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The Editors and Board of Trustees of the Russian Review New Perspectives on Stalinism Author(s):

The Editors and Board of Trustees of the Russian Review

New Perspectives on Stalinism Author(s): Sheila Fitzpatrick Source: Russian Review, Vol. 45, No. 4 (Oct., 1986), pp. 357-373 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Editors and Board of Trustees of the Russian Review

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TheRussianReview, vol. 45, 1986, pp. 357-373


New Perspectives on Stalinism


The natureof Stalinisml has always been a highly contentious question, charged with political significance for almost all disputants. In the early Cold War period, when the political charge was most explosive, Soviet and Western commentatorssharedthe assumption thatwhathad emerged in the Soviet Union in the 1930s was both the historically inevitable outcome of the Bolshevik Revolution and a basically permanent and immutable new "Soviet system," thoughthey disagreedvehemently aboutits nature. Fromthe Soviet standpoint, the revolutionhad produced socialism. Fromthe western standpoint(excluding

a small group of Soviet

totalitarian dictatorship.

From both, the system was the antithesis of Western democracy and was its majorideological competitor on the internationalscene. In the decades after Stalin's death, changes in the Soviet Union led both

sides to reassess their judgments,particularly on the immutability of the Soviet system. Some features of Stalin's regime were repudiated or criticized in the Soviet Union, and therewere Soviet attempts to separate the legitimate "Lenin- ist" outcome of the Revolution from the temporary "excesses" of the Stalin period. In the West, revision of Cold War premises in other areas finally promptedSovietologists to reexamine the totalitarian model, which now came

undercriticismfor inherent political bias as

temporary Soviet Tucker in 1975,

although the most vigorous objections to the totalitarianmodel related to the pre-Stalin period.3 Since then, political scientists have tended to move away

from a totalitarian image of the Soviet Union before and after Stalin, while tacitly accepting its applicability to the Stalinist system.

sympathizers), the product was

well as for inappropriateness to con- conference organized by Robert C.

reality.2 At the Bellagio

the term "Stalinism" was preferred to "totalitarianism,"


An earlierversion of this articlewas presented at the

ThirdWorld Congress of Slavic Studies

in Washington, DC, November2, 1985.


turesthat emerged in the Soviet


I use "Stalinism" here as a convenienttermfor the new political, economic, and social struc-

Union afterthe great breakassociatedwith collectivization and the

2 For an excellent discussion of this reexamination, see Abbott Gleason, "'Totalitarianism' in

1984," RussianReview, vol. 43, 1984, pp. 145-159.



Robert C. Tucker,ed., Stalinism: Essays in Historical Interpretation, New York, 1977,



Apart from the argument about models, however, there have been other developments affecting the direction of Western Soviet scholarship in recent years. The most relevant, for our purposes, is the entry of historiansinto a field long dominated by political scientists, the study of the Soviet Union from the Revolutionof 1917 to the end of the Stalin period. Of course, therewere always some historiansin the field, including some very good ones. But the new cohort

is larger, with more sense of itself as a groupand, in particular, a much stronger

assert an identity as historians. That assertionof professionalidentity of making two points. First, the new cohort is telling otherhistorians

that Soviet history is a legitimate field (earlier a controversialissue among Rus-

sian historians),drawing attentionto the recent improvement in access to Soviet archives and other primary sources, and emphasizing its own professional qualifications. Second, it is distinguishing itself from the older generation of Sovietologists, dominated by political scientists' main interpretativeframework, the totalitarianmodel. Social history is a major focus of interestfor the new cohortof historians. This choice also involves assertionof separateidentity and implicit criticismof the earlier Sovietological preoccupation with politics and ideology. Without going too deeply into the chicken-and-eggquestion, social historianshave par- ticularlygood reason (or a particularlygood excuse) for dissatisfactionwith the totalitarianmodel: the model's assertionof the primacy of politics made social

history seem a backwater, remotefrom the real dynamics of post-revolutionary Soviet development. In addition, the new cohort's identificationwith a broader community of social historianshas the effect (intended or otherwise) of provid- ing external reinforcement to its struggle against the perceived "Cold War bias" of earlier Sovietology. This particular bias is generally disliked by social historiansin other fields, whose instincts are often more radicalthanthatof the historical profession as a whole. My purpose in this essay is to investigate the likely impact of historians, particularly social historians, on the study of the Stalin period. This is a participant'sreport, as I am currentlyworking on a social history of the 1930s, but it should not be read as a New Cohortmanifesto. It is both descriptive and prescriptive, and the prescriptions are largely addressedto other social histori-

ans, who

audience of scholars in Soviet studies is what the new social historians may have to say on one of the big traditionalissues of Sovietology-the natureand dynamics of Stalinism.

