The 1960’s were a race for military and cultural supremacy for the United States and the Soviet Union. Nothing less than control of the planet was at stake. Two competing ideologies presented their best literary feet forward in magazines designed for strikingly similar groups. The Pioneers were similar to the Boy or Girl Scouts in the United States: civic engagement through the ideology of the state (communism in the Soviet Union, capitalism in the United States). There were official uniforms for both: blue shirts/yellow scarves for the Boy Scouts, white shirts/red scarves for the Pioneers. In the 1960’s, each group had its official magazine: Boys’ Life for the Scouts, and Pionerskaya Pravda, or the Pionerka, for the Pioneers. However, no self-respecting Boy Scout would be caught dead without the real mouthpiece of capitalism, MAD magazine, a satirical and cartoon magazine that was secretly bought on newsstands and kept out of view of parents.
In the Cold War paranoia of the late 1950’s and then the 1960’s, MAD, peaking at a circulation of over 2,100,000 (but read substantially more by flashlight at night or school breaks), functioned as an outlet to the closeted censorship that prevailed across the United States. It also lampooned both sides of the political spectrum, mocking liberal Democrat hippies as well as Vietnam-fueled Republicans. It mocked capitalism, and refused to take advertisements, existing solely on subscriptions and peddling its own merchandise. The Pionerka reached its peak with a circulation of 10,000,000 subscriptions. It had numerous versions not only in the Soviet Union (22 different languages), but the much larger socialist world as well. The official mouthpiece for the communist youth league, it still managed to produce articles of unusual quality, and received 200,000 letters a year from children and teenagers across the Soviet Union and the communist world.
MAD usually had a “fold-in” on the back cover which appeared to be a normal, uncontroversial image (an American family, a day at the beach, etc.). When folded into thirds, the image turned into satire on the political and economic situation of the day, lambasting everything from the US government to protesters. MAD fought and won open-content cases in the US Supreme Court. The Pionerka helped to establish links with youths between different socialist nations, who found each other as pen-pals through the magazine. Inadvertently, those links were later used to connect a generation who had grown up and were ready for political
change. Connected by the magazine, the rebels in the socialist world were gently assisted by the Pionerka.
Both magazines exist today in a much diminished capacity, neither really serving its original purpose but both managing to survive. The collapse of the Soviet Union heralded the end of the Pionerskaya Pravda, and the revelation of American political corruption in the Nixon era and the eventual birth of the Internet proved MAD to be adolescent at best.