Highly appropriately timed, since I am writing my essay on the double burden and it is our next discussion in class, is a NY Times article from the week about the Russian Orthodox patriarch condemning feminism.  He is quoted as saying it is dangerous for giving women an “illusion of freedom” when they should be focusing on their families and children.  As a 21st century woman, I find this notion extremely disturbing, but as a history scholar, I see this echoed throughout my research on the double burden.  In the early Stalinist period, women were discriminated against in the workforce because of this same patriarchal mindset, and even the women that wanted jobs were refused and told to go back to their husbands.  Of course I recognize that these ideas are commonly used by churches all over the world, but what I found even more off-putting was that the Patriarch works with the Russian president to ensure that the church is the guardian of Russia’s national values.  This official relationship between church and state is proving to be dangerous to women.

The Patriarch also claimed that the “pesudo-freedom” feminism encourages takes place outside the confines of marriage.  Here, I understand some of the historical significance of his claim.  Bolshevik officials after the revolution argued against marriage as a mutually exploitative economic endeavor and made divorce easier to obtain, which resulted in men leaving their wives easily and the women taking advantage of their alimony to live outside of marraige.  In the socialization of Russia, women were forced to work in the marginalized sectors of industry, which provided them with poor working conditions and little free time.  At the same time as working the night shift in a textile factory, for example, they had to get up early to take care of the children and feed their husband.  This resulted in what is called the “double burden,” which was responsible for high levels of work-related accidents among women and infertility, since the working conditions were chemically dangerous.  However, in an alternative twist on feminism, many women refused to leave these jobs because they provided the best wages and access to housing in order to support their families.  The government, especially after WWII, recognized this problem and sought measures to protect women within the work force, such as providing them maternity leave, but even though socialism required the equality of the sexes, women were pressured into assuming domestic and reproductive roles to help Russia rebuild.  The orthodox Patriarch is reminiscent of this stereotypically misogynistic and patriarchal past, putting all the pressure on women to preserve the homeland when the Soviet Union already proved that the assertion of traditional gender roles does nothing to contribute to modernization and results in the exploitation of the female population.



The Common Man

In Stalin’s reply to Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946, he gives the common people agency by stating that they have opinions and the ability to stand up for themselves.  I find it interesting that in this speech he speaks of pride in the common man’s power in accordance to socialist ideology, but this type of person is not the one responsible for victory in WWII because Stalin is no longer the common man.  By elevating himself to the godlike figure of state religion and separating from the reality of labor, Stalin had no ties to the people from which he rose except to say that he is speaking in their interest.  His other 1946 speech shows his continual manipulation of the system, not blaming the inexperience of Soviet diplomacy for starting the war, the “statesmen’s blunders”, but instead placing the fault on the rise of capitalism.  I think that he realized that since he had risen from the common people, he could just as easily be overthrown by a figure like himself, so he has to continually deflect the blame for incidences in which he really played a large role.  This, however, also contradicts with the statement I mentioned earlier, in which he gives the people agency to decide what is best.

I also think it is interesting that Stalin mentions that one positive aspect of the war was that it allowed the Soviets to examine their system, but, of course, upon examination he find the Soviet Union to be perfectly structured, needing only to rebuild what had already existed.  He credited the success of the Soviets to its organization as a “people’s social system,” but in the same way as the capitalist countries sent men to fight, Stalin worked his people into the ground to prepare for war and then sent them to die.  His support for the common man seemed only nominal since his rise to power.

Power or Authority?

Something that I have been musing on since our discussion of Stalin’s cult of personality last week is the difference between power and authority and how these concepts were manifested in the beginnings of the Soviet Union.

I would define power as en essence that is projected outwards, implying a control given over the people that often results in their fear.  Authority is an essence more given from the outside, as in a ruler’s influence and their people’s subsequent respect.  After talking about the cult of personality, it became clear to me that Stalin was a manifestation of the latter idea, the essence of power, than that of authority.  The fact that he had to rely on propaganda to grant him legitimacy as the father of the nation is evidence of this.  His creation of an image that is all-knowing and infallible, and his reliance on the threat of the gulag and secret police to inspire correct action all stem from a need to control and manipulate the people through fear instead of aiming to gain their respect.  He never gives the people an opportunity to question him or rethink their loyalty to him, and he would punish them if they did.  It is this fear that kept him in control.

