Comrade Chat! Leah’s Video for Week 9, Day 1

Transcript
Hello, Comrades! Welcome to Week 9. Today our teaching assistant is Dante. I have a few quick announcements for you.

First, thank you to all who posted on the blog last week! I’m recording this on Monday, March 30, and about half of you have posted your comments. I think it’s going well so far! I appreciate the close reading and critical thinking you all are doing.  I think we’re still managing to have a substantive discussion to the best of our abilities, given the limits of this format. For those of you who have not managed to post on the blog yet, I want to reiterate that that’s okay. Whenever you get your comments posted, you will get full credit. But I recommend that you try to keep up with our regular schedule, so things don’t pile up on you. Also, if you opt to respond to my discussion questions, I want to clarify that you do not need to answer all of them. You can focus on one question that interests you most. If you have a particular situation that is making it hard for you to post on the blog, please let me know by email.

Another thing to keep your eye on is that we are coming up on the final paper assignment. Sometime this week I will email the assignment to you and post it on the blog.

Now I’m going to add a few points of historical context to supplement the excellent information that you gained from your reading of chapter 9 of Russia’s Long Twentieth Century.

As you read, Stalin did not appoint a successor before his death in 1953. You might consider on your own what reasons he would have for wanting to leave that up in the air. Within a year, though, Nikita Khrushchev managed to gain the upper hand over his rivals in the Central Committee, in part by playing the fool and making himself seem non-threatening. Khrushchev was one of Stalin’s new elites, a worker promoted into higher education in the 1930s who then rose through the Party bureaucracy. This tells us that he was shrewd and ambitious. But the “country bumpkin” persona he used to get ahead without making enemies also meant that there was no question of him succeeding Stalin in Stalin’s style. Instead, he dealt with Stalin’s legacy by enacting a policy of de-Stalinization. The centerpiece of this policy was the “Secret Speech” denouncing Stalin’s crimes, which Khrushchev gave at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956, and which you read an abridged version of for today. In the 1950s, Khrushchev also released many Stalin Era convicts from the Gulag, whose return had a profound impact on Soviet society. Finally, he allowed the “punished peoples” who were deported to Central Asia in the 1930s and 1940s to return home—all except the Crimean Tatars.

Khrushchev had some very ambitious plans for reforming the Soviet Union, many of which you read about in Russia’s Long Twentieth Century. A new openness to the West was expressed through increased tourism and youth festivals. The Soviet Union’s interest in the new African and Asian nations that liberated themselves from European imperialism in this era—as well as its desire to win them over to the socialist camp in the Cold War—was expressed through the establishment of the People’s Friendship University and massive aid grants. And a general renewal of Soviet society and culture was promoted through the lightening of censorship, relaxation of marriage and family laws, and new emphasis on communist morality.

In keeping with the Cold War competition over which system could best provide “the good life” for its citizens, Khrushchev also undertook a massive program of new housing construction, which enabled many families to move from communal apartments into individual ones. Last but not least, he shifted the economy’s emphasis to the production of more consumer goods, a move that was welcomed by the less political, more materialistic postwar generation.

The Khrushchev Era was an exhilarating experience for Soviet citizens, in good ways and bad. In keeping with the metaphor of the “thaw,” rebirth and new growth was in the air. Khrushchev took on the entrenched Stalinist old guard through a policy of bureaucratic decentralization, allowing more decisions about governance to be made at the local level. Unfortunately, this didn’t cut down much on corruption; it just put it in different hands. Economic developments in the 1950s presented a similarly missed opportunity. The Soviet economy boomed in the 1950s and the standard of living increased substantially, but Khrushchev failed to use this moment to modernize infrastructure and increase the productivity and quality of output. In the realm of technology, the Soviet Union was winning the Space Race. They launched the first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957, and four years later, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit the Earth. But as in the US, these advances went hand in hand with the development of nuclear weapons. Perhaps most damningly, Khrushchev’s Virgin Lands Campaign, which aimed to increase agricultural production by sewing wheat on the grasslands of the Kazakh SSR resulted in environmental disaster. Irrigational canals did irreparable damage to the Aral Sea, and soil erosion turned the region into a dustbowl.

