- Paperback: 639 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; First edition (February 27, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520208234
- ISBN-13: 978-0520208230
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #213,941 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization First Edition
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"A kind of archaeological analysis of Soviet life during the momentous years of Stalinist industrialization." (Lewis Siegelbaum, Michigan State University)
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Kotkin's prose sometimes gets tiresome - his padding with obvious statements that, for instance, Marxism-Leninism is built on class struggle, coated with the repetitive caveat of "as is well known." Also dubious are his pro-market presumptions, writing on p. 223, for instance, that "the rapid industrial expansion, combined with the inefficiency and uncertainty characteristic of a planned economy, resulted in a perpetual labor shortage." Rapid expansion is hardly the measure of a "failed system" in action. While elsewhere he paradoxically acknowledges that the failure of Depression capitalism could make Soviet inefficiency and uncertainty seem the better option. Many an employed capitalist employee - then and now - might wish for a regime of "labor shortage" - which terms must be seen as relative, for the labor the Soviet planners were really short of was technically educated personnel, not hired hands per se.
But his book is very insightful in many ways. For me the core argument in this tome is his chapter on "Speaking Bolshevik," in studying just why the allegedly exploited and repressed masses under Stalin stood for it. Were they cowed and apathetic, or brainwashed opportunists? Kotkin asks how *could* the Russian working class, that had shaken the world in 1917, appear so passive and accepting of what they had once so violently rejected.
And the answer, as he provides at length, was that the Stalinist labor regime was *not* the same as that experienced by its fathers. The key was its rulers' anticipation of working class interests, dissent, and aspirations; a mindset as impossible to the capitalist managers of Tzardom as it is to Wall Street today. This was of course due to the Party leaders' emergence from a socialist labor movement, however "betrayed" in practice. Rather than crush labor unions and repress workers' organization, the Soviet system did the organizing for them. Rather than made to feel like minimum-wage losers, they were upheld as social heroes, united to "build socialism," in much the same way troops are glorified in modern America: the core linchpin of all things bright and beautiful. Like immigrants coming to America, peasant emigres to the factory were dazzled by a new world of opportunity for themselves and their children, accepting the regime values that went with it. "Entitlements" were not "welfare," to be slashed as an excessive production cost, but rewards earned through sweat and commitment to this new world that could be "empowering, if demanding." And workplace meetings thusly allowed for some serious steamblowing, as long as the political order itself was not questioned: an inverted contrast to the Western system of free political speech and labor quietude.
Not that police repression existed for nothing; not that there wasn't deep resentment of privileged shock workers, and of the toadyism and backstabbing that often accompanied their special promotion. This encouragement of shop floor division no doubt rested on the lingering fear of historic workers' opposition before and after 1917, helping prevent independent organizing. Thus Stalinist managers - however lagging in productivity and technology - were much more skilled at manipulating and co-opting their workforce than their Western counterparts.
And this was the key to popularizing the purges and Terror later in the decade: fascists from without and traitors from within were seen as direct threats to this new world of opportunity and hope. With the majority of the "new working class" derived from villagers with few prior links to the Party or state, and lingering hostility to the Old Bolsheviks, Stalin could play on these embedded resentments in decimating its old cadres. The complicity of the masses was thus as much willing as forced, a factor lost to Western academia during the reign of cold war polemics, explaining also the Soviet system's survival of Stalinism and the world war.
A new generation that took these achievements for granted would throw them all away for the bright lights of capitalism, and in post-Soviet triumphalism the cold war narrative has continued dominant. Kotkin demonstrates why this standard Western view is self-serving and fundamentally flawed in understanding its ideological opponent.