Winter 2021 – The Soviet Experiment

To be offered as virtual lectures via Zoom Webinar

The Soviet Experiment Russia’s Tumultuous 20th Century

Presented by Julia Zarankin

Tuesdays, January 12 to March 2, 2021 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon

From the Bolshevik Revolution to Putin, Russia’s history in the 20th and early 21st centuries has been tumultuous. As the 20th century began, St. Petersburg was the capital of the Russian Empire and 20 years later, Moscow became the capital of the Soviet Union, with St. Petersburg renamed Leningrad. By the end of the century, the Soviet Union crumbled, Leningrad transformed back into St. Petersburg, and Moscow became capital of the Russian Federation with a new, modern-day dictator at its helm. We will examine how this head-spinning historical trajectory plays out in Russia by focusing on the evolution of Russian culture – including art, music, literature, film and architecture – from Soviet to post-Soviet times. This course will begin with the 1905 Revolution and explore Stalin’s reign of terror, Khrushchev’s thaw, Brezhnev’s stagnation and Gorbachev’s perestroika in order to make sense of Putin’s current socio-political climate in present-day Russia.

12 January 2021       Twilight of Empire

Russian culture at the turn of the 20th century. Cultural splendour in Russia comes hand in hand with imperial decay. Avant-garde movements.

19 January 2021       Revolutionary Energy

Russia had three revolutions, the first in 1905 and two in 1917. The end of the Romanov dynasty and the rise of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. How modern Russian artists, poets, writers and theatre directors embraced the spirit of the Revolution. St. Petersburg renamed Petrograd and the capital of Russia moves to Moscow.

26 January 2021       Visions of Utopia and Homo Sovieticus

The formation of the Soviet Union after the death of Lenin, the rise of Stalinism and the Socialist Realism doctrine for the arts. The emergence of a new cultural icon, and a new human being: the invincible Homo Sovieticus. Five-year plans, forced industrialization, Stakhanovites, collectivization. St. Petersburg renamed Leningrad.

2 February 2021        “Life has Become More Joyous”

Stalinism in Russia. Terror, the gulag, the purges and the barbaric 1938 show trials of former Bolsheviks. In the midst of Stalinist purges and the terror, musical comedies thrive in the Soviet Union. Propaganda and the creation of an entertainment industry. Dimitri Shostakovich.

9 February 2021        The Thaw and De-Stalinization

After the Great Patriotic War and the death of Stalin, Khrushchev’s regime erases the stains of Stalinism and what follows is brief period of reprieve. Russia’s first cosmonauts conquer space. The perils of reform. Joseph Brodsky’s trial and the arts. The end of Khrushchev.

16 February 2021      Stagnation and the Ruins of Utopia

Living in the sham that is Brezhnev’s Soviet Union. The Olympics in 1980. Maintaining a façade amid the disintegration and erosion of Soviet ideology.

23 February 2021      Glasnost, Perestroika and the End of the USSR

Moving toward a new order. Opening up toward the west, dismantling communism, Gorbachev’s reforms, Yeltsin, and the 1993 coup. Leningrad becomes St. Petersburg again and the Soviet Union collapses.

2 March 2021             Beyond Communism

Putin’s Russia and his new cult of personality. Russian nationalism and rewriting of the country’s Communist past. Corruption. Post-Soviet art and literature. Where is Russia headed now? What does it mean to live in Putin’s Russia today? Reflections on the “Soviet Experiment.”