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Parler de soi sous Staline

Brigitte Studer
Berthold Unfried
Irène Herrmann

IV. Journaux intimes, journaux publics

7. Working, Struggling, Becoming: Stalin-Era Autobiographical Texts1

Jochen Hellbeck

Texte intégral

  • 1 This article was first published in The Russian Review. 2001.60, n° 3:340-359. Copyright 2001 The R (...)
  • 2 See Hellbeck 2000: 71-96. The latest to invoke James Scott’s dichotomy of official and hidden trans (...)

1One of the assumptions most deeply ingrained in the Western imagination of the Stalinist regime is that at their core, members of Soviet society resided externally to state policies and Bolshevik ideology. Though the “system” was successful, through a combination of propaganda and coercion, in enforcing a degree of outward popular conformity, individuals were able to mitigate these pressures by retreating into private spheres unaffected by “official” ideology. In search of Soviet citizens’ concealed or repressed selves, scholars have placed high hopes on the newly available “hidden transcripts” (James Scott) of Soviet society: secret NKVD reports and interrogations, unpublished correspondence, diaries. It is in this body of unofficial or secret sources that the authentic scripts of individual selfhood, the essence of their subjectivity, is expected to be uncovered. In the Stalinist context, subjectivity, which I define as a capacity for thought and action derived from a coherent sense of self, is thus regarded as a quality that manifests itself against, and in spite of, the policies of the Soviet state.2

  • 3 Stefan Plaggenborg recently formulated this view from a cultural anthropological standpoint (Plagge (...)

2A related, but more pessimistic view casts doubt on Soviet citizens’ ability to develop any notion of individual subjectivity at all. According to this view, all political initiative was monopolized by the revolutionary state, and revolutionary politics by their very nature undercut the production of stable identities. As a consequence, Soviet citizens were jolted out of traditional frames of self-definition and kept suspended in a climate of recurrent rupture, insecurity, and disorientation.3

  • 4 When talking about the self-creating effects of the Russian Revolution, I certainly do not want to (...)

3What links these two interpretations is the notion that the Soviet regime sought to subjugate individuals’ sense of selfhood, forcing them to conceal their subjectivities or obliterating them altogether. My article highlights an opposite dynamic: it argues that the primary effect on individuals’ sense of self of the Revolution of 1917 and of Soviet revolutionary practice was not repressive, but productive. To a large extent, revolutionary politics centered on creating revolutionary selves, on making Soviet citizens think of themselves and act as conscious historical subjects.4 The activities of autobiographical reflection, writing, and speech formed an important medium through which revolutionary subjectivities were to be attained. Soviet citizens living through the first decades of Soviet power were intensely aware of their duty to possess a distinct individual biography, to present it publicly, and to work on themselves in search of self-perfection. Most important, they were forced to acknowledge the political weight of their biography. The intense politicization of acts of talking and writing about oneself also influenced the writing of diaries in the 1930s – the actual source body investigated in this essay.

  • 5 Bibliographic evidence as well as what is known on state-sponsored efforts at autobiographical writ (...)

4As a textual genre, the diary, along with other autobiographical narratives, was markedly shaped by the Soviet Revolution. In prerevolutionary times, writing an account of one’s life or keeping a journal was limited to a relatively small segment of educated Russian society. Following the Revolution of 1917, the autobiographical domain expanded dramatically, both in absolute numbers and in sociological terms. It was not just that many more individuals became engaged in writing and talking about themselves but that the autobiographical domain reached entirely new layers of the population, thereby creating a new, specifically Soviet, subgenre of sorts: of authors groping for a language of self-expression at the same time as they learned to read and write.5 The Civil War accounts by Isaak Babel and Andrej Platonov indulge in recording the awkward, earnest, and intense attempts by barely literate peasant-soldiers to cast themselves as revolutionary subjects (Babel 1929; Platonov 1972).

  • 6 The humanist theme is strongly expressed in Maxim Gorky’s serialized commentary (Gorky 1968).
  • 7 The ethos of social activation associated here with the Soviet regime was in fact already implement (...)

5In part, this obsessive talk about the self was a direct offshoot of the Revolution, an immediate articulation of the revolutionary ideas of human liberation, social emancipation, and the dignity of the personality, all of which had made an explosive appearance in 1917 (Steinberg forthcoming).6 But it is important to consider how this humanistic discourse was, from the beginning, appropriated by the Soviet regime and thus integrated into an agenda of individual activation and mobilization in the service of strengthening the revolutionary state. With its stress on subjective involvement in the revolutionary cause, the Bolshevik regime was pursuing a quintessentially modern agenda of subjectivization, of fostering conscious citizens who would become engaged in the program of building socialism of their own will.7 Soviet revolutionaries sought to remove all mediation between the individual citizen and the larger community, so that the consciousness of the individual and the revolutionary goals of the state would merge. In the process, individuals were expected to refashion their very selves, by enacting revolutions of their souls, paralleling the revolutions of the social and political landscape.

  • 8 On the poetics of self-fashioning in Soviet autobiographies, see Igal Halfin (Halfin 1997: 210-236) (...)

6What made this discourse of rearing conscious revolutionary subjects so potent was the fact that it was actualized through a host of subjectivizing practices, including political agitation, educational policies, and reeducational measures aiming at “reforging” class aliens. Even Gulag camps, staffed with large libraries and other educational facilities, were conceived of as construction sites of the New Man. Within this transformative framework, the Soviet state attached particular significance to the practice of autobiographical writing and speaking, both as a manifestation of the state of consciousness a given individual had achieved, and as a tool of raising this consciousness further. The most widespread type of formalized self-presentation in the Soviet system was the avtobiografija – a short account of an individual’s life, submitted in prose and presented orally, listing this person’s educational and professional achievements, but in its core focusing on the formation of his or her personality. This form of self-presentation originated in the Communist party milieu as a means of assessing a given candidate’s level of political consciousness. Yet, it was practiced also in the Komsomol and in nonparty institutions, such as universities and organs of state administration. In applying for membership in one of these institutions, any applicant had to compose and recite such an autobiography.8 Significantly, Soviet citizens were required to resubmit their autobiography at recurrent intervals throughout their lives. It is therefore safe to assume that individuals were familiar not only with this genre of self-presentation and its attendant rules but also with the underlying assumption that their biographies were subject to rewriting, in accordance with the progression of the Revolution along with the development of their own, subjective political consciousness.

  • 9 See Makarenko 1951; Gorky, Auerbach and Firin 1935: final chapter “Gorky sums up”. The highest form (...)

7During the first decades of Soviet power, state and party agencies also poured considerable energy into the production of large-scale autobiographical projects involving thousands of Soviet citizens (Zhuravlev 1997; Corney 1997: 273-278, 316-320). Workers and soldiers wrote their recollections of the Revolution of 1917, and labor collectives in various branches of Soviet industry narrated the epic tale of their construction campaign at the Stalinist “industrialization front”. In all of these cases the plot operated on two levels, relating how individuals made the Revolution, constructed a factory, built the Metro, and so on, and at the same time, how they themselves were made by the Revolution and were forged as subjects in the course of the Stalinist industrialization drive. This twofold theme was especially pronounced in the case of class enemies, criminals, and social outcasts, who were to be reforged into conscious and socially useful citizens through the combined tools of labor and autobiographical writing. Their accounts of their lives describe the lull trajectory of self-transformation, from “human weed” or “bad raw material, “ living in a similarly unformed or polluted social environment, to conscious, self-disciplined beings residing in the well-ordered socialist garden created to an extent by themselves.9

  • 10 I thank Peter Holquist for pointing out this source to me.
  • 11 Compare the case of seventeenth-century New England, where prescriptions on diary-keeping were cent (...)
  • 12 In Ilia Erenburg’s novel, Second Day (Den’vtoroj), it is the chief villain, Vasja Safonov, who keep (...)