At the same time that Stalin was being feared by Russia, he also established a balance between power and authority in dealing with the national groups.  He “directed” them back to their old nationalities without providing much choice, but then Stalin allowed for those groups to maintain their traditions until they joined the Soviet Union.  This probably gave him authority among those people, since he was not imposing the Soviet ideal on them from the start, however he never would have held as much authority as the local rulers he set up to enforce the Soviet ideology.

The thing about ruling through power instead of authority is that it is short-lived and unstable.  Just as was the reasoning behind the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 in the first place, people will only live so long under oppression and fear.  Despite Stalin’s claim to be liberating the worker, he was just intimidating them into another hierarchal scheme, like his predecessors the Tsars, that would ultimately begin to be questioned and undermined.  I do not think he ever established and garnered true respect from the Soviet people in practice, though ideology would disagree.

Capitalist Transition

The New York Times online ran an article on Thursday about the opening of the Moscow Stock Exchange, calling it “another milestone in the country’s capitalist evolution.”  I found it interesting, considering we have just begun discussing the plan for the Soviet economy, that twenty years after it ended, Russia deferred back to capitalism almost by default.  This transition does not seem to be easy-going, however, as the article described the Russian markets as the most “volatile,” either being in the top five or bottom five performing markets in the world.

While the article contained mostly economic jargon that I am not able to understand yet, what I did gleam from it was that this new stock exchange is considered a maturation, which at least to me implied that the Soviet program was in a sense immature and ill-conceived.  The return to capitalism can be likened to Lenin’s New Economic Policy’s reluctance to give up capitalism.  Despite being seen as violating socialist ideology, the Russian economy of the late 1920s was increasing because capitalism was partly responsible for encouraging production.  It left me wondering, coming from my capitalist background in America, which economic structure really makes the most sense.  While socialism’s ideas of equality sound wonderful from the outside, it is difficult to adjust to having one place in the economy and society without hope for advancement.  The competition of capitalism spurs the desire for betterment.  At times in our class it seemed the Soviet’s liked to punish sons for the sins of their fathers, as in Stalin’s singular promotion of those with working class backgrounds and hatred to the Tsarists.  The men of Russia in the the Soviet beginnings were far removed from the days of serfdom and probably the new middle class did not need to be punished for rising above these backgrounds.  This too contradicts the socialist ideology in that it promotes a hierarchy, even if peasants make up the top sphere.  If the leaders of the revolution themselves saw the benefits in capitalist ideals, is it the better system?  Is socialism designed to be a short term fix to get rid of wide-spread oppression but not meant to sustain in the long run?  While I am sure Marx, Lenin, and Stalin are rolling over in their graves at this post, the fact that Russia is finding its way back to capitalism seems to indicate that in order for Russia to once again become an imposing world power, it needs to end its years of teenage rebellion and finally settle into a stability, innovating in order to be able to compete with the other world markets.



Tradition of the Coup

I saw a little blurb on the NYTimes.com website on Friday about a former Soviet intelligence officer recently jailed for organizing a coup of ultra-nationalists against the Russian government and assassination plot against the architect of the market reforms in 2010.  I thought it was interesting that Russia maintained this tradition of revolution, especially those stemming from a small group like the Blosheviks, even in the present day.

I researched a little about Russian nationalism in the modern world to find that it contains a resurgence of the “Russia for Russians” movement that aims to reverse some of the equality granted to citizens under the Soviet program.  Despite its super negative connotations, I was surprised at my ability to draw a parallel to a similar anti-immigration movement taking place in the United States in the wake of the financial crisis.  Without the insurance of a socialist program in Russia, some people are just as concerned as Americans about the threat immigrants pose to the already suffering domestic job market.

It is especially understandable for this to be the case in Russia, where the Soviet government forced a change and reorganization of national identities on its people.  The re-emergence of the nationalist party is possible an attempt to preserve the glory of Russia as its long-ago status of empire, but it is frowned upon with the same disdain that any attempt to convey national pride in England is, for example.  The fear of holding one’s country as supreme after the fall of imperial policy makes national pride for the larger power moderate and makes the national pride of the “victims” heightened.  Having grown up in America and having spent my fall semester in England, I was surprised to find that so many parallels could be drawn between these two western European countries and a “fallen” eastern empire that is always portrayed as the antithesis of the western ideals.

