New Way of Life

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Subject essay: James von Geldern

The ultimate goal of the socialist society was to create a new person, the New Soviet Person, whose entire consciousness was shaped by the socialist environment. This new person would be enlightened, unburdened by psychological complexes, unblinded by distinctions of nationality and gender. They would live simply but cleanly, and their work lives and home lives would be stitched together seamlessly. Although the socialist person would be created by new forms of culture, they would be recognizable by their healthy bodies as well.

The first twelve years of socialist construction saw the creation of institutions, practices and spaces that could accommodate such people. Some could even create them. Literacy programs flourished throughout the Soviet Union, bringing light to older people who had never benefited from education. They were aimed at the most benighted sectors of the population, the non-Slavic nationalities and women. New workplaces and living spaces were created, such as communal apartments that consigned cooking, eating and other formerly private activities to public spaces. New socialist rituals introduced young people and children to the socialist family, and weaned them from the church rituals that were once their only choice.

The state was often presumptuous in declaring that socialist consciousness had been created. The 1930 closing of the Zhenotdel (Women’s Section) was explained by the fact that its welfare activities were no longer needed. Social intervention could also be overbearing. In a collective society, privacy was obsolete, and no vice was beyond the judgment of the collective. This despite the fact that millions of Russians and other Soviet citizens still lived in squalor and poverty. For all the positive figures produced in reality and fiction, perhaps the most popular hero of 1929 was Ostap Bender, from Ilf and Petrov’s comic novel Twelve Chairs, an unreformed con man whose ability to “speak Soviet” helped his criminal career flourish.

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