8Alongside other autobiographical genres, Soviet revolutionaries also promoted the diary as a subjectivizing technique. Consider the case of the “Red Army notebook” (knizhka krasnoarmejca) of the Civil War period, a booklet designed for each individual Red Army soldier, for the sake of recording the ammunition, food, and clothing supplies distributed to him. The booklet contains a blank page at the end bearing the heading “for personal notes”. A caption below reads: “If possible, keep a diary of your service in the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army.” (Knizhka... 1919: 8).10 Yet notwithstanding this glaring case, the diary never received the same official support as the production of complete autobiographical narratives.11 Soviet activists were deeply ambivalent about how suitable the diary was as a catalyst of socialist self transformation. They acknowledged that the diary had traditionally served as an inherently bourgeois medium that tended to further individuals’ selfish, narcissistic drives, or at best produced “empty talk.” There was also the suspicion that a diary, if written on one’s own and concealed from the gaze of the collective, could undermine a Communist’s socialist consciousness and become a breeding ground of counterrevolutionary sentiment (Kharkhordin 1994).12 This suspicion was poignantly expressed in the fact that diaries were among the materials most coveted by NKVD officers during searches of apartments belonging to “enemies of the people”. Some literary specialists expressed not so much suspicion, but rather disdain towards the diary medium: they expressly favored the production and publication of memoirs over diaries because the memoir had the educational advantage of presenting a cohesive, unified narrative of self-development. The diary narrative, by contrast, was choppy and resonated with competing voices in the process of self-constitution. The memoir represented a finished piece of work – it was a monument of the completed self, whereas the diary functioned as a mere construction site of the self, conceived of as a work-in-progress (Liternaturnaja enciklopedija... 1934: col 132). As a disillusioned literary editor in charge of publishing a collection of workers’ self-narratives put it: “[Diaries] can give great results, yet these results won’t come overnight. The diary demands time, but we need material now.” (Bouvard unpublished: 85).

9It is important to bear official ambiguities towards the diary in mind when studying the existing diary literature of the 1930s, since such a perspective allows us to understand these diaries as far more than an unmediated product of Soviet state policies of subjectivization. Only in a number of cases did diaries originate as clear assignments prescribed by Soviet officials; for the most part, they were kept on the initiative of their authors, who in fact often deplored the absence of official precepts of self-transformation according to which they could pattern their lives. An investigation of this diary literature thus highlights the extent to which individuals, acting on their own, creatively wove themselves into a loose matrix of subjectivization produced by the Revolution, and how these individuals themselves supplied some of the core categories and mechanisms of self-realization in a Soviet vein.

  • 13 The sociological breadth and variegated textual nature of this corpus of diaries (numbering about o (...)
  • 14 Given space constraints, the important themes of critical opinion, repression, and self-censorship (...)

10The following discussion presents a sample from a large pool of diaries from the 1930s, most of which have become available to researchers following the opening of the Soviet archives. The diarists cover a broad occupational and sociological spectrum, and they include both urban and rural residents, members of all generations, men and women.13 The discussion is broken down into three parts. I begin by focusing on diaries as chronicles of socialist construction, before moving to an investigation of the introspective and self-transformative functions of Stalin-era diaries. The third section places Soviet diaries and notions of Soviet subjectivity in relationship to the binary concept of the public and the private sphere.14

11Excluded from the present investigation are diaries lacking an autobiographical orientation. This essay thus does not explore the diaristic genre as a whole, nor does it set itself the goal of deducing from diaristic texts how their authors actually experienced the Stalin period. This latter point needs to be stressed, in view of the intuitive popular tendency to consider the diary as an experiential sanctuary of sorts, as a repository of individuals’ innermost thoughts and feelings. Yet no autobiographical text, however intimate and confessional it claims to be, is able to provide an immediate answer to the question of experience. Self-narratives can be fully understood only if situated in the context of historically specific conventions of how to conceive oneself and present oneself. With respect to the Stalin era, this context was shaped by the language of the Russian Revolution, the rise of a new mode of universal self-expression, the politicization of the self in the wake of 1917, and the totalizing insistence on universal self-transformation and self-disclosure on the part of the Soviet regime. This frame goes a long way to explaining why the self is such a prominent theme in Stalin-era diaries and why there is a remarkable scarcity of non-Soviet modes of self-realization in these texts. Not all diaries from the 1930s are autobiographical in character, but to the extent that they invoke the self, most of them move within distinctly Soviet parameters of selfhood, by stressing the themes of work on the self, social utility and integration, and historical orientation.

Chronicles of socialist construction

  • 15 Diary of Stepan Podlubnyj, entry of 2 September 1932, in Hellbeck 1996: 92.

12Soviet diaries from the 1930s bespeak an extraordinary involvement of their authors in the development of the Soviet system. Diarists were often aware of participating in an exceptional, historic period, which it was their obligation to record. “When will I finally write my memoirs about the 1930s?” one of them asked.15 The fact that this author posed the question in 1932, when the actual “1930s” had barely begun, illustrates how much there existed at the time a notion of the Stalinist industrialization campaign as a distinct epoch in the making. Another diarist, a party activist involved in the collectivization campaign, wrote his autobiographical record as a chronicle of class straggle. He began to keep the diary following his appointment as chairman of a village Soviet. The first entry summarizes his achievements at his former workplace, which had also been at the collectivization “front”:

  • 16 “1933-1936 gg. ν grjazovetskoj derevne (Dnevnik A. I. Zheleznjakova)”, in Vologda... 1994: 454-521 (...)

“There were many victories and defeats. The class enemy, the kulak, did not sleep, organizing the backward mass of the bednjaki and serednjaki against the kolkhozes. [...] Thus, in a bitter skirmish with the obsolete and dying capitalist elements, our kolkhozes have been born, reared, and strengthened. A lot of struggle still lies ahead, especially at the new location, the Pirogov village Soviet, where I have been transferred by the district committee of the party.”16

13Tellingly the narrator begins by setting up a macro frame, the collectivization campaign in the Soviet countryside, in which he then places events from his own personal life. The same strategy is visible in the diary of Masha Scott, who expands the ideological frame structuring the narration of her personal life to its utmost extent, the epic of international class straggle. Masha Scott, one of the builders of the city of Magnitogorsk, related in her diary her first encounter with John Scott, a visiting American engineer, whom she would later marry. She described how disappointed she felt upon seeing this fabled American visitor in person – an emaciated young man, dressed in rags and covered with blast-furnace dust:

The first American I had ever seen, he looked like a homeless boy (bezprizornik). I saw in him the product of capitalist oppression. I saw in my mind’s eye his sad childhood; I imagined the long hours of inhuman labor which he had been forced to perform in some capitalist factory while still a boy; I imagined the shamefully low wages he received, only sufficient to buy enough bread so that he could to go work the next day, I imagined his fear of losing even this pittance and being thrown on the streets unemployed in case he was unable to do his work to the satisfaction and profit of his parasitic bosses (Scott 1989: 118-119).

14Ideological tenets, in the sense of projections of a world to be realized, also informed diaries that were produced explicitly as chronicles of everyday life (byt). Nikolaj Zhuravlev, an archivist from Kalinin, began his diary with the following introductory remark:

  • 17 Diary of Nikolaj Zhuravlev (Rossijskij gosudarstvennyj arkhiv kalinskoj oblasti: f. r-652, op. 1, e (...)

“I am a local historian (kraeved) and an archivist. I know the significance for the historian of a document which deals with the everyday. I understand that a document, an ordinary document filed in an office, narrates primarily about extraordinary facts and remains silent about all that has firmly become an attainment of everyday life (byt). Which office will describe for you a normal day in the life of a normal person? [...] This is why, in support of the historian of the city of Kalinin (the future will tell whether this will be myself or someone else), I have decided to begin these notes in which I will try, as far as possible, not to talk about the turns of my heart, but will concentrate more on facts.”17

  • 18 Diary of Nikolaj Zhuravlev (Rossijskij gosudarstvennyj arkhiv kalinskoj oblasti: f. r-652, op. 1, e (...)

