What Makes a Good Soviet?

What makes one a good Soviet? Being faithful to Stalin? Being faithful to Marx? In his novella One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn examines these questions. Solzhenitsyn implies throughout his novella that a good Soviet is faithful to Marx and the ideals of communism, not the dictatorship that Stalin created.

Among the prisoners in the camp, there is a sense of camaraderie. For example, Fetiukov saves Shukhov’s breakfast for him when he is late (p.15). Even though they are not allowed to be called “comrade,” they are each other’s comrades, and seem to embody the ideals of communism more so than the guards and other authorities. Solzhenitsyn illustrates this on page 34 when Buinosky says to the guards, “You’re not behaving like Soviet people, you’re not behaving like communists.”

Do the prisoners share comradeship because they share a common enemy and/or common struggles in life? Or did Solzhenitsyn include this element because he was influenced by the Soviet system? I think the latter is unlikely. Solzhenitsyn spent time in a Soviet prison camp, and had his citizenship revoked and was deported in 1974, so it seems doubtful that he would be concerned with Soviet ideals.

So, what makes a good Soviet? Was Stalin a good Soviet? Are the guards good Soviets? Are the prisoners? Why?

5 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Soviet?

  1. I believe that the prisoners where the ideal Soviet. These men had a sense of “comradeship” and loyalty to there brother worker that seem to personify the Soviet Worker. Men like Stalin where the anti-soviet they took advantage of the workers for there own gain and went totally against the ideas of Marx the father of the Soviet idea.

  2. I believe that Stalin was the opposite of a good Soviet. He was a ruthless thug who lived a “soft” life at the expense of the working class. He attained and maintained his power by pretending to act out of egalitarian concern. I believe that the prisoners, or “zeks” as they were referred to in the novel, represent good Soviets because they are intertwined in a common struggle: daily survival. Although the “zeks” represented good Soviets in general, they still served selfish motives much of the time. In the novel no prisoner ever did a kind deed for a fellow prisoner just for the sake of doing it, they always expected an eventual favor in return. However, in survival circumstances this type of behavior is to be expected.

  3. I think you’re idea of what makes a good Soviet is an interesting idea. The prisoner guard relationship so often seen in the book is a relationship that is directly in contrast to the “classless” society that Marxism is trying to create. Prison inherently has a very strict hierarchy loosely comparable to capitalism. The question of common struggles or common enemy seem like similar answers though, being struggles of being a prisoner, or enemies of prison guards. I like many of the questions posed looking at the hypocrisies of the Soviet’s system. I wonder if being a Soviet and being a Communist should instead be considered two different groups.

  4. During Stalin’s reign, a good Soviet was an ideal that he defined, just as a good communist twisted to meet his idea of communism. These definitions followed the example of Stalin so that Lenin and Marx’s versions of communism were hidden and deemed anti-Soviet. The Gulag, however, tended to operate in isolation from Moscow’s rhetoric. Many of these prisoner were also political dissenters, meaning that they may have followed the ideals of Marxist or Leninist communism closely. Solzhenitsyn argues in his book that Stalin’s communism is not true communism and therefore, all Stalinists are not good Soviets or good communists.

  5. I think that the prisoners were ideal Soviets due to the fact that they shared a common struggle. They looked out for each other, and in many ways, were forced into camaraderie against the guards. Stalin was not a good Soviet because he believed in achieving his goals at the expense of others. Stalin’s Soviet Union had an “every man for himself” mentality, while the prisoners were very selfless.

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