In my opinion, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America are, at their core, communications and marketing tools. Regardless of what they are reporting on or the programs they run, they are, in essence, selling and branding our Nation, America. Every day, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and voice of America are on the front lines of shaping what the world is thinking about us.
Statement of U.S Representative David Scott, Georgia, before the
Committee on Foreign Affairs, July 20091
Marking off the boundaries of intellectual assets is like drawing lines in water.
The Estonian documentary, Disco and Atomic War, tells a humorous and compelling story about how culture, especially illegal access to Western culture, was part of the Cold War effort to win the minds of those living under Soviet state control. The documentary follows the film-makers as young Estonians growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s who were subject to the clash between Soviet propaganda regarding the superiority of communism as a way of life and the vision of the West as seen in pirated American and Finnish television and radio programs. As part of the ideological battle that was the Cold War, American “soft power” was beamed through television and radio to Estonian viewers.
These broadcasts were picked up illegally using a variety of clever antenna systems, distributed via videocassette (once they became available) and narrated to friends and family who did not live close enough to the border to pick up their own signals. Despite the best efforts of the Soviets to block television transmissions, destroy antennas, and establish the iron curtain between Estonians and Western culture, popular television shows, such as Dallas and Knight Rider, as well as the disco craze of the ‘70s seeped through the cracks and “infected” communist viewers with what the Soviets saw as “an ideological virus spreading from the West.”3 The Soviets were seemingly helpless to stop the infiltration of the pirate television shows. Television became the “nation’s judge.”4
Film-maker Jaak Kilmi was a child during this information war and his documentary cleverly demonstrates how Western popular culture served as a Cold War ideological weapon that simply could not be fought by the Soviets. Former Foreign Service officer Yale Richmond’s analysis of the power of cultural exchange concurs with Kilmi’s film version. The cultural context of foreign films provided Russians with a visible representation of another way of life. Richmond notes, “Audiences were not so much listening to the soundtrack or reading the subtitles as watching the doings of people on the screen—in their homes, in stores, on streets—the clothes they wore, and the cars they drove. Such details, which showed how people lived in the West, were very revealing for Soviet audiences.”5 These television programs cracked the state-sponsored cultural projects of the Soviets by providing a visual representation of another possible world. They also captured their audiences with the soap opera qualities of Dallas, where everyone wanted to know who shot J.R., and the adventures of Michael Knight and his intelligent car.
At a more mundane level, the other possible world was made visible through the ads seen on the television. Kilmi tells the story of the subversive impact of what in the West would have been a fairly unremarkable advertisement. The ad showed a well-stocked butcher store with an enormous array of meat cuts. To the Estonian viewer the abundance of the store was a marvel. Soviet propaganda sought to directly counter this otherwise innocent ad by claiming that the advertisement was itself propaganda and the butcher was a government agent.
The United States constructed the story of the Soviets as our arch enemies, a story in which the United States sought to promote cultural freedom and a free flow of information, while the Soviets embraced cultural censorship and authoritarianism. U.S. efforts to expose the world to American culture was strategically designed to provide a visible alternative, based upon the abundance of capitalism and the ingenuity of American artists, which was generated from the people and not controlled, as the Soviet system was, from the top down. Such is the discourse on culture during the Cold War.
From a copyright perspective, however, the United States and the USSR had more in common than one might think. The Soviets sought to stamp out cultural imperialism and halt the flow of “bourgeois” products by providing viewers with appropriate communist alternatives. On the American side, despite its international rhetoric about the free flow of information, the U.S. government had undergone its own censorship process via the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) as well as numerous public and private censorship efforts to control and destroy obscenity and this involved private censorship of books, music, and movies.6 The presence of McCarthyism and anti-communism in the United States tested the limits of the U.S. cultural laissez-faire approach. While overseas libraries funded by the American government and stocked with books by American authors were designed to demonstrate the intellectual freedom available in the United States, the fervent anti-communism at home meant that the Committee of Books Abroad, part of the United States Information Service (USIS), issued a ban on all literature by “communists, fellow travelers, and so forth.”7 It would seem that the United States embraced a free flow of information as long as that flow did not sympathize with socialism, communism, or other leftist ideals, or in any other way violate the sensibilities of those with law-making power, much like the Soviets embraced only works that supported their ideological approach.
