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Parler de soi sous Staline

Brigitte Studer
Berthold Unfried
Irène Herrmann

II. Autobiographie

2. The two faces of Anastasia: Narratives and Counter-Narratives of Identity in Stalinist Everyday Life

Sheila Fitzpatrick

Texte intégral

1Anastasia Plotnikova was a perfectly ordinary woman. Her life was not mysterious or especially dramatic, at least in the context of her times. Born in a village in the Leningrad region in 1893, she became a Communist in 1920. By the mid 1930s, she had held senior administrative positions in Leningrad for almost a decade. In 1936 she was president of a district soviet in Leningrad and a member of the Leningrad city soviet. Her husband, whom she had married just before the First World War, had a party job in a factory in the Vyborg district of the city; they had two sons in the twenties, both members of the Komsomol serving in the Red Army. From the little we know about her character, she seems to have been practical, clear-headed, resourceful, unreflective, generous, and liked by her colleagues.

2Why, then, did Anastasia Plotnikova have an identity problem? It happened in a very ordinary Soviet way, through a denunciation that gave a different version of her life from the one in her official curriculum vitae. This led to a NKVD investigation to see whether she had misrepresented herself. It should be emphasized that, while the affair could have had serious consequences for Plotnikova, it was not a case of gross misrepresentation, scandalous discoveries, or a disreputable double life. The circumstances were mundane. Plotnikova had not hidden anything more about herself than any other Soviet citizen.

3In Stalinian times, almost everyone had something to hide – relatives abroad, relatives who were priests, the wrong class background, military service in the wrong army, being in the wrong place during the Civil War, family members arrested or dekulakized, religious belief, criminal convictions, pre-revolutionary membership of another political party, sympathy with the Opposition in the 1920s, and so on. There were so many people hiding something, that uncovering secrets because a constant preoccupation or Communists. This was called “unmasking” or “revealing the true face (lico)” of a person.

4Unmasking happened all the time in the 1920s and 1930s. A person’s account of herself might be challenged by a written denunciation, as Plotnikova’s evidently was; in the course of a routine personnel review (chistka), such as was periodically conducted in government offices and in the Communist Party; in connection with a promotion, nomination to elective office, or application for membership in a trade union, the party, the Komsomol, or even the Young Pioneers; or in many other circumstances. In the face of a challenge to the narrative of personal identity, the narrator could either admit fault and engage in self-criticism (samokritika), in the hope that the offence would be overlooked, or try to rebuff the challenge and rebuild the original self-representation. Sometimes the rebuilding was successful, sometimes not. It was more difficult to rescue an identity under siege in times of intense witch-hunting like the Great Purges than in ordinary times. But Anastasia Plotnikova was lucky. The challenge to her identity – or at least the challenge we know about from the archives – came in the spring of 1936, before the hysteria of the Great Purges took hold.

  • 1 With regard to criminal convictions, the government tried to overcome this problem in the mid 1930s (...)

5While unmasking was ah daily practice in Stalinian Russia, these contestations of identity were not trivial. Even in ordinary times, they could lead to an expulsion from the party or the dismissal from a job – and then those black marks, too, had to be kept out of the curriculum vitae if possible. The Soviet ritual of “criticism and self-criticism” – in contrast, it seems, to the Chinese Communist version, and certainly to analogous confessional rituals in the Christian tradition – did not allow an individual’s “sins” to be washed away. The black marks remained on the record, even if on a particular occasion the individual’s self-criticism was judged satisfactory1. It was because there was in this sense no second chance in Soviet life that it was so important, on the one hand, to hide things, and on the other hand, to prevent the incipient black mark drying on the page.

6Communist discourse about identity in the 1920s and 1930s was Manichean. You were either an ally or an enemy of Soviet power – sojuznik ili vrag. This absoluteness applied with special force and particularly bizarre effect to class identity: you were either “proletarian”, in which case you were innately an ally, or “bourgeois”, hence innately an enemy. These were allegedly objective and scientific categories; your own subjective view of Soviet power or your own class identity was irrelevant.

  • 2 For a more detailed discussion of these issues, see Fitzpatrick 1993.

