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Divided we Stand: Cities, Social Unity and Post-War Reconstruction in Soviet Russia, 1945–1953

  • ROBERT DALE (a1)


This article explores the divisions created by the Great Patriotic War, its aftermath and the reconstruction of Russian cities in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It examines the conflicts created by rebuilding housing, infrastructure, restoring communities and allocating resources in cities where war's painful legacy continued to be felt. The war's impact varied enormously between cities on the frontlines and in the rear. Contrary to official propaganda rebuilding was a protracted process, which created divisions rather than unity.



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1 On the war's impact see: Linz, Susan J., ed., The Impact of World War II on the Soviet Union (Totawa, NJ.: Rowman & Allanheld, 1985); Zubkova, Elena, Russia After the War: Hopes, Illusions and Disappointments, 1945–1957, ed. and trans by Ragsdale, Hugh (Armonk, NY.: M. E. Sharpe, 1998), idem., Poslevoennoe sovetskoe obshchestvo: politika i povsednevnost’ 1945–1953 (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2000); Fürst, Juliane, ed., Late Stalinist Russia: Society Between Reconstruction and Reinvention (London: Routledge, 2006); Lovell, Stephen, The Shadow of War: Russia and the USSR, 1941 to the Present (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).

2 Filtzer, Donald, Soviet Workers and Late Stalinism: Labour and the Restoration of the Stalinist System After World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 92.

3 Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Rossiiskoi Federatsii (hereafter GARF) f. A-314, op.2, d.189, l.45.

4 See Bessel, Richard and Schumann, Dirk, eds., Life After Death: Approaches to a Cultural and Social History of Europe During the 1940s and 1950s (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Sheila Fitzpatrick, ‘Postwar Soviet Society: The Return to Normalcy”, 1945–1953’, in Linz, ed., The Impact of World War II, 129–56.

5 Weiner, Amir, ‘The Making of a Dominant Myth: The Second World War and the Construction of Political Identities within the Soviet Polity’, Russian Review, 55, 4 (1996), 638–60; idem., Making Sense of War: The Second World War and the Fate of the Bolshevik Revolution (Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press, 2001).

6 Hosking, Geoffrey, ‘The Second World War and Russian National Consciousness’, Past & Present, 175 (May 2002), 162–87.

7 On the positive emotions awakened by war see, Seniavskaia, E. S., Frontovoe pokolenie 1941–1945: Istoriko-psikhologicheskoe issledovanie (Moscow, IRI-RAN, 1995).

8 Weiner, Making Sense of War, 384.

9 Merridale, Catherine, ‘The Collective Mind: Trauma and Shell-shock in Twentieth-century Russia’, Journal of Contemporary History, 35, 1 (2000), 3955.

10 Qualls, Karl D., From Ruins to Reconstruction: Urban Identity in Soviet Sevastopol After World War II (Ithaca, NY. and London: Cornell University Press, 2009); Jones, Jeff, Everyday Life and the ‘Reconstruction’ of Soviet Russia During and After the Great Patriotic War, 1943–1948 (Bloomington, IN.: Slavica, 2008).

11 Filtzer, Donald, Soviet Workers and Late Stalinism: Labour and the Restoration of the Stalinist System After World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 93; idem., The Hazards of Urban Life in Late Stalinist Russia: Health, Hygiene, and Living Standards, 1943–1953 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 11–13; Smith, Mark B., Property of Communists: The Urban Housing Program from Stalin to Khrushchev (DeKalb, IL.: Northern Illinois University Press, 2010), 27.

12 Colton, Timothy J., Moscow: Governing the Socialist Metropolis (Cambridge, MA.; London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1995); Ruble, Blair A., Leningrad: Shaping a Soviet City (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990; Cattell, David T., Leningrad: A Case Study of Soviet Urban Government (New York, Washington and London: Praeger, 1968) and Maddox, Steven, Saving Stalin's Imperial City: Historic Preservation in Leningrad, 1930–1953 (Bloomington, IN.: Indiana University Press, 2015).

13 Filtzer, The Hazards of Urban Life, 11–13.

14 Diefendorf, Jeffrey M., ‘Introduction: New Perspectives on a Rebuilt Europe’, in Diefendorf, Jeffrey M., ed., Rebuilding Europe's Bombed Cities (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1990), 115.

15 Kotkin, Stephen, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press, 1995), 160.

16 Rebecca Manley, ‘“Where should we settle the comrades next?” The adjudication of housing claims and the construction of the post-war order’, in Fürst, ed., Late Stalinist Russia, 233–46 (234).

17 Diefendorf, ‘Introduction: New Perspectives on a Rebuilt Europe’, 5.

18 Richard Bessel, Germany 1945: From War to Peace (London: Simon and Schuster, 2009), 385–401.

19 Kynaston, David, Austerity Britain 1945–51 (London: Bloomsbury, 2007) 2834, 159–63; David Edgerton, ‘War, Reconstruction, and the Nationalization of Britain, 1939–1952’, Past and Present, Supplement 6 (2011), 29–46.

20 Lebow, Katherine, Unfinished Utopia: Nowa Huta, Stalinism, and Polish Society, 1949–56 (Ithaca, NY. and London: Cornell University Press, 2013).

21 Harrison, Mark, ‘The Soviet Union after 1945: Economic Recovery and Political Repression’, Past & Present, 210, Supplement 6 (2011), 107.

22 Cooke, Catherine, ‘Beauty as a Route to “the Radiant Future”: Responses of Soviet Architecture’, Journal of Design History, 10, 2 (1997), 137–60.

