Russia in Reform: Will the Duma Do it?

March 15 & 16 1917 marked a monumental day for the Russian people, the decision to abdicate the crown was made by Tsar Nikolai the second. Nikolai handed the crown to his brother Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich whom reflecting the feelings of the nation passed on all power to the Provisional Government more popularly referred to as the Duma.

In the Duma’s address to the Russian populace they start with a declaration of victory over the “dark forces of the old regime” informing the people that they now have the power to re-organize the executive power of the nation. They then transition in to a list of the new cabinet positions created and who have been appointed to them at their political alignment. These men were chosen based off of their past political and public service so the public had relations with these men so they could understand that decisions will be made by the citizens. The next step for reassuring the public were the list of principles which this new government and its members will hold themselves to. The list contains the basis for a more liberal society with items such as: forgiveness for previous victims of the law, basic freedoms, equality between all citizens, suffrage, a more public police. The most questionable law being the lack of restrictions on active duty soldiers, which most likely is in response to the war Russia was fighting at the time. The Duma concludes that this war will not delay these reforms which Russia needed.

When thinking in terms to how the Duma addresses its people is this piece successful? Could they have added anything else? What’s your interpretation for the last principle regarding active duty soldiers?

Propaganda by Rail

A Soviet propaganda train.

A Soviet propaganda train. [6]

While the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution were made up highly educated revolutionaries who trained body and mind to overcome the constraints of the the capitalist bourgeois, most of the population (around ninety percent) was of the peasant class. Most of the peasants in Tsarist Russia were illiterate, uneducated, and knew little of the world outside the villages that dotted the countryside. These villages were scattered over the 6 million square miles of Russia making contact with all of them a challenge. For the Bolsheviks, an organization that placed great value on the power of the grassroots peasants, this was unacceptable. They needed the peasants to be aware of the changes taking place over the revolutions in the early 20th century, as well as a work force who would be educated in the doctrine of the new communist government. When the population of a country is educated, the value of its human capital increases. This makes the work force more efficient and worth more to the state. With the bureaucracy of the Bolsheviks beginning to follow the philosophy of scientism, the view towards the peasant population changed from indifference, to a need to directly control and educate in order to get the highest production possible out of its workers.[1] The population needed to be in agreement with the actions of the state as well to make the machine of communism run smoothly. Obedience to the state was necessary, and by using propaganda to educate the unlearned peasants they could be made loyal to the Soviet cause. The Bolshevik’s needed a way to reach these people and spread the word of the revolution to the masses. But struggling with the sheer size of the newly formed Soviet Russia was a herculean task.


In the early twentieth century the most effective means of traveling the country was by rail systems. Because of the rails already set in place throughout Russia the logical way to reach the people was to use the trains. The first of the trains to reach the isolated peasantry was know as “Lenin’s train.”[2] This train was made up of 15 cars and “decorated with paintings in bright colors, with forceful and unmistakably revolutionary inscriptions.”[3] It is important to note, that the officials onboard the train were members of branches of the “people’s Commissariat.”[4] These men would distribute masses of pamphlets and readings free of charge to the people, as well as answer questions and advise on issues concerning the population. This was a powerful tool for the Soviet government to use, as the population will feel heard, and important to the government. This in turn will promote less resistance to newer ideas and obedience. The feeling of solidarity between the government and the workers was to be fostered in this way.

The success of such trains in spreading soviet propaganda prompted the creation of three further trains, with different routs that would bring the word of the “Revolution” to the “most hidden nooks of Soviet Russia.”[5] These propaganda trains would be responsible for returning the wishes of the people to the government and create an environment where capitalist imperialism would be unable to return to the minds of the population.



[1] Hoffmann, “European Modernity and Soviet Socialism” in Hoffmann and Kotsonis, eds., Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices (NY: St. Martin’s, 2000), 245-260.

