The Null Device
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A new book, How The Beatles Rocked The Kremlin, makes the claim that the Beatles contributed greatly to the collapse of the Soviet Union (or at least to the collapse of the legitimacy of the communist regime among its youth; whether glasnost, perestroika and the disintegration of the USSR would have happened as they did without the Beatles is a matter for historical inquiry):
The book's main character, the Russian writer and critic Art Troitsky, makes the claim that: "In the big bad west they've had whole huge institutions that spent millions of dollars trying to undermine the Soviet system. And I'm sure the impact of all those stupid cold war institutions has been much, much smaller than the impact of the Beatles."
A grand assertion, maybe – but widely shared. "Beatlemania washed away the foundations of Soviet society," explains Mikhail Safonov at the Institute of Russian History. And the Russian rocker Sasha Lipnitsky – snowflakes falling on his beret as he talks to Woodhead in a park bandstand – insists: "The Beatles brought us the idea of democracy. For many of us, it was the first hole in the iron curtain."The Soviet authorities didn't quite know how to respond, and alternated between trying to co-opt the new fad and attempting to stamp it out, but to no avail; once music fans contrasted the music with the authorities' denunciations of it, they became more sceptical of the official party line:
Indeed, the repression and harassment of the music ebbed and flowed as the party controls lapsed or intensified. "It went in waves: sometimes you could be approved for an official recording, and sometimes you were banned, losing your job or education. It must have driven them insane," says Woodhead. He not only excavates the minds of the rebels but also the propaganda machine at work. He recounts how a school staged a mock trial of the Beatles – broadcast on radio – with a prosecutor and denunciations in the manner of Stalin's show trials of the 1930s. A critical bulletin shown on state TV, entitled Pop Quartet the Beatles, told the story of how "these gifted guys could be real cash earners" while, "struck down with psychosis, the fans don't hear anything any more. Hysterics, screams, people fainting!" So ran the TV commentary, accompanied by shots of dancing fans intercut with images of the Ku Klux Klan and dire poverty in the American south. "Keep on dancing, lads, don't look around," the programme taunted, "You don't really want to know what's happening. Keep going, louder and faster! You don't care about anyone else."The article also mentions the USSR and its satellite states' interaction with other forms of countercultural and popular music, some deemed less threatening than others. (Disco, it seems, is OK because it's easy to contain. By then, the sclerotic Brezhnev-era USSR must have given up on trying to inspire its youth with Leninist zeal in its vision and was merely hoping that their recreations would remain safely apolitical, and, dare one say, bourgeois.)
Looking through the other end of the telescope, it is enlightening to find what the Soviet authorities approved of. They "positively encouraged" disco music – the Bee Gees' Saturday Night Fever, Abba and Boney M (though Rasputin was officially banned) – because, says Woodhead, "it was musically rigid and could be contained within the dance floor, it wasn't going to spill out on to the streets".
Why the Beatles? There is no hint of the Rolling Stones or the Who in all this. In Czechoslovakia, the underground was being inspired by dark dissonance in the Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa. "I think the Czechs had that recent memory of democracy, before the war," reflects Woodhead. "And their culture has roots in Kafka and the surreal. But Soviet taste was more melodic, they like tunes above all, even a little sentiment, verging on the beautiful – and there, I'm describing a McCartney song, not hypersexual rock'n'roll, or Street Fighting Man.
One of the more unexpected products of the final days of the Soviet Union was an explosion of fantastic modernist architecture. With the iron chain of Communist totalitarianism crumbling and the velvet leash of the almighty market still in the future, the USSR's architects had a free hand to go wild, which they did, resulting in a wave of spectacular-looking government ministries, polytechnic institutes and other facilities scattered around the various peripheries of the empire, and looking like they were dropped from space:
These fascinating things, built in prominent locations, were cathedral-like in their ambitions as well as their size. Chaubin concocted a game around his photograph of the Palace of Weddings in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. He would show it to people and ask them what it could be: a monastery, a power station, maybe even a giant laboratory? "No one guessed it was a registry office for weddings built on a huge scale to encourage people away from getting married in churches."The buildings are catalogued in a new book by a French photographer, Frédéric Chaubin, who spent several years finding and recording them. The book may be the last chance to see many of them, which are likely to fall prey to the financial ambitions of oligarchs and property developers. There is a slideshow here.
