the myth of the big, happy Soviet family

As Claire said, I’ve fallen behind on blogging and will be playing some catch-up into the weekend. In today’s lecture on the soviet penal system, I was thinking about how the relationship between the state and the citizenry has an effect on the relationships between citizens. In the case of the penal system, the state instilled fear in its citizens with the constant threat of unexpected (and often, unwarranted) imprisonment and punishment. The resulting lack of trust between the citizens led to a widespread atomization, not the “big happy family” mentality that one would see in works of socialist realist art (or in films such as Circus). During the lecture, I thought at first that this seemed counter-intuitive to communist ideology: in a communist state, isn’t cooperation between the citizens an issue of utmost importance, one that helps the state function as a whole? Why would the state implement policies that would turn citizens against one another?

I think the answer to this question is yes, cooperation and solidarity between citizens is a crucial component of a functioning communist state. However, that is not to say that it was a crucial component of Stalin’s incarnation of a communist state. In Soviet Russia, power came not from the people, but from the decision and policy makers who were able to control them. The citizens had no autonomy or opportunities for expression within the regime, and the hegemony of the leaders was the issue of utmost importance. Soviet Russia isn’t the only historical example of communist and utopian experimentation gone awry – another example that was manifesting at roughly the same time was communist China. However, whereas the Chinese system was fraught with inefficiencies that resulted in disasters such as the 1954 famine that killed millions, Soviet policies seem to me to be more deliberate, brutal, and calculated in their intent to control their population. As the semester goes on, I’ll be interested to see how the Soviets came to terms with their history and the tragedies of the Stalin period.

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