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The social meanings of swearing: workers and bad language in late imperial and early Soviet Russia.

Rech' bez mata -- shchi bez tomata

(Russian proverb)(1)

Not least of the shocks that followed the collapse of Communism in Russia was the entry into the public domain of words that had never been seen in print before. Russian has an extraordinarily fertile vocabulary of obscenity, but in both imperial and Soviet Russia, for reasons of public decency and censorship, the publishing of swear words was absolutely forbidden. The easing of censorship which accompanied the end of Communism smashed the taboo on printing words that had long been out of sight yet seldom out of earshot. Not only in the explosion of pornography, but also in serious writing, authors seized on the opportunity to convey ordinary speech in all its offensiveness and coarse humour, and to write about sexual matters in explicit detail. In particular, the work of Eduard Limonov, whose writing had been published in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, acquired notoriety because of its deliberate flouting of conventions of literary quality and good taste.(2) In addition, the lifting of censorship reawakened academic interest in Russia's rich lexicon of bad language, and in obscenity within popular culture more generally. Material on bawdy folk tales, lewd chastushki (four-line, rhymed ditties on a topical or humorous theme), verses, proverbs, sayings, puns and anecdotes, much of which had been collected in the nineteenth century, was published for the first time by ethnographers, folklorists and linguists.(3) So far, however, little attention has been paid by historians to the changing meanings and social uses that have attached to bad language.

Because swearing exists in many different forms, from the deadliest curse to a joke between friends, from a withering expression of contempt to a mild expression of annoyance, it is impossible to reconstruct the range of meanings that swearing carried in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Russian society in their entirety. Much of the meaning of swearing depends upon context, upon the shared values and intuitions of the speaker and the addressee, and this is extraordinarily difficult for the historian to reconstruct. In addition, censorship of the sources means that it is virtually impossible to know the actual words used. It is, however, possible to examine what swearing as a generic phenomenon meant for the more articulate sections of society. This article seeks to explore the representations and usages of swearing among Russian workers as a way of shedding light on the relationship of government and the intelligentsia to the common people in a period of rapid social change and political turmoil. First, it examines the ways in which swearing was represented in the discourse of the educated public from the late nineteenth century, showing how it carried different meanings in relation to ethnicity, class and gender but, above all, served to connote the cultural backwardness of Russian society. Secondly, it examines the social uses of obscene language by workers, especially as a mechanism of enforcing and eschewing specific class and gender identities. Thirdly, it shows that because obscene language carried a heavy freight of social meaning, it became a political issue for those who sought to advance the cause of the working class; and, finally, the article outlines the campaigns against bad language that were undertaken between the 1905 Revolution and the demise of the Bolsheviks' 'struggle for cultured speech' at the end of the 1920s.

In his survey of the history of swearing in the English language, Geoffrey Hughes writes that `in many cultures swearing is fascinating in its protean diversity and poetic creativity, while being simultaneously shocking in its ugliness and cruelty'.(4) Russian swearing is no exception to this generalization. In modern Russian the word for obscene language is mat, a word closely related to the word for `mother' (mat').(5) The origins of the word are obscure, but may refer specifically to `mother-oaths': i.e., aspersions cast on the honour of one's mother.(6) In time, mat came to denote all the taboo words which relate to the genitalia and to sexual and bodily functions. What is remarkable about Russian swearing, in contrast to swearing in many other European languages, is that it does not have an explicit religious content: for instance, it does not breach the Third Commandment against taking the Lord's name in vain. Blasphemy is not a standard feature of Russian swearing -- the name of God, Jesus or the Virgin Mary being seldom invoked.(7) Yet though mat words relate exclusively to what one might call the lower physical faculties, some of the emotional and moral charge which they carry derives from the fact that they were seen, historically, to disparage things sacred. The literary scholar, Boris Uspenskii, has suggested that the origins of mat lie in the cult of the pagan goddess, Mokosh', who functioned as an earth mother. In his view, the prevalence of obscenity in Russian peasant culture is rooted in pagan fertility cults, a hypothesis borne out by the prominence of ribald language and licentious ritual in marriage rites and festivities connected with the agricultural cycle.(8) Mat acquires historical visibility only after the coming of Christianity, conventionally dated from the baptism of Vladimir I, prince of Kiev, in 988, when the church began to proscribe its use as part of the battle to extirpate paganism. In due course, the cult of Mother Earth was absorbed into the cult of the Mother of God (Bogoroditsa), which may explain the connection which existed in popular religious belief between mat, the Virgin Mary, the earth and one's own mother.(9) Typical of ecclesiastical proscriptions against maternaia bran' is a homily dating back to at least the seventeenth century, dubiously ascribed to St John Chrysostom, which explains that mat is sinful, first, because it insults the Mother of God; secondly, our own mothers; and, finally, `our third mother', the earth which feeds and nourishes us.(10) This trope was dear to the hearts of Old Believers, who consistently linked the use of mat to paganism and heresy, but the idea of the `three mothers' was never lost in mainstream Orthodoxy, even though in later centuries the church objected to swearing principally on the grounds that it offended against Christian chastity.(11) It is this transmutation of the cult of Mother Earth into the cult of the Mother of God which may explain why, in spite of its non-religious content, mat carried the taint of blasphemy.(12)

It is not our purpose to ask whether Russians swear more than other nationalities. The claim is often made, but there appears to be no systematic comparative work that would back this up.(13) What is clear is that Russian, as a highly inflected language, has a greater capacity than many other languages to generate obscenity, particularly through its highly complex verbal system. This means that mat is not simply a collection of dirty words, but a set of refined and complex linguistic structures which, to some extent, function as a `shadow language' of standard Russian. It is reckoned, for example, that by using the two verb forms (imperfective and perfective) which exist in Russian, together with the standard verbal prefixes and reflexive forms of these verbs, it is possible to make 1,596 verbs from eight standard obscene roots. And because many such words carry variable meanings, according to context, it is claimed that the number of mat expressions is potentially limitless. The various forms of the verb ebat' (to fuck), for example, can mean anything from `to work', `to deceive', `to lie', `to be pretentious', `to be tired', 'to be bored', `to get', `to go away', `to lose', `to beat', `to be bothered', and so on. When such words are combined into more complex expressions -- what Russians call `three-storey' mat (trekhetazhnyi mat) -- obscenity becomes an extended parody of standard language, one in which millions of Russians are more or less proficient, and one which in some cases is raised to the level of folk-art.(14)



During the second half of the nineteenth century, the ignorance and lack of civilization of the common people became a leitmotif of discourses of the educated public. In the eyes of the intelligentsia, the common people were cast in the role both of the 'dark masses' and the agent of social redemption. In the eyes of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, the common people were ignorant, immoral, uncivilized and potentially dangerous. Both the intelligentsia and 'official Russia' alike tended assume that urbanization and industrialization were bringing about the social and moral degradation of the common people. For the intelligentsia, this degradation was the consequence of poverty, lack of education and the legacy of serfdom, and constituted a standing reproach to tsarism. For government functionaries and church leaders, the factories and city slums were leading to a `decline in popular morality', manifest in a weakening of religious devotion, sexual dissoluteness and lack of respect for government and the law. During the 1870s and 1880s the authorities became alarmed that this decline in popular morality was spreading to the countryside.(15) In a discourse which juxtaposed the degenerate city to the once-healthy village, they claimed that peasant migration and urban-influenced mores were bringing about an increase in crime, sexual immorality and general fecklessness. Interestingly, one of the indices of this moral decline often cited was the use of mat by the peasantry. In 1889, I. Dobrotvorskii attributed the prevalence of `unprintable songs and sayings' in the village of Shuia to the influence of work in the textile mills of the region.(16) A rural teacher wrote: `The other day a young girl, returning to school after the holidays, wrote on the blackboard extremely foul words, the meaning of which she, of course, did not understand'.(17) A correspondent for the Riazanskii Vestnik in 1909 noted that children were now to be found drinking, cursing and smoking at virtually any village celebration.(18) The belief that mat was on the increase among village folk is highly curious, since obscene language and behaviour had been a vital element in peasant culture for centuries, especially in the festivals and rituals associated with the anxiety-laden moments of the agricultural and human lifecycles. From the eleventh century on, the church regularly condemned the festivals at Yuletide (zimnie sviatki), Shrovetide (maslenitsa) and the summer holidays of Rusaliia (Trinity Sunday) and Kupalo (Midsummer, the Eve of St John) for their `devilish' (besovskii) and `idolatrous' (kumirskii) amusements.(19) The Stoglav church council of 1551 declared: `Men and women and girls gather at night for revelry, indecorous speech, devilish singing and dancing, and acts hateful to God; and youths are polluted and girls defiled'.(20) Ribaldry also figured in marriage celebrations ? as when villagers gathered noisily to waken up newly-weds ? the morning after their wedding night m and in funeral rites.(21) In spite of this, however, the educated public in the late nineteenth century fixed on mat as evidence that the peasant society was changing for the worse under the impact of urbanization, migration and industrialization.

For `official' Russia the turmoil of the years 1905 to 1907 strengthened the belief that mat was on the increase in the countryside. Control of popular speech had long been seen as crucial to the maintenance of social and religious order, and now disorder in speech was seized upon to dramatize the wider collapse of governmental authority. In 1905 a landowner in Vladimir guberniia, A. Iz'edinov, wrote to the governor: `the name of his Highness the Emperor is uttered with the addition of unseemly words, and religion is trampled on ... We landowners live in fear, hourly expecting attacks, pogroms, arson... It is hard and immeasurably sad to hear indecent songs composed about his Highness the Tsar and the sacred Orthodox Church'.(22) According to the 1906 report of the Chernigov diocese, in the villages, `it is not uncommon to hear abuse of holy days, fasts, sacraments, the sacred rituals of the church ... Dissoluteness in speech knows no bounds: they revile the clergy, the authorities, publicly insult his imperial highness'.(23) In fact, there was a significant rise in the number of prosecutions for blasphemy (bogokhul'stvo) in the years after 1905, though whether this reflected peasants' increased contempt for authority or the authorities' determination to restore the status quo is uncertain. Typical was the case of Dmitrii Proshkin of Tal'novaia village, Kasilovskii uezd, Riazan' province, in November 1906, while a guest at the house of his fellow-villagers, the Vlasovs:

on seeing a portrait of his Highness on the wall, [Proshkin] said: "Why

the devil have you stuck up a picture of Nikolashka. I'll kill him if he

ever comes near me". He then let forth all manner of indecent words

about the tsar and officials in general. When the Vlasovs said to Proshkin,

"Are you not afraid that God will punish you", he replied: "Who the

devil is God? You fear him if you will, but I have nothing to fear for

there is no God and no tsar".(24)