desire to is a way

may well disagree with them. The question of interestto the broader

General Interpretationsof

StalinistStateand Society

The overarching theme that Western historianshave commonly used for interpreting the Stalin period is state against society, nachal'stvo against narod. This is a familiarframeworkin Russian historiography.According to this view, the state acts on society, trying to change and mold it in ways that serve state purposes;society acts primarilyby re-acting to state pressure, which it tries to

New Perspectives on Stalinism


resist, evade, or subvert by passive resistance. In scholarship on the Soviet period,particularly the Stalin era, the state-school approach established by Rus- sian historiansin the nineteenth century has been reinforced by a compatible

twentieth-century American political scientists, the totalitarian

model. In this model, the Soviet totalitarianstate seeks to transform society according to Marxist-Leninist ideology, using the Communist Party as an agent of mobilizationand reinforcing its dictateswith police coercion and terror. The society is reducedto an object, inertand featureless, which is shaped and mani-

pulatedby the energetic actionof the totalitarian regime. This view of state/society relations obviously encourages scholars to

investigate statemechanismsratherthansocial processes. Soviet

quently, have focussed strongly on state and party,dealing with society almost

exclusively in a context of state and party intervention. The scholarly literature on the Stalin period is full of studies of such intervention: forced collectiviza- tion, subordinationof trade unions, labor discipline laws, the development of the Stakhanovitemovement under party sponsorship, harassmentof the old intelli- gentsia, the establishmentof party controlsover cultureand scholarship, censor- ship, the Great Purge (seen as Stalin's "war against the nation," in Ulam's phrase),4 and so on. Some of these studies also deal with resentful social responses to state intervention, as in the case of peasants and collectivizationor the intelligentsia and cultural controls. But this is the only kind of social response that is generally discussed, and social processes unrelated to state interventionare virtually absentfromthe literature. In the interventionist episodes, society is seen as a victim of state action, and its reactionis a mixtureof covert hostility and passive acceptance of force majeure. Scholarshave explained the lack of more effective societal resistance (both to the tsaristand Soviet state) in terms of the traditional "underdevelop- ment" of social classes and social organization in Russia, and the state's ruth- less use of coercion and terror. In addition, some theoristslike HannahArendt have argued thattotalitarian regimes "atomize" society, destroying or subordi- nating all the institutionsand associationalforms that might lend themselves to active social resistance. "Society" is often an undifferentiatedwhole in Sovietological writing, since internalsocial relationships and processes have little relevanceto the total- itarianmodel. For practical expository purposes, however, it is necessary on occasion to identifyparts of the whole to which specific stateinterventionistacts are addressed. The terminology used usually corresponds to Soviet usage,

namely, "workers," "peasants," and "intelligentsia."

"non-antagonistic classes" and the "stratum"identifiedas the basic groupings of Soviet society in the Stalin Constitutionof 1936. An earlier Soviet usage,

more rigorously Marxist, subdivided the peasantry into class groups ranging from "kulak" to "poor peasant," and also distinguished between an old

concept of

studies, conse-

These are the two

4 AdamB. Ulam, Stalin,New York, 1973, title of ch. 8.



"bourgeois" and new "proletarian" intelligentsia. Although Sovietologists generally dislike these classificationsand put the termsin quotationmarks, it is virtually impossible to avoid using them when describing state policies:

