Young, Wild, and Free

Throughout the course many of us have talked about gender roles, particularly about abortion laws and gender norms. When Stalin’s regime ended, it seemed that women’s rights took a 180 turn on several issues. The government especially started focusing on the men’s role in the family. In reality, the idea of a nuclear family was declining and so were the youth–according to the older generations.

In 1985, this seemed to come to a peak. Part of this reason was the educational system. The Komsomol–which controlled post-school life–was becoming more and more discredited because of it’s subservience to  the Communist Party. [1]. This same group released also tried to control the social aspects of the Soviet Youth. In one article they released they claimed that certain songs would damage their ability to learn. [2] This particular article was titled, “Contraband Songs Can Damage Young People’s Education” [3].  This article was incredibly strong in their language against these “contraband” songs, which sentences such as, “You can smell the primitive and vulgarity in these songs a mile off. The heroes’ vocabulary is poor to the point of impoverishment, and the songsters prefer slang expressions, often peppered with “off-color” words. And there are more than enough unambiguous hints, too” [4]. The Komsomol was losing popularity with a lot of people for their seemingly outdated view–especially with the youth. The Soviet youth weren’t participating in events that had previously been a traditional part of the Soviet lifestyle.

In the video below, the youth is penalized simply for riding motorcycles. It is stated that, “there’s no place big enough for us to work on our motorcycles. No matter what we do, we’re guilty” [5]

video link: 

Edit: After reading Elizabeth’s blog, I wanted to add a little more to the video. In her blog, she talks about the fact that the motorcyclists, or “Rockers” were causing chaos to certain aspects in society, especially the taxi drivers, who they apparently harassed. A law was passed that prohibited groups of motorcycles in order to cut down on motorcycle gangs and unruliness. Since I focused more on the youth perspective, it was interesting to the perspective other other entities, in this case, the taxi drivers. As always, it interesting to see how people take the same thing different ways. The taxi drivers seeing the Rockers as hooligans, and the rest of the motorcyclists seeing targets on their back.

Personally, I feel as if the youth are overlooked. Yet they can play instrumental roles in the changing of a society. Youth can have an incredibly powerful voice, if they choose, and they can also have large numbers in their group.With the dissolution of the Communist Union, the Kosmomol also disbanded, leading to reforms within the educational society. [6]

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No More Church Bells

Continuing my theme of religion, this week on the 17 moments page I found an interesting topic about Khrushchev and his role in the (further) destruction of the church. The church was already losing power (Stalin was afraid of the church’s authority competing against his) but there had been a wartime agreement that had allowed the churches some power. With the war being over, Khrushchev, who had been an instigator in the anti-religious movement in 1957, made plans to close even more churches, monasteries, religious schools, etc. in 1961 [1].

In an editorial titled, “Atheists Must Attack”, it talked about how anti-religious propaganda was not being spread efficiently enough [2]. Authority figures began to revitalize anti-religious and scientific programs to deter people from turning to religion, especially when it came to the young people of the generation. The editorial stated that the following things needed to take place in order to root out religion in society:

“In order to protect the working people against the pernicious influence of religion the Party organizations must extend atheist propaganda to all believers. Antireligious work must be conducted not in cities and district centers alone (as often happens), but in every workers’ settlement and on every collective and state farm.

Informational work must take account of local conditions and of the believers’ level of development and nationality. Special attention must be devoted to individual work. …

The Party organizations must provide day-to-day guidance for the whole complex of atheistic propaganda. There must be no blank spaces left in antireligious work. Along with exposing the Orthodox faith, special attention must be devoted to exposing the reactionary nature of Islam, which is widespread in Kazakhstan. An end must be put to the view that the Moslem religion is a faith of old people and will disappear with the old generation. This view is not only wrong but harmful. It is true that the overwhelming majority of Moslems are old people. But they pull the young people along with them. …”[3]

I thought it was interesting that they did not just limit their religious persecution to Christianity, but made the point to include Islam as well. I also was curious as to why they only mentioned Christianity and not Judaism.

This topic interested me not only because I find the history of religion in countries fascinating but because it also seemed to incorporate a view point of Stalin in a different era. However, the manner in which these new regulations were carried out seemed to incorporate violence more than previous attempts to snuff the churches authority.

Below there is a link to a video that “describes” religious people. I use quote marks around describe because it seems to me to very obviously be a propaganda video showing religious people as uncultured or uneducated. One of the things the video says is, “look at the religious people spending their hard-earned money”. The video is meant to portray religious people as backwards. 

I think it is interesting that the fight against religion has taken place (in this context) for almost half a century at this point, yet there is still faith in some of the people.  I don’t think that government can ever truly get rid of people’s faith no matter the extremes they go to.

