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Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s First Edition Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195050004
ISBN-10: 0195050002
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Most popular books about the Stalin era feature the big names and a firm narrative shape: Robert Conquest's The Great Terror; Alan Bullock's Hitler and Stalin. Some books yield their revelations at a glance, like the stunning The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia.

But scholar Sheila Fitzpatrick is famous for letting the common people and the facts speak for themselves, in all their complexity. Her new book on Soviet life in the 1930s--based on research in newly opened archives--does for urbanites what her Heldt Prizewinning Stalin's Peasants did for rural victims. The many witnesses in this fascinating horror story cast doubt on Stalin's notorious 1935 slogan "Life has become better, comrades; life has become more cheerful."

A comment made by a victim of Ivan the Terrible would be more apt: "We Russians don't need to eat; we eat one another and this satisfies us." Famine, caused by bad weather and worse policies, plagued the decade, and life became a chronic struggle to wrest crumbs from an incompetent bureaucracy. Stalin's sly methods of deflecting blame from the state onto allegedly disloyal citizens provoked orgies of denunciation (which could backfire on denouncers). A mad starch factory director forbade comrades to get shaves or haircuts at home--it would have been disloyal to the factory's hairdresser. One kid, Pavlik Morozov, reported his father for grain hoarding in 1937, was murdered by relatives, and became a national hero to kids. Andrei Sakharov's future spouse Elena Bonner was shocked at her 9-year-old brother's response to his father's arrest: "Look what these enemies of the people are like--some of them even pretend to be fathers." The celebrated Moscow Children's Theater put on The Squealer, a drama strikingly like Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront.

Fitzpatrick gives a sense of what it really was like to live under the satanic circus master Stalin: it was beyond Kafka, and it was bloody hard work. --Tim Appelo

From Publishers Weekly

In a parallel to her 1994 Stalin's Peasants, a textured study of life in the countryside, Fitzpatrick, a University of Chicago historian known for her writing on social and cultural history, addresses the trials and tribulations of urban life in Stalin's Soviet Union. Based on archives and interviews, her newest fleshes out our general knowledge of the hardship Russians endured under Stalin. Not only did people gravitate blindly to queues, but the few goods available, such as shoes, were terribly made. In poorly equipped, cramped communal apartments, residents hung sacks of food out of the windows for space and preservation. The transformative spirit went well beyond propaganda: men dropped peasant names for more modern identifiers (Frol for Vladimir). The totalitarian state was so imposing that many people blamed Soviet power in their suicide notes. But citizens had their strategies to counter the oppression, among them blat (which translates as pull, influence or, under the Soviets, thievery) and subversive jokes that twisted Soviet slogans?for, as Fitzpatrick concludes, "Homo sovieticus was a string puller, an operator... a survivor." While she notes that the Great Purges of 1937-1938 could be endured but not explained, she cites the state's manipulation of patriotism and its provision of welfare as reasons for Soviet citizens' acceptance of their government. Fitzpatrick's absorbing study provides solid details for the general and student reader and lays the groundwork for future research.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (March 4, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195050002
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195050004
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,020,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sheila Fitzpatrick is Bernadotte E. Schmitt Professor of Modern Russian History at the University of Chicago. A past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies and a co-editor of The Journal of Modern History, she is the author of many other books and articles about Russia. She lives in Chicago and Washington, DC.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I've read several dozen works on the Soviet era between the October revolution and the Second World War, from Pipes to Conquest and including Solzeynitsin's "Gulag" trilogy. While Solzeynitsin focused on the impact of those who were swept up in the great terror of the '30s, "Everyday Stalinism" looks at the impact on the average individual's daily life in the cities of the USSR.
Unlike the Pipes/Conquest terror-as-a-psychopathic-spasm-and-if-you-don't-believe-that-you're-a-revisionist school, Fitzpatrick is more focused on Stalinism at the common level. How it was maintained and what its effects were.
And, surprisingly, many people supported or benefited from it by filling the spaces of those "liquidated" or informing and denouncing rivals in love or work. The real fear wasn't always the KGB at 4am but a neighbor or acquaintance at work. The sad truth is that many were co-opted by the system and worked within it to support the party.
Addressed is the commonly held belief then that no matter what you may have done since the revolution, if you had been born into an "enemy class" then you were in a sense marked for life. The commoness of this view is highlighted in Fitzpatricks account. the irony of this is that those who rose up to replace the liquidated were themselves given bourgeois rewards.
Fitzpatrick does excellent work in guiding the reader throught the beauracratic, social and economic difficulties of the average Soviet citizen. Well researched and well written this can be read as an introduction to the era or especially as a valuable look at Stalinism from the perspective of the urban "masses".
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Format: Paperback
Written by one of the most respected scholars of the USSR in the 1930's, Everyday Stalinism is outstanding. Fitzpatrick has exhaustively scoured recently opened Soviet archives for material in this book, and it shows. There is an abundance of new information here. Fitzpatrick details urban life in 1930's Soviet Union - the daily struggles of common men and women in extraordinary circumstances are vividly portrayed: the shortages of food and clothing, the ubiquitous presence of the government, the almost feudal arrangements between social strata (party members and others who hold "blat" - influence) and the competition for housing as the USSR began to urbanize. Only one chapter is devoted exclusively to the Great Purges of the late 1930's, although its silent presence is tangible just beneath the surface in much of the books subject matter. As one would expect from a professional historian, the books primary purpose is scholarship. But a strength is Fitzpatrick's writing style which is fluid and never dull. Be forewarned, this is not light reading. With that said, I highly recommend it to anyone who has more than a passing interest in the Soviet Union or Russia. If you want a deeper understanding of why the USSR socially and econcomically rotted from within, this is an excellent starting place.
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Format: Paperback
Sheila Fitzpatrick, specialist in the Stalin period of the USSR, has written a counterpart to her history of peasants and their lives in this era (Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization). Here, in "Everyday Stalinism", she chronicles the urban experience of life under Stalin during the 1930s, with all its paranoia, hardship and oddities.

The book is focused in particular on the relationship of daily life and the state, with relatively little attention for cultural history. However, making much use of the Harvard Project interviews with Soviet citizens from this period, she offers a compelling and fascinating view into the attitude of Soviet citizens towards the state, towards Stalin, and towards each other. Much more than just a tale of survival under threat of secret police, Fitzpatrick shows how people got by in terms of getting consumer goods, getting ahead, and getting even. Of course the Great Purges are given due attention, but what is particularly interesting is that in this book we see those events, as well as the earlier show trials, from the bottom up: not the political history of Stalin eliminating his enemies, but a struggle for power between the Party elites (largely received with disinterest by the general populace), and subsequently a series of rapid repressive maneouvres that descend onto the unsuspecting middle level.

Fitzpatrick pays excellent attention also to social policy and what effect this had on women, social and ethnic minorities, and so on.
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By A Customer on August 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
A well-written book, by a leading professor in the field!! Fitzpatrick has taken many different documents and worked them together to describe what city-life was like in the Soviet 1930's. This is the companion to her book "Stalin's Peasants", which describes peasant life during this same time period. Fitzpatrick describes what the average life of a Russian city-dweller was like, using many different stories. She ends the book by comparing life during this time to three different things. I will let you read the book to see what they are!!
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