Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas:  jgo.e-reviews 4 (2014), 2 Rezensionen online / Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien in Regensburg herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Verfasst von: Mark Edele


Na kraju sovetskogo obščestva. Socialnye marginaly kak obekt gosudarstvennoj politiki 1945–1960-e gg. Sost. E. Ju. Zubkova / T. Ju. Žukova. Moskva: Rosspėn, 2010. 815 S., Tab. = Dokumenty sovetskoj istorii. ISBN: 978-5-8234-1444-1.

The volume under review is the most interesting source collection available on post-war Soviet society. It allows glimpses into an underworld rarely seen, focusing on social rather than political marginals. The volume begins with a despite some notable omissions good overview of the secondary literature on social marginality, poverty, and begging in the post-war Soviet Union. Particularly strong on the Russian and German literature, it also integrates some of the English and French language research on the topic. The editors try to steer a middle course between two extreme views in this debate: the Soviet Union as a well integrated totality where the state encompasses all of society; and the Soviet Union as a society or marginals (p. 5). The introduction also includes a very useful overview over changing state policies since the Revolution.

The nearly seven hundred pages of documents are presented thematically rather than chronologically. The volume is broken down into two parts. The first part is concerned with policies towards social groups deemed marginal: beggars and hobos, criminals, alcoholics and drug addicts, street children, invalids, and gypsies. To most readers, the section on the latter will be the most surprising, as little has been written about this group. The second part then moves from social groups to the mechanisms used to purge Soviet societyor at least parts of the Soviet habitatfrom undesirables. Four sub-sections explore different elements of state policy: the 1948 campaign to deport antisocial elements from collective farms; the emergence and implementation of the legislation against people leading an antisocial, parasitical way of life (19571964); the use of the internal passport regime to control antisocial elements; and the recurrent campaigns to cleanse the cities from antisocial elements.

While the order of documents thus follows the logic of the states gaze and the states actions, historians of Soviet society will find a wealth of information in these pages, glimpses into social worlds often hidden from view. For one, we find curiosities, such as the fortune teller using a trained guinea-pig, the classical story of the rich beggar, those deported from collective farms in 1948 lowering morale back home by reporting that their lives are much better now than they had been before their exclusion, gypsies commandeering train cars in 1947, or travelling the country with a bear in 1954. There is rich material on the history of alcoholism, including the statistic that, in 1957, the militia picked up 1.5 million people for public drunkenness, or the heartbreaking letter of an alcoholics wife looking, unsuccessfully, for help from the authorities. We learn that hashish (anasha) circulated well before the Afghanistan war, often seen as the origin of the late Soviet drug culture. Already in the 1964, the drug was procured in Central Asia and sold on in Moscow for as little as one ruble per paketik. And the phenomenon was not confined to the capital either. Factory workers in Omsk, too, got stoned on the job in the early 1960s. Historians of the shadow economy will be interested to learn that in 1956 prostitutes charged between 25 and 100 rubles, depending on the outer appearance of the prostitute (age, clothing), as the policeman noted dryly, and also on the conditions under which the sexual acts take place (p. 512). Foreigners, meanwhile, would pay up to 200 rubles, as one detained woman of easy virtue reported cynically in 1958 (p. 708). The section on the legislation regarding parasites also harbours a wealth of information on other aspects of the shadow economy, from reportedly rich beer vendors, to the entrepreneurial exploits of private car owners. The travails of the den-keeper Markevich are also noteworthy.

There are also numerous examples of the holes in the states surveillance net, which continued to allow lives at the margins in this incomplete police state. A. P. Stupin, for example, ran away from prison or camp in 1948 and survived as a tramp (brodiaga) for several years. It was only in August 1951, during the campaign against beggars in the cities, that he was arrested. This campaign, of course, also exemplifies the ultimate failure of the heavy-handed police tactics to solve social problems. Soon, the beggars were back. As a 1954 report from Moscow complained: despite the measures taken, every day persons engaged in begging appear on the streets and in public spaces (p. 120). In 1957, in preparation for the international youth festival, the police had to again actively cleanse the capital of the criminal, itinerant, and begging element, rounding up 1,976 beggars in the first five month of the year (pp. 733734). Overall, in the entire Soviet Union, the security organs temporarily detained 180,729 beggars and tramps that year (p. 131). The law against tramps (brodiagi) remained largely unenforced, because it is hard to convict tramps, it is hard to catch them (527).

Part of the weakness of the police state was caused by the excessively strict labour laws. Their enforcement overcharged the security organs, which meant that little capacity was left for policing criminal behaviour, let alone reintegrate beggars into mainstream society. The criminalisation of much of everyday life after the war, which exposed large segments of the population to prison and camp experience, also contributed to social anomie. The problems caused by the March 1953 amnesty of criminals are relatively well known today. This collection also shows that the GULAGs revolving door (Golfo Alexopoulos) already contributed to social dislocation during Stalins lifetime. The influx of criminals from March 1953 then completely overwhelmed the police. Meanwhile, urban space was only tentatively policed. Historians can gain glimpses into the urban geography of the world in the shadows from some of the documents in this collection. Prostitutes plied their trade in their own accommodations or those of their customers, but also in special apartments or dens (priton); in suburban parks or woods outside the capital, reached by taxi or public transport; in backyards, stairwells, and apartment block entrance ways; or in taxi cabs while the driver stepped outside.

Examples such as these indicate that the editors are right in their insistence that historians should decipher the traces of life at the margins. Conscious that the voices of social marginals are mostly lost to the historical record, they nevertheless argue that historians should not confine themselves to analysis of state discourse alone. Our task is to differentiate the discourse of power and to isolate segments, which relate to so-called social anomalies’” (p. 11). This collection is a central contribution to this quest for a history of the shadow society within Soviet society at large, which nobody interested in postwar Soviet history should miss.

Mark Edele, Crawley, Western Australia

Zitierweise: Mark Edele über: Na „kraju“ sovetskogo obščestva. Socialnye marginaly kak ob”ekt gosudarstvennoj politiki 1945–1960-e gg. Sost. E. Ju. Zubkova / T. Ju. Žukova. Moskva: Rosspėn, 2010. 815 S., Tab. = Dokumenty sovetskoj istorii. ISBN: 978-5-8234-1444-1, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/erev/Edele_Zubkova_Na_kraju_sovetskogo_obscestva.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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