Yet it was in the cities, far more than in the villages, that the `decline in popular morality' was held to be most glaring. As early as June 1866, Tsar Alexander II, noting a significant increase in 'debauchery, depravity, and especially drunkenness' among the inhabitants of St Petersburg, ordered the police to take vigorous measures to assure the maintenance of decorum and morality.(25) Forty years later, little had changed for the better. In 1904 the police received so many complaints about swearing on the streets of the capital that they launched a crackdown, arresting anyone heard cursing. A voluntary society was formed to combat the deterioration in public morality.(26) By this stage, much public concern focused on the newly discovered figure of the `hooligan', who crystallized fears among the respectable classes that a new mood of defiance was welling up in the `lower depths'.(27) In St Petersburg in 1906, 104 out of every 1,000 convictions were for `hooliganism' (compared with 420 for theft).(28) And one of the principal forms of hooliganism was the use of foul language in public. In 1913 the governor of Ufa province, P. P. Bashilov, drew up a list of examples of hooligan behaviour, the first of which was: `lounging about day and night singing uncensored songs, using foul language'.(29) In fictional representations of the lower orders, swearing functioned as a standard trope to convey their brutalization. In a short story by Maxim Gorky, a group of men realize that the servant girl whom they have hitherto idolized has been seduced by a libertine soldier: `We could not endure this quietly. We immediately piled through the door and rushed into the yard where we began to whistle and bawl at her loudly, spitefully, savagely. She shuddered when she saw us, standing as though rooted in the dirt about her feet. We surrounded her and swore obscenities at her malevolently and without restraint, saying shameful things'.(30)

This chilling vignette reminds us how heavily gendered were the connotations of mat. Swearing was perceived as characteristically masculine speech and, traditionally, especially in the southern provinces of Russia, the use of mat in front of women was generally frowned upon.(31) We know little about the forms and extent of swearing by women themselves. Traditionally, women's access to the language of power and assertion has been limited, and it is likely that they swore less than men.(32) But in some regions, at least, women did swear, especially among themselves or on ritual occasions.(33) Despite this, the use of foul language by women particularly offended the sensibilities of the educated public in the late nineteenth century, and again was assumed to be something new: a deplorable consequence of urbanization and factory work.(34) As in western Europe at an earlier date, factory work was seen to place young women, in particular, in moral danger. Ul'iana Belousova, a worker at the Nevskaia Nitochnaia No. 1 mill, writing to the Menshevik women's newspaper about the dreadful conditions in which girls of twelve and thirteen toiled, commented: `they hear swearing and abuse from adults and pick up immoral habits'.(35) And the worker-memoirist, A. I. Shapovalov, recalls how at the age of twenty-five, as a member of the Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, he took leaflets to the Voronin mill during the 1896 textile strike. Crossing by ferry to get to the mill, he was appalled by the coarse conversation of the mill girls, who taunted him and even tried to grab his jacket, causing him to flee in panic.(36) The use of mat by urban women suggested that urban and industrial life was bringing about not only moral depravity but also a loss of femininity. It was perhaps the soldier's wife (soldatka), even more than the mill girl, who epitomized the `rough' urban woman. According to Agapit, bishop of Ekaterinoslav and Mariupol', in a report of 1916, `the soldiers' wives who pray so fervently in church... heap all kinds of abuse and revile their guardians, not excluding their priests, with indecent words and offensive aspersions'.(37)

From the 1880s a stratum of `conscious' workers emerged, who rebelled against the poverty and degradation which surrounded them and who struggled to advance themselves through education. Modelling themselves on the radical intelligentsia, they identified with the ideal of kul'turnost' which the intelligentsia represented.(38) This concept of `culturedness' connected ideas of growth of the individual to reflections on the evolution of society at large. On the one hand, it denoted inner cultivation, in the sense of intellectual development, refinement of manners and moral development: in short, the forging of a self worthy of man's innate dignity and capable of commanding respect in others. On the other hand, kul'turnost' was a sociological category used to evaluate the level of civilization achieved by a particular society along an evolutionary spectrum. In this respect, Russia was characterized precisely by its lack of kul'turnost', perceived as lying closer to `Asiatic' barbarism than to western-European civilization. By linking the development of the individual self to the development of civilization in society, kul'turnost' could be harnessed to radical political ends, to the struggle to break out of the `kingdom of darkness' into the realm of freedom and civilization.(39) For `conscious' workers, a crucial element in the acquisition of kul'turnost' was the repudiation of swearing. Like the intelligentsia, these workers saw the ubiquity of swearing as a symptom of lack of culture that enslaved Russian society. At the individual level, swearing was a sign of the underdevelopment of lichnost', that inner sense of personal dignity and worth as a human being, and a sign of lack of respect for others. And learning to regulate speech (and emotions) was seen as vital to achieving the intellectual and moral self-activity that was at the heart of kul'turnost'.(40) By extension, the capacity to control speech indicated an individual's potential to exercise control over wider aspects of working life and, ultimately, over society as a whole. At the social level, the widespread use of mat among workers was, for the conscious minority, a depressing reminder of the political backwardness of the working class. In the mid-1880s, at the age of thirteen, Shapovalov became an apprentice in the railway workshops of the Petersburg-Warsaw railway. He writes: `I completely accepted my position as an apprentice fitter. I became much rougher, more empty: I ceased reading books, learnt to drink, smoke and curse with the most select and most rich Russian swear-words. Such obscenities were heard the whole day in our workshop -- mat, mat, mat, mat -- they cried in one corner, -- mat, mat, mat, mat, they replied in another'.(41) A despairing carpenter from the St Petersburg glass company began a letter to the Bolshevik newspaper: `Fights, drunkenness, swearing are the only things that are developed at our workplace'.(42) Sacked from the bakery where he was an apprentice at the beginning of 1905, the young Boris Ivanov described the misery of unemployment: `days and weeks passed by among the unemployed bakers against a background of drunkenness and street obscenity. The great events that were taking place for some reason failed to touch their souls, all healthy thoughts and consciousness were stifled by the intoxication of wine and bad language'.(43) Here, swearing, along with drinking, brawling and card-playing, testified to the degradation of the working class, but also to its acquiescence in that subordination.

It is unlikely that `conscious' workers would have chosen to interpret mat in any other way, given the pervasiveness of the ideal of kul'turnost' in late imperial Russia. None the less, it is worth pointing out that in principle revolutionary-minded workers could have adopted a less censorious attitude, since mat had an intimate connection in peasant society with carnivalesque challenges to social and cultural authority. Historically, in the festivities of the Russian village, mat was used to satirize those in authority, operating connotatively through its sexual and bodily signifiers to challenge the subordination of ruler to ruled and `high' to `low' culture. According to Mikhail Bakhtin's classic account of carnival, the removal of linguistic taboos on words that denote reproductive and excretory functions promoted an ambience that was `frank and free, recognizing no distinctions between those involved, free from the usual (non-carnival) norms of etiquette and decency'.(44) Such carnivalesque use of language was associated in Russia with the skomorokhi, minstrels whose singing, dancing and bear-baiting were standard fare at festivities. In 1648, a time of intense popular unrest, tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich banned these minstrels, making specific reference to their singing `impious and foul songs'(bogomerzkie i skvernye pesni).(45) By the nineteenth century, of course, mat had lost much of its subversive charge, degenerating into what Bakhtin called `bare negation, pure cynicism and insult'.(46) Yet carnivalesque elements still thrived in many genres of folk art and entertainment, in the form of anti-clerical satire, bawdy tales and scatological humour. There was, for instance, a sub-genre of so-called `secret folk-tales' (zavetnye skazki) with a lecherous content, which were first collected by A. N. Afanas'ev (1826-71), the outstanding folklorist of the nineteenth century, as a supplement to his standard collection of folk-tales, published in 1855-64.(47) And his colleague, the eminent lexicographer and ethnographer, V. I. Dal', compiled in 1861 a collection of 368 obscene proverbs (poslovitsy).(48) In addition, there were hundreds of bawdy riddles (zagadki), chastushki and folk-songs still current in the nineteenth century.(49) As I. I. Zemtsovksii suggests, though these had a mainly sexual content, it was not the erotic as such that was at issue but rather `laughter and sin' (smekh i grekh), the exuberant cult of the `underneath'.(50) Given this tradition, one might have expected that `conscious' workers would take a more permissive attitude than the educated elites to the disrespectful vigour of mat, seeing in the exuberance of pupular speech a potentital weapon agaisnt authority. But this was not to be. `Conscious' workers adopted the same condemnatory attitude as the elites. While they might concede that it was excusable for a `backward' peasant to give vent to his rage against the political and social system by heaping curses on the tsar, for the worker only the complete rejection of swearing sufficed to demonstrate the existence of his lichnost', his determination not to be ground down by the prevailing ignorance and oppression, and his commitment to creating a just and civilized society.

We may note, finally, that because swearing was so strongly associated with Russia's lack of culture, it served as a recognized marker of Russian ethnicity. In a newspaper article of 1873, Dostoevsky grappled with the question of why Russians swore more than other nationalities, noting in his diary:

My intention was to prove the chastity of the Russian people, to show

that even if the people use foul language when they are in a drunken

state (for they swear incomparably less when they are sober), they do this

not out love of bad language, not out of the pleasure of swearing, but

simply out of nasty habit so that even thoughts and feelings that

are quite distant from obscenity become expressed in obscene words.

I further argued that to find the principal reason for this habit of

foul language one must look to drunkenness. When drunk, one's tongue

moves with difficulty yet one has a powerful desire to speak, and I

surmised that one resorts to short, conventional, expressive words. You

may make what you will of this conjecture. But that our people is

chaste, even when it is swearing, is worth pointing out.(51)

In its lack of pejorative tone, as well as in its bizarre conjecture that mat words fit the needs of drunken speech, Dostoevsky's view was typically idiosyncratic. More characteristic of attitudes to swearing among the intelligentsia in the late nineteenth century was Leon Trotsky, who in an article of May 1923, entitled `The Struggle for Cultured Speech', argued:

Swearing is the legacy of slavery, submissiveness, lack of respect for

human dignity, whether one's own or another's, and this is particularly

true in Russia... From the bottom [snizu], it expresses despair,

bitterness and, above all, slavery without hope. But the same obscenity

from above [sverkhu], coming from the throat of a nobleman or an uezd

police superintendent, is the expression of verbal superiority,

the slaveowners' self regard... Two sources of Russian bad language

-- that of the gentleman, the official, the police chief, well-fed,

with a plummy voice [s zhirkom v gorle], and the other voice,

hungry, desperate, overstrained.(52)

He went on: `We would have to ask philologists, linguists, folklorists if other nations have such unbridled, clinging [lipkaia; i.e., `sticky'], foul obscenity as we do. So far as I know, the answer is none or almost none'.(53) Swearing, like litter or disorder, thus served as a metonymy of Russianness by alluding to lack of culture (nekul'turnost') that was seen to be unfortunate lot of the Russian people. The young samovar-maker, A. Frolov, who had never set foot outside Russia, was sent by the Tula Social Democrats to attend a socialist conference in Tammerfors in December 1905. Sitting on a Finnish train, he was amazed:

They were simple folk -- I could tell this from their hands -- but they

were nicely dressed and didn't behave as we do. They didn't throw

cigarette ends on the floor or spit. The carriage was clean. They sat and

chatted in an orderly manner. I noticed one passenger go out, presumably

to the lavatory. Someone coming into the carriage took his seat. When

the passenger returned he said in his language that the seat belonged to

him. The man apologized and went into another carriage to find an

unoccupied seat. Among us it would have been inconceivable not to swear

at him and soon the whole carriage would have joined in.(54)

