News / USA

The CIA’s Cultural War Against Soviet Russia

Visitors eye "Untitled," a 1952-3  abstract expressionist painting by U.S. artist Mark Rothko at Bilbo's Guggenheim Museum in 2011.
Visitors eye "Untitled," a 1952-3 abstract expressionist painting by U.S. artist Mark Rothko at Bilbo's Guggenheim Museum in 2011.
Cecily Hilleary
The recent revelation by the Washington Post that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency published and distributed Boris Pasternak’s epic novel Dr. Zhivago to undermine the Soviets made headlines.

But to Cold War historians and those who lived on the other side of the Iron Curtain, it was yesterday’s news.
Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn autographs his book "Archipelago GULAG" after meeting pupils of school number 1 in Vladivostok on May 30, 1994.Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn autographs his book "Archipelago GULAG" after meeting pupils of school number 1 in Vladivostok on May 30, 1994.
Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn autographs his book "Archipelago GULAG" after meeting pupils of school number 1 in Vladivostok on May 30, 1994.
Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn autographs his book "Archipelago GULAG" after meeting pupils of school number 1 in Vladivostok on May 30, 1994.
As it turns out, the CIA decided long ago that a good way to topple the Soviet Union was not with bombs, but canvases, symphonies and prose.

During the heyday of the Cold War in the late 1940s, the CIA began to realize that the Russian revolution’s promises of social equality had won over many Western European artists, writers, scientists.

In 1950, the CIA set up the Congress for Cultural Freedom with a goal of undermining the Soviet government and winning over the hearts and minds of Europe’s left-leaning intellectuals.

“The idea was to try and contradict notions that America was this sort of capitalist, commercial, philistine society that lacked a high cultural tradition, because the U.S. government was concerned that European intellectuals, especially, who were inclined to neutralism in the Cold War had that kind of anti-American cultural prejudice,” said Hugh Wilford, an author of several books on covert CIA operations during the Cold War era.

Books were one weapon and Dr. Zhivago was just one of many that were clandestinely subsidized. 

“I think that Gulag Archipelago was even bigger than Dr. Zhivago, as an example of, from the American point of view, successful propaganda,” said Sergei Khruschev, son of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Senior Fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. 

He refers to the landmark novel by former Soviet labor camp detainee and Nobel Laureate, Alexander Solzhenitsyn which detailed hardships and abuses in Soviet prisons. 

“And I would also say that about the Svetlana Alliluyeva’s [Joseph Stalin's daughter] Twenty Letters to a Friend, which was most painful to the Bresnev era,” he said, adding that Svetlana was paid nearly a million dollars for her novel.
Sergei Khruschev (Photo courtesy Brown University)Sergei Khruschev (Photo courtesy Brown University)
Sergei Khruschev (Photo courtesy Brown University)
Sergei Khruschev (Photo courtesy Brown University)
Twenty Letters came as a devastating blow to Soviets, Khruschev said, as it exposed the flaws of Josef Stalin, the architect of Communism. 

“I think it was very effective because Russians are different from the Americans,” he said. “Americans, when they watch something on TV or listen to the news, they usually believe the news.

“But in Russia, all the time there was censorship,” he said. “They never believed what they heard on the official news, so they tried to find out what was the truth and why they were lying in the Soviet Union.  So all the Soviet people listened to the so-called ‘enemy voices.’”

Getting these books into the Soviet Union turned out to be relatively easy, Khruschev said.

“The people from the U.S. embassy and journalists, they liked to meet with artists, and of course they told them about the so-called “unofficial arts” in the Soviet Union, when you are talking about sculpture, about painting, music, writing, and they would usually distribute books and pamphlets around the Soviet people,” Khruschev said.

“It was illegal at that time, but in reality, everybody knew that they were doing this,” he said.

The Congress funded a host of literary and cultural magazines, including Britains’ Encounter magazine and, wittingly or not, the Paris Review.

It was the shadow behind sponsored concerts, such as a Boston Symphony Orchestra’s April 1952 performance at a Paris music festival.

The choice of music for the performance was surely no accident:  The Rites of Spring by Igor Stravinsky, one of the most famous composers of his day and an avowed critic of communism.

The CIA even funded the animated film version of author George Orwell's Animal Farm

To fund these activities, the CIA, secretly laundered money through a variety of cultural organizations in America and Europe.

