to syllabus

Study Questions on R. G. Suny, The Structure of Soviet History:  Essays and Documents (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2003).  Week VII, pp. 149-162 (middle of page), 164-177, 209-228.

Suny's Intro "The Stalin Revolution" (pp. 151-middle of 162.  we will discuss pp. 162-164 later in the semester)

Suny briefly introduces the "totalitarian" school of interpretation of the Stalin era--what does he identify as their main arguments, and does he agree?  Explain.

Suny discusses the arguments of the "social historians" of the 1970s and 1980s, such as M. Lewin; did these historians approve of the totalitarian school of interpretation?  Explain. 

Suny draws very heavily on the writings of S. Fitzpatrick, one of the leading historians of the Stalin era in the 1980s-1990s.  Based upon Suny's summary:

When historians use the term "The Great Retreat," to what are they referring?  And is it correct to say that Soviet society was more stable and "liberal" in 1934-1936 than it had been in 1929-1933, or than it would be in 1936-1939?  Explain.

According to Suny, did the Stalin regime depend upon terror alone to hold on to power?

Suny tells us that Stalin significantly altered Leninist policy, for instance, on nationalities, and that Stalin radically changed Soviet Marxist theory.  Explain these "alterations."

According to Suny, Stalin, or all of his alteration of Leninist doctrine, managed to use the "cult of Lenin" to build his own authority; explain how this happened.

Clearly, many of the policies of the Stalin leadership failed.  Did Stalin, or other top leaders, ever admit to failure, and did they ever take the blame?  How did they explain "difficulties in the path of building socialism"?

How does Suny explain the origins of the Purges and the Terror?

Have all historians explained the origins of the Terror in the same way?  What are some of the different "schools" of interpretation?

Have all historians explained Stalin's personal role in the terror in the same way?  What are some of the different "schools" of interpretation?

What are Suny's estimates of the number of victims of Terror in the 1930s?

What does Suny tell us about Stalin's personality?


Fitzpatrick, "The Bolshevik Invention of Class" (pp. 164-177)

This is an important but difficult essay, so I've asked you a lot of "guiding" questions....

Fitzpatrick tells you her thesis in the essay's second paragraph--what is her main point?

Is F saying that

So, then... what happened to the Bolsheviks' working class after 1917?  What accounted for the "spectacular irony" that F describes on p. 165?  Put differently, F. claims that by 1921 the Bolsheviks ruled a country in which "class and class conflict had become irrelevant"--why?

According to F, how did the Bolsheviks respond to the "fact" that there no longer was a "class base" to legitimate their rule?

How did the Bolsheviks "imagine" the social composition of Russian society in the 1920s?  What social classes did they "see" and what groups  made up these social classes?

According to F, could the Bolsheviks "allow" any groups to "fit" outside of these two basic social class designations?  Explain. 

Remember that Holquist argued that the Bolsheviks used surveillance in their effort to make a new society; F suggests that they also used the collection of statistics for this purpose...  what is her point about the "statistical industry"?

Martin argued that the Bolshevik regime used "affirmative action" to give special preferences to national "minority" groups; is F saying that there also were "affirmative action" programs in regard to class?  Explain--how were the Bolsheviks using such programs for the purpose of "social engineering"?

What (who) were "byvshie"?  "lishentsy"?  In what regard, according to F, were these examples of newly created "classes"?

Why does F see the Bolshevik approach to class as irrational?  And how was it linked to the idea of the struggle against "bourgeois enemies" (remember Kolonitskii?)?

Historian Steve Kotkin has argued that people in the USSR in the 1920s-1930s learned to "speak Bolshevik"--that they internalized and learned to think and use the rhetoric of the ruling party.  Is Fitzpatrick making a similar argument about the "new public language of class"?  Explain.

F argues that ordinary people were "deeply involved in the invention of class" (p. 168)--why?  What does this mean?  Explain!  What was to be gained by "inventing" the proper ("good") class identity?  And what was at risk from a "bad" class identity? 

F argues that the "Stalin Revolution," beginning with the First Five Year Plan, was organized around the mobilizing theme of "class warfare" between an "imagined" proletariat and an "imagined" bourgeoisie; the symbolic manifestation of this was the "Cultural Revolution," but it could also be seen in the campaign to liquidate the Kulaks as a class, etc.  (Here it the question)--How does F sum up the impact of Stalin's "Revolution from Above?" (she notes six points)

F says that the proletariat was the victor in this "imagined" class war, but asks "which proletariat?"  What is the point of this question?  What is she getting at in her discussion of how the words "proletarian" and "worker" were used in the 1930s?

According to F, did the imagined class war continue throughout the 1930s?  Explain.  Why did the Party leadership "back off" of class warfare around 1933, and why did it "put the brake" on class discrimination in the mid-1930s?