In terms of copyright, Soviet copyright laws were designed to support a socialist system of creativity, but by the 1970s they had aligned their copyright laws with international copyright standards. Thus, generally speaking, the substantive differences between a socialist copyright regime and a capitalist one had been mostly ironed out. For its part, during the height of the Cold War, America had not yet signed the Berne Convention and thus was also not aligned with international copyright standards either.
While the Soviets were concerned first with ideology and second with support of culture, it can certainly be argued that these two goals were also driving forces for the United States. Obviously, American ideological claims were different and the arguments revolving around how to support culture were different too, but both systems had similar goals—aligning culture with the ideological and nationalist goals of the state. Finally, while copyright advocates from the ‘50s through the ‘80s had not yet conceptualized copyright as a central and driving force in information exchange, it is safe to say that both the Soviets and American culture industry representatives agreed that the flow of American culture to the Soviet Union should be halted. The Soviets felt it should be halted because it represented a cultural paradigm that they resisted, and American industry sought to curtail this flow because they couldn’t control the revenue stream. The U.S. government, while certainly lobbying for intellectual property control on the one hand, also undermined its own agenda when it sought to use American culture as an ideological weapon, thus elevating the “free” flow of information abroad over the property components of its circulation.
The Cold War helps demonstrate how culture becomes the subject of nationalist narratives regarding political supremacy. It also demonstrates how the state regulates and manages cultural flows for the benefit of larger economic and political interests. In an effort to counter the disco craze, for example, Soviets set up their own collective version of disco and established community dance nights. Youth culture, however, had already been co-opted by the autonomy and individualism of the West. They were not interested in the Soviet alternative to disco. Hindsight demonstrates that the Soviets were never able to fully neutralize the threat from American pop culture. Hollywood had won the minds of its viewers.8 The Soviet state could not halt this flow, and major culture industry players were helpless in the face of transnational sharing as well. It wasn’t until 1973 that an international agreement existed that gave these economic players the ability to halt the flow of commercial products inside the Soviet Union.9
In this chapter I’d like to more fully explore the relationship of the state to the creativity of its people and the ways in which states align themselves with culture to shore up national discourses of exceptionalism and use culture as a foreign policy tool to help communicate a national way of life globally. While culture aligned with the state may help support a narrative of nationalism, culture also threatens the state, given that regional governance and cultural flows make ideas of the nation less relevant in a global world.
Throughout the world, national identities only partially align with state practices and tend to be fragile, multiple, and easily altered when exposed to new ideas and possibilities. Thus, while states assert sovereign control over specific geographical territories, creativity and cultural communication disrupt the territorial control that states seek to manage. To allow for a free flow of culture and communication, the state risks a fractured identity for its nation-building project. To control the cultural dialogue in the name of nation-building is to stifle cultural expression and possibly create the conditions of resistance to the state. Neither option serves state interests consistently.
States of all types support art and cultural policy as nation-building projects. Arts policy is designed by the state to support the local arts with public funding.10 Cultural policy, in contrast is, “the ideological role prescribed by the state for arts and culture in the greater nation-building project, in which the state defines the meaning of art and culture and their relationship to society.”11 While this distinction itself may be less than relevant, government-sponsored arts funding, even while perhaps following a different trajectory than general cultural policy, will be governed by the more general sense of a state cultural policy.
States that are more interested in national discourses of authenticity—such as the careful alignment of French culture with the French state—will more assertively fund the arts and develop a cultural policy that shores up nationalist discourses. The same could be said for the former Soviet Union, a political entity that sought to derive its legitimacy by carefully aligning culture with politics and producing an ideological narrative that sought to unify the fractured territory of the Soviet Union into a single entity. All centralizing state practices require not simply an economic but also some sort of cultural unification. This chapter will highlight why states must participate in these processes, no matter their ideological constitution, if they seek to retain legitimacy.
