Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas

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

Ausgabe: 63 (2015), 2, S. 347-348

Verfasst von: Hiroaki Kuromiya


Malte Griesse: Communiquer, juger et agir sous Staline. La personne prise entre ses liens avec les proches et son rapport au système politico-idéologique. Frankfurt a.M. [usw.]: Lang, 2011. XI, 536 S. ISBN: 978-3-631-60446-5.

The opening of the formerly secret archives in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union vastly expanded the historical sources available to scholars, making it possible to study the minds of Soviet citizens under Stalin who were not free to speak. Interestingly, the study of the Soviet people as individuals led to diametrically opposed views of them, one camp (the Subjectivist School) emphasizing their integration into the regime (which left no or little separate space for the public and the self) and the other camp (the Resistance School) stressing the ubiquity of their open and hidden resistance to the regime. While Malte Griesse notes that the Stalinist regime was not monolithic, he asserts that the manifestations of critical thinking in Soviet society were certainly marginalized. Griesse takes issue with the Subjectivist School, criticizing it as preoccupied with the vertical link between a Soviet subject and the regime: the state sought to fashion the soul of the individual, who in turn tried to perfect a self in which the public and the private were merged without contradiction. The fact that Soviet idealism and reality diverged inevitably created room for critical thinking. According to the Subjectivist School, however, even such critical thinking was trapped in the mode of Stalinist discourse (concepts, vocabulary, and logic), which in turn demonstrated the degree to which Soviet individuals were integrated into the Stalinist system. By taking the Soviet subjects discourse at face value, according to Griesse, the Schools approach becomes inevitably ahistorical.

Rather than a dominant vertical relationship between the individual and the state, Griesse sees micro spaces of horizontal, inter-subjective relations among individuals. It was in these spaces of inter-personal communication that inherently subjective views and opinions were confirmed and strengthened or repudiated. It was inter-subjectivity that clarified subjectivity. Griesses work therefore is devoted to elucidating the existence, structure, functions, and use of inter-personal links under Stalin. Griesse uses the term lien (link, tie or connection), instead of réseau (network with utilitarian connotations) in order to stress its ideational significance. Likewise, he avoids the terms subject (too Foucauldian) or individual (too close to the liberal concept of autonomous individual), using instead personne (person). In this attempt Griesse seeks to avoid the dichotomies ofrepressive vs. constructive/productive”,reactive vs. proactive”,exclusive vs. inclusive”,collectivism vs. individualism”, andilliberal vs. liberal”. Focusing on Old Bolsheviks, Griesse deploys a wide array ofego documents” such as diaries, personal correspondence, autobiographies, memoirs, and others. These include records of well-known people such as Stepan Podlubnyi (19141998, the subject of work by Jochen Hellbeck) and newly found sources such as private correspondence between the couple Anna G. Kravchenko (18901984, an official in the Peoples Commissariat of Enlightenment) and Aleksandr P. Spunde (1892–1962, also a Soviet official).

Griesses overall argument is persuasive to a degree. It is particularly strong in rebutting the Subjectivist Schools preoccupation with the vertical line between state and person. Among the many examples Griesse discusses, he singles out Kravchenko and Spunde as especially illuminating. The couple and their children (particularly their son Iakov, 19181921) left voluminous records of correspondence (some 1,200 letters). In this family space they discussed matters of common concern (social and political issues). Letters with sensitive subjects were delivered by trusted friends. Although exactly when they began to entertain doubts about the Stalinist regime is not entirely clear, by 194041 definitely they had developed very critical views of Soviet political life. Griesse emphasizes that it was only in this micro space of communication that they helped one another to think critically. In the process they did not abandon their Bolshevism. Rather they used the old vocabulary of revolutionary idealism (egalitarianism, comradeship, mutual respect, reciprocal engagement) to come to criticize the Stalinist regime. When Griesse discusses Podlubnyi and others who provided examples for the Subjectivist School, he sees, instead of a closed self, many inter-personal links in which each person actually lived (see pp. 270, 273 and 276 for Podlubnyi, and p. 340 for A. G. Mankov, 19132006).

Griesses work is helpful in correcting the Subjectivist Schools preoccupation with discourse and self-fashioning by stressing practice and inter-subjectivity. He reminds that the fact that a human-being is an inherently social-being. After all, even a hermit is only a hermit after first withdrawing from society. When Griesse discusses Oleg Kharkhor­dins concept ofdissimulation”, a peculiarly Soviet space of individual life different from the Western concept of theprivate sphere”, Griesse proposes ahalf-closed door” (instead of aclosed door”) in a persons life. Even under Stalin inter-subjective, communicational spaces did not disappear (pp. 383384). In presenting his argument, Griesse puts to good use Hanna Arendts distinction of “solitude” andloneliness” as well as some of the theoretical concepts ofpragmatic sociology” by Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot andego-state” in psychological studies. Overall Griesse’s monograph presents a highly readable interpretation of subjectivity and inter-subjectivity.

Griesse’s account leaves some uncomfortable issues out, however. For one, Griesse fails to pose the all-important question of betrayal and denunciation in inter-personal spaces. He simply states categorically that refusal to denounce one’s comrades was a fundamental moral code (p. 325). He discusses well-known facts of police provocateurs among the revolutionaries (such as Roman Malinovskii), but emphasizes that Old Bolsheviks discussed the unsavory facts of betrayal very little in their own writing (pp. 209211). The Kravchenko-Spunde family managed to survive the Great Terror, even though husband and wife had traveled overseas as government officials and continued to live in the famousHouse on the Embankment” through the years of the Great Terror. Until 1938 Spunde, formerly a supporter of Nikolai Bukharin’s “Left Communism” who even went to the dangerous country, Japan, in 1932, ate lunch daily at the canteen of the Council of the People's Commissars (Cabinet) (p. 413). The family destroyed part of their correspondence at the time of the Terror (p. 404). People must have privately asked whether they had (or were forced to have) special links to the secret police. (In his diary Podlubnyi confessed to his work as a police informer.) Were their critical views of Soviet life a reflection of their retrospective shame? However offensive such questions of betrayal may be, they need to be asked if one wants to understand Stalinist society, for Stalin took advantage of this hidden side of Soviet life to rule the country.

Hiroaki Kuromiya, Bloomington, IN

Zitierweise: Hiroaki Kuromiya über: Malte Griesse: Communiquer, juger et agir sous Staline. La personne prise entre ses liens avec les proches et son rapport au système politico-idéologique. Frankfurt a.M. [usw.]: Lang, 2011. XI, 536 S. ISBN: 978-3-631-60446-5, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/Rez/Kuromiya_Griesse_Communiquer_juger_et_agir_sous_Staline.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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