Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Donald J. Raleigh: 'Soviet Baby Boomers' (2012), Part I

Donald J. Raleigh, Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia's Cold War Generation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

An absorbing look at the world through the hearts and minds of the Soviet high school graduating class of 1967. Specifically, via two elite high schools, one in Moscow and one in Saratov, a city on the Volga River that is about 850 kilometers / 528 miles southeast of Moscow. From the perspective of "the Sputnik Generation," one also gets at the entire arc of the Soviet Union, from beginning to end, and then onward right into the Vladimir Putin era. 

Their grandparents' generation, generally speaking, experienced the First World War, Bolshevik Revolution and Russian Civil War; and their parents, the Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) era, including mass repression, the Second World War, and the Nikita Kruschev (1894-1971) "Thaw" after Stalin's death. 

The Baby Boomers benefited from the Thaw, were excited by Sputnik and Kruschev, but eventually became embittered during the Leonid Brezhnev era (1906-1982), especially toward its end; then on to Mikhail Gorbachev (born 1931), glasnost, perestroika, the breakup of the USSR, Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007) and Putin (born 1952).

Most of the interviewed boomers were the children of "third tier" elites -- those immediately below nomenklatura and second tier elites -- that is, they were children "of the mass intelligentsia -- professionals (doctors, research scientists, professors, engineers, architects, artists, teachers, librarians, etc.)," the kinds of bourgeois specialists who tend to help maintain a semblance of civil society (not only in the Soviet Union but also in 'The West'). (page 22)

Stalin, a brutish nationalist and proponent of the Cult of Personality (namely his own), turned against those with a more internationalist sensibility, and aimed, almost right up to the time of his death in 1953, "to root out 'cosmopolitanism,'" partly a code word for Jewish intellectuals, sophisticated urbanites and their "fellow travelers."  (page 32) Luckily for most, in the wake of Stalin's death came "the Thaw," which relaxed the atmosphere a bit.

As for attitudes and actions over time, Raleigh notes: "Within any historical situation, people pick their fates and live their lives both as passive objects and as active agents." (page 64)

Teachers were very important to the elite Baby Boomers: they "'had very colorful personalities' and played an enormous role in shaping their charges' worldviews' . . . 'They taught us to think, not only to learn things by heart' . . . 'Actually, all of the teachers were excellent! Except for a few individuals, they were all interesting.'" (page 91)

[To be continued.] 

Today's Rune: Signals. 

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