This chapter also focuses on the state’s efforts to regulate culture territorially. To tease out the multiple connections between culture and the state, I will first investigate a period in cultural exchange that now seems quite removed from contemporary battles over culture and copyright. Specifically, the ideological clash that emerged during the Cold War did not simply progress along political fronts, but was waged as a cultural war that tells an important story about the relationship of culture to the state and the different approaches one can take in the protection of intellectual property. From state-sponsored culture, to the ways in which the state appropriates the cultural innovation of its citizens as evidence of its legitimacy as a nation, the relationship of the state to culture is complex.
The Cold War was a moment in which nations clearly sought to align their cultural practices with the political ideology expressed by their respective states. For the United States, the Cold War produced what Lewis Hyde has called “democratic-propaganda patronage.”12 The state often uses culture as a foreign policy tool—to help create the conditions of support for its larger empire-building projects, while at the same time creating a narrative that can focus the energy of other states on the people instead of state aggression.13
The cultural exchange that occurred between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War and the ways in which culture was used to humanize the state, while at the same time the state engaged in efforts to halt the flow of culture, or use it as a vehicle for political ends, help to highlight the conflicting policy priorities between national efforts to promote the state as a unitary actor and the ways in which cultural exchange fracture these very same efforts. Ironically, the foreign policy interest in sharing culture can violate existing copyright structures and thus puts state protection of its national interests in direct conflict with state protection of its economic interests. The power of the bootleg as a politically subversive tool should not be underestimated. The story of the use of “soft power” during the Cold War highlights the relationship between culture, nationalism, and culture as a commodity, and challenges our understanding of authentic national culture.14
The remainder of the chapter will move from the national to the regional and global in order to highlight the threat to the state posed by culture unhinged from nationalism and the free flow around the globe. I will argue that the state’s role in a globalized world is complex and multifaceted. States have adopted the paradigm of culture as a commodity produced by nationals, yet require these commodities to flow unrestricted across national boundaries. The circulation of culture also means the circulation of the artists who produce it, leading to arguments supporting the free flow of culture often at the expense of the integrity of national borders. In this way, the state seeks to remain relevant but becomes increasingly irrelevant to the flow of culture.
While numerous reasons are given to explain the collapse of the Soviet Union, the focus is often placed on military expenditures and economic competition. The importance of cultural exchange and the ways in which capitalist culture filtered through the iron curtain to provide the citizens of Soviet Russia with a vision of life substantially different from their own is less often discussed, at least within the discipline of political science. The “soft power” effect of Western culture is relevant here because the Cold War was at its heart an ideological battle over the minds of people. As such, cultural resources were mobilized to argue for the superiority of one system over the other, not only as a way of governing, but a way of life.
As the epigraph at beginning of this chapter suggests, political leaders have found the promotion of American cultural values abroad to be an important part of American foreign policy. The Department of State includes the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to help promote American culture abroad, and there are numerous exchanges that have been developed and a range of government entities that deal with information and culture at the international level. Thus, it must be made clear that what the United States exports as American culture is as ideologically entangled as Soviet-era cultural exchange was, but the American ideology is much more hidden from view by those entrenched in its framework. American cultural diplomacy evolved from an effort to create a sympathetic environment for the United States abroad, or at the very least to “induce influential parts of the host country’s public to give us the benefit of the doubt.”15
Political rhetoric during the Cold War produced grand metanarratives in the service of the state project dealing with culture and its exchange. American culture specifically, but “Western” culture more generally, was depicted as one of openness that fostered a free flow of ideas.16 The argument for this liberal vision is that free people can exchange ideas without overt state censorship and that the state itself has a duty to foster such exchange instead of requiring citizens to adhere to a specific state-sponsored line of thought. Democratic regimes like the United States allowed for the free flow of ideas that a free people could create (never mind the home-based McCarthyism or even the puritanical systems of censorship that existed in the United States).