While all this went on inside the Soviet Union, de-Stalinization also had a major impact on the new communist regimes of the Eastern Bloc, which had spent a tumultuous first decade consolidating their power, modernizing their economies, and undergoing a spate of Stalinist political purges. The Secret Speech had immediate effects. In June 1956, Polish workers staged a protest, which spread across the country and forced the government to institute Khrushchev-style reforms. Four months later, in October 1956, intellectuals and students in Hungary launched a similar movement. In this case, the hardline head of the Communist Party was ousted and replaced by a reformer, who tried to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact. Khrushchev ordered Warsaw Pact troops to intervene, and the revolution was crushed. This was deeply shocking for Soviet citizens and Eastern Europeans. It’s worth considering how Khrushchev’s decision-making was shaped by his political apprenticeship under Stalin. This was not the last moment of unrest in the Eastern Bloc, but it was the last one Khrushchev would deal with personally.

Despite generally warmer relations with the West during the Thaw, the Cold War never let up. In fact, some of its tensest moments date to this era. Germany, new divided into two countries, remained a locus of tension. West Berlin was a particular thorn in the Soviets’ side. East German citizens used the city to flee to the West by the thousands in the 1950s. In 1959, Khrushchev finally demanded that Western forces withdraw from the city, which they refused to do. Tensions ramped up for the better part of two years, until, on the night of August 12, 1961, Soviet troops constructed the Berlin Wall, and the Western powers decided not to fight it. Berliners were the chief victims of this development. Families found themselves separated, and over the next three decades, hundreds of people were killed trying to cross.

By the early 1960s, Khrushchev was becoming increasingly erratic. Famously, he nearly brought on WWIII when, in 1962, he got the bright idea to send Soviet missiles to Cuba, which had become communist after its revolution in 1959. This triggered the Cuban Missile Crisis, which concluded when Khrushchev was embarrassingly forced to back down. Fed up with such missteps, the Politburo ousted him in 1964 and replaced him with Leonid Brezhnev, who remained in power until his death in 1982.

We’ll talk more about arts and culture in future videos. Now let’s get to some discussion questions.

Leah’s Discussion Questions
Russia’s Long 20th Century
1. Let’s consider the guiding questions provided by our textbook’s authors. In your analysis, did the Thaw constitute a fundamental break with Stalinism? How did the Soviet system change and in what ways did it remain the same? To what extent did the Thaw bring about more freedom? In what ways did it bring new restrictions to people’s lives?

2. After reading this chapter and the “Secret Speech,” what is your overall assessment of Nikita Khrushchev? Do you consider him a genuine reformer or still a Stalinist at heart?

3.  What do you make of the popular demands for greater sincerity and complexity in literature and film during the Thaw? How does this help us understand the differences between the new postwar generation and their parents? Is it possible to create storylines that answer these demands while conforming to Socialist Realism?

4. Please read the primary sources on pp.191-193 and analyze them using the discussion questions provided by our authors.

Nikita Khrushchev, ” The Secret Speech
1. Read the first two paragraphs of this speech. How would you describe Khrushchev’s tone? Why do you think he is being so aggressive? In the third paragraph, Khrushchev calls this situation the cult of personality. Why do you think he chose the word “cult”? How does it shape his audience’s response?

2. What role does Lenin play in this speech? In taking down Stalin, why does Khrushchev replace him with Lenin? Why not replace him with Khrushchev? Why replace him at all? Why might it be difficult to not replace him with somebody?

3. It’s significant that Khrushchev openly talks about the Great Purge in this speech. Find the paragraph that begins with the words “On the whole, the only proof…” Read that paragraph and the next one. Remember, for most Soviet citizens this was new information. What kind of impact do you think it had on them? If you had denounced an “enemy of the people,” or even if you had stood by while someone was arrested, how would these revelations make you feel?

Lenin shows up again here. How does Khrushchev use Lenin to make a distinction between the bad practices of Stalinism and acceptable Soviet practices?

4. Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin raises an obvious question: why didn’t the other members of the Politburo, including Khrushchev, stop him? Throughout the speech, Khrushchev answers this question by claiming that Stalin wasn’t always bad. Some of his policies, particularly the early ones, were good and necessary. And later on, they were too afraid. Can you analyze this explanation? Why does Khrushchev limit his criticism of Stalin? What would be the danger of saying that absolutely everything he did was harmful? If you were a Soviet citizen, would you be satisfied by his explanation of the Politburo’s behavior?

