The Assault on the Universities and the Dynamics of Stalin's "Great Break," 1928-1932
This investigation begins with a concrete historical puzzle. How can we explain the little-known dismemberment and, arguably, the near extinction of the universities of Soviet Russia during the years of Stalin's Great Break? The issue is of more than passing significance. Like the collectivization of agriculture and the industrialization drive of those same years, the Great Break in higher education and science appears as both a particular upheaval and the time when lasting features of the Soviet system emerged. If one wishes to subject the advent of a Soviet model in higher learning to critical exploration, this period looms large. Just as the bolshevized Academy of Sciences began to be transformed into a dominant "empire of knowledge" in advanced research, universities were pressed into a subordinated and vocational--in a word, a Soviet rather than Humboldtian--mold. Does it make sense to speak of the birth pangs of a Soviet model in intellectual life?
If model implies a master plan emanating from the party leadership, this chapter will certainly answer in the negative. If it implies orderly system building through the agencies of the party-- state, this is equally difficult to reconcile with the cataclysm of the Great Break followed by the reversals of 1932. But for now we might rephrase the question: How and why was a key prerevolutionary institution redefined in the midst of a far broader upheaval? This question opens up other problems as well. If some universities, like the second Moscow University (II-MGU), "withered away" entirely