Communists, by contrast, controlled cultural expression within a closed society and thus were to be criticized for failing to allow citizens to fully express their creative, intellectual and innovative selves. Only the West, it was argued, could allow the individual as an individual to express his or herself fully. Of course, the “individual as the center of creation myth” has been central to concealing the ways in which creativity is located in social groups and that innovation does not emerge from isolation. Modern capitalists seem to only just be discovering this idea.17
The dichotomy between the freedom in the West and the control of the Soviets was an integral philosophical part of the politics of American foreign policy. As David A. Smith notes, “art became a weapon in the cold war.”18 Members of Congress and President Eisenhower were both concerned with the Soviet depiction of Americans as, “gum-chewing, insensitive, materialistic barbarians,” which required Americans to be concerned with cultural diplomacy.19 The American Assembly, an academic entity founded by Dwight D. Eisenhower to produce topical materials on policy issues described the cultural clash of paradigms between the United States and communists in their 1962 session on cultural affairs and foreign relations as such:
In a democratic society like the United States the delineation of government’s role in these [cultural] affairs is a sensitive and difficult matter. The diversity within a democratic society does not permit the government to command the nation’s cultural life. The communist countries have no such difficulty in reconciling their cultural tradition with their political purposes or in devising international policies and procedures consistent with what is done domestically. … In America, the decentralized and highly diversified structure of educational and cultural life creates for the government the further problem of how most effectively to tap the resources—the artists, teachers, scientists and books—that are needed for international cultural activities, but that are not normally subject to government control.20
Debates about support of the arts abroad made it essential to discuss support of the arts domestically, which raised controversies over the role of government in the arts more generally. Government funding could be perceived as government control over what should be free expression. While one could argue that, under this paradigm, the United States is less likely to use culture as a nation-building tool, in actuality, the United States is simply communicating a fundamentally different cultural ideology than the communist one. However, it is no less tied to the state; simply in the case of the United States, it is a capitalist state.
In the United States, government funding for the arts has historically been limited. It wasn’t until 1938 that the U.S. federal government began to provide transnational cultural support, the last of the “major powers” to do so.21 In part, the claim that the United States spoke for freedom and that what it promoted abroad was not propaganda, but freely produced art, literature, music and ideas, made it impossible to fully fund the arts in a manner that might imply that the state helped create culture.22 The United States did not begin to enter the struggle to define its international interests through culture and what has come to be called public diplomacy until the Second World War.23 Then, as a result of the Cold War, the United States entered the information war full force with the construction of the United States Information Agency (USIA), born in 1953.24
As Ninkovich puts it, the 1950s’ Cold War required a complex political balance:
Circumstances dictated an effective mobilization of national cultural resources and their use in an international power struggle at the same time that there existed the equally vital need to maintain the intellectual and organizational continuity of a nonpolitical, antinationalist tradition.25
This conundrum meant that, while the United States did support a national cultural policy, it must do so by disavowing the cultural policy it sought to generate and promote globally. According to Dizard, the United States has always sought to balance the private interests of the commercial cultural centers with the national interest in spreading American ideas.26
In fact, U.S. cultural policy during the early Cold War from the 1950s onward was as interested in promoting American culture abroad as Americans argued the Soviet system was, though the U.S. approach was seen as a justified defense against communist culture.27 The United States offered a variety of programs funding culture abroad, with both the Department of State and the United States Information Agency playing a visible role.28 The USIA was a significant funder promoting American cultural products overseas. Additionally, millions of dollars from the CIA were funneled through private foundations, literary magazines, conferences, festivals, and other channels that produced art to help publicize the American way of life abroad and the quality of American culture.
