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History Russia & The Former Soviet Union

Contending with Stalinism

Soviet Power and Popular Resistance in the 1930s

edited by Lynne Viola

Cornell University Press
Initial publish date
Jul 2002
Russia & the Former Soviet Union, Criminology, Political Advocacy
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2002
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Resistance has become an important and controversial analytical category for the study of Stalinism. The opening of Soviet archives allows historians an unprecedented look at the fabric of state and society in the 1930s. Researchers long spellbound by myths of Russian fatalism and submission as well as by the very real powers of the Stalinist state are startled by the dimensions of popular resistance under Stalin.

Narratives of such resistance are inherently interesting, yet the topic is also significant because it sheds light on its historical surroundings. Contending with Stalinism employs the idea of resistance as a tool to explore what otherwise would remain opaque features of the social, cultural, and political history of the 1930s. In the process, the authors reveal a semi-autonomous world residing within and beyond the official world of Stalinism. Resistance ranged across a spectrum from violent strikes to the passive resistance that was a virtual way of life for millions and took many forms, from foot dragging and negligence to feigned ignorance and false compliance.

Contending with Stalinism also highlights the problematic nature of resistance as an analytical category and stresses the ambiguous nature of the phenomenon. The topics addressed include working-class strikes, peasant rebellions, black-market crimes, official corruption, and homosexual and ethnic subcultures.

About the author

Lynne Viola is Professor of History at the University of Toronto. She is the author of The Best Sons of the Fatherland and Peasant Rebels Under Stalin and coeditor of The War against the Peasantry.

Lynne Viola's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Drawing on a wealth of recently available archival materials, the contributors to this volume greatly enhance our understanding of the 1930s and give us a clearer sense of the size and content of popular resistance under Stalin. Based on solid research, this volume makes a substantive scholarly contribution in illuminating forms of popular resistance with new detail and fresh perspective."

Russian Review

"Drawing extensively on archival research, the contributors demonstrate the wide variation of popular responses to actions initiated by the Stalinist state.... Contending with Stalinism is an important work that is well grounded both theoretically and empirically. The combination of theoretical sophistication and empirical research makes this volume a significant contribution to our understanding of both the Stalinist phenomenon and popular responses to it."

Journal of Cold War Studies

"Contending with Stalinism certainly adds to the continuing discussion of state-society relations.... Viola rightly remarks that the term Stalinism lacks explanatory or causal force; it is necessary to look closely at how people in and outside the governing apparatus behaved. We should hope that this point and the fine research presented here in its support increasingly find their way into textbooks, western civilization classes, and finally the attitudes of the educated public."

Slavic Review

"Viola's elucidating introduction and essay map out the slipperiness of the concept of resistance, noting the need to contextualize action and intent, and state perceptions and prescriptions. The seven excellent essays illustrate how opposition to the regime in the early 1930s could be overt... or existential, that is, simply by living in a minority culture.... Some Soviets were clearly defiant; others were defined by the regime as deviant and thus disloyal.... The Viola collection shows that in the early 1930s organized opposition was still possible, although ultimately futile."

Journal of Interdisciplinary History

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