A New Society: Modernity in Soviet Russia

For most of Europe in the 19th century, modernity was seen as the emergence of nation-states, the establishment of a parliamentary democracy, and the rise of capitalism. Imperial Russia and Soviet modernity differed from this concept. Instead, their modernity focused on Enlightenment ideals such as the belief in progress, a focus on reason, and the belittlement of religion and tradition. The inclusion of Russian modernity broadens the definition parameters of this obscure term. The Soviet Union encompassed mass politics, population management, and socialism.

Anthony Gidden defines modernity as the establishment of abstract systems to measure time and space. In other words, reordering tradition to scientific and medical expert systems. In Russia, these expert systems consist of rationalizing economic production, and reorganizing the population and society. Mass politics were a major influence in Russian culture during the 19th and 20th century. In Hoffman’s article, he argues that in order to be visible to the public, experts had to employ myths and “make a participatory but nondemocratic form of politics. Experts did this by inventing traditions, specifically folk culture, in order to promote certain ideologies. These soviet experts sought to reorganize and retrain the citizens in order to make these valuable assets. The ultimate goal of citizenship was to be rational and productive. For ultimate productivity, the Russian government insisted on population management. To them, the citizens were statistics on a map. The Soviet Union introduced tactics such as sterilization in order to keep citizens at maximum efficiency. Socialist ideology played a huge part in Russian society. Socialism was a product of European modernity. Things such as elimination of private property, unequal distribution of wealth, and economic exploitation were a response to Europe’s modernity. The Soviet Union chose national interest over individual interest in order to improve the society as a whole. For the Russian government reshaping, disciplining, and mobilizing the population in order to meet industrial and welfare needs characterized modernity. As Hoffman points out, “Soviet socialism responded to challenges and aspirations of Europeans modernity.”