15Tellingly, the author’s purported desire to write a chronicle of everyday life was motivated by an extraordinary event – the eight hundredth anniversary of the founding of Kalinin (Tver’): “The day on which my notes begin is an extraordinary one in the chronicles of the city. [...] It is a big holiday. [...] You feel this when you look at the faces of the people walking by. Among them are many kolkhoz workers who have come to the regional center to celebrate yet another victory of socialist agriculture.” The following day, Zhuravlev summarized his impressions about the city festival: “Celebrations like this can take place only in the land of socialism! I remember these official’ festivities’ under Tsarism. [...] But our holiday is a genuine mass holiday, a genuine holiday of the people.”18

  • 19 On Soviet designs to revolutionize the byt, see Naiman 1997: 185-188; Clark 1995: 242-260; David-Fo (...)
  • 20 Man’kov 1994: entries of 30 January and 24 July 1933. Man’kov later became a well-known historian o (...)
  • 21 In his diary, Ivan Sich, a retired schoolteacher of French, also focused on the hardships of everyd (...)

16Zhuravlev’s diary project illustrates the political significance of the category of everyday fife in the Soviet system. In view of the stated goal of the Bolshevik regime to revolutionize all aspects of the traditional everyday, a diarist’s description of living conditions under Stalinism was a profoundly ideological gesture.19 It is in this light that the following diary, of the Leningrad worker and student Arkadij Man’kov, should be read. Man’kov’s account also focused on the byt of the Stalin era, but it emphasized solely the misery and despondency suffered by the working population. Man’kov’s express purpose in keeping his diary of the 1930s was diametrically opposed to Zhuravlev’s, as he sought to denounce the achievements claimed by the Stalinist regime. The contemporary social structure in the Soviet Union, Man’kov wrote, was “purely capitalist”; to refer to it as a Marxist state was blasphemous. All the while, however, Man’kov called for the realization of Marx’s revolutionary goals – the end of exploitation and the arrival of material plenty. Like Zhuravlev, he referred to his diary as raw material for a history of the everyday life of the Stalin period that historians would have to write one day, and as was also the case with Zhuravlev, Man’kov’s account of the everyday was embedded in a vision of the socialist society of the future.20 In spite of their radically different diagnoses, these two authors thus expressed themselves within a shared horizon of meaning defined by the campaign of building socialism.21

17A diarist’s mention of extreme material hardship by itself did not have to stand in the way of his or her ideological commitment. On the contrary, Galina Shtange, a fifty years old housewife married to a leading Soviet engineer, deliberately mentioned the adverse conditions of contemporary life in order to underscore the heroic sacrifice assumed by herself and her generation in the building of socialism.

1/1/1937 It’s just horrible when you think about how people live these days, and engineers in particular. I heard about one engineer, who lives with his wife in a nine[square-]meter room. When his mother came to visit, there was absolutely no place for him to do his work. So he put the lamp on the floor and lay down (on his stomach under the table) and worked that way, he couldn’t put it off, he had a deadline. I wrote down this example so that those who come after us will read it and get a sense of what we went through (Garros, Korenevskaya and Lahusen 1995:187-188).

18The unstated assumption motivating this entry was that future generations of Soviet citizens, living in a materially plentiful Communist world, would have difficulty imagining the hardships borne by those who sacrificed themselves for the building of this future. The sense that a diary kept in the 1930s, to be legitimate, had to be ideological in character, is also reflected in the laments of two diarists that their chronicles failed to reach such a level of interpretation. Repeatedly the Komsomol activist Anatolij Ul’janov voiced his frustration at his own writings in his diary:

4/12/1933 I’ve just read through a couple of pages. How much emptiness, and how little reflection of life. The life about which people write books. [...] They rear heroes. But what do I have? I will try to be more detailed and more prosaic in writing about myself at home and at work.
5/7/1933 The end of the [diary] notebook is approaching. This notebook spans almost eight months, i.e. two thirds of a year. But life is very incompletely illuminated. It is even very, very slightly illuminated. There are a lot of thoughts in there, but little on the essence of existence.

  • 22 Diary of Anatolij Ul’janov (Otdel rukopisej Rossijskoj gosudarstvennoj biblioteki [OR RGB]: f. 442, (...)

19Firmly intent on devoting his diary to the essence of life, Ul’janov intermittently produced a series of entries exclusively on his labor activities, summarizing production targets and results of the factory at which he worked, Komsomol meetings, and his work as a social activist.22 But he soon fell back into his habitual diaristic mode again. As late as in 1937 he complained:

1/15/1937 About the diary. What kind of stupid trumpery I have been writing over the last days (no, all the time!) in my diary. There is no life in it, only nonsense about womenfolk. From today on, I have decided to write only about what is real, what has happened as an accomplished fact, and I’ll discard the rest.
Yeah, and my life is somehow petty; in my twenty-three years, I haven’t done anything intelligent, anything heroic; I’m only groping around like an idiot A diary should reflect only the truth – live, heroic truth – but everything that I have written to date is some kind of nonsense. Under no circumstances will I keep writing like this.

20Especially intriguing in this entry is how Ul’janov’s observation on the trivial character of his diary notes brings him to conclude that he is leading a petty life. There seems to be hardly any difference in the author’s mind between “writing like this” and “living like this”. The boundary between writing and actual life is blurred, and there is a palpable sense of the diary’s power to literally write its author’s life: the more disciplined and consistently heroicizing his autobiographical narrative unfolds, Ul’ianov implies, the more real and heroic his actual life will become.

21Another diarist, the writer Α. V. Peregudov, realized only from the distance of a quarter century that his diary project had failed. In an entry of 1961 he remarked:

  • 23 Diary of Α. V. Peregudov (Rossijskij gosudaistvennyj arkhiv literatury i iskusstva [RGALI]: f. 2211 (...)

It’s been almost twenty-five years that I haven’t opened this diary. I reread my notes and was amazed about how petty they are. But where are all the great things (to velikoe) that took place in our country, changing its face and strengthening its might? My explanation for this is that the diary was not destined for such a high purpose, but was kept for small, “intimate and lyrical” notes which revolved only around my family life and nature and were of great interest only to myself and Marija. How I regret now that I did not keep a different, a great diary, devoted to the great events. I tried frequently, but I never wrote it.23

  • 24 For references to the extensive body of Western travellers’ descriptions of the emerging Soviet sta (...)

22How widely the diaristic genre was deployed for chronicles of socialist construction is also illustrated in the case of the numerous travel diaries left behind by foreign visitors to the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s. Whether enthusiastic or sceptical in their responses, these authors invariably shared an impulse to witness and record in their personal chronicles the building of the New World.24

23Beyond their ideological nature, another remarkable feature of many diaries from the 1930s is their emphasis on the narrator’s personal involvement in the development of the Soviet system. Vsevolod Vishnevskij, the playwright, wanted his diaristic record to serve as historical testimony, to be consulted by future generations to judge his own and his contemporaries’ actions:

“Our task is to preserve for history our observations, our present point of view – the point of view of the participant You see, a year from now, or ten years from now, from the distance of time, everything will become clearer. Possibly, there will be another point of view, another judgment. Therefore let us leave for the grandsons and greatgrandsons our story. Our mistakes and victories will be the lessons for tomorrow.” (Vishnevskij: entry of22 January 1942).

