Into the Whirlwind

In Into the Whirlwind, we see Eugenia Ginzburg’s experience as a political prisoner change her viewpoint of the USSR and its approach toward those who disagree with the policies of Stalin’s government. Fear sweeps throughout Russia, and something as simple as telling a joke, or for that matter not reporting one, can get you sent to an isolated prison so far away from home it would make one question if they will survive the week, let alone long enough to ever return to their town and what used to be normal life. As a result, differences seem to fade away. Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries, hard-line Marxist/Leninist Communists, regional leaders, cultural outsiders, and others were all affected (111). A particular example is when Ginzburg helps smuggle cigarettes to Abdullin, who had just been returned from extensive interrogation (83). She helped do this in spite of him acting against her when she was under investigation by the party and her dues were being refused (78). Naturally, this surprised him and made him appreciated the gesture even greater.

Instances like this prove political divides no longer became very prominent. Everyone knew that that what was occurring was inherently wrong and that most of them should not be suffering such consequences for actions they did not commit or actions that were so minuscule. Pursing such individual cases makes one wonder about the vast waste of resources within the Soviet government, especially regarding the NKVD. From Stalin’s perspective, would it have not been simpler to address the issues and try to rally the diverse Soviet people around the common goal of making the government run efficiently for the betterment of all citizens? From an outside perspective this seems incredibly counterproductive…especially with the waste of such talented and educated individuals. However, when absolute loyalty is demanded from all, I suppose most reasonable logic immediately goes out the window in favor of finding the perfect, ideal follower to fill a certain niche (or in this case, massive group of niches).

Just Accept My Cigs, Bro

Eugenia succinctly summarizes her experiences when she states, “As I lay awake on my plank bed, the most unorthodox thoughts passed through my mind-about how thin the line is between high principles and blinkered intolerance, and also how relative are all human systems and ideologies and how absolute the tortures which human beings inflict on one another” (Ginzburg, 113).

In the last quote of chapter twenty, Eugenia offers cigarettes to Derkosovya. Instead of accepting the kind gift, Derkosovya refuses and starts to send tapping messages to the woman in the other cell. Derkosovya questions the next door neighbor, Mukhina, if she can trust Eugenia because Eugenia is a communist. Derkosovya wants to know if Eugenia is secretly a part of the opposition. All this over a pack of cigarettes. This emphasizes the thin line between high principles and blinkered intolerance. Eugenia is just trying to be kind. However, Derkosovya is so stubbornly devoted to her own ideals she doesn’t even want to accept this simple gift.

Did Derkosovya cross the line between high principles and blinkered intolerance? Was she justified in her distrust of Eugenia? Was Derkosovya being prejudice or was she just being cautious??

Into the whirlwind viewpoints

In these chapters,  a big part of Eugenia Ginzburg’s time in prison was with her cellmate and cell neighbor Gary Sagiddullin. I think the part of her story that stood out the most to me was about Gary’s political views. While communicating through the cells with Eugenia, Gary said “I was and I remain a Leninist. I swear it by my seventh prison (Ginzburg 72).” As Eugenia began to learn more and more about Gary, she also learned that he did not like Stalin. “Gary hated Stalin with a bitter passion (Ginzburg 74).” I found this to be a very interesting view point. A big part of our discussion on Tuesday was about Lenin and Stalin, and how Stalin was often portrayed as having the same mentality and ability as Lenion. If this is the case, why do you think Gary Sagiddullin hates Stalin with such a passion when Stalin is seen as being a similar leader to Lenin?

Into the Whirlwind Leadership Discussion

Into the Whirlwind is Eugenia Ginzburg’s account of her arrest and imprisonment based on false accusations during the Great Purge of the Stalinist Soviet Union. Ginzburg, as we see through her memoir, is committed to the ideals of the Communist Party throughout the memoir but begins to question very seriously the actions of those carrying out such policy and of Stalin himself. 

  1. Eugenia’s political ideals shift throughout the story. In what ways do her political views change? What parallels can be drawn between her political views to her state of well-being or current predicament?
  2. Eugenia is a very intelligent woman. She is multilingual, speaking French, Russian, and Tatar. In chapter 18, Eugenia converses with Nalya in French in front of her interrogator, Bikchentayev; he is barely able to speak Russian and appears foolish– despite holding a position of power. How does Bikchentayev represent the Soviet Union as a whole (and juxtaposed against Eugenia)? Why is someone like Eugenia particularly dangerous to the Soviet Union? 
  3. Eugenia is a prominently ranking Communist who is committed very much to the party at the time of her arrest. Through Eugenia’s perspective as a victim of the Great Purge, how can we separate the principles of Communism as Into the Whirlwind shows party members understood them from the policies of Stalinism. 
  4. Eugenia states “For the first time in my life I was faced by the problem of having to think things out for myself–of analyzing circumstances independently and deciding my own line of conduct (Ginzburg 74).” How does her role as a writer and educator play into her experiences? Does her education allow her to think and act more boldly?