An Armenian-born programmer recounts how, during his childhood in the USSR, he stumbled across the KGB's technique for listening in on conversations in any home.
Some time in 1981, I think, a relative from the U.S. comes to visit us for the first time since he left the country many years before that. He was going to stay in our house for a couple of weeks. My parents told me that such visits were always "monitored" by KGB, and so I should be careful with expressing any kind of anti-soviet ideas (which I was known for in the school). In the end though, nobody was going to take this seriously: neither the possibility of KGB agents freezing in cold outside watching us through the windows, nor any kind of bugs installed in our house.
Something strange, however, had happened when our relative had finally arrived. Our phone went crazy. First of all, it was practically impossible to call or to take calls during that period. And besides, the phone's ringer started giving a single "ding" twice a day, exactly at 9 in the morning and 9 in the evening.The KGB, it seems, was using the ringers of telephones as crude microphones, responding to sound vibrations and feeding a very weak signal back into the phone line; when a house was noted as being of sufficient interest, a powerful amplifier could make the signal just about intelligible. The KGB only got caught out (to the extent of allowing a young boy to figure out what was happening, at least) due to the dilapidated condition of the Soviet phone system, and the tendency for lines to get crossed from time to time.
Details have emerged about the Soviet Union's nuclear "doomsday machine". Officially known as "Perimeter", but nicknamed "Mertvaya Ruka" ("Dead Hand"), this was a nuclear dead man's switch of sorts; a system which, when armed, could launch massive nuclear retaliation against the United States, even in the event of the entire Soviet nuclear command system having been wiped out in a first strike:
Perimeter ensures the ability to strike back, but it's no hair-trigger device. It was designed to lie semi-dormant until switched on by a high official in a crisis. Then it would begin monitoring a network of seismic, radiation, and air pressure sensors for signs of nuclear explosions. Before launching any retaliatory strike, the system had to check off four if/then propositions: If it was turned on, then it would try to determine that a nuclear weapon had hit Soviet soil. If it seemed that one had, the system would check to see if any communication links to the war room of the Soviet General Staff remained. If they did, and if some amount of time—likely ranging from 15 minutes to an hour—passed without further indications of attack, the machine would assume officials were still living who could order the counterattack and shut down. But if the line to the General Staff went dead, then Perimeter would infer that apocalypse had arrived. It would immediately transfer launch authority to whoever was manning the system at that moment deep inside a protected bunker—bypassing layers and layers of normal command authority. At that point, the ability to destroy the world would fall to whoever was on duty: maybe a high minister sent in during the crisis, maybe a 25-year-old junior officer fresh out of military academy. And if that person decided to press the button ... If/then. If/then. If/then. If/then.
Once initiated, the counterattack would be controlled by so-called command missiles. Hidden in hardened silos designed to withstand the massive blast and electromagnetic pulses of a nuclear explosion, these missiles would launch first and then radio down coded orders to whatever Soviet weapons had survived the first strike. At that point, the machines will have taken over the war. Soaring over the smoldering, radioactive ruins of the motherland, and with all ground communications destroyed, the command missiles would lead the destruction of the US.Perimeter is supposedly still operational (though, presumably, not armed at the moment, or at least one would hope not).
The BBC News Magazine has a piece on how the Beatles acquired a devoted illicit following in the Soviet Union, arguably helping to undermine the legitimacy of the Communist system:
Collarless Beatles jackets, known as "Bitlovka", were assembled from cast-offs; clumsy army boots were refashioned in Beatles style. And with much of the Western media blocked out, bizarre Beatles myths blossomed.
