Homo Sovieticus - Creation of the New Soviet Man - COLD WAR DOCUMENTARY

Homo Sovieticus - Creation of the New Soviet Man - COLD WAR DOCUMENTARY

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In its idealistic form, the creation of the Soviet  Union was an attempt to build a new society.   The experiment aimed to create new societal norms,   new ways to produce goods, new ways to educate  and live and so on. But it also aimed bigger;   not just rebuilding a new society but creating a  new type of person, the New Soviet Man. I’m your   host David and this week, we are going to look at  this attempt, what started as the New Soviet man   but later evolved into the pejorative known  as Homo Sovieticus. This is…the Cold War. If you are like me, life is busy; kids, school,  work, activities..it can be tricky as a family to  

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So, the Soviet Union was created by revolution and  was intended to live its life as a revolutionary   state. Especially in its early years, it set about  trying to destroy the old ways of doing things   and replacing them with new and modern  methodologies. Experimentation became a new norm,   often because the Soviet Union was the first state  of its kind and there was no guide to follow;   new rules and procedures had to be created to see  if they would work. Included in these experiments   were not only reforming methods of education,  administration, healthcare, economy, military   and other areas of state but how to create a  New Soviet Man. But how was this to be done?  Soviet ideology, as I am sure you are all  aware, was based on the teachings of Marxism.  

These covered the principles of class struggle,  of internationalism, of historical materialism   and so on, forming the key pillars of ideology.  But, Marxism didn’t cover and discuss EVERYTHING,   so lots of interpretation and extrapolation had  to happen. Marx and Engels did talk about how the   proletariat would not only change the world but  would also give rise to a New Man of the future,   one who would be multi-talented and  socially-conscious as well as who enjoyed   helping others and had been freed from having  a specialisation forced on them by the system.   “The Communist man of the future  will be able to “Hunt in the morning,   fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the  evening, criticise after dinner…without ever   becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd, or critic” But, none of Marx’s work discussed what this new   human of the future world of social justice  would actually be like in any depth or detail.   This was left to the imaginations of Bolshevik  leaders and ideologues. Naturally, no uniform   interpretation or conclusion was ever reached.  Opinions ranged from an individualist New Man to  

a complete collectivist, from a socially and  politically perfect man to one that was also   considered to be physically impeccable. And, as you might expect, the idealised   characteristics of the New Man changed over time,  depending on the political realities in the Soviet   Union at the time. For example, Trotsky as one of  the primary early ideologues of the Soviet Union,   suggested that people had to work hard to pave the  way for the emergence of the “harmonious citizen   of the commune”. This recognized the Soviet  citizen at the time as being transitionary  

and would need to actively develop their physical  and spiritual capabilities by being both well   read and well connected with revolutionaries  abroad as well as being free of religious and   nationalist prejudices. They would also need  to be well connected to the working class   and be smart and strong willed but also not afraid  of inflicting violence whenever necessary. Trotsky   even went so far as to describe the physical  appearance of the perfect revolutionary:   thin, small, very confident and calm but nervous  from time to time with an occasional smile.   In fact, Comrade Trotsky seemed  to be describing himself!  But Trotsky wasn’t the only one to share  their ideas of the ideal New Soviet Man.   Anatoly Lunacharsky, the first People's  Commissar of Education saw the New Soviet   Man as “a universal and a free individual,  preoccupied with the goals of society”.  

According to Lunacharsky, the New Man had to be  ready to sacrifice himself for society and that   “it is not enough to die for these goals - we  demand more: we demand living with these goals,   living every hour of their lives”. The New Man  would need to be persuasive and hard-working with   a spirit of solidarity. Lunacharsky also echoed  Marx and Engels, emphasising the universality of   the individual stating “they should have their  own speciality, they should know their job,   but they should also be interested and be capable  of entering any field of knowledge”. He also   believed that the New Man should be “‘a man of  honour’, The notion of honour should be developed   from early ages…if a boy or girl are lying,  if they are preventing a collective work, if   they inflict violence as the powerful against the  weaker, if they have been antisemitic, they should   feel ashamed in front of their comrades for their  unworthy deeds as members of these collective.” 

