This screenshot from YouTube shows Ålexander B. Dolitsky in a Soviet-era film. (Screenshot)

Opinion: Lessons learned from a 1971 Soviet psychological documentary that I took part in

  • By Alexander B. Dolitsky
  • Tuesday, January 3, 2023 6:05pm
  • Opinion

Communist propaganda in the former Soviet Union was based on the Marxist–Leninist ideology to advocate for the Communist Party agenda.

This propaganda was one of many methods and tactics the Soviet government utilized to control its citizens in all spheres of their social life, including education, science, art, literature, music, fashion, work place, and the list goes on.

Western modern art, popular music, extravagant fashion, discoveries in natural science (genetics and cybernetics), anthropology (structuralism, symbolism and neo-evolutionary theories), psychology (empiricism and intelligence) and sociology (agency, rationality, structure and system) were condemned and forbidden by the Soviet government.

In order to enforce Soviet socialist ideology, representatives of the internal security were always present at any public meetings, including meetings of the literature clubs held at the public libraries — I was involved in many of these gatherings with a peculiar individual quietly observing our activities and picking away at our discussions and conversations.

The Soviet censorship was employed not only to eliminate any undesirable printed materials, but also to ensure that the “correct” ideological spin was put on every published item; any deviation from the dogma of the official Soviet propaganda was punished by reprimands, public humiliation, punitive psychiatry, prison, deportation, and loss of citizenship (e.g. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn).

The Soviet government made a remarkable effort to create a “Harmonic New Man”—a selfless, learned, healthy, muscular, and enthusiastic in spreading the socialist ideology (propaganda). Loyalty and commitment to Marxism–Leninism were among the critical traits required and expected of the “New Soviet” man. He was not driven by greed and self-interest but by conscious self-mastery and commitment to collective consciousness and collective representation. He also has lost any nationalist sentiments and identity—as being Soviet rather than Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Armenian or any other nationalities and ethnic minorities in the former Soviet Union.

In 1971, when I was a freshman student in the History Department of the Kiev Pedagogical Institute, I participated in a documentary film titled “I and Others.” All participants in this film, unknowingly and without their consent, were subjected to various psychological experiments related to the persuading of an individual by a majority of people (group-think).

Participants, like I was, were not aware that were in psychological experiments—these experiments that had been pre-arranged by the psychologists and producers. The producers pre-tested nearly 100 students from different departments of the school and selected the 10 most articulate and independent–minded individuals.

I was 19–years old, well–read, and well–versed in many social science subjects, theater, classical music and the fine arts. And for me, it seemed an opportunity to participate in a film — what a journey and experience!

After the film was completed, it was released by the Soviet authorities for several years; but later, in the mid–1970s, realizing that this film can do more harm than good to the Soviet political and ideological regime, it was forbidden to the public, classified, and archived in secret facilities.

The psychological experiments in the film demonstrated that almost any individual can be easily indoctrinated, manipulated and brainwashed by the unified opinion of a majority of people combined with a mass media propaganda.

Unfortunately, I never had a chance to watch the film in the Soviet Union, because, for some reason, I was not invited to the premiere of the film in December of 1971.

I recall, however, that at the end of the filming in October/November of 1971, the producer, Felix Sobolev, approached me in a friendly manner, put his arm around my shoulders and whispered, “Never trust a majority of people that speak in one voice, believe in yourself and stand for your views.”

The film was again released to the public in Russia in 2012 (I left the Soviet Union on March 16, 1977). My good friend from Moscow sent me a YouTube link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuIXiXqv978) of this documentary film in the spring of 2020. By then, I had nearly forgotten about it. Nevertheless, it was amusing to look at the person I was 50 years ago. My appearance in the film starts from 37 minutes and 45 seconds to 41:42. Viewers, do not be shocked! Yes, after three different experiments and intense behind the scenes brainwashing and “compassionate” manipulations by the producers of the film and their staged assistance, I was convinced that black and white pyramids are both white.

I realize now that these psychological experiments had been a traumatic experience for me, and that they had affected my life and decision–making process ever since. Today, I acknowledge that I and other participants in this film were a product and reflection of the collective consciousness and collective representation of the socialist ideology and Soviet upbringing. Indeed, the senior psychologist, consultant and interviewer in this film, Dr. Valeria Mukhina, and others involved in the production of this documentary film, knew exactly how a Socialist “New Man” was made within an atmosphere of limited freedom, liberty and intellectual views.

As a result of my participation in this film, I learned an important lesson in my life: examine closely the premises of all groups, listen critically and try to avoid the influence of mass media, which is easily manipulated by propagandists. I encourage our youth always to form their own credible and empirical opinion no matter how difficult it can be to resist a majority group–think and notions of collective consciousness, collective representation, and collective responsibility, especially when combined with a vigorous mass media propaganda.

For my friends and fellow Americans, do not allow Marxist–Leninist ideology to replace core cultural, religious and moral values of our diverse, free and democratic American society. Otherwise, our next generation in this country will call ‘black and white’ both ‘white.’

The film “Me and Others” now has English subtitles, so everyone can watch various psychological experiments presented in the film and grasp the entire production of it. Russian speakers will thoroughly enjoy and understand the narratives in this film.

Alexander B. Dolitsky was born and raised in Kiev in the former Soviet Union. He has earned numerous degrees and worked as an educator abroad and for the University of Alaska Southeast. He has lived in Southeast Alaska since 1985.

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