Yuri Pelyushonok recalls hearing at school how "the English Queen gave John Lennon a Gold Car; but the Beatles had to play in cages to avoid their fans".
The most persistent myth was that the Beatles had played a secret concert at a Soviet airbase on their way to Japan. Everywhere, fans claimed it happened close to them.
Soviet Russian national airline, has not traditionally been an airline associated with quality or customer service, to say the least. But now, all that's about to change:
Travellers report mixed experiences on Aeroflot, with reasonable service and new planes on flights to western Europe and the US, but horror stories about flights to other destinations. "On flights to London the service is okay," said a British accountant working in Moscow. "But I recently flew Aeroflot to Warsaw, and it was a nightmare. The seatbelt on my chair was broken, the crew were rude and spoke virtually no English, and the only meal option was an unspecified 'meat'. When I asked what kind of meat it was, they simply shrugged."
As part of the retraining, a number of Aeroflot hostesses have been sent to Singapore to receive training from Singapore Airlines. "The passenger is always right!" said Mr Savelyev, voicing a concept that often seems to be alien to Russian flight crews. "We have fired a lot of stewardesses for being rude to passengers," he admitted.The changes promise to bring Aeroflot into the 21st century, or, at the very leat, the early 1970s:
The new Aeroflot CEO Vitaly Savelyev said all new stewardesses would be "very striking, very eye-catching girls", who would not exceed Russian size 48 – roughly a British size 12.
The legend of aerial misogyny was born in the 1960s and '70s, when airlines would routinely use the glamour of their air hostesses as a selling point. Many airlines had "no-marriage" rules for their female staff. "Being beautiful isn't enough," American Airlines proudly said. "We don't mean it isn't important. It just isn't enough." Meanwhile, the now-defunct National Airlines ran a series of ads with a pouting stewardess proclaiming: "I'm Mandy. Fly Me." As the world moved on, the term "air hostess" was replaced with the gender neutral "flight attendant". But recently some suspect sexism has crept back into the industry's advertising. Virgin drew 29 complaints over an ad campaign in which passengers gawped at a glamorous all-female flight-crew. Ryanair even published an all-female calendar of its flight attendants – wearing bikinis.I wonder whether they'll keep their charmingly anachronistic flying hammer-and-sickle logo.
Two fragments of the secret history of the Cold War have come to light. In 1969, US President Nixon sent a squadron of nuclear bombers towards the Soviet Union, and instructed Kissinger to tell the Soviets that Nixon was "out of control", leading them to believe that they're dealing with a dangerous madman, in order to scare them into leaning on the North Vietnamese government.
Apparently neither Nixon or Kissinger had absorbed another Schelling insight - if you want to credibly pretend you are out of control then you have to push things so far that sometimes you will be out of control. The number of ways such a plan could have resulted in a nuclear war is truly frightening. After all, Nixon was gambling millions of lives on the Soviets being the rational players in this game.Fortunately, the Soviets didn't call his bluff and civilisation as we know it still stands.
Meanwhile, it turns out that the West German policeman who shot dead an unarmed left-wing demonstrator in West Berlin in 1967, touching off riots and enraging the protest movement, had been working for the Stasi.
The most insidious question raised by the revelation is whether Mr. Kurras might have been acting not only as a spy, but also as an agent provocateur, trying to destabilize West Germany. As the newspaper Bild am Sonntag put it in a headline, referring to the powerful former leader of the dreaded East German security agency, Erich Mielke, “Did Mielke Give Him the Order to Shoot?”
In an interview with the Bild, Mr. Kurras, 81, confirmed that he had been in the East German Communist Party. “Should I be ashamed of that or something?” Mr. Kurras was quoted as saying. As for the Stasi, he said, “And what if I did work for them? What does it matter? It doesn’t change anything,” the paper reported.
