On Living through Soviet Russia

On Living through Soviet Russia

On Living through Soviet Russia

On Living through Soviet Russia

Synopsis

For a period of over seventy years after the 1917 revolutions in Russia, talking about the past, either political or personal, became dangerous. The new policy of glasnost at the end of the 1980s resulted in a flood of reminiscence, almost nightly on television and more formally collected by new Russian oral history groups and western researchers. This book is a fascinating collection of life stories and family history interview material collected by the editors and two Russian groups of interviewers.

Excerpt

Daniel Bertaux, in collaboration with Marina Malysheva

Of all the state secrets concealed by the Communist regime, one of the best kept was surely that of everyday life, its practical contexts, its rules and long-term effects: of the daily efforts of families to survive, to improve their living conditions and to pass on some of their resources to their children in order to help them to live better. It was not just a question of maintaining the credibility of an official representation of social reality that would have been shattered by the public revelation of the manifold difficulties of daily life, nor even of preventing awareness of the growing distance between the official model of meritocratic selection of the elites and how they were really composed. It was, also more fundamentally, a matter of protecting the monopoly that the Party seized for steering the historical direction of social change. This monopoly assumed that the only legitimate force for change, the historical Subject, was the Party. It involved a two-fold moral diktat: that all individual and collective energies were supposed to be directed along the lines marked out by the Party, and that any effort to divert a part of this to further individual, family or clan strategies for the improvement of living conditions was inadmissible. Recognising the existence of this kind of effort would have meant recognising the existence and legitimacy of Subjects for action other than the Party itself.

To what extent did Soviet people really internalise this viewpoint? Was it possible to live in this way, generation after generation? Or can we suggest that a semi-conscious strategic mode of thought led individuals or small groups of mutual support (above all, families) to try to make the most of the collective frameworks imposed on them, so as to improve their own living conditions?

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