Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Paula A. Michaels
This dissertation examines the formation and ramifications of the Russian Civil War cult, a system of signs, codes, and meanings that instructed Soviet citizens how properly to be socialist and how to thrive under the regime. By analyzing public rituals of the 1920s and 1930s designed to commemorate the Civil War and its heroes, this project demonstrates the numerous ways in which the state attempted to inculcate Soviet values and a willingness to sacrifice one's life for the state. However, Soviet citizens often responded to war imagery in ways that the regime did not expect, co-opting cult values to suit their own everyday circumstances or to lobby the state for changes in their local regions. Examining the story of the cult of the Civil War through the traumatic years of industrialization, collectivization, and terror recasts how the Soviet state and society came to terms with these dramatic transformations.
A central focus of the dissertation concerns the construction of Civil War heroes in literature and film, the most prominent of them being the famed commander Chapaev. The 1934 film Chapaev represented a critical mode of contact between the state and everyday citizens, in which people acted not only as spectators, but as active participants, allowing them to "play out" the Civil War in their own lives through celebratory fanfare, artistic expression like theater and poetry, and a shared cinematic experience. In this way, the state successfully transmitted images of unity and heroism to the population. The film became a cultural phenomenon, providing people with an outlet for feelings of powerlessness. Watching Chapaev was a method of coping with the dilemmas of everyday life. Built on a varied source base, using published literature and archival documents, including letters from citizens, official memoranda, stenograms, newspapers, and journals, this dissertation explores various public forms of Civil War pageantry, such as monument building, exhibitions in Moscow's Red Army Museum, Maxim Gorky's collected war history, and the twentieth anniversary celebrations of the Red Army in 1938. Finally, the dissertation addresses the cult's disintegration in the late 1930s during the chaos and uncertainty of the Great Terror.
Copyright 2009 Justus Grant Hartzok