"kulaks," for example, may be an ambiguous social group, but what otherlabel can be used for the targets of the "dekulakization" policy? Thus,perhaps ironi- cally, Sovietologists have fallen into the habit of dealing with Soviet society in termsof Marxist-and even Stalinist-Marxist--class categories. At times, reading Western scholarship on the Stalin period, one might also conclude that Sovietologists have accepted Stalinist premises about the disap- pearance of class antagonisms in Soviet society. Inter-and intra-classconflicts and tensions are as rare in the Western "totalitarian"model as they are in the Soviet "socialist" one. However, thereis one notable exception to this rule. In following Trotsky (The Revolution Betrayed) and Djilas (The New Class), Sovietologists sometimes refer to an antagonistic relationship between an oppressedsociety andan exploiting,privileged bureaucraticelite. This is essen- tially a Marxist version of the old state-against-societyimage (from which, in fact, Trotsky probably derived it).5 Its appeal to Sovietologists is no doubt relatedto its congenial political implications, since both Trotsky and Djilas were indicting the Stalinist system as well as analyzing it. All the same, its place in the conventionalwisdom of Sovietology is somewhatanomalous. This may be the point of origin of another curious Sovietological habit in writing about Soviet society, which is to attach negative connotationsto the term "bourgeois" and generally positive ones to "proletarian." Marxist prejudice, as well as Marxistand Stalinist-Marxist analysis, have found a modest place in the inter- stices of Sovietology's totalitarianmodel.

Social HistoryApproaches

a) Problems of structureand social interaction

It is too early to report on currentwork in progress in this field, since such

workon the Stalin period is only just beginning. Nevertheless, it is important to consider these problems, as the sketchy existing analytical frameworkoutlined above is clearly inadequate,being the product of casual borrowing from Soviet and other Marxist sources by Sovietologists whose main attention was else- where, and its revision may have significance for our understanding of the natureof Stalinism. I have drawnto some extent on my own experience of the

problems of structurein planning a book on the social

history of the 1930s,6 and

portrayed the tsarist state as an

the 1905 Revolution, Trotsky had

essentially free-standingentity, not representative of any class in the society but opposed to the society as a whole. In a review of the last volume of Trotsky's 1905 (Krasnaianov', 1922, no. 3), Pokrovsky accusedhim of borrowing this non-Marxist concept fromone of the historiansof the state school, the liberalP. N. Miliukov. 6 The working title of this book, which should be finishedin 1986, is Stalin's Russia: A Social

Historyof the 1930s.

5 Earlier, in his analysis of

New Perspectives on Stalinism


on relevant discussions at recent meetings of Soviet social historians in the United States.7But it is also possible to make deductionsabout likely directions of futureworkon the basis of social history's own logic. Social historiansare in the business of analyzing society, which among other things means breaking it down into constituent parts. They are unlikely to be satisfied with hypotheses involving an undifferentiated "society," as in the

state-against-societydichotomy discussed earlier. They will probably want to make finer distinctions than those of Stalinist-Marxist analysis, with its three categories of "working class," "peasantry," and "intelligentsia"; they are bound to object in particular to the last, hybrid category, which puts lowly office-workersin the same group as professionals and administrators. They will surety find it difficultto accept the idea of a society without significant internal tensions andconflicts (as in the "non-antagonistic" class relationships of Stalin- ist Marxism), or of a society so inertthatall the dynamics are external(as in the totalitarian model). The first challenge for social historians of the Stalin period will be to decide what kind of social breakdown is most appropriate. The Stalinist- Marxist breakdown is clearly simplistic, especially when compared with the complex class analysis used by Soviet Marxistsin the 1920s. On the other hand,

actually underwenta Great

it is hardto avoid the conclusion thatSoviet society

Simplification in the course of Stalin's "revolution from above" at the begin- ning of the 1930s. Kulaks, nepman, and small traders disappeared from the roster,groups like artisansand peasant craftsmenwere dispersed, andcollectivi- zation levelled old distinctionswithin the peasantry. Perhaps the result of this

was to produce a very simple social structure, as well as a damaged one. But it

is also reasonableto assume that, as the society recoveredfrom the blows FirstFive-YearPlan period, it became more complex.

of the

Trotsky and other Marxist critics have drawn our attentionto the emer-

social hierarchy in the 1930s. At the top of the hierarchy, in was the "bureaucracy," a quasi-ruling class by virtue of its

gence of a new Trotsky's view,

control (though not ownership) of the means of production,possessing material privileges that set it apart from the rest of society. This idea has been quite

influential among Western

already noted thatthe bureaucracy itself was hierarchical, so thatthe social posi-

tion and class interestsof those at the bottom were quite differentfrom those at

social historians.8 However, some of scholars have

7 I have in mind particularly the last two meetings of the NationalSeminaron the Social History of Russia in the Twentieth Century(Philadelphia, 1983 and 1984), the two workshops on Social His- tory of the Stalin period that I organized as a Senior Fellow at the HarrimanInstitute for the Advanced Study of the Soviet Union, Columbia University, in the spring of 1985, and the third

workshop in this series, held in Austin in March1986 underthe joint sponsorship of the International

Studies Program,University of Texas at Austin,

andthe HarrimanInstitute.