Finally, the connection of swearing to the Russian national character was often made implicitly. It is interesting to observe, for example, how often words for swearing, such as mat, bran', rugan', are preceded by an adjective that refers to Russianness, such as `choice Russian cursing' (otbornaia russkaia bran').(55)



In investigating how workers used mat to construct social identities, enforce collective norms and maintain group boundaries, the historian is reliant upon the memoirs of revolutionary workers and on letters written by workers to the socialist press. A couple of caveats regarding these sources are in order. By definition, they were written by `conscious' workers, for whom swearing figured as a symptom of the degradation of the working class under capitalism or as an indication of the way in which capitalists and their agents sought to demean and diminish workers. Consequently, there is much in their testimony about the workplace, but little about the uses of mat in the home or neighbourhood; much about mat as insult, but little about its other functions. Secondly, because it was impermissible to print the words that were actually spoken, the sources give only a general sense of the ways in which mat operated and do not allow us to investigate lexicon. Complaints from workers sometimes report insults, but though unpleasant, these never involve mat as such (i.e., the taboo words relating to sexual and bodily functions). For example, a female employee of the George Borman chocolate factory in St Petersburg wrote: `the forewomen do not shrink from using words like "scum" etc.'. Here, the Russian word, though not a mat word, is abbreviated to `svol ...' (svoloch).(56) Another complainant tells us that tavern waitresses were treated worse than prostitutes, yet the insults she cites are `bitch' (sterva, quite a strong word, one of whose literal meanings is `carrion'), `mare' (kobyla), and `filth' (paskuda) -- nasty, to be sure, but probably a pale reflection of the language actually used.(57) However, it may not always have been the case that correspondents censored the language used to avoid offending public decency, for after the 1905 Revolution, verbal abuse, which to a contemporary western reader might seem rather mild, such as the insult `devil's head' (cherteva golova), came to seem grievously insulting to those at whom it was hurled. Male tavern employees complained bitterly about being called `son of a bitch' (sukin syn), `scoundrel' (merzavets), or `mangy pup' (parshivyi shchenok).(58) Such sensitivity connects to changes in the political context which had made workers increasingly assertive of their dignity.

It is the use of mat by those in authority that looms largest in the discourse of the `conscious' workers. Even in the relatively advanced engineering plants of St Petersburg the style of management was often crude, a throw-back to the days of serfdom. Managerial power worked by making a spectacle of itself, imposing discipline through fear. A worker at the steam-engine workshops of the Nikolaev railway in St Petersburg described the working conditions thus: `The worker works to the sound of the foulest obscenity and the despotic cries of the foremen, senior workers and brigade-leaders. And the workers do not lag behind their bosses [nachal'niki] when it comes to vulgar abuse'.(59) At the Zhukov oil mill, a worker wrote: `the administration [nachal'stvo] treats us crudely. The senior worker stands out for his insolence and roughness. He was formerly a worker like us ... He swears at us using all kinds of words, forcing us to do intolerable jobs by means of obscenity'.(60) In the sorting shop of the State Engraving Plant, the senior guard, Boriska, was said to regard himself as king of the shop: `he deals with the workers extremely crudely, and frequently turns from choice swear-words to action with his fists'.(61)

During the 1905 Revolution one of the principal demands of the nascent labour movement was for polite treatment by employers. As a consequence of strikes and organization, as well as of the concessions made by the autocracy, workers became much less tolerant of abusive language, which they construed not merely as a denial of dignity, but as a symptom of the arbitrariness (proizvol) of the social system as a whole. An insult from a foreman now came to resonate with all the injustices to which working people were subject under autocratic capitalism. Even after the regime regained the upper hand in 1907, complaints to the Factory Inspectorate about insulting and humiliating behaviour continued at a high level.(62) It was not that management was behaving worse -- if anything the reverse was true -- rather that the political context in which workers perceived linguistic usages had changed. A flavour of the new-found sensitivity to insult can be seen in a report of an incident on the Krylov building site on Vezembergskaia street in the capital on 28 June 1912. A brick layer dumped his load on a spot that did not please the official foreman (kazennyi desiatnik):

the foreman began to roast [kalit'] the brick-layer, but he, being a

conscious worker, demanded that he address him in a proper fashion. This

provoked a torrent of abuse such as even a den of "former people" can

have seldom heard. A gentleman, who happened to be passing by, pointed

out that he had no right to use such foul language on the street. The

foreman began to make excuses, but the brick-layer told the gentleman:

"this is the way the government foreman talks to us workers". When the

gentleman had gone, the foreman told the worker he was fired, but the

worker threatened to report him to his superiors. At this the foreman

exploded: "I am tsar and God on this building site, and if I don't like

someone, then I get rid of him ... We're running a building site not a


The number of complaints by female workers about the use of mat increased significantly in the years after 1905. A group of women at the Westinghouse plant in St Petersburg declared in 1910: `Life is not worth living under foreman Kremer. He makes lascivious suggestions, invites us to the bath-houses, shows us depraved postcards, and generally behaves not like a factory foreman at all, but like a sultan in his harem'.(64) A woman who humorously signed herself `dry cock' (sukhoi petukh) wrote to the Bolshevik women workers' newspaper to complain about the manager of the bottle-making department of the No.4 Wine Depot: `Ernest Shtraman does not consider us women workers to be people: "Hey, you, you wet hen [mokraia kuritsa]", is his constant cry. And if, God help us, through carelessness there is some mishap, some slight fault in our work he soon resorts to swearing. Then it's not "wet hen" we hear, but something much worse'.(65) And at the New Aivaz engineering works, the storekeeper, Belousov, was said to `curse the women inspectors with words which one hears only among the Purishkeviches, Markovs and such-like people, but which under no circumstances are permitted among workers, especially not in front of women comrades'.(66) As with male workers, the revolution had made women less tolerant of behaviour on the part of management which once they might have acquiesced in. Yet we shall see that not all their complaints were against management. In these years women workers also gave voice to their disgruntlement about the way male workers behaved towards them.

Male workers did not use mat solely, or even mainly, as a form of abuse, more as a means of entertaining themselves. Traditionally, young men in the countryside had amused themselves with extravagant displays of mat. In 1924 a worker (rabfak) student described evenings in his Penza village: `we played cards... and if there was a concertina we would dance and sing chastushki. We amused ourselves by indulging in obscenities, a game in which everyone tried not to be left behind, and thus be considered an idiot'.(67) Peasants who left the village in search of work continued to entertain themselves in this fashion. The young, fifteen-year-old Latvian, Eduard Dune, coming to Moscow in 1915 from Riga, took his first job as a loader on a construction site where he got to know several `illiterate poets and story-tellers who improvised around various incidents or adventures in their daily lives'.(68)

I recall a fat, heavy-faced youth, a complete illiterate who on pay-day

would drink away his wages, who was a master of the sharp-witted

chastushka -- admittedly of a rather obscene kind. For every passer-by

he would invent some clever and totally unexpected jingle. He would

break into an improvisation as the figure drew near, and then subside as

they drew away. The appearance of the next person -- whether young

or old, handsome or ugly, fat or thin -- would spark some new association,

which would spontaneously form itself into words and rhyme. The words

were rough and crude, but the rhyme could become tenderly caressing if

a woman happened to please him. It would then seem as though a

completely different person were singing the chastushka. Sometimes we

would ask him to sing again the one that he had made up that morning

about the school ma'am who had passed by, but he could never repeat it.(69)

This playful use of mat was not exclusive to workers who were still tied to the village. In other work cultures, mat -- in the shape of songs, jokes, anecdotes -- helped to stave off boredom and amuse fellow workers. This was recognized by Valerian Pletnev, for many years a joiner, who became president of Proletkult in late 1920. In 1923 (the year in which Trotsky wrote his essay on swearing), he offered some thoughts on the subject. Whereas for Trotsky swearing was a sign of slave mentality, Pletnev, while not approving it, stressed the amusing and inventive ways in which workers used mat. For obvious reasons, he was not able to give examples in print, though he did mention some of the humorous forms of euphemism and evasion that workers resorted to in an effort to avoid uttering mat words: `mat' tvoi ... poimat"; `za otsa zamuzh otdat"; `stupai ty k obednemateria".(70) Adepts developed mat into a fine art, delighting their listeners with virtuoso exploitation of the resources of the Russian language. Standard tricks might involve the invention of a mat verb to `shadow' a conventional verb: izrabotat'sia, for example, meaning `to be worn out from work', could be replaced by iz"ebat'sia, a neologism conveying the same sense.(71) Puns were another way of demonstrating prowess. Skilled practitioners would take a syllable or longer phonetic string from a standard word having a phonetic similarity with a known mat parallel and substitute the latter for the former: thus the word for `beef' (goviadina) might become govniadina, combining the word for `beef' with the word for `shit' (govno).(72) Euphemism and deliberate avoidance of an expected swear word were other tricks that could be used to humorous effect. Mat could thus be a means of entertainment, a way of mitigating the boredom that is a standard part of modern work.

Mat was also used to masculinize the culture of the workplace. The uproarious chastushka, the bawdy pun, the indecent anecdote, verbal sparring, banter, innuendo, sexual braggadocio, all served as mechanisms of male bonding. Swearing was a way of demonstrating that you were one of the lads, a way of gaining acceptance from the group. As an essayist in the newspaper of the printers' union complained in 1907: `It is well known to us all that the atmosphere of the printing shop from morning until evening is filled with the most "exemplary" swearing. After holidays every comrade considers it his "moral" duty to relate to others his "holiday adventures", calling things by their proper names without any embarrassment in the presence of women or apprentices'.(73) Mat was not only a way of letting off steam, it was also way in which men sustained their manliness in an environment which conspired to make them feel subordinate and disempowered. Rough talk, an obscene joke, were ways of suffusing work with masculine significance. A St Petersburg compositor recalled:

Foul language ... was used for almost everything, in every situation,

without the slightest modesty before the young apprentices (there were

still no women). Stories and talk to apprentices were always seasoned

with street corner swearing. And when they swore, they swore strongly,

with force, usually triply compounded obscenities, facetious sayings and

proverbs all in the same breath. It was a kind of game... For the most

part, the talk among workers was about boozing and about various adventures

with women and sexual encounters. All was spoken openly, shamelessly,

down to the last detail.(74)

The appeal to masculinity could sometimes lessen the gap between workers and the administration. A group of workers at the Leman letter foundry wrote to Pravda to complain about their manager:

We know quite well why the more conscious and steadfast workers are

not to Haupt's liking, for he knows he can't treat them crudely. He

behaves in a quite unruly way, delighting in flaunting his power and

swearing in the most depraved fashion (we workers have complained to

the board of directors about this on several occasions). And he can't show

his favourite pornographic pictures to the conscious workers, for they

have no interest in such `artistic' filth ... Yet the drunkards in the

workshop are proud of the fact that their manager behaves so informally

towards them ... Now Haupt is saying that he will only hire workers

from Moscow, and that no one who is dressed smartly will be taken on.(75)

Because of his identification with this culture, in which alcohol, a sniggering prurience and misogyny were key elements, the manager was seen by the `backward' majority as one of them, although their admiration was evidently tinged with fear, whereas the minority of class-conscious workers kept their distance from such camaraderie, even at risk of being seen as priggish.

