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Everyday Stalinism

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Skyler Gunnoe

Russian History

March 29, 2007

Everyday Stalinism

The life of the Soviet people in the 1930s was full of hardships and problems. Fitzpatrick described in her account many food shortages along with the horrors of living in an urban dwelling were it was basiclly survival of the fitest, individual connections and social skills were important to the Russian people so that they could acquire food and other necessities that were required for living. Chapter Two mentions, "The most serious and widespread recurrence of breadlines occurred in the winter of 1936-1937," "People were waiting in line for bread from 2am in Western Siberia that winter" (Fitzpatrick p.43) This shortage of bread occurred all throughout Russia, many people waiting inline for six to twelve hours. Having to wait in line for half the day is bad enough but doing it at one or two in the morning is extremely hard for a human being to deal with every day. Not only was bread a shortage but so was butter, milk, eggs, fish, poultry and meat. Bascially all the necessities for human beings to live on had to be acquire through long lines in the early morning.

Another example of hardships was the housing conditions in Russia. In Chapter Two it says that " the average living space in Moscow was 5.5 meters per capita during 1930 and average under 4 meters during 1940" (Fitzpatrick p.46). Their was a family of six that had begged to be rescued from there dwelling which was a 6 square meter windowless cubbyhole giving them one square meter per capita. The physical aspect of Moscow was horrible. One American engineer wrote about the city saying "stench, filth, dilapidation batter the sense at every turn." (Fitzpatrick p.51) In 1938 Stalingrad's population was approaching half a million and still there was no sewage system setup yet. The conditions in Russia were horrible as the years went on and population began to rise. Chapter Six dealt with family problems such as husbands running away and political measures such as the 1936 law restricting abortions.

Fitzpatrick seeks to establish a simple statement that Soviet urban residents in the Stalinist 1930s sought to live "normal," ordinary lives in harsh times, among chronic shortages, social upheaval and political terror. A major part of Fitzpatrick's account was to write down a range of strategies by which Soviet urbanites attempted to live "normal lives." This incorporated strategies not only for physical survival but also for emotional and psychological survival.

The relationship between the class and the regime thus ranged between submissive acceptance and alert hostility. Some, such as young people, supported the regime actively. Workers felt a residual feeling of correlation with the Soviet cause and thus gave inert support to the regime. It can be difficult to explain this feeling of resentment, Fitzpatrick points out that Stalin's regime had situated itself as the only option associated with national emotion and patriotism, with advancement, and with a paternalistic welfare state.

In many respects the Soviet people felt themselves in opposition to their own government and distrusted it. Fitzpatrick considers how people might have coordinated the two in their minds along with the harsh reality of living in Russia people could only feel angry toward the government. The Soviet citizens could not prepare to accept their current material hardships, in exchange for the government telling them it would get better. Fitzpatrick argues that whether they believed is less important than the fact that utopian promises were part of the population's understanding, "a Soviet citizen might believe or disbelieve in a radiant future, but could not be ignorant that one was promised" (Fitzpatrick p. 67).

The Russian people could no longer settle for egalitarian ideology with the continuation of fortunate elites such as prize-winning workers, Writers' Union members and Communists being put in better position then they were. Many workers hated there jobs and showed angry against there bosses which in turn was directed at the government. The main mode of communication to the government was through letters which ask for help or directed problems about certain issues within the lives of the Russian people. One letter accused the regime of being dominated by Jews and the non-Jewish members Stalin and Kirov of selling out to the Jews. Another anonymous letter mocked Stalin calling him a "Caucasian prince Stalin". (Fitzpatrick p.186) Russians started to mock and joke about Russian slogans and propaganda. One slogan "Catch up and overtake the West" was translated into "When we catch (meaning the capitalist countries), then can we stay there?" (Fitzpatrick p.184)

Fear of the government increased as the great purge came about. Chapter Five "The Insulted and Injured," fine points the persecution of "former people" and their strategies for avoiding it. One tactic was to portray oneself in ways tolerable to the regime, that is, to put on a mask. This image was a part of the Stalinist leaders' worldview as well; the regime was distant with "unmasking" hidden enemies. This was one reason of the impressive equipment of surveillance that Fitzpatrick details in Chapter 7, "Conversations and Listeners." This surveillance found its culmination in the progressive "unmasking" of more and more enemies during the Great Terror of 1937-1938.

Fitzpatrick devotes her final chapter to urban Russians' understanding of and strategies for physical and emotional survival during the Great Terror. The story of the rituals or arrest and imprisonment and

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