A New York Times article from 10 years ago reveals that, over 40 years, Soviet scientists managed to create a domesticated variety of silver fox through selective breeding:
In a long-term experiment at a Siberian fur farm, geneticists have created this new version of Vulpes vulpes, the silver fox, by allowing only the friendliest animals from each generation to breed. Having selected only the most ''tamable'' of some 45,000 foxes over 35 generations, the scientists have compressed into a mere 40 years an evolutionary process that took thousands of years to transform ancestral wolves into domestic dogs.
The original purpose of the breeding was to create a friendly breed less likely than wild animals to fight when put to death. But in time, geneticists saw that far-reaching changes they observed in the foxes' physical and neurological makeup merited scientific study. The scientists apparently underwent some changes, too. Close bonds developed between the tame foxes and their human wardens, and the staff at the fur farm is trying to find ways of saving the animals from slaughter.("Friendly" there seems like a euphemism; "gullible" or "stupid" might be more appropriate.)
The results of the experiment were domestic foxes ''as devoted as dogs but as independent as cats, capable of forming deep-rooted pair bonds with human beings'', which also developed a variety of physical differences from their wild ancestors:
The normal pattern of coat color that evolved in wild foxes as camouflage changed markedly in the genetically tamed fox population, with irregular piebald splotches of white fur appearing in some animals. The tame foxes sometimes developed floppy ears in place of the straight ones of wild foxes. The domesticated foxes generally had shorter legs and tails than ordinary foxes, and often had curly tails instead of straight, horizontal tails.
Moreover, the faces of adult tame foxes came to look more juvenile than the faces of wild adults, and many of the experimental animals developed dog-like features, Dr. Trut reported. Although no selective pressures relating to size or shape were used in breeding the animals, the skulls of tamable foxes tended to be narrower with shorter snouts than those of wild foxes.Even more interesting were neurochemical differences: the tame foxes' adrenal glands, which produce adrenaline to prepare animals for fight or flight, had declined in hormone-producing ability with each generation, while after only 12 generations, their brains contained significantly higher levels of serotonin.
Unfortunately, it appears that the project ran out of money some time in the late 1990s, and most of the foxes were destroyed or sold off to fur breeders in Scandinavia. The institute had plans to sell pups as house pets, though it is not clear whether anything came of those.
(Via a comment on this MeFi thread about the history of domestic cats.)
The Fortean Times has an article looking at the story of Russia's lost cosmonauts. The story goes that, before Yuri Gagarin was successfully launched into space, the USSR sent several earlier cosmonauts up there, without success. The men (and one woman) perished, and the USSR, more concerned with collective prestige than individual human lives, obliterated all record of them from the historical record. Or almost all record; two boys in Italy managed to record their transmissions, in which they gasped for breath, complained of heat and cursed the designers of their spacecraft. The boys apparently managed to avoid being assassinated by the KGB solely by having gotten too much publicity.
Read: Notes of a Japanese soldier in the USSR; the story of former Japanese prisoner of war Kiuchi Nobuo's journey through the Soviet labour camp system, told in watercolour drawings with captions. It's surprisingly lighthearted; while Nobuo mentions the death and hardship, he chooses instead to linger on the camaraderie between prisoners of different nations and the small moments of joy, beauty and levity.
WIRED has a photo gallery of Soviet video games; these were arcade machines, sometimes inspired by American or Japanese ones, manufactured in the Soviet Union (often at military manufacturing facilities; presumably because civilian electronics manufacturers in the USSR weren't up to scratch). They often were more primitive than western counterparts (some feature mechanical score counters and lack controls that western equivalents had), cost 15 kopecks per game (not enough for most Soviet youth to be able to play more than a game a week), and thematically avoided the zapping-space-aliens themes of the capitalist world, instead combining a sort of earnest socialist benignness (there were Russian folk games adapted for the arcade, games simulating socially worthy occupations such as firefighting), with the odd bit of ideologically-sound militarism (sinking Nazi submarines during the Great Patriotic War, and shooting down enemy fighters (presumably of a capitalist persuasion, though the article didn't say)). Interestingly enough, a common feature of all the games was the lack of a high score table; the idea of such an individualistic, competitive feature was, for obvious reasons, frowned upon.
