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Soviet Baby Boomers-Clarifying My Views about Class

I thank Miriam for returning to the issue of class and to my terse remark about it in my posting in response to Catriona’s comments. I apologize for not being clear: I did not intend to suggest that class is unimportant. Indeed, I make the case in Soviet Baby Boomers that the people I interviewed undoubtedly had different expectations and life experiences than less educated, less well-connected, and rural elements of Soviet society. I claimed that, as a critical component of the country’s urban professional class, the baby boomers are inseparable from the Soviet mass intelligentsia whose size grew exponentially in the decades following Stalin’s death. In that regard, I maintained, the 1967 graduates’ collective story tells us the story of the upper strata of the Cold War generation that lived through the USSR’s twilight years.

I agree that, had I interviewed only members of the working class in Moscow and Saratov, I would have uncovered a different range of experiences, attitudes, and memories. Yet, at the same time, I would caution against reifying class. In other words, whether an informant belongs to the working class or intelligentsia would certainly suggest a probable range of opinions and outlooks, but it would not determine them. What would, in my view, is one’s experiences living Soviet and seeking the Soviet dream, especially at a time when class boundaries became blurred and the population became more urban and better educated.

Although many of the baby boomers kept diaries for brief periods in their youth, none admitted to keeping a diary throughout his/her life. None wrote memoirs, but several published belletristic writings that I examined. I’ll say more about this in a separate posting where I’ll comment on my practice of oral history.

Miriam also had a query about memory. By its very nature, memory, like the writing of history, is revisionist so, had I conducted the interviews earlier than I had (I carried them out between 2002 and 2008), some things about which I wrote would have looked different. I actually asked my baby boomers this very question. As most of them noted, they most likely would not have agreed to share their life stories with me during the Soviet period or else would have done so cautiously. Olga Kamayurova put it like this: “I’m not sure, but, you know, there was fear in our family, probably a leftover of Stalin’s personality cult, and I probably would have been somewhat afraid. I’m generally afraid. . . . And perhaps this fear would have partially scared me. There would have been some things that I probably would have been apprehensive about saying.” All in all, as a result of perestroika, people began talking more openly about their lives, and I saw a real benefit in listening in.

One reply on “Soviet Baby Boomers-Clarifying My Views about Class”

Thanks for these comments, Don. I agree with you that class identity was blurred in the late Soviet period. It’s probably something I need to think about a bit more. I’ve tended to assume that social mobility was less widespread than in the inter-war period (I guess drawing on the idea of a ‘middle-class’ becoming more entrenched in the post-war period), but as you say more and more young people were going into higher education – a trend which also happened in Western Europe and North America in these years and which we tend to associate with erosion of class boundaries.

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