8 See, for example, Moshe Lewin, "The Social Background of Stalinism," in Tucker, ed.,

Stalinism,pp. 111-136.



the top, perhaps at times directly opposed to them.9 Trotsky, to be sure, had in mind the higher level of bureaucracy when he talkedof a new ruling class. But how high, and on what basis can a cut-off point be drawn? Soviet statisticians in the Stalin period sometimes used a category of "leading cadres and special-

ists,"10 based on

nomenklatura distinctions, which might coincide


Trotsky's group (though state/party nomenklaturais an unsatisfactory criterion for class membership in Marxist terms). But there is also the problem of the

professional and technical intelligentsia, whose members were often but not necessarily employed by state institutions, sometimes in a "bureaucratic" (administrative) role and sometimes simply as specialists. This whole group

sharedthe material privileges of the higher stratumof the bureaucracy andhad a high level of education and other elite characteristics. When social historians come to grips with the problem of social hierarchy,they will have to decide what kind of elite they are looking for-a Marxist "ruling class," or simply the group with highest statusand economic advantages in the society. The answer has greatsignificance for our understanding of the social dynamics of Stalinism. There are other forms of emerging hierarchicalstratificationthat call for close investigation. The position of Stakhanoviteswithin the working class is a

particularlyinterestingissue, but

be made between unskilled and skilled labor, "new" workers (fresh from the

villages) and

industry, not

labor to be found on the new

rural society in generalpresent an even more promising field of investigation for those interested in emerging social hierarchies. The kolkhoz itself was a hierarchical structure, with a top stratumof white-collar workers (chairman, accountant, and so on), a middle stratumof skilled blue-collarworkerslike trac-

tor driversand mechanics, and, at the did the actualfield work andhad only

a broader sense underwent significant changes after collectivization, as the numbersand proportionalweight of white-collar and administrative personnel and blue-collarworkers increased, while those of peasants(kolkhozniki and edi- nolichniki) diminished. Class differentiation, that favorite subject of the

agrarian Marxistsin the 1920s, is really a much more appropriate theme for the

there are also a multiplicity of distinctionsto

"old" ones, and workersin different occupations and branchesof

to mention the

distinctions among convict,11semi-free, and free constructionsites. The collectivized peasants and

bottom, the rank-and-filekolkhoznikiwho traditional peasant skills. Rural society in

9 This point was strongly made by Arch Getty at the firstandthird workshops on Social History

of the Stalin Period (see above, note 7). The approach is employed in Getty's publications andin the

workof Gabor

category, see Sostavrukovodiashchikhrabotnikovi spetsialistov

Soiuza SSR,Moscow, 1936.

In his comment on this paper as presented at the Third World Congress of Slavic Studies, Stephen F. Cohen suggested that convict laborersshould be consideredthe bottom stratumin the generalhierarchy of Soviet society in the Stalin period. I am inclinedto agree with him andwith the implied criticismof social historiansfor disregarding this group.


10 For definitionanddataon this


New Perspectives on Stalinism


1930s. Indeed, it is arguable that Russia's long-awaited "rural bourgeoisie" finally materializedin the 1930s, albeitnot in the expected form. Of course the discovery that Stalinist society was hierarchically stratified

is scarcely unexpected(what society is not?) and in itself is unlikely to change anyone's thinking aboutthe natureof Stalinism. But on what principles was the stratificationbased? Whatkind of relationsexisted between differentstrataand classes? How could individuals improve their social and economic status, or protect themselves from the sudden reversals of fortune that often overtook those who were successful in this society? The answers to such questions, if social historians can find them, may well be highly relevant to our general understanding of Stalinism. We already have certain general notions about status in Stalinist society:

that the kolkhoz peasantry ranked lowest, both for economic reasons and because the kolkhozniki were not issued internal passports, which implied second-class citizenship; thatruralin general rankedlower than urban; and that the white-collar professional and administrative group was accorded highest

status, which is often held to indicate the regime. The last premise, of course, begs

issues, namely, whether the regime was imposing its values on the society or

vice versa.