[2] Iakov Okunev, A New Way for Culture Propaganda. 1919

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Agit-train October Revolution / Vertov-Collection, Austrian Film Museum



Sevastopol and Local Identity

In “Who Makes Local Memories?: The Case of Sevastopol After World War II”, Qualls asserts that various conflicts, most notably the Crimean War, have shaped the construction of the identity of the city of Sevastopol and it’s people in relation to Russia. He cites the example of the Crimean War in which Lev Tolstoy, a journalist, wrote of the Russian character of the city and necessity of fighting for it as one would do for Russia. At this stage the Russian identity of the city was reinforced through examples of military valor in the Crimean War and the loyalty of those who defended it. As Qualls points out these national myths serve to reinforce the identification of the city and it’s residents with the nation. Simultaneously Russia is able to generate a sense of belonging amongst the citizens and legitimize it’s claim to the region as a national power. This process of creating national myths continues into the 1930s when the Soviet government adapts the narrative once again to redirect loyalty towards the Party through the use of myths which center around the “ideal Soviet citizen,” who serves as an example of the importance of the Party in daily life and of what can be accomplished through allegiance to the Party.

With the onset of World War Two the narrative changes from loyalty to the Party or military valor to that of duty to citizens, soldiers, and Sevastopol. It is interesting to note the adaptability of the sense of identity and it’s importance to the citizen’s identification with Russia rather than Ukraine. Furthermore Qualls analyzes the myth creation blending the World War Two narrative with that of the Russian past and the Crimean War. It would be interesting to see on an individual level from the citizens of Sevastopol, how long it took for them to internalize this new myth and sense of identification and if there was any resistance. Also in if this identification with Russia, rather than Ukraine, extended to all citizens or if it was more prevalent amongst certain age groups? In the latter part of his article, Qualls did a good job demonstrating how the Soviets supported this new myth with propaganda. The Soviets utilized new media formats, such as film, to reach a broader audience and reinforce the new narrative. Finally I found it interesting to read about connection of the reconstruction of the city to the sense of identity, specifically how Trautmann campaigned for the renaming of streets and city areas for local heroes rather than Party heroes.


In the book We written by Yevgeny Zamyatin, the characters lack names similar to those within our society and instead are called ciphers and labeled with a letter and number. The main character D-503, a mathematician, struggles throughout the book with his understanding of the One State society and what exists outside of the Green Wall. The One State society promotes a “mathematically perfect life” devoid of imagination or individuality. D-503 meets I-330 early on in record two, a woman who’s very physical appearance with her extremely white teeth defy the principle of uniformity within the State.

I-330 is important in the development of D-503 as a character and his evolving relation to One State policies and society. I-330 challenges D-503’s conception of life and happiness as a mathematical equation. In the beginning I-330 plays Ancient songs on the piano rather than the industrial music of the One State. Unlike his comrades, D-503 finds himself enjoying the music rather than laughing at it. In relation to I-330’s effect on D-503, Zamaytin frequently mentions her while describing the sun. The sun has two forms, one in which it exists in the One State in a “pale-bluish-crystalline” state and one in which it is “burning” and “shedding itself in little tufts.” The former represents the control of the One State over all aspects of society and it’s extension of control over nature’s interaction with the State within the Green Wall. The latter represents the uncontrolled wild, which exists outside of the One State and defies the State’s scientific and authoritarian control.

I-330’s impact on D-503 continues in her introduction of D-503 to alcohol and tobacco, both of which are banned by the One State because it is considered to be poison. After drinking D-503 finds himself torn between two identities the one he has created under the One State, that of the scientific mathematician living harmoniously under the state ideology and rules. The second identity released by the alcohol is one of a wild and emotional being characterized by “shaggy paws” which has climbed out of the “shell” created by the One State. D-503’s “shaggy paws” are a physical representation of his inherent originality, which is hidden beneath the self created by the indoctrination of the One State. I-330’s flagrant violations of One State policy and D-503’s awakening to his own individualism represent a threat to the survival of the collective and therefore a threat to the Guardians and Benefactor controlling the State. In this way Zamaytin is commenting on the threat of individuality and deviation from the imposed ideology as the internal enemy of the Soviet Union and it’s existence.

