- Lenin's CohortThe First Mass Generation of Soviet Pensioners and Public Activism in the Khrushchev Era
I tell you, it is difficult to leave the whirlwind of life when it has become the norm of life. That is why, when I was retiring, I wanted to find an activity that would make my heart ache and not let it rest. I am happy that I have found such an activity. The work at the city women's soviet has given me the opportunity to continue my public and political activities, use the knowledge and skills I have accumulated over the years, stay in touch with the school and teachers and work with children. I want to pass on my experience, love for public work, and the baton of labor to our fine youth. I assure our oblast and city party committees that as long as my health does not fail me, I will work with a pioneer spark and Komsomol fervor, adding my little brick to the majestic building of communism.1
This quotation comes from a 1961 retirement speech made by Tat´iana Evgenievna Ivanova—an educator, a party member, and the head of the newly established women's soviet in the provincial city of Perm´. Born in 1899 in the small town of Shadrinsk in the Urals, Ivanova started teaching in 1916. After spending most of her life as an educator within the Sverdlovsk railway system, she became the deputy head of the Perm´ oblast Institute for Teachers' Improvement. As a representative of teachers in the Ural region, she met with the first Soviet people's commissar of education, Anatolii Lunacharskii, and the Soviet Union's deputy minister of education, Nadezhda Krupskaia, [End Page 573] Lenin's widow. For her outstanding contribution to the people's education, Ivanova was awarded an Order of the Badge of Honor (1945), Order of the Red Banner of Labor (1949), and Order of Lenin (1952). Her public career was equally impressive. In 1927, she was elected to the Sverdlovsk city soviet, where she headed the section on public education for ten years. From 1950 to 1951, she served as a deputy and member of the executive committee of the Molotov oblast Soviet of Workers' Deputies and then on the Molotov oblast party committee (1951–53).
Tat´iana Ivanova was an exemplary laborer, activist, and Bolshevik. As her sister, Vera Ivanova, noted in her unpublished biography "Zhizn´ otdannaia liudiam" (Life Given to the People), in the eyes of her contemporaries, Tat´iana was one of those "people of Lenin's cohort."2 The term "Lenin's cohort" was a rendition of the earlier trope of the "iron cohort," which since the 1920s had referred to the Old Bolsheviks who joined the party before 1917.3 It was used to emphasize one's closeness to Vladimir Lenin as well as membership in the same revolutionary generation.4 Tat´iana Ivanova was by no means an Old Bolshevik, but in the 1960s her participation in the building of the Soviet state and dedication to Lenin's cause made her worthy of symbolic membership in the chosen cohort.
Tat´iana Ivanova was one of thousands of Soviet pensioners who had been actively involved in the Bolshevik project since the early days of the Soviet state as professionals, administrators, and party and public activists.5 Nikita Khrushchev's introduction of an old age pension system for workers and employees in 1956 allowed them to retire from their full-time jobs but continue their service to the country and the Party in numerous public organizations: pensioners' soviets or women's soviets, people's guards or people's courts, housing committees or veteran organizations.6 As we argue in this article, these people—pensioners with lifelong experience in leadership and [End Page 574] activism—took the lead in Khrushchev's mobilization campaign and to a significant degree shaped the Khrushchev era.
Historians of late socialism have effectively employed a generational lens to examine late Soviet society, using "generation" both as an analytical tool and as a metaphor. These scholars see the last decades of the Soviet state through the eyes of...