eren015_everydaystalinism.pdf - Everyday Stalinism Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times Soviet Russia in the 1930s Sheila Fitzpatrick Sheila Fitzpatrick

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Unformatted text preview: Everyday Stalinism Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times Soviet Russia in the 1930s Sheila Fitzpatrick Sheila Fitzpatrick is an Australian-American historian. She is Honorary Professor at the University of Sydney with her primary speciality being the history of modern Russia. Her recent work has focused on Soviet social and cultural history in the Stalin period, particularly everyday practices and social identity. From the archives of the website The Master and Margarita Webmaster Jan Vanhellemont Klein Begijnhof 6 B-3000 Leuven +3216583866 +32475260793 Everyday Stalinism Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times Soviet Russia in the 1930s Sheila Fitzpatrick Copyright © 1999 by Oxford University Press, Inc. First published by Oxford University Press, Inc., 1999 To My Students Table of Contents Contents Acknowledgments Introduction Milestones Stories A Note on Class 1. “The Party Is Always Right” Revolutionary Warriors Stalin’s Signals Bureaucrats and Bosses A Girl with Character 2. Hard Times Shortages Miseries of Urban Life Shopping as a Survival Skill Contacts and Connections 3. Palaces on Monday Building a New World Heroes The Remaking of Man Mastering Culture 4. The Magic Tablecloth Images of Abundance Privilege Marks of Status Patrons and Clients 5. Insulted and Injured Outcasts Deportation and Exile Renouncing the Past Wearing the Mask 6. Family Problems Absconding Husbands The Abortion Law The Wives’ Movement 7. Conversations and Listeners Listening In Writing to the Government Public Talk Talking Back 8. A Time of Troubles The Year 1937 Scapegoats and “The Usual Suspects” Spreading the Plague Living Through the Great Purges Conclusion Notes Bibliography Contents This book has been a long time in the making - almost twenty years, if one goes back to its first incarnation; ten years in its present form. Over that period, I acquired intellectual debts to so many people that I cannot list them all. Those whom I acknowledge here made a direct contribution in the final stages of the project. Jörg Baberowski, Dietrich Beyrau, Terry Martin, and Yuri Slezkine were kind enough to read the whole manuscript and make detailed comments that were extremely helpful. To Yuri I owe an additional debt for answering all my e-mails about Russian linguistic usage and esoteric aspects of Soviet culture. In the sphere of politics and police matters, J. Arch Getty generously played a similar role. James Andrews, Stephen Bittner, Jonathan Bone, and Joshua Sanborn aided me as research assistants at various times. Michael Danos read the whole manuscript in all its drafts and made useful editorial suggestions as well as helping to shape my thinking about the topic. Thanks are also due to two fine editors at Oxford University Press: Nancy Lane, an old friend, without whose tireless prodding and cajoling over many years the book might never have been written, and Thomas LeBien, whose support and good advice made the final stages of the project easier. It is a particular pleasure to acknowledge my debt to a remarkable cohort of students at the University of Chicago who wrote or are writing Ph.D. dissertations dealing with aspects of the 1930s: Golfo Alexopoulos, Jonathan Bone, Michael David, James Harris, Julie Hessler, Matthew Lenoe, Terry Martin, John McCannon, Matthew Payne, and Kiril Tomoff. I have learnt a great deal from their work and from working with them; and it is in recognition of this exceptionally stimulating and happy collaboration that I dedicate this book to past and present students. I have also benefited from working with other current and former members of the Chicago Russian Studies Workshop, notably Stephen Bittner, Christopher Burton, Julie Gilmour, Nicholas Glossop, Charles Hachten, Steven Harris, Jane Ormrod, Emily Pyle, Steven Richmond, and Joshua Sanborn, as well as my much-valued colleagues, Richard Hellie and Ronald Suny. Acknowledgments Other young scholars whose recent work on the 1930s has been particularly useful to me include Sarah Davies, Jochen Hellbeck, Oleg Khlevniuk, Stephen Kotkin, and Vadim Volkov. I thank the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, IREX, the National Council for Soviet and East European Research, and the University of Texas at Austin for support at various stages of the project. Equally heartfelt gratitude goes to the University of Chicago for providing the best of all possible environments for scholarship. Explanatory Note To make it easier for the reader, I have used familiar anglicizations of names of well-known figures like Trotsky, Tukhachevsky, Lunacharsky, Gorky, Vyshinsky, Zinoviev, Mikoyan, and Tolstoy. Given names like Natalia, Maria, and Evgenia are rendered without the extra “i” that a strict transliteration requires. For other names I have followed