7Of course, this was absurd, both for theoretical and pragmatic reasons. No Marxist intellectual could seriously argue that class identities are absolute, let alone that they are “genealogically” determined. Old Bolshevik intellectuals periodically rebuked the crude assumption, made so often in everyday Soviet life, that heritage was destini as far as class was concerned (“If your father was a bourgeois, you are bourgeois”). Even Stalin finally repudiated this position2. An absolutist approach to class identity was particularly inappropriate to Russia in the first third of the twentieth century because of the enormous social turmoil, flux and mobility associated with war, revolution, and Stalinist “revolution from above” at the end of the 1920s.

  • 3 This metaphor really had wings in the 1930s; it crops up everywhere. For Stalin’s use of it in conn (...)

8Nevertheless, the world remained divided in Communist discourse into sheep and goats – or, more exactly, into sheep, goats, and the infamous “wolves in sheep’s clothing”3 whom it was a Communist’s duty to discover and unmask. But the very rigidity and impracticality of this framework meant that there had to be ways of getting round it. One of these ways was semejstvennost’, mutually-protective “family circles” within the Communist bureaucracy in which the distinction between “ours” (svoi) and “others” (chuzhye) was made on a more personalistic basis. You did not unmask members of your own semejstvo. If somebody else tried to unmask them, you did your best – if only for reasons of self-protection – to prevent this. We can see this impulse, as well as the Manichean zeal to unmask which it partially frustrated, in the unfolding of the story of Anastasia Plotnikova’s two faces.

  • 4 Anastasia Plotnikova’s autobiography was published in Fitzpatrick et Slezkine 2000: 356-358

9Like all Soviet citizens in the 1930s, at least all who were wage-or salary-earners or belonged to the Communist Party, Plotnikova had a Curriculum Vitae (Avtobiografija) which she periodically updated4. It was an official document, kept in her personal file along with the formal questionnaires (anketa, lichnyj listok) whose 30-40 questions covered social origin, education, army service, political involvements, and employment history. By convention, the Autobiography dealt with the same range of issues as the questionnaires, but it was free-form and might include discussion of such topics as formative experiences, personal philosophy, family life, and so on.

  • 5 Central’nyj gosudarstvennyj arkhiv istoriko-politicheskoj dokumentacii g. Leningrada [CGA IPD] (for (...)

10Plotnikova’s Autobiography, dated 22 May 19365, was notable for its clarity, precision, and absence of personal-confessional motifs. Relatives and their places of residence were named in full, places of work were clearly identified. Loose ends were neatly tied up, and the narrative often seemed to anticipate the reader’s possible queries and provide answers. Technically, it was a model Autobiography. The life story it told was also exemplary in Soviet terms.

11Plotnikova provided a detailed account of herself. She was born Anastasia Khoreva in 1893 in the village of Ponizov’e in Novgorod Province, not far from St. Petersburg. The family was poor: “In the village [my parents] were considered poor folk (bobyli), since they had no land; my father shared a hut with his brother. Sometimes he had a cow.” The father, Miron Khorev, had worked for wages since he was 12, and Anastasia identified him as “a worker” (rabochij) in her narrative. His trade was carpentery, which he practised sometimes in the village but usually in various industrial enterprises in the Petersburg area. His wife resided permanently in the village and (as was usual in peasant-worker families like the Khorevs’) did not accompany him when he went away to work in the city. She sometimes worked as an agricultural laborer (batrachka), probably for prosperous fellow villagers.

12Anastasia was one of five children. Her two brothers followed their father’s trade and became carpenters, working fulltime in St. Petersburg; one of them showed his proletarian-revolutionary mettle by joining the Red Guards in 1917. There were also two half brothers, her mother’s sons by a previous marriage, who were likewise carpenters. Anastasia’s two sisters were kolkhoz members at the time of writing, one in her native village, the other, Matrena, in Siberia. Starting from the age of 11, Anastasia worked for wages. First she worked away from home as a “child-minder” (njan’ka), living at home only in the winter. From age 13 to 19 she worked as a batrachka.