Compared to western games, they looked a bit shabby and lacklustre. So as soon as Communism collapsed and Nintendos and PCs started flooding in, they pretty much disappeared. Most were destroyed, though a few survived; and now, four collectors in Moscow are finding and restoring these machines, for display in a Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines, which they have set up in a bomb shelter under a university dormitory.
(via Boing Boing)
Word of the day: "roentgenizdat": pirate copies of Western pop records made in the Soviet Union, using used X-ray plates as a medium:
Owing to the lack of recordings of Western music available in the USSR, people had to rely on records coming through Eastern Europe, where controls on records were less strict, or on the tiny influx of records from beyond the iron curtain. Such restrictions meant the number of recordings would remain small and precious. But enterprising young people with technical skills learned to duplicate records with a converted phonograph that would "press" a record using a very unusual material for the purpose; discarded x-ray plates. This material was both plentiful and cheap, and millions of duplications of Western and Soviet groups were made and distributed by an underground roentgenizdat, or x-ray press, which is akin to the samizdat that was the notorious tradition of self-publication among banned writers in the USSR. According to rock historian Troitsky, the one-sided x-ray disks costed about one to one and a half rubles each on the black market, and lasted only a few months, as opposed to around five rubles for a two-sided vinyl disk. By the late 50's, the officials knew about the roentgenizdat, and made it illegal in 1958. Officials took action to break up the largest ring in 1959, sending the leaders to prison, beginning an orginization by the Komsomol of "music patrols" that later undertook to curtail illegal music activity all over the country.Crackdowns on illegal music copying? I guess some things never change.
And via this piece, a fascinating paper on the historical political development of Soviet rock music, and how the Communist state alternately shunned, attempted to coopt and suppressed rock and other popular music, ultimately coming off second-best:
Another problem the youth confronted when beginning to form groups to play rock 'n' roll, was the shortage of instruments and equipment. Electric guitars were almost non-existent in the USSR until the early sixties. Most instruments were manufactured in Eastern Europe and sold in the USSR in small numbers. The most notable were ten guitars that appeared in an East German-sponsored instrument shop in Moscow in 1966. All ten of the guitars were bought in the first hours that the shop was open and immediately resold at twice the price of purchase on the black market. Many groups were forced to make their own instruments or purchase copies of Western guitars that were produced by unofficial manufacturers. One of these manufacturers in 1969 managed to publish in a popular mechanical magazine a technique of converting an acoustic guitar into an electric one using a telephone voice coil, and shortly therafter there were reportedly no functioning public telephones in all of Moscow.
The Kremlin had very high-level meetings on how to approach the youth and address their cultural tastes with socialist didactics. It seemed that the Party was beginning to consider concessions to the youth, meaning to establish control over the musicians and fans. A "Beat Club" was established at the Melody and Rhythm cafe in Moscow, offering many activities to its musician membership, and applications which requested lots of personal data, flowed in by the hundreds. The club promptly closed down after receiving these applications and handed them over to the Soviet secret police, who now had dossiers on hundreds of Moscow's rock musicians.
At this point appeared the Vocal Instrumental Ensemble. The VIAs, as they were known, were required to register with the Ministry of Culture and "were urged to write and perform songs on topics wuch as space heroes or economic achievements." They followed the philosophy of Khrushchev's commentary on socialist art, "We are for music that provides inspiration, that summons people to exploits on the field of battle and in their work." The VIA represented on one hand, official Soviet recognition of rock as an art form, but on the other hand, a return to Socialist Realist didactics. The bands were named in accordance with the intended positive nature of their work, such as 'Singing Guitars,' 'Songsters,' 'Blue Guitars,' and 'Happy Guys,' harkening back to the Socialist literary prescription for 'positive heroes.' Comparing these names with those of some "unnofficial" groups of the late 60's renders an interesting contrast: Hairy Glass, Little Red Demons, Soft Suede Corners, Russo-Turkish War, Witchcraft, Fugitives from Hell, Midnight Carousers, Symbols of Faith, The Economists.
