University of Washington, Department of History
Growing up Soviet?: History and Memory among the "Orphans of Stalin's Revolution"
This paper examines issues of history and memory among the 'orphans of Stalin's revolution' : children who lost their parents due to Stalin's harsh policies of collectivization, de-kulakization, breakneck industrialization, and political repression. After the loss of their parents, these children ended up in Soviet orphanages, in which the Soviet state tried to form the "new Soviet people" of the future. Through the collective social practices of the orphanage, the Soviet state tried to encourage these children to transform themselves into "Soviet subjects:" loyal Soviet citizens, who understood themselves as members of a revolutionary society and active 'builders of communism.' In the wider Soviet society, however, a distinct social stigma surrounded these children, who were variously labeled "orphanage children (detdomovtsy)" and "children of enemies of the people." For many, these labels from their childhood followed them for the rest of their lives.
This paper will draw on memoirs and other autobiographical sources written by these individuals to examine how they later remembered their childhood, reconceptualized their childhood experiences, and thought about themselves and their place in Soviet society. It will address common themes among these memoirs, investigating the question of how their understanding of themselves and their past changed over time, and what this can tell us about the limitations of ""Soviet subjectivity"" and how it could change. In particular, it will do so in part by drawing attention to important episodes in memoirs: memories of leaving the orphanage, memories of being reunited with surviving parents, and memories of questioning Soviet state/Stalinism/Soviet ideology as a whole.