Monday, 24 February 2020

Dina Fainberg, Artemy Kalinovsky, eds. Reconsidering Stagnation in the Brezhnev Era

Dina Fainberg, Artemy Kalinovsky, eds. Reconsidering Stagnation in the Brezhnev Era: Ideology and Exchange. London: Lexington Books, 2016.

This edited volume aims to do precisely what its title suggests: to reconsider the period of Brezhnev’s tenure as the CPSU General Secretary in terms of historical change, development, and the emergence of new trends. They start by looking at the genealogy of this metaphor of ‘stagnation’ which they trace to Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempts at political mobilization from 1986 on. This sentiment was, in fact, shared by some contemporaries (they quote Anatoly Chernyaev’s diary as an example). However, some of the contemporaries also noted the increased complexity of Soviet society and politics, including urbanization and education, improved agriculture, rising standards of living, the successful cooptation of intellectual and non-Russian elites, and upward mobility (p. xi). The editors conclude: “As one starts to add up the exception, the accuracy of the term ‘stagnation’ begins to crumble” (p. xii). While attempting at the deconstruction of this term, the editors stop short of offering another conceptual framework: “The purpose of this volume is to push the discussion of the Brezhnev era beyond the debate over the possibility of reform. We do not seek to replace the stagnation narrative with a new story, but to examine the Brezhnev era on its own terms and to situate it on the continuum of Soviet history” (p. xiv). 

Natalya Chernyshova in her “Consumers as Citizens: Revisiting the Question of Public Disengagement in the Brezhnev Era” suggests that the persistent interpretation of civic life in terms of “privatization” and “disengagement,” esp. in regards to consumerism (as in Shlapentokh) is misleading, as this argument misses that consumer culture during the Brezhnev Era involved a great deal of public engagement, such as writing letters to the state bodies and building social networks. The chapters “highlight[s] the participatory character of Soviet shopping and show how it was a collective, rather than individual, experience” (4). Even black market was connected to the state in multiple ways, and dealing with the problems of urban retail trade forced Soviet people to address the authorities as citizens (4) – in other words, shopping did contribute to a changed understanding of Soviet citizenship that the editors discussed in the Introduction. Chernyshova starts by discussing how the structure of consumption changed during the Brezhnev era: “Material well-being assumed a significant role in making people feel good about themselves and society” (6), a claim advanced by Soviet sociologists who studied tastes of Soviet people at that time. Late Soviet consumerism, produced by the official state policies (which implied that happy citizens will be happy workers), was in many ways very similar to other forms of modern consumerism. Both officially and in practice “consumption was a way to engage with the Soviet collective rather than isolate oneself from it” (7). The forms of engagement include queueing, establishing contacts with sales clerks, and even illegal activities. In contrast to James Millar who argued about the “Little Deal” that the Soviet government intentionally allowed its subjects to profiteer from the black market, Chernyshova argues that it was caused by the inability of the penitentiary system to deal with the scale of petty theft in the late USSR, which caused the authorities to realize that “combatting underground practices through police action would have little impact without serious changes to the entire economic system” (11). Even (or perhaps especially) nomenklatura was involved in the shadow economy (12). Foreign tourism and business trips were another source of prestige commodities in Soviet society, sold either privately or through a network of second-hand stores (14). “[I]n their capacity as consumers, Soveit urbanites engaged with the state system almost on a daily basis. They did not eschew state retail altogether but took initiative to adapt it to their needs, for instance, by persuading salesclerks to hod back high-demand goods for them, and to supplement it by acquiring things imported by individuals rather than official trade organizations, by buying from friends, colleagues, and profiteers… Consumers got increasingly enmeshed in a complex network of goods circulation that did not necessariliy involve a simple visit to a shop but which was not, nonetherless, disconnected from state retail as well as other state institutions altogether” (15).