From Russia with LGBT Love

This past summer, President Vladimir V. Putin passed a law that banned “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships” officially meant to protect children but known to be an anti-LGBT law. The New York Times asked Russians to send in their stories of being LGBT in Russia and several of those stories were published yesterday. The New York Times received over 400 stories from Russians and Russian-Americans and published 9 accounts from LGBT Russians of different ages, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of the accounts said that the psychological affects on their lives the law has caused has led many to strongly consider leaving the country. Many of the younger Russians spoke of the importance of the Internet in finding other LGBT individuals in Russia and feeling less isolated.

A few of the accounts spoke of coming out to friends and family and the mixed reactions; some positive and supportive, others homophobic. One account from a gay man in a relationship spoke of a false marriage with a lesbian friend in order to hide their true relationships with other people of the same sex. One woman said she and her partner had decided to wait to have children given the political climate. One account spoke of St. Petersburg becoming less tolerant.

Given all this negative press about the new law and the upcoming Sochi Olympics, is it likely more LGBT Russians will have no alternative but to leave their country if the political climate doesn’t improve? What can the US and other countries do to show their support of LGBT individuals around the world?


Tuberculosis and Health Care

Here is my first draft for my project on tuberculosis in Russian prisons. This draft focuses on public health in Russia and the rate of communicable diseases such as tuberculosis from the 1940s until present day. This draft will eventually be a part of my final project as an overall summary of health care and disease control in Russian history.

Here is the link:

Secret Speech

We’ve talked about Khrushchev’s contradicting opinions of Stalin while he was the Party First Secretary and later Chairmen of the USSR, but his “Secret Speech” seems to finally put to rest his true opinion on Stalin’s dictatorship. The speech was known as such because it was read in a session without discussion and was not reported in the Soviet press. However, the Communist world knew of its existence and the claims within- that Stalin’s “Cult of Personality” was responsible of crimes such as the Terror of the later 1930s to the deportation of nationalities in the early 1940s- shocked and led many Western Communists to abandon Communism altogether. Not only did this speech reveal how Khrushchev truly felt about Stalin’s dictatorship and his desire to create a more Leninist society but also consolidated his authority over other Stalinist Party members.

Khrushchev’s speech argued that Stalin’s role in the Party was completely the opposite of the spirit of Marxism-Leninism, thus blaming for the various crimes in the past three decades. He also claimed Lenin recognized Stalin’s negative qualities which made him a poor leader as early as 1922. He spoke of Stalin’s continuous violence and suspicious nature as leading reasons why the Soviet Union suffered such great losses during the war without necessary preparation. His final message is of the abolishment of the “cult of the individual” in favor of the unity of the Party. Ultimately, he is condemning the small role Leninism has played within the government and the atrocities committed under the name of Marxism-Leninism and Stalin.

Charges Reduced in Greenpeace Case

Yesterday, Russian investigators reduced the charges against the crew members of the Greenpeace ship who held a protest against exploitation of natural resources at an oil rig in the Arctic Ocean from piracy to hooliganism.  Piracy charges could have resulted in a prison sentence of 15 years while the penalty for hooliganism is 7 years. Russia’s Investigative Committee has presumably lowered these charges in order to avoid any more diplomatic confrontation over the fate of the crew members, who hail from over 18 nations. Members of Greenpeace Russia believe that even the charges of hooliganism should be dropped, as it was a peaceful protest.

After the protest on September 19th, the ship was towed to Murmansk, where everyone on board was charged with piracy and denied bail. President Putin remarked a month ago that piracy was not an appropriate charge but agreed that Russia’s border guards had the right to cut the scaling cables of the activists and fire warning shots. These remarks made have helped reduce the charges, but why not earlier? Why are possible charges of violence against authorities being mentioned if none of the crew members nor activists were armed or resisted upon arrest?


Shrinkage of the Aral Sea

My final report is about the shrinkage of the Aral Sea.  I will be concentrating on four points.    The first point is the cause of the shrinkage of the Aral Sea.  I will discuss how the Soviets in Moscow wanted to harvest great quantities of cotton from Central Asia.  In order to do this, they used the Aral Sea for irrigation to such an extent that the sea’s area shrank by 44%.  This caused many health and environmental consequences for Central Asia.

