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  • Ideological Ballast and New Directions in Soviet History
  • David L. Hoffmann (bio)

While reading the preceding commentaries, I became aware that the commentators misunderstood the basic purpose of my article. I would like to take this opportunity not to refute their statements or engage in polemics but rather to clarify the article's purpose and suggest a more productive approach to the study of Soviet history.

My intention was not to argue whether or not the Soviet system was "socialist." Such an assessment would depend on one's definition of socialism; and as I pointed out, there have been other socialist projects that bore little resemblance to the Soviet system. (I certainly do not believe that, to quote Matthew Lenoe's attempt to paraphrase my argument, "if Stalin calls it socialism, it must be socialism" [725].) The purpose of my article was to re-examine one of the ways that Stalinism has been conceptualized and periodized—namely, that Stalinism (at least from 1934 on, according to Timasheff) marked a conscious ideological retreat by Soviet leaders. I rejected this view and argued that the striking changes in Stalinist culture of the mid-1930s resulted instead from Soviet leaders' proclamation at the 17th Party Congress that they had built socialism and reached a new stage in world history.

Scholars may disagree as to whether or not Stalin and his fellow leaders actually believed their ideological proclamations, and it is on this point that the commentators and I differ. Evgeny Dobrenko states that "for the Bolsheviks, and above all for Stalin, ideology was only a tool" (675). Jeffrey Brooks asks skeptically, "did Stalin and his inner circle actually wish 'to transform human nature,' and if so, one may ask from what to what?" (718). Lenoe also doubts "the continued seriousness of the socialist project under Stalin" (726), in particular the Soviet authorities' commitment to the creation of the New Soviet Person. My research in former party archives has convinced me that Soviet leaders indeed took ideology seriously and that they endeavored, albeit unsuccessfully, to create the New Soviet Person—a person whose values and ways of thinking were to be qualitatively different from those who [End Page 731] lived under capitalism, a person free of egotism who was ready to sacrifice personal interests for the sake of the collective.

To argue that ideology was more than a tool to Soviet leaders is not to pass judgment on whether the Soviet system was in any ideal sense "socialist." We may demonstrate that Soviet leaders' worldview was informed by Marxist-Leninist ideology; that their categories of class analysis derived from Marxism; and that their policies, from the collectivization of agriculture to the outlawing of free trade and the establishment of a state-run economy, were consciously anti-capitalist and yet still refrain from proclaiming the Soviet system "socialist." Depending on one's definition of socialism, one could just as easily see the Soviet system's inequality as evidence that it was not "socialist." In short, I believe that ideology is crucial to understanding Soviet leaders and their policies, but I do not feel a need to rehash Cold War debates over whether the Soviet system was in fact "socialist."

A reconceptualization of Soviet history in the post-Cold War era requires that we move beyond debates that reified socialism. It also requires that we set aside models such as Timasheff's that portray Stalinism as a return to traditional Russian ways. The approach that I have proposed sees the Soviet system as one particular response to the ambitions and challenges of the modern era.1 In countries throughout modern Europe, political leaders and social reformers aspired to solve social problems and rationalize everyday life through the inculcation of new cultural norms. Soviet norms of efficiency, hygiene, sobriety, and literacy all reflected this more general ambition to establish a rationalized and aestheticized social order. Soviet norms regarding reproduction and the family similarly reflected the need of modern states to foster large, healthy populations for industrial labor and mass warfare. Stalinist culture also resembled the culture of other European states in the interwar period in that it incorporated elements of folklore and traditional symbols—not to revive...


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