These efforts made the CIA our de facto Ministry of Culture, according to Frances Stonor Saunders, who has documented the depth and breadth of American covert funding for the arts during the Cold War.29 Dizard argues that the CIA budget for covert cultural activities outpaced the USIA budget “by a factor of five or six” with most of their efforts being “carried out by surrogates.”30 The CIA was a significant source of support for American private foundations, which allowed them to have a far more wide-reaching impact on intellectual life both domestically and internationally.31 As Dizard notes, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the CIA often had even more resources than the USIA in promoting American ideological agendas abroad.32
The agenda of American foreign cultural policy during the Cold War was twofold. First, to stifle anti-American sentiment throughout Europe and in the process to demonstrate to the culturally high-minded Europeans (especially the French) that America had culture, and that this culture was of social value and worthy of their respect. While David Caute questions the scope of CIA funding, he agrees that one of the primary goals of U.S. cultural policy was to “convince Europeans that America was more than Walt Disney and Mae West, corned beef, chewing-gum, and nylons.”33 Prior to the First World War and the growing notion of cultural diplomacy that evolved during this war, American high culture had looked predominantly towards Europe for inspiration.34 The U.S. government sought to change the position of U.S. culture abroad.
A second goal was to actively position American culture and way of life as an alternative to Soviet-style top-down cultural policy. While the Soviets controlled culture through state mechanisms and acted as a censor to ideas hostile to their ideological structure, the goal was to demonstrate that the United States functioned without any such state control. Of course, the U.S. policy was built upon supporting private cultural products, but it is impossible to claim that the United States won the hearts and minds of the world without the support of the federal government. The free market did not prevail, government support did.
The government was instrumental in the spread of American culture abroad. Besides direct government subsidies to private entertainment industry interests to control global media markets, the United States funded the Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcast and, perhaps less well known, but possibly more important, the Armed Forces Network (AFN), the Defense Department’s radio and television broadcasts designed for U.S. military workers abroad, but whose broadcasting generated an enormous foreign audience.35 Furthermore, the United States covertly supported non-communist leftist organizations that were often at odds with their overt foreign policy goals in order to shift the global debate away from communism.36 The deepest irony behind these goals is that the United States designed and supported a top-down cultural policy in the name of freedom of ideas and openness.
To make matters more complex, even as the United States was covertly supporting American culture in all its forms as long as it aligned with the free market liberal tradition, it was heavily involved in censoring its own most popular form of entertainment—movies. The McCarthy era is but one example where the political expression of artists was actively crushed by the state. It is no accident that during the McCarthy era agents of the state sought to weed out radicals in Hollywood, given that such people were seen as an immediate and direct threat to the national integrity of the United States. The foreign libraries supported by the USIA and funded by the U.S. government to help provide the world with a vision of what America was like were also placed under Congressional scrutiny, and books were censored and stripped from library shelves.37 It should also come as no surprise that there was a long tradition of radical and leftist politics within American cultural communities, including the major Hollywood studios and, of course, within the American folk music tradition.38
Despite American commitment to free speech and expression, the hysteria inspired by the possibility of cultural producers who were communists controlling the viewing habits of the American people in direct contradistinction with the interests of the state helps highlight how intense American policies of cultural control actually were. While American policymakers and elites criticized the Soviet Union for politicizing art, they were at the same time politicizing the cultural process in the United States by seeking to strip all possible radical and critical meaning from art itself in the name of free expression. President Eisenhower’s words are illustrative of this point:
Our aim is more subtle, more pervasive, more complete. We are trying to get the world, by peaceful means, to believe the truth. That truth is that Americans want a world at peace, a world in which all people shall have opportunity for maximum individual development. The means we shall employ to spread this truth are often called “psychological”. Don’t be afraid of that term because it’s a five-dollar, five-syllable word. “Psychological warfare” is the struggle for the minds and wills of men.39
When art is caught in the battle between freedom and control by the state, the power of the state becomes visible. The Cold War demonstrates that, even in a culture claiming a dedication to free expression such as the United States, the pressures to produce appropriate cultural products can be immense.
