Journal of Interdisciplinary History 32.2 (2001) 310-311
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Youth in Revolutionary Russia:
Enthusiasts, Bohemians, Delinquents
Youth in Revolutionary Russia: Enthusiasts, Bohemians, Delinquents. By Anne E. Gorsuch (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2000) 242pp. $35.00
In this well-researched, sophisticated monograph, Gorsuch explores the cultural lives of Soviet urban youth during the New Economic Policy (nep). Explained by Soviet leadership as a strategic retreat in the effort to build a socialist society, the nep was a period of social and economic relaxation bounded by the end of the Russian Civil War in 1921 and the onset of rapid industrialization during the late 1920s. Previous scholarship on the history of Soviet youth has concentrated on the institutional history of the Communist Youth League (Komsomol), students, and working-class youth. Gorsuch builds on this work by providing a fuller picture of the cultural life of Komsomol "enthusiasts." More distinctively, she delves into alternative youth cultures, as exemplified by "bohemian" flappers and "delinquent" homeless youth.
Although Gorsuch views some Komsomol youth as eager to support the tenets of Bolshevik culture, she argues persuasively that young enthusiasts were most attracted to the culture of the civil war period: heroic, militant, and masculine. For them, the nep made too many compromises with the revolution's enemies and showed that adults had failed to follow through on revolutionary aims. This segment of youth showed support of revolutionary ideals through their disdain for manners and nice clothes, though Bolshevik moralists continued to prefer the comportment of the "cultured" worker, who did not dress "'like a slob'" (89).
Flappers challenged communist norms through their adoption of prerevolutionary aristocratic manners, their enthusiasm for the sexually suggestive foxtrot, and their attraction to certain aspects of Western and "primitive" cultures. Gorsuch acknowledges that some flappers consciously intended to signal their opposition to revolution, but she maintains that others simply wanted to appear urbane and modern. Adult moralists thus saw danger when little youthful threat was intended.
A third youth culture--that of "delinquents"--was a real source of purposeful insubordination. Displaced by revolutionary upheavals, homeless youth carved out a life of freedom on the street, rejecting the "help" available to them in public homes.
Gorsuch intertwines her analysis of youth cultures with insightful explorations into symbolic meanings of "adolescence." In the 1920s, she argues, the older generation of Bolsheviks attributed certain characteristics [End Page 310] --exuberance, destruction, and disrespect--both to youth and to the earlier experience of revolution and civil war. On the other hand, nep was equated with responsibility and patience, characteristics generally associated with "adulthood." In part, then, the termination of the nep and the adoption of rapid industrialization at the end of the 1920s represent the leadership's reassertion of parental authority--their attempt to move a revolutionary society decidedly from adolescence into adulthood.
Although Gorsuch's assertions that homeless youth presented the greatest challenge to Bolshevik hegemony and that the 1930s symbolized revolutionary maturity are debatable, her arguments are always cogent, subtle, and conducive to scholarly inquiry. Well versed in sociological and historical literature on youth and popular culture, Gorsuch successfully links her work to a broader scholarship in the West. She is also successful in her application of gender analysis and in delineating the differing experiences of young men and young women. This impressive book is the result of prodigious research, including exploration of previously untapped archives, sociological studies, newspapers, and visual sources.
Laura L. Phillips
Eastern Washington University