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Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s [Paperback]

Sheila Fitzpatrick
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 May 2000
Here is a pioneeering account of everyday life under Stalin, written by one of our foremost authorities on modern Russain history. Focusing on urban areas in the 1930's, Sheila Fitzpatrick shows that with the adoption of collectivisation and the first Five Year Plan, everyday life was utterly transformed. with the abolition of the market, shortages of food, clothing, and all kinds of consumer goods became endemic. As peasants fled the collectivised villages, major cities were soon in the grip of a major housing crisis, with families jammed for decades into tiny single rooms in communal appartments, counting living space in square metres. It was a world of overcrowding, privation, endless queues, and broken families, in which the regime's promise of future socialist abundance rand hollowly. We read of a government bureaucracy that often turned everyday life into a nightmare, and of the ways that ordinary citizens tried to circumvent it, primarily by patronage and the ubiquitous system of personal connections known as "blat". And we read of the police surveillance that was endemic to this society, and the waves of terror like the Great Purges of 1937, that periodically cast this world into turmoil. Fitzpatrick illuminates the ways that Soviet city-dwellers coped with this world, examining such diverse activities as shoppping, travelling, telling jokes, finding an apartment, getting an education, cultivating patrons and connections, marrying and raising a family, writing complaints and denunciations, voting, and trying to steer clear of the secret police.

Based on extensive research in the Soviet archives only recently opened to historians, this superb book illuminates the ways ordinary people tried to live normal lives under extraordinary circumstances.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 310 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; New Ed edition (1 May 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195050010
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195050011
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 13 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 47,058 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"Fitzpatrick makes subtle use of the press and of police reports that assist in giving us one of the most comprehensive accounts of what it meant to live in Stalin's Russia in the 1930s."--Kirkus Reviews"A fine work--engrossing, well written, superbly documented, and much needed to boot....[The book's sources] make absolutely fascinating reading....An assiduous scholar, Professor Fitzpatrick seems to have scrutinized every relevant scrap of paper. Her explication is a model of balance and judiciousness....Individual memoirs apart, most histories of this period were written from the top--that is, showing how the policies were shaped and implemented, rather than how they were perceived and experienced by their subjects. It is the latter...that constitutes the major distinction of Fitzpatrick's book."--Abraham Brumberg, The Nation[On STALIN'S PEASANTS: ] "[This] monumental study of Russian peasants' responses to collectivization and its immediate aftermath reaffirms Fitzpatrick's status as the leading social historian of the early Soviet period and ensconces her firmly among the ranks of the leading scholars of peasant societies around the world. Painstakingly researched, Everyday Stalinism begins to fill an enormous gap in the historiography of collectivization in the Soviet Union....Peasant voices are finally heard in Fitzpatrick's thick descriptions....[This] book will stand as a solid pioneering effort and a must-read for scholars and students of Russia, the Soviet Union, and other peasant societies."--The Journal of Modern History"The author's rich materials challenge readers to build their own model of Stalin's people, their complicity and resistance."--Wilson Quarterly

About the Author

Sheila Fitzpatrick teaches modern Russian history at the University of Chicago. A former President of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, and a co-editor of The Journal of Modern History, she is also the author of The Russian Revolution, Stalin's Peasants, and many other books and articles about Russia. She lives in Chicago.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyday life and the state under Stalin 11 May 2009
Format:Paperback
Sheila Fitzpatrick, specialist in the Stalin period of the USSR, has written a counterpart to her history of peasants and their lives in this era (Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village After Collectivization). Here, in "Everyday Stalinism", she chronicles the urban experience of life under Stalin during the 1930s, with all its paranoia, hardship and oddities.

The book is focused in particular on the relationship of daily life and the state, with relatively little attention for cultural history. However, making much use of the Harvard Project interviews with Soviet citizens from this period, she offers a compelling and fascinating view into the attitude of Soviet citizens towards the state, towards Stalin, and towards each other. Much more than just a tale of survival under threat of secret police, Fitzpatrick shows how people got by in terms of getting consumer goods, getting ahead, and getting even. Of course the Great Purges are given due attention, but what is particularly interesting is that in this book we see those events, as well as the earlier show trials, from the bottom up: not the political history of Stalin eliminating his enemies, but a struggle for power between the Party elites (largely received with disinterest by the general populace), and subsequently a series of rapid repressive maneouvres that descend onto the unsuspecting middle level.