the standard transliteration model set by the Library of Congress, except that in the text I have not used diacritical marks for proper names and place names. Since this is a social history, I saw no reason to burden the reader with a proliferation of undecipherable institutional names and acronyms in the text. Where necessary, elucidation about institutional provenance is given in the footnotes. I have referred throughout to “Ministries” and “Ministers” in place of the “People’s Commissariats” and “People’s Commissars” that are strictly correct for this period. In my text, “province” or “region” stands for the Russian oblast’ and krai, and “district” for raion. Introduction This book is about the everyday life of ordinary people, “little men” as opposed to the great. But the life these ordinary people lived was not, in their own understanding and probably ours, a normal life. For those who live in extraordinary times, normal life becomes a luxury. The upheavals and hardships of the 1930s disrupted normalcy, making it something Soviet citizens strove for but generally failed to achieve. This book is an exploration of the everyday and the extraordinary in Stalin’s Russia and how they interacted. It describes the ways in which Soviet citizens tried to live ordinary lives in the extraordinary circumstances of Stalinism. It presents a portrait of an emerging social species, Homo Sovieticus, for which Stalinism was the native habitat. [1] There are many theories about how to write the history of everyday life. Some understand the “everyday” to mean primarily the sphere of private life, embracing questions of family, home, upbringing of children, leisure, friendship, and sociability. Others look primarily at worklife and the behaviors and attitudes generated at the workplace. Scholars of everyday life under totalitarian regimes often focus on active or passive resistance to the regime, while a number of studies of peasant life focus on “everyday resistance,” meaning the mundane and apparently everyday ways in which people in a dependent position express their resentment at their masters. [2] This book shares with many recent studies of everyday life a focus on practice - that is, the forms of behavior and strategies of survival and advancement that people develop to cope with particular social and political situations. [3] But the book was not written to illustrate any general theory of the everyday. Its subject is extraordinary everydayness. The times were extraordinary because of the revolution of 1917 and the upheavals, no less deracinating and disruptive, that accompanied the regime’s turn to rapid industrialization and collectivization of agriculture at the end of the 1920s. These were times of massive social dislocation, when millions of people changed their occupations and places of residence. Old hierarchies were overturned, old values and habits discredited. The new values, including condemnation of religion as “superstition,” were puzzling and unacceptable to most of the older generation, although the young often embraced them with fervor. It was declared to be a heroic age of struggle to destroy the old world and create a new world and a new man. The regime, committed to social, cultural, and economic transformation, rammed through radical changes regardless of the human cost, and despised those who wanted to rest from the revolutionary struggle. Savage punishments, worse than anything known under the old regime, were inflicted on “enemies” and sometimes randomly on the population. Large numbers of people found themselves stigmatized as “social aliens” in the new society. All these circumstances were part of the reason Soviet citizens felt they were not living normal lives. But when they made this complaint, they usually had, in addition, something specific in mind. The most extraordinary aspect of Soviet urban life, from the perspective of those living it, was the sudden disappearance of goods from the stores at the beginning of the 1930s and the beginning of an era of chronic shortages. Everything, particularly the basics of food, clothing, shoes, and housing, was in short supply. This had to do with the move from a market economy to one based on centralized state planning at the end of the 1920s. But famine was also a cause of urban food shortages in the early 1930s, and for some time ordinary people, as well as political leaders, hoped that the shortages were temporary. Gradually, however, scarcity began to look less like a temporary phenomenon than something permanent and systemic. Indeed, this was to be a society built on shortages, with all the hardship, discomfort, inconvenience, and waste of citizens’ time associated with them. The Homo Sovieticus emerging in the 1930s was a species whose most highly developed skills involved the hunting and gathering of scarce goods in an urban environment. This is a book about life in urban Russia in the heyday of Stalinism. It is about crowded communal apartments, abandoned wives and husbands who failed to pay child support, shortages