Making Workers Soviet: Power, Class, and Identity

By Lewis H. Siegelbaum; Ronald Grigor Suny | Go to book overview

Lewis H. Siegelboum and Ronald Grigor Suny


Class Backwards? In Search of the Soviet Working Class

The experiences of Russia and the Soviet Union have long been of more than academic interest. The hopes and expectations associated with revolutionary transformation and the "building of socialism" rose and fell through this century with the achievements and suffering of the peoples of those great empires. For historians, as well as political theorists and activists, the "Russian" working class has been a central concern. As a principal actor in the great dramas of 1917 and the repository of the Marxists' imaginary historic mission, Russia's workers have been subjected to scholarly and political analysis that has obscured the particular texture of their lives as often as it has illuminated the broad outlines of a class rising to fulfill its heroic role. Narratives of growing class cohesion and radical consciousness were challenged by stories of decomposition, fragmentation, and accommodation. As older paradigms for understanding the history of Russian labor underwent their own decomposition, ubiquitous assumptions and categories were revised and replaced.

Now, in the cold light of the post-Soviet dawn, understanding the making of the Soviet working class seems less a matter of political engagement than one of archaeological excavation. But this is in itself something of an illusion. Before one can dig, one must know what one is digging for and what tools to use. Are those tools to be found among theories of working-class formation in capitalist societies? Can the characteristics of the working classes so theorized help us identify the Soviet variant?


The Locus Classicus of Class

Class is a keyword of modern times. As Raymond Williams noted, "Development of class in its modern social sense, with relatively fixed names

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