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“Happiness of Motherhood”

Last week, I read a post about gender roles and it talked about how Stalin made abortion illegal because of the negative impact he thought it would have on the population. When I was looking at the events of 1956, I came across the reversal of this order. They had decided to make abortion legal again because they thought illegal abortion would be too unsafe and further hurt the population. However, they government would still strongly discouraged having abortion. in 1956 alone there were 20,000 antiabortion lectures.[1]

Stop! Now abortion seems necessary. But remember, it might forever deprive you of the happiness of motherhood! K. Ivanov: Stop! (196Smilie: 8)

Along with the legalization of abortion came books, posters, movies, and other forms of media to discourage women from having an abortion. There were also fiction books that showed the reasons to legalize abortions, mainly the dangers of having abortion. One such book, Quiet Flows the Don, by Mikhail Sholokhov graphically explained what happened why illegal abortions took place. Below is a small excerpt from his book, a larger portion can be found here.

“We only heal the sick and we haven’t learned yet how to resurrect the dead. Your little woman has been so cut up that she’s got nothing to live with. The uterus is torn to shreds. The old woman must have gone at it with an iron hook. It’s the price of our benighted ignorance. Can’t be helped!’…” [2]

The language and descriptions used in this book surprised me because even today the topic of abortions is almost considered taboo. Yet this book was written in 1996 and uses very precise imagery to talk about abortions.

L. Aristov: For you, Comrade Men (1962)

Another aspect that I found interesting during this time was the importance placed on men in the abortion process. It was mentioned that during the Stalin era, fathers and husbands were marginalized and single mother families were endorsed. [3] However, during the Khrushchev era, the fatherhood role began to become more prominent. [4] The poster above refers to a movement that encouraged men to be more involved in the abortion decision. It stated, “sometimes a husband tries to avoid any discussion about the artificial termination of a pregnancy, giving his wife the “right” to decide this herself. This behavior can never be justified. Who, if not the husband, the father of the future child, should protect the health and life of a wife, the happiness of the family?” [5]

The media that was put out during this time also insinuated that women that have abortions would later end up being depressed and lonely as they would become infertile and have marriage problems. So although it was legal, the negative side was far more highlighted than any positive side. This topic caught my attention me because it almost reminded me of everything I’ve been seeing in the news lately about reproductive rights.

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Silence has Fallen

Before 1929, the churches of Russia were already facing harsh penalties under the new government. Afraid of the churches power, the Bolsheviks blamed the churches for the famine. The Criminal Code of 1923 placed harsh restrictions and penalties on the church. However, the war on the church was not over yet.

In 1929, more laws on religious organizations went into place. Although these new laws added on to the the  original 1923 laws, these were more vigorously pursued than before. To encourage production, religious days off were beginning to be discouraged. Stalin introduced “nepreryvnaia nedelia” or the uninterrupted work week. This would change several different factors of the people’s everyday lives.

Because the work week was 7 days now, many other institutions–such as bath centers, education institutions, shops, etc.–were impacted. This continuous work week also had an effect on raw materials. The use of raw materials began to cause a shortage that even Stalin finally had to admit that this work week was not working. By 1931, Stalin had ended this short lived idea.

This time period also impacted the churches wealth once again. In my last blog, I talked about the Bolsheviks undermining the church’s authority and gaining control of their wealth. We see during this time period that the churches will once again be subject to removal of gold from sacred objects.  In 1930, there would be a petition to remove gold from the cupolas of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. This petition would give factories “exclusive right to process gold objects which cannot be used for civilian purposes and lack historical artistic worth.” 

I found this topic interesting because of the continued war against the churches. The metal from sacred items were melted down to be used in factories because they were not seen as useful to civilian life nor historically valued. Economically, this probably did benefit the Soviet Union as they were able to gain precious metals and stones. But this time period was also a defining moment in the cultural history for Russia. It would set the tone for years to come with state and church relations. I found the difference between the United States and the Soviet Union also interesting in this aspect. While they both have separation of church and state, the U.S. did not go to such extremes as the Soviet Union to make sure the church did not have power over the people.


Continuous Work Week

Remove the Gold from the Cupolas of Christ the Savior

Protest of Church Closing

Churches Closed


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Church of Gold

“What can the church of gold give us? Russia could be fed this year and the next!”

Source: Hoover Political Poster Database. 2007.

With all of the cultural changes happening during the early 1900’s, I found the changing of religion the most interesting. In history, religion, or the lack of, often has defined movements, entire governments, or even states. In this new age of Russian history, it is no different. As George Freeze states on page 335, “no Bolshevik assault on tradition could overlook religion.”  This new culture coming into being didn’t really have a place for the old religion as religion had been the “opiate of the masses” and would impede scientific discovery (Freeze 335). In 1918, a decree was made that would separate church and state, but it would also nationalize church land and property (Freeze 335). The decline of the authority of the church had begun and would last several more years with acts of violence against the church and the clergy rising.

