Call for Contributions: Anthology: Soviet Cultural and Education Policy 

Deadline: April 28, 2024

Anthology: Soviet Cultural and Education Policy | H-Soz-Kult

After 1989, the Western narrative of the triumph of free-market capitalism and liberal democracy spread rapidly, along with the promise of prosperity for more and more people. However, since the global crises from 2007 onward, it has become clear that the liberal vision of the end of history has not been realized. The economization of the former socialist states did not lead to an increase in living standards, on overage, these have declined significantly and were largely deindustrialized to the advantage of the leading economies. This has in many cases been associated with political crises and the rise of right-wing governments. Therefore, a renewed thinking about alternatives to the present organization of society gains once again actuality.

The Soviet example is of particular interest here in several respects:

  • First, the October Revolution of 1917 marked the beginning of a period of profound change, where in relatively few months and years a qualitatively different culture and education emerged. This complex transformation process entailed both the creation of new elements and the preservation of old ones.
  • Second, the social groups that had dominated tsarist Russia and the institutions that they had created over the centuries, were largely swept away together with the connected norms, habits, and ways of living. The new policies were thus profoundly conditioned by revolutionary ideas as well as by experiences of the new social order and the new forms of living that emerged from it. Likewise, the transforming force of culture ought to bring about a renewal of everyday life. In this context, the question arose of who would be the subject of this cultural transformation, and under which conditions it would be possible for the working population to actively participate in it.
  • Third, early Soviet cultural and education policy is characterized by a marked diversity of approaches and concepts and, therefore, has been received as a time of experimentation. The concept of polytechnical education is just one well-known example of early Soviet approaches to progressive education that drew inspiration from all parts of the world. However, most of these early approaches could not be pursued long because of the growing centralization and homogenization of cultural and education policy under Stalin. Research has yet to be done to bring the details of these approaches to light and open them up for academic discourse.

The anthology is intended to bring together research projects on different examples of early Soviet cultural and education policy. We invite submissions of manuscripts on the following (or similar) topics:

  1. Cultural and Social Policy for Women:
    The anthology is based on a broad concept of culture that does not only or primarily entail cultural artifacts or artworks but also comprises the tacit, taken-for-granted norms and costumes that govern our everyday life. Appointed as People’s Commissar for Welfare in 1917, Alexandra Kollontai was the world’s first-ever female minister. She introduced a wide range of policies to support working women: legal maternity protection, public canteens and laundries, childcare, and special employment training for women. In her view, there would be a successful revolution only if both working conditions and traditional ways of living were transformed. Through the socialization of reproductive work previously done unpaid by women, the Soviet policy profoundly shifted attitudes and opened up new perspectives on women’s roles and gender relations. In doing so, she also questioned the material and supposedly natural principles of the gendered classifications of labour. What implications did the cultural and social policies proposed by Soviet feminists have for sexuality, gender roles, female desire, and women’s ways of living?
  2. Education:
    Soviet education arose in the context of far-reaching social upheaval. The topic of education is thus closely connected with the question of how self-organized, collective learning can be seen as a component of an educational system intended to prepare for the development of a socialist society. Given the very low level of education in Russia – even by the standards of that time – and the high rate of illiteracy among the poor rural population, Soviet pedagogies such as Krupskaya, Blonsky, Shatsky, Lunacharsky, Shulgin and Makarenko developed a variety of teaching concepts and ways of organizing learning processes. These concepts were intended to lift broad segments of the working population out of the political passivity to which they had been relegated under the tsars, and to enable them to participate in shaping the economic and cultural life of the new society. Are those concepts and methods still relevant and can we learn something from them for our current education system? In this context, we also invite papers that address educational concepts that do not emerge from or are linked to an already established institution.
  3. Cultural Institutions, Art and Literature:
    The relationship between cultural and educational issues is omnipresent in the early phase of the Soviet state in Russia, and what function artworks and cultural products were to serve in the Soviet society was a fundamental question. The first proletarian museums to be formed in Moscow after the revolution were intended as a general and central educational offering to their visitors. Artists committed to modernism and constructivism, such as Tatlin, Rodchenko, Malevich, El Lissitzky, Vertov, Eisenstein and Mayakovsky, worked on new modes of perception in the various arts in order to overcome the exclusivity of bourgeois art and have an impact on people’s everyday lives. Contributions in this section might examine how the education of the population through art was implemented by Soviet cultural policy, what importance was attached to practices of aesthetic Avantgarde, self-appropriation of art (“Proletkult”) and to the relation to the cultural heritage?
  4. National Autonomy and International Solidarity:
    The early Soviet policy stood for the resolute defense of the independence of peoples, costumes, languages and international solidarity. What peculiarities and difficulties arose here, for example, with regard to the eastern Soviet republics? Interesting research has emerged in recent years on the work of the Bolshevik Women’s Department (“Zhenotdel”) among women in Caucasia, Central and North Asia, which has highlighted the ambivalence between the active involvement of the indigenous population on the one hand and a revolutionary legalism “from above” on the other.

The contributions should deal with these or similar questions. They can, but do not have to be explicitly assigned to the fields of research we have categorized and can also touch on other areas of Soviet cultural and educational policy.

Please submit abstracts by 28.04.2024 to the following address:
The the articles with a length of 6 to 8 thousand words should be completed by 30.09.2024. We are planning the peer review process for October/November 2024 and the final selection of contributions by the editors and the publisher by December 2024.

The volume is edited by Christina Engelmann, Franziska Haug and Ingrid Miethe at Vernon Press.


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