The USSR from 1929-1953 experienced a great extent of social and cultural changes under Joseph Stalin that impacted various groups both positively and negatively within the Soviet Union. Russian society and culture became more uniform than ever before in Russian history, where ‘discipline’ and ‘conformity’ were heard time and time again during that period. The modifications made to these aspects of life under Stalin fulfilled his vision which was to have the total subsumption of individuals to state service through propaganda, censorship, and other means. This was evident in social and cultural features of Soviet life such as health, women in society, arts, religion, and conservatism.
These changes were part of a wider revolution that Stalin Institided in the 1920s, the entire Soviet state was modified so that ‘Stalinism’ touched the lives of all. Education was an area that had a significant impact on society when reformed under Stalin’s regime. Soviet education during the 1920s fell into disarray, the party wanted the youth to challenge bourgeois values and exercise their revolutionary zeal. Teachers became the new party target as the civil war and revolution had been won, many teachers had lost their jobs and thousands of students did not attend classes. As a result, the teachers decided to help peasants in the countryside to read and write. By the end of the 1930s, the system had reverted back to a more traditional and conservative basis, such as compulsory pigtails for girls. This new approach was taken as there was a need for engineers, scientists, and other specialists as the economic transformation took hold. The curriculum was tightened and teachers were given greater authority, non-political subjects like chemistry and mathematics were emphasized. History was used as party propaganda to promote ‘Russification’. An official view of Soviet history was enforced where Stalin’s role was played up and he was said to have a ‘close’ relationship with Lenin, and no mention of Trotsky. John Reed’s 1919 book Ten Days that Shook the World, was not used as it did not mention Stalin, whereas in 1938 Short History of the USSR by AV Shestakov became a compulsory text. Students were forced into the Komsomol (Communist Youth Leagues) when not learning ‘useful’ things and the ‘correct’ view of Russian history, they were taught Marxist thinking and to love Stalin. The quota system which had been implemented in 1929 and was abolished in 1935. The system allowed entry to higher education based on social class, 70% of places were reserved for people of working-class origin. That quota was achieved only once, it lead to a massive increase in the number of dropouts as many students failed. So this change had a great impact, and so the emphasis was placed on quality rather than quantity.
Education was not only for school-aged children, there was an expansion of part-time schools and courses for all adult members of Soviet society. These courses were aimed to raise literacy levels and teach them basic skills to help with industrialization. This had a beneficial impact on the Soviet Union as Historian Shelia Fitzpatrick referred to from a survey taken at the Stalin Auto Plant in 1937 “… A woman of peasant origins uprooted by collectivization… perceived that education was the ticket to a decent life… ‘Without that piece of paper (diploma) you are an insect, with it, a human being’” Which displays the attitudes towards these changes and the massive impact it had on many lives, just like that peasant that had the opportunity to turn her life around. The role of women and their perception changed in society, this social alteration had a drastic impact on the Soviet Union. During the 1920s and part of the 1930s, there was a great emphasis on women’s rights, equality, and feminist thinking. This was accredited to Alexandra Kollontai and her collaboration with Lenin’s wife; Krupskaya in the Zhenotdel (Women’s department). Their achievements included making divorces easier for women, legal equality, and abortion was legalized. During the civil war women even fought in combat units, the new regime sought to reform the old society and it impacted means thinking in the long term. Under Stalin’s regime, women were given better educational opportunities and female workers in factories during the economic transformation were a common sight. This kind of thinking was encouraged in novels by Kollontai “… I do hope that this book will aid in combating the old, bourgeois hypocrisy in moral values and show once more that we are beginning to respect women”.
In the 1930s the Soviet Union was experiencing negative effects of these changes, divorce becoming easier meant there were more broken homes, and Soviet societies were inundated with widespread juvenile crime and homeless children. The Soviet birth rate was declining which wasn’t good for future economic growth, this resulted in Stalin enforcing a range of conservative measures upon women. Sheila Fitzpatrick suggests that this difference was not only social but ideological “As far as lower-class women were concerned, however, it was the duty to family, not the duty to husbands”. This was a new approach was known as ‘the great retreat’, most of the liberal reforms of early Soviet government were reversed and there was a ‘more serious outlook on marriage, family, and child-rearing. In 1936 a new family code was implemented: Abortion was outlawed (unless detrimental to the health of the mother), laws were passed against prostitution, homosexuality, and illegitimacy was looked down on, an increase of child support benefits, the more children women had- the more benefits, class differences were still evident under Stalin despite his propaganda which claimed it did not, was evident in the ‘Wives’ movement’ which appeared in the mid-1930s highlighting the gap between the wives of elite members like party officials and working-class women.