The Evolution of Public Opinion: "Whose Fault Is It?"
Political intimidation in a highly charged atmosphere always has a psychological limit. "A society seized by panic," according to L.N. Voitolovskii, "loses its sensitivity to the discord of public life [as the Stalin regime intended it to do--E.Z.], while the society itself begins to generate oppressive and alarming emotions that lead to a numbing feebleness, apathy, and defeatism." 1 This kind of outcome was directly contrary to the principles of a functioning socialist society, which depended on the support of a highly developed public discourse. If this society required an organic mechanism of terror to safeguard its security, then it needed other instruments to stimulate its cultural and economic life. The terror diverted people's attention from the real reasons for their misfortune, sending them on a false search for enemies. This search, however, only led from negative results to endless pretexts and excuses for them, while what was needed was a policy to engender positive, forward-looking, and inspiring attitudes that would elicit support for the government. The crucial feature of such policies is that their results are not calculated exclusively by material output but by the popularity of the government legislating them. Such policies, whatever their particular content, are always essentially populist.
Lowering prices naturally comes at the head of the list of populist policies. Therefore Stalin in 1947 did precisely that, a politically unimpeachable success. From 1947 through 1954, retail prices were reduced seven times. This tactic brought enormous strategic gain. The advocates of the regime invariably argued on such occasions that it