Theses Doctoral

Language, Historiography and Economy in late- and post-Soviet Leningrad: “the Entire Soviet People Became the Authentic Creator of the Fundamental Law of their Government.”

Cherkaev, Xenia A.

This dissertation is about holes. It begins by analyzing the proverbial “hole in the fence” at late-Soviet enterprises: the way that workers pragmatically employed the planned economy's distribution rules by actions that were both morally commendable and questionably legal. It then analyzes the omission of this hole in perestroika economic analysis, which devoted surprisingly little attention to enterprises' central role in providing welfare and exerting social control, or to employees' pragmatic employment of the enterprises' rules.

This analytic hole is compounded by a historiographic one: by the omission of the post-1956 omission of Stalin's name from public mention. Framing the perestroika reforms against “Stalinism,” perestroika-era texts typically trace the start of de-Stalinization to Khrushchev's “Cult of Personality” speech, after which Stalin's name disappeared from textbooks; rather than to the post-1953 reforms that fundamentally restructured labor, economic and punitive institutions to create characteristically late-Soviet methods of retaining and motivating labor: including the widespread disciplinary lenience that allowed workers to pragmatically employ enterprise rules. Precluded by this historiography from seeing how late-Soviet institutions had evolved in the post-Stalin absence of forced labor laws and how they practically functioned, popular and expert analysis instead tended to analyze citizens' relationships to the state in subjective terms: as a question of stagnant mindsets and loss of faith.

Defined by its non-complicit denouncement of a retrospectively posited “Stalinist” state, the subject position taken by this analysis precluded speakers from seeing the presence behind all these holes: from seeing how they had practically constructed themselves and the late-Soviet system by pursuing their own economic, social and political goals through its institutions. The perestroika reform laws that were justified by this analysis intended to “speed up” society by intervening in workers' and citizens' feelings of ownership and responsibility. But, lacking a practical understanding of how late-Soviet institutions functioned, they instead quickly crashed the economy.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Povinelli, Elizabeth A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 29, 2015