During the famine of 1921 the Bolsheviks decided this would be the perfect opportunity to undermine the authority of the church.[1] Because the churches were generally very wealthy, the Bolsheviks demanded they turn over the precious metals and gems in order for them to be used to buy grain. However, many of the churches refused to do this, and so the Bolsheviks used this to hurt their authority by saying that the church didn’t care about the people who were starving. The picture above is one of the many posters distributed during the time that blamed the church for the famine and for not helping the people. The Bolsheviks called it the “church of gold” because of the amount of wealth it had (which also made them a threat).[2]

On February 22, 1922, Father Tikhon issued a statement informing the public of the Bolsheviks actions in an attempt to counter the attacks coming from the party.[3] He stated that, “the All Russian Central Executive Committee ordered for the benefit of the starving the seizure from the churches of all valuable things, the sacred objects needed for the holy rites included. From the point of view of the Church, such an act is a sacrilege, and we considered it our duty to inform all the faithful about it.”

Although the Church entered the New Economic Policy era divided and downtrodden, there was by no means a complete abolition of religion in the Soviet state. Some practices still remained, such as baptism and church ordained weddings(Freeze 337). While the power the church had certainly was diminished, the people were still not willing to fully turn away from some religious ceremonies.

I found this aspect interesting because no matter how much religious authority diminishes or how things change, it always seems that people cling to their beliefs because there always seems to be a superstition about an after-life, no matter what period of history we look at.



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Bloody Sunday

In January 1905, men, women, and children, marched on the Tsar’s Winter Pala However, the Tsar was not there and the march ended in the military shooting into the unarmed protesters, killing over a hundred unarmed people (Freeze 250-251).

Out of all the aspects of the 1905 revolution, Bloody Sunday interested me the most. I think it did because I don’t understand why the Tsar would inflame an already agitated situation by allowing his military to kill unarmed people, especially women and children. Something I found interesting was that one site implied that the Tsar was the one that authorized the military to shoot into the crowd (Freeze 251-252) while another site claimed it was the his ministers that authorized the actions.

One of the major players that led to the protests that day was Georgii Gapon, an Orthodox priest. He inspired thousands to join his “Assembly of Russian Factory Workers”, something that was originally encouraged by the Russian police because they thought it would deter the people away from the radicals and more violent protests (Freeze 250). Gapon lead the march to the Winter Palace and was one the first to respond to the shooting that occurred. He began to call out to the people to lie down in hopes they would not be shot (A). You can find his partial story about that day here.

The pivotal moment that would led to the march on the Winter Palace would take place in December 1904. During this month, several members of Gapon’s Assembly were dismissed from their factory without warning or reason (Freeze 251). This was the event that set in motion the groundwork for the next year. As Freeze says, “the year of 1905 defies succinct summary, in part because the situation changed so radically from moth to month, even from week to week” (Freeze 252).

Bloody Sunday may have been one of the first events in the 1905 Revolution, but many other revolts, manifestos, and documents would come out of this year.

I also found an interesting blog about Bloody Sunday (and the decline of the Romanov dynasty) from Illinois University that had several videos and other various links in relation to Bloody Sunday if you want to check it out!




Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a history. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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Zlatoust Factories

General View of the Zlatoust Plant and the Church of Three Saints

This picture interested me because of the juxtaposition of the church and the factory next to it. To me, it symbolized the move from a non-secular state to a more secular state. As George Freeze mentioned, the late 1800’s was also a time of turmoil for Russia as they considered moving away from serfdom and also as the industrial revolution began.

This particular picture was taken in 1910, by Prokudin-Gorskii, in the Ural Mountains, specifically, the town of Zlatoust. The church in the picture was built in the 1830’s and it was demolished in 1933. The town of Zlatoust was founded in 1754 and has since become one of the most prominent metal finishing factories. The most notorious story surrounding the factories at Zlatoust, was the workers involvment in the 1773-74 “Pugachev’s Rebellion“.  Due to harsh working conditions, the workers took part in the rebellion.

Upon further research of the history of Zlatoust, I came to find that it was not only a prominent metal finishing center, but the Zlatoust factory actually armed the entire Russian army after 1850 with their steel wares. This factory would become even more important when the Universal Military Training Act of 1874 (Freeze 211). This act required all-class conscription which would mean the need for steel weapons would increase. It played a role in both WWI and II when the factory produced many of the swords and combat knives used by the soldiers.

Another interesting fact I found from my research was the creation of Obukhov steel. Pavel Avos and Pavel Obukhov were the enigneers behind the creation of Russian Damascus Steel. This type of steel became a higher quality steel than most foreign competitors and surpassed the English steel that was dominating the global market.

 Zlatoust has  become known for not only its armory, but also for the high quality blades they produced, almost all made individually by master-craftsmen. Today, the factory is still the largest producer of Russian knives and swords, however, they now focus on more ceremonial wares or producing collectibles of past productions.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a history. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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Welcome to my blog! This blog is a part of my 20th Century Russian Class here at Virginia Tech. You can find a link to our class page here as well as on the right side of the page under “Soviet History Home Blog”.

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