Iren Andreeva, Private Life under Socialism: The Account of an Ordinary Soviet Person/Chastnaia zhizn' pri sozializme: Otchet sovetskogo obyvatelia.
Oleg Leibovich, V gorode M: Ocherki politicheskoi povsednevnosti sovetskoi provintsii v 40-50-khgg. (In the Town of M: Essays on Everyday Political Life in the Soviet Provinces in the 1940s and 1950s). 440 pp. Perm': Iiul'-media, 2009. ISBN-13 978-5881874087.
The recent Soviet past is an attractive but also a difficult object of enquiry. On the one hand, it has clear historical boundaries and offers us plenty of material to work with. On the other hand, more than one living generation in Russia has a personal relationship to late Soviet history, which means that this period often becomes a function of collective memory and remains fluid and elusive. (1) Both of the works under review reflect this ambivalence of memory, even though at first glance they have little in common: one is a memoir of life in the capital, the other a scholarly monograph on the provinces. Nevertheless, even if their approaches and perspectives differ, both authors attempt to describe everyday life, its official and private niches, its behaviors and practices, the functioning of its political and economic institutions, and the world of the provincial and metropolitan nomenklatura. Oleg Leibovich's study of the late Stalin and early Thaw eras makes an important contribution to what has been called "one of the most significant historiographical achievements of recent years--the investigation of late Stalinism in its provincial dimension." (2) Iren Andreeva seeks to make a contribution to the wave of memoirs published in recent years on the Thaw and "stagnation" eras. (3)
As a qualified art historian, a theoretician of Soviet fashion, and a former people's deputy of the USSR, Andreeva took up the pen, as she put it herself, to "protect [her]self from the onset of irrelevance" (15). She constructs her narrative around various cornerstones in the life of a Soviet person--car, apartment, dacha, clothes, and work--adding at the same time some dimensions of foreign travel and political career that were not typical for Soviet people. Her professional involvement in Soviet haute couture, which placed her at some remove from the ordinary consumer, as well as various aspects of her personal life, mean that she cannot really justify her claim to the status of "Soviet everyman." She spent time with her family in the zone of Soviet occupation in East Germany and consequently had unusual access to "trophy" items; she was related to a member of the Politburo and to the woman who founded the institute in which she began her career; and she traveled abroad regularly. Andreeva makes frequent and somehow over-emphatic references to her irreverent reaction to the "ignoramuses and boors" among the bosses and the "contempt for political blather" that she felt from early on (220), but she has evidently never been in open conflict with the system and enjoyed all the benefits it offered. Many episodes from the book, as well as its very style, allow us to classify Andreeva as one of the types of ex-Soviet "remembering subject" identified by Catriona Kelly and Il'ia Kalinin: as one of those people who "make fun of familiar details of the Soviet past in order to show that they are not a sovok." (4) After her vivid account of the paradoxes of the Soviet fashion world and of (female) strategies of obtaining goods under conditions of chronic shortage, Andreeva's recollections of her time as a people's deputy seem rather schematic.
Leibovich's subject is Molotov (previously and subsequently Perm') oblast, which existed on the map of the USSR for a mere 19 years (1938-57). Put together hastily from a variety of territories, it was seen by officials in Moscow as a "place to collect undesirable elements, a kind of large camp without barbed wire" (31). But this socially marginal population, not to mention ordinary Soviet workers, remains at the sidelines of this account, which focuses on the provincial nomenklatura and university intelligentsia. The author uses specific instances of conflict to shed light on the broader context of the period: its everyday structures, social practices, cultural codes. The book has the merit of paying close attention to the rhetoric of texts written by officials: the author not only reconstructs the specific vocabulary of the era but also decodes its cultural meanings and the way they influenced patterns of behavior. Imbued with the austere classicism of the time, the sources offer little direct information about individual preoccupations and everyday life. Together with gaps in the documentary record, this leads Leibovich "to resort to a very unreliable instrument--[his] own intuition" (342). For this reason his attempts at interpretation and verification come with honest qualifications like "in all probability," "one gets the impression," and "it is unlikely to be the case": readers are free either to go along with the author's interpretation or to venture their own. For example, without having clear evidence, Leibovich suggests that a certain university teacher organized the political campaign against the well-known historian L. E. Kertman (230), while he weaves into his account another participant's personal recollections of the man as a poor lecturer (279).