5. In the last couple paragraphs, Khrushchev urges his audience to proceed calmly and not “wash our dirty linen before [the enemy’s] eyes.” (Khrushchev, web) What is Khrushchev really worried about here? If he still fears “enemies,” has he escaped the cult of personality, himself?

Evtushenko, “Mourners Crushed” and “Stalin’s Heirs”

Evgenii Evtushenko, “Mourners Crushed at Stalin’s Funeral” and “Stalin’s Heirs”
1. Carefully read the first two paragraphs of Evtushenko’s account of Stalin’s funeral. How does he convey what it was like to live under Stalinism? How does this help us understand Khrushchev’s decision to make the Secret Speech?

2. What happens at the funeral? In what way does Evtushenko undergo a personal moment of de-Stalinization? How does his experience embody both the Party’s hopes and its fears about the effects of de-Stalinization on Soviet young people?

This experience leads Evtushenko to greater sense of civic duty. But could it also have had the opposite effect? How would you have felt in his shoes?

3. By the time he went to the funeral, Evtushenko was already writing poetry. De-Stalinization reinforced his commitment to this career path. Why does he believe poetryis the best way for him to contribute, as a citizen? Do you think he’s right? Do the arts have a particular role to play in such situations?

4. Let’s look now at his poem “Stalin’s Heirs.” Who are Stalin’s heirs? In your analysis, what is this poem really about? For Evtushenko, what will it take for Stalin’s heirs to truly be vanquished?

5. Carefully read the lines from “And I appeal to our government” through to “The arrests of the innocent.” (Evtushenko, “Stalin’s Heirs,” web) How is Evtushenko using the politics of memory in this passage? How does his account of Stalinism compare to Khrushchev’s in the Secret Speech? In this poem, is Evtushenko writing as a voice of protest or of support for the state?

Comrade Chat! Leah’s Video for Week 8, Day 2: Late Stalinism and the Arts

Transcript
Hello Comrades! Today we are going to continue our discussion of Late Stalinism and the Cold War by looking at some primary documents. Our cat today is Maggie. The context for these documents is the zhdanovshchina. That is a hard word to wrap your head around, so let’s try it together. Zhduh—zhdan—ZHDANov—ZHDANovSHEEna. Now you’re all experts in Russian!

You may notice that the root of this word is the name “Zhdanov,” which we have encountered before. Andrei Zhdanov was a member of the Central Committee, the highest governing body of the Soviet Union, and his particular area of expertise was ideology. You might remember that we read his speech “Soviet Literature—The Richest In Ideas.” He gave that speech at the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934, and in that speech he defined (however vaguely) the term Socialist Realism. So, as you read the documents for today, I encourage you to think about how they relate to Socialist Realism as a method for creating art.

The word Zhdanovshchina literally means, “the Zhdanov affair.” We use it to talk about the period from 1946-1948, when the Soviet state reasserted its authority over the arts through a series of Central Committee resolutions condemning ideological missteps in four genres: literature, theater, film, and music. We are discussing the Central Committee Resolution on Literature today. The resolutions came from the Central Committee as a whole, similar to how our laws are written by the Congress as a whole. The period itself is named after Zhdanov because of his role as the Central Committee’s point man on ideological issues.

There are several layers of context that can help us make sense of the zhdanovshchina. As you read in chapter 8 of Russia’s Long Twentieth Century, this phenomenon had both internal and external causes. From an internal perspective, we know that during the war, artists experienced greater freedom in their creative expression. Certainly, they were still expected to produce works that conformed to Socialist Realism. But the boundaries of that ambiguous term were broader during wartime than they had been in the 1930s. Many artists hoped that this greater freedom would continue after the war. The zhdanovshchina made it clear in no uncertain terms that that would not be the case. The state was back to monitoring artists and their work as closely as ever. From an external perspective, we must also think of the zhdanovshchina in the context of the Cold War, which was just ramping up in these same years. Concerns about ideological competition on a European and even global scale play an important part in these documents. Last but not least, we can’t forget that the zhdanovshchina existed in the context of Stalinism. The Great Purge ended in 1939, and though some feared that it might start up again after WWII, that did not happen. Still, if you read closely, you may find some of the rhetoric in these documents reminiscent of the fear-mongering and accusatory tone of Stalin’s speeches of the 1930s.