Fitzpatrick pays excellent attention also to social policy and what effect this had on women, social and ethnic minorities, and so on.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Valuable and readable. 21 Aug 2002
Format:Paperback
Subtitled "Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times" this book is not a narrative political history of Stalin. Rather it offers a more complex viewpoint, convincingly offering a portrait of urban dwellers (Fitzpatrick has separately written on "Stalin's Peasants")and a broader power structure. In so doing it manages to question our modern imposed perceptions of "the state" and conventional hierarchies. Both interesting and informative, this book deserves to be read as it provides valuable insight into the reality of the bizarre world of life in 1930's soviet russia.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life as one of Stalin's 'little cogs' 14 April 2013
By F Henwood TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Soviet Union underwent one of greatest experiments in social engineering ever known. In embarking on this experiment Stalin's regime wanted to do more than refashion a backward, peasant country into a modern, urban one. It wanted to create a new kind of human being, liberated of acquisitive, individualistic instincts.

This book details what it was like for the Russian, urban inhabitants to live through this experiment. It is a fine, judicious and balanced assessment of the complex facets of ordinary people's everyday experience under Stalinism in the 1930s.

Foremost of these experiences was scarcity: scarcity of food, consumer goods, housing space - scarcity of everything in other words. `Things mattered enormously in the Soviet Union of the 1930s,' writes Fitzpatrick, `for the simple reason they were so hard to get'. (p.40). Scarcity became a permanent defining feature of the system and although it was not what the regime's planners intended to happen, it certainly reinforced the state's control over the lives of its citizens. It was through the state that any material reward would come. But this being the case, citizens were compelled to resort to extra-legal means of circumventing the power of this state to dispense goods and rewards. Foremost among these was the practice of `blat' - getting things done by pulling strings or working one's connections, in return for future favours. Those of those course that had no strings to pull or such clout suffered for it. But the climate of scarcity necessitated such strategies (and at all levels) and unless the regime could create abundance, which it didn't, it could never overcome it.
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7 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting stuff, but not a light summer read. 28 Jun 1999
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
If you want to learn about Joseph Stalin, try something else. Surprisingly, Stalin is reduced to a bit player in this book; the real players here are the bureaucrats staking out their territory and enforcing their small visions of the ideal Soviet society, and ordinary citizens denouncing other citizens for the smallest of gains. Changes resulting from the occasional fiat from on high - although almost never from Stalin himself, who protected his cult of personality by speaking only in the most general of terms - are examined, but the real meat is the lasting damage done by peers and government lackies.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  22 reviews
64 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stalinism from a different angle. 22 April 2002
By Virgil - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I've read several dozen works on the Soviet era between the October revolution and the Second World War, from Pipes to Conquest and including Solzeynitsin's "Gulag" trilogy. While Solzeynitsin focused on the impact of those who were swept up in the great terror of the '30s, "Everyday Stalinism" looks at the impact on the average individual's daily life in the cities of the USSR.
Unlike the Pipes/Conquest terror-as-a-psychopathic-spasm-and-if-you-don't-believe-that-you're-a-revisionist school, Fitzpatrick is more focused on Stalinism at the common level. How it was maintained and what its effects were.
And, surprisingly, many people supported or benefited from it by filling the spaces of those "liquidated" or informing and denouncing rivals in love or work. The real fear wasn't always the KGB at 4am but a neighbor or acquaintance at work. The sad truth is that many were co-opted by the system and worked within it to support the party.
Addressed is the commonly held belief then that no matter what you may have done since the revolution, if you had been born into an "enemy class" then you were in a sense marked for life. The commoness of this view is highlighted in Fitzpatricks account. the irony of this is that those who rose up to replace the liquidated were themselves given bourgeois rewards.
Fitzpatrick does excellent work in guiding the reader throught the beauracratic, social and economic difficulties of the average Soviet citizen. Well researched and well written this can be read as an introduction to the era or especially as a valuable look at Stalinism from the perspective of the urban "masses".
Fitzpatrick, unlike the Conquest/Pipes school, does better at facing the sad and bitter truth that the system- while terryifing for some- was held together and supported by many who benefited. Even today walking the streets of St Petersburg, you will see many in the older generation holding pictures of Stalin in a sort of reverence. The co-opting of the culture and population is, to me, the most troubling aspect and legacy of Stalinism. Everyday Stalinism could function as an interesting companion piece to Orwell's 1984.
Well done.
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and well researched 29 Dec 2000
By doc peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Written by one of the most respected scholars of the USSR in the 1930's, Everyday Stalinism is outstanding. Fitzpatrick has exhaustively scoured recently opened Soviet archives for material in this book, and it shows. There is an abundance of new information here. Fitzpatrick details urban life in 1930's Soviet Union - the daily struggles of common men and women in extraordinary circumstances are vividly portrayed: the shortages of food and clothing, the ubiquitous presence of the government, the almost feudal arrangements between social strata (party members and others who hold "blat" - influence) and the competition for housing as the USSR began to urbanize. Only one chapter is devoted exclusively to the Great Purges of the late 1930's, although its silent presence is tangible just beneath the surface in much of the books subject matter. As one would expect from a professional historian, the books primary purpose is scholarship. But a strength is Fitzpatrick's writing style which is fluid and never dull. Be forewarned, this is not light reading. With that said, I highly recommend it to anyone who has more than a passing interest in the Soviet Union or Russia. If you want a deeper understanding of why the USSR socially and econcomically rotted from within, this is an excellent starting place.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyday life and the state under Stalin 6 April 2007
By M. A. Krul - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Sheila Fitzpatrick, specialist in the Stalin period of the USSR, has written a counterpart to her history of peasants and their lives in this era (Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization). Here, in "Everyday Stalinism", she chronicles the urban experience of life under Stalin during the 1930s, with all its paranoia, hardship and oddities.