13At the age of 20, Anastasia left the village and went to St. Petersburg, where she married and worked in various shoemakers’ workshops. In summers, when there was less work at the workshops, she worked at peat and lumber plants. Her husband, Plotnikov, was a shoemaker by trade; since the age of 17, “after the death of his mother”, he had lived on his own. In 1915 Plotnikov was arrested. No reason for this is given in the CV (though presumably it would have been, had it been a political offence and thus a biographical asset), but it led to his being drafted into the army and sent to the front. In 1916, Anastasia almost succeeded in getting a job as a worker at the famous Treugol’nik’ plant under the soldatka (soldier’s wife) quota. But at the last minute she was refused on the grounds that she was not a real soldatka, but the wife of a man who had been sent to the front as a criminal. With two young sons (born 1913 and 1915) in tow, Anastasia went home to the village and worked as a field laborer until September 1917.

14In September 1917, after Plotnikova’s husband was invalided home from the front to a hospital in the city, she returned to Petrograd and went back to work in a shoemaking business. Early in 1918 her husband, still unable to walk, was sent home from the hospital with a bad case of scurvy; and in May 1918, the family – Anastasia and her husband, with their two small children, plus Anastasia’s sister Matrena, who had recently lost her job as a worker at the “Treugol’nik” plant – left for Siberia. They headed for the village of Kat’kovo in Tomsk Province where some peasants from their home village had migrated a few years before the war.

15The arrival in Siberia is a turning point in Plotnikova’s narrative. Up to this point, her life story had contained no references to politics; the February and October revolutions were not even mentioned in her narrative. But politics enters abruptly with the family’s arrival in Siberia, although there is no indication of an event or conversion experience that would explain this. “In view of Kolchak’s seizure of power, we lived semi-legally” is the CV’s first sentence on the Plotnikovs’ Siberian life from June 1918, as if the two of them had revolutionary pasts that made this self-evidently necessary. The CV goes on to describe the Plotnikovs’ activity in the Bolshevik opposition movement in Siberia. Working as farmhands and laborers on the railroad, Anastasia and her husband “developed contact with workers of Kemerovo mine – comrade Korenev, a member of the Bolshevik Party, Loskutov and others – on whose instructions we worked among the poor peasants, mobilizing the aktiv to overthrow Kolchak; we searched out and collected weapons... My husband and I were members of Shevelev-Lubkov’s partisan unit...”

16In 1920 (after Kolchak’s defeat and the establishment of Soviet power in Siberia), both Plotnikovs formally joined the Bolshevik party. At that point, they already held a variety of local offices – she was a women’s organizer, her husband was secretary of the local (volost’) party committee and chairman of a kolkhoz (kommuna) they had organized in Katkovo, the village where the family was based.

  • 6 Petrogradskij rajon. Note that the name of the district remained the same even after the city’s nam (...)

17In January 1923 the Plotnikovs returned to Leningrad (with the prior agreement of their Siberian party organization, as the CV is careful to note) and found jobs there. At first Plotnikova worked as a lathe-operator in a factory, but after a year or so she moved into organizational work and became secretary of a factory party organization. By the end of 1928, she had risen to the position of department head in a district soviet in Leningrad. From 1930 to 1935, she was party secretary at a big Leningrad plant, “Krasnoe znamja”. Her husband, meanwhile, held various positions in factories of the Vyborg district of Leningrad. In the CV, Plotnikova did not specifiy her exact current position: “Since 1935, she wrote modestly, I have been working in the soviet of Petrograd district.” In fact, she was chairman of the district6 soviet, which meant that she was the top official in an important sub-unit of Leningrad’s city government

18The life that was presented in this CV was a typical Soviet success story – a proletarian woman, exploited and under-privileged under the old regime, joins the party soon after the revolution, becomes a vydvizhenka, and rises to high position, still keeping contact with her peasant and proletarian roots. To be sure, there were points in the narrative where a really careful reader might have asked questions. Was Anastasia’s peasant father really so poor, if he was an otkhodnik earning wages as a carpenter? Was she glossing over something in her husband’s background, about which little was said, other than the apparently insignificant fact that he left home after his mother died? What lay behind the Plotnikovs’ sudden emergence as Bolsheviks in Siberia? Could one read significance into Plotnikova’s omission of any mention of education (which might imply that she had more years of schooling than would be normal for a landless peasant’s daughter), or fault her for failing to state explicitly, as CVs of the period often did, that she had a blameless political record and had never been linked with any party Opposition.

