All the Russias' Blog

A space for news and opinion, sponsored by The Jordan Center

Exhibition Review: “Gastev: How to Work”

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“How To Work,” a recent exhibition of early Soviet labor rationalization techniques held at Moscow’s Na Shabolovke gallery, raises critical questions about the body’s role in the exploitative networks of contemporary capitalism, in which bodies are perpetually connected to post-industrial digital devices that regulate everyday life and labor.

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Cultural Despair and the Soviet Seventies

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In today’s United States, the ’70s seem close at hand. After Donald Trump’s election to the presidency, Foreign Policy asked if the country was once again facing “the geopolitical malaise of the 1970s.” Such comparisons reached a fever pitch during Trump’s impeachment trial, when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi griped that at least Nixon had the dignity to leave office. Back then, cultural commentators warned of The Death of Progress and The Promise of the Coming Dark Age (the titles of books published in 1973 and 1976, respectively). As American capitalism and Soviet socialism competed for global hegemony, both societies were plagued by fears of decline amidst geopolitical and economic shifts, and both cultures were full of alienated characters in search of regeneration.

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Excerpt from Brandon Schechter’s “The Stuff of Soldiers: A History of the Red Army in World War II Through Objects”

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This book tells the story of that dramatic change—from a desperate, retreating band to a victorious army—as experienced by soldiers. The years 1941–1945 replayed in real life a universal tale that had become a major trope of Bolshevism: “the standard exodus and construction stories about the transformation of a motley crowd into a holy army.”

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Soviet Miners’ Strikes, Thirty Years Later: What Miners Demanded in 1989 and 1991, Part II

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By describing the benefits the mine accrued thanks to its specialists and white-collar employees, the “Izvestiia” article points to the intellectual nature of work performed by those striking miners called “bureaucrats.” This modification to the term’s meaning suggests, I argue, that at the core of the 1989 strikes was a tension between intellectual and manual labor that transformed the strikes into proto-class struggle. 

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Soviet Miners’ Strikes, Thirty Years Later: What Miners Demanded in 1989 and 1991, Part I

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In 2009 the former chair of the Donetsk Strike Committee recalled in an interview to the newspaper “Segodnia,” “We never pursued the goal of Soviet collapse. We were against the people in power, rather than the country.” Although this change in miners’ attitude could be interpreted as nostalgia, it seems equally likely that their bitter feelings are caused by the unresolved question of why their struggle for freedom and democracy ended in massive socio-economic inequality. I attempted to answer this question based on an analysis of miners’ demands, as well as the discursive context of the late Soviet 1980s and early 1990s.

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Excerpt from Jeffrey Brooks’ “The Firebird and the Fox: Russian Culture under Tsars and Bolsheviks”

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During the century of Russian genius roughly from 1850 to Stalin’s death a panorama of extraordinary cultural richness unfolded, with layer upon layer of innovation in the arts. Visual artists moved outside and beyond the academy to paint the Russian people and landscapes, then farther still to pioneer Primitivism, Constructivism, and Suprematism. Composers, choreographers, and dancers infused ballet with new themes, costumes, sets, and music. Writers offered masterpieces of Realism, honed the modern short story, and went beyond, turning to the fantastic to capture the surrealism of cultural life under Stalin. 

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Russian Government Reshuffle: Plus ça Change

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Vladimir Putin’s surprise announcement during his annual presidential address on 15 January that the constitution will be rewritten, and the subsequent resignation of his government, caught everyone by surprise. Like Meghan and Harry’s announcement a few days earlier that they were leaving Britain, it seemed to have been be done in a hurry, and leaves many key questions unanswered. Does it signal the beginning of the end of Putin’s long reign – or is part of a scheme to enable him to stay in power behind the scenes even after he steps down as president in 2024?

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