Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas

Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien Regensburg
herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Ausgabe: 63 (2015), 1, S. 153-154

Verfasst von: Jan C. Behrends


Juliane Fürst: Stalin’s Last Generation. Soviet Post-War Youth and the Emergence of Mature Socialism. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. XIV, 391 S., Abb., Tab. ISBN: 978-0-19-957506-0.

In her impressive study of post-war Soviet youth, Juliane Fürst argues that the generation that came of age during the Second World War had trouble to adjust to life under High Stalinism. While she observes that there was little overt political opposition to the regime, she explains how a distance between the regime and the young generation emerged in the decade after 1945. The post-war Soviet Union witnessed the formation of subcultures, the revival of conflict about cultural issues such as dance and music, and it struggled with the question what gender relations and sexual conduct should look like in a socialist society. The author shows how a complex Soviet identity emerged: while the official image of the USSR remained stagnant a whole set of new attitudes developed and young people tried to reconcile their nascent individualism sometimes in opposition to the regime, sometimes within the narrow confines of Soviet politics. Using a wide range of sources, the author tells the story of the return of the individual during the last years of Stalins long rule. Her focus is on the Russian parts of the Soviet Union.

The first chapter describes the traces of conflict in the USSRs post-war generation. She describes the chaos and the poverty that were some of the consequences of the war. The Komsomol as the institution in charge of integrating and disciplining the youth struggled to fulfill its tasks in the immediate post-war years. It lacked the means to reach the entire Soviet youth and, the author argues, the regime that had lost touch of the youth during the war never fully regained its influence on this generation. The ideological campaigns of the late forties were as vigorous and vicious as those of the 1930s: the zhdanovshchina, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism were the themes chosen to mobilize the population during the Cold War. The authors analysis of these campaigns shows how these themes that were set in High Stalinism persisted during the remaining decades of Soviet communism. Neither the anti-Westernism nor the anti-intellectualism or the anti-Semitism went away. Another subject explored that came to haunt the USSR was the leader cult around Joseph Stalin. In an interesting twist, the author shows how the cult around father Stalin was tied to the idea of matrodina (motherland) which was fostered during the war. The post-war years witnessed two key events of the leader cult: Stalins 70th birthday celebration in 1949 and the leaders death in 1953. Subsequently, this generation which had not known a life without Stalin had to come to terms with de-stalinization and with their Stalinist past.

The case study of the rise and fall of Aleksandr Fadeevs novel The Young Guard forms the core of the book. Fürst explains the reason for the instant popularity of the book which celebrated the heroism of youth during the war and she gives a detailed analysis of the text reception and the regimes attempts to defuse it. The example shows how the regime deconstructed a major propaganda success because the role of the party was not acknowledged in the narrative. Youth was not to be an independent factor in Soviet political life. Fadeev attempted to rewrite his book according to orthodoxy; still, the controversies surrounding the story, the debate about the relationship between historical facts, literature and myth-making have not dried up to this day. In the concluding chapters Juliane Fürst examines the rise of non-conformity, the role of fashion, and the gender roles during the last years of Stalinism. She can show that the impact of Western culture was considerable even at a time when the borders of the USSR were firmly sealed. Her study of sexual behavior also attests to the importance of the post-war years for Soviet society: Fürst can trace the dissolution of traditional norms and values back to the war and shows where the roots of late socialist promiscuity and carelessness about sex may be found.

Juliane Fürsts study of late Stalinist Soviet youth is a major contribution to the social history of the USSR. It provides numerous insights in the development of Soviet society. By bridging the gap between the 1930s and the later periods of Soviet history, it describes post-war developments without ignoring the legacy of the pre-war years. Thus, the study sets a new standard for research on late socialism and is a central point of reference for anyone interested in Soviet studies and in the way dictatorships dealt with the ever unruly and unpredictable young generation.

Jan C. Behrends, Potsdam

Zitierweise: Jan C. Behrends über: Juliane Fürst: Stalin’s Last Generation. Soviet Post-War Youth and the Emergence of Mature Socialism. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. XIV, 391 S., Abb., Tab. ISBN: 978-0-19-957506-0, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/Rez/Behrends_Fuerst_Last_Generation.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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