Indirect funding of American arts, ideas, and culture from the ′50s through the end of the ′80s helped to solidify American cultural superiority (as planned) and to support the arts in the United States, even if it was done through unacknowledged channels. Perhaps yet another irony of American Cold War ideology is that the contemporary global cultural superiority attributed to the U.S. free market, and the hard work of our enterprising creative class, was given a substantial jump start through Cold War spending and propaganda efforts designed and implemented by the U.S. government. Dizard notes that the budget of the USIA made it an important client for commercial American media. “As a result,” he notes, “large quantities of commercial media materials were exported, paid for, and distributed by the agency.”40
These early foreign policy efforts to make American culture globally ubiquitous and popular meant that American cultural domination is no accident or the result of the market’s “invisible hand.” Instead, many aspects of American culture were given a fairly substantial helping hand by public, if covert, funding. Dizard provides the example of the book-publishing industry, which received USIA subsidies to challenge British and French control in global book exports. He notes, “as a result, they [publishers] are now the dominant factor in the global book industry.”41 The result has been a dynamic American imperialism where “the precise effects of American soft power, and reactions it provokes, can be debated, but the reach of American soft power is indisputably global.”42
The United States was always embedded in an ideology of private capitalist investment that made government subsidy and support of the international spread of American culture fraught with tension, even as these powerful industries were able to create global markets with taxpayer funding. As the Cold War ended, so too did funding for cultural exchanges, even the most successful ones.43 However, our cultural policy remains mired in politically motivated and ideologically driven trajectories. As Hyde notes, by 1990 with the demise of the Cold War, the United States entered the “era of market triumphalism” where public funding for the arts and sciences was cut drastically so that the market could prevail.44 At least from the public sector, according to a report done by the National Endowment for the Arts, the United States spends less on public funding for the arts than other OECD countries.45
It wasn’t until 1965 that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was created and it has always been a controversial agency.46 Until the 1980s it was the largest source of support for artists available in the United States; however, after Ronald Reagan the NEA suffered budget cuts and additional attacks.47 Federal appropriations in 2010 were half of what they were 25 years previously and all funding from state, federal, and local agencies is down 31 percent from 1986 once adjusted for inflation.48 Public funding remains controversial because conservative voices seek to censor art that they disagree with, while free market voices believe art should be able to fund itself if it is worthy. For the state to overtly impose its ideological message on artists would publically highlight the hypocrisy of the United States’ position regarding the free exchange of information. Thus, in the United States it remains inconsistent from an ideological perspective for the government to more fully support the arts, even though to do so would help to better align art with national goals. Furthermore, the United States has no department of cultural affairs that might make its mission the preservation of the vast cultural heritage generated over U.S. history. Instead, preservation is hindered by copyright and left to the private corporations who own the content, meaning the vast majority of American cultural heritage is lost or unavailable.49
Artists in the United States understand that private philanthropy and personal resources are the avenues of choice for creative expression, placing even more emphasis on market-based cultural creation and of course in the process elevating copyright laws to an even higher position of importance within policy discussions. In this way artistic merit will be judged not by “ideological” criteria such as those imposed by communist or authoritarian regimes, but by market criteria. The vast majority of artists working in the United States under the free market system do not make a living at their art, a situation Ivey identifies as a lack of respect for artists.50 From the American perspective, the work produced is not ideological and thus created in freedom because the interests of the state do not dominate the cultural discourse. Instead of consolidating copyright power in the state, the U.S. system consolidates copyright power in the culture industry.
Emphasizing private funding for the arts and reducing the role of state-sponsored cultural policy is of course exactly the ideological message the United States wishes to communicate globally. It is one reason why copyright law has become such a key policy issue internationally for the United States—culture is a form of private property that must be respected no matter where it flows. Prior to the last few decades, when copyright has come to dominate our international models of cultural exchange, the United States saw the flow of culture and information as central to its ideological war against communism, and the dominant theme was not the privatization and ownership of culture but the ways in which the flow of culture, especially its flow behind the iron curtain, could be accomplished.
Today, the United States structures its cultural policy as a “free market” policy with relatively little oversight regarding what type of art is produced but substantial oversight over art as property and how it is purchased and used. To highlight just how much our dialogue about culture has changed to become even more brand saturated and market conscious, contrast the “branded” communications of the modern Radio Free America as understood by our elected officials with the statements made by George N. Shuster below.