Now, despite propagating collectivism, Lunacharsly  also recognized that the New Man was free in their   own personal choices, as long as they did not  harm collective work and societal harmony,   stating that the New Man “creates their  environment, their philosophical beliefs,   their family and domestic life in an absolutely  individual way. If this leads to great   diversity - even better. This great diversity  is never going to turn into chaos, because   interests will not be clashing, since people  are mostly going to be brothers and colleagues”.  And of course, Lunacharsky also commented on the  expected physical transformation of the New Man;   they would be turned into “fighter-titans”,  capable of transforming the earth. This   notion of the transformation of nature and the  victory of man over the environment is actually a   common trope expounded on by other Bolshevik  leaders and ideologues. Bukharin noted that   after the victory of communism, “the tyranny  of nature over man will have vanished”.  

Trotsky said that under communism “Man will occupy  himself with re-registering mountains and rivers,   and will earnestly and repeatedly make  improvements in nature in its entirety,   with its grouse and its sturgeons. He will  point out places for mountains and for passes.   He will change the course of the rivers and  will lay down the rules for the oceans.”   This type of attitude and approach towards  the environment, as something to be mastered   and controlled, although certainly not  unique to the USSR, would be a contributing   factor to the environmental disasters that  would emerge later in the Soviet Union. 

Another of the common beliefs of what a  communist transformation of society would bring   is massive technological advancements, to the  point that human-built machines would allow the   automatization of many aspects of life. The Soviet  urban planner Leonid Sabsovich believed that under   communism everything would be mechanised and  domestic chores would be done by machines.   Sergey Kirov wrote in 1922 that the future Soviet  society would be “capable of embellishing their   wretched earth with monuments, such as our enemies  could never imagine, even in their dreams”.   The prominent Marxist intellectual Alexander  Bogdanov, himself an opponent of the Soviet   government, believed that the Communist  transformation would ultimately lead to   the ability to physically resurrect humans  from death and bring about immortality.   The Soviet diplomat Leonid Krasin, called for the  mummification of Lenin’s body so that he could be   resurrected once the scientific and technological  progress had achieved the ability to do so. 

So, from all this, there certainly appears to be  an emphasis on the skills and appearance of the   individual but this shouldn’t be taken as the  primary belief. The New Soviet Man was to be   viewed as an essential element of the single  Soviet mechanism. As part of the collective,   they would advance the pursuit of the perfect  egalitarian community of the future. Bogdanov   saw the New Man as something resembling a cell,  a part of the largest living organism which was   Communist Society. Without the larger organism,  the cell could not survive, but conversely,  

the organism could not survive without the cell. These ideas were reiterated by the Soviet   revolutionary, Alexandra Kollontai who  claimed, “Only in the new social labour order,   in which the concern of society will be  directed to the creation of conditions   favourable to the flourishing of personality,  will the social atmosphere be formed in which   the realisation of the higher moral person,  now inaccessible to us, will be possible”.  We should take the opportunity to note here that  the term New Soviet Man in the Russian language,   Noviy Sovietsky Chelovek, or just  Noviy Chelovek, is not gender specific   although usually did apply to men. But this  didn’t stop opinions being espoused regarding   the New Soviet Woman as well. Kollontai emphasises  that this New Woman would be about self-discipline   over emotionalism and personal liberty over  submission to men and other societal norms.   She called on women to assert themselves and  emerge from the shadows of their husbands or   fathers, to become their own individuals. A consensus emerged; that women should and  

would take on an equal part of the work of the  collective as men did. As well, that they should   reject the oppressive norms of the past and  simply be on equal footing with men. Women like   Kollontai, Esther Frumkin, and Nadezhda Krupskaya  emerged as the image of the New Soviet Woman. And  

this was an image that was promulgated. In this  1930 cartoon from Izvestia, a woman is depicted   driving a tractor over kitchen appliances, which  themselves have the script “Old Ways” written on   them. This New Woman was to be seen as an equal  member of society, to the extent that many of   the characteristics ascribed to the New Man were  intended to be applied to the New Woman as well. 

So this was what was SUPPOSED to  happen, but as you can probably guess,   it didn’t come to be. Long-time viewers of this  channel will already know what I’m about to say   happened…Stalin happened. Stalin was decisively  more conservative than the rivals he overcame   to secure power after Lenin’s death, including  of course Trotsky. Stalin, as a conservative,   looked to end the experimentations and the  clash of ideas that had characterised the 1920s,   instead wanting to introduce a  more down-to-earth, realistic,   and centralised definition of  the collectivist New Soviet Man  Historian Jay Bergman has described Stalin’s  New Soviet Man as “a heroic, energetic,   wilful and childlike naif, whose willingness  to take risks and to defy conventional wisdom   was only exceeded by his blind devotion to  Stalin”. Berman argues, based on the groups  