Here is the article:


Empire and Nicholas II

I began reading the Riasanovsky textbook this week about the conditions in Russia leading up to the Revolution of 1905.  Some things immediately jumped out at me in the section describing Nicholas II ad his nature as a ruler.  On page 390, he is described as having admirable personal qualities such as modesty and self-discipline.  However, the author then states that his qualities failed him in situations requiring strength and adaptability.  This reminded me of a discussion in my Islamic Empires class from last week.  In it, we discussed an article by Jane Burbank & Frederick Cooper in their book “Empires in World History.”  They describe the ideal empire to be one that retains the diversity of its people in order to profit from the skills of distinct communities, that has to be flexible in all situations, and that avoids ascribing to a centralized ideology because it leads to rival claims of authority and revolts.

I immediately drew a parallel between the Nicholas II section and this article.  Compared to the ideas of Burbank & Cooper, it seems Nicholas II failed at maintaing his empire and that the revolt of 1905 was inevitable.  I think the key problem of his reign as Tsar was his inability to adapt.  Raisanovsky states that his “traditionalist political blinders” made him unable to conform to new situations, by which I mean the removal of serfdom, the rise of the middle class, and Russia’s military and economic decline (p390).  He believed in the unrestricted power of the tsar based on an orthodox ideology to which he expected all citizens to conform.  Nicholas seems to have ignored it when this ideology no longer served the changing socio-political structure of Russia that called for reform through a national assembly.  His belief in social hierarchy no longer served the rising middle class that was torn between legal status as peasants and physically possessing more wealth than the fallen elite.  Diversity could no longer be maintained within the empire because there was a gradually closing gap between the upper and lower classes.

It is interesting to see a practical example of an empire in which retaining diversity had actually served it well.  I did not believe in the validity of the claim that making clear distinctions between peoples actually ensured peace, but before 1861 Russia, as witnessed through the eyes of Firs in the Cherry Orchard, diversity is what kept operations running because the peasants did not question their place in the hierarchy.  With a Tsar stuck in the ideology of this previous time and unwilling to adapt to the current state of the empire, an “ineffective relic of the past,”, the building of a revolution was inevitable (p392).

Symbolism in The Cherry Orchard

The nobles in The Cherry Orchard are Anya, Madame Ranevsky, Barbara, Gayef, and Pishticik.  The nobility of the play has fallen drastically, the two families out of money but trying to cling on to a previous way of life in the wake of change.  Anya and Barbara are the two nobles that seem to recognize and accept the new order.  Anya is fascinated by the ideas of Peter and Barbara acknowledges her affection for Lopkhin despite his family history.

Firs, Yasha, Dunyasha, and are all peasants, but have different outlooks on change of social construction.  When the Liberation occurred, Firs refused to leave his master and laments the complexity of social interaction now that the peasants are freed from their masters, calling the Liberation a “great misfortune” (25).  Yasha is an opposition to Firs because he has travelled the continent and seen how to live in civilized freedom, which is better than the Russian “barbarism.”

Lopakhin, Trophimof, and Ephikhodof all represent the emerging class of “others” at the end of tsarist Russia because they are those born of humble origins who raised their status through education.  Lopakhin’s father was a serf of the estate and now his son is a wealthy landowner in his own right, even suggested to be married to the daughter of a noblewoman.  This new class seeks some kind of personal retribution for the enslavement of their ancestors by replacing the symbols of noble authority, like the cherry orchard, with symbols of the middle class, such as the villas.

In The Cherry Orchard, wood represents to the characters a connection with past memory and the grandeur of an older time.  Gayef discovers that a cupboard in the home is over a hundred years old and proceeds to laud it for upholding “the courage of succeeding generations” and “faith in a better future” as well as the riches of the past (10).  This characterization of the cupboard could be interpreted as a reflection of the glory of tsarist Russia contrasted against its place in the modernizing world in which it exists.  It is an attempt of the nobles to hold on to their legacy.

The cherry orchard itself serves the same purpose.  It brings back memories of the estate when it was in its prime, contrasting with the current state of the family that has squandered the money.  The act of destroying the orchard is reminiscent of the destruction of the old social structure, particularly since it is carried out by a man of the new middling class that rose from a family of peasants to become a wealthy neighbor of the Ranevsky estate.  Despite his age and connection to the past, Firs acknowledges the idea because no one alive knows how to make they cherry jam, and therefore it cannot provide the economic support of its past.  As she comes to understand the changing social climate through her relationship with Trophimof, Anya remarks that she no longer loved the orchard as she once did, in effect symbolizing her transition from old to new ways of thinking.  The wood of the orchard contains “human spirits” that were contained in the estate during the time of serfs, and the new freedom offered to humans is echoed through the orchard’s path.  The suffering that Madame Ranevsky experiences at the thought of the orchard being destroyed is a way to “redeem the past” in the mind of Trophimof (27).