Theses Doctoral

The Individual after Stalin: Fedor Abramov, Russian Intellectuals, and the Revitalization of Soviet Socialism, 1953-1962

Pinsky, Anatoly Zorian

This dissertation examines the effort of Russian writers to reform Soviet socialism in the first decade after Joseph Stalin's death. My departure point is the idea that the Soviet experiment was about the creation not only of a new socio-economic system, but also of a New Man. According to the logic of Soviet socialism, it was the New Man who would usher in the new socio-economic order by living out philosophical ideas in his everyday life. Under Khrushchev, Russian writers bestowed the New Man with even more power to build Communism.

Stalin, the superhuman engine of historical progress, had died, giving ordinary citizens more agency, according to the contemporary discourse, to shape the future and overcome the consequences of his cult of personality. A new emphasis was placed on sincerity and the individual; and not only on fashioning the future, but also on understanding the details of the past and present. Among writers, a new importance was allotted to the diary, which was conceptualized as a space of sincerity, and as a genre that helped one grasp the facts of everyday existence and pen realistic representations of Soviet life.

This dissertation investigates this discourse of sincerity, realism, and the diary among the literary intelligentsia. It features a number of intellectuals, Aleksandr Iashin, Valentin Ovechkin, Aleksandr Tvardovskii, and several others, many of whom kept diaries in, or employed the diaristic genre in their works of, the Khrushchev years. Based on a reading of their unpublished and published writings, my project locates not a single personality ideal, but several, united by an emphasis on sincerity and realism. I examine Khrushchev's Secret Speech about Stalin's cult of personality in this context, and demonstrate that the speech, commonly considered a discursive departure in Soviet history, in fact echoed earlier narrative conventions.

For the purpose of close reading, I center the project around Fedor Abramov (1920-1983), a leading writer of the post-Stalin era, and how he used his diary and personal notebooks to fashion himself into a New Man. I analyze Abramov's effort to transform not only his thoughts and actions, but also his emotions and diaristic grammar in keeping with his version of the new personality ideal. The conventional interpretation of the Khrushchev era is of a period of uneven cultural liberalization during which the leadership pursued socio-economic goals incompatible with its desire to maintain a monopoly on power. My focus on self-transformation builds a bridge between the cultural and social, economic, and political histories. In the contemporaneous literature, I locate a discourse that describes personal transformation as the catalyst of socio-economic and political change.

Personal transformation, I conclude, was the primary imperative of the age. I thus situate the Khrushchev era in a century-long Russian tradition of living out philosophical ideas in everyday life in an effort to move History forward, and of writers conceptualizing themselves as leading forces of change. Finally, I demonstrate that the version of the New Man into which Russian intellectuals aimed to fashion themselves and their fellow citizens under Khrushchev marked a crucial break in the understanding of the individual in Russian and Soviet history.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Stanislawski, Michael
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 6, 2013