Spies as art patrons

In the Soviet Union, modern art was considered to reflect the “decadence” of the West, i.e., democracy, and modern artists were viewed as subversives--including Pablo Picasso, who ironically was communist himself.

Many artists fled the Soviet Union, among them Wassily Kandinsky and Mark Rothko. 
Hugh Wilford (Photo Courtesy CalTech Long Beach)Hugh Wilford (Photo Courtesy CalTech Long Beach)
Hugh Wilford (Photo Courtesy CalTech Long Beach)
Hugh Wilford (Photo Courtesy CalTech Long Beach)
The CIA dumped millions of dollars in subsidize the 1950s New York art movement known as abstract expressionism, an unrestrained and expressive style of painting as practiced by Rothko and Jackson Pollack—artists who were not particularly appreciated by Americans of the era.

The intelligence agency supported them, organizing showings of these and other painters across Europe and helping to spread abstract art as a global trend.

“In making sure that abstract expressionism, which was incontrovertedly highbrow art—it was so difficult to understand—that if it got out there, that might contradict those European notions and help get European intellectuals on our side in the Cold War,” said historian Wilford, a professor of history at California State University.

Today, it is difficult to imagine America’s spymasters as patrons of the art.

“There were some pretty sophisticated types knocking around the CIA back then,” Wilford said.
“I think they quite possibly enjoyed the role of cultural patrons because they were drawn from the sort of prep school, Ivy League classes that people like Nelson Rockefeller and [New York Herald Tribune publisher] John Hay Whitney were,” he said.

“So, it made sense in a way that this then-rather-aristocratic organization, the CIA, should be doing this,” Wilford said.

Just how effective were these activities?

“Actually, it was a pretty smart thing to be doing,” Wilford said. “And I think it worked up to a point because it did get stuff out to Europe that otherwise might not have made it. 

“Because you had local affiliates in various countries around the world that made sure that local intellectuals who were friendly to the U.S. and admired it and that there were platforms for them,” he said.

But these CIA efforts, when finally revealed in the mid-to-late 1960s, did come back to haunt the intelligence agency, because it not only embarrassed the U.S., but made those intellectuals receiving CIA funds look bad, Wilford said.

The Congress, which had once boasted offices in 35 countries and nearly 300 employees, was shut down shortly afterwards.

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Comment Sorting
by: Steve
April 15, 2014 1:48 PM
The fact that the American people are still clueless believing everything they hear because they only back the comments of what the news tells them nowadays is pathetic. United States should go to war with Russia to eliminate them once and for all. Russia is the nazi germany of today. Unless people want history to repeat itself it's obvious this is preventable by military actions. Yes it could turn nuclear but the United States is packed with anti missiles all around the country that obviously people don't know about because they fear a nuclear war would end all humanity.

United States military is the strongest in the world they could defeat anyone by themselves. It's obvious that the fact that Russia and North Korea are all jokes with all the talk they do and don't act, it's just time to get rid of them. War is needed ASAP or it's just going to create a chain of events that will lead back to World War II, when the world just sit back and let Germany do whatever it wanted.

by: Elisa N susie from: USA
April 14, 2014 1:12 PM
The CIA is on a mission ...following orders from a VERY evil group of " world commanders " to destabilize the entire planet in order to create as much chaos possible so they can IMPLANT the New World Order rules. The kind of rules they are planning to implant here on earth does NOT have the best interest of the human race in mind.

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
April 14, 2014 1:10 PM
O yeah, whatever this publication may be set out to achieve! Is anyone assuring us this is not one of those ploys to lure Russia once more into another mistake? This article reminds me of the trick Britain played on Germany in the last world war. After fooling Germany with fake paratroopers and made mockery of Germany shooting at robots landed from the spaceships and aircraft beamed on evening news on television, Germany lowered its guards until Britain sent in real troops using the same process of landing fake ones. When they began to shoot at the war fronts, Germany regretted being fooled.

