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The Workers ' Club and Soviet Subjectivity in the USSR during the Period of Pre-War Stalinism

Student: Eva Smirnova

Supervisor: Alexander Reznik

Faculty: School of Arts and Humanities

Educational Programme: History (Bachelor)

Year of Graduation: 2021

Was the Soviet Union a popular democracy? Was there a Soviet, anti-liberal subject and what was he/she like? Historians have variously grappled with this question: from the “totalitarian” school’s image of brainwashed subjects to the pragmatic actors of the “revisionist” school. Yet the most recent focus on Soviet subjectivity, whose concern with citizen’s inner worlds often leads it to ignore social context completely, is mostly relevant to my project. Firmly convinced that a fruitful analysis of Soviet subjectivity must combine the methods of social and cultural history, this thesis explores the subjectivity of the Soviet workers through mediated information about their social gestures and through literal self-expression on paper. Specifically, it examines manuals on the organization of club work, reports of workers ' clubs in Leningrad and poems and diaries written by the workers themselves. Combining these various sources, I explore the subjectivity of the Soviet workers through mediated information about their social gestures and through literal self-expression on paper. The study shows that despite the normalizing practices that prescribe the worker to have certain views and tastes, to experience certain emotions in relation to the proletarian goals, the worker almost never coincided with the party ideal, just as his daily life, despite the desire to combine leisure with work for the benefit of society, almost always showed a variety of ways of self expression. At the same time, the study of proletarian poetry and prose shows that the Soviet worker did not and could not have "his own language", because any modern language will retain the experience of the past and is not able to separate itself from the meanings that it bears.

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