In the end, the zhdanovshchina outlasted Zhdanov himself. Zhdanov died of a heart attack in 1948. His death was subsequently blamed on Jewish doctors during the 1952 Doctors’ Plot scandal. Even without Zhdanov, though, Soviet artistic production ground nearly to a halt. Artists were afraid of the consequences of making a mistake. And these consequences didn’t just affect individuals, because the creative unions, like the Union of Writers, were held responsible for their members’ bad work. Interestingly, this lack of new production actually pushed the state to start showing trophy films captured during WWII, which then fueled the fascination with the West among the stiliagi. For their part, Soviet artists did not get back on track until Stalin’s death in 1953, after which their situation changed significantly. We’ll talk about that more next week.

That’s the background we need to know for these documents. Now let’s get to some discussion questions. We’re going to examine these documents in the order they were written.

Leah’s Discussion Questions
1. Let’s start with Zoshchenko’s “Adventures of a Monkey.” This story is a satire, and as we know from the Central Committee Resolution, it was not appreciated by those in power. In fact, the Resolution accuses this story of “presenting a crass lampoon of Soviet daily life and Soviet people… slanderously presenting Soviet people as primitive, uncultured, stupid, with narrow-minded tastes and morals.” (Central Committee, 1). This raises an obvious question for us: In your analysis does this story actually present Soviet people in such a terrible light? Is it a harsh, cruel, anti-Soviet satire? Or do you read it as more of a playful, teasing satire? Is it aimed at Soviet people in particular, or simply at humanity?

2. There is also a more complicated question that’s worth considering here: Is satire even possible in an authoritarian state like the Stalinist Soviet  Union? Or is it inherently dangerous, no matter what Zoshchenko’s intentions were?

3. Now let’s look at the “Resolution on the Journals Zvezda and Leningrad.” These are literary journals—basically, long magazines that publish several short stories in each issue. We don’t see literary journals around much anymore, but before people had TVs, they were quite common around the world, and they had a large readership. So, we might understand why the government was concerned about their content. Make a close reading of the first four paragraphs of this document. What specific criticisms does the Central Committee use to attack this “bad” literature? How do these terms fit into the context of the Cold War? Based on these paragraphs, what are the Soviet Union’s major concerns?

4. Ultimately, this Resolution attacks many players on the Soviet literary scene. But it starts with specific attacks on Mikhail Zoshchenko and Anna Akhmatova. Zoshchenko was a satirist and Akhmatova was a poet. Both began their literary careers before the Revolutions of 1917 and chose to stay in the Soviet Union afterward. By 1946, they were both very famous and well-respected literary figures. In what way might these biographical details make them threatening to Stalin? How might it be a useful strategy to attack prominent individuals first, and then broaden out to attack the rest of the literary establishment?

5. After attacking Zoshchenko and Akhmatova, the Central Committee moves on to the editors of the two journals. On the second page, find the sentence, “What is the meaning of the mistakes of the editors of Zvezda and Leningrad?” Make a close reading of the next two paragraphs. What exactly are these editors being accused of? What vision of the proper role of Soviet literature emerges here? How does it compare to what we’ve learned about Socialist Realism? Is this a “back to basics” situation, or have the state’s demands on artists evolved? Why is there so much concern here with educating the youth?

Consider the sentence, “Soviet literature does not and cannot have other interests than the interests of the people, the interests of the state.” (Central committee, 2) What are the implications of this claim? What kind of relationship does it create between artists and the state?

6. This resolution had real consequences. Considered the numbered list of measures to be taken at the end of the document. What message does this send to artists and arts administrators within the Soviet Union? What message does it send to the rest of the world?