19The challenge that came to Plotnikova’s self-representation, however, was fundamental. It concerned the essence of her socio-political identity (klassovoe lico), rather than peripheral details. According to this counter-representation, Plotnikova’s identity was not proletarian but capitalist (kulak).

  • 7 CGA IPD: f. 24, op. 2v, d. 1833,II. 74-5: “Spravka na Plotnikovu Anastasiju”.
  • 8 This document is not in the file, but it is mentioned in the report of the head ofthe rajon milicij (...)
  • 9 “Spravka UGB UNKVD LO – iz pokazanij arestovannoj za kontrrevoljucionnuju dejatel’nost’b. chlena VK (...)
  • 10 “Protokol doprosa 25.V.1936 g. svidetelja Shchenikova, Grigorija Petrovicha..” (II. 82-3).

20The NKVD was the fashioner of the counter-narrative of Plotnikova’s life, which was presented initially in a memo sent to the Leningrad party organization on 1 March 1936.7 It is not entirely clear from the archival file what caused the NKVD’s interest in Plotnikova. The stimulus in the first instance may have been a denunciation written by an unknown person against Plotnikova’s cousin, Lipina-Kazunina, which contained damaging allegations about Plotnikova8. Another possibility is that the trigger was the arrest of Ol’ga Drobetskaja, a Communist who had been a colleague and probably a friend of Plotnikova’s at the “Krasnoe znamja” factory. Drobeckaja, a former Oppositionist charged with “wrecking”, was interrogated in prison about Plotnikova, and her testimony was one of the NKVD’s main sources for the counter-narrative9. Another important source was testimony from Grigorij Shchenikov, a peasant from Plotnikova’s native village, who was summoned later by the police to give information about her childhood and family origins10.

21In the counter-narrative, Anastasia Plotnikova was not the daughter of a humble landless peasant but the adopted daughter of a “big kulak”. From the age of seven, she had lived in the home of her aunt, Lipina, whose husband was a prosperous businessman who owned half a dozen barges as well as having a “kulak farm”. She was the Lipins’ adopted daughter, thus a member of a family of rural capitalists and exploiters.

  • 11 l. 84.

22As might be expected of a kulak daughter, Anastasia made a good marriage. The Plotnikovs had a prosperous capitalist shoemaking business, run by Anastasia’s father-in-law with the help of her husband and his brothers and, after her marriage, by Anastasia herself. (Opinions differed slightly on this last point: some accounts suggested that Anastasia worked in the Plotnikov family business, others that she was co-proprietor, and the peasant witness, Shchenikov, claimed that Plotnikova “never worked anywhere, either in Siberia or before [after her marriage]”11). The shoemaking business survived right up to the family’s departure for Siberia in 1918. Contrary to Anastasia’s account in her CV, the family part that went to Siberia included Plotnikov Sr., the biggest capitalist of all. (He also returned with them from Siberia in 1923, but tactfully removed himself to Ponizov’e, which was evidently his native village as well as that of the Khorevs’and the Lipins’, and soon died.)

23The NKVD’s counter-narrative shook some skeletons out of the Plotnikov and Khorev family cupboards. In addition to being a capitalist, Plotnikov Sr. turned out to have killed his wife and her lover in a crime of passion in 1909. He was subsequently convicted for the murder and spent a year in prison. All this, of course, was remembered and reported when the NKVD started asking questions (the lover, a journeyman in the Plotnikov shoe-making business, was a good accordionist, Shchenikov recalled); and it certainly cast a new light on Anastasia’s passing comment in the CV that her husband had not lived at home after his mother’s death. The NKVD also found out that one of Anastasia’s brothers had been convicted of attempting to rob the mail in 1929. (Unfortunately, it is not clear if this was the same brother mentioned in the CV as a Red Guard in 1917.)

24Moreover, the discreditable Lipin connection did not end with Anastasia’s marriage and departure from the village. It was made all the more damaging because of the Lipins’ dekulakization in 1930. Uncle Lipin had died around this time, but Aunt Lipina and her daughter had taken refuge in Leningrad with Plotnikova. Since they were illegal immigrants to the city, Plotnikova should have turned them in to the police; instead, she gave them shelter and helped them get the necessary documentation and jobs. She even helped her cousin, Lipina-Kazunina, join the Komsomol, which made her an accomplice in the latter’s concealment of her kulak origins and dekulakization.

