(31 August - 12 September)
As we noted in class this past week, the search for security amid the challenges posed by Eurasia’s harsh physical environment and surrounding, powerful foreign neighbors has been a recurrent theme across the more than 1,000-year history of Russian civilization. As we embark, in earnest, on our investigation into the peculiarities of Stalinist culture and civilization, it may be worth keeping in mind the following questions:
1. The Bolsheviks (Communists) seized power in 1917 intending to build a new society. What intellectual and cultural traditions contributed to their particular worldview? And what key ideological assumptions did they have regarding human behavior, economic activity (e.g. generation/distribution of wealth), and social organization?
2. Revolutionary ideas are one thing, but the new society would have to be painted on a very old canvas. Russia predated the Revolution; it did not disappear the day after. How did the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary ideas fare once they encountered Russia’s day-to-day realities?
3. The tumultuous events which unfolded in the decades that followed the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power are often characterized as the “Soviet experiment.” But the “laboratory” in which Lenin, Stalin, and other Party leaders operated was hardly a controlled environment. How did geographic, climatic, and topographical factors constrain or otherwise confound their efforts to “build” socialism?