Open Book History

A quick look into Fitzpatrick’s Everyday Stalinisum


Stalinist Russia is a popular topic among historians and scholars and has inspired questions such as; what effect did the political policies of the era have on people of the Soviet Union and how did Stalin’s policies change social classes and hierarchical structure of the state? In her book, Everyday Stalinism, Sheila Fitzpatrick gives many answers to these questions and argues that Stalinism was something that affected everyone in various ways but not necessarily at the same time. For example, the last of the Great Purges focused on bureaucrats and high ranking political officials. This wave of terror did not necessarily affect the working class or Kulak population. The same is true for Collectivization and Dekluzification where society elite or political officials were not so much affected by these policies. In Stalin’s 1931 addressing of industrial managers, his intentions for the Soviet Union are clear. “You are backward, you are weak, therefore you are wrong; hence, you can be beaten and enslaved.” [1] It was ideology such as this that fueled Stalin’s “revolution” and divided social classes, identifying the acceptable from the unacceptable and laying ground for elimination of certain social classes such as the Kulaks. As these social ideologies became well understood throughout the Soviet Union, Soviet citizens were under continuous pressure to conform to the new socially acceptable norms.

Socialism as a whole is supposed to eliminate social classes and even the playing field, but we don’t see this happening in the Soviet Union. In fact, we see just the opposite, but why? Not only does most of Stalin’s political policies such as, Collectivization reinforce current social classes instead of unite them, but it also created new classes within themselves. Dekluzification also created an obvious divide in social classes and made it clear which class was acceptable and which was not. Take for example, the Kulaks versus political deportees, some of whom were eventually allowed back into the country. The new divide in social class was a very dangerous dilemma for the people of the Soviet Union. In order to be accepted in society and to escape arrest, many citizens were forced to “mask” their past. This meant living in constant fear of being “unmasked” and facing a harsher punishment than before. This left many Soviet citizens in constant fear of deportation or imprisonment in the Gulag, even as they had “masked” themselves to avoid this very punishment. The idea of culture is also a recurring theme in 1930s Stalinist Russia as well as the struggle between ideal and real culture. As being “cultured” meant having access to resources that most Soviet Citizens did not have, this prevented many from moving up in social hierarchy while creating a very distinct class system.

Advancement in society meant taking on new responsibilities such as getting an education, and changing your name. Even something as simple as moving up in the workplace, proved to add extra stress on the everyday Soviet citizen. Fitzpatrick discusses the stress of responsibility in the Soviet Union and the feeling that it was better to altogether stay off Stalin’s radar rather than be accepted into Soviet society. “To raise to one’s position means more responsibility. The greater the responsibility, the nearer the unmasking. To sit at the bottom was safer.” [2] This is a key element for the everyday citizen of the Soviet Union under Stalin. This new understanding of what was culturally acceptable and the continuation of the trying Soviet circumstance helped create the new social structure of the state, distinguishing the Kulaks from the “masked” citizens and those “masked” from the cultured.

For some, there was a strong need to get an education, find better jobs, and even change their names in order to climb the social ladder, for others the goal was to simply survive. As highlighted in Fitzpatrick’s Everyday Stalinism, a Soviet citizen living in Russia at this time states, “the more people were excluded from full citizenship or could imagine the possibility of exclusion, the more prevalent a certain type of anxious, intense, exaggerated Soviet patriotism became.” [3] The possibility of “unmasking” or simply being cast out in Soviet society was an everyday stress for her citizens. These things in themselves aided in creating new social classes within old ones, separating the survivors from the over achievers and the cultured from the backward. Fitzpatrick points out that the thought of being left out and excluded from everyday society in their homeland was enough to make some work harder to be a part of Soviet society. This is exactly the effect Stalin was hoping for as during the “affirmative action” program as part of the first five year plan it was policy to promote education. [4] This led to the creation of a “privileged” class, but what exactly does the word “privilege” mean in Stalinist Russia? Throughout her book, Fitzpatrick describes wealth in Stalinist society to be that of illusion. Devoting a whole chapter to that of “the magic tablecloth”, she states that “they were people who owned nothing” and argues that being “cultured” meant being accepted into Soviet society. “The Soviet “intelligentsia” was privileged not because it was a ruling class or an elite status group, but because it was the most cultured.” [5] This means that in Soviet society, class was measured heavily on how cultured one was. Being cultured meant having blat, a way to secure resources that were otherwise unobtainable without help from others higher ranking on the political spectrum. This also helped weed out the average citizen from one with connections in the Soviet Union.

While most of the changing of class hierarchy was due to personal relationships or the use of blat, other influences also helped shake up the class structure. Policies such as Collectivization, while seemingly put in place to fulfill Stalin’s Socialist ideals of everyone working together and eliminating class status’, proved to do just the opposite. Under his policy of Collectivism, Stalin could keep a better eye on the peasant farmers in the Soviet Union and gain control of agriculture in the state, but this proved only to divide and devastate agriculture. This also made the Kulaks working on the Collective farms vulnerable, prime targets for deportation during Stalin’s Dekulakization. This also created an even bigger rift between Soviet towns people and peasant farms in the rural areas.

Throughout Stalin’s reign of terror in the Soviet Union, his communist ideologies and teaching throughout the country directly contradict some of the very things he did. Not only did some of his policies further separate his people, but instead of evening the playing field it gave opportunity for social classes to form within already present ones. The irony of the Soviet Union lies in the contrast between Stalin’s socialist beliefs and what actually happened under his rule.




Fitzpatrick, Sheila. Everyday Stalinism Ordinary life in extraordinary times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Stalin, Joseph. “The Hard Line.” In Modernize or Perish, n.d.

[1] Stalin, Joseph. “The Hard Line.” In Modernize or Perish, n.d. (119).

[2] Fitzpatrick, Sheila. Everyday Stalinism Ordinary life in extraordinary times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s. (New York): Oxford University Press, (220).

[3] Fitzpatrick, Sheila. Everyday Stalinism Ordinary life in extraordinary times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s. (New York): Oxford University Press (138).

[4] Fitzpatrick, Sheila. Everyday Stalinism Ordinary life in extraordinary times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s. New York: Oxford University Press (85).

[5] Fitzpatrick, Sheila. Everyday Stalinism Ordinary life in extraordinary times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s. New York: Oxford University Press (105).

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