to syllabus

Study Questions on R. G. Suny, The Structure of Soviet History:  Essays and Documents (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2003).  Week IX, pp.177-208, 228-231.

Von Geldern, "The Centre and the Periphery" (pp. 177-188)

Von Geldern (VG) says that Soviet society "struck a balance" in the mid-1930s; what was this "balance"?

How does VG explain support for the Soviet/Stalin regime from the mid-1930s on?

VG says that to understand support for the regime, we need to understand the new "soviet" identity as created in the 1930s.  What aspect of the creation of this identity will he examine in this essay?  And why was mass media particularly important to the creation of popular culture in the USSR?

What does VG mean by terms like "centre" and "periphery," and by "social geography"? 

What evidence does VG present to show that the regime had shifted its emphasis toward cultural "centralism" in the mid-1930s, and why is that important?

How did Soviet media portray the centre and the periphery in the mid-1930s?  Was that a change from the previous depictions, and why is that important?

VG argues in part that while the "centre" was the source of al decision making and of all benefits, the "periphery" also shaped Soviet identity after the First Five Year Plan--what is his evidence, and why is that important?

According to VG, why were "pioneer heroes" such important cultural figures in the mid/late 1930s? 

According to VG, what "lesson" was Soviet mass media/mass culture "sending" about the nature of the Soviet social hierarchy in the mid/later 1930s?

Had the Soviet social hierarchy become less or more rigid in the mid-1930s?  Did that mean that only the small elite of party leaders in the "centre" enjoyed any symbolic social status or celebrity in the mid/late 1930s?  Explain.

Did you have to be a party leaders, or even a party member, or even a worker, to be a Soviet celebrity in the mid/late1930s?  Explain.  What was required to gain celebrity status (i.e., what kind of relationship to the Stalin leadership)?

According to VG, why was the "personalization" of the Soviet social hierarchy so important in the mid/late 1930s?  What new "value system" was the Stalin leadership creating and why is that important?

What aspect of pre-Soviet popular political mythology had the Stalinist mass media revived in the mid/late 1930s and why?

Was the new "model" Soviet citizen as portrayed by the mass media "active" or "passive"?  Explain--why was this important?

VG tells us that in the mid-1930s Soviet mass media began to focus attention on aspects of private life (like family and marriage) instead of its previous (almost exclusive) concern with public life (like work and politics)--why the shift? (Also, be ready to give examples.)

VG explains that in the mid-1930s it became possible for people to "become Soviet" who had been excluded before; what are his examples, and why does he think that this is important?

OK--we're back to the main point:  the mid/late 1930s was a period in which poverty still loomed in the USSR, a time marked by the Terror and by the threat of war--given that the regime could not build social stability on the basis of prosperity, how (according to VG) did the Stalin leadership "create" social stability?  (In other words, what is VG's main point?)


Timasheff, "World Revolution of Russia" (pp. 188-198)

(Note--this is a selection from Timasheff's book The Great Retreat, first published in 1946.)

How does the description that Timasheff (T) gives of Soviet nationality policy in the 1920s compare to the argument made by Terry Martin (see your reading notes on readings about the 1920s)?

For T, when did the tone and the direction of Soviet nationality policy change?  What replaced the emphasis on internationalism?

What examples does T present to demonstrate the introduction of this shift in 1934?

According to T, how did the official attitude toward Russian history change after 1934?  Be prepared to discuss several examples (e.g., views of Peter I, the war with Napoleon, etc.).

Does T see any particular pattern to the "rehabilitation" of heroic figures from Russia's past after 1934?  Explain.

Was it possible to publicly challenge this "heroic" reinterpretation of Russian national history in the late 1930s?  Explain.  How did official rhetoric deal with those who did not glorify Russia's "heroic past"?

What means did the Stalin regime use to "teach" the population the values of Russian nationalism?  And was the regime concerned only with the restoration of the "heroic" military past?

What political purpose does T see in this reinterpretation/rediscovery of Russian national history?

According to T, why was the Soviet regime's nationalist propaganda after 1934 much more effective than its previous anti-nationalist (internationalist) propaganda?  And what were the results?

What is T's main point in this essay?


Decree of the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR...  "On the Teaching of Civic History..."  (May 1934) (pp. 228-229)

Marx had defined the basic stages of historical development according to "modes of production" (e.g., slave society, feudal society, capitalist society); did this 1934 decree follow Marx's schema?  Explain.

According to the Party and State leadership in 1934, what was the goal of history education?  What does the document tell you about the goals of Stalinist historical pedagogy?

How can we fit this document into the argument made by Timasheff (above)?


"For the Fatherland!"  from Pravda, 9 June 1934 (pp. 229-231)

In his introduction to this document, Suny tells us that this June 1934 editorial in the main Communist Party newspaper casts light on two major themes--the new mythology about the achievements of socialism (in its Stalinist version), and the evolution of the concept of "enemies of the people."  Explain what the editorial tells you about these two themes.

How would you fit this editorial into the framework of the Timasheff essay (above)?