The Making of the Soviet Union: Revolution, State, and Society
With its call for materialist human emancipation, the founding of the Soviet Union sent shockwaves throughout the world. Internationalist at the outset, it provided the ground for thinking about and legislating socialist, feminist, and anti-colonial values simultaneously. The Soviet state offered a legal framework and social citizenship rights with state provisions that were unprecedentedly radical in comparison to Western Keynesian welfare states, against whose limits the Soviet state presented an active and symbolic challenge. Yet, fraught with contradiction, the Soviet project was both constrained by global capitalist reality and predicated upon the exploitation of labour and the expropriation of land. How did the promises of the Soviet project, particularly in relation to the emancipation of women, peasants, workers, and colonial subjects globally, change or reverse over time? Were there turning points in the Soviet Union’s radical political trajectory, and what can be salvaged from Soviet history as an example for alternative futures?
In this course, we will explore the making of the Soviet Union–its promises, achievements, and failures, its trajectory and legacy—as we read from both primary and secondary sources, from Karl Marx to Rosa Luxemburg, V.I. Lenin, Alexandra Kollontai, Yevgeni Preobrazhensky, and Joseph Stalin, among others. Challenging simple narratives of totalitarianism, we will examine Soviet social relations of production and reproduction by centering gender and race and by situating the Soviet project in the context of global political economy. We will be introduced to the classic debates of Soviet historiography, including the works of Richard Pipes, Teodor Shanin, Ronald Grigor Suny, Sheila Fitzpatrick, Lynne Viola, Wendy Goldman, Anna Krylova. And, descending from the big-picture view of historical and political change, we will read from testimony of lived experience, as we seek to understand policy-making from below. In the spirit of Walter Benjamin, the course will be organized according to historical moments of rupture, examining their contradictions and the new kinds of knowledge that emerged in their wake. Throughout, we will ask: How can we understand the interrelation of internal and external factors in the making and the unmaking of the Soviet Union? In what ways does the Soviet Union offer a picture of an alternative modernity? How can we assess its legacy today?
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
October 19 — November 09, 2021