Simon Huxtable in “The Life and Death of Brezhniev’s Thaw: Changing Values in Soviet Journalism after Khrushchev, 1964-68” discusses the shift in journalism that followed the dismissal of Khrushchev and transition to a more thorough political control over it from the late 1960s on. Huxtable argues that this transition period was, in fact, vibrant with hopes “in the press’s power to promote a new kind of technocratic governance, based on rational discussion of the country’s needs through publicistic writing and criticism” (22). These hopes were a product of the Thaw that a new professional ethos  “which included an innate sense of ethical responsibility and a shared sense of professional goals,” including striving for intellectual and professional autonomy (Ibidem). Under Khrushchev, journalists reconceptualized their profession in terms of public control over officials (although usually low- and mid-level) and educating public opinion. In the four years after Khrushchev’s dismissal, Soviet journalists tried to implement this ethos in their professional activities. For example, some of the debates of that period sought to “place Soviet journalism on a new, more scientific footing” (27). New forms of writing (publitsistika) also played as tools for journalists’self-fashioning as responsible Soviet subjects (29) – Huxtable here loses an opportunity to place this argument within a broader discussion of Soviet writing techniques as self-fashioning tools (Hellbeck, Halfin, Pinsky, Kharkhordin, etc.). The journalists further tried to use the officially sanctioned kritika i samokritika to improve Soviet society (32), although this argument would benefit by a quick discussion of how it was different from the journalism of the 1930s that was all about kritika i samokritika. This trend brought journalists into an increasing conflict with bureaucracts: “a tension emerged between the need for the press to perform a watchdog function in the interests of social transformation and the need to maintain stability in the face of domestic and international tensions. Although politicians were committed to change in principle, when it came to their own fiefdoms, they were fiercely protective… Over time, it is not surprising that fewer journalists were willing to risk attacking entrenched bureaucracy and corruption, even if those remained the press’s officially mandated tasks” (34). By 1968, this challenge from outside the party structures lead the Party authorities to launch a campaign against the journal Zhurnalist, a flagship journal of Soviet journalism. This represented the desire of the party apparatus to take back control over the press, which was now supposed to focus on the criticism of outside threats and ideological support of the party initiatives. Yet the ethos of ‘critical journalism’ did not die during the 1970s and early 1980s, which prepared their activities during the perestroika.

Lewis Siegelbaum in “People on the Move during the ‘Era of Stagnation’: The Rural Exodus in the RSFSR during the 1960s-1980s” examines the ‘third stage’ of rural outmigration after World War II when “between 1959 and 1978, cities absorbed 1.5 million rural migrants every year. Over the next census period (1978-88), the rate declined to nine hundred thousand.” (46) Men led this process (partially due to the vertical mobility channels offered through compulsory conscription). Industry kept on its recruitment in the rural areas as well. Women followed men (marital patterns), but also tried to move to the urban areas to improve their living standards. Despite certain efforts to slow down or reverse this process, it resonated with the dominant ideology, so no radical measures were taken by the authorities (52). The rural outmigration led to the process of ‘liquidation’ of rural settlements.

Christian Noack in “Brezhnev’s ‘Little Freedoms’: Tourism, Individuality, and Mobility in the Late Soviet Period” examines a conflict of two ideas of “proper” summer vacation: the officially encouraged vacations provide by trade unions for its members, and thus offered on an individual basis, vis-à-vis ‘wild’ (non-organized) tourism that became increasingly popular among families during the late Soviet era. The article suggests that, even though there was a push ‘from below’ to incorporate family vacationing into the state-funded infrastructure, the beachside infrastructure in the USSR did not provide a material basis for family vacationing, and only well into the 1970s began to accommodate to the popular demand. Due to these tensions, tourist officials came in the end to support individual tourism, first of all, its motorized version. However, a huge influx of motorized tourists to beach towns led to another set of problems: that with parking, sleeping premises, and even water and food provision.  

In Chapter 5, Andrey Shcherbenok examines how the turn to the aesthetics of decay in late Soviet cinema heralded the new ability of Soviet cinematographers to go around without any authoritative discourse. In Chapter 6, Sari Autio-Sarasmo aims to reassess the idea of “stagnation” by switching the focus from the Soviet competition with the US to the Soviet cooperation with Finland and West Germany. Autio-Sarasmo registers how the desire of Soviet leaders to modernize their industry led them to create an intensive network of technical cooperation with Western countries which, despite a discourse of stagnation, was active and effective throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. This cooperation was facilitated by personal contacts and commercial interests of western companies such as Nokia and Siemens. However, this cooperation produced limited results as “the main weakness was that the domestic R&D capabilities were unable to assist in the adaptation and exploration of new technologies and the inability of the system to generate innovations” (99).

