The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books
November 29, 2001

In the Promised Land

By Aileen Kelly

Thank You, Comrade Stalin! Soviet Public Culture from Revolution to Cold War
by Jeffrey Brooks
Princeton University Press, 319 pp., $45.00; $19.95 (paper)

Stalinism as a Way of Life: A Narrative in Documents
by Lewis Siegelbaum and Andrei Sokolov
Yale University Press, 460 pp., $35.00


"Great massacres may be commanded by tyrants, but they are imposed by peoples," H.R. Trevor-Roper wrote on the European witch hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Afterwards, when the mood has changed, or when the social pressure, thanks to the blood-letting, no longer exists, the anonymous people slinks away, leaving public responsibility to the preachers, the theorists, and the rulers who demanded, justified, and ordered the act.

This passage is cited by J. Arch Getty in The Road to Terror, a selection of documents on internal purges among the Soviet Party elite in the 1930s. The opening up of former Soviet Party and police archives has allowed scholars to narrow the range of estimates of the number of victims of Stalin's Terror. In its two worst years (1937–1938) 1.5 million people were arrested on political grounds, hundreds of thousands were shot, and the population of the labor camps increased by half a million. The overall number of deaths caused by repression in the Thirties (including the casualties of the collectivization of agriculture) has been calculated as between 1.5 and 2 million, although some estimates are considerably higher.[1] Add to that countless ruined lives, the use of torture to extract confessions, the brutality of the huge system of work camps, and a national trauma that lasted for decades.

Enormous though Stalin's guilt was, the mass slaughter and the widespread repression of the Soviet 1930s cannot be explained away by the paranoia of a power-crazed despot. We now know that the Soviet party-state was not (as the "totalitarian" school of analysts once believed) a monolithic system ruling omnipotently over a passive, victimized society. Sheila Fitzpatrick, Stephen Kotkin, and others have demonstrated from previously inaccessible archives that Stalinism was not just a political system but a set of values and a way of life which many Soviet citizens actively embraced or passively assented to from a wide variety of motives. As Getty observes, at every step of the road to terror

there were constituencies both within and outside the elite that supported repression of various groups, sometimes with greater vehemence than Stalin did.... Repression was as much a matter of consensus as of one man's dementia, and this is somehow even more troubling.

Many would argue that the boundaries of responsibility for the Terror extend more widely still. The phenomenon of Stalinism may owe something to the peculiar history of the Russian state, in which a native tradition of arbitrary authority blended with the heritage of Mongol rule; but it is equally indebted to the Western utopian tradition—in particular to the two dreams that have shaped modern Western culture: the Enlightenment's ideal of a rationally ordered society, and the Romantic notion of the Promethean self-transformation of man. Both these visions were combined in Marxism, which owed its great potency to a third ingredient: the view that an earthly paradise is no utopia but the necessary outcome of precise and demonstrable historical laws. Hence the enthusiasm with which Western delegations of philosophers, writers, and journalists endorsed Stalin's claim to have converted socialism (with help from Marx and Lenin) "from a dream of a better future for humanity into a science."

In the words of Stephen Kotkin, in its obsession with planning and control Stalinism constituted "a quintessen- tial Enlightenment utopia."[2] Like the French Terror of 1793–1794, the Soviet killings of the 1930s were officially justified by the regime's commitment to the most advanced ideals of freedom and progress. The material emerging from the archives is generating fresh perspectives on the mentality of Stalinism and its affinities with other modern versions of the witch hunt. One aspect that the new sources have brought into relief is the link between a utopian conception of time and the ethical attitudes that led to acceptance of the purges.

In Ideology and Utopia—first published in 1929, the year when Stalin defeated the last of his rivals for control of the Party—the German sociologist Karl Mannheim discusses the sense of historical time peculiar to revolutionary Marxists. They experience time as "a series of strategical points" along a path to the future ideal, which they conceive in a novel fashion—almost like a real organism with a definite function in life, which can be investigated scientifically. Its "virtual presentness" means that the factors that make up the present can be weighed and understood only in the light of their completion by the future.

