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Thank you, our Stalin, for a happy childhood." "Thank you, dear Marshal [Stalin], for our freedom, for our children's happiness, for life." Between the Russian Revolution and the Cold War, Soviet public culture was so dominated by the power of the state that slogans like these appeared routinely in newspapers, on posters, and in government proclamations. In this penetrating historical study, Jeffrey Brooks draws on years of research into the most influential and widely circulated Russian newspapers—including Pravda, Isvestiia, and the army paper Red Star—to explain the origins, the nature, and the effects of this unrelenting idealization of the state, the Communist Party, and the leader.
Brooks shows how, beginning with Lenin, the Communists established a state monopoly of the media that absorbed literature, art, and science into a stylized and ritualistic public culture—a form of political performance that became its own reality and excluded other forms of public reflection. He presents and explains scores of self-congratulatory newspaper articles, including tales of Stalin's supposed achievements and virtue, accounts of the country's allegedly dynamic economy, and warnings about the decadence and cruelty of the capitalist West. Brooks pays particular attention to the role of the press in the reconstruction of the Soviet cultural system to meet the Nazi threat during World War II and in the transformation of national identity from its early revolutionary internationalism to the ideology of the Cold War. He concludes that the country's one-sided public discourse and the pervasive idea that citizens owed the leader gratitude for the "gifts" of goods and services led ultimately to the inability of late Soviet Communism to diagnose its own ills, prepare alternative policies, and adjust to new realities.
The first historical work to explore the close relationship between language and the implementation of the Stalinist-Leninist program, Thank You, Comrade Stalin! is a compelling account of Soviet public culture as reflected through the country's press.
"Brooks provide[s] the perfect backdrop to the Koestleresque drama of the Moscow trials."—George Walden, Times Literary Supplement
"[Brooks] tells a tightly spun tale about Cold War Soviet life. . . . Thorough and cogent. . . ."—Library Journal
"Soviet history has its own specificity. The student of Soviet literature must be a historian and political scientist and the historian involentarily becomes a philologist. Jeffrey Brooks is rich in this experience. . . . As Brooks shows, Soviet society and the stalinist epoch existed in a fantasy world of ideological construction not only because the authorities 'concealed the truth' and 'censored brutally,' but because through the press, literature, and art 'there was created a stylized, ritualized, and self-reflexive public culture which produced its own reality, supplanting all other forms of expression.' . . . Brooks happens to be both a knowledgeable and sensitive guide to the upside down world which appeared in the pages of Soviet newspapers and magazines."—Evgenii Dobrenko, Novyi Mir (New World, the leading Soviet literary journal)
"The book's central theme carries crushing weight. At least for a time, a regime can define reality. Brooks instructs most by reminding that Newspeak is old news, that a properly orchestrated public culture can creep, kudzu-like, through private thought."—Susan McWilliams, Boston Review
"[Brooks] invites us to ponder how the cultural dimension can be understood. The stimulating quality of his insights will surely provoke valuable debate."—Laura Englestein, American Historical Review
"This rich and compelling study of the genesis and development of official public culture in the Soviet Union has significant implications for our understanding of Soviet society. . . . While Brooks is certainly not the first to discuss the important consequences of the Bolshevik press monopoly, he has undoubtedly read and sampled the early Soviet press more systematically, more rigorously, and over a longer time interval than any other historian, and his book provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the text and illustrations that appeared in the Soviet Union's most influential national newspapers between 1917 and 1953."—Julie Kay Mueller, Journal of Social History
"This book provides a vivid and systematic analysis of the techniques used by the Soviet leadership to build a nation unified in service to the state."—Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics
"Thank You, Comrade Stalin is a landmark study—and a profoundly moral book."—Eric Naiman, Slavic and East European Journal
List of Illustrations vii
One The Monopoly of the Printed Word: From Persuasion to Compulsion 3
Two The First Decade: From Class War to Socialist Building 19
Three The Performance Begins 54
Four The Economy of the Gift: "Thank You, Comrade Stalin for a Happy Childhood" 83
Five Literature and the Arts: "An Ode to Stalin" 106
Six Honor and Dishonor 126
Seven Many Wars, One Victory 159
Eight The Theft of the War 195
Epilogue Renewal, Stagnation, and Collapse 233