"embourgeoisement" of the Stalinist a question thatis relevantto all status

Privileged access to material goods and services was a concomitant of statusin Stalinist society.12 This point may be carriedfurther. It is possible


that, in this society where scarcity and privation were the norm, the degree of preferential access to deficit commodities was the major determinantof status distinctions, or rather, of those status distinctionsthat were peculiarly "Stalin- ist," being products of the "revolution from above" and its aftermathrather

than reflecting Bolshevik-revolutionary or traditionalRussian values. While some aspects of this question are difficult to investigate because various forms of elite privilege were concealed from the public eye (in contrastto the highly publicized privileges of Stakhanoviteworkers and peasants), the task of deter-

mining degrees of preferential access for different social and occupational groups is greatly facilitated by the existence of formal rationingsystems thathad exactly this function. Urban rationing was in force for approximately half the

Stalin period-from

earlier, during World War I and the Civil War years. A comparison of the

changing ration priorities of

should contributea great deal to our understanding of the regime's changing sense of statushierarchies. Moreover, the 1929-35 rationingsystem was a pecu- liar hybrid of industrial working-class and white-collarelite priority access via

"closed distribution points" (zakrytyeraspredeliteli)serving specific groups of

factory workers, engineers, government officials, and so

1929 to 1935, and again from 1941 to 1947-as

well as

social and occupational groups over this period

on; here social

12 See MervynMatthews,Privilege in the Soviet Union: A Studyof Elite Life-Styles underCom- munism,London, 1978.



historianswill findmuch to illuminatethe genesis and evolving organizingprin- ciples of Stalinistsocial structureand privilege.


course, formal priority of access cannotbe equated with actualaccess.

In practice, everyone working in state and cooperativetrade, or in the supply- and-procurementsdepartments of industrial enterprises and other state institu- tions, had informal privileges of access to goods that exceeded those of their

counterpartsworking outside the commercial sphere. This fact points up the importance of making vertical as well as horizontal distinctions in our social


analysis. So far, scholarshave noted only a few significant vertical

for example, between administratorsand technical specialists in the white-collar


But the vertical distinctions between commercial and non-commercial

occupations at all levels are of great interest, not only because the commercial sectorwas large but also because it had many unusualcharacteristics.

Because of its "second economy" (black market) connections and resi- dual "NEP spirit," employment in the commercial sector carriedlow prestige

despite its material advantages; it constituted an exception to our general hypothesis linking social statuswith preferential access to goods. Low prestige was most noticeable at the bottom of the commercial hierarchy, with jobs like sales clerk. At the top, managers of large departmentstores, commercialdirec- tors of enterprises and the like clearly had entree to the broadersocial elite, though this advantage was partly relatedto the services they could renderother elite members. Advancementin the commercialsector was evidently much less dependent on education and party membership-the two standardcriteriafor upwardmobility in the Stalin period-than was the case in other spheres. All this suggests more thanan interestingspecial case, understandablyneglected by

Soviet historians, for studyby Westernsocial historians.

thatwe are still greatlyunderestimating the diversity and complexity of Stalinist

society, partly because we have implicitly accepted some of the limitationsand prejudices of Stalinist-Marxist analysis of it.

It raises the possibility

b) Implicationsof High Social Mobility

Until recently, social mobility was a neglected theme in Soviet studies. Western Sovietologists often assumedthatthe process was irrelevantin a totali-

tarian society, or for thatmattera society thatclaimed to be building socialism.

Marxists analyzing Soviet society

ity is not a traditionalMarxist concept. My discussion of regime-sponsored upwardmobility into the elite in Educationand Social Mobility and elsewhere13

drew attentionto the subject, but some scholarswere uneasy aboutthe positive value-loading of the termin Americanusage (where upwardmobility is closely linked with ideas of democracy and opportunity), and others were more struck by the aspect of regime sponsorship thanthe process itself.

were equally uninterested, since social mobil-

13 Sheila Fitzpatrick, Educationand Social Mobility in the Soviet Union, 1921-1934, Cambridge, 1979, and "Stalin andthe Making of a New Elite, 1929-1938," Slavic Review, vol. 38, 1979.

