EVERYDAY STALINISM by Sheila Fitzpatrick


Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s
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“Everyday Stalinism” may seem like an oxymoron, but life did go on even in those terrible circumstances, and it is the virtue of this book that it attempts to understand what life was like for ordinary people. Since this is an account of urban life, the killing of millions of peasants, dealt with by Fitzpatrick (Modern Russian History/Univ. of Chicago) in her earlier Stalin’s Peasants (1994), takes place offstage here, but it profoundly affected the —30s, not just in the massive social dislocation, the overcrowding in communal apartments, and a rationing system close to collapse, but in the pervasive fear. Criminal penalties could be imposed on a worker 20 minutes late for work. The bureaucracy accumulated enormous power over people’s lives. In one factory, after a hairdresser had been appointed, it became a criminal offense to shave oneself. It became too dangerous to participate in policy debates. And then, over and above the millions claimed by the Purges, there was the simultaneous round-up and execution of thousands of ’socially dangerous elements,— church people, —counter-revolutionaries,— and habitual criminals. Fitzpatrick tells us that the target figure for executions was 70,000 and for dispatch to the Gulag 200,000. Fitzpatrick does show that there were some who were either favored by the process or unaffected by it, or who thought that these were necessary sacrifices on the way to a radiant future. The scale of the sacrifice was concealed from the people by a state that was increasingly secretive and unwilling to allow knowledge of what it was doing to be disseminated. There are some curious judgments: that Stalin —perhaps covertly encouraged— the cult of personality, or that the idea of remaking the human being ’seems to have had some genuinely inspirational impact— in the Gulag. But Fitzpatrick makes subtle use of the press and of police reports tzao assist in giving us one of the most comprehensive accounts to date of what it meant to live in Stalin’s Russia in the 1930s.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-19-505000-2
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1998


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