Mannheim's definition anticipates the doctrine of Socialist Realism, officially formulated in 1934 as "the truthful, historically concrete representation of reality in its revolutionary development" and prescribed as the basic method of Soviet literature. As a theorist of the new method explained: "The artist sees today in the light of tomorrow."

In official pronouncements on the regime's achievements in the Thirties the distinction between tomorrow and today became increasingly blurred. On May Day, 1939, Pravda boasted: "Now all advanced humanity says of our country...'There it is, the promised land of communism!'"

Along with the future, Stalinism appropriated the past. In its most sacred text, the Short Course on the history of the Soviet Communist Party (whose authorship was attributed to Stalin himself), the ideas and events of the past were crudely categorized according to whether they had promoted or hampered the march to communism. Endlessly cited in the mass media and faithfully reflected in the works of Soviet historians, philosophers, writers, and artists, the Short Course helped transform the nation's historical consciousness and its sense of time. The Russian critic Boris Groys has noted that Stalinist culture saw itself as postapocalyptic, presenting a mythical future as an immediate concrete reality from whose perspective a final judgment on all previous human history could be delivered. This vision survived de-Stalinization: the dissident writer Andrei Sinyavsky remarked at the end of the 1950s: "Our art, like our culture and our society, is teleological through and through."[3]

What began as a novel notion among revolutionary Marxists—the concrete existence of the future in the present—became by the mid-1930s a mandatory belief for an entire people. Nadezhda Mandelstam puts it succinctly in her memoir of the period:

A man who knew that you cannot build the present out of the bricks of the future was bound to resign himself beforehand to his inevitable doom and the prospect of the firing squad.[4]

Her husband, the poet Osip Mandelstam, was such a man. Those who survived, she recalls, suffered the progressive loss of their sense of reality.

Jeffrey Brooks's study of the mass media in the Stalin era, Thank You, Comrade Stalin!, provides a telling account of how this was achieved. He presents the Stalinist regime as an "omnipresent magic theater" in which both actors and audience leave the everyday world, with its values and practices, to enter a dreamlike arena free from the normal constraints of time. The performance was sustained through strict control of the flow of information, suppression of negative features of the surrounding world, and exclusion of the daily events regarded as news in other cultures. The Soviet conception of time as a path from darkness into light, a conception constantly reinforced by the media, allowed for no sharp separation of the future from the present, whose value was accordingly diminished. "Time became a path through the present, not to the present.... It was an attempt to force past, present, and future into a single magical continuum."

The First Five-Year Plan and the collectivization of agriculture, launched in 1928 and 1929 respectively, were celebrated in the press, on the radio, and in films and other media as programs for the creation of a new world, and thereafter the public was treated to a dizzying succession of plans and blueprints, all calculated to reinforce the faith that the Soviet state could overcome the limiting effects of time in its headlong advance to history's final goal. Literature and the arts had a supporting role: the writer Valentin Kataev began his novel of 1931, Time, Forward!, by quoting Stalin's speech of the same year in which he gave Russia ten years to accomplish the work of a century. Following Stalin's decision to complete the First Five-Year Plan a year ahead of time the press adopted the slogan "Five Years in Four" to apply to the country's total transformation. New Year's editorials in Pravda described the luminous achievements of the coming year not as prognostications but as statements of fact.

The new Soviet world dissociated itself from its many failures to fulfill its pledges by blaming them on survivals from the past in the shape of class enemies. Former Bolshevik leaders and others accused in the show trials of 1936–1938 were ritualistically referred to in the press as vermin, reptiles, traitors, murderers, and "fascist filth." These frenzied attacks had the formulaic quality of a morality play featuring an apocalyptic battle between good and evil.

Denunciations of villains alternated with paeans to exemplary workers and hosannas to Stalin, whose cult as exemplar of the new order was the core of the primitive drama in which his personality took on a near-mystic authority. Increasingly the future was treated as if it had already arrived: as the First Five-Year Plan neared completion, all references to the disparity between what had been promised and what was accomplished were suppressed, and the press launched a celebration, which lasted for decades, of the regime's achievements.