The best known of the VIAs was Happy Guys (Veselye Rebiata) who were "amply supplied with the best equipment through official channels, but [were] often instructed to add deadwood to the ensemble, giving jobs to the sons of cousins of official persons" who simply didn't plug in their instruments in performance.
An interesting phenomenon happened with the rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice; "Jesus Christ Superstar." It was smuggled into the USSR immediately after its release in USA in 1971, and immediately banned after its production in Vilnius in 1973. The opera was inspiration for many rock groups, and millions of fans despite its being banned, because unofficial rock groups performed much of the score at their shows. Performances occurred throughout the 70's and by the end of the decade, the signature theme song was adopted by the Soviet television news program "Vremya." A popular, religious rock opera had more weight than the dictates of the Soviet cultural bureaucracy.
In Estonia the situation was unique. Tallinn was a sort of Mecca for the Soviet hippies, and though there were Estonian VIAs, the number of unofficial rock groups did not drop significantly. Estonia gave Soviet rock as many talented musicians as Leningrad and Moscow combined. The Estonian branch of Melodija, being autonomous from the Moscow branch, even recorded some unofficial groups. Finnish television had been responsible for bringing televised music programs to the Estonians, whose language is similar to the Finnish language, and yet quite unintelligible to most Russians. The language barrier made possible the lyrics of many Estonian groups that were often anti-Russian. In later years this led to an enormous nationalist movement in Estonian rock, that republic being the first to declare national sovereignty in 1985.
Then disco made its appearance in the USSR, and a form of pop culture was much more readily accepted by cultural officials than ever before. The rhythm and inocuous lyrics apparently lulled the crowd and had little of the countercultural undertones and hooligan followers for which rock was notorious. Discotheques were seemingly ready made venues for both benign music and socialist indoctrination. Though this seems to be the ulimate in bad taste given the contemporary Western attitude toward the 70's disco, a national effort was made to assess the possibility of socialist didactic programs being mixed with the musical fare. Moscow registered 187 officially sponsered discotheques by 1978. Saturday Night Fever was released 1979, and John Travolta's character in the movie was appealing to the ideologues who were always looking for 'positive heroes' for the youth culture. At this time, Western recordings were being issued on Melodija, with the tremendously popular Swedish band ABBA being the first, with a manditory counterpart release in the West of a Soviet group.
In the early 80's Baltic punk rock was surfacing as another import from the West. Latvian discos became scene of unrestrained violence. Much of the vehement protest of the Baltic punks was against the inordinate amount of soldiers taken from those republics to fight in the war with Afghanistan. The independence movement there had some inauspicious beginnings, but their case was historically justified in their eyes.
(via Boing Boing)
When he wasn't purging perceived enemies or trying to build a pure Communist society, Stalin was trying to breed a race of unstoppable half-man, half-ape Stakhanovites and super-soldiers to bring about Soviet world domination and bring the five-year-plan back on track:
According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: "I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat."
Mr Ivanov's ideas were music to the ears of Soviet planners and in 1926 he was dispatched to West Africa with $200,000 to conduct his first experiment in impregnating chimpanzees. Meanwhile, a centre for the experiments was set up in Georgia - Stalin's birthplace - for the apes to be raised.
Mr Ivanov's experiments, unsurprisingly from what we now know, were a total failure. He returned to the Soviet Union, only to see experiments in Georgia to use monkey sperm in human volunteers similarly fail.
A final attempt to persuade a Cuban heiress to lend some of her monkeys for further experiments reached American ears, with the New York Times reporting on the story, and she dropped the idea amid the uproar.It makes one wonder where they got the human "volunteers". I'm guessing from the gulags.
