During the 1950s in Soviet Russia, a counter-culture movement called the “stilyagi” emerged. This movement was pro-Western in culture; they wore outfits similar to the zoot suits of the West with bright colors and tight pants. They were intrigued by Western culture, and went to great lengths to be immersed in it—even as far as making bootlegged records out of old x-rays, called “bone records.”
The reason that these 1950s hipsters made such a splash during the time period was because of how different they were from the ideal Soviet culture. They never did anything specifically anti-Soviet or protest against the government; they only rebelled in terms of culture. Not only were they pro-Western, but they specifically differentiated themselves from the rest of society, which basically goes against the ideas of Marxism and Communism. The egalitarian, Soviet society was opposed to this as it undermined their rule. Soviet rule was not just about government policies, but also about transforming the culture and letting it permeate all aspects of life.
Because of their departure from Soviet culture, stilyagi gained a negative connotation and even became a taboo term. In “The Current Digest of the Russian Press” in 1958, a reader wrote in to ask how wide his pants should be “in order not to be considered a ‘stilyaga.‘” This shows the opposition that not just the government, but the general citizenry felt towards this counter-culture movement. The movement was generally taken up by young adults who wanted to feel apart of the West or just wanted to express themselves. The Soviets always emphasized the importance of children as the future of the country, so the trend of young people participating in these movements was very threatening to the Soviet government. An article was written in 1957 about the upbringing of the young generation, citing it as “the chief job assigned by the party to the Young Communist League.” In this article, the author lumps the Stiyagi in the same category as more troublesome people in society: “Why are there still truants, drunkards, zoot-suiters [stilyagi] and hooligans among our wonderful youth?” This quote shows the importance of culture in the creation of the Soviet state and how threatened the government felt when a counter-culture movement arose.
This post earned a red star from the editorial team.