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Lewis Siegelbaum and Andrei Sokolov, Stalinism as a Way of Life:  A Narrative in Documents (New Haven and London:  Yale University Press, 2000)


Week IX

pages 283-420

Chapter 5, "Bolshevik Order on the Kolkhoz" and Chapter 6, "Happy Childhoods"

Document assignments:

Shawn, ##100, 112, 124, 136, 148; Mike, ## 101, 113, 125, 137, 149; John, ## 102, 114, 126, 138, 150; Lauren, ## 103, 115, 127, 139, 151; Sarah, ## 104, 116, 128, 140, 152; Bill, ## 105, 117, 129, 141, 153; Keith, 106, 118, 130, 142, 154; Josh, ## 107, 119, 131, 143, 155; Brian, ##108, 120, 132, 144, 156; Melissa, ## 109, 121, 133, 145, 157; Jeff, ## 110, 122, 134, 146; Lindsay, ## 111, 123, 135, 147.

I will call on each of you individually to discuss the specific documents that you were assigned.  As with all other discussions, your contribution (in this case, discussing your documents) will be considered part of your participation grade, which accounts for 20 percent of your course grade.  But you also are responsible for reading all documents in these two chapters.


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 often might be members of the "rural intelligentsia").  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.

As you read the chapter and as you take notes on "your" documents, be sure to consider the following issues/themes ("your" documents may relate to several of these themes--so be prepared!):

Evidence of abuses perpetrated by local officials against "independent" farmers and against collective farmers.

Comparisons between the "new life" and life in the pre-soviet countryside--both positive assessments of the "new life" and negative assessments of the collective farm order.

Evidence that the collective farm system was working well, or that it was working poorly, and the reasons given by collective farmers and collective farm officials to explain success of failure.

Accusations that "wreckers" and "enemies" caused problems on the kolkhoz, evidence of the sorts of problems that might be blamed on "wreckers," and evidence concerning who [what groups] were likely to be accused as "wreckers."

Strategies employed by collective farmers to improve their standard of living or that of their families.

Problems confronting collective farm managers and bosses, and also evidence that managers and bosses often abused their powers.

Evidence of conflicts in collective farm communities either between different generations or different ethnic groups, or between those who exercised some special "privileges" and those who felt that they were denied privileges.

Benefits and dangers of becoming a Stakhanovite or a shock worker.


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:  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.   

What do the documents assigned to you show us about the following issues:

Material privations (including at school) and hard living conditions for rural children.

Material privations (including at school) and hard living conditions for urban children.

Adult "political games" that involved children as "pawns"--and also children being caught up in the terror.

Children's understanding of the tensions and problems in Soviet society.

Officials at various levels defining children's behaviors in political terms.

Children's sincere support of the aims of the Soviet system.

Children denouncing adults or other children as "enemies" of Soviet power.

Children (especially teens)--even Komsomol members and Young Pioneers--behaving in ways that did not fit Soviet ideals.

Children knowing how to "speak Bolshevik"-- knowing how and when to answer (and not answer) questions or make statements so as to be "politically correct."

Children suffering because of the "political crimes" or social backgrounds of their families.

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