  • 12 From the report of the head of the rajon milicija (l. 81).

25This was not the only time Plotnikova had put family interests above those of the party. Indeed, she had been exceptionally generous to her village relatives – Khorevs and Plotnikovs, as well as Lipins – whenever they decided to migrate to the town, both before and after collectivization. “Living in the city of Leningrad, Anastasia Mironovna turned her apartment into a kind of peasants’ hotel’ (dom krest’janina), to which her relatives came, beginning in about 1925-6, and lived for the time needed in the first place to find a job and then to find housing.” Fifteen to twenty relatives were said to have passed through the Plotnikov apartment in this way over the years12.

  • 13 The main source for the information in this paragraph is the interrogation of Drobeckaja (see above (...)

26As might be expected from someone with a capitalist background, hiding her real class identity from the party, Plotnikova had political blots on her record as well. She was an ideological waverer, perhaps even a Zinovievite oppositionist. She had “ties” with a member of the defeated Zinoviev Opposition and had tried to protect someone arrested as a “wrecker”. (This was presumably her friend Drobeckaja, whose prison interrogation became part of Plotnikova’s file.) After the XVII national party congress, to which Plotnikova was a delegate, she had spread the rumor that “Stalin and Kirov were not elected unanimously in the voting for the Central Committee”. She had also reportedly expressed sympathy for the disgraced Zinoviev after she ran into him at a sanatorium in Kislovodsk in 1933, saying he looked “hunted” and “exhausted”13.

  • 14 Memo of 19 July 1936 (ll. 78-9).

27So which was her real face, the kulak or the proletarian? The NKVD had summarized the evidence against her, but it had not predetermined the outcome. A year later it would have been different, but as of July 1936, the verdict lay with the Leningrad city party committee, in particular the head of its personnel department, S. Luk’janov – and Luk’janov certainly looks like a friend of Plotnikova’s, whom he would have known personally because of her position. His summing up strongly suggests that in the Plotnikova case, a Leningrad “family circle” was protecting its own14.

28Luk’janov found that there was convincing evidence that Plotnikova had misrepresented some aspects of her social background and milieu. In the first place, she had concealed information about her own class position by suppressing the Lipin connection in her Autobiography and representing her work in the Lipin household as that of a hired hand (batrachka). In the second place, she had been less than candid about her husband’s class background, and had described herself as “working for wages” in Petrograd in the war years when she had actually been working in (or was even one of the owners of?) the Plotnikov family business right up to the time of their departure to Siberia in 1918. In addition, Luk’janov concluded, she had abused her position as party secretary in a factory to get a job for the Lipins’ daughter and then to get her into the Komsomol (which meant concealing the fact that she was the daughter of parents deprived of voting rights).

29It was true, Luk’janov found, that Plotnikova had showed bad judgement in telling the story about voting at the XVII Congress and expressing personal sympathy for Zinoviev. But these, he implied, were rather minor offences, and other charges (meaning the implicit accusation that Plotnikova was a Zinovievite?) had not been confirmed. His recommendation was that Plotnikova should be removed from her job as chairman of the Petrograd district soviet and transferred to a rank-and-file (non-administrative) position.

  • 15 In this version, presented, for example, in Conquest 1989, Stalin received fewer votes than Kirov, (...)

30Under the circumstances, this was a mild punishment. It was striking, moreover, that Luk’janov dismissed the XVII Congress story so lightly. After all, Plotnikova was repeating a rumor that has often been thought to be a matter of extreme sensitivity to Stalin – though admittedly her version of it (that Stalin and Kirov both received fewer votes than was officially claimed) was not as potentially damaging to Stalin as the version that surfaced in the Khrushchev era15. It is hard to believe that, if Plotnikova’s case had been reviewed by the Party Control Commission in Moscow, that body would have regarded Plotnikova’s reported political lapses quite as tolerantly as Luk’janov did.

  • 16 Memo from Luk’janov to F. Ivanov, 15 August 1936 (l. 89).

