Several weeks ago, we discussed the nature of de-Stalinization and the extent to which it constituted a legitimate period of (albeit, limited) liberalization for the Soviet Union. Although the restriction of public dissent in the wake of the Twenty-Second Congress of the Communist Party prevented a truly collective, cathartic release suggested that the strain of de-stalinization envisioned by Nikita Khrushchev and the elite of the Communist Party was little more than a political ploy, Ludmilla Alexeyeva complicates this perception in “The Thaw Generation”.
As indicated by the subtitle of her book, Alexeyeva is concerned with those individuals who grew skeptical of the Soviet state during the era of de-stalinization. In the introduction of the text, she recalls that following Khrushchev’s ‘secret speech’, “Young men and women began to lose their fear of sharing views, knowledge, beliefs, questions. Every night we gathered in cramped apartments to recite poetry, read ‘unofficial’ prose, and swap stories that, taken together, yielded a realistic picture of what was going on in our country. That was the time of our awakening” (Alexeyeva, 4). This phenomenon, identified by Alexeyeva as the beginnings of Soviet Russia’s ‘dissident’ intelligentsia, seems to have only been possible due to the questioning of the state unintentionally invited by Khrushchev’s condemnation of Stalin.
Alexeyeva also stresses that these dissenting voices, unwittingly encouraged by the Khrushchev ‘thaw’, carry far more historical significance than they are often credited with. Although the ‘Kompanii’ themselves “emerged in a flash in the mid-1950’s, stayed vibrant for a decade, then faded away” (83), Alexeyeva nevertheless asserts that these informal associations of discontents represented the “Soviet human-rights movement in its gestation stage” (97). Said movement would persist despite the conservative backlash of the Brezhnev era, and would prove an invaluable ally to the foreign press, thereby making the domestic transgressions of the Soviet Union the subject of international censure.
The question I would pose to you all is this: Do we find Alexeyeva’s testimony regarding the emergence of an intellectual counter-culture in the post-Stalin era to be convincing and compelling? If yes, how should we alter our conceptions of the significance and nature of de-Stalinization?