Brooks cites one revealing anecdote on what it was like for the ordinary Soviet citizen to live in a utopian temporality. The German Communist Wolfgang Leonhard, who grew up in Moscow, describes his confusion when in 1935 he and his mother sought to replace their outdated 1924 map of Moscow and discovered that the new map contained all the improvements destined to be completed by 1945: "We used to take both town plans with us on our walks from then on—one showing what Moscow had looked like ten years before, and the other showing what it would look like ten years hence." As Brooks says, "what had vanished or, more exactly, become compressed between two dream worlds was the present."

Regrettably, he does not discuss further the reaction of the Soviet public to the performance: as he observes, the supporting chorus of officials, Party activists, and exemplary workers and peasants whose affirmations of Soviet values were cited in the mass media were no more than a "wishful representation of the body politic." But the material now available on the attitudes of ordinary citizens leaves no doubt that the virtual disappearance of the present in the Stalinist conception of time transformed the national consciousness in ways that smoothed the path to collusion with the Terror.

This is not to say that Soviet citizens were stoically indifferent to their daily tribulations, or that they managed to ignore the increasing disparity between the regime's achievements and its propaganda claims as the First Five-Year Plan consistently failed to meet its wildly unrealistic targets. Indeed, the misery and bewilderment that this caused is a dominant theme in the letters, petitions, complaints, reports, confessions, and denunciations from peasants, workers, intellectuals, and Party officials assembled by Lewis Siegelbaum and Andrei Sokolov in Stalinism as a Way of Life. The impact of the documents in this collection (the successor to The Road to Terror in Yale University Press's admirable series Annals of Communism) is strengthened by the fact that some of their writers were barely literate.

The industrialization project was celebrated as a triumph of rational planning. A very different picture is painted by workers on construction sites where chaos and confusion reigned, exacerbated by the constant raising of targets on orders from Moscow. There were frequent protests to Pravda about lack of basic food and shelter, and unsanitary conditions which led to outbreaks of disease of epidemic proportions. One worker complains that although his brigade fulfilled the plan by more than 190 percent, their families were starving; rations were reserved for the workers alone. Their co-op contained "nothing but empty shelves and bottles of perfume," while at the markets profiteers sold goods at vastly inflated prices.

Another worker protests: "Lice have eaten us to death, and soap is given only to railroad workers." Pravda was inundated with peasant accounts of thieving and mismanagement by collective farm chairmen, and other kinds of persecution suffered by farm workers: "We live in a free country, but there are so many prisoners and for what. If your crops get diseased it's ten years, if your horse wears out its withers it's ten years, if you didn't give somebody a cigarette it's ten years, and so on."

Others wrote harrowing accounts of the fate of dispossessed kulaks ("rich" peasants), who had been sent by the hundreds of thousands to forced exile in distant provinces with no food or shelter; even secret police officials complained of mismanagement on this score. The cult of the plan remained a foundation of Stalinism; but plans changed with unpredictable frequency, each new turn bringing the downfall of officials who had been diligently implementing the previous Party line.

Moreover, no interpretation of any plan at any given time could be regarded as wholly reliable. The chairman of a rural council wrote to Politburo member M.I. Kalinin of his fear of being tried for misappropriation of funds as a result of attempting to fulfill contradictory orders from the regional and central Party finance departments: "You work like you're on the edge of a straight razor."

Many complaints and protests show a keen awareness that the system had created a new privileged class—a rampant bureaucracy with privileged access to scarce goods and apartments; and many refer to the shadow economy, whereby citizens coped with endemic shortages through illegal trading in state goods and the cultivation of influential contacts.

