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The Soviet period in many aspects represented continuity with the prerevolutionary period in that it was consistent with some key features of traditional Russian political culture—the autocracy, the supremacy of the state over society, the dominance of a state ideology, and an emphasis on egalitarianism and collectivism. 


However, in other aspects, the Soviet period represented a departure from elements of traditional Russian political culture. The peasant commune and other forms of traditional social life were destroyed by the Stalinist upheaval to be replaced by large state-run economic units such as collective and state farms. Atheism and Marxism were proclaimed the official doctrine, and attempts were made to turn Marxism into a sort of “secular” religion to replace Christianity and other religious creeds of the tsarist empire. The Orthodox Church itself was subject to severe restrictions during most of the Soviet period. 

But the most significant shifts in Russian political culture of the Soviet period were connected with the transition from a predominantly rural, uneducated society to one that is overwhelmingly urban and literate. Prerevolutionary Russia was a land of peasants, with over 80 percent of its population living in rural communities. Today, the situation has been almost reversed: nearly three-quarters of the population of Russia is classified as urban. In the late 1920s and over the following six decades, the social and demographic changes connected with the processes of industrialization and urbanization transformed the passive neofeudal peasant society into an urban industrial society with a modern social structure and an increasingly articulate population. By the mid-1980s, a large urban middle class had developed, represented by a substantial professional, scientific-technical, and cultural intelligentsia with new cultural and material requirements.

The steadily rising educational levels of Soviet society were one of the consequences of Soviet urbanization. By the early 1980s, specialists with higher or secondary vocational education accounted for 40 percent of city dwellers. The rising educational levels brought about a cardinal change in the very notion of the intelligentsia. From a narrow intellectual elite it was transformed into a wide stratum of educated people incorporating diverse social categories and groups: engineers, administrators, academics, actors, teachers, and politicians.

In addition, the ever-growing pressures of the scientific and technological competition with the West required the Soviet regime to accept a certain level of openness to outside influences. Scientific and cultural exchanges of people and ideas, though closely monitored, gradually broadened the channels through which the diverse influences of the outside world filtered into the Soviet Union. In the 1970s and 1980s these external cultural influences assumed an ever greater importance in shaping Soviet political culture and public opinion.

The cumulative effect of urbanization, rising educational attainments, and the influence of global moral and technological trends was nothing short of a cultural revolution. Contrary to the Communist rulers’ expectations, Soviet modernization did not result in strengthening the hold of socialist ideology in the popular consciousness. On the contrary, it led to the formation of a critically minded, alienated, and democratically oriented constituency for liberal reforms. The new “Soviet man” that the authorities sought to forge turned out to be an individualist and a pragmatist. His way of life, requirements, tastes, everyday behavior, and aesthetic preferences more and more conformed to “Western” norms.

The result of Soviet industrialization and urbanization was a population that was shedding fast its “communal” characteristics, transforming into a society of autonomous individuals. As socialist consciousness waned, alternative ideologies spread, and pro-Western, liberal democratic views gained growing popularity, particularly among the younger, urban, and educated sectors of the population.

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Russian Political Culture


Soviet Russia

Understanding the Soviet Period
Russian Political Culture
Soviet Ideology
The Soviet System
Soviet Nationalities
The Economic Structure
The Socialist Experiment
"Great Leap" to Socialism
The USSR in World War II
Stalin's Legacy
Brezhnev's Stagnation
The Economy in Crisis
Political Reform
The USSR's Collapse

Models of Soviet Power

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