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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 7.3 (2006) 529-556

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The Civic Duty to Hate

Stalinist Citizenship as Political Practice and Civic Emotion (Kiev, 1943–53)

Dept. of History/Dept. of Germanic and Russian Studies
University of Victoria
P. O. Box 3045
Victoria, BC V8W 3P4

In contrast to traditional scholarship that views citizenship as a status of a certain category of persons, present-day scholars understand it as a set of institutionally embedded political, social, and cultural practices that define a person as a member of a polity.1 It seems that Stalinist ideologues shared this postmodernist understanding. While the issue of disenfranchisement remained of some importance until 1936, concern with a person's civic status was not among mature Stalinism's main worries.2 In this article, I argue that the Stalinist state understood citizenship as practice, with participation in a set of political rituals and public display of certain "civic emotions" being the marker of a person's inclusion in the political world.

What role did political rituals and civic emotions—such as love for the Motherland and the Great Leader—play in the relationship between the Soviet state and its citizens? In his influential work on Stalinism, Stephen Kotkin attempts to overcome the simplistic state–society dichotomy by arguing that power operated through language. Ordinary people assumed state-prescribed [End Page 529] identity primarily by "speaking Bolshevik," and learning the art of this "identity game" was essential for social advancement or mere survival. Kotkin goes as far as to claim that it is irrelevant whether those speaking Bolshevik believed in what they were saying—the important point is that they knew what language they were supposed to speak.3 A group of talented young scholars has taken Kotkin's analysis a step further. They argue that while the rules of "speaking Bolshevik" were determined and enforced by the state, Soviet people appropriated them and conceptualized the Stalinist political order in terms of official ideology.4 These contributions address the issue of individual belief and agency under Stalin, but they move away from Kotkin's fascinating conundrum of why the issue of belief seems irrelevant.

Going back to this unresolved issue, I propose to bring the state back into the picture as an agency constantly educating and monitoring the political allegiance of its citizenry. The Bolshevik state's professed aim was to create a new Soviet person, or what modern scholars call an "inner Soviet self." But if today's students of Stalinism search for manifestations of this Soviet self in diaries and private correspondence, contemporary authorities could verify citizens' beliefs and allegiances only through their participation in state-approved political and social practices. Personal belief thus was not exactly irrelevant for the state—certainly not in theory—but rather difficult to assess outside the public domain. Hence the state's attention to mass political rituals and its requirement for people to speak up at innumerable meetings. By marching, signing letters of gratitude, and expressing public approval of the Party's policies, ordinary citizens presumably expressed their sincere support of the Bolshevik agenda. Kotkin's interpreters are right in saying that many Soviet citizens, perhaps even most, to some degree internalized the official ideology. But just like today's researchers, the machinery of the Stalinist state could only make assumptions about what its citizens really thought. Hence the "irrelevance" of belief in Kotkin's provocative formulation. All that the bureaucrats could really ascertain was mass participation in political rituals.5 [End Page 530]

The Party's ideological functionaries, however, insisted on a certain form of participation. Since they expected the population to fully internalize the official ideology, they also called for emotional responses to political events. The obligatory "civic emotions" of Stalin's time are relatively easy to gauge by perusing contemporary newspapers. The two obvious candidates are love and gratitude—love for the Motherland and Stalin, and gratitude to Stalin and the Soviet state for their "gift...