Guide Making the Soviet Intelligentsia: Universities and Intellectual Life under Stalin and Khrushchev

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Would it be possible to write about this period from the perspective of the Soviet intelligentsia, rather than primarily the Russian one? De-Stalinization led to all sorts of debates about national identity, tradition, and the Soviet legacy far beyond central Russia. Indeed, in October of , the Uzbek SSR organized a congress of the Uzbek intelligentsia, specifically to hash out some of these questions. The concerns of Uzbek historians, writers, and artists were not identical to those of their Russian counterparts, but they cannot be so easily separated either.

How would looking beyond Moscow affect our chronology of the thaw? Could we extend it perhaps as late as , when an estimated 20, people took to the streets in Yerevan to demand an official recognition of the Armenian genocide? Yet this was the same period that official relations with China, India, and the broader post-colonial world took center stage.

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These are, admittedly, not entirely fair criticisms. I will be recommending this wholeheartedly to all my students and colleagues, both as an introduction to the period and a primer on how to capture the complexities of a hopeful era. I n one old Soviet joke that goes back to the s, a tour guide is showing a group around Hell. You can see that they are standing in excrement as punishment for their terrible sins.

As far as jokes go, the boisterous Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev would have not found it funny in the least. Stalin may have been bad. The system, though, was good. But there were lingering questions: how could a good system produce such a monstrosity as Stalin? On whose shoulders did Stalin stand?

Before long, the leadership clamped down on dissent. Doubts were pushed out from the public sphere into kitchens; public debates gave way to whispers and surreptitious jokes. Beautifully laid out across twelve chapters—twelve months—the book recounts stories of hope, fears, and disappointments, all the wonderful uncertainties and the unfortunate certitudes of the Soviet s. These are stories of people released from the Gulag, of poets and writers, of scientists and students, stories of anger and betrayal, regret and forgiveness, a snapshot of the Soviet society at an important historical turning point.

The cast of characters includes the writers Varlam Shalamov and Konstantin Paustovskii, the dissident Yuri Orlov, but also less-known names.

Making the Soviet Intelligentsia : Universities and Intellectual Life under Stalin and Khrushchev

There is even a smattering of fictional heroes, as Smith enlivens her narrative by generously citing from some of the literature of the s. Here, Shalamov, a returnee from the Gulag, struggles to re-attach himself to his wife and daughter who would prefer to forget the painful memories of his imprisonment. Here, Vladimir Dudintsev, the famous author of Not By Bread Alone , struggles—and fails—to keep the discussion of his controversial novel within the permissible bounds. Here, Paustovskii partakes of the newly-won freedom to cruise around Europe on a Soviet liner, bringing back colourful memories of foreign life.

Here are angry students boycotting their canteen because they are not happy with the quality of food, only to find themselves on the receiving end of party criticism. In short, life as one would expect to see it in Moscow in Smith has done an excellent job intertwining her different story lines, pulling together threads from the memoir literature and archival materials. That said, the book has certain limitations.

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The author consciously avoids the broader, international, aspects of de-Stalinization. This is for the good reason that covering every conceivable story cannot be done and perhaps should not be attempted. There was unrest in Communist parties in Western Europe and in the U. The conservative backlash of late can only be understood with reference to the events that shook Budapest that fall. Some of these issues are discussed in passing in the book.

Universities and Intellectual Life under Stalin and Khrushchev

Moscow Just that. Well, maybe a bit of Leningrad. This is a problem that all historians face. How do we select evidence?

How do we construct narratives without subconsciously surrendering to this or that bias, unwittingly exaggerating some phenomena while understating something else? I wondered about this as I read the book. Can we assume that their views were shared by other Muscovites, never mind the broader populace?

There is a danger of conflation of elite opinions with the general public opinion with the result that counter-narratives are shoved out of sight. Of course not. There were plenty of detractors, plenty of unreformed Stalinists, and many of them were not in the party bureaucracy.

There were anti-de-Stalinization riots in Georgia, as the author rightly points out but that was just the surface of a much broader phenomenon. Pimenov even wrote letter to the Supreme Soviet, complaining about the Soviet actions in Hungary.

One Pimenov is a dissident voice who, in retrospect, helped shaped the legacy of the s; the other Danilevskii is someone that we do not really know anything about. Yet there was a Danilevskii for every Pimenov. The diversity of perspectives is what is missing in our assessments of the thaw. These reservations aside, I highly commend this study of remarkable breadth and readability.

Smith has done us all a service by showing us how engaging and thought-provoking history should be written. L ooking in isolation at , a year of decisive importance for the Soviet Union, has both advantages and drawbacks. The drawbacks are apparent in the way Kathleen E. Smith focuses selectively on the preparation of Soviet leader Nikita S.

What is not, in my view, sufficiently taken into consideration here are the political framework conditions. This might lead readers who are not already well versed in Soviet history to believe that writers and artists had exerted a decisive influence on Khrushchev, swaying him to initiate the rehabilitation of the victims of Stalinism. Initially only the upper and lower levels of the party were to be briefed people were individually allowed to read the speech, but they were not allowed to share it with others.

The Central Committee in Moscow did not issue any clear instructions — nor was it in a position to do so. This was the dilemma the Soviet leaders found themselves confronted with. Google Scholar. Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions. All rights reserved. Issue Section:. You do not currently have access to this article.

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