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  • Literary Life

    Posted on October 27th, 2014 katiewells9 No comments
    Iurii Annenkov: Portrait of the Poet Boris Pasternak (1921)

    Iurii Annenkov: Portrait of the Poet Boris Pasternak (1921)

    Boris Pasternak was a poet in 1956 after the Thaw of 1954 that created some trouble due to his literary work. The Thaw, written by Il’ia Ehrenburg, was the first example of poets and novelists experimenting with their literary content, although it was timid and short lived.

    From 1956-1957, Soviet writers began to test the limits of expression, beginning with Khrushchev’s Secret Speech. “On February 24, 1956 before assembled delegates to the Communist Party’s Twentieth Congress as well as observers from foreign Communist parties, Nikita Khrushchev delivered a speech denouncing Stalin for his transgressions. The speech was “secret” in the sense that it was read in a closed session without discussion and was neither published as part of the congress’ proceedings nor reported in the Soviet press.” Although, the speech was held in private, several copies were given to certain secretaries and other officials, which the U.S. State Department was able to get their hands on and then released it. 

    Nikita Khrushchev

    Nikita Khrushchev

    After the release of the speech, two reports were written in response to it. One of the reports was by Aleksei Surkov, a conservative secretary of the Writers Union, who “delivered a predictable speech on the ideological tradition of socialist realism.” The other report by Mikhail Sholokhov, “stunned and delighted delegates by ridiculing Surkov and the pretensions of all literary administrators in sometimes salty language.” This was the start to a new era of Soviet literary expression.

    Boris Pasternak was one of those authors to test the limits of the Soviet literature when he submitted his secret novel, Doctor Zhivago, to Novyi mirThe literary magazine rejected his novel saying: “The thing that alarmed us in your novel is something that neither the editors nor the author could change by partial deletions or corrections: We are concerned here with the very spirit of the novel, with its pathos and with the author’s view of life as that view really is or, in any case, as it is formed in the mind of the reader. We feel it is our direct duty to speak to you about this as people to whose views you may or may not attach importance, but whose collective opinion you have no grounds for considering prejudiced and which, therefore, is at least worth hearing out.” (Novy mir Letter

    Pasternak did not think that this would be the case after many of the other literary works that were published around this time. He sent his work to an Italian publisher and had success there, with English and French translations following soon after. He did not receive the same type of praise from the Motherland, but instead faced severe backlash in both his professional and personal life. He won the Nobel Prize for his work in 1958, but refused to even go and accept his award. Pasternak remained an outcast until his death two years later in 1960.

    The case of Boris Pasternak and several other authors from around his time period were the last of their kind to be stomped out by the Stalinist regime.

  • The Hunt For Food

    Posted on October 20th, 2014 katiewells9 No comments

    In September 1941, the city of Leningrad was under seige by the German which lasted until January 1944. According to one Leningrader’s diary, “We have returned to prehistoric times: life has been reduced to one thing — the hunt for food.”

    Upon seizing the city, the Army Group North under General Ritter von Leeb severed the main rail line to Moscow; cutting off necessary supplies. The main goal of the Germans was to “terrorize and starve the population into surrender.” And their goal was working.

    “September 11: The siren is howling again like a dog when someone is dying. This is the twelfth time today … the antiaircraft guns are pounding and just now a bomb screamed overhead, there was a dull thud and then a terrific explosion, and then came the usual shattering of windowpanes. Then another thud, and another and another. Well, so far Elizaveta and I have escaped harm, In the last three days ninety-one enemy planes were downed over Leningrad.”  – Petr Kotelnikov, Diary. 1941-1943

    The people of Leningrad began to do what was necessary to survive, including dismantling wooden houses to burn for warmth. Soon the only route left to receive food and supplies was across the frozen Lake Ladoga and then by rail spur through German-held territory. This route was not always reliable and food rations were continually reduced week by week.

    water mine

    Image 1 of 5 – Getting water from a broken main (1942) Water was precious during the siege and women and children made daily trips to dip it from water mains. Source: Boris Skomorovsky and E. G. Morris: Siege of Leningrad. New York: Books, Inc.. 1944.

    This image depicts the citizens of Leningrad using a broken main to drink water. Along with struggling to find drinking water, people were forced to eat what they could get their hands on, including mice, rats, cats, dogs, birds, bark, tooth powder, glue, and even human flesh when given no other option. (900 Days)

    In January 1944, the seize finally ended with approximately 800,000 dead of starvation and 200,000 killed by bombings.