Anna Gelzer in Chapter 7 “Stagnant Science? The Planning and Coordination of Biomedical Research in the Brezhnev Era” compares two perspectives on biomedical research: the top-down planning process in the Academy for Medical Sciences, which was extremely complicated by the large and ineffective bureaucratic structure, and the activities of the Moscow Institute of Oncology and, in particular, its director N.N. Blokhin who rebuilt it into a comprehensive National Oncology Scientific Center. In Chapter 8, Juliane Fürst discusses the evolution of a Moscow hippie group, known as Sistema, from a generally open student subculture that had a lot in common with Western hippies to a much more limited and closed group under the pressure of the Soviet authorities, and in doing so came to resemble a typically Soviet dissident/non-conformist organization. Sistema existed in a paradoxical symbiosis with the official state system of the Brezhnev era. Finally, Courtney Doucette in Chapter 9 on Norton Dodge, an American collector of Soviet unofficial art, and Simo Mikkonen in Chapter 10 on Soviet-Finnish musical exchanges examine transnational networks of Soviet artists and musicians, respectively, arguing that they were part and parcel of the international cultural milieu.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Valerii Golofast, Sem’ia v krupnom gorode

Valerii Golofast, Sem’ia v krupnom gorode, in: Valerii Golofast, Stat’i raznykh let (SPb: Aleteia, 2006), pp. 15-234.

This book is one of the most fascinating analyses of the Soviet family during late socialism. The book agenda is informed by one of the biggest challenges of late socialism as Soviet society revealed a trend towards decreasing fertility rates in its European (“more developed”) regions, such as Russia, Ukraine, and the Baltic states, where they fell below a population reproduction level, while in the Central Asia and Transcaucasia they remained exemplary high. As a result, this study belongs to the class of population management studies with a very clear research agenda: to understand what factors contribute to (a) the diminishing number of children in “European” Soviet families, and (b) a high rate of divorces, which had a negative impact on the psychological well-being of Soviet subjects – also an aspect of modern biopolitics where the well-being of state subjects stands in direct connection with their ability to contribute to the economic growth. Put in the language of the author, he is interested in what causes the “dysfunctions” among modern families (p. 21).

Chapter 1 examines the regional differences in the structure of Soviet family. Quite a standard picture of low fertility rates in the “European” republics of the USSR; Golofast argues that urbanization is the primary factor driving changes in the Soviet family life. «... на нынешнем этапе урбанизации в СССР нарушения режима воспроизводства населения, его брачного и семейного состояния охватывают не только крупные и большие города; они становятся проблемой крупных регионов страны. Тем самым все более необходимо совершенствование демографической и семейной политики, анализ ее принципов и направлений с учетом конкретных особенностей регионального состояния семьи, общественных, семейных и личных потребностей, на удовлетворение которых направлены проводимые мероприятия» (38).

Chapter 2 focuses on the types of families in Leningrad (nuclear family is clearly dominant); chapter 3 looks at the structure of Leningrad families (parents-children-etc, whose property they live on, whether they share it with relatives or not, etc.). Chapter 4 focuses on the horizontal connections between the families (parents vs. married children). Lots of useful statistical data on how common it was for grandparents to help and in what spheres of life.

Chapter 5 “Family tensions” examines the main negative factors that prevent families from “functioning properly” (in other words, why so many Soviet families failed to conform to the social norms as defined by the authorities). “Состояние семьи привлекает внимание и вызывает тревогу в связи  с рядом социальных проблем развития образа жизни населения крупного города. Снижение рождаемости, постарение населения, высокая доля мигрантов в городах деформируют инфраструктуру города, усугубляют дефицит трудовых ресурсов в ближайшей перспективе» (85). Golofast connects “disorganization of the family and marriage among the urban communities” with alcoholism and other deviant behaviours. Golofast argues that these negative trends are merely a by-product of the transitionary period when the previous family form is transforming into a new, genuinely socialist family form. In thes chapter, Golofast discusses how they used sociological polls to try to understand, what aspects of family life (attitude to children, drinking habits, smoking, personal behavior, bad sex, adultery, kulturnost’, etc.) add emotional burdens on the Soviet family. While the research is interesting by itself, Golofast makes it clear that he is mainly interested in these tension factors not per se, but rather as obstacles preventing people from “reaching happiness” (98). The author is trying to build an argument that many of these tensions are just a temporary phenomenon while Soviet society is working out a new model of family relations. At the same time, this research is prescriptive, and so the study aims to identify and, perhaps, even foresee these trends and, through influencing government policies, help them come into reality rather sooner than later. Golofast is therefore concerned that most of the responsibilities for family management lie with women, which leads to high levels of stress. «Значимым афктором напряженности в семье продолжает оставаться форма отношений между ее членами, ежедневная практика выполнения многообразных семейных функций таким образом, что как наиболее важные из них (ответственые решения, крупные расходы, распределение денег), так и наиболее трудоемкие и хлопотные (повседневные покупки, бытовые дела) концентрируются скорее в руках жены, а не других членов семьи» (105).

