Khrushchev's Cold Summer: Gulag Returnees, Crime, and the Fate of Reform after Stalin

Khrushchev's Cold Summer: Gulag Returnees, Crime, and the Fate of Reform after Stalin

by Miriam Dobson


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Between Stalin's death in 1953 and 1960, the government of the Soviet Union released hundreds of thousands of prisoners from the Gulag as part of a wide-ranging effort to reverse the worst excesses and abuses of the previous two decades and revive the spirit of the revolution. This exodus included not only victims of past purges but also those sentenced for criminal offenses. In Khrushchev's Cold Summer Miriam Dobson explores the impact of these returnees on communities and, more broadly, Soviet attempts to come to terms with the traumatic legacies of Stalin's terror.

Confusion and disorientation undermined the regime's efforts at recovery. In the wake of Stalin's death, ordinary citizens and political leaders alike struggled to make sense of the country's recent bloody past and to cope with the complex social dynamics caused by attempts to reintegrate the large influx of returning prisoners, a number of whom were hardened criminals alienated and embittered by their experiences within the brutal camp system.

Drawing on private letters as well as official reports on the party and popular mood, Dobson probes social attitudes toward the changes occurring in the first post-Stalin decade. Throughout, she features personal stories as articulated in the words of ordinary citizens, prisoners, and former prisoners. At the same time, she explores Soviet society's contradictory responses to the returnees and shows that for many the immediate post-Stalin years were anything but a breath of spring air after the long Stalinist winter.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780801477485
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication date: 09/16/2011
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Miriam Dobson is Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Sheffield. She is the coeditor of Reading Primary Sources: The Interpretation of Texts from Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century History.

Table of Contents

IntroductionPart I. Re-imagining the Soviet World after Stalin, 1953–1956
1. 1953: "The Most Painful Year"
2. Prisoners and the Art of Petitioning, 1953–1956
3. Heroes, Enemies, and the Secret SpeechPart II. Stalin's Outcasts Return: Moral Panic and the Cult of Criminality
4. Returnees, Crime, and the Gulag Subculture
5. The Redemptive Mission
6. A Return to WeedingPart III. A Fragile Solution? From the Twenty-Second Party Congress to Khrushchev’s Ouster
7. 1961: Clearing a Path to the Future
8. Literary Hooligans and ParasitesConclusionBibliography

What People are Saying About This

Golfo Alexopoulos

"In this remarkable book, Miriam Dobson offers a strikingly original and fascinating perspective on the de-Stalinization process. At the center of her captivating narrative is the dismantling of the Gulag and the impact—social, cultural, psychological—of former prisoners on Soviet society during the Khrushchev years. Her keen analysis provokes us to think anew about Khrushchev's leadership, the discourses of exclusion and inclusion in the USSR, and everyday life after Stalin."

Amir Weiner

"Based on myriad personal stories, Khrushchev's Cold Summer is an original and important book that never loses sight of the big picture. Effectively using the medium of letter writing to the authorities, Miriam Dobson tells a human and often moving story of revived and crushed hopes, compassion and cruel indifference, zeal and apathy, ideological concerns, and petty calculations that formed Soviet life."

Lynne Viola

"In this major revisionist study, Miriam Dobson details one of the most important chapters in the history of Khrushchev's reforms. The release of hundreds of thousands of prisoners from the Gulag, before and after Khrushchev's secret speech, symbolized and reflected the regime's efforts at de-Stalinization. At the same time, the release of these prisoners, only a minority of whom were political prisoners, led to a wave of crime and social anxiety across the Soviet Union, resulting in the paradox of this reform ultimately leading the regime back to illegality in the interests of law and order. Based on a wide variety of declassified archival sources, Khrushchev's Cold Summer shows both the extent to which Stalinism endured in Soviet society and the multiple obstacles to change. The result is a fascinating tale of society's response to Khrushchev's reforms based on an astute analysis and sympathetic reading of hundreds of unpublished letters to leaders, journals, and newspapers."

Hubertus F. Jahn

"A truly panoptic study of Khrushchev's USSR, Miriam Dobson's book offers a perceptive analysis of de-Stalinization, especially the social and moral upheavals following the mass return of 'Stalin's outcasts' from the Gulag. Based on new archival sources and covering issues as diverse as party politics, youth culture, and prisoners' tattoos, it shows a society in the process of re-inventing itself, defining new values and articulating new meanings for justice, honor, and respectability. Among the relatively few books on Soviet society during the Khrushchev period, this is without doubt one of the most authoritative and readable ones."

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