Turning to the Individual: The Paths from Above and Below
When we speak of de-Stalinization, we usually have in mind the conspicuous changes in the political life of the society in the 1950s and 1960s. This idea is in part appropriate, but it diverts attention from the deeper political processes that formed the nature of the thaw. The thaw was not born suddenly and without antecedents. It developed quietly on its own, naturally although unexpectedly. The very term thaw expresses what people anticipated, their feelings rather than their rational prognoses. It was a very personal conception; and the public, accustomed to thinking exclusively in terms of social issues, suddenly began to discover a new value, the individual.
In order to focus on this factor, we need go no further than the reference point of March 1953, when the nearly mystical fear of the idol confronted the common knowledge of his inevitably human fate. Here was a turning point, or rather the anticipation of a turning point, the development of which had yet to take shape. It first materialized in cultural life, in a new literature, theater, music, and painting. It was precisely in the arts that the new motif of individualism cried out at full voice, fighting for its own status in the face of the customary priority granted the social over the personal and the private.
Personal life had been perceived as a kind of accessory to the production process. Although the era of revolutionary romanticism, when people suspended the indulgence of their feelings until the victory of the world revolution was won, had long since passed, its legacy persisted in a whole system of informal norms of personal behavior. Private life was considered public. Party committees and