However, while Soviet citizens were not slow to complain about the miseries and injustices of daily life, and to denounce inefficiency and corruption on the part of their coworkers or immediate superiors, they tended to present these as abuses by local officials of a system whose inherent rationality they did not question. One complainant concludes that all the abuses he lists can easily be prevented: "All you have to do is have the right person put pressure in the right place." Or, as another affirms: "If our dear leader Comrade Stalin knew what is going on in the countryside, he would never forgive it."

An implicit belief in the rationality of the system underlies many justifi-cations of the Great Terror, whose beginnings coincided with the adoption of a new constitution, hailed in Pravda as "the most democratic in the world." The official slogan for the country at that time was Stalin's incessantly quoted "Life has become better, comrades, life has become merrier!" The leadership presented the purges of the Thirties as both rational and necessary to eliminate the enemies of communism.

Yet the terror of all against all unleashed in 1937 contrasts with earlier repressions of specific groups in its sheer self-destructive randomness, engulfing the loyal along with the dissident (and, eventually, the executioners along with their victims), severely damaging the economy through the loss of a generation of specialists, and destroying the army high command on the eve of the Nazi invasion. (In a deranged simulacrum of rationality the "plan" still reigned supreme: NKVD detachments throughout the country were given quotas for arrests in their areas.)

We can still only speculate on Stalin's motives and the wider pressures that led to the orgy of violence. Yet Lewis Siegelbaum's analysis of letters from ordinary citizens shows that very many did not question the policy of repression itself, ascribing "excesses" in this respect only to particular individuals: a common suspicion was that "enemies of the people" had wormed their way into the NKVD and, by arresting loyal Communists, were attempting to undermine Soviet power. Substantial numbers of the Party elite seem to have seen the Terror as a necessary defensive operation. Those who (we may assume) did not, such as the veteran Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin, were forced to use the official rhetoric. In a letter to Stalin which he hoped would save him from execution after his trial in 1938, he protests his innocence of the charges against him, but writes that "there is something great and bold about the political idea of a general purge...[which] encompasses 1) the guilty; 2) persons under suspicion; and 3) persons potentially under suspicion."[5]

Memoirs of the period, however, suggest that expressions of belief in the rationality of the purges were commonly more than just a stratagem for survival. Nadezhda Mandelstam recalls the exasperated retort of the poet Anna Akhmatova, when one of their acquaintances began speculating on the reasons for a particular arrest: "What do you mean, what for? It's time you understood that people are arrested for nothing!"

The new sources present formidable problems of interpretation, in particular the difficulty of distinguishing strategies of adaptation from genuine conviction. Siegelbaum notes that all Soviet citizens were confronted with the necessity of dealing with the state by somehow fitting themselves into its grand narratives: as Kotkin comments in his study of the workers in the great steel complex of Magnitogorsk, without "speaking Bolshevik" it was impossible to understand much of everyday activity, including what was demanded and what was forbidden.[6] But as Getty observes, one should not underestimate the impact of language on the self-understanding even of those using it for self-interested and utilitarian reasons. Moreover, the Stalinist utopia could command genuine adherence for many reasons, including the need to fill a vacuum created by the suppression of religious belief, and the contrast between the principles of socialism and the evils of capitalism as evidenced in the crisis-ridden economies of the contemporary West.

Such factors help to explain the regime's stability, but it seems unlikely that it would have retained so much support for so long if very many Russians had not internalized the vision of reality and historical time which was constantly presented to them by the media and by novels in the Socialist Realist tradition. Critics of the genre have remarked that the weirdness of these novels consists in their heroes' schizophrenic existence in two kinds of time, their sudden transitions from the discourse that we associate with literary realism to the perspective of a complete and perfected world in which time has been abolished.[7] As Sinyavsky puts it, the characters who "are mournful but not quite like Chekhov's, [create] their happy families which are not quite like Tolstoy's, and, suddenly becoming aware of the time they are living in, scream at the reader the copybook slogans which they read in Soviet newspapers, like 'Long live world peace!'"

