Refashioning the enemy : popular beliefs and the rhetoric of de-Stalinisation, 1953-1964
This dissertation explores the evolution of Soviet public culture during the decade of destalinisation that followed the great break of 1953. It was a period both of intense political change, as the party sought to create new kinds of legitimacy post-Stalin, and of major social upheaval as millions of prisoners returned from the Gulag to the Soviet mainland. Destalinisation is examined here as a dialogue between three actors: the state, the Soviet public, and the returning masses once regarded as society's outcasts. Recasting the notion of the 'enemy' was central to this re-conceptualisation of public culture. The enemy had long held a powerful place in the Soviet political imagination. In revolutionary cosmogony, the world was locked in a battle between socialism and capitalism in which good would finally triumph yielding a communist paradise on earth. Where loathing of the enemy had prevailed under Stalin, his successors sought to create a more moderate culture, claiming victory was near and the advent of communism imminent. After 1953, the vilification of political opponents waned, calls for vigilance lessened, and the rabid invective cultivated by the Stalinist press began to subside. The binary division of the Soviet realm into two 'zones' - one for Soviet citizens, a second for its demonic outcasts - was eroded. The thesis explores the complex nature of these changes. It examines the contribution of Gulag returnees who sought to recreate themselves as decent Soviet citizens, but who brought with them the culture of this segregated, other world. It also studies the reactions of a broader public, whose interpretation of both political and social change often reflected the ongoing sway of the Manichean beliefs cultivated by Stalinist culture.