of food and clothing, and endless queuing. It is about popular grumbling at these conditions, and how the government reacted to it. It is about the webs of bureaucratic red tape that often turned everyday life into a nightmare, and about the ways that ordinary citizens tried to circumvent them, primarily patronage and the ubiquitous system of personal connections known as blat. It is about what it meant to be privileged in Stalinist society, as well as what it meant to be one of the millions of social outcasts. It is about the police surveillance that was endemic to this society, and the epidemics of terror like the Great Purges that periodically cast it into turmoil. For Homo Sovieticus, the state was a central and ubiquitous presence. In the first place, it was the formal distributor of goods and the near-monopolistic producer of them, so that even the black market dealt largely in state products and relied heavily on state connections. In the second place, all urban citizens worked for the state, whether they were workers or typists or teachers or shop assistants: there were virtually no alternative employers. In the third place, the state was a tireless regulator of life, issuing and demanding an endless stream of documents and permits without which the simplest operations of daily life were impossible. As everybody including the leaders admitted, the Soviet bureaucracy, recently greatly expanded to cope with its new range of tasks and thus full of inexperienced and unqualified officials, was slow, cumbersome, inefficient, and often corrupt. Law and legal process were held in low regard, and the actions of officialdom, from top to bottom, were marked by arbitrariness and favoritism. Citizens felt themselves at the mercy of officials and the regime; they speculated endlessly about the people “up there” and what new surprises they might have in store for the population, but felt powerless to influence them. Even the jokes that Soviet citizens loved to tell, despite the danger of being caught in “anti-Soviet conversation,” were typically not about sex or mothers-in-law or even ethnicity but about bureaucrats, the Communist Party, and the secret police. The pervasiveness of the state in urban Russia of the 1930s has led me to define the “everyday” for the purposes of this book in terms of everyday interactions that in some way involved the state. In the Soviet context, such a definition largely excludes topics like friendship, love, and some aspects of leisure and private sociability. But the definition can scarcely be seen as narrow, since it includes such diverse topics as shopping, traveling, celebrating, telling jokes, finding an apartment, getting an education, securing a job, advancing in one’s career, cultivating patrons and connections, marrying and rearing children, writing complaints and denunciations, voting, and trying to steer clear of the secret police. The term “Stalinism” in the title needs some explanation. Stalinism often connotes an ideology and/or a political system. I use it here as a shorthand for the complex of institutions, structures, and rituals that made up the habitat of Homo Sovieticus in the Stalin era. Communist Party rule, Marxist–Leninist ideology, rampant bureaucracy, leader cults, state control over production and distribution, social engineering, affirmative action on behalf of workers, stigmatization of “class enemies,” police surveillance, terror, and the various informal, personalistic arrangements whereby people at every level sought to protect themselves and obtain scarce goods, were all part of the Stalinist habitat. While some of this was already in existence in the 1920s, it was the 1930s that saw the establishment of the distinctive Stalinist habitat, much of which survived into the post-Stalin era right up to Gorbachev’s perestroika in the 1980s. In my usage, Stalinist and Soviet are overlapping concepts, the former representing both a maximalist version of the latter and its defining moment. Milestones Our story has a clear starting point: the transformation of everyday life in Russia that occurred at the end of the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s following the abandonment of the relatively moderate and gradualist New Economic Policy (NEP) and the adoption of collectivization and the First Five-Year Plan. The term “Stalin’s revolution” has been used for this transition, and that conveys well its violent, destructive, and utopian character. But this revolution was largely the result of state initiative, not popular movements, and it did not result in a change of political leadership. The point of the revolution, in Stalin’s eyes, was to lay the economic foundations for socialism by rooting out private enterprise and using state planning to promote rapid economic development. In the towns, private trade and private businesses were closed down. The state took over distribution as part of a new system of centralized state economic planning that was vastly ambitious but poorly thought out. Planning was seen in heroic terms as the