But Socialist Realism was not wholly undeserving of its name: its fantastic heroes had their real-life counterparts in Stalin's Russia. Describing the sense of solemn emotion he felt on his admission into the Komsomol, the Communist youth organization, in 1939, Wolfgang Leonhard comments that a Western reader might find this peculiar. Two years earlier, at the beginning of the Terror, his mother had disappeared into a prison camp; he had subsequently witnessed the arrest of his teachers and friends. He had long since realized that reality in the Soviet Union was different from the picture in Pravda:

But somehow I dissociated these things, and even my personal impressions and experiences, from my fundamental political conviction. It was almost as if there were two separate levels—one of everyday events and experiences, which I found myself criticising; the other that of the great party line which at this time, despite my hesitations, I still regarded as correct, from the standpoint of general principle.[8]

Kotkin comments on the same phenomenon of dissociation among the Magnitogorsk workers: for many the discrepancies between lived experience and ideological interpretation appear to have given rise to a dual reality in which the acceptance of a revolutionary truth contrary to observational truth was not only necessary for daily survival, but also a way "to relate mundane events to a larger design; it offered something to strive for."


Many commentators have presented Bolshevism as a religion. But faith in salvation through the Party line does not of itself explain the fact that so many Russians in the Thirties were able to live a split existence without experiencing a mental breakdown. Much of the explanation must lie in the Stalinist media's success in blurring the perspective from which Soviet citizens viewed everyday reality. To use one of the most potent images of the Thirties, many of them glimpsed it as if from a speeding train.

In the words of the founder of Russian Marxism, Georgii Plekhanov, "we have boarded the train of history which is taking us at full speed to our goal." After the Revolution the train became a symbol of the modernizing energy of the new order and its dynamic vision of time and space. Soviet cinema directors such as Dziga Vertov seized on the image of the train to convey the transformation in consciousness wrought by the Revolution. The train carriage repeatedly features in Soviet films as a microcosm in which representatives of the new world are carried forth to their tasks of construction in the country or to the capital, the nerve center of the new order, while through the windows there flash by fleeting impressions of an ever-changing landscape.

In the Thirties this image of the world of experience outside the Communist trajectory as a linear blur helped the Party dehumanize its enemies, stripping their lives and fates of depth and specificity. The press was forbidden to publish pictures of expropriated kulaks for fear this might arouse sympathy in some quarters; instead they were depicted in caricatures, such as one in Komsomol Pravda which is reproduced in Brooks's book. Under the title "On the General Line [of the Party]" an electric streetcar is shown racing at full speed, mowing down enemies of the regime, one of whom pleads "For God's sake, don't squash the kulak!" without effect; a bloody severed leg flies through the air.

We have an ironic perspective on this all-pervasive symbol in the diary of Andrey Arzhilovsky, a peasant who had spent years in a labor camp and would soon be shot for "counter-revolutionary kulak sabotage." Life, he muses, "is a speeding train. The ones who have a ticket ride, the them pass by. I used to have a ticket and I was speeding through life on that train. But now here we are—walking. The line goes on and on, and they're out of tickets."[9]

The regime's dehumanizing obsession with speed had found an appropriate discourse with the declaration in 1929 of a "socialist offensive on all fronts" to eradicate all vestiges of the pre-socialist past. Words like "assault" and "storm" became part of the everyday vocabulary of activists in the factories and in the cultural field, and the whole population was put on permanent alert in the battle against "hostile elements" and "saboteurs" who were "infiltrating" Communist institutions. On expeditions to the countryside to requisition grain, Communists behaved like occupying troops.

For Russian Communists, the acceleration of activity in all spheres of social existence was not just a means to an end, but a key constituent of the end itself. The revolution had aimed to create not only a new society but a new kind of human being. "Go on, turn yourselves inside out!" Mayakovsky, the bard of Bolshevism, urged his contemporaries in 1918. In the Twenties the term "Bolshevik tempo" was used by the artistic avant-garde to help define the "new Soviet person," based on an idealization of modern machine culture. A Soviet critic urged musicians to pay close attention to the new rhythm of revolutionary life and create instruments to express the "thunderous sounds that herald 'the establishment of communism on earth,'" while the theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold set up a school of body motion to create a "new high-velocity man": his theory, "Biomechanics," was much influenced by the ideas of the American Frederick Winslow Taylor, the father of time-and-motion study. (Meyerhold was himself later beaten horribly before being executed.)

