Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide

If, by the twenty-first century, the Harvard Project had become something of an empty signifier (Klimov didn’t age well, even when he was still alive), its content would soon be filled by its far better-known counterpart, the Dulles Plan. 

That the Dulles Plan would effectively supplant the Harvard Project in the Internet Era is understandable, if ironic:  the Dulles Plan was made for the Internet, even if its makers lived under a regime that registered typewriters as potential threats to public order.   

The Dulles Plan was a pre-digital Internet meme, from back in the days when memes had to walk twenty miles in the freezing cold before finding a gullible host to infect. As in America, some of these hosts are famous and influential: the Oscar-winning film director Nikita Mikhalkov, and Russia’s answer to Donald Trump (before Donald Trump was ever a question), the scandalous and entertaining parliamentarian clown named Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

The Dulles Plan owes a clear debt to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as much for its origin story and its formal qualities as for its content.  Like the Protocols, the Dulles Plan takes a primitive view of  human psychology, and assumes a downright slipshod approach to secrecy:  evil people know that they are evil, and delight in revealing their evil plans and motivations.  And their minutes, bylaws, and visions statements are constantly falling into the wrong hands.  

Moreover, the Dulles Plan is the result of a plagiarism even clumsier than that of the Protocols. The Protocol forgers at least had the decency to steal a source written in a foreign language, but whoever first came up with the Dulles Plan lifted it from one of the most popular novels and films of the Brezhnev Era:  Anatoly Ivanov’s The Eternal Call (1971-1976; 1981; adapted for television from 1973-1983).  One of the villains delivers a speech that, word for word, ends up attributed to former CIA Director Allen Dulles.

"This is Allen Dulles. If you're illiterate, dissolute trash, then his plan worked..".

"This is Allen Dulles. If you're illiterate, dissolute trash, then his plan worked..".

 Why Allen Dulles?  Probably for the same reason that Klimov chose the Harvard Project as his conspiracy's name.  Just as Harvard Project proponents often link to the website of the actual study of Soviet life performed by Harvard researchers in the 1950s (an English-language study they can be fairly confident none of their audience will bother to read), Dulles was a notorious cold warrior, coining the term “massive retaliation” in a speech in 1954 and responsible for overseeing American anti-Soviet espionage activities. [1]

The Dulles Plan is relatively short (although it might not feel that way once you start reading it), and so I offer my own translation into English:

A tragedy will play out on a grand scale, step by step: the downfall of the most obstreperous nation on earth, the final and irreversible loss of its identity. For example, we will slowly weed out all social significance from its art and literature; we will retrain the artists and writers, drive out the desire to portray and study the processes that take place in the hearts of the popular masses. Literature, theater, and film shall all depict and praise the basest of human feelings.

We will support and promote those so-called artists who will impose and imprint onto human consciousness the cult of sex, violence, sadism, treachery—in a word, IMMORALITY. We will cause chaos and confusion in the state government.

We will quietly, but actively and constantly facilitate bureaucratic despotism and the flourishing of bribery and lack of principle. Bureaucracy and red tape will be held up as a virtue. Honesty and propriety will be mocked, needed by no one, a simple remainder of the past. Impertinence and impudence, lies and deception, drunkenness and drug addiction, animal fear of others and shamelessness, treachery, nationalism, and ethnic animosity—most of all animosity and hatred towards the Russian nation,we will skillfully and quietly cultivate it all, it will all blossom.

And only a few, only a few will guess and even understand what is happening. But we will put these people in a position of helplessness, make a mockery of them, find a way to slander them and declare them the scum of the earth. We will tear up the spiritual roots, vulgarize and destroy the bases of national morality.

Thus will will undermine generation after generation. We will get the people when they are children, youths, and we will bet on YOUTH—we will corrupt, prevent, and degrade it. We will make them cynics, vulgarians, and cosmopolitans.

That is how we will do it!

One of the most striking things about the text of the Dulles Plan is its obsession with popular culture (a preoccupation that extends beyond the last line's coincidental prefiguration of Montell Jordan’s hip-hop anthem).  The Dulles Plan is as much media theory as conspiracy theory, a perhaps unintentional example of the old “media effects” criticism or the “hypodermic needle” model of propaganda (which I will be dealing with in more detail in Chapter Six).

Consistent with Soviet policies that carefully restricted access to media, culture, and information, the Dulles Plan can only make sense if culture is  understood in narrow, quasi-biological terms.  The Dulles Plan is based on an implicit definition of media and consumer: 

1) Media's nutritional content. While some forms of cultural production are, quite simply, good for you (the classics, for instance), there are others that are not merely innately harmful, but whose entire purpose is moral or ideological harm.  

2) The audience as orifice.  Consumers of media are passive recipients of media messages, unable to distinguish, alter, or re-appropriate the content and forms that surround them.  Their only choice is binary: ingest, or refrain. 

Compare this with the conspiratorial mania that characterized the Stalin years: certainly, censorship was strict and propaganda was unrelenting, but the crimes of which alleged conspirators were accused were not restricted merely to anti-Soviet agitation.  “Wreckers” were sabotaging industrial projects, and spies and internal enemies were engaged in assassinations ant attempted murder.  The Dulles Plan turns out to be perfect for both the Cold War and its aftermath; violence and subversion are now entirely discursive. 

Equally important is the Dulles Plan’s focus on youth.  By positing nearly all forms of popular youth culture as dangerous (something the Plan shares with moral panics throughout the modern world), the Dulles Plan weaponizes the generation gap.  Young people are not merely strange and perhaps impertinent (the perennial complaint about “kids today”), they are the victims and perpetuators of warfare against everything the country stands for.  

It is the combined focus on media and youth that ensures the Dulles Plan’s longevity.  The structure of cross-generational misunderstanding can endure even as the content of youth culture changes (as American with long enough memories will recall, the evolution of popular music is also the story of successive moral panics, from jazz to rock to hip hop).  The generation vliified by the Dulles Plan in its early days is now the generation that could find itself appalled by its own children’s culture.  

If we borrow the language of Putin’s third term, the Dulles Plan is all about values.[2] Thanks to the Plan, conspiracy is a culture war. Or, to once again borrow from today's terminology, information war.

Next:  Chronicle of a Death Foretold  


[1] Curiously, he also actively denounced the Protocols as a forgery, trying to convince the State Department in 1921 to denounce them when he worked at the US Embassy in Istanbul. 

[2] This is not to imply that the Russian government has endorsed the Dulles Plan. On the contrary, a regional court declared the Plan “extremist literature” in June 2015.