One of the themes linking the two books is the world of the Soviet nomenklatura. According to Leibovich, the 1950s were a time when this group could control its own destiny: terror was abandoned, values quickly changed, and the right to a comfortable private life was recognized (12, 15); the 1960s-70s, in Andreeva's account, were an "era when the elderly enthusiasts gave way to fish-eyed Soviet functionaries," who also aspired to the good life and were ready to work in any branch of the apparat to get a comfortable salary and career advancement (240). Drawing on her own experience, Andreeva paints a familiar picture of the life of the Soviet jet set, with its personal cars and dachas, closed stores (spetsraspredeliteli), and servants. She gives an interesting account of how privileges dried up as their recipient approached the end of his career. The same privileged nornenklatura world existed in the provinces: in contrast to the desperate poverty of much of the population, the ruling caste shared privileges and enjoyed impunity. Leibovich successfully debunks the myth of Bolshevik asceticism and demonstrates how members of the nornenklatura used clan networks for personal enrichment, adapting their behavior as necessary to the frequent changes of political direction and the waxing and waning of central campaigns. He conveys very precisely the vulnerability of provincial officials, who were obliged to be maximally attentive to changing signals from Moscow; misreading those signals might cost them not only their careers but their lives. This situation resulted not only in lost bearings and mere observance of "purely ritual occasions" (268) but also in a certain degree of "willfulness" (svoenravie). (5) They adapted the tenets of the ruling ideology to local conditions, defended their corporate interests, and used the mechanisms of corruption they had available.
A thread running through both books is the theme of the repressive techniques that the government used to "force social groups to change their models of behavior" (Leibovich, 49). Leibovich devotes particular attention to "that ominous figure in the political world of Stalinism--the little man," whose participation was essential if the center was to exert control over the local apparat (66). It is hardly surprising that, if he managed to surf the political waves of the moment, this "little man" could often prevail over leading cadres (194). In their discussions of the events of 1956 in the USSR and of anti-Jewish recruitment policies, both authors show that Stalinist methods of social mobilization lived on into the following era. Mass terror had given rise to mass mimicry: by "correcting" aspects of their biography or by concealing their family ties, victims of terror attempted to reintegrate themselves into the Soviet system (Leibovich, 139; Andreeva, 216).
As Leibovich amply demonstrates, the provincial university milieu faithfully reflected wider political conflicts and was very far from the ideals of pure scholarship and teaching. This was especially true of the humanities, which had a hard time in the postwar era. The takeover of scholarship by ignorant functionaries led to strict controls on intellectual life and the aggressive inculcation of the Short Course in the History of the Communist Party as a sacred text. Scholars who did not adhere to the reigning canons were not only denied publication but also persecuted. The dominant political culture, based on the ideal of the total destruction of the adversary, provided the model for behavior in conflict situations: denunciatory articles in the press, accusatory speeches at party meetings, appeals to superior bodies and authorities, and squeaing to the relevant organs (205-301).
Another common theme is that of Soviet consumer culture. With the benefit of her professional experience, Andreeva clearly describes what fashion meant in the conditions of the planned economy, when whole institutes were devoted to working out unachievable recommendations and setting up a fine facade for Western partners, while the fruits of the couturier's work almost never got as far as mass production. She also gives an interesting account of the artificial dissemination of a "popular national style," which became the unfailing brand of Soviet fashion but also hindered its further development (232-33). The well-known result of the shortage economy was the emergence of an illegal "service sector" with black-market dealers and under-the-counter sales, a practice adopted even by the creators of high fashion. But even in describing her professional life, Andreeva does not avoid negative reflections on "Soviemess." For example, she spends a significant part of her account of the All-Union House of Fashion (Obshchesoiuznyi dom modelei) on characterizing socialist toilets and drawing unflattering comparisons with their German counterparts.
In the provinces, the plight of consumers was altogether more dramatic. In Leibovich's view, in the postwar years "badly dressed workers" struggled for life amid desperate poverty. Later, in the second half of the 1950s, when propaganda raised expectations, the gap between aspirations and the realities of consumer life brought dissatisfaction, disappointment, and anger (349). This made the population all the more inclined to turn away from politics and, while observing the rituals of socialist life, devote itself to private affairs.