A crucial ingredient in male work culture was talk that tended to demean women (use of the term baba, for example). In the last decade of tsarism, the proportion of women in industry grew rather rapidly, and the threat which male workers perceived in the introduction of cheap female labour may have caused them deliberately to seek to make life on the shop-floor difficult for women workers.(76) At the New Aivaz works a group of `conscious workers' complained about the behaviour of their fellow males. When a new woman asked for advice, it would provoke `immodest innuendoes': `They say things that directly diminish woman's dignity or insult woman's honour. Sometimes they go as far as directly criminal actions, making filthy suggestions and attempting to carry them out'.(77) In the No. 1 cable shop of the Cable Works in St Petersburg there were only five women in 1914: `the women workers will only go to the toilet when the foreman is not there, otherwise they have to listen to vulgar abuse from him ... The male comrades are completely indifferent to this'.(78)


Trade unions flourished between 1905 and the onset of reaction in June 1907. Although they saw their principal task as a fight for improved wages, shorter hours and better treatment for their members, as organizations of `conscious' workers, they were also concerned to `raise the cultural-intellectual level of the working masses'.(79) They were particularly active in campaigning against drunkenness, which was endemic among workers of all types. But one relatively minor stake in their struggle to propagate kul'turnost' was a campaign to discourage the use of mat, which was particularly vigorous in the print trade. In its tariff of 1907 the St Petersburg printers' union proposed work rules that prohibited shouting, noise, singing, loud conversation, arguing, swearing, drinking and playing games.(80) The regulations of the Energiia print works prescribed that workers `are obliged to be polite with one another and to adopt a correct attitude towards apprentices. There is to be no swearing or fighting on the premises'. The `autonomous commissions', which printers set up to represent their interests vis-a-vis the administration, imposed fines for swearing, usually of five to ten kopecks, the money to be given to the unemployed. This was justified on the grounds that `foul language uttered in the presence of apprentices corrupts their morality and arouses base instincts in them'.(81) Another resolution, couched in the Marxist idiom of the embryonic Proletkul't movement, proclaimed: `foul language injures the dignity of those who belong to that class which is the bearer of the new proletarian culture that is due to replace the rotten culture of the bourgeoisie. Only the lack of respect for the human personality that exists under the bourgeois system gives rise to cursing and foul language'.(82) Not surprisingly, women workers took up the cudgels against swearing, usually as part of a campaign against heavy drinking. In 1907 a meeting of female shoemakers at the Bol'she-Oktenskoe cemetery in St Petersburg demanded that men in the workshops stop using obscene words and that they be banned from coming to work drunk.(83) After the so-called Stolypin coup of June 1907, the campaign against mat ran into the sands, as the trade unions came under increasing repression from the authorities.

The campaign revived after the February Revolution of 1917. As in the late imperial period, mat was never as serious a concern of the labour movement as heavy drinking or gambling, yet it never died away. At the Nevka cotton mill on 20 March 1917 the factory committee declared: `the old system has been overthrown by us, and all the old habits which existed under it must also be swept away ... we call on all workers to take energetic steps to educate themselves and re-educate themselves in the new life. They should forget those crude swear words which at present are spoken in all quarters of the mill'.(84) A similar resolution was passed by the factory committee at the Fel'zer works in Nizhnii Novgorod: `We must ensure that individuals do not compromise us, the participants in the struggle, by tactless behaviour. Let there be no unnecessary rudeness in our relations with one another and with the administration... Let there be no insults in word or deed'.(85) Some years later, workers at the Paris Commune footwear factory revived the practice of fining people for swearing (vyrazhenia).(86) And in 1924 workers' delegates at the Trekhgornaia textile factory in Moscow agreed to `carry out a resolute struggle with matershchina and hooliganism, these remnants of slavery'.(87)

The October Revolution and the Civil War had a substantial and relatively rapid impact on the Russian language (although none on the lexicon of mat itself). Political jargon, foreign words, military locutions and novel acronyms swept into everyday speech. Among young people, especially those in the Communist Youth League (Komsomol), `proletarian' forms of speech, including the slang of the urban slums, village colloquialisms and criminal argot, became fashionable.(88) This is nicely illustrated in the summary of the plot of a story by V. Gerasimova: `Outwardly Irinka has become a complete Komsomol -- instead of "eat" she says "nosh" [shamat']; instead of "lads and lasses" [rebiata] she says robia. Her vocabulary is full of peculiar Komsomol expressions, such as to "stew" [zaparit'sia]'.(89) Along with the vogue for `proletarian' slang went a deliberate `roughening' of speech patterns, possibly a by-product of the brutalization of social life that accompanied the Civil War. According to Vladimir Slepkov:

The sharp Komsomol in perfect command of such "literary" turns of

phrase as "smack you in the gob" ... is considered by companionable

comrades to be entirely ideologically reliable, evidently of proletarian

origin... Comrades, who consider it more cultivated or polite to address

others as vy [the polite form], in certain circumstances are accused by

Komsomol members of coming from a socially alien background or, at

least, of not having broken with the remnants of a bourgeois education

... In Komsomol hostels they have their own lexicon of crude, strong

and remarkably unceremonious expressions, calculated to be undemanding

and simple.(90)

Many said that one facet of the general coarsening of language was a greater tolerance of mat, what Emelian Iaroslavskii called a `certain cynicism and dissoluteness in language'.(91) A printer observed that `in the matter of mat we have long since surpassed our pre-war level'.(92) A report on a print works in Cheboksari noted: `In the sphere of obscenity our youth is one hundred points ahead of any experienced worker. Try going into an apprentice school and you will find the air so thick with mat that you recoil in fright'.(93) A female typesetter wrote: `In all the wall newspapers comrades write about eliminating obscene language from the print shop, but up till now the notices and articles are like a voice crying in the wilderness. Not only non-party comrades curse but, most shamefully, also party members'.(94)

It was in reaction to this trend that a `struggle for cultured speech' (bor'ba za kul'turnuiu rech') was launched in 1923-4, directed at young people in general, and at the Komsomol, in particular. The objectives of the campaign, according to one of its protagonists, were `cleanliness, precision and grammatical correctness' (chistoplotnost', chetkost' i gramotnost') in speech.(95) According to N. Markovskii:

We must engage seriously with the question of cultured speech, must

learn to speak correctly, in a cultured fashion. Unfortunately, there

are among us many Komsomol members who have not yet acquired

cultured speech. We mangle the proper names of things, pronounce them

unclearly... In fact, we ought to wage a merciless struggle against such

"workers' "language. Why cannot the Komsomol member -- a working

youth -- not speak the purest Russian? Why is speaking in thieves' cant

considered in some places to be speaking in the style of a worker? They

reply that we must never forget the "traditions" of the working class...

But it is our language, our achievement, our culture. We must not be

afraid of being educated, we must not be afraid of intellectual distinction

... The Komsomol cannot be cultured (and he ought to be) if he does

not know his native tongue.(96)

In schools and clubs throughout Soviet Russia children were urged to monitor and improve their use of Russian and avoid vulgarisms of all kinds. In a comic novel about a Soviet schoolboy, set at the time of the struggle for cultured speech, the teacher suggests that using mat is like coming to school with manure on one's boots, unwashed and covered in insects. The pupils agree to ban all words `worse than "devil" `, including the words `scum' and `swine'.(97)

The campaign for cultured speech was far more than an effort to get youngsters to speak Russian correctly. It was a constituent element in the `cultural revolution', about which the Bolsheviks talked in earnest from the mid-1920s. `Cultural revolution', according to N. I. Bukharin, meant nothing less than a `revolution in human characteristics, in habits, feelings and desires, in way-of-life and culture'.(98) Within this perspective, issues to do with language, individual conduct, manners, dress and sexual behaviour, once seen as largely private matters, became stakes in a political struggle to preserve the collective Soviet body from the forces of commercialization and privatization that assailed it in the market-oriented conditions of the New Economic Policy (NEP). As Eric Naiman has suggested, during NEP the relationship of private to public life was an issue fraught with anxiety for the Bolsheviks, for whom `the life of the social organism was seen to depend on the course assumed by the personal lives of its members'.(99) Yet though the vision of cultural revolution was marked by a distinct utopianism, it remained anchored in the late nineteenth-century ideal of kul'turnost'. Indeed, in Lenin's rather moderate version of `cultural revolution', the key tasks of the day were the propagation of literacy and solid work habits among the masses.(100) In the new Soviet Russia kul'turnost', always a capacious concept, embraced a wide variety of cultural practices from punctuality, clean fingernails, having a basic knowledge of biology, to carrying out trade-union activities efficiently. And its antithesis, nekul'turnost' was deployed in an equally wide-ranging manner to encompass anything from poor personal hygiene, drunkenness, ignorance of Marxism to going to church. Its promiscuous connotations were neatly captured in a notice pinned on the wharf in Samara: `Do not throw rubbish about, do not strike a match near the oil pumps, do not spit sunflower seeds, and do not swear or use bad language'.(101)

The intrinsically purposive character of kul'turnost' was accentuated in NEP Russia, so that it became increasingly synonymous with striving to live according to the requirements and aspirations of the Soviet order. Whereas the Civil War had lauded values such as heroism, sacrifice and combativity, under NEP, according to A. Zalkind, `smartness, discipline, training and self-organization are the requisite qualities of the new way-of-life [byt]'.(102) In his preface to a volume of essays on the `new wayof-life', A. Slepkov contrasted the `healthy, energetic, cultured social activists, dedicated to socialism' to the `petty-bourgeois mongrels or those who suffer from moral and ideological rickets'.(103) These `petty-bourgeois mongrels' were exemplified in the figure of the hooligan, who once again grabbed public attention from the mid-1920s. As the newspaper of the Leningrad regional Komsomol declared, `the struggle for the new way-of-life is, in the first place, a struggle against hooliganism'.(104) The concern with hooliganism arose from the fact that the early years of NEP saw a sharp increase in the number of convictions for public order offences. In St Petersburg, for example, between 1922 and 1926 the number of convictions rose ten-fold; and the majority of those convicted were working-class males under the age of twenty-five (in contrast to the late imperial period when the average offender was rather older and less likely to be a worker).(105) Whereas prior to the First World War, hooliganism had served to crystallize the fears of respectable society about the threat posed by the lower classes, the rising tide of antisocial behaviour now seemed like an infection that threatened the health of the Soviet body politic, one whose cause was by no means clear.(106) According to Iaroslavskii, `hooliganism under the tsar could be said to be due to the oppressive conditions under which people lived, but since these have been abolished some other reason must be found for it. The youth of the villages are not sufficiently educated, they do not understand sufficiently the interests of the class that is forging ahead -- the labouring class. Such behaviour is proof of individualism and shows its perpetrators are delasse'.(107) `Hooliganism' could encompass anything from rape to rowdiness, drunkenness to staying away from work after pay-day, but mat, as ever, remained a sure mark of the hooligan.(108) A criminologist began a list of hooligan acts as follows: `the exercise of natural functions in a public place, going about naked, matershchina, singing of bawdy songs, pestering women, throwing snuff in people's eyes'.(109) And in a speech to the Fifteenth Party Conference in October 1926, M. Tomskii mockingly cited the administrative code of Vladimir province, which banned `the public utterance of abusive, uncensored words, mischievous hooligan acts against the persons of individual citizens, and pestering them in public places',(110)

