Ideology and Everyday Life in the Soviet Union

In September 2012, in cooperation with the Department of Humanities at the Ukrainian Catholic University, Dr. Iryna Matsevko taught an elective seminar entitled, "Ideology and Everyday Life in the Soviet Union: Between Revolution and the Great Terror." Course participants were first-year UCU graduate students enrolled in the University’s MA program in History.

The challenge to understand and explain the Soviet phenomenon boasts its own not inconsiderable history. Scholarly, seminal treatments of Soviet history are abundant, and historiographical adaptations to Sovietology have been a regular feature of the latter half of the XXth and the first decade of the XXIst centuries. Consequent to the methodological discourse of the 1970s and 80s, the unlocking of the Soviet archives at the onset of the 90s, and the appearance of a new generation of interdisciplinary historians, the attention of the most current research has shifted from the state and its totalitarian apparatus to society and the "insignificant" person. The breadth of mundane praxis and social processes in the Soviet Union as revealed in recent historical research has altered our perception of Soviet government as a mechanism of utter societal control. As a consequence of this new scholarship, the USSR has been transformed conceptually from an ideological and political phenomenon into one more social and cultural in nature.

The lecture series brought to light the manner in which early Soviet society functioned in the context of everyday life and its accompanying ideology, depicting the quotidian as the history of a concurring and yet oppositional pair: that of the state and society. On the one hand, the state dictated everyday norms; on the other, the public, via its perception of and compliance with those dictates – or its lack thereof – influenced the state's ability to achieve its political strategies. Any ideology acts as a mythopoeic system of ideas and symbols by which people experience and evaluate their lives. In the period under discussion, ideology served as a kind of "lens" through which social realities were revealed to the public and by which the public ultimately interpreted this reality.

Topics covered in the discussion:

What influence does ideology have on everyday life? How does political authority affect popular conceptions of the self; of private and public space; of “mine” and “yours”; of the nation; and of the formation of a way of life during an era in which the public alternately – and actively – engaged, evaded, and opposed the “construction" of socialism? In what way did people define their lives? How did they appropriate and take ownership of Soviet ideals and values? To what degree did they self-identify with the Stalinist regime in the attempt to become "Soviet people"? Which tactics of repression and opposition found currency in daily life? Which mechanisms of influence were employed by the state? With what kind of "give and take" did the authority engage the average citizen in order to achieve compromise in the formation of a mutually-beneficial welfare state?

The course covered, in chronological progression, the period from the 1917 Revolution to the nadir of Stalinist rule, the Great Terror, with particular focus on Stalinism.

For more information about the course, see here (in ukrainian).