Naturally, the books under review do not cover the full diversity of forms of Soviet everyday life. Nevertheless, while Andreeva's memoir will attract primarily scholars interested in memory and its gender aspect, Leibovich's study offers an important provincial perspective on the questions of continuity and change between "late Stalinism" and the "Thaw," as well as making a contribution to the current debate on how the socialist system worked and individual actors maneuvered within it. (6)
Translated by Stephen Lovell
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(1) Il'ia Kalinin has rightly noted that a "sense of loss has done much to set up a mechanism of nostalgia for the recent past" ("Povsednevnost', kotoraia vsegda s toboi," Neprikosnovennyi zapas, no. 4 , available at http://magazines.russ.ru/nz/2007/54/ka1-pr.html).
(2) Galina Iankovskaia, "Istoriograficheskie obrazy pozdnego stalinizma" (http://modrus.psu. ru/Publ/istor_obr.pdf). As Iankovskaia recognizes, the pioneering studies of the provincial dimension of this crucial era in Soviet history were El'dar Ismailov, Vlast' i narod: Poslevoennyi stalinizm v Azerbaidzhane, 1945-1953 (Baku: Adil'ogly, 2003); and Aleksandr Konovalov, Partiinaia nomenklatura Kuzbassa v gody "poslevoennogo stalinizma" i "ottepeli" (1945-64) (Kemerovo: Skif, 2005).
(3) See, e.g., Raisa Orlova and Lev Kopelev, My zhili v Moskve, 1956-1980 (Moscow: Kniga, 1990); Liudmila Alekseeva, Pokolenie ottepeli: Vospominaniia (Moscow: Zakharov, 2006); and Lidiia Chukovskaia, Vospominaniia (Moscow: Vremia, 2010). In my view, the best methodological guide to working with "women's memoirs" like Andreeva's is Natal'ia Kozlova, "'Moia zhizn's Alesbei Paustovskim': Sotsiologicheskoe perepisyvanie," Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniia, no. 5 (1999), available at www.a-z.ru/women/texts/moscowl.htm.
(4) Katriona Kelli [Catriona Kelly] and Il'ia Kalinin, "Sovetskaia pamiat'/pamiat' o sovetskom," Neprikosnovennyi zapas, no. 2 (2009), available at http://magazines.russ.ru/nz/2009/2/pal.html.
(5) The German equivalent concept of Eigensinn has been extensively investigated with respect to the German Democratic Republic (GDR). See Karl-Ulrich Mayer and Martin Diewald, "Kollektiv und Eigensinn: Die Geschichte der DDR und die Lebensverlaufe ihrer Burger," Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, no. 46 (1996): 8-17; Thomas Lindenberger, Herrschafi undEigenSinn in der Diktatur: Studien zur Gesellschafisgeschichte der DDR (Cologne: Bohlau, 1999); Marc-Dietrich Ohse, Jugend nach dem Mauerbau: Anpassung, Protest und Eigensinn (DDR 1961-1974) (Berlin: Christoph Links, 2003); and Hans Ziems, Eigensinn versus Systemzwang im ostdeutsehen Breitensport: Der Rennsteiglauf als Medienthema und Symbol der Wende (Berlin: Bassler, 2006).
(6) See, e.g., Elena Zubkova, Poslevoennoe sovetskoe obshchestvo: Politika ipovsednevnost ; 1945 1953 (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2000); David Crowley and Susan E. Reid, eds., Socialist Spaces: Sites of Everyday Life in the Eastern Bloc (Oxford: Berg, 2002); Aleksandr Pyzhikov, "Sovetskoe poslevoennoe obshchestvo i predposylki khrushchevskikh reform," Voprosy istorii, no. 2 (2002): 33-43; Semen Ekshtut, Predvestie svobody ili 1000 dnei posle Pobedy (Moscow: Drofa, 2006); From the Editors, "Passing through the Iron Curtain," Kritika 9, 4 (2008): 703-9; Boris Firsov, Raznomyslie v SSSR, 1940-e-1960-e gg.: Istoriia, teoriia i praktiki (St. Petersburg: Evropeiskii dora, 2008); and Joachim von Puttkamer and Jana Osterkamp, eds., Sozialistische Staadichkeit (Munich: Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 2011).
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2012|
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