The “Patience” of the Russian People

Sarah Davies, in her essay about social identity in Soviet Russia, talks about how, despite the new Marxist language that was encouraged, the working class and “peasants” in Russia tended to talk about the injustice in their lives using old, familiar language. They described the problems that they faced as struggles between good and evil, darkness and light. Along with this language, they also idealized the Russian people as a patient people, whose souls could bear much injustice. They saw their suffering as a mark of their honesty and goodness. This relates to a 19th century short story I am reading in my Russian language class, “The Living Relic”, by Turgenev.

In the story, a nobleman stumbles upon a strange creature in a shed in one of his distant farms he rarely visits.  He realizes that it is a peasant, a woman he once knew. She is now withered and frail, unable to move and in constant pain, as result of a mysterious injury. She tells him that it is not so bad lying there, year after year, that she has learned how to avoid thinking, to simply become part of her surroundings. Eventually she dies, to the sound of heavenly bells. Reading this, I am struck by the persistent idea of the suffering of the lower class in Russia and their apparent acceptance of this suffering. Despite Soviet attempts to have the workers see class struggle in Marxist terms, the old ideology persisted in the Soviet Union and colored people’s social identity.

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