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Coming to Terms With the Village: Stalin's Death and the Reassessment of Rural-Urban Relations in the Soviet Union

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In August 1953, the Soviet writer Tikhon Semushkin was sent by Pravda to the countryside to report on the current state of the kolkhoz village. In this article, we use Semushkin's unpublished travel diaries to study elite perceptions of the countryside and patterns of identity construction in the period of the interregnum between Stalin's death and the confirmation of Nikita S. Khrushchev as head of the Communist Party. We analyse how in 1953 Soviet citizens reconsidered their place within Soviet society and how the writer acted as a chronicler and participant in this process. Semushkin's notes prove that regardless of the revolutionary imperative of the Soviet project, the mental framework defining the rural population's place within a broader social context and ideas about peasant backwardness survived through the political turning points of the early 20th century. However, while narrative conventions from the late Imperial period lived on in depictions of the countryside, the end of Stalinism also induced a gradual reassessment of rural-urban relations. In showing how Stalin's death shattered established certainties of social belonging and patterns of thinking about the village, we argue that the interregnum was not only a political episode, but also a period of individual and collective searching for orientation at all levels of Soviet society.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2017

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  • The Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas ("East European History") present the discipline in its entire breadth; for thematically focused articles the emphasis lies on the territory of the former Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union. A double-blind review process with international experts ensures adherence to the annals' recognized high quality standards. An extensive section devoted to reviews informs the reader about current trends in German and international research. In addition, the editorial board publishes an electronic review supplement under the title jgo.e-reviews at
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