New Perspectives on Stalinism


However, it is the process itself and its remarkabledimensions that are

likely to preoccupy social historiansof the Stalin period. This society is impos- sible to analyze adequately in purely static terms because of the exceptional social and geographicalmobility of the population. Tens of millions of peasants moved to towns and became workersin the 1930s. A large segment of the old working class moved into white-collar and managerial occupations. Private

tradersandbusinessmenwere forced out of

new ones; "kulaks" were deported from the villages and resettled in distant regions, where many became workers in the new industrial enterprises. The WorldWar II and postwar demobilizationof the army led to further large-scale

mobility. But war and specific regime policies encouraging various types of

mobilityexplain only part of the

it was a necessary by-product of the Soviet Union's rapid industrialization, which createdmore white-collar,professional, and managerialjobs, at the same time expanding the blue-collarlaborforce and drawingpeasants into the towns. For this reason, the general trend of mobility in the Stalin period was upward, despite the occurrence of downward mobility from the privileged classes afterthe Revolutionand dramatic episodes of elite purging in the 1930s. As I have argued elsewhere, the phenomenon of large-scale upwardmobility needs to be incorporated into our interpretation of Stalinism, because the Stalin- ist regime claimed and almost certainly received creditfor enabling membersof the lower classes to improve their social position.14 But this is not the only way in which recognition of high social mobility may affect our generalizations aboutStalinism. One familiar generalization concerns the weakness of social classes and

associationalbonds, and the consequentinability of society to resist state power or curb its expansion. Many scholars have regarded this "atomization" or social fragmentation as part of the dynamics of totalitarianism.But it can be

linked equally-and

mobility of the early Stalin period, which inevitably weakened traditionalasso-

ciational bonds and reduced class consciousness and the capacity for social

organization. To take an obvious example, a working class consisting largely of yesterday's peasants (as was the case of the Soviet working class in the 1930s)

is unlikely to

are leaving to work in the towns may offer comparatively little aggressive resis- tance to stateinitiatives, even when the policy is as unpopular as collectivization

appears to

the Soviet Union in the 1930s, will not have the same esprit de corps, indepen- dence and, habits of collective self-assertionas one that is long establishedand

firmly entrenched.

theirold occupations andhad to find

generalphenomenon. Morethan anythingelse,

not necessarily incompatibly-with

the enormous social

generate assertive

labor unions. A peasantry whose young men

have been in the countryside. A new elite, such as that emerging in

14 In Educationand Social Mobility,pp. 16-17 and 254, and in "Stalin andthe Making of a New Elite," pp. 401-402.



The high level of state coercion characteristicof the Stalin period is anotherbasic Sovietological theme that deserves reconsiderationin the context of high social mobility. These two phenomena clearly had a complex inter- dependentrelationship, and neithercan be adequately treatedwithoutreference to the other. The casual connectionsworkedboth ways. On the one hand, state

deportation of kulaks,

the expropriation of nepmen, the Great Purge and the deportation of "class enemies" from the newly acquired western territoriesin the 1940s. On the other hand, spontaneous social mobility on the scale of the early '30s created organizational and control problems for the statethat prompted furthercoercive actions, as in the case of the labor discipline measuresandthe 1932 passport law (originally introducedto prevent mass exodus from village to town as famine

coercion producedinvoluntary social mobility, as in


grippedlarge areasof the countryside). While the "totalitarian"view of Stalinist rule correctly emphasizes the

regime's transformationalist aspirations in explaining coercion and terror, it is surely misleading to imply that, in the absence of effective societal resistanceto the state, the coercion was gratuitous and unrelatedto any social problem. It

excessive mobility

was relatedto an acute social problem but that problem was

ratherthanresistance. Moreover, the mobility of the population was as muchan

impediment to the regime's efforts at social engineering as a consequence of them. For all its "totalitarian" ambitions and repressive policies, the actual

by the Stalinist regime was often limited, as social historians

control exercised

looking from the bottom up have begun to point out.15One of the limitations was that controls were difficult to apply to rootless and unpredictably mobile segments of the population. Anotherwas thatthe same rootlessness and mobil- ity were characteristicof the Communistsand bureaucraticcadres who were

supposed to implement the regime's policies andcontrols.16

A related theme in the literatureon totalitarianism, the importance of

"indoctrination"in the Stalinist system, may also be seen from a new perspec- tive by social historians. The regime was undoubtedlydisposed to indoctrinate its citizens, not just in the sense of teaching Marxist-Leninist dogma but also and more significantly in the broadersense of inculcating new social and cul-

tural norms. However, this disposition need not be regardedsolely as totali- tarian imperative: the stress on indoctrinationand education had a practical

social justification as well, and could even be interpreted as a response to socie- tal demands, in additionto meeting a perceived stateinterest.

