World History 2 201 - 12.2.3 Engineers of Human Souls

Despite the clear problems with Stalinist rule, many people living in the Soviet Union, about 80 percent of whom were peasants, were still optimistic about the promised equality they believed communism could bring to their lives. The school of socialist realism that dominated art in the Soviet Union glorified peasants and industrial workers, depicting heroic, muscular steelworkers and smiling farmers wielding agricultural implements. Paintings and drawings of male and female workers in the 1930s were about patriotism as much as artistic expression.

The reality behind the government’s rhetoric about building a worker’s paradise often fell short, however. Some improvements in the quality of life were made, literacy increased, electricity was brought to rural areas, and some people found opportunities for advancement not possible under tsarist rule. But not everyone shared in these changes. People whose innovations in the workplace increased production were rewarded with higher pay, recognition, and promotions, but the production goals party leaders laid out were often impossible to meet.

Urban life grew more difficult during the 1930s. Peasants migrated to the cities to fill jobs in the new factories built to speed industrialization. Hours were long, pay was low, and housing, clothing, and food were in short supply. People crowded into small apartments, and because it was hard to find enough to eat in the state-run stores, they became more dependent on dining halls at work or school, where it was also easier for officials to monitor their conversations. At the same time, many Soviet citizens remained excited by their belief that the government would repay their efforts by providing for their needs better than the tsarist government ever would have done.

Religion served to divide the Soviet government and the masses of Soviet people. Lenin had always seen it as dangerous and a competitor to socialism, so from the early days of the Soviet Union, religion was targeted by Communist leaders. Yet the history of Orthodox Christianity among the Russian people was long, and many found it difficult to abandon their faith and traditions despite government policies to discourage them.

Soviet ideology demanded that women play new roles in society and the economy, so millions took industrial or agricultural jobs outside the home through the 1920s and 1930s. Their situation was fraught with discrimination and emotional turmoil, however. Women were rarely given positions of power in their workplaces (or within the Soviet political hierarchy), yet they were expected to produce just as much as men. Nor did the role of homemaker and mother go away. Women had to fulfill both kinds of roles, highlighting the disparity between female and male work.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax