Stalin’s Heirs

On March 5, 1953, Joseph Stalin passed away and Russia wept. Stalin was considered a god, and without him the Russians felt they had no sense of direction. They feared a future without Stalin in it.

In his autobiography, Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote about visiting Stalin’s coffin. He compared the massive crowd of tens of thousands of people to that of a whirl pool, if you did not go in the direction of the whirl pool, then you would drown. The massive crowd was unforgiving to those who did not fight to walk. Bones were broken, people were trampled on, and the police were not doing anything to help because they weren’t given orders. Yevtushenko vividly remembers shoving through the crowd and forcing people to make a human chain to slow the crowd. He was appalled by the savage violence of the crowd. He and another man who helped him control the crowds left without seeing Stalin. Returning home with his friend and a bottle of vodka, Yevtushenko’s mother asked him if he had seen Stalin. His response was: “‘Yes’… I hadn’t really lied to my mother. I had seen Stalin. Because everything that had just happened-that was Stalin,” (Russian Reader, page 539).

A Thoughtful Yevgeny Yevtushenko

In 1962, Yevtushenko wrote a poem called The Heirs of Stalin. This poem addressed Stalin’s legacy. Yevtushenko used the poem to emphasize the fact that while there were people in Russia that consider them Stalin’s heirs, then Stalin still lived through his death. Lines like:

“He left many heirs on the face of the globe.
I dream
that a telephone has been placed in the coffin:
Stalin sends his instructions
to Enver Hoxha.
Where else does the line from the coffin run?
No-Stalin has not given up.
He considers death remediable.”

only affirm the fact that the people, after Stalin’s death, did not want to change. They were comfortable with the way that things were. A new generation naturally should’ve started after Stalin’s death, but because Stalinism was integrated into every person’s lifestyle, it took time. While change needed to be gradual, with post-Stalin Russia, change seeped through the country at an incredibly slow rate.


The Stylistic Rebellion of the Stilyaga

The rebellion of the Stilyaga was one of the most mediocre rebellions in Soviet Russia. They were either the children of the Soviet elite or were war orphans, and were able to afford to rebel through the way they dressed. The Stilyagi rebelled through their style of clothes and music because it was not a challenging rebellion. They were too scared to face the penalties that went hand in hand with critiquing the Stalinist order.

The Stiylaga were obsessed with America. Their style of dress, the slick backed hair, and nicknaming cities, such as Moscow, after famous American markers (such as Broadway) emphasized how infatuated they were with the American culture. If it was from the west, the Stilyaga wanted to wear it, dance to it, or personify it. They furthered their rebellion by speaking in slang that was not familiar to the Soviets, and they listened and danced to American jazz music, which was incredibly popular all around the world in the 1940’s.

Zoot Suit

Although the Stilyaga received a lot of criticisms from different newspapers and journals, they were considered trailblazers in unpolitical rebellions. They were admired and considered role models by all future rebels who were called to show their disagreement of the Stalinist order.

To catch a glimpse of what Stilyaga are like, I recommend this video:


Water Stains of Socialist Realism

Socialist Realism was the primary method of writing used by Soviet writers in the 1930’s, and, in his piece, Mass Attack on the Watershed, Maxim Gorky spearheaded the movement of Socialist Realism. The story, which focused on the construction of the Belomor Canal, was geared towards unifying the prisoners and the state. Many of the prisoners who survived working on the canal, were pardoned, by the state, of their crimes.

A characteristic of Socialist Realism writing was using simple words to get the meaning of the story across. It was often: “proclaimed as a unitary method, socialist realism took many different forms depending on the time, the artistic medium and the national culture in which it was created. Fashionable at the time of the method’s declaration were production novels,” (Seventeen Moments in Soviet History). Production novels focused on the industrialization of the Soviet Nation, such as Gorky’s Mass Attack on the Watershed. 

Artists and writers who utilized Socialist Realism believed that it was a combination of the spirit of the people and the party. It often blinded people to the darker side of things. In the building of the Belomor Canal, which was built using Gulag labor, over 100,000 people died. Where Gorky stated that it was a “splendidly successful attempt at the transformation of thousands of former enemies of Soviet Society,” or “one of the most brilliant victories of human energy over the bitterness and wildness of nature,” (RR 453), while other people were able to see through the golden side of Socialist Realism and witness the death of thousands.

Belomor Canal Cigarette Pack

The Trio of Red Devils

Pavel Blyakhin wrote the script for The Little Red Devils in 1923. His story is all about these two children, Dunyasha and Mishka who are out for revenge for their father’s murder. A Ukranian Separatist group, led by Nestor Makhno, raided the train station where Mishka worked with his father, while Dunyasha was bringing them their dinner. The Ukranian group destroyed the station, and shot and killed the children’s father and older brother, who was a telegraph operator at the station. While holding their dying father, the two children swore to their father that they would avenge his death. Both children identified with two different characters from the books that they were reading, and personified the characters as they avenged their father’s death.

train station

Along the way, the two children saw a Black man, Tom, being beat up after he fought to get equal pay with the two other men who he had worked with that day. Because of his race, the urchin children that had joined the fight, sided with the two other men and everyone was beating this poor man. Dunyasha and Mishka witnessed this, and joined the fight to help Tom. After beating back the larger group, Tom thanked Mishka and Dunyasha and joined them on their journey. Eventually the trio met up with the Red group, and worked for the Red group as scouts. This enabled them to exact revenge on the men that had killed their father. The excerpt of the script that I read, ended with the trio being chased by the Ukranian Separatist group.

In his script, Blyakhin shows us a strand of Left Art, which helps to build support for a revolution. Oozing with Revolutionary Romanticism, Blyakhin shows a glimpse of a modern industrial life of a train station worker and his sons. He then goes on to show how the literacy of the two children allowed them to become the heroes of the story. Without the ability to identify with the characters in their books, the children never would have had the gumption to join the Red Group and become scouts for the beloved leader of the Red Group.



The Real Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is a Russian-realist story written by Nikolai Leskov. Published in 1865, it is known as one of Leskov’s most famous works. The story is centered on Katerina Lvovna, whose status changed from poverty to a life of luxury and boredom when she married the merchant, Zinovy Borisych. This novella is about her journey from living a meaningless life of being a merchant’s wife, to living a life full of lust, love, jealousy, and murder.

I found the story, while very disturbing, incredibly riveting as well. I was not expecting the story to take such dark turns. When we are first introduced to Katerina, it implies while she lives a life of poverty she had so much more freedom and independence than when she lived as a merchant’s wife. Her character development is extreme, and Meskov takes her from being a naive wife, to a cold-blooded murderer. While writing the story, Nikolai Meskov said that: “his hair stood on end as he worked on it alone in that unlikely place and swore he would never describe such horrors again.”

It was interesting to see Katerina come alive through her relationship with Serghei. She became powerful and unemotional while she murdered those that kept her from happiness, but I was intrigued by the fact that emotions ruled her every decisions. Her ability to turn her emotions on and off in order to commit heinous crimes so that she and Serghei would always be together, in a demented way, shows that people do all sorts of things in the name of love.