24The urge to write oneself into the Soviet revolutionary trajectory can even be observed on the part of a potential victim of socialist construction, notably the campaign to collectivize agriculture. The diarist, Tikhon Puzanov, was a peasant youth from the Don region, who was still living in his parents’ uncollectivized household in early 1933. The family could not meet the grain delivery quotas mandated by the local Soviet and was threatened with expropriation and exile. While narrating in the diary his and his family’s harsh “struggle for life” under the conditions of an unfolding famine, Puzanov also dreamt about the happy future promised by collectivization, emphasizing his active personal involvement in the realization of this future:

All that I think about is how we will attain the happy future. Others think in a contrary way – they wait for it to happen (zhdut gotovogo). And they are the majority, they are not a bit interested in their work. They don’t care about how they work, as if they were serving a sentence. They aren’t involved in the present world (Oni ne zhivut nastojashchim). For them it is all difficult and torturous, since collective labor has not yet entered the consciousness, the blood of the young; and the people are dreaming about a smallholder’s existence (mechtajut ο edinolichnoj zhizni) (Puzanov 1991: entries of 2 April 1933 and of 1 January 1933).

  • 25 Puzanov 1991: entry of 6 January 1933 “Friday”. The notion of the diary as a work record and expres (...)

25Although himself a member of a kulak family, Puzanov took part in the collectivization campaign, joining activists’ raids on uncollectivized peasant households. On the pages of his diary he emphasized his “genuine loyalty to the kolkhoz system”, taking issue with those who suspected that he was working in the kolkhoz only to “save [his] skin”.25 Most tangibly the subjectivizing effect of revolutionary ideology – the sense of the self coming to fruition through joining the socialist campaign – is evoked in case of the kolkhoz activist Aleksandr Zheleznjakov. On the occasion of the sixteenth anniversary of the October Revolution, he noted:

  • 26 “1933-1936 gg. ν grjazovetskoj derevne”: 454-521: entry of 11 October 1933.

How good it is to feel, live, and win in struggle! There is not, there was not, and there will not be in world history a generation more happy than ours. We are the participants in the creation of a new epoch! Do you remember, enemies, you who are encircling us from all sides, that only twenty years ago we were puny insects, crawling on the masters’ floors, and this paltry person, strangled by capitalism, comprehended himself as a class and shattered the whole world to its foundations on 7 November, sixteen years ago. [...] There is nothing higher than to be a member, a citizen of the Soviet land and to belong to Lenin’s Communist party, hardened in battles and led in our days by the beloved leader, Comrade Stalin, with whom we are celebrating together today the day of the great victories of technical progress. Had the October Revolution not happened, could I have conceivably understood life in this way, and could I have conceivably exchanged my personal life for the struggle for common goals? No! I would have remained a half-animal, but now I am happy. I was raised by Lenin’s party, and I have become ideologically hardened! I am prepared to confront any difficulties and to bear any sacrifice in the name of the great goals of the building of the Communist society.26

Logbooks of the Soviet Self

26To be sure, passages like the one just quoted, celebrating the merging of the self with the collective, appear to have been rare moments of rapture erupting from the generally less spectacular flow of the diary narrative. More typical of Soviet diaries was a mode of doubt, insecurity, and intense self-criticism, coupled with admonishments not to give up work on oneself. In these cases the diary acted as a normalizing technique, a medium through which the mind observed and controlled psychic and bodily processes. The inward gaze provided by the diary enabled its author to embark on an extended struggle in battling weaknesses and impurities of the self.

27A large number of diaries from the 1930s functioned as both records and tools of psycho-physical training. They worked as an introspective, controlling, and regulating device, enabling their authors to monitor the physiological and intellectual processes at work in them, in the service of controlling and perfecting them. To document this self-transformative project, diarists repeatedly invoked the concepts of “planning”, “ struggle, “ and “consciousness”, core Communist values of the period, highlighted especially during the first Five-Year Plan (Clark 1981; Leites 1953).

  • 27 Diary of Vera Shtrom (Centr dokumentacii “Narodnyj arkhiv” [CDNA]: f. 336, op. 1, ed. khr. 32, entr (...)
  • 28 Diary of Vera Shtrom (Centr dokumentacii “Narodnyj arkhiv” [CDNA]: f. 336, op. 1, ed. khr. 32, entr (...)

28In her diary the young schoolteacher Vera Shtrom repeatedly voiced the need to control and rationalize her life. She sought to achieve this by analyzing her soul and bringing to light the realm of her “subconscious feelings”.27 Shtrom also confided her dreams and fantasies, all her “crazy” thoughts, to the diary, but expressly in a desire to “systematize [her] impressions” and, ultimately, to live her life in “plan-like” and “systematic” fashion.28 Similarly, Anatolij Ul’janov, a Moscow worker and Komsomol activist, mobilized the diaristic medium to bring order in his life and increase his work performance:

  • 29 Diary of Anatolij Ul’janov (OR RGB: f. 442, op. 1, ed. khr. 10: entry of 23 March 1930. See also en (...)

I want to establish exact regulations of my money spending and daily planning. I already did this today (it will be difficult, but I’ll succeed). But I want to introduce a planliness of work (planovost’ raboty) into my daily life, for both my mental-physical and leisure [activities]. I will try to make my work more manageable this way. Fewer of the usual tricks (walks with the “perfidious” Katja, etc, etc.)29

29To fight the “disorder in [her] soul”, which she repeatedly diagnosed in her diary, the writer Vera Inber advocated what she called « technicizing the soul » [...] in other words, constructivism.” In keeping with this mechanistic imagery she remarked elsewhere: “Man is a factory. And his mind is the director of this factory.” (Inber 1977: entry of 9 July 1933).

  • 30 Chelovek sredi ljudej... 1964: 16191 (entry of 29 November 1930).

30Diarists established a variety of related dichotomies to describe the composition of their self and the work attendant to change it These binaries included the opposition between the mind and the body, individuals’“ ideology” and their “psychology”, or, in the words of one diarist, his “will” and his “heart.”30 In all oppositional pairs the will played a central role in the project to raise or remake the self. The will appeared as coterminous with an individual’s subjectivity. It was described as an autonomous power residing within the self that once activated, raised the self to the level of a historical agent. In this context the diary functioned as a catalyst shaping and strengthening the diarist’s will.

  • 31 Diary of Leonid Potemkin, in Garros, Korenevskaya and Lahusen 1995: 251-292 (undated entry followin (...)

31Leonid Potemkin, a student at the Sverdlovsk Mining Institute, repeatedly reflected in his diary on the duality of mind and body. He described how his mind, or conscious will, challenged and eventually overcame the sluggishness of the body, which hitherto was controlled by physiological, natural, and hence unconscious forces, thus enabling him to merge with the laboring collective.31

32Vladimir Molodcov, a coal miner, observed that his will (or ideology – he used the two terms interchangedly) was engaged in a battle with his “psychology”:

  • 32 Chelovek sredi ljudej... 1964: 171 (entry from 17 November 1930).

It is interesting how there is a lack of accordance between psychology and ideology. Ideologically, I myself mobilized myself [sic] to catch up with the plan, and although I am working actively, my psychology still draws me back home, to my home place. This is evidenced by the increasing numbers of dreams over the past two days, in which I saw my mother. But ideology will raise psychology, this has to occur.32

33In the pages of his diary, Stepan Podlubnyj, a young Moscow worker of kulak origins, elevated willpower to a moral ideal: “For a long time already, I have liked people with a strong will. No matter who this person is, but if he or she has great willpower, this is a good person.” (Hellbeck 1996: 147).

  • 33 Hellbeck 1996: 122-23, 125-26, 154 (entries of 10 March and 1 April 1933, and 16 April 1934).
  • 34 Hellbeck 1996: 95-96,118,182,198,203-4 (entries of 6 October 1932, 8 February 1933,27 December 1934 (...)

34Podlubnyj assiduously recorded all the instances when he felt that his own will-power had increased,33 but for the most part, his diary was a record of his failures – both at the work place and in his personal life – which Podlubnyj perceived to be rooted in his weak will.34 But for Podlubnyj, his diary amounted to more than a bulletin of the “sickness of [his] will” (31 October 1935); writing in the diary was also a cure, since he reasoned that by forcing himself to write regularly he would also increase his willpower (29 January 1933).