7. Finally, let’s turn to Zhdanov’s speech, “The Duty of a Soviet Writer,” which he gave to the Union of Soviet Writers just a week after the Central Committee Resolution was passed. Zhdanov spends a great deal of time in this speech setting up an opposition between the “bourgeois world” and the Soviet Union. Take a close look at exactly what he says about threat posed by the West and how he expects Soviet literature to overcome it. How does Zhdanov’s framing of this opposition help us understand how Soviet officials understood the Cold War in these early days of it? What similarities and differences do you find here to the way Zhdanov spoke about bourgeois literature in his 1934 speech?

8. Zhdanov addresses Socialist Realism specifically in this speech. Consider the paragraph that begins with: “To show these great new qualities of the Soviet people…” Is this the same definition of Socialist Realism than we got in 1934? How is it similar or different? What specific tasks does it present? Think again about Zoshchenko’s “Adventures of a Monkey.” In your analysis, does it violate this definition? Why or why not?

9. Another notable aspect of this speech is Zhdanov’s use of military language. He talks about victory, fighting, the ideological front, and the “active invasion of literature into all aspects of Soviet life” (Zhdanov, web). Why do you think he uses these military metaphors? What purpose do they serve in the larger campaign of the zhdanovshchina?

10. Consider both the “Resolution on the Journals Zvezda and Leningrad” and Zhdanov’s speech “The Duty of a Soviet Writer.” What elements of Stalinist rhetoric do you find in these documents? If you were a Soviet writer, what might such rhetoric signal to you, beyond the immediate fact of the state’s anger at writers?

Question 3 – Comrade Chat

The Stiliagi are an interesting group of people from this period in history – especially because it was after WW2, and one would expect them to be more interested in Soviet culture, music, fashion, etc. as a form of patriotism, rather than the Western culture which had always been depicted as the enemy to a safe and decent society. Historians stated that this fascination came from a few different events. One was that the Stiliagi were dissidents, especially in the face of the “macho” war veterans who were showing off their toxic masculinity (pg 164). Historians believed that the Stiliagi were using this fashion and western culture to bring themselves out of that tough and difficult lifestyle that the “macho” Russian veterans were presenting as. Another reason historians believe that the Stiliagi could have been interested in western culture is because it showed a life that was extremely different from their own — which included hunger, the spreading of disease, overcrowding, and in some places the lack of basic necessities such as running water (pg. 165). I find this explanation to be the most convincing of all explanations offered by historians. I think as young people, they wanted to change the world they lived in and experience better lives than that of the generation before them. Even though they saw themselves as uninterested in politics, I think this movement was extremely political. It showed their lack of happiness with the society presented to them and expressing that in itself is inherently political. 

Collective Interpretations of Origin

Going off of Leah’s first discussion question and from the reading, I am very interested in opening up the conversation about what the initial intentions of the Cold War were for each side and exploring how the two sides rapidly picked a stance and used it as the foundation for the Cold War. To elaborate, the beginning of the book proposes three main origins of the Cold War: Soviet desire to spread communism, United States’ goal for international domination, and a vacant power vacuum left from the collapse of German and Japanese empires. With all of these theories circulating, it is easy to see how government officials could quickly portray their desired origin to the mass public and create a spiral of misinformation that if avoided, may have not allowed the Cold War to reach the impact that it did. Winston Churchill’s speech ignited the mass portrayal of the enemy having sinister intentions. To the Soviets, this “represented imperialist aspirations and idealogical obfuscation” and “coerced economic integration, not ‘freedom and democracy'” (pg. 157) and to the United States, the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan was a pledge to “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures” (157). When I spent a semester in Greece, a large portion of my history lessons were surrounding this doctrine (because it was initially created in response to the Greek civil war) and we discussed how the Greek people were collectively against it (and even vandalized the Truman statue in Greece) because it was seen as means of economic control over susceptible nations. With this information, do we all feel as though each side too rapidly took an opinion against the other? Did the two groups collectively create one narrative they wanted to believe and ran with it? Without these drastically different collective origins, could the Cold War been avoided all together? How did these origin debates lead to the use of propaganda, Soviet punishment for western interaction, etc?

Comrade Chat! Leah’s Video for Week 8, Day 1: Late Stalinism and the Cold War (Chatterjee, chapter 8)

Dear Comrades, here is my first video fro you! Please watch it and/or read the transcript below. You can also turn on closed captioning with the video, but it is auto-generated and not entirely accurate. Remember to respond with your own posts by Friday at 5pm!