Within an ideological field bounded by cultural revolution on the one side and hooliganism on the other, mat both carried the associations it had had since the late nineteenth century and acquired new ones. Swearing continued to signify the general lack of culture in Russian society, but now, in particular, the `old' society, with its legacy of serfdom, poverty, illiteracy, drunkenness, superstition and wife-beating. According to Professor Orshanskii, `in so far as the old way-of-life still survives, obscene language is not yet outgrown; it requires a long struggle, principally, using educational means'.(111) Secondly, the associations between mat and political backwardness became more marked. Prior to the Revolution the backwardness of the masses, although deplorable, was something they at least could not help; now there was little excuse for persisting in backward political behaviour when the new way of life beckoned. Thirdly, the association of mat with male chauvinism intensified. Between 1920 and 1924 women were encouraged by the trade unions to complain about the uncomfortable atmosphere created in the workshop by men's language and about the way that pay grades and jobs were assigned in return for sexual favours.(112) From the mid-1920s, there was much talk about the link between swearing and `uncomradely' behaviour towards women:

We must carry out serious work among the Komsomol masses with a

view to educating them to have a comradely attitude towards girls. We

need to struggle decisively against every type of contemptuous and indecent

behaviour towards girls: "a mare is not a horse, a baba is not a

person". We must declare a decisive struggle with all kinds of obscene

language, with hooliganism, with bawdy stories in the presence of girls,

with all seemingly "comradely" behaviour towards a girl that is designed

only to "catch" her. All such behaviour forces girls to flee from the


Many Komsomol organizations banned members from using `incorrect words', and one woman was even barred from admission because she swore in an 'unbecoming' fashion.(114) One Komsomol cell wrote of the great efforts it had made to involve young women in its activities -- all to no avail. The men had tried to amuse the women, to respect their 'girlish bashfulness', to avoid indecent language ('except in debates on international questions, in view of their intolerable complexity') and to involve them in the affairs of the organization by -- they tell us with disarming frankness -- setting them to wash floors, clean windows and take the minutes of meetings!(115) As this example suggests, a deliberate display of not swearing could just as easily be a way of upholding gender boundaries as violent language against women -- an unconscious message to women that 'you are different, out of place'.(116) So, even as the campaign against swearing tried to extirpate brutish behaviour by men, it also served indirectly as a way of reinforcing definitions of masculinity and femininity.(117)

While many cogent reasons were adduced to justify Bolshevik objections to swearing -- the need for young people to acquire 'cultured speech', the need to combat hooliganism, the unacceptability of male chauvinism, and so forth -- at the deepest level much of the distaste may have sprung from a revulsion at the intimate association of mat with what Bakhtin called the 'grotesque body'.(188) Mat celebrated gross corporeality, the lower physical faculties, fecundity and decay, nature and excess, things that sat uneasily with Bolshevik asceticism and horror of being engulfed by nature. Eric Naiman has drawn attention to a dread of the female body that haunted Bolshevik ideology during NEP, which, he suggests, was a projection of wider fears of loss of political and ideological control,(119) If he is correct, it is possible to see in the efforts to discourage mat a defence mechanism against the disorderly excess of popular speech, the libidinal energies of the body and the elemental forces of nature, which threatened to overwhelm the orderly, rational and controlling will of the party-state.

One of the few areas in which the Bolsheviks did tolerate mat was in the campaign against religion. In this very particular context, campaigners against religion drew on the carnivalesque traditions of the common folk by organizing rites that parodied Orthodox ceremonies through a process of symbolic inversion. In one such ritual, for example, a 'priest', wearing a travesty of a sacerdotal robes, held a 'red mass', surrounded by cartoons of saints and portraits of communist leaders, which culminated in the smashing of large puppets, representing God the Father, Christ, Buddha and Allah: 'The choir sang well-known hymns, the altered words of which made mock of Christ, the Mother of God and the saints in a filthy manner. Sometimes the tune itself was dragged in the mud by the unexpected introduction of a few bars of a revolutionary song or even an obscene street ballad'.(120) Mat also figured in other facets of the anti-religion campaign. It was reported, for example, that rural Komsomol members invented lewd chastushki along the lines: 'God, oh God / What are you doing? / Instead of working / The Virgin, you're screwing'.(121) Writing about chastushki, N. Morev commented: 'It is characteristic that almost all chastushki referring to God, the saints, the Virgin, are full of such strong language that they are ... unprintable'.(122) I can only speculate that the toleration of mat in this context was a reaction to the fact that the church had always been in the forefront of the battle to extirpate mat, which it deprecated as pagan, blasphemous and lecherous speech.

This exception to the general proscription on mat suggests that not all Bolsheviks saw the matter in the same way. Among some Komsomol activists, for example, there was resistance to the struggle for cultured speech, though I have come across no attempts directly to defend the use of mat. According to one writer: 'When comrades are reproached for speaking in this fashion [i.e., unculturedly], they immediately bristle. "Can you believe they are forcing us to speak in the language of intellectuals, which has nothing in common with our Komsomol language!" Those who reproach them are then accused of being deviationists, out of touch with the masses'.(123) And according to another commentator, the response of those rebuked for crude language was: 'Maybe our language is rather crude and primitive, but we are not intelligenty, we are illiterate proletarians who haven't studied at university'.(124) Those who resisted the pressures to speak 'properly' clearly resented the elitism of the Bolshevik Kulturtrager, and the tactic they used against them was to accuse them meshchanstvo. This term, which in its historic meaning referred to the lower-middle estate of Russia's towns, had in the course of the nineteenth century come to acquire pejorative connotations of being 'petty bourgeois', philistine and narrow-minded.(125) In the discourse of the late nineteenth-century intelligentsia, the 'narrowness, flatness and lack of individuality' of the meshchanstvo was regularly counterposed to its own creative individualism and its commitment to liberate the 'vital forces of the people'.(126) By the Soviet period, the term meshchanskii tended to denote those who lived everyday life for its own sake, without heed to the great drama of socialist construction that was going on around them. And much of the discourse of cultural revolution during NEP turned on the antinomy of 'revolutionary' versus meshchanskii. Those young Komsomols who resisted the exhortation to speak correctly turned the latter term to their advantage, by suggesting that it was a petty-bourgeois fixation with respectability that had nothing to do with the cultural revolution: 'For eight years we've been struggling against meshchanstvo, and now they want to drag us back into that swamp'.(127) The tactic was quite effective, since meshchantsvo, though a label much used, was hard to define. The Bolsheviks never rejected bourgeois values in their entirety. The cultured Soviet citizen was expected to possess certain bourgeois virtues, yet avoid being bourgeois. He or she was required to be punctual, efficient, orderly and neat in appearance; yet too zealous an interest in these things -- in good manners, nice clothes, tidy hair or in art and literature laid one open to the charge of meshchanstvo,(128) The line between kul'turnost' and meshchanstvo was thus ill-defined and shifting, and it was easy for individuals to find themselves on the wrong side of it.

During the 'Cultural Revolution' of 1928 to 1931, which accompanied forced collectivization and the First Five-Year Plan, the struggle for cultured speech faded from the political agenda,(129) I can only speculate as to why this was so. Persisting resentment at meshchanstvo was, no doubt, a factor. The workers who rose through the ranks of the party and administration of industry, many of them former peasants with relatively little schooling, had little in common with the ethos of the pre-Revolutionary 'conscious' worker and may have resented anything that drew attention to their educational and cultural deficiencies. Moreover, during the Stalin era it became acceptable for the new breed of official to use mat. Whereas the strongest word that Lenin had used was 'shit', Stalin used mat words freely, at least in private.(130) In addition, the ideal of kul'turnost' underwent further redefinition during the 1930s, coming to centre more on the punctilious performance of social duties, particularly in the sphere of production, than on inner orientation towards the goals of socialism. And though strongly linked to habits of order, efficiency and ate what once had been seen as 'bourgeois' concerns about possessions and social status, especially among the upwardly mobile. During the 1930s it became de rigueur for model Soviet workers to uphold certain standards in dress, personal appearance, bodily hygiene or home furnishings.(131) Within this reconfiguration of kul'turnost' swearing continued to be frowned upon -- in 1936 the Komsomol whipped up another short-lived campaign against 'dirty talk'(132) -- but swearing was fast becoming depoliticized, a matter of taste rather than of revolutionary virtue. Kul'turnost' in its Stalinist rendition is well captured in a piece written by a Stakhanovite textile worker, Milovanova, for her factory newspaper. She explained that before leaving for work each day she was careful to clean her shoes, look into the mirror and arrange her dress: 'Now I no longer swear, because I know that for Stakhanovites it is not in character'.(133) What had changed here was not the element of self-monitoring that was signified by controlled speech and a cultivated appearance, rather it was a shift in emphasis from an inner-directed need to assert one's lichnost' to a desire to be seen to behave properly in public. Whereas between 1905 and the 1920s not to swear had been a sign of personal 'conversion', of stubborn opposition to the status quo, it now became part of the accoutrement of the loyal worker, a sign of social conformity.

Mat was a key element in the shifting discourse of kul'turnost' through which educated Russians reflected on the state of society. Though its particular connotations changed, as Russia changed its rulers -- from moral degradation of the common people, to sedition, to hooliganism, to political backwardness -- neither the late imperial nor the Bolshevik authorities looked on mat as politically neutral. Moreover, those who fought to overthrow the tsarist order, including the 'conscious' workers, viewed mat in the same negative way as the educated elites in general. Although peasants and workers might utilize mat to insult their social superiors, revolutionaries showed no inclination to vindicate it as a 'weapon of the weak'. 134 Towards the end of the Soviet regime, mat did acquire a politically subversive function, as obscene chastushki or anekdot, puncturing the pretensions of the party-state, grew in popularity.(135) One writer has recently described the use of mat in the post-Stalin era as a 'rebellion against the semantically ruined, mendacious language of official propaganda' and a 'little island of freedom in the kingdom of totalitarianism'. (136) Pointing to the explosion of anecdotes about Lenin, Radio Armenia and the Civil War hero, Chapaev, in the 1960s, V. Gershuni has argued that that decade marked the 'triumphal march of language that had been in disgrace' (opal'noi slovesnosti) when the (male) intelligentsia for the first time 'armed itself' with mat as weapon of social satire.(137) But that is another story.

(*) This article would not have been written without the encouragement of Catriona Kelly, who plied me unstintingly with references and shared insights from her own research on gentility in Russian culture. Diane Koenker read the article with a searching eye, saving me from many errors and pointing me in the direction of some useful sources for the 1920s. Irina Korovushkina was a lively source of advice and comment and also provided me with references. In addition, I am grateful for the thoughtful criticisms of Geoff Crossick, Mike Rapport, John Walter and Chris Ward.

(1) Speaking without swearing is like cabbage soup without tomato'.

(2) E. Limonov, Eto ia -- Edichka (New York, 1979). There is an English translation: It's Me -- Eddie: A Fictional Memoir (New York, 1983).

