|Reading by the Oven|
The Second Five-Year Plan also sought to freshen up the regime by re-establishing family stability and rewarding performance in the workplace. This conservatism was also expressed in gender relations and in the legal rights of children. By the mid-1930s, the divorce and abortion laws had become more restrictive. Awards were given to “mother-heroines” who had ten or more children. The law was also changed to permit the same penalties for children from twelve years of age including execution as adults. It is a tragic irony that when the Party was promoting family values, it was dividing and destroying families through its subsequent waves of terror. Stalin also restored a more hierarchical structure to management so that the responsibilities and prestige would be extended to the managerial and technical personnel, a process that involved the rehabilitation of engineers. This volte-face became necessary because the large numbers charged with “wrecking” or industrial sabotage and subsequently either shot or sent to labour camps resulted in a dearth of qualified technical experts, a depletion that threatened the success of his industrialization program. Moreover, large numbers of the recent promoted were not sufficiently competent. During a time of bleak austerity, Stalin introduced a policy of privilege for higher level functionaries and their families that included greater access to food, goods, services and decent apartments equipped with modern conveniences that most people could only dream about. He rejected “leftist” egalitarianism by insisting on differential pay scales between skilled and unskilled labour based on seniority. Those who served the state well by becoming model workers should be rewarded.
This may appear to give Stalinism a positive veneer, but there was a distinctive downside. In her powerful memoir, Hope Against Hope: A Memoir, (Atheneum 1970) of her husband, the poet Osip Mandelstam, Nadezhda reveals how this campaign against egalitarianism extended into access to health services. While accompanying her husband into exile, she fell ill with dysentery. She was sent to an isolation ward in a hospital where she learned that drugs existed that would have helped her to recover more quickly. But access depended on status. When she later confronted a Soviet official that everyone needed medicine, he curtly dismissed her suggestion: “Do you expect me to get the same treatment as a cleaning woman.” She comments that “nobody was unaffected by the fight against ‘egalitarianism’”(119). Rewards and access to services depended on an individual's place in the hierarchy. Stalin was not interested in pursing the utopian future that so many of his young followers had embraced. His public pronouncements were nothing but rhetoric; if he perceived that something threatened his personal power or his ideological shift, he would dispense with it. When the major purges of former leading Bolsheviks followed in the late 1930s, a frequently expressed sentiment was that a counter-revolutionary coup from the right had occurred. There is some basis in reality to this perception.
|Stalin and model workers|