31Further circumstantial evidence that Leningrad semejstvennost’ was working for Plotnikova came later in the summer, when the Petrograd District committee balked at issuing a new card to Plotnikova in the exchange of party cards (i.e. purge of party membership) that was currently being conducted. The district committee’s hesitation was perfectly understandable, indeed proper, in the case of someone who had just been investigated by the NKVD and demoted as a result. But Luk’janov intervened, ordering the immediate issue of a new party card to Plotnikova, “since the Petrograd district committee has no grounds for holding up her case.”16

32There is one more document in the archival file demonstrating both Plotnikova’s resourcefulness and the endless possibilities of contestation about social identity. On 24 August 1936, the Ponizov’e soviet issued a new certificate (spravka) which, on internal evidence, was surely drafted by Plotnikova herself with the aim of defusing the Lipin/kulak issue and recovering her “good” class identity. The certificate attested to the fact that citizenness Anastasia Mironovna Plotnikova came from a “poor peasant” (bednjak) family, her father being a landless bobyl’ and seasonal worker (otkhodnik). “From an early age, the certificate stated, [Plotnikova] worked for her living. From November 1906 to February 1913 she lived with her uncle Lipin as a hired hand (child-minder and worker [rabotnica]).” But, it was explicitly stated, she was “not part of the Lipin household” (nichego obshchego k khozjajstvu Lipinykh ne imela). Anastasia was no longer the Lipins’adopted daughter; she was once again their batrachka. For the time being, at least, her proletarian face was back in place.

33Did the NKVD find out “the truth” about Anastasia Plotnikova? On the one hand, its counter-narrative supplied biographical information that Plotnikova omitted from her CV, though some of it was clearly biased. (Shchenikov’s picture of a woman who never worked in her life, for example, is much less plausible than Plotnikova’s self-representation as a woman who worked hard at various jobs from an early age). On the other hand, the overall message of the counter-narrative that Plotnikova was essentially a class enemy of Soviet power – not, as her own narrative implicitly claimed, a supporter whose allegiance was grounded in early experience of poverty and wage labor – seems highly unconvincing. Common sense leads to the conclusion Luk’janov drew (whatever his motives for doing so) that the new information on Plotnikova was relatively trivial and did not change her basic status as an ally. The Plotnikova who emerges from both narrative and counter-narrative is not someone who was dispossessed by the revolution. She is one of its beneficiaries.

34But there were multiple ambiguities in Plotnikova’s social background (and not hers alone) that meant that even the least biased narrative was likely to over-simplify. One set of ambiguities surrounded the position of a peasant-worker like the carpenter Miron Khorev, who was landless but possessed a marketable craft skill. On the one hand, Khorev was a bednjak, supposedly on the bottom of the heap in the village. On the other hand, by virtue of his craft skill he might make a reasonable living as an otkhodnik, or even (like his fellow-villager, Plotnikov the shoemaker) set up a small business in town. Khorev was one of a whole category of literate, skilled, wage-earning bednjaki whose existence confounded the attempts of Marxist sociologists in the 1920s to analyse the Russian village in terms of class exploitation.

35Another ambiguity concerns the status of a village child taken into the home of relatives more prosperous than her parents, a situation not unusual in early twentieth-century Russia. Such children invariably worked from an early age, as they would have done in their parents’ home, but the work for adoptive peasants tended to be more exhausting and exploitative. No doubt Plotnikova gave a one-sided picture of her relationship to the Lipins by describing herself as their batrachka. But it would run counter to everything we know of Russian village life to conclude that the Lipins’ relationship with her was based purely on familial love, with no value put on Anastasia’s labor. Perhaps, since Plotnikova later helped the Lipins in their hour of need, we should conclude that she felt a special affection and gratitude to them. Since she tended to help any relative, however, the evidence is far from conclusive.

36Perhaps the closest we can come to the “truth” about Anastasia Plotnikova is that, like most people, her life could have taken various different courses, and her “identity” (lico) – that is, her social position, and her own and others’ sense of who she was – would have changed accordingly. If there had been no revolution, the Plotnikovs might have done well with their business after the war and she might conceivably have become solidly urban and middle-class. But that solidity was still far away for Anastasia in the war years, when she was in danger of losing her foothold in the better life and finding herself back in the village as a landless widow with two dependent small children.

