Before the Totalitarian Paradigm

Wednesday, 16 April 2014, 4:00pm - 5:30pm, IWM library
The Harvard Project (Harvard Refugee Interview Project, Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System) was organized in 1950 and 1951 by the Russian Research Centre of Harvard University with the support of the US Air Force for the purpose of questioning the Soviet refugees from Europe and North America.
The basic questioning consisted of the oral interviews (life story, education, work, domestic life, activity in governmental bodies, communication, political and social attitudes, changes in attitudes towards the Soviet regime and Communist power) and writing questionnaires (a psychological test, family finances, a test on veracity of information); the total number of about 11 000.
As a result of the Harvard project a few meaningful researches were published: Doctor and Patient in Soviet Russia (Mark Field), Factory and Manager in USSR (Joseph Berliner), How the Soviet System Works (Alex Inkeles, Raymond Bauer, Clyde Kluckhohn). However, in our analysis the book The Soviet Citizen: Daily Life in a Totalitarian Society (1959) written by Inkeles and Bauer will be under strict scrutiny. This book is the unique research of everyday life in the USSR. It deals with professional stratification and mobility, standards of life and income diversifications, education, sources of obtaining information and class models of communicational practices, models of domestic life, social moods of population, sources of hostility and dissatisfaction, problem of loyalty in Soviet society, social cleavage between classes, images of party and secret police in people’s consciousness, problems of national differences etc.
Basing on the history of the Harvard project and analysis of its results, we shall attempt to prove that, from the beginning of Soviet studies in the 1940s, a totalitarian model was not such monolithic, dominant and all-embracing, as it seems from today’s prospect. In the 1940s–1950s, some scholars, who specialized in the USSR, experimented with bringing in various theories and research methods from social sciences and behavior studies, anthropology and psychology, and in such works it is sometimes very difficult to recognize the usual image of a totalitarian society with terror, repressions and a cult of a leader, which we are accustomed to. Emasculation of these studies to the totalitarian paradigm resulted in the substantial narrowing, limitation and cementation of frameworks of thinking about the Soviet Union. Returning/retrieving the history of everyday life of the USSR appeared only in the 1990s.

Natalia Laas is Associate Professor of History at the National Aviation University, Kyiv, and Research Fellow at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.