Into the Whirlwind

I think that it is incredibly important and valuable to study dissent in the case of the Great Purge. Eugenia Ginzburg seems to be deeply troubled by the effects of Stalinism and increasingly conscious of the true nature of the purge. Writing in “Into the Whirlwind,” Ginzburg recalls her expulsion from the party by a former pupil of hers; “Some actors in the horror play had been cast as victims, others as persecutors, and these were the worse off (Ginzburg 40,41).” Her words hint at her sympathy for party members who were indoctrinated into this ready compliance. I think that her evaluation of individuals through their character, intent, and contextual actions is a very important point to note when contrasted against the black and white decisions of the NKVD. Ginzburg gives us a unique perspective as an intellectual. Her status as a teacher and a writer in the Soviet Union are important to her narrative. Her education is probably a factor that led her to be able to question the policies of Stalinism.

While, at least through her lens, her innocence is clear, how do we evaluate her story? Simply, how do the intelligentsia become enemies of the state and is there really a place for them in Soviet Society?

Stalin Slideshow, Stalin’s Inadequacies of Party Work, and Into the Whirlwind

In the Cult of Personality slide show, we can clearly see how Stalin sought to prop himself up as the only viable leader for the Soviet Union…a strong individual, chosen by Lenin (although not really) to continue the great communist experiment in the USSR. In slide 5, Stalin shares the image with Lenin while he, Lenin, seems to look on approvingly at what Stalin is presenting him. The sense of frame works to solidify Stalin’s place as Lenin’s successor and paint a clear line from Lenin to himself, even though in reality, the line was somewhat obscured due to the various ousts that occurred in order for Stalin to attain his position. By the mid 1930s to the early 1950s, Lenin has an increasingly small appearance in these political paintings and propaganda images. In “The Politiburo,” (slide 6) Lenin is merely a bust in the back of the party meeting, as is the case with “Stalin at the 16 Party Congress” (slide 7). In “Beloved Stalin, Happiness of the People!,” all we see of Lenin is a small portrait somebody in the crowd is raising above their head. By 1950 in “Glory to the Great Stalin!,” (slide 8) Lenin is nowhere to be found. In other media he without a doubt makes some appearances, but the seemingly steady decrease in his prominence could easily be viewed as Stalin truly taking control of the party and reshaping it, and by extension the nation, in his own image.

In “On the Inadequacies of Party Work,” Stalin frames outsiders as the enemy. The Trotskyists, the Germans, the Japanese, and the capitalists who would love to see the Soviet Union fail. This is an important shift. It builds upon Lenin’s criticisms of an economic enemy who seeks the USSR’s destruction, but it also shifts the focus to the two main Fascist/Imperialist nations who at this point in time are seeking to expand their influence and regain territory. In 1931 Japan had invaded Manchuria, and in 1936 Germany re-militarized the Rhineland. Since these two increasingly powerful countries were essentially the growing bookends of the USSR, it is notable that Stalin sees them as a growing danger by 1937 (perhaps not militarily, but ideologically, geographically, and strategically). Both governments, as Fascist in nature, exhibited a sense of hyper-capitalism in the relations between government and industry, and with the fascist vs. communist Spanish Civil War was playing out, the fear of such countries weakening the USSR became not only a danger to Soviet communist ideology, but in extension, to Stalin’s power itself. The NKVD’s ideological crackdowns in 1937, explained in “Into the Whirlwind” (page 6 of the .pdf document) could, in light of these events, be seen as a response to an ever growing threat of foreign capitalism/fascism and an effort to further purify the party’s ranks. The extent to which the government went to could be viewed as paranoid, but it is reasonable to say that while the threat to the USSR was present, it was possibly exaggerated to increase the economic output of the country and encourage that foundation of a strong national identity.

Cult of Personality Slide Show

What do these images reveal about Stalin’s self-presentation to various audiences?

In almost all of the images, Stalin is portrayed to be the tallest figure along with the figure who facilitates the most power. As a leader of the Soviet Union, his self-presentation is a very important aspect to consider. No one is going to look up to a leader if they don’t display themselves as someone who has power, initiative, knowledge and even relations with the population in which he governs. In these images, Stalin’s power is clear along with his “compassion” for the people. He also demonstrates his initiative with his activism in supporting women’s equality, which supports that he is for the people. As I mentioned previously, in the images Stalin is always the tallest, except for whenever Lenin is included. Do you think that there is a deeper meaning behind Lenin almost looking over Stalin in these images? What do you think the presence of Lenin as a higher power or overshadowing figure does to his self-presentation?