35Willpower was attained through struggle. Diaries of the 1930s abound in references to life as a continuous struggle. Aleksandr Zheleznjakov, the Vologda kolkhoz activist, described a hey harvesting campaign conducted under his initiative. To take advantage of a brief spell of dry weather, he coerced the recalcitrant kolkhoz women workers into staying in the field until all work was finished:

  • 35 “1933-1936 gg. ν grjazovetskoj derevne”, in Vologda... 1994: entry of 12 October 1935.

We mowed until eleven at night, and the field was mown. The moon played a big role and helped me resolve this difficult task. Thanks to the party. It reared in me firmness and resolve in straggle, to win in the most difficult conditions. What great happiness! Great, limitless happiness! I remember the words of Marx and Engels: “Straggle is happiness!” The next morning it rained again.35

36In their journals, diarists waged straggle not just against an Other – recalcitrant kolkhoz workers, or the forces of nature – but also against themselves. Ul’janov once noted in his diary that he had already improved somewhat in terms of his manners and his education. But he remained critical about certain aspects of his personality: “In spite of my literacy, sometimes it is scandalous how coarse I am. Of course I don’t want to turn into a sicklysweet (slashchaven’kij intelligent). But what I want to be is not to be an animal.” The diary entry concluded with the resolution: “Straggle against coarseness, inconstancy, and lies” (9 December 1932). Or, to cite from Podlubnyj’s diary: “I don’t know where, I think it was Gorky who said that « life is a straggle. » A very apt observation. A life without straggle – that is not the life of a human being, it’s an animal’s life. As far as I can remember about myself, all of my life has evolved as an inner, emotional straggle” (2 May 1933).

37So far our discussion has focused on the role of the diary as a self-disciplining technique. Yet, some of these diary narratives also evolve in a spiritual register. They describe a movement directed towards self-renewal, a movement proceeding rarely in a straight line, and more often as an uneven process marked by intense straggle. The specific role of the diary in staging this journey of self-becoming is expressed in the case of the playwright Aleksandr Afinogenov, who referred to the daily entries of his journal as “strict roadmarks of every single day that I have lived” (7 October 1937). One of Afinogenov’s principal goals in keeping a diary was the production of a visible trace of self-development. Interrupting this journey was tantamount for him to a retraction into his present, imperfect self. To this extent, reviewing past diary entries enabled Afinogenov to monitor and sustain his journey toward salvation:

  • 36 RGALI, f. 2172, op. 3, ed. khr. 5.

16/11/1937 Right now, today [...] I got up with the desire to somehow move on: not to stop thinking and accumulate what I’ve already begun to accumulate, always looking back and examining myself, not allowing myself to become my former self, if even only a tiny bit.” Elsewhere Afinogenov vowed never to “rest content with myself and my road. Look up your notes more often, look up the pages written on days of expectation and reevaluation of yourself. May what you wrote back then serve you as a permanent reminder. Never go away from these notes (always collate them and and check: what you wrote comes from the very depths of your heart’s sensitiveness)”36

38The sense that life for a citizen living in the Soviet system evolved as a journey is also graphically expressed in the autobiography of Heinrich Vogeler, a German Communist who emigrated to the Soviet Union in the 1930s and wrote a memoir, titled “Becoming” (Werden), shortly before his death in 1942. In a diary note of that period, Vogeler explained his principal purpose in writing this autobiography: “Perhaps this book will be read by people who are looking for paths to reach the new life. My story will allow them to recognize wanderings which they can avoid for themselves.” (Hohmann 1987: 97).

39As these last examples illustrate especially well, Soviet diaries from the 1930s were characterized not just by an agenda of self-transformation but also more basically, by a quest for self-expression. Expression, not repression, appears to be the principal theme of diary self-narratives from the period. The desire to fuse with the collective, to secure integration in Communist, collectivist values, was not a self-effacing dynamic, it did not diminish the private self, but on the contrary, allowed it to grow.

Public and private

40Historians of the Soviet system often assume that only privately voiced statements are reliable indicators of individuals’ “real” beliefs. They therefore endow the diary, understood as a private record par excellence, with a unique potential to express the individual self in undistorted fashion. Accordingly, diaries originating in the public realm – such as production or brigade diaries, or records written for the public eye – are dismissed as inauthentic records, especially in view of the pressures applied by the Soviet state which forced diarists to practice self-censorship. Yet, this exclusive correlation of the authentic self with the private sphere would leave researchers with preciously few “real” diaries to work with. Moreover, such a rigorous selection would risk missing the essential meaning of the diary in the context of the Stalinist order.

  • 37 Hellbeck 1996: 92 (entry of 25 September 1934).

41Our discussion thus far has shown that many diaries from the 1930s were kept as work projects of the self. Particularly in the case of class aliens, the desire was great to eventually publish their individual accounts of self-transformation, as visible proof, to others and to themselves, that they had successfully reworked themselves. Stepan Podlubnyj, the son of a kulak who lived in Moscow and tried to become a New Soviet Man, already knew the title of the autobiographical novel, which he was to produce from his diary notes: “The Life of an Outlived Class, its Spiritual Rebirth and Adaptation to New Conditions.”37 The writers Marietta Shaginian and Vera Inber, both of impure, non-Soviet origins and therefore threatened with social marginalization, published their diaristic accounts of self-transformation during their lifetimes (Shaginian 1932; Inber 1977). Although the published versions of the diaries were censored, this does not mean that the diary manuscripts themselves were kept as publishable records.

42Quite to the contrary, Podlubnyj was painfully aware that many passages in his diary would cost him dearly if they were to be revealed to state organs, but he still believed that one day censorship would be eased and his memoir would see the light of day (25 September 1934). His diary was at the same time an account of self-transformation addressed to the public, as well a secret “soulmate”, to whom he confided the problems encountered while seeking to transform himself. A number of other diarists kept their self-records secretly, while simultaneously entertaining thoughts of literary publications to be based on the diary material. Thus, multiple diverging impulses appear to be at work in these diaries, making it extremely difficult to categorize them as private, semiprivate, or public records.

43It is standard practice among literary theorists to treat the private literary voice as a fictional device. Even the most privately conceived self is staged, using available discursive conventions, as soon as it enters the literary realm (Jürgensen 1979: 7-8; Hassam 1993: 4, 8, 51). Rather than inferring a private, and by implication, authentic, self from a given diary, it would more fruitful to define the diary in terms of a genre of private discourse, as a medium through which diarists could cultivate – rather than simply express – a private self. But complicating the issue further is the problem of employing the notion of the private for analytical purposes in the context of the Soviet state which regarded it as one of its principal tasks to eliminate all traces of the bourgeois order, chief among them the public-private division. In the eyes of Soviet Marxists, bourgeois privacy was a beguiling yet utterly disingenious concept which promised individual self-realization, but in fact only deceived the working class over the state of its social alienation. Once the illusory fusion of the individual with the partial private sphere propagated by the bourgeois order was broken up, toe formerly oppressed subjects would regain their nature as social beings. Their inner being and outer function would become one (Koren 1967:114).

  • 38 On the reversal of gender roles in and following the Soviet Revolution, see Wood 1997.

44Keeping in mind the particular status of the private realm in a Marxist state, it may be useful to consider the categories employed by Soviet diarists themselves to conceptualize their social existence, rather than to distinguish a priori between private or public spheres and purposes of diary-writing. To begin with the case of Galina Shtange, a fifty-year-old housewife who joined the newly founded movement of housewife activists, “Obshchestvennica, “ in 1936, her diary shows an inversion of the hierarchy of the public and private spheres found in liberal thought (Garros, Korenevskaya and Lahusen 1995: 167-218). Liberal discourse represents family life as the principal domain of the private. It is the realm of the individual’s unfettered self-realization, outside of the encroachments of market relations and state authority. While also contrasting her family existence to the public sphere, Shtange, however, sought individual fulfillment in the latter. Torn between her duties as a housewife and a social activist, between the exigencies of her family and the Revolution, she subordinated the former to the latter.38 This is how she described her first enrollment in the Soviet women’s movement:

“5/13/1936I was sitting at home, preoccupied with my own narrow little family affairs, when Zabelina came over and invited me to take part in an informal meeting with several other ladies from the Commissariat of Communication and Transportation who wanted to join the movement. Naturally I agreed.”

