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Monumental Changes: Or How the Reaction to Stalin by Three Social Groups Illustrates the Development of Socialism in the Soviet Union from 1945 to the 1990s.

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Monumental Changes:

Or how the reaction to Stalin by three social groups illustrates the development of Socialism in the Soviet Union from 1945 to the 1990s.

Monumental Propaganda relates a bottom-up history of the Soviet Union from the end of WWII to Post-Socialist Russia of the 1990s. The story is presented from the perspective of an unwavering defender of the cultural mores of post-war Russia, Aglaya Stepanovna Revkina. It is through this outlook that the reader glimpses the political transformations of the Soviet Union. Because Aglaya remains a devoted Stalinist, reactions to her should also be taken as reactions to Stalin and his ideology. Though Aglaya does not change her opinions, the world around her certainly does. In the course of the novel, the Soviet people embrace Stalin, abandon Stalin, embrace Khrushchev, abandon Khrushchev, follow the leadership of Brezhnev, abandon Brezhnev in favor of Gorbachev and Perestroika, abandon socialism, embrace capitalism, democracy, and deal with the effects of corruption. This paper will address three social groups and analyze how these momentous changes affected each of their opinions toward Stalin and his ideology. These groups are (1) the youth, or that generation of Soviets that did not live under Stalin (2) dissidents, or those opposed to the government, and (3) the common citizen. These will be analyzed thematically1, rather than individually, in order to better document the universality and general inclusiveness of the political transformations. The analysis will revolve upon the differing opinions concerning, and their reaction toward, the figure of Stalin and the person of Aglaya in order to illustrate the development of socialism in the Soviet Union from 1945 to the 1990s.

Aglaya is steadfastly, fanatically, devoted to Stalin, to not only his ideology but also to his person (his statue makes its way into her state-allocated apartment). Her opinion was not unusual at the time. Stalin was the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1922 until his death in 1953. Stalin was, essentially, the whole of the government. As Aglaya states, “Stalin was the Party, and the Party was Stalin (Voinovich, 23).” And the Party, at this time, had broad and general appeal. The Soviet citizen “...expected the state to provide a wide range of social benefits and services, as well as job security, and they approved the regime's stated welfare objectives (Bushnell, 362).” More importantly, the Party fulfilled these expectations. It redistributed resources. It intervened, should a business go bankrupt. The party nationalized industries and created jobs. Basic needs were provided for. Stalin gave workers a feeling of empowerment; there was no boss; there was just the state and the worker. With no sector of the population based entirely on money, social mobility was “exceptionally high (Vovchenko, 2/21).” As Aglaya undoubtedly appreciated, women were empowered. Daycare was made free. Through the collectivization of agriculture, food production increased during the 1940s and 1950s. The party was responsible for, in short, all aspects of the economic and social development of the nation (Ibid). The state was the only agent capable of providing the necessities of life, especially in the troubling post-war period. With respect to these issues, Stalin was not a bad leader. Though some of the ruthless policies of the leader brought criticism, these were often not the issues considered when evaluating the leader himself: “While there was pronounced hostility to terror and to the methods of communist Party rule, the regime was judged not so much by its formal and informal political arrangements as by its performance (Bushnell, 362).” And the Soviet Union had been performing well. Such success was met with overwhelming approval. This certainly was the case within the local leadership in Dolgov, and Aglaya was no exception. Indeed, she was, perhaps, its greatest advocate. He was a genius, a great commander, he was, according to Aglaya, “Our father and teacher (Voinovich, 46).” Stalin was, for better or worse, the conscience of the entire Soviet people. This being the case, it is impossible to distinguish distinctive opinions among the social groups being evaluated, save that of the dissidents. Differing opinions certainly existed, but they were not in the majority, and they were not tolerated. An example of this is found in the character of Mark Semyonovich Shubkin. A dissident, he is sent to a logging camp for some unknown political offense.

Under Nikita Khrushchev the opinions of these three social groups began to diverge. Khrushchev had ideas of his own, radically different from those of Stalin. He acted quickly to separate himself from the former leader. On February 25, 1956, this separation was made formal; he presented his “Secret Speech” to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and denounced Stalin: “...Stalin ignored the norms of Party life and trampled on the Leninist principle of collective Party leadership (Khrushchev, 343).” There were drastic ideological changes. He took over the military. He freed one million of the two million imprisoned Soviets. He made a number of significant agricultural reforms. He made an effort to end some of the Stalinistic aspects of government through a general administrative policy of decentralization. He replaced governors with native government elites rather than representatives from Moscow. Aglaya is not impressed by these achievements. Most irksome to her is his hypocrisy; Khrushchev did not denounce Stalin until after he had died (Vovchenko, 2/28). She points out his many failures, and these failures quickly became apparent. The Virgin Lands Project, a major, ambitious agricultural initiative seeking to open up huge amounts of land to farming for the first time, though having limited success initially, ultimately proved disastrous. The soil was quickly drained of its nutrients and the land turned into “a giant dust bowl (Ibid).” Aglaya also mentions Khrushchev's ill-conceived plan of replanting a large portion of Soviet crops with the high yielding, American maize. This also failed: the climate of the Soviet Union is very different from that of the United States. However, maize was not the only thing imported from America. There was a general rise in American influence and cultural democratization during this time (Vovchenko, 3/6). The stiliagi emerged from the ranks of Russia's youth and embraced the emerging cross-class mass culture. And this culture had a decidedly western bias. The stiliagi smoked American cigarettes, looked American, and listened

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