HST3027/3028: Stalinism and De-Stalinisation, 1929-1961

Level 3: semesters 1 and 2

Module Leader: Dr. Miriam Dobson


This module cannot be taken in conjunction with Dr. Miriam Dobson's Level 3 Further module, HST 3055: The Soviet Experiment: Society and Culture under Stalin, 1929-1938.


A pass in at least two history modules from HST200 - HST299.

Module Summary

Over a decade after the end of the cold war, the Soviet Union continues to fascinate scholars and writers, generating a rich and fast-changing historiography. This module explores Russian history from 1929 – when Stalin's fiftieth birthday was celebrated across the Soviet Union and he was heralded as Lenin's great successor – to 1961 when his body was removed from the Red Square Mausoleum under cover of darkness. The module thus examines the rise, reign and – posthumous – fall of the Soviet leader and the nature of the new world he sought to create. We will explore not only the ideological and political dilemmas of the ruling elite, but also the diverse experience of ordinary citizens who faced both new opportunities and new ordeals during a period of radical transformation.

This module aims to familiarise students with the political, social and cultural history of the Soviet Union in this thirty-year period through the reading of key secondary and primary sources.


Seminars will be based around primary sources, including both 'official' materials such as political speeches, newspaper articles, posters, film, and novels and 'unofficial' sources including letters, diaries, memoirs, popular songs, jokes and graffiti. Through discussion of these primary sources, students will explore the relationship between state and society, considering both how Bolshevik ideology shaped citizens' thinking and how social reactions in turn informed party policy. We will also consider how different generations of scholars have addressed these issues through discussion of key texts in the rich historiography of the Soviet Union.

The module is divided into four broad sections, the first three of which take distinct time periods: high Stalinism (1929-1941); the war and late Stalinism (1941-1953); De-Stalinisation (1953-1961). Finally, we will seek to identify themes and patterns running through the period, centred on the questions: Can we identify something called 'Stalinism'? What are its origins? Does it disappear with Stalin}s death? What kind of legacy does Stalinism leave?

High Stalinism Destalinisation
Revolutionary Visions: An Introduction to Bolshevik Ideology. A National Tragedy?: The Death of Stalin, 1953
The Rural Apocalypse: The Collectivisation of Russian Agriculture Khrushchev's Secret Speech
Building Socialism: The Soviet Union as a Construction Site Repudiation of the Gulag: Stalin's Outcasts Come Home
Speaking Bolshevik The Thaw: Art and Literature in the 1950's
Gender: What Happens to the New Soviet Man and Woman?  
Daily Life in the Soviet Metropolis  
The Purges  
The War and Late Stalinism Comparative Themes
From Workers to Soldiers: The Great Patriotic War Culturedness and Consumerism
Local, Russian, and Soviet Patriotisms during the War: Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad Youth Culture and Dissent
Post-war Reconstruction Protest: Uprisings, Riots, and Strikes
Re-imagining the Soviet Community: Patriotism and Anti-Semitism Rival Orthodoxies: Communism vs Christianity

Selected Reading

  • Ron Suny, The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States, (1998)
  • Sheila Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism. Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930's, (1999)
  • Sheila Fitzpatrick (ed.), Stalinism: New Directions, (2000)
  • Victoria Bonnell, Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters under Lenin and Stalin, (1999)
  • Sarah Davies, Popular Opinion in Stalin's Russia: Terror, Propaganda, Dissent, 1934-1941, (1997)
  • J. Arch Getty and Roberta T. Manning (eds), Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives, (1993)
  • Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization, (1995)
  • Amir Weiner, Making Sense of War: The Second World War and the Fate of the Bolshevik Revolution, (2001)
  • Elena Zubkova, Russia after the War: Hopes, Illusions and Disappointments, 1945-1957, (1998)
  • Stephen F. Cohen, Alexander Rabinowitch, Robert Sharlet (eds), The Soviet Union Since Stalin, (1980)
  • Vladimir Kozlov, Mass Uprisings in the USSR: Protest and Rebellion in the Post-Stalin Years, (2002)

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module, students will be able to demonstrate

  • Broad understanding of the key social, political and cultural developments occurring within the Soviet Union between 1929 and1961 and an appreciation of how the history of a state founded on radical ideology might be different from our own.
  • A sophisticated understanding of the varieties of source material available and an ability to analyse and interpret these sources.
  • An awareness of the principal debates shaping Soviet historiography and an ability to reach independent conclusions on the main controversies.