45A few months later, already an activist, she complained that her family prevented her from realizing herself:

“8/27/1936 So much for my community work! [...] I was completely engrossed in my work for two months. I found my element and felt wonderful, in spite of being so tired. [...] So I decided to give up the work that I love so much, and take up cooking, dishwashing, and diapers again.”

46And in her summary of that year she decried her need for a “personal life”:

12/27/1936 The year is drawing to a close. It was a painful one for me. The family is upset that I spend so little time at home. I’m sorry for them, but what can I do? I’m not old yet, I still want to have a personal life. Now that I’ve fulfilled my obligations to my family, in the few years that remain to me I want to live for myself, I will always be sincerely glad to help them (emphasis added).

  • 39 Diary of Galina Shtange, in Hellbeck 1996: entry of 2 April 1938.
  • 40 This passage, from a speech given by Shtange to the wives of commanders in the Transport Sector, fo (...)

47Shtange represented the private-public divide in the form of two different self-trajectories. Her narrow, petty household duties stood in the way of the self-realization she hoped to achieve by serving the Revolution. Seen in his light, Shtange’s diary, which is almost exclusively a record of her public activities, emerges as a catalyst of her Soviet self. In 1938, forced to give up her work as an activist and return to the household, she observed that she had “suddenly aged by many years”.39 The implication was that working for the Revolution had a rejuvenating effect. Elsewhere Shtange noted in her diary: “Our work should be joyful, it’s only natural; man is a social animal. He can be happy and joyful only in a collective. Leave a man alone, even in a golden palace, and his joy for living will just fade and die. Only an awareness of his usefulness to society can bring joy and satisfaction.”40

  • 41 My view of this diary as a coherent agenda of self-expression departs from the interpretation made (...)

48The statement Shtange makes about herself applies to her diary as well: precisely because she cannot remain alone cut off from the collective, her diary, in so far as it is to reflect her sense of self, cannot possibly remain a fully private record. It has to be devoted to public life to be significant and satisfying. In this light it appears only logical that Shtange pasted her diaries with numerous newsclippings, other documents from the public world, as if to underscore that her personal voice could come to fruition only in the frame of the Soviet collective.41 Shtange’s case thus illustrates once more that self-expression in the Soviet context does not stand in the way of, but on the contrary thrives on, public deeds and texts.

49Stepan Podlubnyj conceptualized the relation between the private and the public realm in terms of an inner and an outer self. In his diary he often mentioned the feelings of his “inside” (vnutrennost’), using this expression synonymously with his “soul” (dusha). His goal was to activate the inner self so that it would merge with the revolutionary agenda of the Soviet state. As he understood it, the soul of a Soviet citizen was to be filled with a distinctly political spirit and should form a realm of enthusiasm. He was dissatisfied when noticing that “all the inside (was) asleep” or when he felt himself to be in an “idiotic and nonpolitical mood” (7 June 1932).

50To be sure, Podlubnyj did develop a distinct notion of the private, and he identified this sphere with parts of his diary. The diary represented his “only friend”, the only partner to whom he confided those thoughts that he knew would be dangerous to voice to anybody else, even to close friends. But he regarded these thoughts to be illegitimate. He possessed no positive notion of a private sphere in which to anchor a sense of self and personal values diverging from the public norms. He therefore did not conceive of his diary as a record of a private sphere to be remembered. Rather, it served him as a “rubbish heap” onto which he could discard all the “garbage” accumulating in his mind (23 January 1933). He envisioned writing as a straggle from which he would ultimately emerge cleansed, fully identical with public values and thereby ridden of any alternative selfish, and hence impure, private sphere.

  • 42 See, for example, the diary ofA. Afinogenov (RGALI, f. 2172, op. 3, ed. 5, entry of 29 July 1937).

51Stalin era journals are replete with private thoughts – private in the sense of being confidential and certainly not written for the public eye – but more often than not their authors viewed them as expressions of weakness, as tokens of their lack of willpower, yet not as a source of pride or a kernel of their selfhood. The public – private binary is thus not very helpful for an understanding of Soviet subjectivities if we assume the private realm to be the exclusive locus of positive identity. As such, privacy has no obvious meaning. It acquires positive or negative valence depending on the discourse in which the self articulates itself. In the Soviet case, given the radically public and collectivist ethos promoted by the revolutionary state, it may be not so surprising after all that practically none of the 1930s diaries known to me were kept to cultivate a private existence in distinction from the public sphere. The type of self-realization pursued by diarists was to be reached through techniques of purification and remaking the self. Rather than using the dichotomy of private and public, diarists situated their personal, and particular, existence with respect to the general public interest. These descriptions evoke two trajectories – the life of the individual and the life of the collective – which were ideally to merge into a single whole. Time and again, diarists wrote of their efforts to merge their personal lives with the “general stream of life” of the Soviet collective.42 A private existence in distinction or even opposition to the life of the collective, however, was considered inferior and unfulfilled.

52Ijulija Pjatnickaja described in her diary a sense of personal regression arising from her inability to participate in the forward-thrusting life of the Soviet people. An engineer by background, she had lost her job following her husband’s arrest in 1937, and now spent much time at a public library, leafing through technical journals:

  • 43 Pjatnickaja 1987: 149 (entry of 26 March 1938).

I looked through Mechanical Engineering. Every day that I live through pushes me further back. New machines are being built: lathes, agricultural tools, machines for the Metro, for bridges, etc. Work has been organized in new ways in... [...] Engineers are raising in new ways questions of organization and or the technology of tool-production. All in all, there is no doubt that life is moving forward, regardless of any “spokes in the wheel.” The wonderful Palace of Culture for the Zisovec plant. I’m getting really jealous: why am I not in their collective?43

  • 44 Pjatnickaja 1987: 149 (entry of 27 May 1938).

53One of the strategies employed by Pjatnickaja to deal with the calamity of her husband’s arrest, a strategy also suggested by the state procurator to whom she turned for help, was to “stand above [her] personal life” (9 April 1938). Pjatnickaja was “tortured” that she could not bring herself to hate her husband, an enemy of the people. She urged herself to “prove, not for others, but for myself”, that she could overcome her personal doubts and distance herself from him: “You will prove with this that you stand higher than a wife, and higher than a mother. You will prove with this that you are a citizen of the Great Soviet Union. And if you don’t have the strength to do this, then to the devil with you.”44

  • 45 On the turn towards individuating practices in the 1930s see Volkov forthcoming; Kharkhordin 1999; (...)