(3) Russkii Mat: Antologiia [Russian Mat: An Anthology], ed. F. N. Iliasova (Moscow, 1994); A. N. Afanas'ev, Russkie zavetnye skazki [Russian Secret Folk Tales] (Geneva, 1872; repr. Moscow, 1994); Ozornye chastushki [Naughty Chastushki], 3 vols. (Moscow, 1994); Anti-mir russkoi kul'tury: iazyk, fol'klor, literatura [The Anti-World of Russian Culture: Language, Folklore, Literature], ed. N. Bogomolov (Moscow, 1996); Seks i erotika v russkoi traditsionnoi kul'ture [Sex and Erotica in Russian Traditional Culture], ed. A. L. Toporkov (Moscow, 1996).

(4) Geoffrey Hughes, Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English (Oxford, 1991), 3, 11.

(5) The word mat does not appear to have been in wide use before this century. In Muscovite Russia the adjective maternyi (often affixed to the word for bran', `abuse'), or matnyi, is common, as is the now archaic noun materny, all of which refer to foul and indecent abuse: I. I. Sreznevskii, Materialy dlia slovaria drevne-russkago iazyka [Materials for a Dictionary of Ancient Russian], 3 vols. (St Petersburg, 1893-1903), ii, 117; Slovar' russkogo iazyka XI-XVII vv. [Dictionary of the Russian Language from the Eleventh to the Seventeenth Centuries], 20 vols. to date (Moscow, 1975-), ix, 43, 46. By the beginning of the nineteenth century the dictionary still cites maternyi (giving `foul word' -- maternoe slovo -- as its example), but also matershchina which it defines as `indecent abuse' (neblagopristoinaia bran'): Slovar' Akademii Rossiiskoi [Dictionary of the Russian Academy], 6 pts (St Petersburg, 1806-22), pt 3, 714. The dictionary of V. I. Dal', first published in 1864, also records these terms, along with maternost', defined as `obscenity' (pakhabstvo) and maternik, defined as an `obscene person' or `indecent curser' (pakhabnik, nepristoinyi rugatel'): Tolkovyi slovar' zhivogo velikorusskogo iazyka Vladimira Dalia [Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great Russian Language of Vladimir Dal'], 4 vols., 3rd edn (St Petersburg, 1903-9), ii, 802. The first dictionary in which I found the word mat was that of the Academy of Sciences. This defined mat as `obscene abuse' (maternaia bran') and as `foul language' (skvernoslovie): Slovar' russkogo iazyka Akademii Nauk SSSR [The USSR Academy of Sciences Dictionary of the Russian Language], 2nd edn (Leningrad, 1932), vi, pt 1, 414-15. The etymology of mat is not definite. The word does not appear in Max Vasmer, Russisches Etymologisches Worterbuch, 3 vols. (Heidelberg, 1953). Most assume that the word is directly related to the word for mother (mat'). And many uses of the word link it to abuse of one's mother. A nice example comes in a song from Arkhangel'sk province: `He swore and cursed his very own mother / With such unseemly curses / Such unseemly curses, all of them mother-oaths' (On branit-rugaet da rodnuiu matushku / On takoiu branoiu nepodobnoiu / Nepodobnoiu branoiu vse po-matgrnu): A. D. Grigor'ev, Arkhangel'skie byliny i istoricheskie pesni [Epic Poems and Historical Songs from Arkhangel], 2 vols, (Moscow, 1904), i, 96.

(6) According to Bronislaw Malinowski, `the incestuous type of swearing ... is in Europe the speciality of the Slavonic nations, among whom the Russians take the lead': Bronislaw Malinowski, Sex and Repression in Savage Society (Chicago, 1927), 105.

(7) V. I. Zhel'vis, Pole brani: skvernoslovie kak sotsial'naia problema [The Field of Abuse: Bad Language as a Social Problem] (Moscow, 1997), 157. The German scholar, Adam Olearius, who first visited Russia in 1634, wrote: 'When their indignation flares and they use swear-words, they do not resort to imprecations involving the sacraments -- as unfortunately is often the case with us -- consigning to the devil, abusing as a scoundrel etc. Instead they use many vile and loathsome words, which, if the historical record did not demand it, I should not impart to chaste ears. They have nothing on their tongue more often than "son of a whore", "son of a bitch", "cur", "I fuck your mother", to which add "into the grave", and similar scandalous speech. Not only adults and old people behave thus, but also little children who do not yet know the name of God, or father, or mother, already have on their lips "fuck you", and say it as well to their parents as their parents to them': The Travels of Olearius in Seventeenth-Century Russia, ed. and trans. Samuel H. Baron (Stanford, 1967), 139.

(8) B. A. Uspenskii, `Mifologicheskii aspekt russkoi ekspessivnoi frazeologii' [The Mythological Aspect of Russian Expressive Phraseology], pt 1, Studia Slavica Hungarica, xxix (1983); pt 2, Studia Slavica Hungarica, xxxiii (1989). A short extract is translated by Ralph Cleminson in Ju. M. Lotman and V. A. Uspenskii, The Semiotics of Russian Culture, ed. Anne Shukman (Ann Arbor, 1984), 295-9.

(9) D. T. Strotmann, `Quelques apersus historiques sur le culte marial en Russie', Irenikon, xxxii (1959), 184-7; G. Fedotov, The Russian Religious 'Mind, i, Kievan Christianity: The Tenth to the Thirteenth Centuries (1946; Cambridge, Mass., 1966), 12, 13-15.

(10) Uspenskii, `Mifologicheskii aspekt', pt 1, 46; on the apocryphal attribution of Russian homilies to St John Chrysostom, see Fedotov, Russian Religious Mind, i, Kievan Christianity, 218.

(11) For Old Believer writings which condemn the use of obscene language because it offends against God's Mother, one's own mother and against Mother Earth, see `Kniga o maternom slove, o lakomstve, o eretikakh' [Book on the Mat Word, Delicacy and Heretics]: Helsinki Slavonic Library, SI. MS-0-10; or the penitential of the Old Believer community of Theodosians in Moscow at the turn of the century: Trebnik, Ispovedenie detem [Prayer Book and Confessional for Children] (Moscow, 1910), [116.sub.v]. In Fedor Abramov's novel of 1968, Two Winters and Three Summers, Yevsei, an aged Old Believer, reprimands Egorsha for swearing: `Ah, Egor, that is not right. The mother oath is the most terrible of all. You sin against your own mother, against Mary, Mother of God, and against the damp mother earth'; cited in Geoffrey Hosking, `The Russian Peasant Rediscovered: Village Prose of the 1960s', Slavic Rev., xxxii (1973), 715.

(12) A song from Onega in northern Russia tells of St Paraskeva appearing to a man with no arms and legs, whom she urges to tell the world: `They should not curse with the mat word / Since the mat word is cursed / Just as the Jews cursed Christ': Pesni russkago naroda sobrany v guberniiakh Arkhangel'skoi i Olonetskoi v 1886 godu [Songs of the Russian People Collected in Arkhangel and Olonets Provinces in 1886] (St Petersburg, 1894), 12. Uspenskii suggests that the pagan cult of Mokosh' was transposed to St Paraskeva Piatnitsa, who may thus be considered the `mother of earth and water': Uspenskii, `Mifologicheskii aspekt', pt 1, 54. Even in the 1920s the connection between mat and the Virgin Mary can still be found. One humorous ditty that appeared on a wall newspaper of a Komsomol cell in the Urals went: `Oh, it's dreadful working fields / I shall not go out to sow / Kolia's getting drunk on beer / Cursing at God's mother' (O kak strashno ekhat' v pole / Ne poedu ia pakhat' / Kak nepgtsia Kolia piva / Materitsia v bogamat'): A. Nasimovich, `Stengazetnyi iumor' [Humour of the Wall Newspaper], Pechat' i revoliutsiia, vi (1927), 33.

(13) See, for example, the postscript by I. I. Zemtsovskii: 'Russia long since overtook America, in the matter of bad language': Afanas'ev, Russkie zavetnye skazki, 326; cf. Ashley Montagu's view of white Australians as `perhaps the most inveterate and unimaginative swearers that exist anywhere in the world today': Ashley Montagu, The Anatomy of Swearing (London, 1967), 9.

(14) Felix Dreizin and Tom Priestly, `A Sytematic Approach to Russian Obscene Language', Russian Linguistic, vi (1982), 237.

(15) Stephen Frank, `Confronting the Domestic Other: Rural Popular Culture and its Enemies in Fin-de-Siecle Russia', in Stephen Frank and Mark D. Steinberg (eds.), Cultures in Flux: Lower-Glass Values, Practices and Resistance in Late-Imperial Russia (Princeton, 1994), 76.

(16) Barbara Engel, Between the Fields and the City (Cambridge, 1994), 120.

(17) Frank, `Confronting the Domestic Other', 83.

(18) Ibid.

(19) complaint by clergy in Novgorod in 1636 makes plentiful reference to foul language: see S. A. Zenkovskii, Russkoe staroobriadchestvo [Russian Old Belief] (Munich, 1969; Moscow, 1995), 83-4.

(20) Stoglav, ed. D. E. Kozhanchikov, intro. W. F. Ryan (St Petersburg, 1863; Letchworth, 1971). Parts are translated in A Source Book for Russian History from Early Times to 1917, ed. George Vernadsky, 3 vols. (New Haven, 1972), i, 166.

(21) V. Ia. Propp, Russkie agrarnye prazdniki [Russian Agrarian Festivals] (Leningrad, 1963), 100-4, 119-34; N. Kolpakova, Lirika russkoi svad'by [Russian Wedding Lyric Poetry] (Leningrad, 1973), 256, 261, 263; T. A. Bernshtam, `Budni i prazdniki: povedenie vzroslykh v russkoi kres'tianskoi srede (XIXv.--nachalo XXv.)' [Workdays and Holidays: Adult Conduct in Russian Peasant Society from the Nineteenth to the Early Twentieth Centuries], in A. K. Baidurin (ed.), Ethicheskie stereotipy povedenii [Ethnic Stereotypes of Behaviour] (Leningrad, 1985).

(22) L. I. Emeliakh, Antiklerikal'noe dvizhenie krest'ian v period pervoi russkoi revoliutsff [The Anti-Clerical Movement of the Peasantry in the Period of the First Russian Revolution] (Moscow, 1965), 118.

(23) Ibid., 156.

(24) Krestianskoe dvizhenie v Riazanskoi gubernii v gody pervoi russkoi revoliutsii: dokumeny i materialy [The Peasant Movement of Riazan' Province in the Years of the First Russian Revolution] (Riazan', 1960), 242-3. A Soviet historian made an interesting observation on peasant behaviour in Samara province during these years: `[there was] a huge increase during the years of the first revolution in cases of lese-majeste [oskorblenie velichestva] and of blasphemy ... the heroes of which were overwhelmingly peasants, and which were usually extremely primitive and often highly comic. The crimes, as a rule, consisted in the fact that some peasant (almost always drunk) publicly swore at [kryl matom] the tsar or tsarina, or even Almighty God. But these curious incidents, which occurred in the countryside in former times only in the rarest circumstances, were undoubted evidence of the fact that subterranean processes were at work in the thick of the peasantry that were highly dangerous for the autocracy and which, not without reason, were treated very warily by the latter and which led the authorities to take severe measures': 1905 god v Samarskom krae: materialy po istorii RKP(b) i revoliutsionnogo dvizheniia [1905 in Samara Region: Materials on the History of the Bolshevik Party and the Revolutionary Movement], ed. N. Speranskii (Samara, 1925), 469.