On the inadequacies of party work and cult of personality slide show

‘On the inadequacies of party work’ paints a terrifying picture of the Soviet Union; the Trotskyists are spying on the Soviet Union, they have infiltrated all levels of society, and the party has done nothing to stop them. At a glance, these claims are frightening and would elicit fear from any reader, but a closer read reveals that Stalin’s claims simply work to support his personal agenda. Specifically, Stalin carefully constructs a fearful environment in which secret spies and murderers are lurking around every corner– plotting the downfall of the Soviet Union. Stalin does a great job of diverting any blame of fault away from himself and unto the Party, jealous capitalists, and foes–Germany & Japan. It is not by chance that Stalin is a skilled rhetorician, the cult of personality slide show emphasizes Stalin’s narcissism (a term I use based on the official criterion for NPD and acknowledgement that I’m not a psychiatrist). In many of the photos, Stalin is seen standing (blog slideshow #s 1 ,2 ,3 ,5 ,6 ,7, 8 ,9,11,13,14,15,16,18) and towering over those he is seen with while, according to ABC News, Stalin only stood 5’5. Aside from appearing physically large and assertive, Stalin’s face appears welcoming and even seems to smile (blog slideshow #s 15, 17). How does Stalin alter his persona to elicit his desired response from those around him (Party, citizens, etc.)? Can you have a powerful leader without traits of narcissism (again, using this term with caution)? Stalin has used many tactics during his rule, the main weapons being fear and admiration, how successful are these and where have you seen these manifest? Link for NPD criterion referenced, Kernberg, Otto F. “Pathological Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Theoretical Background and Diagnostic Classification.” In Aggressivity, Narcissism, and Self-Destructiveness in the Psychotherapeutic Rela: New Developments in the Psychopathology and Psychotherapy of Severe Personality Disorders, 45-59. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2004. Accessed February 25, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npb07.6. Link for ABC referenced, Watt, Nick, and Jenna Mucha. “World’s Leaders Don’t Stand So Tall.” ABC News. ABC News Network, July 23, 2008. Accessed February 25, 2020. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/story?id=5314996&page=1.

Leadership Discussion: Socialist Realism by Hannah Tallerico and Lauren Griswold

Andrei Zhdanov, “Soviet Literature-the Richest in Ideas”

“Soviet Literature-the Richest in Ideas” by Andrei Zhdanov is all about using socialist literature as vessel to empower the working class. Zhadanov believes that writers are “engineers of the heart” and highlights the tenants that writers must encapsulate. First, they must depict art not in a scholastic way but in a revolutionary reality. Second, they should combine truthfulness with ideological remolding. And third they should make sure that their writing is very political in nature. Zhandov devotes time in his speech to tearing down Bourgeoise literature, calling it akin to pornography and denouncing it as unrelatable. After praising the art of socialist realism, Zhandov explains it is imperative for the average worker must engage with this material. 

Questions:

  • Zhdanov posits that the overall effect of socialist realism is to, “Create works of high attainment, of high ideological and artistic content. Actively help to remold the mentality of people in the spirit of socialism. Be in the front ranks of those who are fighting for a classless socialist society.” In what ways does How The Steel Was Tempered exemplify these goals, and in what ways does HTSWT fail to exemplify these goals???
  • In what capacity would the average proletarian be able to interact with this type of literature? 
  • What would the government potentially do to incentivize citizens to read socialist realism?
  • Does How the Steel Was Tempered depict a working class character that is realistic and accurate to the average worker?

Nikolai Ostrovsky, “How the Steel was Tempered,” p. 387-435.

Palev Korchagin, a boy who gets kicked out of school for pranking his priest-teacher, ends up going through a journey that starts at darkness and takes him to the light of a good Soviet worker. His Bolshevik journey begins by having his brother’s friend, Fyodor, hide out with him for a few nights from the Ukrainian Nationalists, and eventually, help free Fyodor from them and going to jail. Thus, Pavel went to join the Red army. Throughout his journey, he faces much within the aspect of life and death situations, but no matter what continues to work and for the most part enjoys the work.

Questions:

  • What Soviet characteristics stand out in Ostrovsky’s story of Pavel Korchagin of what makes a person a good soviet worker? What qualities does Pavel have that make this story such a notable soicalist realism piece?
  • What does the quote, “‘You were right, Akim, when you said these lads were worth their weight in gold. This is where the steel is tempered!'” (Ostrovsky, 429) mean to the state of the Russian state in 1917?
  • How can we compare Ostrovsky’s “How the Steel was Tempered” to John Scott’s “Behind the Urals” based on the working and living conditions of the workers? Is there a difference between how much work was done or the effectiveness of the work?

Angelina, “The Most Important Thing”

For the reading today, Angelina explains her situation and her early life of being a field laborer, much like her parents and community. During this phase in her early life, her community only had one tractor and her brother was the only one who knew how to operate it, but he was sent out of the community, leaving Angelina to take on the task and get certified. (Angelina, 310-12) Thus, prompted her to get more woman onto the tractors and begin her and the girls battle of being woman tractor drivers. Later on down the path, Angelina became and important figure in farming and eventually got into politics as a USSR Supreme Soviet deputy, as we know. (Angelina, 316-) With this in mind, I’d like to ask, to what extent did Angelina have to fight to prove that women had the ability to enter a male-dominated work force? And how was she able to succeed, even with all the backlash against her and her brigade? Also, Angelina provides a praise of Stalin and her life in the RSFSR, but how does this differ from the life of the Shayakhmetov in Kazakhstan?