Return to Syllabus
Siegelbaum and Andrei Sokolov, Stalinism
as a Way of Life: A Narrative in
Chapter 3, "Stalin's Constitution" and Chapter 4, "Love and Plenty"
Chapter 3, "Stalin's Constitution"
As you know from the Suny textbook, the Stalin regime introduced a new constitution in 1936. According to this new constitution, all "exploiting" and hostile classes had been eliminated in the USSR, and all citizens of the Soviet state could now enjoy legal equality under the leadership of the Communist Party. Many historians cite the 1936 Constitution as part of the Stalin regime's effort to create greater stability during the end of the Second Five Year Plan (1932-1937), in a response to the enormous disruptions and instablity of the First Five Year Plan period (see in particular Siegelbaum's comments in the introduction to this chapter. The regime permitted--even encouraged--open discussion of the new constitution in 1935 (although this discussion was tightly controlled by the regime leadership). As Siegelbaum points out, one aim of this discussion was to "incite a wave of public enthusiasm" for building socialism (especially for Stakhanovism and similar forms of "socialist enthusiasm"). This limited, controlled discussion produced a huge mass of documents that give us glimpses into many aspects of the Soviet system and society, and perhaps into the aspirations of various elements of society as well.
As you read these documents, be prepared to discuss ways in which specific documents reflect and illuminate the following themes:
1) How various elements of the "public" understood the purpose of discussing the Constitution and how that differed from the way that party and state officials understood this same process.
2) What kolkhoz farmers wanted out of the Constitution (and the regime), and what "independent" peasants wanted. (Look in particular at what people praise in their letters and comments and what people want to see added to the Constitution.)
4) The complaints that kolkhoz farmers (and other peasants) made against the collective farm system.
5) Evidence that elements of the "old" peasant culture--such as the influence of the church--had survived collectivization. [This is related, for instance, to the "end" to legal discrimination against the clergy.]
6) Ways in which specific/particular groups of people besides collective farmers tried (or hoped) to shape the Constitution to reflect their own specific concerns.
7) Ways in which these documents reflect or reveal the writer's moral or ethical structure. [For instance, evidence of hostility towards those who "live off" the system and take advantage of the labor of others--the "new bourgeoisie"--and evidence that his hostility reflected an internalization of "Bolshevik values," etc.]
Chapter 4, "Love and Plenty"
The mid-and-late 1930s were a time of mass political repression and terror in the USSR. As you know from Suny, millions of people were imprisoned, sent to labor camps, or killed in the escalating waves of repression that followed the murder of Leningrad Party chief Kirov in December 1934. These involved a series of "show trials," in which prominent "Old Bolsheviks" were tried and executed as "enemies of the people." But under the direction of the Commissar of Internal Affairs (the head of the secret police) Iagoda (in 1934-36) and then Ezhov (in 1937-38), the purges and terror ripped through all levels of cadres in the party, the state, education, the arts, professions, factory administration, collective farm management, and even the military. The "Great Terror" reached its peak in 1937.
Historians have offered many explanations of the terror. Some, for instance, say that Stalin was deliberately killing off all of his rivals and all those who knew of the "skeletons in his closet"; others argue the Stalin regime was using terror to try to break resistance to the regime's directives (since officials at all levels deliberately evaded meeting these directives in order to protect their own bases of power); some historians argue that both the leadership and the population at large were conditioned to believe that there really were "wreckers" and "enemies of the people," and that this mass believe in conspiracy theories made people blame all failures on enemies who must be hunted down and eliminated; still others argue that Stalin and his deputies were simply criminally insane. There are many many other theories besides these.
But despite the terror, many old people today still look at the late 1930s as a high point, and there is certainly plenty of evidence that many people greeted the relative economic and social stability that the regime seemed to be creating at the end of the Second and during the Third Five Year Plan. Certainly, the regime itself used its enormous resources to paint a picture of a happy country enthusiastically building a new world.
As you read these documents, be prepared to explain how specific documents reflect or cast light on the following issues:
1) How ordinary people understood/imagined the history of their own times (and their own lives).
2) How ordinary people "used" the terror to "get even" and how wide spread the sense of suspicion and fear created by the terror had spread by 1937-38.
3) How the terror effected Soviet citizens at various levels and in various profession at its peak in 1937-38.
4) Evidence of the ways in which various citizens understood the causes of the terror and repression, including how they explained it once Ezhov was removed from his post in 1938.
5) Evidence of how the state treated those repressed as enemies and of the outrages carried out against people during the terror.
6) How people tried to protect themselves from being caught up in the terror or to limit the damage caused to themselves by being implicated in the terror.
7) Evidence of corruption and misuse of power in the provinces and by party and state functionaries (even during the terror and the various anti-corruption campaigns).
8) Evidence of a) continuing economic hardships; b) ethnic hostilities; or c) anxiety over the growing threat of war with Germany.