In Stalinist society, large numbersof citizens needed to learn new skills

andmasternew social roles because they had recentlychanged theirsocial posi- tion throughupwardmobility. These needs were a responsibility for the regime, on the one hand, and a burdenon individuals, on the other. Factories had to

15 See

16 J. Arch Getty, Origins of the Great Purges:

below, pp. 367-372.

1933-1938, Cambridge, 1985, especially pp. 34, 61.

The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered,

New Perspectives on Stalinism


assimilateand trainnew workers, but at the same time new workersfresh from the villages needed to learn the rules of urbanand factory life in orderto sur- vive. The same imperativesapplied at all levels of society starting with the kol- khoz, where new conventionshad to be mastered by officials and peasants alike. At the top level of society, new elite members had to learn technical and managerial skills as well as acquiring the kul'turnost' appropriate to theirstatus. The term "indoctrination"is clearly too narrowfor the process of social and political vospitanie, not to mention basic education and technical training, that absorbedso much of the regime's and society's attentionin the 1930s. But the subject, however labelled, is important; and social historiansare unlikely to restrictit to transmissionof ideology or accept the notion that society's role was

purelypassive. A more promisingapproach is suggestedby

describes the emerging "middleclass values" of the Stalin period as the result

of negotiation("the Big Deal") between the regime and the society's

similar process of negotiationmight be discernedin

for the new kolkhozy, for the regime's original intentionswere clearly modified

in response to village realities and the traditional patterns of peasant life.

some cases-perhaps including that of the Stalinist elite-negotiation

might be seen as a three-way process, with the arrivistes (new workers, new elite members, and so on) learning from their precursors (old workers, "bour- geois" intelligentsia) under regime supervision, while adding their own contri- butionto the culturalmix.

Vera Dunham, who


the development of norms


of values

c) TheView "from Below": Social Initiativesand Responses

Social historians are generally inclined to prefer the perspective "from below"-that is, from within the society, or even from the grass-roots

viewpoint of ordinary lower-class citizens-to

spective "from above." Those who are now working on the Soviet period are no exception; indeed, their interest in history from below may be accentuated because of the reaction against totalitarian-model scholarship, which imposed an extreme version of the perspective "from above" on Soviet studies. "Revi- sionist" social and political historians of the younger generation like Arch

Getty, Roberta Manning, and Gabor Rittersporn18 counterpose local pictures-

from-life (often drawnfrom the Smolensk Archive,

ble source

the governmental and elite per-

which is our major accessi-

of primary data on conditionsoutside the center in the 1930s) to the


18 See Getty, Origins of the Great Purges, and "Party and Purges in Smolensk, 1933-1937,"

VeraS. Dunham, In Stalin's Time: Middleclass Valuesin Soviet Fiction, Cambridge, 1976.

Slavic Review, vol. 42, 1983; RobertaT. Manning, "Governmentin the Soviet Countryside in the

StalinistThirties: The Case of Belyi Raion in 1937," Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East Euro-

Social Ten-

sions and Political Conflict in the U.S.S.R. 1936-1938," Telos, no. 41, 1979, and "Societe et appareil d'6tat sovietiques 1936-1938: Contradictionset interferences," Annals E.S.C., no. 4, 1979.

pean Studies, no. 301, Pittsburgh,n.d.; GaborT. Rittersporn, "The State Against Itself:



generalizations earlier derived from central policy pronouncements and laws,

andnote the vast

discrepancies between them.

Of course, the perspective from below inevitably differs from that from

the top; policies are never implemented exactly in the manner that policy- makers intend; local conditions vary, so that the experience of one region or locality cannot be assumed to be typical. I think,however, there is little doubt thatthe accumulationof local and specific case studies will significantlychange some of the conventionalwisdom on the Stalin period. Stalinist policy-makers, like Western Sovietologists, were far removed from Soviet society, and prob-

ably therefore exceptionallyprone to schematicerrorin their perception of


But the interestingquestion is how far revisionism based on the perspec-

tive "from below" can take us on the Stalin period. In the acceptedSovietolog-