Under Stalin the dream of a transformed human being became a means of enforcing compliance with the norms set by the regime. The heroes of that time were the "shockworkers" who led the effort to speed up production processes. All signs of deceleration in Soviet life were suspect. A censor took issue with one sentence in a novel about kolkhoz life—"Sivka trudges slowly." "Why slowly, why not speedily, why isn't the poor horse happy along with the collective farm workers?"

With headlines such as "A New Man Is Being Born," the press insistently urged Soviet citizens to "reforge" themselves into builders of communism. Documents in Stalinism as a Way of Life confirm what we know from memoirs of the period about the enthusiasm with which very many, particularly among the young, embraced this task in the early years of Stalin's rule, joining in "purges from below" conducted through collective inquisitions and sessions of self-criticism at the workplace. A few years later, the same striving for self-purification would allow many to dispatch colleagues and relatives to the Gulag or the firing squad with a clear conscience.

The feats of "new Soviet people" were highlighted relentlessly through reports of reco`rds reached in all aspects of Soviet life, from the production of sugar beets to aviation and polar exploration—all milestones along the path of the Stalinist express.

Lev Kopelev, a Komsomol activist in the Thirties, describes the intoxicating effect on his generation of the daily totals, printed in the press, of new plants and new machinery produced:

These figures never left the pages of the newspapers, they extended across millions of posters, they shone and sparkled on walls, they covered rooftops, they sounded in songs and recitations. We knew them by heart...they meant as much to us as the names of the celebrated "stars" of movies, jazz, soccer and hockey mean to our grandchildren.... The dispassionate magnitudes of statistics—the figures for plans, returns, sums obtained—held for us some spell-binding, cabalistic Pythagorean power.[10]

This obsession with the growth of numbers reinforced the Stalinist vision of time and further diminished the value of the present, easing the transformation of young idealists into executioners. Kopelev took part in the grain procurement expeditions in the countryside that resulted in the famine of the early Thirties. It was only very much later that the terrible sights he had witnessed began to weigh on his conscience. At the time, he recalled, he saw the peasants' suffering as the result of "inexorable" circumstances. The statistics were there to prove it: the steadily rising figures of grain collected signified the victory of collectivization: "Everything seemed so pure and simple."

Over half a century after Magnitogorsk was built, the writer Veniamin Kaverin recalled a visit he made to its construction site: he was dazzled by the speed with which the factory and city were rising in the empty steppe. He also recalled being shocked by the sight of starving wives and widows of peasants deported to the area. Having seen "the direct connection between the growth of the cemetery and the growth of the steel works, I tried not to see this connection—and, it came to pass, I walked the construction with closed eyes."

To many who felt themselves hurtling along a trajectory toward the future, not only the lives of those left behind but their own present existence seemed unreal. Raisa Orlova, a dissident in the post-Stalin era, recalls that in the Thirties she and her young contemporaries led a "rough, provisional, slapdash" life which they felt was merely a preparation for the heroic achievement to come. "Faster, faster, toward the great goal, and there all would begin in a real sense."[11]

Scholars have observed that Russians interviewed about their lives in the Stalin period tend to give more prominence to public events than to personal experiences as defining moments.[12] The general emphasis on the future was reinforced by the fact that the mass media was concerned with individual humans only as instances of political processes.

Thus an entire nation was schooled in seeing its present existence as a mere staging post in the journey to the future: the only time that mattered. Nadezhda Mandelstam recalls how in the Thirties even such people as her husband and Boris Pasternak were occasionally tempted to see current reality in this way, fearing that the Revolution might pass them by if, in their shortsightedness, they "failed to notice all the great things happening before our eyes."

