Academic journal article Kritika

Beyond the Binaries: The Postwar Soviet Intelligentsia in History and Memory

Academic journal article Kritika

Beyond the Binaries: The Postwar Soviet Intelligentsia in History and Memory

Article excerpt

Polly Jones, Myth, Memory, Trauma: Rethinking the Stalinist Past in the Soviet Union, 1953-70. 376 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. ISBN-13 978-0300185126. $65.00.

Benjamin Tromly, Making the Soviet Intelligentsia: Universities and Intellectual Life under Stalin and Khrushchev. 310 pp. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. ISBN-13 978-1107031104. $99.00.

M. N. Zolotonosov, Gadiushnik: Leningradskaia pisateTskaia organizatsiia. Izbrannye stenogrammy s kommentariiami (Iz istorii sovetskogo literaturnogo byta 1940-1960-khgodov) (The Pigsty: The Leningrad Organization of Writers. Selected Minutes with Commentaries [From the History of the Soviet Literary Manners and Everyday Life of the 1940s--60s]). 880 pp. Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2013. ISBN-13 978-5444800911.

The memory of the Thaw operates almost as the subconscious of the late 20th- and early 21th-century Russian intelligentsia, at least of its elite. The divisions solidified during the Thaw between "conservatives" and "liberals," "Stalinists" and "anti-Stalinists," have been played out over and over again at the most crucial junctures of Russian recent history. Perestroika was perceived by the "liberal" intellectuals behind Gorbachev's reforms as a way to defeat old "conservative" rivals and to accomplish the unfinished tasks of the Thaw. In turn, the rise and the fall of the Russian protest movement of the 2011-12 again made the Thaw into a relevant object of political reflection, though not always in a celebratory key. For example, Mark Lipovetsky's thought-provoking article "The Poetics of ITR Discourse" suggests that the Thaw and its heritage might be seen as a possible source of the present Russian "liberal" debacle and as such should be "critically" worked through. (1) At the same time, debuting on Russian television in the wake of the protests, Valerii Todorovskii's show The Thaw presented an utterly depoliticized and "uncritical" image of the period, which nicely complemented the conflictless narrative of Russia's past promoted in Putin's Russia. Ironically, it was Todorovskii himself who in the early 1990s produced the harshest deconstructive attack on the celebratory narrative of the Thaw. His film Over the Dark Water exposed the excessive machismo and the abuse of empty rhetoric by the generation of the "sixties," featuring Ivan Okhlobystin--then an actor, now an Orthodox priest and a prominent media symbol of the Russian turn toward neotraditionalism--in the role of the hero effecting this deconstruction.

It seems that a constant renegotiation of the distance between memory of the past and changing present circumstances by members of the intelligentsia has made fluid the boundaries between the binaries imagined during the Thaw while keeping intact their crucial importance in organizing the Russian intellectual landscape. Indeed, binaries can be helpful for Russian intellectuals identifying their intellectual "foes" and "friends," but deceiving when applied to the dynamic of the intellectual process. That is why critical engagement with the history of the postwar Russian intelligentsia is better conceived as a distancing from and at the same time digging into the origins and the evolution of binary frameworks. In fact, historians both in Russia and abroad have already been grappling with the image of the Thaw as an advance of Soviet "liberals" against Stalinist "dogmatics" for almost 15 years. In tandem with critiques that stressed the deeply rooted conservative and repressive features of post-Stalinist relaxation, historians questioned the validity of the rigid oppositions of official/unofficial, Soviet/non-Soviet, and conformist/ nonconformist for understanding the transformations that Soviet intellectual culture has undergone since Stalin's death. (2) The volumes under review here continue to reconsider the history of the postwar Soviet intelligentsia beyond the interpretive framework that was defined by binary thinking, thus making significant contributions to the ongoing debate. …

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