praised in the Soviet press, that Stalin saw  the new Soviet Man being an industrial worker   who worked overtime and bested the existing quota,  as well as aviators, mountaineers, parachutists   and long-distance skiers, for example. These  were all men who could break both national   and international records and therefore  bring prestige and glory to the Soviet Union.  The science historian Slava Gerovitch has  argued that Stalin saw the Soviet citizen as   “a necessary, but ultimately subservient  and replaceable part” of the Soviet state.   This of course was echoed in a part of his June  1945 toast to the Soviet victory in the Great   Patriotic War when he lauded the Soviet citizen  as “the little cogs of a grand state mechanism”.   For Stalin, a Soviet citizen was to strive to  improve their productivity and be good members   of the collective. This stood in contrast to  earlier ideas which emphasised the independence  

of the individual. Stalinism also emphasised that  the New Soviet Man wasn’t something that needed   to be created but was rather already a part of  society, setting examples for others to follow.  As you might expect, Stalin’s vision for the New  Soviet Woman was also more conservative than had   been expressed in the 1920s and the direction  he set ended any debate over the role of the   Soviet family. Women were still encouraged  to work; production needs demanded it really,   but women were also encouraged to give birth.  1936 saw abortion, which had been legalized  

after the revolution, recriminalized.  Stalin, convinced of the upcoming war   with capitalism, knew that the defence of  the Soviet Union required more manpower.   The Great Patriotic War proved and solidified  this position, even seeing the creation of the   title of Mother Heroine for women who gave  birth to and raised 10 or more children.  Khrushchev, not to be outdone, also made his  mark on the evolution of the New Soviet man,   proposing a set of rules. These rules were adopted  during the 22nd Party Congress as the Moral Code  

of the Builder of Communism and were essentially  the commandments of the Soviet citizen,   the rules of a communist of the Cold War era. 1. Loyalty to Communism, and love of the socialist   Motherland and other socialist countries. 2. Conscious work for the good of the society:   One who doesn't work, doesn't get to eat. 3. Care for the collective property,   as well as the multiplying of this property. 4. High consciousness of the social  

responsibilities, and intolerance to the   violation of the social interests. 5. Collectivism and comradery:   All for one and one for all. 6. Humane relationships between   human beings: One human being is a friend, a  comrade and a brother to another human being.  7. Honesty, ethical cleanliness,  as well as simplicity and modesty   both in private and public life. 8. Mutual respect in the family,  

and care for the upbringing of the children. 9. Intolerance to the injustice,   social parasitism, unfairness,  careerism, and acquisitiveness.  10. Friendship and brotherhood  with all the nations of the USSR,   intolerance to all racial and national dislike. 11. Intolerance to the enemies of communism,   peace and freedom of peoples of the world. 12. Brotherly solidarity to all workers   of all countries and nations.

Now, as you might imagine, when trying  to encourage changes in society,   role models are often found. And the Soviet Union  was no different. And just like elsewhere, the   role models changed depending on the time period  in question. The Stalinist era used such examples   as Pavel Korchagin, Pavlik Morozov and of course,  Alexey Stakhanov. Morozov was a Pioneer who turned   in his own father to the authorities for his  crimes and corruption. His family as a result,   turned on him and killed him, but the state turned  him into a hero for putting his faith in Communism   above the bonds to his own family. We talked  about Morozov in our episode on Soviet education. 

Stahkanov, as explained in our episode  on the industrialization of Ukraine,   was a miner who completed his coal quota 14  times over in a single shift. The Stakhanov   story was popularised during the period of  rapid industrialization and used to push   Soviet workers to greater and greater outputs. Pavel Korchagin is not a figure we have as of yet   talked about. He is the fictional hero of Nikolay  Ostrovsky’s novel “How the Steel Was Tempered”,   a semi-autobiographical work which remains  one of the best-selling books of all time.  

