Soviet Hegemony of Form: Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More By ALEXEI YURCHAK

Until the mid-1980s, it never even occurred to anyone that in our country anything could change. Neither to children nor to adults. There was a complete impression that everything was forever (songwriter Andrei Makarevich).

late socialism

This paper was prompted by a personal question that has puzzled many former Soviet people, myself included, since the late 1980s: How to make sense of the sudden evaporation of the colossal and seemingly monolithic Soviet system and way of life, in which we grew up and lived? What was it about the Soviet system that made its “collapse” appear completely unimaginable and surprisingly fast not only to most Western Sovietologists but also to most Soviet people? The experience of the unexpectedness and abruptness of the collapse is reflected in diverse materials I have collected in Russia in the past ten years. This question is not about the “causes” for the collapse but about its “conditions of possibility”: what conditions made the collapse possible while keeping that possibility invisible? To begin addressing this question, we must analyze how the particular “culture” of Soviet socialism invisibly created the conditions for the collapse and at the same time rendered it unexpected. The period when these conditions emerged, the approximately thirty years preceding the beginning of perestroika (the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s), I shall call Soviet “Late Socialism.”

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