I believe there is something happening on the ground in Russia right now which this article is being used to dislodge, maybe cause confusion as right now Gorbachev's dissolution of the Soviet Union is being investigated in Moscow. If the CIA used one write up to disorganize Moscow once, nothing stops it from trying it once again seeing where Moscow's Achilles hills lie. What I'm saying here is that this article has not come out here just for the readership to enjoy, the fun of it, it seems geared toward achieving something else which only Moscow and the CIA can know. Moscow should be careful how it handles submissions from both Europe and America, as well as with its officials. As for the George Owell's Animal Farm, I thought it was primordially referring to African systems where leaders are always above the law and above the reach of their people.

by: Dr. Lillian Kindcrotch from: D.C.
April 13, 2014 7:47 PM
The CIA is SCUM, period, and should be brought up on charges of crimes against humanity! Earlier this year, the United States and the Gulf monarchies initiated a propaganda effort designed to sanitize the image of the mercenaries fighting to topple the Syrian government. According to The Telegraph, mercenary groups “best equipped to take on the extremists” were given millions of dollars to go up against al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS), which was said to have “hijacked” the foreign effort to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The British newspaper reported Jamal Maarouf, with the help of the CIA and Saudi and Qatari intelligence, created the Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF), a collection of “moderate” fighters who reportedly launched attacks against the ISIS and its jihadist allies.

In fact, according to Maarouf, his benefactors told him to provide al-Nusra with weapons despite the aforementioned propaganda campaign designed to give the impression “moderates” are fighting the good fight against al-Qaeda in Syria. He said if “the people who support us [U.S., Saudis, Qataris] tell us to send weapons to another group, we send them. They asked us a month ago to send weapons to Yabroud so we sent a lot of weapons there. When they asked us to do this, we do it.”

Maarouf’s revelation, however, is not news. In December, The Washington Post and other establishment media outlets reported the United States and its partners are involved in a “cold-war style of warfare” which includes the use of “proxies to punish Assad.” The mention of the term Cold War alludes to covert intelligence operations, the hallmark of decades of undeclared warfare against the Soviet Union.

The United States government knowingly contributed to the territorial gains of radical Islamists allied to our gravest enemy in an effort to hijack the Syrian Revolution and install Sharia Law in a very rich and very powerful country. In an effort to thwart the fear of the public that the U.S. would be supporting radical Jihadists, the secretary of state made a statement that he was certain that only 25 percent of the rebels were Jihadists. There are roughly a hundred eighty thousand Syrian Rebels, and as of now an estimated one hundred thousand of those rebels fall under the command of the Islamic Front.

Once again, this is sheer and transparent propaganda designed to minimize the obvious fact the United States does not differentiate between enemies and allies (who often, as Taliban did, become tomorrow’s sworn enemies if so declared by geopolitical imperatives decided upon by the global elite).

“For half a century the United States and many of its allies saw what I call the ‘Islamic right’ as convenient partners in the Cold War,” writes Robert Dreyfuss in his book, Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. The Afghan Mujahideen, enthusiastically supported by the CIA in its successful covert war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, would ultimately produce both al-Qaeda and the Taliban, a fact admitted by Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, CIA director and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Naturally, this fact – the United States not only creates and supports the likes of al-Qaeda and al-Nusra, to name but two, but itself constitutes the largest, most organized, well-funded and dangerous terrorist organization in the world – is never mentioned by the establishment media, even when U.S. proxies, headed up by war profiteers such as Jamal Maarouf, admit they are in league with brutal sadists who behead innocents, execute prisoners of war, and desecrate Christian churches.

by: Gennady from: Russia, Volga Region
April 13, 2014 11:38 AM
I don’t think that the USA should feel ashamed of the CIA efforts. In the end, they did great job in helping to topple the Stalinist regime in Russia and to demise the USSR. For us in post WWII Russia, the efforts looked quite sincere and innocent as they filled the vacuum of frustration and distrust that dominated among the population. At the time, almost all in Russia were the fans of listening to the BBC, VOA, and the Radio Liberty with many of their revealing news, which nobody in Russia could know from the heavily censored state mass media. The same as it is nowadays. Even now, such innocent thing as English-language Wikipedia is doing excellent job. It promotes great world achievements among English-reading Russians and contrasts to the abyss into which the contemporary rulers threw Russian culture, literature, science, education, healthcare, sociology being reflected and clealy seen by the misery and the bubble of the Russian language Wikipedia with about million fake, careless, negligent and incompetent “articles” and “pages”.

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