the Komsomol – which is a bit of a bummer career-wise.
    Which means that Soviet authorities were well aware of jazz’s corruptive influence and tried their best to limit it, including allowing some of it’s less experimental and daring, pop aspects into Soviet mainstream.

  21. My theory is that Rubik’s Cube brought down Communism. Rubik was Hungarian, always the most capitalistic of the Communist countries. The cube started out as an engineering problem but when people saw how much money you could make in the free market, well, the rest was history.

  22. I didn’t find it mellow at all… more like terrifyingly Stalinist.

    Of course, I have the same reaction to similar American stuff.

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