(25) Reginald E. Zelnik, Labor and Society in Tsarist Russia: The Factory Workers of St Petersburg, 1855-1870 (Stanford, 1971), 255.

(26) Joan Neuberger, Hooliganism: Crime, Culture and Power in St Petersburg, 1900-1914 (Berkeley, 1993), 31.

(27) See ibid., ch. 5.

(28) N. B. Lebina, `Tenevye storony zhizni sovetskogo goroda 20-30-kh godov' [The Dark Sides of Life in the Soviet Town in the 1920s and 1930s], Voprosy Istorii, ii (1993), 31. These figures are, presumably, based on public-order offences, since `hooliganism' did not exist as a distinct legal offence at this time.

(29) Cited in Valerii Chalidze, Ugolovnaia Rossiia [Criminal Russia] (New York, 1977), 125.

(30) M. Gor'kii, `Dvatsat' shest' i odna' [Twenty-Six Men and One Girl], Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, Khudozhestvennye proizvedeniia v 25 tomakh [Complete Collected Works: Artistic Works in Twenty-Five Volumes] (Moscow, 1968-76), v,

(31) Uspenskii, `Mifologicheskii aspekt', pt 1, 36.

(32) Hughes, Swearing, 209-10. An ethnographer working in the village of Gadyshi, Valdaiskii uezd, Novgorod guberniia, in the summer of 1921 noted that the `speech of men is more curt, simple and crude than that of women'; and also that mat was less widespread than in the more southern central provinces of Briansk, Orel and Tula: M. Ia. Fenomenov, Sovremennaia derevnia: opyt kraevedcheskogo obsledovaniia odnoi derevni [The Contemporary Countryside: An Experiment in Regional Research in One Village], pt 2, Staryi i novyi byt [The Old and the New Way-of-Life] (Leningrad, 1925), 47.

(33) When women got together to brake flax in Dorogobuzhskii district, Smolensk province, `the entire time they were working, the babas were swearing unmercifully -- as only babas know how to swear': Aleksandr Nikolaevich Engelgardt, Letters from the Country, 1872-1887, ed. and trans. Cathy A. Frierson (New York, 1993), 114. The painter, Il'ia Repin, recorded the reaction of women in the village of Shiriaevo, near Samara on the Volga, when they discovered he had been drawing their children: `They do not curse anywhere else as they do on the Volga. Many have heard and know about this. But that women [baby] can curse in this way, this is not recognized. I could not have imagined and would not have believed that a mother could curse her ten-year-old little girl in this way, in front of everyone': I. E. Repin, `Burlaki na Volge (1866-1870)' [Barge-Haulers on the Volga, 1866-1870], in Dalekoe Blizkoe [Near and Far], ed. K. Chukovskii (Moscow, 1964), 246.

(34) See Lev Tolstoy's description of women in the Khitrov market in Moscow: L. N. Tolstoi, `Tak chto zhe nam delat' ' [That's What We Should Do], Polnoe sobranie sochinenii [Complete Collected Works], 90 vols. (Moscow, 1928-58), xxv, 187.

(35) Golos rabotnitsy, 4, May 1917, 9.

(36) A. I. Shapovalov, Po doroge k marksismu: vospominaniia rabochego revoliutsionnera [On the Road to Marxism: Memoirs of a Worker Revolutionary] (Moscow, 1924), 90.

(37) L. I. Emeliakh, Krest'iane i tserkov' nakanune oktiabria [Peasants and the Church on the Eve of October] (Leningrad, 1976), 52.

(38) On the `conscious worker', see Tim McDaniel, Autocracy, Capitalism and Revolution in Russia (Berkeley, 1988), ch. 8; S. I. Potolov et al. (eds.). Rabochie i intelligentsiia Rossii v epokhu reform i revoliutsii 1861-fevral' 1917 [Workers and the Intelligentsia in Russia in the Epoch of Reforms and Revolution, 1871-February 1917] (St Petersburg, 1997), especially the essays by Iu. I. Kir'ianov and E. R. Ol'khovskii; Steve A. Smith, `Workers, the Intelligentsia and Marxist Parties, St Petersburg, 1895-1917, and Shanghai, 1921-1927', Internat. Rev. Social Hist., xli (1996).

(39) This discussion is influenced by Jeffrey Brooks, When Russia Learned to Read (Princeton, 1985), 317-20. See G. V. Plekhanov, `Russkii rabochii v revoliutsionnom dvizhenii' [The Russian Worker in the Revolutionary Movement], G. V. Plekhanov: Sochineniia [G. V. Plekhanov: Collected Essays], 24 vols., 2nd edn (Moscow, 1923-7), iii, 132-3. For examples of workers writing about kul'turnost' in the pre-revolutionary period, see The Russian Worker: Life and Labor under the Tsarist Regime, ed. Victoria E. Bonnell (Berkeley, 1983), 46-8, 150-2, 206-8.

(40) Derek Offord, `"Lichnost": Notions of Individual Identity', in Catriona Kelly and David Shepherd, Constructing Russian Culture in the Age of Revolution, 1881-1940 (Oxford, 1998); Mark D. Steinberg, `Worker-Authors and the Cult of the Person', in Frank and Steinberg (eds.), Cultures in Flux.

(44) M. Bakhtin, Tvorchestvo Fransua Rable i narodnaia kul'tura i srednevekovia i Renessansa [The Creativity of Francois Rabelais and Popular Culture in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance], 2nd edn (Moscow, 1990), 16.

(45) Russell Zguta, Russian Minstrels: A History of the Skomorokhi (Oxford, 1978), 60-3. The two decrees are reproduced in A. A. Belkin, Russkie skomorokhi [Russian Minstrels] (Moscow, 1975), 175-80. Although the skomorokhi went into decline over the next century, bawdy songs were associated with later commercialized fairground genres: see Catriona Kelly, Petrushka: The Russian Carnival Puppet Theatre (Cambridge, 1990), 92.

(46) Bakhtin, Tvorchestvo, 35.

(47) Afanas'ev, Russkie zavetnye skazki; there is a bowdlerized English translation in Russian Secret Tales: Bawdy Folktales of Old Russia, intro. G. Legman (New York, 1966).

(48) Claude Carey, Les Proverbes erotiques russes: etudes de proverbes recueillis et non publies par Dal' et Simoni (The Hague, 1972).

(49) Ozornye chastushki.

(50) Zemtsovskii, in Afanas'ev, Russkie zavetnye skazki, 329.

(51) F. M. Dostoevskii, `Dnevnik pisatelia, 1873' [A Writer's Diary, 1873], Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v tridtsati tomakh [Collected Works in Thirty Volumes] (Leningrad, 1972-88), xxi, 115-16.

(52) L. Trotskii, `Bor'ba za kulturnuiu rech' [The Struggle for Cultured Speech], in Kul'tura perekhodnogo perioda, Sochineniia, xxi (Moscow, 1927), 27. There is a slightly abridged translation in Problems of Everyday Life (New York 1994). Here Trotsky is deploying a trope that goes back at least as far as N. A. Dobroliubov, who, in two essays of 1859 and 1860, contrasted the foot-stamping master to the self-effacing slave: see David Joravsky, `Cultural Revolution and the Fortress Mentality', in Abbot Gleason, Peter Kenez and Richard Stites (eds.), Bolshevik Culture: Experiment and Order in the Russian Revolution (Bloomington, 1985).

(53) Trotskii, `Bor'ba za kulturnuiu rech', 27.

(54) A. Frolov, Probuzhdenie [Awakening] (Kiev, 1923), 199.

(55) Pravda, 12 June 1912, 4.

(56) Ibid., 31 Aug. 1912, 3.

(57) Rabochaia Pravda, 7, 20 July 1913, 4.

(58) Ibid.

(59) Pravda, 30 June 1912, 4.

(60) Ibid.,1 June 1912, 4.

(61) Ibid., 7 Nov. 1912, 4.

(62) K. A. Pazhitnov, Polozhenie rabochego klassa v Rossii [The Position of the Working Class in Russia], 4 vols. (Leningrad, 1924), iii, 130; S. A. Smith, `Workers and Civil Rights in Tsarist Russia, 1899-1917', in Olga Crisp and Linda Edmondson (eds.), Civil Rights in Imperial Russia (Oxford, 1989).

(63) Pravda, 17 Aug. 1912, 4.

(64) Nash put', 4 July 1910.

(65) Rabotnitsa, 24 June 1914, 12.

(66) Ibid., 26 June 1914, 11. The named individuals were prominent leaders of the extreme right-wing Black Hundreds.

(67) Molodaia guardiia, v (1924), 206. In a similar way, Dostoevsky describes how the boredom of prison encouraged tournaments in swearing: `At first I could not understand how they could swear for enjoyment, and find in this an amusement, a cherished exercise, a pastime. One must not, however, leave personal vanity out of account. The dialectician of the curse was held in great esteem. He was applauded almost like an actor': Fyodor Dostoevsky, House of the Dead (London, 1985), 49. According to the criminologist, M. Gernet, `such exercises were entertainment not only for those doing the cursing, but for everyone else. Like any kind of tournament, these verbal duels took place in front of a public, in front of the people, of spectators. The winner was crowned with glory, whereas the loser was mocked. To become a sport, however, such swearing could not consist of the use of words from the rich lexicon of normal prison curses. The ear of the prisoner was so accustomed to such standard curses that they flew by it, making no impression on either mind or heart. They in no way disrupted the ordinary course of prison existence. Only "virtuoso" collocations of swear words or different impromptu expressions on the part of the contestants could raise cursing to the level of a sport': M. Gernet, `Ocherki tiuremnoi psikhologii: razvlecheniia v obshchem tiuremnom zakliuchenii' [Sketches of Prison Psychology: Entertainments in Captivity in Prison], Pravo i Zhizn', iii (1923), 51-2; cf. `sounding' in contemporary black American youth culture, or the convention of ritual insult, known as `flyting', which flourished as a cultural form in Viking times and was revived as a Scots literary genre in the Renaissance.

(68) Eduard M. Dune, Notes of a Red Guard, trans, and ed. Diane Koenker and S. A. Smith (Urbana, 1993), 9.

(69) Ibid., 8-9.

(70) V. Pletnev, `Proletarskii byt: staryi i novyi' [The Proletarian Way-of-Life: New and Old], Gorn, ix (1923), 67.

(71) Dreizin and Priestley, `Systematic Approach to Russian Obscene Language', 242. This particular form of the verb ebat' is not listed in Russkii mat, 10-21, or in A Dictionary of Russian Obscenities (Cambridge, Mass., 1971).

(72) Dreizin and Priestley, `Systematic Approach to Russian Obscene Language', 244.

(73) Cited in Mark D. Steinberg, Moral Communities: The Culture of Class Relations in the Russian Printing Industry, 1867-1907 (Berkeley, 1992), 242.

(74) Ibid., 78.

(75) Pravda, 21 Nov. 1912, 4.

(76) Rose L. Glickman, Russian Factory Women: Workplace and Society, 1880-1914 (Berkeley, 1984), 81, 192, 204-8.

(77) Rabochaia Pravda, 19 July 1913, 4.

(78) Rabotnitsa, 16 Mar. 1914, 8.