conquest of hitherto uncontrollable economic forces. The planning process had an immediate objective, which was to carry out rapid industrialization, particularly in underdeveloped regions of the country, according to the First Five-Year Plan (1929-32). That involved massive investment in heavy industry, skimping in the area of consumer goods, and substantial involuntary sacrifice of living standards by the general population to pay for it all. It had been the leaders’ hope that the peasantry could be made to pay most of the costs of industrialization; the collectivization of peasant agriculture that accompanied the First Five-Year Plan was intended to achieve this effect by forcing peasants to accept low state prices for their goods. But that hope was disappointed, and the urban population ended up bearing a considerable part of the burden. Collectivization turned out to be a very costly project. Several million “kulaks” (prosperous peasants regarded as exploiters) were expropriated and deported to distant parts of the country. Millions more fled to the cities. The results were food shortages, rationing, and overcrowding in the towns and, in 1932-33, famine in most of the major grain-growing regions of the country. Although famine was a temporary condition, shortages of food and all kinds of consumer goods were not. Marxists had expected that socialism would bring abundance. Under Soviet conditions, however, socialism and scarcity turned out to be inextricably linked. In politics, social relations, and culture, the First Five-Year Plan period was also a watershed. Stalin and his supporters defeated the last open opposition within the Soviet Communist movement, the Left Opposition, expelling its leaders from the party at the end of 1927. A more tentative Right Opposition was defeated without an open contest a few years later. Stalin emerged from this not only as the party’s undisputed leader but also as the object of an orchestrated cult that can be dated from the celebrations of his fiftieth birthday in 1929. The secret police expanded mightily to handle the kulak deportations and other punitive operations, and these years also saw the return of the old Tsarist practice of administrative exile and the establishment of Gulag’s labor camp empire. Isolationism was a hallmark of the First Five-Year Plan period. This was a throwback to the Civil War of 1918–20, in which the young Soviet state had been isolated both by the hostility of all the majorWestern powers and its own intransigence. During NEP, despite the state monopoly on external trade on which Lenin insisted, cultural and economic contacts with the outside world revived in a limited way, and there was a fair amount of traffic across the Soviet Union’s frontiers. A major war scare in 1927 changed the climate, and soon after the government decided to put the country on a “pre-mobilization” footing, where it remained throughout the 1930s. From this time on, Soviet frontiers were largely closed to traffic, both human and goods, and the Soviet Union declared its intention of achieving “economic autarchy.” In the short term, this move had the beneficial, if accidental, effect of cutting the Soviet Union off from the Great Depression. In the long term, however, it set the stage for a retreat into suspicious, parochial isolation that was in some ways reminiscent of Muscovite Russia in the sixteenth century. [4] Increased suspicion of foreign enemies at this period was matched by a sharp rise in hostility to “class enemies” at home: kulaks, priests, members of the prerevolutionary nobility, former capitalists, and others whose social class made them, in the Communists’ view, natural opponents of the Soviet state. But stigmatization of class enemies already had its history. The 1918 Constitution of the Russian Republic deprived various categories of “non-toilers” former exploiters - of the vote, and these disfranchised people were also subject to a wide range of civil disabilities such as exclusion from higher education and extra taxation. Despite party leaders’ efforts during NEP not to “fan the flames of class war,” rank-and-file Communists always favored policies that strongly discriminated against “former people,” members of the old privileged classes, and in favor of workers, the new “dictator class.” These instincts were given free rein in the First Five-Year Plan period. Another feature of this period was a tumultuous “cultural revolution” in which members of the prerevolutionary intelligentsia, known as “bourgeois specialists,” were a prime target of Communist attack. During NEP, Lenin and other leaders had insisted on the state’s need for the specialists’ expertise, even though recommending that they be supervised closely by Communists. But this changed dramatically in the spring of 1928, when a group of engineers from the Shakhty region of the Donbass was charged with “wrecking” (meaning intentionally damaging the Soviet economy) and treasonous contacts with foreign capitalists...
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