Chapter 6 studies the normative expectations of gender roles in Soviet families. While straightforward questions about gender equality lead to predictable answers (most respondents support it), subtler questioning suggests that gender equality is a process which is barely half way through. As a result, Golofast repeatst his idea that sociology should be prescriptive and influence the popularization of new social norms: «изучение нормативных основ семейного поведения следует считать важной областью не только само по себе, но и в целях развития общей теории нормативной детерминации деятельности в условиях социализма» (123).

Chapter 7 examines “happiness in marriage.” In the very first paragraph, Golofast makes it clear that hes primarily interested in the social aspect of happiness: “постановка проблемы счастья как общественной проблемы, как создание экономических и социальных условий счастливой, полнокровной жизни для всех групп населения – это завоевание революции, ее долгосрочная программа"(124). “Реальная задача [исследования] обозначить факторы (регуляторы) счастливых супружеских отношений, а также факторы риска, предоставив этим самым возможность человеку осознанно искать счастья, избегать таящихся, скрытых от него препятствий» (125) – in other words, Golofast here represents the late Soviet trend for producing self-regulating subjects who, through acquiring certain forms of literacy, would independently implement the states biopolitics (happy marriage, children, productive relations). Among the reasons that provoke divorces, Golofast mentions “причины, приводящие к мыслям о расторжении брака, в основном носят эмоционально-нравственный, духовный характер. В меньшей степени имеет значение (131) распределение обязанностей в семье. Неудовлетворенность материальными и жилищными условиями, структурные характеристики семьи не имеют связей с ориентацией к разводу (132)» - in other words, he keeps on emphasizing the priority of internalmechanisms for achieving happiness that only depend on the people themselves.

Curiously, Golofast through his sociological analysis revives a commonplace idea that women are more materially invested and oriented, while men are somewhat more spiritual: «Непосредственно общая успешность счастливых в браке складывается... из положительности оценок: у женщин – семейного достатка, досуга, работы и в какой-то мере жилищного положения; у мужчин – своей работы и во вторую очередь материальных и жилищных условий. В целом здесь, по-видимому, проявилось существующее в скрытом виде стремление мужчин к самоуважению: это признание и уважением извне и собственная удовлетворенность достигнутым (149)... Наибольшей удовлетворенностью жизнью отличаются счастливые в браке женщины (превосходя мужчин), и если вспомнить приведенные выше модели, то «женская» - семейно (материально) ориентированная – осуществляется чуть успешнее, нежели «мужская» (духовная, общественная, производственная)» (150). At the very end of the chapter, Golofast reiterates why he thinks these questions are important: “В счастливом браке человек оказывается социально более активным и адаптированным» (151). Chapter 8 continues the inquiry into social, psychological, and moral problems of marriage.