(79) Victoria E. Bonnell, Roots of Rebellion: Workers' Politics and Organizations in St Petersburg and Moscow, 1900-1914 (Berkeley, 1983), 260.

(80) Steinberg, Moral Communities, 210.

(81) Istoriia leningradskogo soiuza rabochikh poligraficheskogo proizvodstva [History of the Leningrad Union of Workers of the Print Trade] (Leningrad, 1925), i, 273-5.

(82) Ibid., 279.

(83) Zhenskii vestnik, Jan. 1907, 42.

(84) V. F. Shishkin, Velikii Oktiabr' i proletarskaia moral' [Great October and Proletarian Morality] (Moscow, 1976), 24.

(85) Ibid., 24-5.

(86) Trotskii, `Bor'ba', 26.

(87) S. Lapytskaia, Byt rabochikh trekhgornoi manufaktury [The Way-of-Life of Workers at the Trekhgornaia Mill] (Moscow, 1935), 136.

(88) K. Selishchev, Iazyk revoliutsionnoi epokhi: iz nabliudenii nad russkim iazykom poslednikh let, 1917-26 [The Language of the Revolutionary Epoch: Observations on Russian Language in the Years, 1917-26] (Moscow, 1928). Founded in 1918, the Komsomol admitted young people between the ages of 14 and 23.

(89) L. Averbakh, `O voprose Komsomol'skoi intelligentsii' [On the Question of a Komsomol Intelligentsia], Molodaia Gvardiia, Aug. 1923.

(90) Vladimir Slepkov, `Komsomol'skii zhargon i Komsomol'skii "obychai"' [Komsomol Jargon and Komsomol `Ritual'], in A. Slepkov (ed.), Byt i molodezh [Way-of-Life and Youth], 2nd edn (Moscow, 1926), 46-7.

(91) Komsomol'skaia Pravda, 162, 1925.

(92) Moskovskii Pechatnik, Feb. 1926, 3.

(93) Pechatnik, 22 Oct. 1928, 28.

(94) Moskovskii Pechatnik, Mar. 1926, 5.

(95) Selishchev, Iazyk revoliutsionnoi epokhi, 56.

(96) N. Markovskii, `Za kul'turu komsomol'skogo iazyka' [For Culture in Komsomol Language], Molodoi Bol'shevik, xv-xvi (Aug. 1926), 72, 74.

(97) N. Ognev, Dnevnik Kosti Riabtseva [Diary of Kostia Riabtsev] (Paris, 1927), 59.

(98) Slepkov (ed.), Byt i molodezh, 6; see also John Biggart, `Bukharin's Theory of Cultural Revolution', in A. Kemp-Welch (ed.), The Ideas of Nikolai Bukharin (Oxford, 1992).

(99) Eric Naiman, Sex in Public: The Incarnation of Early Soviet Ideology (Princeton, 1997), 92.

(100) Zenovia A. Sochor, Revolution and Culture: The Bogdanov-Lenin Controversy (Ithaca, 1988); Lynn Mally, Culture of the Future: The Proletkult Movement in Revolutionary Russia (Berkeley, 1990), 226.

(101) Cited in Ella Winter, Red Virtue: Human Relationships in the New Russia (London, 1933), 35.

(102) A. Zalkind, `Kul'turnyi rost sovetskogo molodniaka' [The Cultural Growth of the Soviet Younger Generation], Molodoi Bol'shevik, xix-xx (Oct. 1927); Anne E. Gorsuch, `"A Woman Is Not a Man": The Culture of Gender and Generation in Soviet Russia, 1921-1928', Slavic Rev., Iv (1996), 645.

(103) Slepkov (ed.), Byt i Molodezh, 6.

(104) Smena, 12 Feb. 1925, 5. The article claimed that hooliganism was even more widespread in the countryside than in the towns, thus echoing Iaroslavskii. But this may be wishful thinking since ideology dictated that the towns, as the home of the proletariat, should be less prone to hooliganism.

(105) Lebina, `Teneyve storony', 31. In 1926, 17 per cent of those convicted of hooliganism were charged with swearing in public, as against almost a third charged with mugging, 28 per cent charged with drunkenness and 13 per cent with resisting arrest.

(106) In 1913, a law had been introduced in the duma to make hooliganism a specific offence, but it had failed, partly because of difficulties of definition: B. Utevskii, `Khuliganstvo v epokhu 1905-14gg.' [Hooliganism in the 1905-14 Era], in V. N. Tolmakov (ed.), Khuliganstvo i khuligany: sbornik [Hooliganism and Hooligans: A Collection] (Moscow, 1929), 32. Following the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks explicitly linked hooliganism to counter-revolutionary activity in the Decree on Revolutionary Tribunals of 5 May 1918. In 1922, however, article 176 of the Law Code construed hooliganism in a less politicized fashion, as `mischievous, pointless actions, entailing manifest disrespect for individual citizens or society as a whole'. The vagueness of the formulation caused disquiet among jurists and, by 1924, hooliganism was defined as an offence against `public order' rather than against the individual. See M. Isaev, `Khuliganstvo: iuridicheskii ocherk' [Hooliganism: A Juridical Outline], in Tolmakov (ed.), Khuliganstvo i khuligany, 11-13. Later Soviet law retained the understanding of hooliganism as an exclusively antisocial offence: `deliberate actions that rudely disrupt social order and express obvious disrespect for society': Iu. Levin, `Ob obstsennykh vyrazheniiakh russkogo iazyka' [On Obscene Expressions in the Russian Language], in Anti-mir russkoi kul'tury, 119. (107) Slepkov (ed.), Byt i molodezh, 12.

(108) On the link between hooliganism and sexual depravity, see Naiman, Sex in Public, ch. 7.

(109) V. Vlasov, `Khuliganstvo v gorode i derevne' [Hooliganism in Town and Country], Problemy prestupnosti [Problems of Crime], ii (Moscow, 1927); cited in Chalidze, Ugolovnaia Rossiia, 126.

(110) Khuligan i prestuplenie: sbornik statei [Crime and the Hooligan: A Collection of Articles] (Moscow, 1927), 5.

(111) Ibid., 69.

(112) Diane Koenker, `Men and Women on the Shop Floor in Early Soviet Russia: Gender and Class in the Socialist Workplace', Amer. Hist. Rev., c (1995), 1448-9.

(113) M. Teterin, 'Devushka i Komsomol' [Girls and the Komsomol], Molodoi Bol'shevik, vii (Apr. 1926), 49.

(114) V. G. Tan-Bogoraz (ed.), Staryi i novyi byt: sbornik [The Old and the New Way-of-Life: A Collection] (Leningrad, 1924), 18; Gorsuch, 'A Woman Is Not a Man', 658.

(115) Komsomol'skii byt [The Komsomol Way-of-Life] (Moscow, 1927), 338.

(116) Cynthia Cockburn, Brothers: Male Dominance and Technological Change (London, 1983), 134.

(117) Gorsuch, 'A Woman Is Not a Man', 658.

(118) 'The unfinished, open body (which dies, gives birth, is born) is not separated from the world by sharp boundaries: it blends with the world, with animals, with things ... It tends to represent and incarnate the entire material-corporeal world as an absolute nether-region [niz], a principle that devours and gives birth, a corporeal grave, a corporeal breast, a corporeal field which is sown and in which new shoots soon ripen': Bakhtin, Tvorchestvo, 34.

(119) Cited in Naiman, Sex in Public, 92.

(120) Rene Fulop-Miller, The Mind and Face of Bolshevism (London, 1927), 191. For a description of a peasant ritual in Kaluga province in which a peasant woman, dressed as a priest, leads a 'funeral' to bury a Lenten doll, see Propp, Russkie agrarnye prazdniki, 72.

(121) Tan-Bogoraz (ed.), Staryi i novyi byt, 13, as trans, in Wendy Goldman, Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life (Cambridge, 1993), 163.

(122) Tan-Bogoraz (ed.), Staryi i novyi byt, 124.

(123) Markovskii, 'Za kul'turu', 73.

(124) Slepkov, 'Komsomol'skii zhargon', 47.

(125) Richard Stites, Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution (Oxford, 1989), 117.

(126) Ivanov-Razumnik, Istoriia russkoi obshchestvennoi mysli: individualizm I mesh chanstvo v russkoi literature i zhizni XIXv. [History of Russian Social Thought: Individualism and Philistinism in Russian Literature and Life in the Nineteenth Century], 2 vols., 3rd edn (St Petersburg, 1911), iii, 15-18.

(127) Boris Galin, 'K novomy bytu na risiakh ne poskachesh' '[You Won't Leap into the New Way-of-Life at a Gallop], Molodoi Bol'shevik, vii-viii (Apr. 1927).

(128) Winter, Red Virtue, 298.

(129) Sheila Fitzpatrick (ed.), Cultural Revolution in Russia, 1928-31 (Bloomington, 1978).

(130) Zhel'vis, Pole brani, 52, 106; cf. the letter of Lenin's wife, N. Krupskaya, to Lev Kamenev, 23 Dec. 1922, in which she complains about Stalin's rudeness: 'In all my thirty years [in the party] I have not heard a single crude word from a single comrade; the interests of the party and of Il'ich are no less dear to me than to Stalin': Izvestiia Ts.K. KPSS, xii (1989), 192. Orlando Figes states that Lenin used mat, but does not provide evidence to back this up: Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924 (London, 1996), 391.

(131) Vera S. Dunham, In Stalin's Time: Middle-Class Values in Soviet Fiction (Cambridge, 1976), 22; Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Cultural Front: Power and Culture in Revolutionary Russia (Ithaca, 1992), 218.

(132) Catriona Kelly and Vadim Volkov, 'Directed Desires: Kul'turnost' and Consumption', in Kelly and Shepherd (eds.), Constructing Russian Culture, 300.

(133) Lewis H. Siegelbaum, Stakhanovism and the Politics of Productivity in the USSR, 1935-1941 (Cambridge, 1988), 231.

(134) A recent letter to a newspaper from A. Shchelchek, a seventeen-year-old in Tikhoretsk, Krasnodar region, makes the case that the ban on the 'popular names for sexual organs or certain categories of people' is 'anti-democratic' and a 'strangulation of popular culture': Argumenty i fakty, 28 July 1997.

(135) Many anecdotes involving mat are uproariously funny but quite untranslatable. A typical satirical anecdote that refers to mat without using it (and is thus easier to translate into English) was first heard by Gershuni in 1947: 'Question: What is the difference between mat and diamat [dialectical materialism]? And what do both have in common? Answer: The difference is that everyone understands mat but pretends they don't, whereas no one understands diamat but pretends they do. What both have in common is that they are powerful weapons in the hands of the working class': V. Gershuni, 'Na putiakh opal'noi slovesnosti: Zametki: Memuareski' [On the Track of Literature in Disgrace: Observations and 'Memoirettes'], in Russkii Mat: Antologiia, 275.

(136) B. L. Borukhov, 'Mat kak filosofiia zhizni' [Mat as Philosophy of Life], Dom bytiia: lingvofilosofskii al'manakh, (Moscow, 1994), i, 11, 12.

(137) Gershuni, 'Na putiakh opal'noi slovesnosti', 275.
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Author:Smith, S.A.
Publication:Past & Present
Date:Aug 1, 1998
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