- Workers, Revolution, and Stalinism
Larisa Vladimirovna Borisova, Trudovye otnosheniia v sovetskoi Rossii (1918–1924 gg.) (Labor Relations in Soviet Russia [1918–24]). 286 pp., index. Moscow: Sobranie, 2006. ISBN 5960600250.
B. N. Kazantsev and A. N. Sakharov, Trudovye konflikty v SSSR, 1930–1991: Sbornik statei i dokumentov (Labor Conflicts in the USSR, 1930–91: A Collection of Articles and Documents). 445 pp. Moscow: Institut rossiiskoi istorii RAN, 2006. ISBN 5805501635.
Kevin Murphy, Revolution and Counterrevolution: Class Struggle in a Moscow Metal Factory. xi + 248 pp. New York: Berghahn Books, 2005. ISBN-13 978-1571814296, $75.00 (cloth). Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2007. ISBN-13 978-1931859509, $20.00 (paper).
In a 1998 review essay, I wrote that histories of the working class would no longer hold as prominent a place in Soviet historiography as these kinds of studies did in the 1970s and 1980s.1 There was some truth in that prediction. From the late 1960s through the mid-1990s, the Russian and Soviet "working class" was the object of much scholarly attention in Cold War debates about the nature of the Soviet regime. In the view of many social historians, the Soviet working population was the key social stratum that brought the Bolsheviks to power and lent support to the regime in its effort to build socialism.2 On the other side was the view that the Bolshevik [End Page 227] regime suppressed a democratic revolution and manipulated the Soviet population for the sake of building a dictatorial power state. The issue of social support for the Soviet regime divided many professional forums and seemed a built-in feature of the historiographic landscape.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War did not so much resolve these debates as make them less relevant to public intellectual discourse. The Soviet Union was gone, and the question of social participation in state communism became a moot point among all but specialists in micro-fields of the emerging field of Eurasian history. At the same time, methodological shifts in the history profession coincided with the collapse of state communism in the early 1990s to bring new research agendas to the fore. New studies questioned the concept of "class," defined in the structural terms of economic relations, and sought for more complex ways to understand social identity.3 Some scholars deconstructed the idea of identity all the way to the level of individual consciousness and biography.4 The opening of archives led to an explosion of interest in new subjects of research. Nationality studies began to supplant class as a major focus of scholarly interest, and historians pushed beyond the interwar era to explore topics in the post–World War II and post-Stalin periods.
Good historical work may not always be fashionable, but it is never out of date, and this is as true of working-class history as of research in any field. Thus, it is not surprising that, in the decade since I wrote my review essay, numerous books have appeared on the Soviet working population. Like many books in the Russian and Soviet field, these working-class histories have been infused with new sensibilities and invigorated by unprecedented access to archive materials. In his 2001 study of the Turksib railway, for example, Matthew Payne complicated ideas of class to include multifaceted forms of identity, including ethnicity. Under conditions of harsh scarcity and near convict-type labor discipline, Payne shows how workers responded in [End Page 228] contradictory ways to Soviet authority and to one another, the latter often...