History: Reviews of New Books
Winter2001, Vol. 29 Issue 2, p81


By Harold J. Goldberg  

Siegelbaum, Lewis, and Andrei Sokolov, eds.
Stalinism as a Way of Life: A Narrative in Documents
New Haven: Yale University Press 460 pp., $35.00, ISBN 0-300-08480-3 Publication Date: November 2000

In cooperation with the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History, Yale University Press is publishing the Annals of Communism series. Stalinism as a Way of Life, edited by Lewis Siegelbaum and Andrei Sokolov, is an excellent addition to this continuing collection of previously unpublished documents from the Soviet party and state archives. In this case, Siegelbaum, who is a professor of history at Michigan State University, and Sokolov, who is the main researcher and department head of the Institute of Russian History at the Russian Academy of Sciences, have compiled documentary evidence that includes letters, summary reports, minutes of meetings, and memoranda from individuals throughout Soviet society. The documents provide insight into the impact of state ideology and practice on citizens and the response of average people to those government and party actions. The large volume of letters and correspondence reveals that a lively discussion of many aspects of Stalinist policy took place during the 1930s.

The Socialist Offensive that started in 1929 included collectivization, the anti-kulak campaign, antireligious propaganda, and a purge of class enemies. In the documents, Soviet citizens complain about the excesses that occurred in all of those areas and the disparity between state promises and reality. Peasants wrote to leading state office holders and reported on the corrupt behavior of local officials, and in 1936 peasants participated in the discussion of the draft of the Stalin constitution. Again many letters pointed out the inconsistencies between the promise of the regime and the realities of life on the collective farms. Additional documents illuminate the situation of the new generation of Communist officials who joined the party during or after the revolution, as well as the impact of the purges on educational and scientific institutions. Ironically, the intensification of the purges came at the moment when socialism theoretically had been achieved, and therefore problems could only be attributed to traitors, spies, and wreckers. The final documents reveal the contradictory pressures faced by children. Letters discuss the necessity of obtaining a good education, life in the Young Pioneers, the situation in the children's homes, the growth of hooliganism and juvenile delinquency, and the prevalence of suicide.

Siegelbaum provides an excellent introduction as well as informative commentary throughout the book. He also explicates the origins of the documents, their handwriting, spelling, and grammar, all in an unobtrusive yet useful presentation. Stalinism as a Way of Life, perhaps read in conjunction with Sheila Fitzpatrick's Everyday Stalinism, would be useful for college students who want to analyze primary documents. Siegelbaum and Sokolov's book effectively illuminates how Soviet citizens sought to survive in the 1930s by creating a way of life under Stalinism.