September 16, 2008

Echo of Moscow

In the land of the Soviets, the voice of the Kremlin was everywhere, an omnipresent reality-via-radio that long preceded Orwell's dystopia. Lenin and Trotsky fomented revolution primarily in print—in the commanding editorials of Iskra and Pravda, in the frenzied leaflets passed around in St. Petersburg meeting halls and later reprinted in "Ten Days That Shook the World"—but the leading instrument of enculturation and inundation under Joseph Stalin was a broadcast technology called radio-tochka, literally "radio point," a primitive receiver with no dial and no choice. These cheap wood-framed devices were installed in apartments and hallways, on factory floors, in train stations and bus depots; they played in hospitals, nursing homes, and military barracks; they were nailed to poles in the fields of collective farms and blared along the beaches from the Baltic to the Sea of Okhotsk.

The radio day commenced at 6 A.M.

First, the Soviet anthem, then "Govorit Moskva . . ." ("Moscow speaking").

If someone in a communal apartment shut off the radio, he was considered suspect, defiant, a potential "enemy of the people." The broadcasts issued the edicts of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, announced the details of the Five-Year Plan, declared the latest triumph of the Soviet Army and the perfidies of the capitalist West. In addition to the news, there was classical music and readings of classical Russian literature, along with "radio meetings" of village workers and soldiers' mothers. The Soviet people rarely heard Stalin's actual voice—halting, dry, with a thick Georgian accent—but through the radio they absorbed his pronouncements, his view of culture and the world, his implicit message of paternalism and threat. It is hard to imagine now the totality of the instrument and the perverse imagination required to conceive it, but radio-tochka existed for decades, as present as water and electricity and twice as reliable. It was such a successful tool of propaganda that when, in 1942, Hitler visited occupied Ukraine he expressed his admiration for Stalin's methodology and bemoaned the fact that the German people were still listening to shortwave broadcasts from the BBC.

No comments: