The Russian Question | Русский вопрос 1947

In this post I talk about a black-and-white Russian drama titled The Russian Question (Русский вопрос, 1947), filmed during the beginning of the Cold War, and a famous Russian song Do Russians Want War? (Хотят ли русские войны?) from 1961.

The Russian Question (Русский вопрос, 1947)

The Russian Question is a pertinent film about propaganda, more specifically manipulation of the public by the press.

In this film an American newspaper company seeks to manipulate public sentiment and support for policies that would advance war, through fear mongering and publishing sensationalist news articles.

The question in the song “Do Russian Want War?” is a rhetorical question. The question is answered by knowing the scale of the immense sacrifice, suffering, and heroism of the Russians during WWII and infamous battles like Battle of Stalingrad (July 17, 1942–February 2, 1943).

Russia is a country with a profound respect for the lives lost to protect it. Most cities have a Victory Park (парк победы) – some are on a large scale, others on small scale – often featuring a statue or monument and an eternal flame to commemorate the lives lost during WWII.

Weeping Mother at the Square of Sorrow on Mamaev Kurgan Мамаевом кургане Волгограде. Photographed by Lumaca.

Russia has songs that are specifically played at its annual Victory Parade which take place on the 9th o May. Russians grow up with these songs, during times of celebration and to honor the dead. It is a part of Russian culture.

The Motherland Calls (Родина-мать зовёт!), 1967. On Mamayev Kurgan (Мама́ев курга́н) in Volgograd (Волгоград). Photographed by Alexxx Malev

Regardless of politics, which I choose not to discuss here, manipulation of the public by the press has been and is happening in many countries throughout the world. While the military industrial complex is growing exponentially, the cost of living is rising. Homelessness and illiteracy is climbing in many countries and yet tax payer money is spent on foreign wars. City infrastructure is failing (like the national electric grid and water delivery) yet there is no shortage to fund foreign wars in foreign lands through financial aid and weapons.

Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New Word and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 all feel eerily real in the current zeitgeist for different reasons, where information was either tightly controlled, suppressed or manipulated.

The Russian Question was about media betrayal – instead of informing the public it sought to misinform the public. This is a tale that is relevant across borders.

The Russian Question

In this film the article that he writes is titled “Do Russians Want War”. This is the name of the famous Russian song that most Russians know. It features at many public holidays on the programs, and several generations of Russians know this song. This is the connection between the song and the movie.

The film also references Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Which I read in the week after watching the film. I read a 1937 edition. It was an interesting read and helped me realise how monopolies operate and how controlled the ‘free market’ is.

“Capitalism has grown into a world system of colonial oppression and financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the people of the world by a handful of “advanced” countries. And this “booty” is shared by two or three world-dominating pirates armed to the teeth (America, England, Japan), who embroil the whole world in their war over the division of their booty.”

“The division into two principal groups of countries— possessors of colonies, and colonies— is not the only typical feature of this period; there is also a variety of forms of dependent countries which formally are politically independent, but which are in fact enmeshed in the net of financial, and diplomatic dependence.”

Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.

This is the summary of the film by the studio who produced the film, Mosfilm (Мосфильм)

Based on the play by K. Simonov USA, 1946. The editor-in-chief of an influential newspaper, McPherson, commissions the talented journalist Harry Smith to write a critical book about Russia for a substantial fee. Smith’s fiancee Jessie persuades him to take on this job for the sake of the family’s future. Using the advance, Smith and Jesse buy a house, furnishings, a car in installments… The hero is trying to come up with something a compromise. However, McPherson tightens his demands: “there should be no middle ground in the Russian question.” Then Smith decides to write an honest book about the country he fell in love with. This turns into a drama for him: he loses his job, his property, his beloved woman leaves him… But Smith does not give up and continues to fight for the truth. Year of production: 1947”

Notably, the film focuses on the American correspondent and newspaper company, and the American public rather than the Soviet Union. While this is a Soviet Russian film it shows us the lives of Americans.

I thought it was a great film, especially for it’s time.

I found it interesting that on both the version with English subtitles and the original Russian film on YouTube, there are comments talking about how relevant this is today. People in both the West and Russia found this relevant.

Here is a comment on the Russian version

“Боже мой, 1947 года всё будто сейчас, ничего не изменилось за столько лет! Гениальный фильм, просто потрясающе!”

It reads: Oh my God, 1947 is like now, nothing has changed in so many years! A brilliant movie, just amazing!

And an English comment:

“This is relevant. Thank you, Mosfilm”

This film – directed by Mikhail Romm (Михаил Ильич Ромм) – deals with the themes of propaganda, censorship, and abuse of power. It is also about acting with integrity and honesty and how those with the most capital often use it to subjugate those with less.

It deals with issues that are as relevant as ever. We have journalists like Jamal Khashoggi who were tortured and killed, we have whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and editor Julian Assange jailed in countries that supposedly are paragons of “free speech”. The state will allow all manner of short selling, insider trading and many other criminal activities of the elites, but will come down with an iron fist for people like Ross William Ulbricht and Aaron Hillel Swartz, to name just a couple.

“I fear war wouldn’t be very popular now.
“It’s our job to make it popular.”

The Russian Question, 1947

Do Russians Want War

The song was written by poet and song writer Yevgeny Yevtushenko (Евге́ний Евтуше́нко) the score was set by the composer Eduard Kolmanovsky (Эдуа́рд Колмано́вский). Both of whom received several state prizes and accolades.

The song was first performed by Mark Bernes (Марк Бернес) in 1961.

The first time I heard the song was from a CD by the Alexandarov Ensemble (Ансамбль Александрова) that I bought in high school.

Originally known as the Red Army Choir (Хор Красной Армии), they changed their name in 1998. The current name is in honor of the founder Alexander Vasilyevich Alexandrov (Александр Васильевич Александров).

Sadly, on the 25th of December 2016, most of the original choir members died in a tragic plane accident when it crashed in the Black Sea.

Here is a performance of Do Russians Want War? by the Alexandrov Ensamble at the Tchaikovsky concert Hall in Moscow with bass soloist Vadim Ruslanov (Вадим Русланов). USSR, Central Television, 1962.

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