The environmental consequences that I will discuss include flooding due to poor drainage systems, the poisoning of water and soil by pesticides used to grow the cotton, dust storms, and deforestation. The health consequences I plan on discussing include starvation, infant mortality, contaminated breast milk, and the prevalence of water-born illnesses such as typhoid, hepatitis, and dysentery.

The final point of discussion will be the possibility of rebuilding the Aral Sea, along with the successes that have occurred since the collapse of the USSR.

I will need to continue doing more research for my report.  I am anticipating that the most challenging part of the project for me will not be the material, but the technological aspect of creating a website.  This is the part that I will need to dedicate the most time to, as I have never done anything like it before.

So far, I have learned the importance of examining sources on multiple levels.  First, getting articles from reliable databases, such as JSTOR, helps. Also, the fact that some of the authors I cited were cited in other scholarly articles gives more credibility to the authors. It is also important to have articles written by professionals, such as historians and scientists, and not university students or bloggers. The author’s credentials separate a scholarly article from an unscholarly article.

I also had to make sure, especially in the scientific texts, that I understood the point of the article. If an article is too difficult to comprehend, then it is pointless to cite it.

As for my critique of Evernote, my only issue was that it changed the format of the bibliography.  I found it easier to use Microsoft Word.

Here is my annotated bibliography:

annotated bibliography HIST 254

Fashioning a Fashionable Soul

Hellbeck’s interpretation of Podlubni’s diaries depict a man trying to conform to the morals of his state. He goes through many organizations and practices so as to become the ideal Soviet citizen. Each attempt is recorded in Podlubni’s diary. But, at a point in the piece, Hellbeck argues that this private journal may not reflect Podlubni’s true thoughts, but his desired thoughts. He introduces the idea that the diary could be Podlubni’s tool of turning himself, of influencing his own nature.

Has diary writing survived? Is there something comparable now?

As technology has sped up society, and physical writing has fallen out of fashion, many of the younger generation have turned to electronic styles of diaries, favoring short and typed passages over the traditional form. Today’s most consistent source of social records, it could be argued, would be social networks. Any incident out of the ordinary, and many too that are ordinary, will end up here. But, the public nature of these sites lacks the privacy of Podlubini’s diaries and, therefore, may color the style of ‘reporting’.

Does this influence the blogger any differently than Podlubini is in his diaries?

In his writing, Podlubini attempts to instill and record a set of Soviet morals — a strong will, a good work ethic, patriotic intentions. He records his successes and chides himself at his ideological shortcomings.

“30.12.1933 […] With full confidence I can say that this year I have received nothing. Studied at the FZU— with bad results. Began to study in middle school— also with bad results. I am neglecting my classes horribly, lagging behind in all subjects. I don’t have enough willpower to control myself. Right now I have a big, huge, horrible weakness of will. This is the cause of all my troubles, this is my biggest deficiency.”

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. Stalinism : New Directions.
Florence, KY: Routledge, 1999. p 100.

Podlubni knew that his diaries, like many private possessions at the time, may be confiscated by the State on any grounds and at any time. This is one of Hellbeck’s arguments to caution us away from the complete truthfulness of Podlubni’s records.

So, were these diaries entirely private?

Social Media Logotype BackgroundConsider them in the context of popular social networks. Imagine the most cautious user — only friends can see their posts, does not use an accurate identifying picture, and only accepts requests from close, close, friends. Their records can be obtained by any determined individual, similar to the Stalinist state. But, our user runs this risk. On such sites, our user hopes to associate and connect with like-minded individuals. Is this not what Podlubni hopes to accomplish? A connection with the other members of his State through the fashioning of his personality, of his “Stalinist soul”.

But, if this is to be an accepted analogy, what of the many users that ‘over-post’ or flood the site with over dramatized postings? Are they just asking for attention, taking advantage of the publicity of the networks? Does this disprove the connection to private diaries?

No. The basis of social sites is to establish oneself on the web. It is a defining of self. While this may be fabricated and unlike the true self, it is often an expression of a self the users want to become. They fabricate an ideal “public self”, similar to Podlubni’s fabrication of a real “Stalinist soul” — a strong individual and a strong worker.

Given the entries we see online today, what morals can be in our souls?