However, she also suggests that many of her acquaintances affirmed the rational necessity of the Terror because they could not bear to recognize its sheer arbitrariness:

"'Treachery and counterrevolution everywhere!' ...Perhaps there was an element of primitive magic in such words: what else could we do but try to ward off the evil spirits by uttering charms?"

Some stronger natures made their private protest against the growing chaos around them by parodying the official rhetoric. The irreverent Arzhilovsky confided to his diary: "I was thinking of how frantic our pace of life is, especially these days. The pendulum of our grandfather clock has thrown its traces and is racing along as though it's trying to make it to the bazaar before all the cheap potatoes sell out."

Many who lost faith in the Stalinist utopia felt themselves plunged into a random world, at the mercy of chance. Both the dream world of Stalinism and its hideous reality were equally alien to the notions of individual responsibility and moral choice. As Sheila Fitzpatrick has observed, a fatalistic skepticism, expressed in the popular expression "This too will pass [proidet]," uttered with a shrug of the shoulders, was one of the few forms of everyday resistance a Soviet citizen could permit himself in face of the latest policy pronouncement from above.[13] Thus New Soviet Man metamorphized all too easily into Homo Sovieticus, a widespread social type immortalized in Alexander Zinoviev's novel of that name: passive in the face of authority, infinitely pliable in his behavior and values, with no horizons beyond the needs of the moment, but superbly equipped with basic survival skills.

It is worth remembering that this unappetizing creature was the end product of the first attempt in the modern age to realize a Western utopia. The Soviet experiment to appropriate historical time gets a sardonic obituary in a poem by Boris Slutsky, himself once a true believer:

This is no climate for clocks.
It'll foul up their works in a week.
And time here is securely locked
as a result, take it from me.
Time, that in other realms ranges
like the wild wind in the tundra,
here sits docile, with its chain
making only a rusty grumble.
The timekeepers snore like thunder,—
they've surrendered their fateful schedules;
and the clock hands woodenly blunder,
pointing to years and centuries.
And now and then, everything
goes backwards in this micro-world.
It strikes six, and then it strikes five,
and after five it strikes four.
And nobody shouts out "Faster!"
Knowing "faster" will never work it.
The calendar-making factory
sleeps soundly; nobody will wake it.[14]


[1] See J. Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov, The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932–1939 (Yale University Press, 1999), pp. 7, 587–594.

[2]Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (University of California Press, 1995), p. 364.

[3]Boris Groys, The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship and Beyond, translated by Charles Rougle (Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 48; Abram Tertz (pseudonym of Andrei Sinyavsky), On Socialist Realism (Pantheon, 1960), p. 26.

[4] Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope: A Memoir, translated by Max Hayward (Atheneum, 1970), p. 115.

[5]Getty and Naumov, The Road to Terror, p. 557 (emphasis Bukharin's).

[6] Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain, p. 236.

[7] See Katerina Clark, The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual (Indiana University Press, third edition, 2000), pp. 36ff; Gary Saul Morson, Narrative and Freedom: The Shadows of Time (Yale University Press, 1994), pp. 57–58.

[8] Wolfgang Leonhard, Child of the Revolution, translated by C.M. Woodhouse (London: Collins, 1957), p. 81.

[9] Intimacy and Terror: Soviet Diaries of the 1930s, edited by V. Garros, N. Korenevskaya, and T. Lahusen, translated by C.A. Flath (New Press, 1995), p. 139.

[10] Lev Kopelev, The Education of a True Believer, translated by Gary Kern (Harper and Row, 1980), pp. 249–250.

[11] Raisa Orlova, Vospominaniia o neproshedshem vremeni (Ardis, 1983), p. 30.

[12] On this see Sheila Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s (Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 220–221; see also my review, "The Secret Sharer," The New York Review, May 9, 2000.

[13] Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism, p. 222.

[14] Boris Slutsky, Things that Happened, translated by G.S. Smith (Glas), pp. 267–268; see my review, "The Secret Sharer," The New York Review, May 9, 2000.