Transcript of the Video
Welcome to the online version of this course! Today’s teaching assistant is Dante. Let’s start with a few announcements. First, remember that from now on, you must do two blog posts a week. Your posts are due Fridays by 5pm. Second, If you do not have your copy of Russia’s Long Twentieth Century, the library has gotten us access to the eBook. I will post the link on the blog. I am also working on getting us scans of the two other books you’ll need in the coming weeks.

During the first half of this semester, most of our class meetings involved about half an hour of lecture. Now that we’ve gone online, we are going to set those lectures aside. It’s harder to concentrate on a lecture you watch online. There’s a certain energy that comes with us all being in the same room and being able to interact in real time. You guys, in particular, ask a lot of great questions. In our current situation, though, we can’t achieve that kind of interaction. I’m aware that you have limited time and limited attention that you can devote to this class. I’d rather spend that time on discussion, especially because our textbook, Russia’s Long Twentieth Century, does a good job of covering the historical context.

I’m going to start today with a brief summary of the points that I think are most essential for historical context. Then I’ll ask you some discussion questions based on chapter 8, and finally, I’ll ask you some discussion questions that go with the primary sources at the end of this chapter.

When we talk about the Late Stalinist period, which runs from the end of WWII in May 1945 through Stalin’s death in 1953, it’s important to pay attention both to domestic affairs (the process of postwar reconstruction) and international affairs (the rise of the Cold War).

Domestically, the Soviet Union threw itself into reconstruction. And it had a long way to go, because much of the fighting on the Eastern Front took place in Soviet territory, and that territory was just about destroyed. Amazingly, the Soviet Union did manage to return to its prewar industrial capacity by 1948. But as you read, this success was achieved on the backs of workers and peasants. Peasants, in particular, suffered during the Famine of 1946-1947, which was caused by drought, but made worse by the state’s refusal to commit to effective relief efforts. As a silver lining, this is the last time we’re going to talk about massive deaths of Soviet citizens in this class. It took us eight weeks, but we got there!

At the same time, the Soviet Union faced a lot of societal tension. Citizens who had accepted harsh sacrifices during the war were impatient to see their standard of living rise afterward. People were shocked when friends and family who had survived prisoner of war camps and slave labor in the Nazi Reich were then arrested and sent to the Gulag as traitors. And in Western Ukraine, which had been part of Poland between the world wars but was now incorporated into the Soviet Union, nationalist militias kept up active fighting though the late 1940s.

Stalin’s postwar ideological campaigns only added to these tensions. The zhdanovshchina introduced a strict crackdown on artists, intellectuals, and even jazz music. (We’ll talk about that more in the next lesson.) The Anti-Cosmopolitan Campaign brought anti-Semitism into the official sphere for the first time and suppressed expression of secular Jewish identity, which the Soviet state had previously supported. And the Doctor’s Plot, which accused Jewish doctors of plotting against the government, represented an even more serious threat to Soviet Jews and was only halted b Stalin’s death in 1953.

Amidst all of this, a new generation of Soviet citizens reached adulthood. They were much less interested in politics than their parents. What they really wanted to do was play sports, go dancing, and just generally have fun.  They were also very interested in the West and had more information about it than ever before. Chapter 8 gives you a good sense of the new ways they were finding out about Western fashions, music, and slang, and for some young people, embracing the culture of the stiliagi.

So, that’s the domestic scene. On the international stage, the Cold War was on the rise. As we learned earlier, even during WWII, relations between the Allies were tense. And they only broke down further as these same countries negotiated how to put Europe back together after the war’s end. In 1947, the United States declared the Truman Doctrine, which stated that it would aid any country in the world facing an internal “threat.” Truman didn’t explicitly call it a threat from communism, but that’s what he meant, and everyone knew it. The same year, the US also launched the Marshall Plan, a massive aid program, which the Soviet Union took as a bid for hegemony in Europe. To counteract it, the Soviet Union established the Cominform in 1948, as a successor to the defunct Comintern. These moves essentially set up the two blocs that would dominate the second half of the 20th century: a Western Bloc cemented by NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and an Eastern Bloc cemented by the Warsaw Pact. These blocs also divided Germany and the city of Berlin between them, though all parties had agreed in 1945 that this should not happen. Chapter 8 gives you more detail on this process. And of course, we can’t forget that the nuclear arms race soon came into the picture, with the Soviet Union developing its first atomic bomb in 1949.