54This article has sought to introduce a historically contextualized notion of subjectivity for the early Soviet period (1917-1941). Contrary to a widespread popular habit to cast the Soviet regime solely as an oppressive power that strove to subjugate Soviet citizens’ sense of their selves, the essay has pointed to the Revolution as a tremendous subjectivizing force. This was on account not only of the language of individual and social emancipation which burst on the scene in 1917 and provided people with entirely new registers of self-expression. More important even was the fact that subjectivity became an intensely political and, indeed, salvific, category practically from the outset of the Revolution. The questions of who one was, for or against the revolution, whether one could change, and how one could demonstrably transform oneself into a revolutionary subject, were central, arguably the most pressing, questions of the period of early Soviet rule – questions that the Soviet regime pursued in the name of the Revolution, but of course also for the purpose of molding a loyal popular following. As a consequence, Soviet citizens had no choice but to be aware of their “selves” as a distinct political category, as a personal identity subject to public scrutiny, and as an entity to be molded and perfected through work on oneself. The Revolution thus underscored – or in many cases actually created – the sense that one possessed, and had to be able to present, a distinct personal biography. Without any doubt the uninterrupted chain of social and personal ruptures caused by war, revolution, and intense Soviet social engineering had a shattering effect on individuals’ preexisting sense of selves, but it would be wrong to infer from this a social landscape of fractured, atomized individuals, as has been suggested (Plaggenborg 2000: 109-118) because at the same time (and as never before) Soviet citizens were urged to comprehend themselves in terms of coherent self-narratives and thus to sculpt themselves as autobiographical subjects. From the outset, Soviet revolutionary policies had a strong subjective corollary, whereby individuals were to weave their subjective voices into the collective project of building a socialist society. This subjective stance, which gained even more political weight in the 1930s as compared to the preceding decade, has to be taken into account when studying autobiographical statements of the age.45

  • 46 Engel and Posadskaya-Vanderbeck 1998: 101-116, esp. 102-103. Berezhnaja also remembered how as a wo (...)
  • 47 Author’s interview with L. A. Potemkin, 29 March 1995.

55Conceivably one of the most lasting effects of the prewar Soviet regime was the creation of coherent and purposeful individual biographies on a mass scale. In any event one can observe a recurrent desire on the part of surviving Soviet citizens to emphasize a sense of historic purpose and personal fulfillment when recounting their experience of the prewar Stalin period. Antonina Berezhnaja, formerly an engineer from Sverdlovsk, surprised her Western interviewers who kept asking her about the shortages and difficulties of her youth. Instead, all she wanted to do was talk about “production and work for the public good over personal life and private satisfaction.”46 And Leonid Potemkin, author of a remarkable self-expressivist Stalin era diary, was adamant in his old age to combat the notion that Stalinism meant just sacrifice, just evil, and just repression. In his own words: “I categorically reject the slanderous claim that our generation allegedly lived its life in vain.”47



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1 This article was first published in The Russian Review. 2001.60, n° 3:340-359. Copyright 2001 The Russian Review. I am grateful to Igal Halfin, David Hoffmann, Peter Holquist, and the workshop and conference participants at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, University of California at Berkeley, University of California at Riverside, Stanford University, and the Maison des sciences de l’homme, Paris, for their comments and suggestions. I also want to thank Véronique Garros, Natalya Korenevskaya, and Thomas Lahusen for generously sharing with me a great number of diaries from the Stalin period. Support for the writing of this article was provided by the Michigan Society of Fellows.

2 See Hellbeck 2000: 71-96. The latest to invoke James Scott’s dichotomy of official and hidden transcripts are Getty and Naumov 1999; The Russian Review 60 (July 2001): 340-59. For a critique of this essentially liberal conceptualization of the self see Krylova 2000: 119-46.

3 Stefan Plaggenborg recently formulated this view from a cultural anthropological standpoint (Plaggenborg 2000: 109-118, esp. 115-116). Laura Engelstein has arrived at a similar conclusion based on her study of Russian/Soviet legal cultures (Engelstein 1993: 338-353). These viewpoints in part echo Moshe Lewin’s earlier notion of the Stalinist “« quicksand » society” (Lewin 1985: 221). The loss of the self is also a central theme in Hannah Arendt’s analysis of totalitarian regimes (Arendt 1951).

4 When talking about the self-creating effects of the Russian Revolution, I certainly do not want to imply that selves, as self-conscious beings, did not exist prior to the Revolution. My argument is rather that the Revolution deployed on a massive scale a new thinking about the self as both a problem and a political project. For a model of this approach to the selfas a problem see Michel Foucault 1978: chapter 1; 1985: introduction).

5 Bibliographic evidence as well as what is known on state-sponsored efforts at autobiographical writing suggest that – both numerically and in terms of sociological breadth – the early Soviet regime engendered the largest collective autobiographical project undertaken in modem history. Only the Chinese Communist case may have rivalled the Soviet autobiographical project in terms of the sheer number of individual autobiographies sponsored by the regime. For a bibliography of published autobiographical material relating to toe Soviet period, see toe ongoing publication project Drobizhev 1987-1995. A Soviet literary encyclopedia notes that toe production of autobiographical literature increased significantly after 1917 (Literaturnaja enciklopedija... 1934, 7: cols. 131-149). The popularity of the diary genre in Soviet Russia is underscored by a bibliography of recent journal publications of archival documentations, which lists more than two hundred diaries or diary excerpts (Kondakova 1997).

6 The humanist theme is strongly expressed in Maxim Gorky’s serialized commentary (Gorky 1968).

7 The ethos of social activation associated here with the Soviet regime was in fact already implemented in the course of World War I. But the Bolsheviks’ approach was distinct in that they transposed the spirit of total wartime mobilization to postwar conditions and introduced a much broader set of practices to realize this goal (Holquist 1997: 415-450).

8 On the poetics of self-fashioning in Soviet autobiographies, see Igal Halfin (Halfin 1997: 210-236). The genre of the Soviet autobiography bears striking parallels to the Puritan mode of self-constitution, as at least once in their lives all Puritan converts were required to write and publicly recite their own spiritual histories. These autobiographical texts were shaped against the texts of predecessors and fellow believers. ‘To be a pilgrim was to travel in the « Way » of such texts within the Puritan culture...” (Swaim 1993: 137).

9 See Makarenko 1951; Gorky, Auerbach and Firin 1935: final chapter “Gorky sums up”. The highest form of subjectivity, however the role of progenitor of the New Soviet Man, was reserved for Stalin himself, who was likened to “a gardener rearing his beloved fruit tree”. (“Otchetnyj doklad tov. Molotova ο rabote pravitel’stva VU S”ezdu Sovetov SSSR”, Pravda, January 29, 1935: 1-5). On the “gardener” and the “gardening state” (Bauman 1989: 13,71,91-92).

10 I thank Peter Holquist for pointing out this source to me.

11 Compare the case of seventeenth-century New England, where prescriptions on diary-keeping were central to the production and dissemination of the revolutionary, Puritan self (Hambrick-Stowe 1982). For the scattered initiatives of Soviet pedagogues, psychologists, and literary activists to mobilize the introspective and self-transformative powers of the diary in their efforts to create the New Man, see chapter two of Jochen Hellbeck (Hellbeck forthcoming).

12 In Ilia Erenburg’s novel, Second Day (Den’vtoroj), it is the chief villain, Vasja Safonov, who keeps a diary shielded from the collective, to which he confides his counterrevolutionary thoughts. Transposed to real life, the same scenario could be observed in the case of Kirov’s murderer, Leonid Nikolaev, whose diary the state prosecution used to provide evidence for his anti-Soviet disposition (Conquest 1968:56). To counter possible individualistic effects of diary-keeping and foster the development of a collectivist consciousness, Soviet pedagogues also assigned collectively kept “brigade diaries” in factories and schools. The Nazi regime in Germany produced a racialized version of the collective diary, with Nazi ideologues calling for the writing of “clan diaries” (Tagebuch der Sippe), from which future generations were to “draw power and knowledge and obtain insights into the character and fate of their blood relatives (Blutsverbundenen)” (Boerner 1969).