The book is focused in particular on the relationship of daily life and the state, with relatively little attention for cultural history. However, making much use of the Harvard Project interviews with Soviet citizens from this period, she offers a compelling and fascinating view into the attitude of Soviet citizens towards the state, towards Stalin, and towards each other. Much more than just a tale of survival under threat of secret police, Fitzpatrick shows how people got by in terms of getting consumer goods, getting ahead, and getting even. Of course the Great Purges are given due attention, but what is particularly interesting is that in this book we see those events, as well as the earlier show trials, from the bottom up: not the political history of Stalin eliminating his enemies, but a struggle for power between the Party elites (largely received with disinterest by the general populace), and subsequently a series of rapid repressive maneouvres that descend onto the unsuspecting middle level.

Fitzpatrick pays excellent attention also to social policy and what effect this had on women, social and ethnic minorities, and so on. The USSR as an "affirmative action empire" has been well chronicled: The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (Wilder House Series in Politics, History, and Culture). Nevertheless, Fitzpatrick's overview is clear and cogent, and we get also get a good idea of the immense advances in literacy, cultural knowledge and general outlook that were made in roughly the period 1927-1937. Whereas in 1926 only 57% of those aged between 9 and 49 were literate, in 1939 81% of the whole population was literate. Similarly, the entire mass of the population learned basic culture such as appreciating poetry, washing regularly, using soap and towels, not leaving cigarette butts everywhere and not spitting on the floor, etc.

Striking is the amount of critical letters and appeals that people kept sending to Party and Politburo leaders in the (often, but not always vain) hope of redress of grievances or changes in policy. This was already a set tradition dating back to Czarist times, but was maintained during the Revolution and post-Revolutionary period in the form of public debate in leftist papers and letters to Lenin (see Voices of Revolution, 1917). This gives us a good indication however of the public opinion in the Stalinist days, to which Fitzpatrick usefully adds the NKVD reports of overheard conversations and the like. This surprisingly indicates that skepticism towards Stalin himself as well as the general system was reasonably widespread, despite the "cult of the personality".

Overall, this is a well written and interesting history of urban life in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. It must be emphasized though (as this is not directly apparent from the book description) that it only deals with urban life, and only the 1930s. Neither WWII nor the post-War Stalinist period is discussed.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read 4 Aug 2000
By "mtc24" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A well-written book, by a leading professor in the field!! Fitzpatrick has taken many different documents and worked them together to describe what city-life was like in the Soviet 1930's. This is the companion to her book "Stalin's Peasants", which describes peasant life during this same time period. Fitzpatrick describes what the average life of a Russian city-dweller was like, using many different stories. She ends the book by comparing life during this time to three different things. I will let you read the book to see what they are!!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing glimpse into the everyday misery of 1930s Russia 15 May 2000
By David Ljunggren - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Fitzpatrick has produced an intriguing book about the miseries of everyday life in Stalin's Russia during the 1930s, when people had to struggle with a world which had been turned upside down by both the revolution and the turmoil of the collectivisation and industrialisation policies of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Using a wealth of sources, she shows with particular clarity the great incompetence of the bureaucracy, where everyone seemed more interested in fighting for influence than in serving the people. She also puts the focus on crime, hooliganism and how the lot of women was slowly improved through the chance to get a decent education. Fitzpatrick also does not disappoint with the crushing effect of the nightmare years of 1936-1938, when millions were executed or imprisoned during the Great Purge. A vital read for all those fascinated by the topic of Stalinism
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