Also, was this the only instance of a totalitarian state attempting to selectively breed a new citizenry to better suit its needs? I wonder whether, say, North Korea or someone has tried anything like that, using people from different ethnicities and races, lured or kidnapped from across the world, to breed the model citizen.
(via bOING bOING)
Throughout its existence, the Soviet Union went to great efforts producing extremely accurate maps of the entire world, often containing information omitted from local maps. The information was often gathered by surreptitious means, especially in Western countries. And because the Commies didn't believe in intellectual property and the aggressive monetisation of all possible rights, these maps are now claimed to be in the public domain (though they are currently illegal in the UK, because of alleged copyright violations; the articles linked on the page, however, argue that the maps did not use Ordnance Survey data, though the Ordnance Survey still argues that the maps illegally undermine its monopoly), which could mean that, should digitised versions find their way onto the net, they may prove invaluable to open mapping projects.
And here is a Pravda article mentioning the alarm that occurred in Sweden when they found out that the Russians had better maps of Sweden than they did, and allegations that a lot of the data was gathered by KGB agents posing as the children of Swedish Communists who moved to the USSR in the 1930s and then disappeared in Stalin's purges.
(via bOING bOING)
And America's transformation into the Soviet Union moves forward one step, with American Airlines requiring visitors to supply lists of people they would be staying with whilst in the US, and claiming it's a TSA regulation. (via bOING bOING)
Museum of Soviet synthesizers; lots of info about various analogue synthesizers and drum machines (some conventional-looking and some weird) built in the old USSR; has photos, details and some sound samples.
There's Turkish Star Trek, and then there's the Soviet equivalent, Kosmicheskaya Militsiya, usually translated as "Cosmos Patrol". It's stylistically like Star Trek (it has its own Kirk, Spock (who's implied to be an ethnic German), even a proto-Wesley Crusher), only it's a vehicle for rather heavy-handed Marxist-Leninist dogma.
As on Star Trek, the "strange, new worlds" the Red Adventurer visits often seem ringingly familiar. Let's see: There's the Nazi Germany planet, the Gangland Chicago planet, the Ancient Greece planet, and the planet of the Militaristic Paranoid Fascists (the U.S.A. planet). And there's time travel, too: In my favorite episode, the crew somehow goes back to Zurich in 1917 to help Lenin get to St. Petersburg in time to start the Bolshevik Revolution... Perhaps one of the weirdest borrowings from Star Trek has Dobraydushev and a reanimated Peter the Great challenging holographic supervillains Adolf Hitler and John D. Rockefeller in a chess tournamentto the death!
The bizarre world of ZX Spectrum clones, from Russia, Eastern Europe, South America and Asia. Apparently there were dozens of the beasties, some straightforward knockoffs and some (particularly in the USSR) with bizarrely improvised keyboards and some specced up to run MS-DOS and such. (via the Horn)
Cultural documents: Summaries of Soviet literary classics, most with impeccable socialist credentials:
The daughter of a Volga fisherman becomes a sniper with a Red partisan detachment. She misses her 41st vicitim (a White officer), then winds up stranded with him on a desert island, where they fall in love. However, the White's essentially selfish, bourgeois nature becomes apparent and she shoots him, fulfilling her mission and her class destiny.
A philistine from the NEP era gets accidentally frozen and is revived fifty years later in 1979. The moderns at first mistake him for an honest worker, but then correctly identify him as a bourgeoisus vulgaris , a blood-sucking insect similar to, but more dangerous than, the bedbug. He is put on display in a cage equipped with special filters to trap all the dirty words. (Klop, 1929)
A piece in the Moscow Times on some of the pranks played by those wacky funsters on the Mir space station:
Krikalyov sneaked an amateur radio onboard Mir and used it to establish a link with the truck driver, who was heading to Kimberley. The unsuspecting driver thought it was one of his colleagues driving on a nearby road and called Krikalyov a prankster when the cosmonaut said was he was heading for America via India and China.