37As it turned out, Plotnikova ended up being upwardly mobile by the Bolshevik path, not the bourgeois one. But that, too, had a certain precariousness. She came close to losing her grip on Soviet-bourgeois status in 1936. She must have been at high risk in the terror that was to come, not only because of the NKVD investigation and demotion but also because she evidently belonged to the kind of regional party “family circle” that was particularly targetted in 1937. So she may finally have acquired a third face, that of an “enemy of the people”, and, if she survived that abrupt change in her life’s course, a new social identity as a convict or exile in a place far from Ponizov’e and Leningrad. But the archival narratives of Plotnikova’s life take us no further than 1936. It is up to the reader to imagine the rest of the story.



Conquest, Robert. 1989. Stalin and the Kirov Murder. New York, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. 1993. “Ascribing Class: The Construction of Social Identity in Soviet Russia”, Journal of Modern History, n° 65:745-770.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. 1994. Stalin’s Peasants. Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village After Collectivization. New York, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. 1996. “Supplicants and Citizens: Public Letter-Writing in Soviet Russia in the 1930s”, Slavic Review, 55, n° 1:78-105.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila, Yuri Slezkine (éds). 2000. In the Shadow of Revolution. Life Stories of Russian Women form 1917 to the Second World War. Princeton/New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 2000.

Knight, Amy. 1999. Who killed Kirov? The Kremlin’s Greatest Mistery. New York.

Rimmel, Lesley A. 1997. “Another Kind of Fear: The Kirov Murder and the End of Bread Rationing in Leningrad”, Slavic Review, 56, n° 3:481-499. Stalin, I. V. 1967. in Robert H. McNeal (éd.), Sochinenija, vol. I (XIV). Stanford.


1 With regard to criminal convictions, the government tried to overcome this problem in the mid 1930s by legislating that certain categories of conviction be retrospectively cancelled (snjatie sudimosti). This only produced argument among jurists whether the feet that a conviction had retrospectively cancelled should be entered on the record. But there was no procedure, in any case, for “canceling” black marks like an émigré relative, noble origins, or a past vote for the Opposition.

2 For a more detailed discussion of these issues, see Fitzpatrick 1993.

3 This metaphor really had wings in the 1930s; it crops up everywhere. For Stalin’s use of it in connection with “enemies of the people” in 1937, see Stalin 1967,1 (XIV): 190. For popular usage, see Fitzpatrick 1996: 1.

4 Anastasia Plotnikova’s autobiography was published in Fitzpatrick et Slezkine 2000: 356-358

5 Central’nyj gosudarstvennyj arkhiv istoriko-politicheskoj dokumentacii g. Leningrada [CGA IPD] (formerly the Leningrad party archive): f. 24, op. 2v, d. 1833, II. 87-8: “Avtobiografija. Plotnikova, Anastasija Mironovna”.

6 Petrogradskij rajon. Note that the name of the district remained the same even after the city’s name was changed from Petrograd to Leningrad.

7 CGA IPD: f. 24, op. 2v, d. 1833,II. 74-5: “Spravka na Plotnikovu Anastasiju”.

8 This document is not in the file, but it is mentioned in the report of the head ofthe rajon milicija to Luk’janov, 29 May 1936 (l. 80).

9 “Spravka UGB UNKVD LO – iz pokazanij arestovannoj za kontrrevoljucionnuju dejatel’nost’b. chlena VKP(b) b. rabotnicy fabriki’Krasnoe Znamja’Drobeckoj Ol’gi Vasil’evny, 10.IV.1936” (II. 76-7).

10 “Protokol doprosa 25.V.1936 g. svidetelja Shchenikova, Grigorija Petrovicha..” (II. 82-3).

11 l. 84.

12 From the report of the head of the rajon milicija (l. 81).

13 The main source for the information in this paragraph is the interrogation of Drobeckaja (see above, note 5).

14 Memo of 19 July 1936 (ll. 78-9).

15 In this version, presented, for example, in Conquest 1989, Stalin received fewer votes than Kirov, was jealous of him, and probably killed him on that account. Even with the post-1991 opening of the archives, no conclusive evidence linking Stalin with the murder has emerged (see Knight 1999 for useful summary of the new data). Reports on popular reaction to Kirov’s murder (Rimmel 1997: 481-499; Fitzpatrick 1994:290-293) suggest that this was not part of the contemporary rumor mill but entered Soviet folklore at a later date.

16 Memo from Luk’janov to F. Ivanov, 15 August 1936 (l. 89).

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