The Soviet National Convention at The Los Angeles Convention Center
November 12-29th, 1977
Over a period of 18 days in November of 1977 (12th-29th), 310,000 people attended the Soviet National Convention entitled "Six Decades of Progress," which was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The opening day saw 20,055 visitors, and was referred to as a “big hit” by Convention Center Manager Dick Walsh. It was one of several exhibitions arranged between the U.S. and Soviet Union. Although these exhibitions were intended to increase understanding between the two countries, like its predecessors, the Los Angeles exhibition became a massive propaganda campaign aimed at showing Americans how culturally and technologically advanced the Soviet Union had become. The exhibition also had to contend with a “counter-attraction” titled "Soviet Jewry: Six Decades of Oppression," being held on the second floor of the Convention Center, in which representatives of the Jewish community and students from campuses across Los Angeles protested what Steven Hahn, a graduate student at USC, explained as attempts "to systematically eradicate all forms of Jewish religious, cultural, and national life" (The Daily Trojan).
The previous Soviet Exhibition had taken place in New York in 1958, and focused on "Achievements in Science, Technology and Culture." The New York exhibition included three full-size models of Soviet sputniks, and stands that emphasized Soviet scientists and engineers "control of fusion," peaceful uses of the atom, progressive production processes, public education, public health, culture, and the well-being of the Soviet people. The New York exhibition was followed by the American Exhibition in Moscow in 1959, which is best known for the “Debate in the Kitchen.” In the “debate...” or “discussion..” Richard Nixon (then Vice President of the United States) and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev toured a model kitchen built by General Electric. As its own form of propaganda, the kitchen was supposed to show soviet audiences the comfort and leisure of everyday American consumers, which was supposed to be affordable to every citizen in the United States. During the tour, several remarks led Nixon and Khrushchev to debates through which the two compared their respective countries.
In the televised conversation, the two men discuss the merits of Capitalism versus Communism. While Nixon attempted to portrait both countries as advanced in their own way (for the U.S. he pointed to television technology), Khrushchev pointed to the Soviet missile technology, following Sputnik, to underscore how advanced the Soviets were on “things that matter.” Comparing the accomplishments of the much younger Soviet Union to the United States, he declared that it would only be a matter of years before the soviets would overtake the U.S. in progress. Overall, the “debate in the kitchen” was somewhat of a political liability, and was even referenced in the Nixon-Kennedy debates, another television first that did not fare well for Nixon politically.
The Soviet National Exhibition in Los Angeles can be seen as a response to the same "progress" arguments presented in the debate, and other exhibitions. Although several years had past, the Los Angeles Exhibition was "the largest Soviet scientific, social and technological exhibition ever staged in the United States." Many aspects of the exhibition, or their influence, can still be seen today in different parts of the world. For instance, an exhibit of a large panoramic 3-D model of Moscow is still on display at The Grand Hotel Ukraina in Moscow. Another popular exhibit featured Micro-Art produced by Armenian painter Edward Ter Ghazarian (or Eduard Ghazaryan). In addition to having his work displayed in museums around the world, Ghazarian is created with having introduced micro-minatures to Hagop Sandaldjian, a renown miniature artist himself, currently on display at the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. The exhibition also included a Soyux Space Capsule, which can be seen in the photograph by Bill Steigerwald amidst enormous soviet banners at the top of the page. Although very little pertaining to the Soviet National Convention has been written, Bill Steigerwald’s two articles Looking for Anya X and When the Cold War Came to Los Angeles, shed some light on the experience of attending the exhibition.