George N. Shuster, writing for the American Assembly volume on cultural relations in 1962 summarized his analysis of the primary experience gained so far in constructing American cultural policy. He noted that exchange of people and promoting the idea of freedom were both central to our policy goals. He followed these two objectives with the idea that “books, periodicals and documentation in forms associated with the term ‘visual aids’ (including radio and television broadcasts) are important resources of cultural policy, especially when distributed in ways which themselves illustrate the character of American life—one such way being the open shelf library.”51 Shuster’s claim is interesting because it shows how far removed our contemporary ideology of cultural exchange is from that embraced by academics and policymakers interested in foreign policy in the ′60s.
Shuster suggests that we should be distributing these cultural materials not simply to help familiarize those living abroad with American values and ideas, but also using the library as a vehicle to do so. The library is evidence of democracy at work and the United States sponsored over 200 open libraries throughout the world.52 What is most striking is his claim that an open library system, where books and audiovisual materials would be shared freely best exemplifies, to him, the American values associated with our way of producing and exchanging knowledge. Such a view seems under threat within the United States from 40 years later where libraries struggle with funding and find themselves to be labeled serious copyright infringers: so much so that they have established their own lobbying group to seek to preserve the free flow of information that copyright owners seek to shut down.53 Additionally, as the last chapter demonstrated, foreign students seeking knowledge from U.S. educational sources are now understood as walking intellectual property thieves who take our knowledge and return home to compete against us.
Conversely, the Soviet approach is a substantially different one. Soviet cultural policy meant that artists were state employees, considered a prestigious position within the state bureaucracy. The Soviets funded innovative work through research institutes but not through the allocation of private rights for innovation.54 Soviet creators were guaranteed their positions as long as they created art within a system of “ideological conformity.”55 Thus, many artists held relatively secure positions with guaranteed incomes.
In their 2002 book, Socialist Cultures East and West, co-editors Dubravka Juraga and M. Keith Booker argue that most of what we know about communist cultural policy has been so filtered through the lens of Western ideology as to misrepresent the system at many levels. While it was generally understood by Americans that the Soviets were experts at propaganda, in the experience of the authors:
Cold War visions of brutally effective communist mind control are inaccurate to the point of being almost comical. It is, after all, the West, especially America, that has perfected modern techniques of advertising, public relations, and other forms of attitudinal control. The Eastern European regimes, on the other hand, were almost totally inept at that kind of psychological manipulation at which the American media are so good.56
It is perhaps difficult to discern just how effective American propaganda techniques during the Cold War were at stifling a truly free and open exchange of ideas between communist-styled regimes and Western capitalist ones.
In fact, Juraga and Booker argue, “the American propaganda machine was so effective that it, to a large extent, even won over the hearts and minds of the citizens of the Soviet bloc, even though those minds had supposedly been scrubbed clean by communist brainwashing.”57 In contrast to the American story that only Western culture is pure, Juraga and Booker question why some of the most important works of literary quality coming from the Soviet Union were inaccessible to Western audiences and in fact were considered lesser art forms because of the political system under which they were produced. Strangely, Western culture—books, movies, and more—was available in the Soviet bloc countries while Soviet literature was almost impossible to acquire in the West unless it was work by dissident authors publishing without the express permission of the Soviet system.58 The United States may not have censored its own authors overtly, but it was also not interested in a free flow of information.
There should be no doubt that the communists saw culture as political. There is also public evidence that the Soviet system prosecuted authors who were deemed anti-Soviet.59 However, as is the case in the United States and elsewhere, despite the legal regimes and political conditions imposed by the state, Russian authors continued to write and distribute their works.
Politically, in an effort to align the people with the state, communists more generally expressed an interest in folk culture. Folk culture was seen as an authentic expression of “the people” and the Soviet regime sought to utilize this folk culture to align the communist state with authentic culture. As Reuss and Reuss clarify, “Artists in every field were faced with defining the new communist alternative culture as it applied to their own discipline and instituting concrete programs of activity reflecting their definitions.”60 It is not surprising that Soviet cultural policies highlighted the prominence of a communist alternative.