It tells the story of a dedicated communist,  who is seriously injured during the Civil War   while fighting for the Bolsheviks. Despite this  injury, Korchagin goes on to work in construction,   where he suffers the loss  of both his legs and a hand.   Despite these injuries, Korchagin never loses  his belief in Communism and his trust in the   system. This makes him a role model and an  idealised hero of the social realism genre.  The Great Patriotic War brought forward  role models like Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya,   who at the age of 18 joined a partisan unit to  operate behind German lines. She was captured,   tortured, and then executed but allegedly died  praising communism and Comrade Stalin. This story  

was of course propagandised greatly during the  war and after as the ideals one should live up to.  And of course, then we have the role models of the  Cold War era and what better figures to epitomise   the glory of communism than the heroes of the  Space Race. People like Yuri Gagarin, Valentina   Tereshkova and German Titov were used by the USSR  as domestic role models and international heroes.   And believe me when I say the USSR leaned hard  into promoting the images of these people. They   were promoted and lionised through all available  channels including schools and universities,   the Pioneer and Komsomol organisations, through  art, literature and cinema and of course,   through the armed forces, in which all  citizens from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok   had to serve. What better breeding ground  for indoctrination is there, after all? 

So, after all of this, the fundamental question  then becomes, did any of this work? Was a New   Soviet Man created? Put simply, no. And the  demonstration of that is that the Soviet   Union collapsed and not that many of its citizens  stood up to defend it as it did crumble. In fact,   by the 1970’s and ‘80s, the idea of the New Soviet  Man was becoming an object of ridicule. This is  

when the term “Homo Sovieticus” came into being.  Homo Sovieticus, a play on the taxonomic structure   of humans, inserted a new evolutionary stage for  humanity, but it was not one that was flattering.  The origin of the term is unclear but is often  attributed to the dissident Alexander Zinovyev   as he wrote a book with that very title. The  book is a witty and often ironic description   of the Soviet people and their character  by the 1970’s when the book was written.  

Zinovyev describes a person without any beliefs,  and who was ready to report their neighbours and   colleagues at the first opportunity. Homo  Sovieticus is cynical and does not believe   in either communism OR capitalism. They hope  to live in the West, but also hope that the   West will disperse demonstrations, ban leftist  parties and be a police state. Homo Sovieticus   is highly suspicious by nature and trusts no one. Zinovyev writes that Homo Sovieticus is impervious   to the sufferings of others and always  finds a reason to assign blame to a victim.  

“Buddhists cut millions of Muslims in Pakistan?  Serves them well, there are too many of them   anyway. In India two million men were castrated?  Serves them well, there are too many of them   anyway. Three million were killed in Cambodia?  Great, let everyone see what communism leads to.   20 million Soviet people died in the war? Serves  them well, they will be smarter from now on”. 

Homo Sovieticus can always find a way to deceive  the system. Although they could recite all of the   commandments of Communism and would publicly shame  transgressors, they would also not hesitate to   steal from their own workplaces. The communist  mantras could be recited at will but with no   thought given to their meaning and they would  laugh or mock true believers in the communist,   or any other, system. They are psychologically  and intellectually flexible and always able to  

absolve themselves of any blame. They are a  slacker who feels uncomfortable outside of   their own collective, no matter how much they hate  it and are always the smartest people in the room.   A good Homo Sovieticus is good because  he doesn’t have the opportunity to be bad   towards another person, but when Homo Sovieticus  is bad, he can be worse than the most evil person. 

This extensive description by Zinovyev is  of course laden with irony and is a gross   oversimplification designed to lampoon the  supposed progress of the Soviet project.   Many people have criticised the use of the term  Homo Sovieticus as being more of an academic   notion rather than any type of widespread reality,  basing their arguments around the idea that the   Soviet, and post-Soviet, people are a very diverse  group that in no way could all fit the same mould.  Accepting that Zinovyev’s Homo Sovieticus is  based around stereotypes aimed at mocking the   creation of a New Soviet man, it is clear  that the project of the Revolution failed.   No ideal New man emerged and as the Soviet system  hit the stagnation period of the Brezhnev era, the   idealism of the Soviet people began, or continued,  to fade as the case may be. The idea of the New   Soviet Man, one who would see the world into a  new stage of better life, transformed into the   corrupted image of Homo Sovieticus, opportunistic,  venal, and often cruel. Perhaps no better metaphor   for the history of the Soviet Union itself. We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and to make  

sure you don't miss our future work, please make  sure you are subscribed to our channel and have   pressed the new, evolved Bell button, one that is  based on the idealised version of a bell button   for the people. Please consider supporting  us on Patreon at www.patreon.com/thecoldwar   or through YouTube membership. We can be reached  via email at thecoldwarchannel@gmail.com. This   is the Cold War Channel and as we think about the  Cold War, I will leave you with the words of JFK   “In the final analysis, our most basic common  link is that we all inhabit this small planet.   We all breathe the same air. We all cherish  our children's future. And we are all mortal.”

2022-09-14 09:28

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