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Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s Paperback – 11 May 2000
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Of the two, Fitzpatrick is incomparably the finer historian . . . . There is no doubt abou the quality of Fitzpatrick's research . . . (THES, 12/04/2002)
"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
"The author's rich materials challenge readers to build their own model of Stalin's people, their complicity and resistance."―Wilson Quarterly
"A most welcome addition to the literature on Stalin's Russia....Fitzpatrick has used the entire range of sources available, from familiar memoirs and postwar interview material to contemporary research and an array of archival information....The book is a major contribution to understanding this extraordinary period. Its lucid prose and the inherent interest of its subject matter should make it accessible to undergraduates, as well as to more specialized readers."―Choice
"One of the most influential historians of the Soviet period describes what it was like to live under Stalin in the 1930s―the frantic, heroic, tragic decade of collectivization, forced-draft industrialization, and purges, when ordinary Russians struggled to a find a wearable pair of shoes and lined up in subzero weather at two o'clock in the morning in the hope of getting 16 grams of bread....They were years of unimaginable hardship and brutality but also of idealism, a surreal melange that [Fitzpatrick] captures with admirable matter-of-factness."―Foreign Affairs
"A fine crossover book for both upperlevel and introductory courses....Well written."―Roger W. Haughey, Georgetown University
"Everyday Stalinism should prove invaluable for any course on Soviet history. Knowing how a nation's people actually lived, thought, and felt is essential to any real understanding of the past. On this, Fitzpatrick―who has done more than any other scholar to make the complexities of the social history of the Stalin years come alive―delivers as no one else can."―John McCannon, Norwich University
Review from previous edition "Fitzpatrick makes subtle use of the press and of police reports that assist in giving us one of the most comprhensive accounts of what it meant to live in Stalin's Russia in the 1930's" (Kirkus Reviews)
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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They were wrong of course. The 1930s were bleak for citizens of the Soviet Union. Here we read their testimony. She takes her evidence from diaries and letters, to interviews, to memories. The focus is on the urban experience and on everyday life, everyday life in extraordinary times.
We begin in 1929, when private trading was criminalized. Shops and stalls, merchants and traders vanished – as did the goods and services they had purveyed. Scarcity became the central fact of life.Lives were also lived in fear. The Soviet regime was exceptionally punitive in its approach to control. The book ends with a climax of terror, the Great Purges.
But that was not the whole story. Through education the system offered opportunity. People from poor backgrounds had increased life chances. There were millions of new and challenging jobs. It was a very mobile society. Enthusiasm for modernization was high among young people, hardship accepted as the price for the cause. The regime managed to represent the nation, as shown in the Great Patriotic War. Beyond that in day-to-day living people negotiated their way through bureaucratic incompetence and shortages. They got by, they survived. Connections and contacts – so-called blat – kept the wheels turning. There were as many ways to avoid the NKVD as to get a bigger room for your family or shoes for your children.
But many were outcast and persecuted and everyone had to be careful. Loss of job, eviction from your home, exile, prison and ultimately execution – all might follow from an argument with a neighbour, who then denounced you to the secret police.
It is not easy to categorize this state. “a peculiar hybrid”. She invokes analogies – a prison [of course], a conscript army, a boarding school and even a soup kitchen. Soviet citizens too were many kinds of people – “ a string-puller, an operator, a mouther of slogans..But above all ,a survivor”. Of course, not all survived.
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 & 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.
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