Archiving Heteroglossia: Writing Reports and Controlling Mass Culture under Stalin
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Working quietly in private during 1934–35, as the Soviet people were toiling to meet the targets of the Second Five Year Plan, celebrating Stalin the Great Leader, and condemning “enemies of the people,” Mikhail Bakhtin was developing the concept of heteroglossia (raznorechie or raznogolositsa). The Russian philosopher of language understood heteroglossia as a polyphony of social and discursive forces, a diversity of social speech types that occur in everyday life. According to him, the genre of the novel is best suited for delivering the realities of heteroglossia because it allows for a network of dialogic , interactive relations among multiple voices in the text. In other words, the novel displays the variety of discourses , the knowledge of which other genres seek to suppress . Bakhtin contrasts this “centrifugal” force of heteroglossia with the centralizing drive of what he calls “unitary language,” which aims to “unify and centralize the verbal-ideological front.” To explain his idea of unitary language, Bakhtin refers to the historical incorporation of lower classes into modern high culture, the birth of modern philology, and the emergence of national languages .1 But, as is often the case with Bakhtin, the reader is left with a strong suspicion that the philosopher was actually analyzing the society he lived in. It is signiacant that Bakhtin developed his theories of dialogism and heteroglossia in the Stalinist Soviet Union. His famous notion that all texts are organized as a “dialogue ” that takes account of their perception of a given society implicitly undermined the Stalinist quest for ideological uniformity. Much of Bakhtin’s work celebrated unofacial resistance to authoritarian discourses by stressing that meanings cannot be axed and made absolute and suggesting the impossibility of achieving total order and stability in language—and ideology. By the same token, was not Bakhtin’s opposition of heteroglossia and unitary language yet another implicit comment on the social realities and ideological claims of the Stalinist era? Using the Ukrainian republic as a case study, in this essay I will analyze two very different aelds of Stalinist culture—bureaucratic report-writing and supervision of mass culture—as rebecting an ideological unitary language ’s frustrating struggle against heteroglossia. In so doing, I will look at Stalinist archiving as a cultural and political practice and approach it from the point of view of a historian whose primary research interest is in postwar Ukrainian culture. “Speaking Bolshevik” or Writing in Archivese? The opening of former Soviet archives has allowed scholars to advance in their search for intermediate spaces between the society “below” and the Stalinist authorities “above.” Sheila Fitzpatrick, while implying a certain separation between state and society, has singled out such important channels of communication as denunciations and writing letters to political leaders and newspapers, both characterized by particular tropes, rhetorical styles, and modes of self-representation.2 Stephen Kotkin has looked instead into the discursive practices uniting the two and argued that the Stalinist system functioned as a set of rules. Although enforced by the state, these rules 459 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ Archiving Heteroglossia Writing Reports and Controlling Mass Culture under Stalin Serhy Yekelchyk ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ were appropriated and used by individuals who, in order to survive and succeed in Stalinist society, had to learn to “speak Bolshevik” in order to participate in the Soviet “identity game.”3 A group of younger scholars took his argument a step further by claiming that the population did not just “speak Bolshevik” in public but that this discourse was widely internalized.4 The more decisive problem looming large behind this discussion is that of the nature of the Stalinist subject and the possibility of self-conscious ideological resistance under Stalinism. But much of the recent theorizing on this issue overlooks the question of our access to past social and cultural practices. For example, one of Kotkin ’s most important case studies (and the one particularly hailed by those developing his ideas in the direction of an internalized Stalinist discourse) is a letter from Anna Kovaleva, the wife of the best locomotive driver in a factory, to Marfa Gudzia, the wife of the worst. In her letter, Anna asks Marfa to make her husband work harder and become a shock-worker. Igal Halan and Jochen Hellbeck suggest that “[t]his non-ofacial document reveals how Soviet power permeated society” and “to what extent individuals were willing to monitor one another to ensure the enforcement of the Stalinist identity blueprint.” Kotkin’s own interpretation is more open in proposing that it is of little relevance whether Anna believed in...