The period of the 1930s in the Soviet Union is one of the most controversial historical eras which consequences and results influenced the further development of the country. This period is associated with the figure of the CPSU leader Iosif Stalin and with the Great Terror and a lot of repressions.
In 1935, Iosif Stalin stated that “life has become more joyous”. Was the life of the Soviet Union’s citizens really ‘joyous’ and happy as Iosif Stalin was inclined to depict it in his speech? What concepts could make the life of these people happier? The questions are rather controversial because the answers to them depend on the strict opposition between the representation of the social life’s peculiarities in the Soviet Union and the real facts and actual social, economic, and political processes which affected the life of the masses.
Is it possible to speak about the ‘joyous’ life when the thousands of people have to spend their days in the camps because of their viewpoints, interactions or ethnicity?
Although the leaders of the Soviet Union were inclined to present the development of the country as associated with a lot of achievements in different spheres of the economic and social life which could make the welfare of the ordinary people higher, the real situation with the facts of the public’s starvation, the expansion of the practice of repressions and terror, and discrimination was rather opposite to the leaders’ declarations.
The life of the residents in the Soviet Union during the 1930s was based on the development and effects of such processes as collectivization and industrialization, the main accents were made on the equality of workers and their hard labor which often could be discussed even as heroic.
Thus, the idea of the extra labor with high effects developed, and the famous declaration about the ‘joyous’ life of the citizens of the country was made at the conference of stakhanovites. It could seem that workers in the Soviet Union were satisfied with their position in society because the idea of the revolution provided by the Bolsheviks in 1917 was based on the principles of the workers’ equality and solidarity.
The ideals of the revolution made the fundament of the society in the Soviet Union where ordinary people and the working class formed the basics of the social hierarchy. In his book Notes of Red Guard, Eduard Dune pays attention to the fact that the ideals of the revolution were close to young workers who wanted to live happier and get the proper payment for their work. Workers were powerful in their feeling of solidarity and following the values of collectivity1.
From this point, in spite of the fact the processes of collectivization and industrialization, and the starvation of the 1930s brought a lot of victims, workers and ordinary people still believed in their prosperous future. However, the real numbers connected with the sphere of economy emphasized the fact that all the economic reforms provided in the country were beneficial only from the global perspective of increasing the level of the country’s competitiveness, but the real economic state of the ordinary people could not be discussed as satisfied. Concentrating on the ideological principles and following the ideals of collectivity and solidarity, the working class of the Soviet Union was persistent in realizing their social obligations.
It is possible to discuss the processes in the Soviet Union during the 1930s from many points. The economic state of workers in the country was comparable only with the situation of the people in villages. That social class which was declared by the Communist leaders as the main for providing the dictatorship of the proletariat in realizing the ideals of the revolution held almost the lowest position in society according to the economic resources.
The life of the ordinary people in the Soviet Union did not become better, but it was even worse than earlier. A lot of products were not available for workers or they cost much, the conditions of the work were hazardous, there were obvious problems with housing, the rural territories suffered from the effects of collectivization and starvation.
The material state of workers was not improved, and the development of the Stakhanov movement could not be discussed as the evidence for the fact of its improvement as it was stated by Iosif Stalin in his speech. Eduard Dune accentuates that the success of the workers’ labor was always based on their high level of morality, solidarity, and even heroism. These virtues were not caused by the changes in the economic state, but were just characteristic for the representatives of the proletariat2.
When the workers presented the examples of the heroic labor, the intelligentsia suffered from repressions. The Great Terror of the 1930s was directed against those persons who could prevent the expansion of the positive image of the Soviet Union and its Communist ideology. The threats to the regime could be found in any word written or spoken and in any action. That is why the representatives of the intelligentsia could suffer from their origin as well as from expressing their viewpoints about the totalitarian regime openly.
During the period when the life should become better and ‘joyous’, a lot of people were oppressed because of their points of view and occupations and were taken to the camps. Thus, Eugenia Ginzburg spent much time in the Gulag and presented her memories in “Journey into the Whirlwind”. In spite of the fact Ginzburg was devoted to the ideals of the Communist Party, she became the victim of the great movement of suspicion3.
Each person from the intelligentsia and even those workers who could say a word against the authority became the victims of repressions. In this case, the main task of the prisoner was to survive. In her memoir, Eugenia Ginzburg states, “I intended to survive. Just to spite them. I was consumed by the desire to survive the tragedy which had befallen our Party”4. The majority of those people who became the prisoners of the Gulag believed in the ideals of Communist Party as they were presented at the earliest stage of its development. However, the results of building Socialism in the Soviet Union were dissatisfied. Thus, terror and repressions were the opposite side of the processes which should bring the positive effects for the people in the Soviet Union.
It is possible to conclude that in spite of Iosif Stalin’s declaration that the life of the workers and ordinary people in the Soviet Union became joyous, there was not the factual evidence for these words.
The heroism of the workers, the Stakhanov movement, and the active industrialization were the results of the people’s devotion to the ideals of the Communist Party, collectivity and solidarity, but not the consequences of the effective policy. The opposite side of the process was the Great Terror and repressions which broke the lives of the thousands of people in the Soviet Union during the 1930s.
Dune, Eduard. Notes of a Red Guard. USA: University of Illinois Press, 1993.
Ginzburg, Eugenia. Journey into the Whirlwind. USA: Mariner Books, 2002.
1 Eduard Dune, Notes of a Red Guard (USA: University of Illinois Press, 1993).
2 Eduard Dune, Notes of a Red Guard.
3 Eugenia Ginzburg, Journey into the Whirlwind (USA: Mariner Books, 2002).
4 Eugenia Ginzburg, Journey into the Whirlwind, 175.