Russian Culture in the 1920’s (19211929)
The 1920’s marked a shift in the Soviet project with a lot of social and cultural experimentation.
Responding to public pressure, the 1920’s pursued an open experimental phase viewed as a retreat from
industrialization and war communism. Victory in civil war seemed to demand that the party fulfill
promises that they had made to make life better for the average Russian. There was a mandate for
reconstruction and social transformation. The country was exhausted from years of war and then civil war
and in no mood for more painful radical changes so the Bolshevik party planned a strategic retreat.
- NEP promoted conservative, revolutionary sentience
• Revolutionary especially in cities. Idea of building a new man. New type of humanity,
mentality and a future mission. Wanted to remake people and create new world view
• Society needed to understand the collective experience in a new way (transformation to
• Also needed science and technology to erase illiteracy and end economic backwardness
• Main goals to: electrify the country (change peoples’ lives), wipe out illiteracy and
• By the end of the NEP period, used power to reconceptualise law, religion and create a
proletariat culture (including aesthetics).
- Simply wielding power was not enough. The state could not change people with laws, decrees,
or repression. They needed to adopt methods of indoctrination. Institutions created.
• Zhenotdel – a women’s department (later disbanded by Stalin in 1930’s but in 1920’s
teaches women about rights, birth control, subversion of patriarchal society)
• Komsomal – young communist’s league.
- Many Bolsheviks rejected many old concepts like the patriarchal, religious family as imperial
and bourgeois. Many family reforms.
• 1918 created laws that sanctioned only civil marriage and allowed divorce, and the legal
equality of women. Also gave full rights to children born out of wedlock.
• Later reforms stripped fathers of control over their wives and children
• Adultery dropped as a criminal charge
• Radical departure from past in attempt to undermine religion and the church (priests
seen as kulaks and elites)
- New family laws created unintended consequences • Family instability
• Difficult for mothers to obtain child support and state cannot intervene
• No obligation for commitment from fathers
• By 1921 most women equate easy divorce with desertion.
• In theory the state was supposed to take care of these kinds of people, but they lacked
- Much new debate over morality and sexual liberation vs. stability
• Sexual liberation, free love, etc. Families seen as bourgeois.
• Stability means social stability, male accountability, economic plight of women.. Idea
that sexual promiscuity adds to these problems.
- Social Conservatives eventually win out
• The Law Code of 1926 creates common law marriage. Even if they are not registered
as married, they are responsible to each other.
• Joint ownership
• Relaxed divorce requirements (can notify spouse by postcards) – divorce doubles by
- Time of hooliganism, homelessness, and poverty
• Displaced children and teenagers are found to be beyond integration and become
important demographic recruited by criminals
• Extremely hard for the government to control
• They wreak havoc and society demands action
- Illiteracy and Low literacy levels
• New Soviet man was to be achieved through education
• Idea to educate every and eliminate elitism
• New method: Complex Method, which is not just academic subjects, but life itself.
Ideas like working in groups. Particularly promoted secularism.
• Special programs for workers called Rabfak – equivalent o f secondary education (like
night school) • Big push to get peasants and workers educated
• Attacked during civil war
• Church land is nationalized and turned into state farms – plundered and priests killed
• Easing up after war because did not want to antagonize peasants
• Despite all changes, in 1937 a poll is taken and 57% identified themselves as believers
- March 1921: 10 Party Congress
• NEP is introduced
• Factions in Bolshevik party
o Some challenge Lenin – advocate for more internal democracy
o Others want independence of trade unions (not representing workers because
exclusively loyal to party)
o Third faction believe that the party was getting too soft
o All factions were informal
• Congress endorsed NEP
o Aims to ease public resentment against emergency measures
o Give more opportunities to peasants
o Declared factories state owned but peasants can keep profits from sales at
o Small businesses allowed – create NEP men, who had good effect on economy
o Small scale production and businesses. Taxes from them went into industry
o Endorsed market and ended grain requisitioning
o Denationalized small scale enterprises
o Outlawed opposing political parties and banned party factions
o Postpone socialism
• General trend of increasing economic freedom and decreasing political freedom - In 1920’s Bolsheviks are neither omnipotent or single minded
• Divisions within party
• Policy reflected mass pressure
• Party much stronger in major cities
- 1921 Lenin declares that they will follow NEP for some time
- Economic debate among Bolsheviks
• On Right: Nikolai Burkharin is pro NEP and wants to work with peasants to make
• On Left: Trotsky and Preobrazhenskii want immediate industrialization. Peasants will
absorb the chief costs as the largest group of people.
• Main disagreement on the tempo of industrialization
o Also heavy and light industry debate
o How much control government would have over entrepreneurship
o The right (simychka)wants alliance with peasants. Develop agriculture and
then tax it. Gradually build up country instead of requisitioning. Industry
farther in the future.
o The left (Zinoviev/Kamanev) favoured rapid development of heavy industry.
Centralized planning instead