Dropping Out of Socialism by Juliane Fürst Josie McLellan & Josie McLellan

Dropping Out of Socialism by Juliane Fürst Josie McLellan & Josie McLellan

Author:Juliane Fürst,Josie McLellan & Josie McLellan
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Lexington Books, a division of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.


Part III

DROPPING OUT IN STYLE

Chapter 8

“We All Live in a Yellow Submarine”

Dropping Out in a Leningrad Commune

Juliane Fürst

An observant visitor to Leningrad in the late 1970s and early 1980s would have seen curious graffiti on the walls of the Kazan Cathedral on Nevskii Prospekt, the city’s main thoroughfare.1 It said “Long live the commune Yellow Submarine.” For the uninitiated it was certainly puzzling. Were there communes in the land of Soviets and in a city that was bursting with kommunalki—communal apartments? Why was the commune named after a famous Beatles’ song, a group that was officially banned in the Soviet Union? And how did the graffiti end up on the wall of Kazan Cathedral, once the symbol of Orthodox power and now the Museum of Atheism and Religion in the middle of socialist Leningrad? Yet to those in the know, it all made sense. In the short graffiti an entire parallel Soviet reality was embedded. It was a reality in which young people met and lived in communes that existed out of the free will of their inhabitants, not because of Leningrad’s chronic shortage of living space. In this reality the Beatles reigned supreme and many of their songs served as shorthand for a complex set of emotions and experiences. And Kazan Cathedral was the place to go when you wanted to find this alternative sphere. It was here that Leningrad’s “progressive” youth, and especially those who considered themselves part of the sistema, the all-Union hippie network, met. It was here that out-of-town visitors would go in order to find svoi—their own. Those in the know about Leningrad’s alternative youth scene thus had an immediate set of keys at their disposal to decode the nature of both the graffiti and the commune it referred to: The Beatles song signaled that the commune was composed of young people who liked Western music and could not care less about what the party thought about their tastes. The location of the graffiti demonstrated that the Yellow Submarine was likely a commune of hippies or people close to them. Finally, the graffiti constituted a marker in itself. Like graffiti the world over, it had a whiff of underground. Official culture does not produce graffiti. Graffiti is the domain of those who see themselves as outside the mainstream.2

The commune Yellow Submarine was a product of its time and place. It came into existence in the summer of 1977 and dispersed in October 1978. It was permanently inhabited by a motley crew of seven to eight people, who differed in background, political outlook, and lifestyle but were united in their desire to live “differently” than late socialism envisioned and expected of them. In appearance, set-up, and underlying ideology it was part of the global counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, to which it both explicitly and implicitly paid tribute. It also owed many (unacknowledged) intellectual and practical debts to its Soviet milieu, ranging from the communards of the post-revolutionary period to the more recent turist movement that saw youngsters travel in small groups to remote regions for weeks on end.



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