    The people of Leningrad fought for their lives during the two-and-a-half year seize. They attempted to keep the morale up by creating competitions with extra rations as the prize, young healthy looking men and women were filmed performing in athletic events, and many other events were broadcasted by radio. The goal of the government and activists was to keep life as normal as possible so that people had a reason to keep hope and continue on each day.

    July 28: I visited an exhibition of paintings done by Leningrad artists. We are besieged yet we organize exhibitions. It is snug and clean at the exhibit with rugs and flowers and the paintings themselves. I do not dare to judge of the artistic merits of the paintings but I dare say this; that there has never been such an exhibition before in the entire world. I do not think Troy or Carthage or the cities besieged by Attila and Alaric held painting exhibitions!” – Petr Kotelnikov, Diary. 1941-1943

    The people of Leningrad were memorialized in monuments, poetry, music, art, and many other forms.

    Leningrad is a prime example of the determination the Russian people exhibited during World War II. The citizens of Russia all saw it as their responsibility to do whatever it took to win the war; whether that meant fighting for their country on the front line or plowing the fields back home.


    The Russians were able to win the war because of this perseverance which was a direct result of the Stalinist system in place. According to William C. Fuller, “Paradoxically the USSR won the war both because of and despite the Stalinist system.” (Frost, p. 385) Stalin made poor decisions at the beginning of the war, but was able to pull it together and become a symbol of national unity by the end.

  • Life Under Stalin: Childhood or Cult?

    Posted on October 13th, 2014 katiewells9 No comments
    thanks stalin

    Thank you, Comrade Stalin, for our Happy Childhood (1936) Source: Diane P. Koenker: The Soviet Union since 1917. 2002.

    “The slogan “Thanks to Comrade Stalin for our happy childhood” rang without irony for children who were cared for, believed in the society that cared for them, and accepted its structures of authority.” (Childhood Under Stalin

    Stalin worked hard to create the impression that he was a benevolent and caring ruler both domestically and abroad. He had songs and videos created to show how ‘happy’ Russian children were, but instead they came across as forced and fake. One of these videos is titled “Classroom Like a Playground,” in which the children are shown ‘playing’ in class, but instead look bored and miserable. This is just one of the many examples of how Stalin attempted to make Russia look like something it wasn’t.

    While he wanted Russia to look good to the outside world, he definitely wanted the children of Russia to love him more. He made programs that required all children be educated, both academically and politically, under the Program of the Komsomol. This Program also states, “The Communist League of Youth, in all its work, is guided by the words of Stalin: “to master knowledge, to forge new cadres of Bolsheviks- -specialists in all branches of knowledge–to study, study in the most persistent way. ” The League strives to raise the cultural and technical standard of the working classes to the level of fully qualified engineers.”

    Stalin not only wanted all children to be educated, but he wanted them to be educated well and help to create a new Russian society in which the working class was equal to all those previously held higher than them. He believed that the best way to accomplish this goal was to start with the children, hence his portrayal of childhood under Stalin.


    D. Grinets: Thanks to Comrade Stalin (1937) Thanks to the Party, Thanks to Dear Stalin for a Happy, Joyful Childhood Source: Dawn Ades, Tim Benton, David Elliot, Iain Boyd Whyte, eds.: Art and Power: Europe under the Dictators 1930-45. London: The South Bank Centre.

    To help enhance the image of childhood in Russia, Stalin enacted the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissaries of the USSR, On Criminal Penalties for Minor Children. This decree was an attempt at the quickest extermination of juvenile delinquency with just four articles laying out new punishments for criminal behavior. These articles were strict and final, leaving no room for argument or self defense. It was a quick and easy way to weed out the good children and put the bad ones in their place.

    Stalin wanted to remove juvenile delinquency from Russian society completely and in turn create child pioneers, paving the way for his newfound society. These young pioneers were the key to Stalin’s plans because they represented what the future could hold. In a way Stalin created a cult of children creating the future he and Lenin both saw fit for the nation.


    Long Live Young Pioneers! (1939) Long Live Young Pioneers — the worthy replacements for the Leninist-Stalinist Komsomol Source: New Gallery. 2000.

     Childhood under Stalin might not have been what we expect childhood to look like, but he did sincerely care about the impact they would make on the world and Russia. He wanted the children of the 1930s to make his and Lenin’s dream of revolution a reality, he had faith in them. He educated them and attempted to reduce juvenile delinquency. From afar, none of his ideas were all that different from what other countries hope for from their children, but the way he went about making those ideas a reality were a bit outrageous. So you decide, did the youth under Stalin live a normal childhood or were they the youngest members of a cult organization?