Chapter 9 examines life priorities among Soviet men and women. Once again, confirms the commonplace knowledge that women are more oriented to their families, whereas men – much broader: “Круг важнейших радостей мужчин шире и разнообразней (семья, дети, досуг, работа), чем у женщин (дети, семья)» (165). «Женщины гораздо сильнее вовлечены Heв проблемы семьи, чем мужчины, часто они не делают различия между забоатами и радостями, т.е. то, что заботит, одновременно является и радостью. Некоторой части женщин свойственен акцент на детях как на радости жизни, которая является заместителем всех радостей» (167). He is also concerned with a potential lack of the self-disciplining drive among Soviet working-class families: «Что касается ориентации на образование, саморазвитие, то они у несемейной молодежи, попавшей в нашу выборку, развиты слабо, и их снижение (а у женщин почти полное исчзеновение) при вступлении в брак свидетельствует о хрупкости и неустойчивости данных ценностей. По-видимому, среднее образование, свойственное молодому поколению рабочих, облегчается освоение прежде всего элементарных основ культуры, но не является гарантией дальнейшего приобщения к подлинным духовным ценностям. Как свидетельствуют недавние обследования образа жизни городдских рабочих, при (173) все многообразии форм досуга современной рабочей молодежи его качественные характеристики далеки от оптимальности (174, ссылка на: Гордон Л.А., Клопов Э.В., Оников Л.А. Черты социалистического образа жизни: Быт городских рабочих вчера, сегодня, завтра. М., 1977. С. 51-72).  

Golofast’s prescriptive agenda not just to describe the ongoing social transformation of the Soviet family, but also contribute to its faster stabilization for the sake of socialist productivity leads him to a conclusion that the state should act through the bodies and minds of women. On p. 180, there, he offers a prescriptive definition of a proper Soviet womanhood: “Усиление семейной направленности женщин, повышение для них значимости супружеских отношений – это общая тенденция, связанная с наступлением нового этапа в далеко не новом процессе женской эмансипации. Первый этап – выход женщины за пределы семьи и овладением равными см мужчинами позициями в общественно-трудовой сфере – в основном завершился. Найден способ адаптации женщин к необхоидмости сочетания семейных и общественно-трудовых ролей, в частности малодетность. Противоборство между общетвенно-трудовым ролями и семейными с объективном плане завершилось скорее в пользу трудовых ролей: женщины успешно справляются с трудовыми ролями и менее успешно (с точки зрения общества) – с семейными (малодетность, недостаточный воспитательный потенциал семьи, рост числа разводов). В субъективном же плане это противобоерство завершилось в пользу семейных ролей. Откры для себя общественно-трудовую сферу и научившись реализовать в ней свои возможности и стремления, женщины только начинают осваивать сферу семьи во всей ее многогранности. Процесс эмансипации привел женщину снова в семью, но это уже иная женщина и иная семья». And then on p. 187: “Достижение такого уровня, когда семейные факторы не препятствуют развитию трудовой направленности (при благоприятных профессиональных факторах) и когда женщины начинают обретать способности и возможности развития индивидуально-личностных потребностей, дается жещнинам нелегко. Развитие идет медленно, ибо женщина как субъектадаптации действует на пределе адаптационных возможностей. Дальнейший рост активности женщин в сферах семьи, труда, досуга и духовного рзавития может быть обеспечен лишь при действенной социальной политикен, направленной на удовлетворение и стимулирование потребностей женщин во всех без исключения сферах их деятельности. Причем объектом социальной политики в первую очередь должны стать представительницы тех слоев трудящихся женщин, которые пока что находятся в наименее благоприятных условиях труда. Вместе с тем, многое в этом процессе зависит от формирования новых взаимоотношений в семье, в частности от семейных ориентаций мужчин, от активности их в семейной сфере. Становелние новой семьи требует, пожалуй, большей перестройки от мужчин, чем от женщин. Проблема "профессиональная деятельность мужчин и семья" еще только возникает, но, по-видимому, бубдет обостряться». Cuiriously, while Golofast does mention that a new family will require a large  transformation of male roles, he doesn’t really give any suggestions on how it should look like.

In Conclusion, Golofast returns to the underlying agenda of his research by asking anew the question about falling birth rates, including unwillingness of the people to incorporate the biopolitical agenda of the state: “Во многих современных странах, а также в развитых регионах нашей страны нарушения в режиме воспроизводства достигли такой степени, что препятствует (sic) демографической устойчивости, а тем более демографическому росту…. Каков социальный механизм, приводящих современную семью к малодетности? Почему социальная потребность удержания уровня рождаемости в демографически нормальных границах не осознается людьми как личная потребность в рождении двух-трех детей в среднем на одну брачную пару?» (199) as well as the requirements of political economy: «Каков вклад семьи в исторические изменения мотивации труда и потребления – прцоессов, лежащих в основе (199) производительности общественного труда и ценностной структуры образа жизни? (200)».