13 The sociological breadth and variegated textual nature of this corpus of diaries (numbering about one hundred in total) defies simple classification. It is safe to say, though, that the majority of the diaries were written by members of a younger generation (authors bom between 1895 and 1920). In terms of the provenance of these diaries, a good number of them, authored by members of the state bureaucracy, or the technical and artistic intelligentsia, had been deposited in Soviet state archives and been accessible to researchers already before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Others, belonging to the same group of people, had been locked away in speckhrany until the late 1980s. A third group of diaries is derived from non-state archives established during the perestroika period (for example Memorial and the Narodnyj arkhiv) or from private archives. Numerically, diaries from the latter two groups prevail strongly. Although impressive in number, these diaries scratch only the surface of the total of surviving diaries from the early Stalin period. The greatest as of yet untapped repositories of diaries from the 1930s are the central and regional archives of the KGB, to which foreign researchers still have virtually no access. Innumerable other diaries are preserved in private households throughout the post-Soviet territory. There is reason to fear that many diaries from the early Soviet period might get lost or never be made available to researchers, for the simple reason that their current owners are unaware of the historical significance of this genre. For a detailed survey of diaries from the 1930s, see Hellbeck (Hellbeck forthcoming: chapter 3). Several of these previously unknown diaries from the 1930s have already been published in the West (Garros, Korenevskaya and Lahusen 1995; Hellbeck 1996).

14 Given space constraints, the important themes of critical opinion, repression, and self-censorship in diaries from the 1930s, as well as the relationship between autobiographical writing and Stalinist terror cannot be dealt with in the present article. These issues are discussed in Hellbeck (Hellbeck forthcoming).

15 Diary of Stepan Podlubnyj, entry of 2 September 1932, in Hellbeck 1996: 92.

16 “1933-1936 gg. ν grjazovetskoj derevne (Dnevnik A. I. Zheleznjakova)”, in Vologda... 1994: 454-521 (entry of 30 May 1933).

17 Diary of Nikolaj Zhuravlev (Rossijskij gosudarstvennyj arkhiv kalinskoj oblasti: f. r-652, op. 1, ed. khr. 2: entry of 6 January 1936).

18 Diary of Nikolaj Zhuravlev (Rossijskij gosudarstvennyj arkhiv kalinskoj oblasti: f. r-652, op. 1, ed. khr. 2: entry of 7 January 1936). In spite of Zhuravlev’s intention to keep an impersonal diary of everyday life in Kalinin, his chronicle did turn largely into a confessional genre, recording intrigues at the workplace and problems with his adulterous wife at home.

19 On Soviet designs to revolutionize the byt, see Naiman 1997: 185-188; Clark 1995: 242-260; David-Fox 1997; Kiaer 1997:105-118.

20 Man’kov 1994: entries of 30 January and 24 July 1933. Man’kov later became a well-known historian of pre-Petrine Russia. He published, among other things, an acclaimed edition of the 1649 Ulozhenie (Ma’kov 1987).

21 In his diary, Ivan Sich, a retired schoolteacher of French, also focused on the hardships of everyday life, contrasting them to the ideological proclamations of the Soviet regime. Sich especially made a point of recording the critical views of workers towards Soviet power, to discredit the latter’s claims for legitimacy. Unlike Man’kov, however, Sich did not seem to be motivated by a personal vision of a better socialist world (Sich 1987: 75-94, esp. 7 November 1929 and “First days of June [1930]”).

22 Diary of Anatolij Ul’janov (Otdel rukopisej Rossijskoj gosudarstvennoj biblioteki [OR RGB]: f. 442, op. 1, ed. khr. 10: diary entries of 20 May and 13 July 1933).

23 Diary of Α. V. Peregudov (Rossijskij gosudaistvennyj arkhiv literatury i iskusstva [RGALI]: f. 2211, op. 3, ed. 18:, entry of8 April 1961). Peregudov’s diary notes of the 1930s are indeed redundant and shallow, consisting for the most part of weather reports and minute descriptions of the author’s activities, particularly the types of food and drinks consumed on a given day (“ I slept... got up..., drank two cups of tea..., went to...”).

24 For references to the extensive body of Western travellers’ descriptions of the emerging Soviet state see Hollander 1998 and Uhlig 1992.

25 Puzanov 1991: entry of 6 January 1933 “Friday”. The notion of the diary as a work record and expressive medium of self-realization is also present in the journal of the coal miner Vladimir Molodcov: “29/11/1930 The highest feeling that I could experience in my short life, this is the feeling of being conscious of the fact that I am a part of the miners’ collective. What a great thing not to notice, not to count the hours of the working day, not to wait for the end of the shift, but instead to strive to prolong it... and after the shift, to leave as a victor in the fulfillment of the plan! Howjoyful it is to see oneself ahead of the others” (Molodcov 1964: 161-191).

26 “1933-1936 gg. ν grjazovetskoj derevne”: 454-521: entry of 11 October 1933.

27 Diary of Vera Shtrom (Centr dokumentacii “Narodnyj arkhiv” [CDNA]: f. 336, op. 1, ed. khr. 32, entries of 31 July and 14 August 1930).

28 Diary of Vera Shtrom (Centr dokumentacii “Narodnyj arkhiv” [CDNA]: f. 336, op. 1, ed. khr. 32, entries of 14 August 1930, and 5 May and 9 July 1931).

29 Diary of Anatolij Ul’janov (OR RGB: f. 442, op. 1, ed. khr. 10: entry of 23 March 1930. See also entries of 7 March 1936 and 4 May 1938).

30 Chelovek sredi ljudej... 1964: 16191 (entry of 29 November 1930).

31 Diary of Leonid Potemkin, in Garros, Korenevskaya and Lahusen 1995: 251-292 (undated entry following 31 July 1935; see also entry marked “July 1936”).

32 Chelovek sredi ljudej... 1964: 171 (entry from 17 November 1930).

33 Hellbeck 1996: 122-23, 125-26, 154 (entries of 10 March and 1 April 1933, and 16 April 1934).

34 Hellbeck 1996: 95-96,118,182,198,203-4 (entries of 6 October 1932, 8 February 1933,27 December 1934, and 28 March and 30 September 1935).

35 “1933-1936 gg. ν grjazovetskoj derevne”, in Vologda... 1994: entry of 12 October 1935.

36 RGALI, f. 2172, op. 3, ed. khr. 5.

37 Hellbeck 1996: 92 (entry of 25 September 1934).

38 On the reversal of gender roles in and following the Soviet Revolution, see Wood 1997.

39 Diary of Galina Shtange, in Hellbeck 1996: entry of 2 April 1938.

40 This passage, from a speech given by Shtange to the wives of commanders in the Transport Sector, follows her diary entry of 27 December 1936.

41 My view of this diary as a coherent agenda of self-expression departs from the interpretation made by the editors of Shtange’s diary, who stress the disparate nature of the various sources – diary entries, newspaper clippings, letters, photographs, etc. – making up this “diary-herbarium”, and who view the actual diary as a composite of interwoven “codes in which the subject moves forward and unravels, like a spider that dissolves itself in its own web” (Garros, Korenevskaya and Lahusen 1995: 168-169). In my view, this interpretation overstates the formal differences between the various textual and visual genres involved in the diary, and by the same token it underrates the existential meaning at stake for authors like Shtange in the production ofthese self-records.

42 See, for example, the diary ofA. Afinogenov (RGALI, f. 2172, op. 3, ed. 5, entry of 29 July 1937).

43 Pjatnickaja 1987: 149 (entry of 26 March 1938).

44 Pjatnickaja 1987: 149 (entry of 27 May 1938).

45 On the turn towards individuating practices in the 1930s see Volkov forthcoming; Kharkhordin 1999; Papemyj 1985; Bauer 1968.

46 Engel and Posadskaya-Vanderbeck 1998: 101-116, esp. 102-103. Berezhnaja also remembered how as a worker forewoman she tried to raise the morale of her fellow workers by going through the shop and singing them the song “All Our Life Is a Struggle”. A portrait photograph of hers from 1932, which she showed to her Western interlocutors, bore the dedication on the back: “A few words to my friend: Only by means of persistent straggle and lengthy work on the self can a person reach the heights of science. It is essential to value life and to know how to extract from it only what is good, uniting that with one’s ideals. Then life will be interesting and full of happiness” (Engel and Posadskaya-Vanderbeck 1998:107-108).

47 Author’s interview with L. A. Potemkin, 29 March 1995.

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