Week 9 discussion questions

Stalinist culture and aspects of life in the 1930s.  




After the end of the "Cultural Revolution" of 1928-31, what kind of art did the Stalin regime want and how did Stalin see the role of the artist in Soviet society?   Explain. 

Who determined what was acceptable art and science in the Stalinist era?   What impact did this have on creativity? 

Why did the Stalinist leadership turn away from the radical family policies of the revolution's first decade? 

In what sense was Stalinist educational policy conservative?

Were the Stalinist 1930s simply a period of grim, gray hardships, or did people also have leisure-time activities and entertainment?  Explain. 

Was the Stalin regime nationalist?  Be prepared to explain and defend your answer! 

Why does Suny find Stalinist nationality policy to be "ironic"? 

Respond to this statement and be prepared to defend your position!!  "The Stalin regime simply gave the public the kind of entertainment and art that the public wanted, just like Hollywood did in the USA."

Respond to this statement and be prepared to defend your position!!  "The Stalin regime had social policies that would appeal to 'cultural conservatives' in the US today:  they were trying to crack down on crime and deviance and promote the traditional family."


Siegelbaum and Sokolov, Stalinism as a Way of Life

Chapter 5, "Bolshevik Order on the Kolkhoz"

By the end of the 1930s, state-imposed pressures had eliminated "independent" farms.  Life in the countryside was based entirely around the system of collective farms (the kolkhoz) and soviet farms (the sovkhoz).  In this chapter, the editors present documents and a narrative on life in the collectivized countryside.  Most of these documents are in the form of letters to the newspaper Peasant Gazette (Krest'ianskaia gazetta) from "rural correspondents" (who sometimes were collective farmers but also could be members of the "rural intelligentsia"--teachers, agronomists, clerks, etc.).  Like the names given to the collective farms, these letters were supposed to reflect idealized efforts to build "Bolshevik order on the kolkhoz."  The realities of life, however, were far from ideal, and these documents give us insights on the harsh realities of the kolkhoz order as well as some of its achievements.

Be prepared to discuss what the documents show regarding the following issues/themes:

1.  What kinds of comparisons did people make between the "new life" and life in the pre-soviet countryside?  (Look for both positive assessments of the "new life" and negative assessments of the collective farm order).  LOFTUS 

2. When people argued that the collective farms worked poorly, how did they explain the problems of the kolkhoz?  And when they argued that the farms worked well, how did the explain the causes of their success? LONGO AND DZURKO 

3. When people claimed that "wreckers" and "enemies" caused problems on the kolkhoz, what specific sorts of problems did they blame on "wreckers"?  Also, who [what groups] seemed most likely to be accused of being "wreckers"?  LOSCALZO

4.  What strategies did collective farmers employ to improve their standard of living or that of their families? SHILLING AND JARSOCRAK

5.  What kinds of problems did collective farm managers and bosses confront?  Also, do we have evidence in these documents that managers and bosses often abused their powers?  SOPRANO

6. What evidence is there of conflicts in collective farm communities between different generations?  Between different ethnic groups?  Between those who exercised some special "privileges" and those who felt that they were denied privileges?  TRACY

7.  What were the benefits and what were the dangers of becoming a Stakhanovite of a shock worker?  BELINKO


Chapter 6, "Happy Childhoods"

In his introduction to this chapter, Siegelbaum points out that the Soviet regime looked to the "children of the revolution" (the generation born after 1917 and raised in the 1920s and 1930s) as the "builders" of Communism.  The Soviet leadership believed that this generation, raised "Red," would live in and help to develop a world very different from that of their parents and grandparents.  Yet the documentation that we have reminds us that these were, after all, children, with the needs and behavior patterns of children.  They wanted attention and affection, they mimicked in public words and behaviors that they observed at home, they rebelled and misbehaved and got into trouble, etc.  Still, Soviet officialdom understood the behaviors of children as they did those of adults--in political terms...

Siegelbaum refers to two "principle factors" that stand out in these documents:  that children were often pawns in adult politics; and that the lives of children were very different from the idealized picture presented by the Soviet establishment.  (This "idealized" picture--for instance, in the Communist Youth League [Komsomol] literature--was not meant primarily for foreign consumption.  One of the things that sometimes is hard for us to understand is that these images and ideals were intended for consumption in the USSR...)

Many of these documents contrast starkly with the "official" version of childhood in the 1930s and demonstrate hardships of life for children, whose letters and stories speak of their desire for things as basic as education and opportunities or decent food and living conditions for themselves and their families.   

Be prepared to explain what the documents show us about the following issues/themes:

1. The sorts of material privations (including at school) and hard living conditions faced by rural children and by urban children.  SOPRANO AND BELINKO

2. The ways that adult "political games" could involve children as "pawns" and the ways children might suffer because of the "political crimes" or social backgrounds of their families.  TRACY

3. The ways that children understood the tensions and problems in Soviet society and evidence that some children sincerely supported of the aims of the Soviet system.  SHILILNG

4. The ways that government and party officials at various levels defined children's behaviors in political terms.  LOSCALZO

5. Evidence that children sometimes denounced adults or other children as "enemies" of Soviet power.  LONGO AND DZURKO

6. Evidence that children and especially teens (including Young Pioneers and Komsomols) often behaved in ways that did not fit with Soviet ideals.  LOFTUS

7. Evidence of children knowing how to "speak Bolshevik" (knowing how and when to answer questions and make statements that were "politically correct"). JARSOCRAK