This is a book report on “Everyday life in Early Soviet Russia: Taking the Revolution Inside. The text is a collection of many different articles by authors who were based in Russia in the early 1930’s. This was the period right after the Russian revolution in which the Bolsheviks emerged as victors. As they exercised their authority, they attempted to implement different new strategies which were interpreted by different citizens in different ways. The collection of articles best explain how the different categories of citizens adopted to their changing way of life.
The first aspect of the collection of the book is its title. When critically examined the title of this collection of books is a contradiction in itself. The title states that the book examines day to day life experiences in the early Soviet Union. The use of the phrase everyday life is also ambiguous, and the articles contained in the book do little to explain that concept. Instead, the exceptional articles focus more on the union’s history and culture, so does the introductory text; and the various discussions and speeches that were made with the purpose of shaping everyday life.
The book’s articulate introduction was written by authors Christina Kaier and Eric Naiman. They state that the sole objective of the book was to study the impact of dogma and philosophy on the home setting, the family unit and most importantly the effects of the same on oneself and one’s body. This explains the concept of ‘taking the revolution inside’. These are very diverse topics and in order to integrate all the above topics the authors allude to Foucault’s project, which explored the creation of the modern subject. The project however undermined and dismissed the importance of ideology therefore Kaier and Naiman viewed it as contradictory but they went ahead to mention that the project could be put to use at that particular moment in time. They argue that the history of the Russian revolution was laid out in such a way that the victorious Bolsheviks introduced the use of a modern political ideology in daily life, something that the state had previously attempted to achieve but had failed miserably. An example of such an ideology is Marc Raeff’s the well Ordered Police State in 1983. It was met with resistance and collapsed before it could be fully implemented. The introductory article by Naiman and Kaier seems to concentrate more on the analysis of the discussions that reflected the effort by the Soviet Union to implement the ideology and less on the actual implementation and its consequent effects.
An article by Sheila Fitzpatrick on the multiple identities of a soviet citizen known as Anastasia Plotnikova begins the book. The identity of Anastasia was challenged. On one hand her party autobiography painted her as a poor landless peasant while the NKVD stated that she was an adopted child fathered by the Kulak. The article elaborates more on this conflict and ends at a cliffhanger, when the records of NKVD were ceased in 1936. The readers are expected to think of what happens next from that ending. Naiman and Kaiser view this article as a reflection on history of the Russian people: that it depends way too much on inaccurate historian manuscripts and artifacts, and is fictitious in some instances. The second article by Lilya Kaganovsky sets out to explain the effects of owning a Bolshevik identity, which are explored when a female party member loses her central important document of Bolshevik identity to her husband, who had deceived her. Losing her identity brought forth many complications and the film ‘Party Card’ released in 1936 shows the full account.
The third essay in the collection was written by Cynthia Hooper. It explores in detail the role of the family in the state structure in the early 1930s. The deep-seated engagement by the Soviet Union had been a pillar of the Soviet Union for decades and only intensified when the Bolsheviks came into power. They signified an escalation of the state engagement with family life. She tries to show that the imposition by the state on family affairs was not constructive, but only served to add pressure and cause strife among members. She compares the involvement of the soviet state with that of the Nazi. The Nazis appeared to be more conservative in their intervention. They appeared to have a much stronger belief in the ideals that the family structure offered and provided the correct environment in which they could thrive; ideals such as intergrity, organicity, and independence. Due to this principle, the Nazis were much more subtle in there interference as compared to the intervention by the Soviet Union. Their approach was not at all conservative and was too abrasive in some instances. They interfered in private matters such as relative independence, control of reproduction and even went as far as encouraging the denunciation of some family members in extreme cases. Her article clearly shows that the family allegiance became stronger even while the Soviet Union was doing everything in their power to weaken it.
In his article, Boris Wolfson examines various theatre productions and how they were use by the Soviet Union to emotionally bring the citizens under their control. He critically examined the two theatre productions of Aleksandr Afinogenov’s play ‘Fear’. He studied the themes, how they were produced and how they were acted. The theatre productions were different in all the previously mentioned aspects. This article represents the diagnostic and mechanical apex of the book. Boris used both the text of the play and the context in which its theatre productions were set to argue that the Soviet Union was attempting to draw the masses in and to bring them under control. The staged plays usually reflected the culture and history of the citizens of the Soviet Union. They were however strictly controlled by laws which were proposed by the Soviet Union. This further supports Boris’s theory. By controlling theatre the Soviet Union controlled what was produced and staged. Plays that conflicted with their ideals never saw the light of day. They used cinema to emotionally control their large population in order to ensure absolute control.
All in all, the collection is an interesting and entertaining read. All the articles contained seem to explain a certain aspect of the daily lives of the citizens of the Soviet Union. Though historical, the themes explored by each different author also seem to apply to current events. It captures the texture of everyday life of ordinary Russian citizens better than any other existing text.
Bown, Matthew C, Matteo Lafranconi, and Faina Balakhovskai︠a︡. Socialist Realisms: Soviet Painting, 1920-1970. Milan: Skira, 2012. Print.
Kiaer, Christina, and Eric Naiman. Everyday Life in Early Soviet Russia: Taking the Revolution Inside. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006. Print.
Wood, Elizabeth A. Performing Justice: Agitation Trials in Early Soviet Russia. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 2005. Print.