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.. Bolshevik ideology and political culture... rejected liberal parliamentary forms, a "free market of ideas," and capitalism. That state depended on the dedication, idealism, and sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of Bolshevik cadres and Red Army soldiers, who entered the fray with enormous confidence in history's outcome and a conviction that they had a moral right to use force and terror against their opponents in order to build a socialist society.
Whether Russian men and women desired the construction of a socialist utopia mattered little. Clearly, Stalin sought to destroy the kulaks because they represented an aberration in the socialist scheme. That the Kulaks existed proved that not all Russians were industrial workers as envisioned in propaganda. Peasants would have to be transformed into the vast proletariat that the Soviet union so obviously lacked.
The theory of bureaucratic state capitalism started from the premise that the Bolshevik Party had to do in Russia what the indigenous capitalist class had been unable to do: industrialize the country and bring it into modernity. This would in turn prepare the conditions for proletarian revolution (and create a proletariat in a largely agricultural and backward land
Just as an earlier dictator of imperial blood had commanded that all Russians cut their beards and wear Western clothing - with the aim that Western manners, customs, and industry would naturally follow - the leaders of the communist revolution were determined to force the citizens of the new Soviet Union into the roles required by the ideal socialist state.
Such vast transformations of society were essential because, in the communist Soviet Union, even more than in Imperial Russia, society and economy were linked together. Communist ideology virtually demanded that only the actual productive classes - the workers in the factories, and the peasants on the land - were of any real social value. All other groups were but parasites on the social organism. In the first instance this economic and social linkage was of political value. It was their emphasis on the empowerment of the workers that enabled the Bolsheviks to gain control of the factory committees in 1917 - organizations in which they had previously enjoyed scant influence.
Nevertheless, the highly-centralized nature of the communist economic system; Stalin's forced collectivization of industry and agriculture produced a situation that was remarkably similar to the top down economic control of tsarist times. As the nobles had controlled vast estates, and the great industrialist ruled with an iron fist over Russia's factories, so too did Stalin and his communist party. The workers themselves, the supposed beneficiaries of the new reforms, had virtually no say in the new system. "The Stalinist model, with its hierarchically structured vertical information channels and chains of command, tended to maximize responsiveness of lower level administrators and managers to directives of political leaders and planners."
While driving the Soviet people forcefully ahead into the industrial age, the nation's new masters rapidly realized that their much-adored industrial system did not operate especially effectively under a system of soviets and other committees. Too much talk of the "equality of all workers" might yield a society that was, in fact, genuinely egalitarian, and egalitarianism does not work well in an industrial economy. "For the first time a socialist state was forced to face up to the problem that egalitarianism in an industrial society tends to undermine labor productivity."
The drive to replace the old agrarian and only slowly industrializing Russia, with a new workers' utopia of shining, humming factories virtually guaranteed that the Soviet economy remained like the economy it had replaced - a vast, unwieldy operation in the hands of the few. In fact, under Stalin, the centralization reached a level unimaginable under even the former autocratic regime. Private property had given way to total state control.
Culture, too, was greatly affected by both Imperial Russia's, and the Communist Soviet Union's, stringent attempts to impose orthodoxy of thought and view point. Under the Tsars, much public art and architecture, including such grand project as the Imperial capital of St. Petersburg, were designed to show of the might and majesty of the nation's rulers. Under the Communists, art and architecture also served to highlight the achievements of the Soviet system. Art quickly came within the purview of the Bolshevik administration, as the fledgling Soviet Union's leaders recognized the propaganda value inherent in any kind of visual display. As well, it was seen as important that the socialist order lay claim to the Russia's extant artistic and cultural treasures, redefining them as necessary and fitting them into the scheme of things to come. The Bolsheviks quickly established the Commissariat for Enlightenment entrusted with education and culture.
The name alone speaks volumes about the purpose of art, architecture, literature, and other previously "bourgeois" fields. The existing cadre of artists, artisans, architects, writers, dramatists, and filmmakers would have to be co-opted to create an artistic style that would not only suit, but advertise, the proletarian utopia to the world. This required the asking of profound questions:
What was revolutionary art? What relationship should exist between art and the new state, between art and the Bolshevik party? Was avant-garde art inherently "bourgeois" in fact, or did it represent the emergence of an alternative and potentially "revolutionary" outlook? Could proletarian art itself be created only by authentic workers, or could it also be produced by artists who embraced a proletarian world view?
On a fundamental level, culture could be joined to economics. Culture in the form of a new and more luxuriant lifestyle could be employed as a means of winning over the masses to the virtues of socialism. The material benefits of industrialism would literally be brought home to the Soviet Union's impoverished and oppressed millions:
In order to achieve a socialist society in which workers and peasants enjoyed the material and cultural benefits of urban, industrial society and had access to a wonderful world of goods previously unavailable to members of their socioeconomic class, the state was obliged to create places where workers and peasants not simply purchased basic items, but even "shopped" for them and dreamed and fantasized about them. In short, a consumer culture that emphasized the status of the working classes as beneficiaries of modern society had to be constructed.
The state department store, GUMM, would provide former peasants and oppressed factory workers with the mundane benefits of the new society. They would be the equal of other peoples in advanced countries around the world, though ostensibly without any of the negatives of a true capitalist society. The Soviet people and state, within the space of only a few years, would show the rest of humanity what could be achieved by a nation free of class differences and with an economy that evenly distributed resources. Luxury would no longer be the domain of the few, but be open to all. Progress and modernity, too, would be the joint possession of an entire people. Gigantic new skyscrapers made plain the success of a people who "worked together." Vast apartment blocks housed the working masses and stood as testaments to Stalin's ability to provide modern housing to the Soviet people. Nonetheless, the sameness and propagandizing of communist-approved art and architecture was oppressive in the insistence of its message. To an even greater extent than the gargantuan and unending colonnades of St. Petersburg, these creations were drab additions to the Soviet scene.
Giant posters advertised socialist ideas, and Stalin's image as atheistic savior was displayed everywhere. As under the Tsars, writers and dramatists found true greatness, and international celebrity, by criticizing the regime. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and others like him, were incarnations of men like Checkhov and Pushkin, who had criticized the shortcomings and inequities of the Tsarist world.
Russia is an excellent example of a nation that suffered through the blood and destruction of revolution, and yet, emerged unchanged on fundamental levels. The basic principles of Russian autocracy remained self-evident under communist rulers like Stalin. Tsarist society, with its largely immobile masses, held in thrall by the power of the state, continued to exist in the form of the voiceless workers of Communist times. The collectivized economy, and top down economic control of the Imperial period had its counterpart in the collective farms and five-year-plans of the Soviet communist party dictators. Culture too, conformed to the same patterns of state-endorsed propaganda and accepted forms, set against the rebellion of individuals. Crane Brinton's theory on Revolution applies to Russia as it applies to so many other places and times, showing as it does, the difficulties, and near-impossibilities of completely transforming a nation in a short period of time.
Bonnell, Victorio E. "12 the Iconography of the Worker in Soviet Political Art." Making Workers Soviet: Power, Class, and Identity. Ed. Lewis H. Siegelbaum and Ronald Grigor Suny. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994. 341-375.
Dowlah, Alex F., and John E. Elliot.…[continue]
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