The Eastern Bloc comprised seven countries besides the Soviet Union. It’s important to understand that these countries remained separate. They were not part of the Soviet Union, though they were heavily influenced by it. That’s why we call them “satellite states.” These countries are: Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. (Yugoslavia was also a communist country in this era, but it did not join the Warsaw Pact.) These countries were all occupied by the Soviet Union as they drove the Nazis back to Berlin from 1943 to 1945. And as the Soviet forces retreated after the war, they established communist regimes to take over from them. In some countries, like Czechoslovakia, communism was genuinely popular at this time. Even so, the Soviets supported the Czech Communist Party in staging a coup to ensure thy would stay in power.

I think that’s what we need to know for this lesson! Let’s get to some discussion questions.

Leah’s Discussion Questions

1. The authors of our textbook point out that in the immediate postwar period, both the West and the Soviet Union made moves aimed at protecting their security interests and promoting their ideological interests. Each side viewed the other with suspicion, and each new move increased their mistrust of each other, resulting in the Cold War. Historians have long debated which side was more to blame for this situation. But I’d like you to consider, would it have been possible to avoid the Cold War? If so, what could each side have done differently to diffuse tensions? If not, what historical factors made this conflict a foregone conclusion?

2. Let’s consider the postwar ideological campaigns: the move against jazz, the promotion of Russian nationality, and particularly the Anti-Cosmopolitan Campaign. Can you analyze the relationship of these campaigns to the Cold War? What about their relationship to internal factors? Historians have debated whether external or internal factors were more significant; what do you think and why? How did these campaigns shape the way Soviet citizens thought about society and culture?

3. Consider the case of the stiliagi, the young people who loved Western music and fashion. What are some ways historians have explained their fascination? Which explanation do you find most convincing? The stiliagi saw themselves as uninterested in politics. But were their activities subversive after all?

4. Our authors explain that during the Cold War, both the West and the Soviet Union based their arguments for their superiority on the claim that their system could do the best job of providing for their citizens’ needs. They shared the idea of “the good life,” but they defined it differently. The West upheld the idea of choice: citizens had a vast array of consumer goods and could get anything they want. The Soviet Union, by contrast, upheld the idea of social services: citizens could live worry-free, because they had guaranteed housing, free healthcare, free education, and the right to work. Which of these definitions of “the good life” do you find most convincing and why?

I would also like you to analyze the primary sources on pp.171-174, using the discussion questions provided by our authors.

For added fun, you can also watch Nixon and Khrushchev’s 1959 “Kitchen Debate” on YouTube. Here it is!

Important Announcements for Going Online!

  • Every week, you must respond to two lessons. Check the Plague Syllabus for details! Remember that your posts are due each week by Friday at 5pm.
  • You do not need to respond to all of the questions I ask! You can focus on the one that interests you most.
  • I will post my videos on this blog with the title, category, and tag “Comrade Chat.”
  • As you start working on your final papers, remember to read carefully through the HIS 240 Writing Handout and other resources, which you can find here.
  • If you don’t have your copy of Russia’s Long Twentieth Century, you can access an eBook version here.

Symphony No. 7 in C Major, “Leningrad”: IV Musical analysis/starter

Beginning just prior to the two minute mark, we begin to get a sense of hurriedness within Shostakovitch’s piece. Soon, by the three minute mark, horns begin blaring dramatically following by an underlying, repetitive pattern of notes by some of the lower horns and strings. In my mind this represents the constant presence of the German forces around Leningrad putting a constant pressure on the city with artillery, bombings, and other attacks in an effort to wear its citizens down. As we get to around the 5 minute mark, we see a brief, rather strange melody present itself. It ends with a high concluding note…and seems hopeful and light in the midst of the surrounding musical parts. Whether this little melody represents heroism during the siege, a rallying despite the dire situation within the city, or a mere callback to the relatively normal life that came before, one thing is sure: It represents a stark difference to the dark, foreboding tone of the rest of the piece up until this point. By 9 minutes into the piece, a blissful clarinet solo is seemingly all by itself. It is followed by other lighter parts, and by 14-15 minutes a strong movement is underway. By the 17 minute mark there is a distinct channeling of positive energy within the piece. Reminiscent of the theme from Lawrence of Arabia, it appears to represent the triumph of the heroes, as by this time the Soviet Union, through the microcosm of Leningrad, is returning to its former glory and beating back the foreign invaders. You can sense the hope Shostakovitch is trying to instill with these last several minutes and it is inspiring…as despite all the banging and crashing in the first several minutes of the piece, it ultimately ends with a grand, victorious rumble. In short, a summary of the piece could more or less read as follows:

Soft (the prelude to the siege) – Rushed/Hurried (the urge to escape or seek cover) – further Hurried and unpredictable (the attacks on the city itself) – Soft (cleaning up the wreckage and almost a slow tune paying tribute to those lost in the siege) – Loud and ecstatic (the push back against Axis forces and the lifting of the city’s siege as Allied forces push back the invaders)

What elements of the war/siege do you see in the piece? Given that the piece was completed in December of 1941, do you think the ending movement was Shostakovitch trying to instill hope that seemed out of reach, or was it something you believe he, and the people of Leningrad by extension, truly believed in given the dire circumstances?

Symphony No.7 Leningrad: The Story Behind the Music

Every musical work tends to have a story behind its pleasant melody of sounds. In Shostakovich’s Symphony No.7 Leningrad, one hears a variety of instruments playing at various tones and tempos throughout the 19 minute long piece. As mentioned in the Radio Leningrad article Shostakovich aimed good depict the war through this symphony. Did he manage to do this? Also what did the increase and decrease of tempo throughout the piece do for the work as a whole? Most importantly how did Shostakovich tie the war into a piece of music?

Radio Leningrad

In “This is Radio Leningrad!,” I found the development and adoption of culture to be particularly interesting. While some things were not inherently Soviet, such as the excerpt from Tolstoy, who died before the revolution of 1917, Dmitrii Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 was the direct result of the siege of Leningrad and Soviet ideology. Berggolts in “This is Radio Leningrad!” describes Tolstoy’s “Sevastopol. Winter, 1854” as “matter-of fact Russian heroism, modest and pure (Berggolts).” This quote about a pre-soviet writer put alongside the dissonance and ominous beginning turned to glorious finish of Shostakovich’s movement IV of his Seventh Symphony seem to present a new era of Russian heroism. I use this term loosely as I do not mean to judge heroism, only its representation in culture. As we have seen, the Soviet Union has returned to traditional Russian heroes under Stalin as a rebuke of previous Soviet-only policy. The comparison of Tolstoy and Shostakovich supports this trend. What are some specific reasons to return to some aspects of traditional Russian culture (though Tolstoy himself does not fit that mold) and aside from morale during World War II, what are the effects of adopting an ableist and masculine culture under Stalin in the 1940’s?

Radio Leningrad: Did it have a larger meaning?

At the beginning of Olga Berggolts “This is Radio Leningrad!” the reader is introduced to war-stricken Russia. This is a time of hardship for many as the war goes into the cold winter months. All that can be heard in the nation at this time is the explosions of weapons, for even the nation’s voice is silenced at this time. The radio had already been down for three days in Leningrad when Olga and her counterpart decided the silence could no longer go on. “The Art Director of the Radio Committee Babushkin, Makogonenko, editor of the Literary Department and myself drew up a detailed plan, toiling over it practically all through the night by the light of our only dim electric bulb with a newspaper for a shade.” Olga and Babushkin worked to create their master plan which would be known as Radio Leningrad. Radio Leningrad provided information about the war to the people of Leningrad and surrounding areas. This information was passed along through various forms of broadcasts such as personal narratives, poems, and short stories. One may hear from a soldier or even a common townsman about their experiences at this time of war. Thus the question I would like to propose is: Did Radio Leningrad have a larger meaning to the people of Leningrad than just a means of spreading information? Also, how did these different types of broadcasts have an affect on the information that was given? Was there more meaning to the broadcasts when they was given in the form of a first person perspective rather than a third person report?