Academic journal article The Historian

Popular Perceptions of Soviet Politics in the 1920s: Disenchantment of the Dreamers

Academic journal article The Historian

Popular Perceptions of Soviet Politics in the 1920s: Disenchantment of the Dreamers

Article excerpt

Popular Perceptions of Soviet Politics in the 1920s: Disenchantment of the Dreamers. By Olga Velikanova. (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Pp. 251. $100.00.)

Prominent among the areas of study opened to scholars after the collapse of the Soviet Union are the vast terrains of popular perception and individual as well as mass consciousness during the Soviet era. Jochen Hellbeck's Revolution on Mind: Writing a Diary Under Stalin and Orlando Figes's The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia are fascinating explorations into the mental worlds of individual Russians in the Stalin era. In this study, Olga Velikanova takes a different approach from these two books to the question: What were people really thinking? Although Hellbeck and Figes focus on recovering individual experience and reflection, reinforcing tropes of isolation and atomization, Velikanova explores unofficial, mass, popular discourse in order to analyze the "political and social dynamics of Soviet civilization" and the "social origins of Stalinism" (2). Specifically, she focuses on three areas: "the international standing of the USSR, socialism as its major goal, and the peasants' relationship with the state--the core themes of the Bolsheviks' ideology and politics that found reflection in popular perceptions" (2).

Velikanova is careful to distinguish her approach from the standard sociological study of public opinion that relies on carefully formulated interview questions and statements, explaining that her interest is in uncovering "how common people ... talked [to each other] about political topics" (3). Her goal is to identify and analyze the main narratives about political topics that emerged into mass discourse and consciousness, within which private thoughts of individuals were formed and to which they contributed.

The author organizes her book around the Bolsheviks' major mobilization campaigns of the 1920s, which were used by the revolutionary state authorities to raise mass consciousness for the purposes of social self-transformation and the "leap to modernity" (188). She identifies these as the "war scares" of 1923, 1924, 1927, and 1930 (to rally the citizens against foreign threats to the very existence of the state in the wake of foreign intervention during the Civil War); the October Revolution celebrations (to forge mass revolutionary identity and compel universal participation in the revolutionary project); and the smychka campaign (to breathe life into the ideologically imagined alliance of proletariat and peasantry). …

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