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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 3.2 (2002) 356-361

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Ideologicheskie komissii TsK KPSS, 1958-1964: Dokumenty

E. S. Afanas´eva, Vitalii Iur´evich Afiani, L. A. Velichanskaia, Zoia Konstantinovna Vodop´ianova, and E. V. Kochubei, eds., Ideologicheskie komissii TsK KPSS, 1958-1964: Dokumenty. Seriia "Kul´tura i vlast´ ot Stalina do Gorbacheva. Dokumenty." Moscow: ROSSPEN, 1998. 552 pp. ISBN 5-8243-0004-6.

Several years after being ousted from the Kremlin, Nikita Khrushchev recalled the precariousness of the Thaw in his memoirs. "We were scared - really scared," he observed. "We were afraid the thaw might unleash a flood, which we wouldn't be able to control and which would drown us." 1 Lacking Khrushchev's intimate knowledge of the cultural politics of the era, a handful of scholars have struggled since the late 1950s to make sense of the Thaw by using thick journals, newspapers, and autobiographical accounts. 2 Over the last ten years, a steady stream of archival revelations has enriched this body of literature, but compared to the recent work on the 1920s and 1930s, this archival "gold rush" has been distinctly modest. 3 The vast majority of high party and state materials from the post-Stalin period have not yet been declassified, and phenomena as critical as the inner dynamics of the Thaw remain obscure. 4 Happily, the present [End Page 356] anthology, Ideologicheskie komissii TsK KPSS, 1958-1964, provides historians with one of the first published windows into the central party archives of the post-Stalin period. 5 The book is remarkable for its illumination of the everyday activities of the cultural apparat during the Thaw, and its portrayal of a society which, from the official standpoint, was rapidly spinning out of control.

Ideologicheskie komissii is the first installment in the documentary series "Culture and Power from Stalin to Gorbachev." 6 It was published under the auspices of the Iurii Lotman Institute of Russian and Soviet Culture at Ruhr-Universität in Bochum, Germany, and the Russian State Archive of Recent History (RGANI) in Moscow, the chief repository for Central Committee materials from the post-Stalin period. The book is comprised of 41 resolutions, four stenographic reports, two memoranda, and a host of supporting materials which, as the title suggests, originated in the two Central Committee organizations that were labeled ideological commissions during the latter half of the Khrushchev period. The first, the Commission on Issues of Ideology, Culture, and International Party Relations, was created in January 1958 under the chairmanship of Mikhail Suslov, and was staffed by several members and candidate members of the Presidium (Politburo). Its successor, the Ideological Commission, was created five years later under the chairmanship of Leonid Il´ichev, and was staffed by a handful of lower-level bureaucrats from the cultural apparat. The documents of both commissions are introduced in two separate essays by the German historian Karl Eimermacher, who describes the political and cultural highlights of the Thaw, and the Russian historian Vitalii Afiani, who examines the administrative implications of the commissions' work.

The formation of the first Ideological Commission in January 1958 was emblematic of a critical turning point in the Thaw - the intensification of efforts in the months following the uprisings in Poland and Hungary to reassert the [End Page 357] supremacy of the Party in the cultural sphere, and thereby halt the "disintegration" of the "Stalinist model of culture." According to Eimermacher, the initial phase of the Thaw was characterized by a steady erosion of the Party's role in the cultural sphere. Between 1953 and 1957, the Party ceased to be the architect of the Soviet culture, what Eimermacher calls its "intellectual center," and became instead an inconsistent watchdog, responding in an ad hoc manner to the initiatives of the creative intelligentsia (7). This development is central to Eimermacher's understanding of the role of both commissions during the remainder of the Khrushchev period, as the Party struggled to subdue the "art for art's sake" ethic that was central to the Thaw:

The underlying problems in...


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