What are some examples of the end of class-based discrimination circa 1935-1936?

What preferences replaced the preference for "proletarians"?  Who now was to be recruited for party and state administrative posts (etc)?  Explain.

In the discussions leading to the "Stalin" constitution (implemented in 1937), how did Stalin "re-imagine" the class composition of Soviet society?

Is it fair to say that F believes the Stalin leadership had created a new "imagined" social hierarchy, with the "Soviet intelligentsia" at the top?  Explain.

When formal class discrimination began to "end" in the USSR, did that mean that formal (state recognized) definitions of one's "identity" were no longer important?  Explain.  Why does F discuss the system of internal passports instituted in 1933?  And were there still "preferences"?

Why does F compare the designation of class/social position in Soviet society to the "soslovie" categories in Tsarist Russia (remember our discussions in weeks 1 and 2?)?  

What does F mean (p. 173) by the "then and now" perspective on social identification in Stalinist society?  Were all workers seen as sharing the same identity?  Were all collective farmers (kolkhozniki)?

What kinds of social mobility existed in Stalinist society?  And was all social mobility "upward"?  Explain.

F argues that the policies of the 1930s had the effect of turning the imagined social categories of the 1920s into something more "real," more "concrete."  She gives the example of the new labels applied later in the 1930s to peasants who had been "dekulakized" in 1929-1932.  What is she trying to get across in this example (pp. 174-175)?

According to F, did the supposed liquidation of the kulaks as a class and the destruction of the bourgeoisie in the period 1929-1933 mean that in the mid-1930s Communist party officials, or even the rank and file members, believed that there no longer were any class enemies to be feared?  Explain.

How does F use the idea of this ongoing fear of class enemies to explain the patterns of political repression in the 1930s (e.g., during the 1932-33 famine, after the Kirov murder in December 1934, and during the Great Purges/the Terror)?

In her conclusion, what does F describe as the two main consequences of the Bolshevik "invention of class" in the 1920s?  What does she mean when she says that it proved "corrosive"?

What does F mean when she says that in the 1930s the Stalin regime was "domesticating a foreign import"?

Did Soviet citizens reject self-identification on the basis of Stalinist social categories? 

What does F see as the key to understanding the hunt for (and accusations against) "enemies of the people" in the Purges/Terror of the late 1930s?


Stalin, "Dizzy with Success" 2 March 1930 (pp. 209-212)

How, in his introduction to the document, does Suny explain the reasoning (motivations) behind this famous speech by Stalin?

In this speech itself, did Stalin give any suggestion that there was peasant resistance to collectivization?

What did Stalin identify as the main threat to the success of collectivization?  How did he propose dealing with this problem?

Did Stalin admit in this speech that the leadership's policy had been to force peasants into collective farms?  Explain.

On whom did Stalin place blame for various "excesses" in collectivization, whom did he say ultimately benefited from such "distortions," and how (in the end) did he explain the cause of such "distortions"?

So, again, how did Stalin propose that the problem of excesses in collectivization be solved?


Kopolev, "The Last Grain Collections" (describing events in the countryside in Ukraine during the famine of 1932-1933) (pp. 212-222)

At the outset of this memoir, how does Kopelev describe his own attitude, and that of his comrades, towards the "struggle for grain"? 

And what were their opinions of the peasants they encountered?  Did these Communist activists believe that there really were "kulak" enemies?  Explain.

How did the Communists try to convince peasants to "fulfill their grain quotas"?

What happened to villagers that did not fulfill their quotas?  And what happened to the "hard core holdouts"?

Did Kopelev find all of this emotionally "easy"?  Explain.  How does he explain that fact that he still participated in squeezing grain out of these peasants?

On p. 219, Kopelev describes two sleds driving through a village "collecting"--what are they collecting, and what does this tell us about conditions in Ukraine in winter 1932-33?

What impression did you come away with of the emotional state of these village by late Spring 1933?  Explain.


Stalin, "New Conditions--New Tasks" (23 June 1931) (pp. 222-228)

In his introduction to this document, Suny points out that this speech by Stalin signaled a major change in Soviet policy away from "egalitarianism" and the class-warfare approach of the First Five Year Plan.  This is a long speech--I want you to focus on three main issues:

How did Stalin justify implementing a new "hierarchy" of wages that resulted in relatively higher pay not only for skilled (vs unskilled) workers, but especially for management personnel in industry?

Stalin argued that the working class had to "create" its own intelligentsia, but did he now argue that only worker-party members should be promoted into administrative positions in industry?  Explain.

How did Stalin explain why it was now (in June 1931) "safer" to employ "the old industrial and technical intelligentsia" in management positions?