23 GARF, f.R-8131, op.37, d.2445, ll.72–3.

24 Abalikhin, B. S., ‘Vozrozhdenie’, in Volgograd: Chetyre Veka istorii (Volgograd: Nizhne-Volzhskoe knizhnoe izdatel'stvo, 1989), 267.

25 Abalikhin, ‘Vozrozhdenie’, 270.

26 Stalingradskai epopeia (Moscow: Zvonnitsa MG, 2000), 393–407 (404).

27 Hellbeck, Jochen, Stalingrad: The City That Defeated the Third Reich (New York: Basic Books, 2015), 92.

28 The journalist Alexander Werth, for example, recalled meeting a Russian soldier who described how there was nothing left of Stalingrad, and that it would ‘save a lot of trouble’ to rebuild Stalingrad elsewhere. Werth, Alexander, Russia at War, 1941–1945 (London: Pan, 1965), 554.

29 RGASPI, f.17, op.125. d.509, ll.133–62 (l.137).

30 Abalikhin, ‘Vozrozhdenie’, 269; GARF, f.A–315, op.6, d.131, l.37.

31 Bezdenezhnykh, P., Kak vosstanavlivaetsia khoziaistvo v raionakh, osvobozhdennykh ot nemetskoi okkupatsii (Moscow, Voennoe Izdatel'stvo Narodnogo-komissiarta oborony, 1945), 1617.

32 Day, Andrew, ‘The Rise and Fall of Stalinist Architecture’ in Cracraft, James and Rowland, Daniel, eds., Architecture of Russian Identity: 1500 to the Present (Ithaca, NY. and London: Cornell University Press, 2003), 172–90 (173–4). On Stalingrad's general plan see also GARF, f.A-259, op.6, d.107, ll.1–3.

33 Day, ‘The Rise and Fall of Stalinist Architecture’, 176–7; GARF f.A-359, op.6, d.104, ll.1–3.

34 Day, ‘The Rise and Fall of Stalinist Architecture’, 174.

35 Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain.

36 GARF, f.A–359, op.6, d.131, l.38.

37 Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv sotsial'no-politicheskoi istorii (hereafter RGASPI) f.17, op.121, d.582, l.1.

38 Steinbeck, John Ernst, A Russian Journal (London: William Heinemann, 1949), 118–25; Strohm, John L., Just Tell the Truth’. The Uncensored Story of How the Common People Live Behind the Iron Curtain (New York, London: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948), 66–8.

39 Day, ‘The Rise and Fall of Stalinist Architecture’, 185.

40 Papernyi, Vladimir, Architecture in the Age of Stalin: Culture Two, trans. by John Hill and Roann Barris (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

41 Lebow, Unfinished Utopia, 9, 40–3.

42 Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain, 107.

43 Gorlizki, Yoram and Khlevniuk, Oleg, Cold Peace: Stalin and the Soviet Ruling Circle, 1945–1953 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 69.

44 Harrison, ‘The Soviet Union after 1945’, 103–20.

45 The phrase ‘attenuated recovery’ is borrowed from Filtzer, Soviet Workers and Late Stalinism, 77–116.

46 Siegelbaum, Lewis N. and Moch, Leslie Page, Broad in My Native Land: Repertoires and Regimes of Migration in Russia's Twentieth Century (Ithaca, NY. and London: Cornell University Press, 2014), 124–5.

47 Filtzer, Soviet Workers and Late Stalinism, 99.

48 Smith, Property of Communists, 36, 52.

49 Smith, Property of Communists; Filtzer, Soviet Workers and Late Stalinism, 99; Zubkova, Poslevoennoe Sovetskoe obshchestvo, 56.

50 GARF, f.A-259, op.7, d.899, l.1.

51 Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv ekonomiki (RGAE), f.1562, op.41, d.6, ll.101–3, reprinted in E. Iu. Zubkova, ed., Sovetskaia zhizn’, 1945–1953 (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2003), 162–4.

52 GARF, f.A-259, op.6. d.2837, ll.60–71; GARF, f.A-259, op.6, d.138, ll.3–3ob.

53 Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain, 162.

54 GARF, f.A-259, op.6, d.3721, ll.1–5.

55 Bezdenezhnykh, Kak vosstanavlivaetsia khoziaistvo, 39.

56 Strohm, ‘Just Tell the Truth’, 67.

57 RGASPI, f.17, op.132, d.87, ll.74–5.

58 Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain, 72–105, 198–202; Lebow, Unfinished Utopia, 44–73, DeHaan, Heather D., Stalinist City Planning: Professionals, Performance, and Power (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013), 147–62.

59 Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain, 105.

60 DeHaan, Stalinist City Planning, 148

61 Lebow, Unfinished Utopia, 72.

62 RGASPI, f.17, op.132, d.87, ll.76–77; Day, ‘The Rise and Fall of Stalinist Architecture’, 177–86.

63 V. N. Simbrirtseva, ‘Vtoroe rozhdenie Stalingrada’, Zhilishchno-kommunal'noe khoziaistvo, 1951, No.5, 25–30.

64 Day, ‘The Rise and Fall of Stalinist Architecture’, 186.

65 GARF, f.A-259, op.7, d.864, l.113.

66 RGASPI, f.17, op.125, d.509, l.137.

67 RGASPI, f.17, op.125, d.509, l.150; RGAE, f.1562, op.41, d.6, ll.101–3, reprinted in E. Iu. Zubkova, ed., Sovetskaia zhizn’, 1945–1953 (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2003), 163.

68 Strohm, ‘Just Tell the Truth’, 68.

69 RGASPI, f.17, op.135, d.509, l.140.

70 N. Simbrirtseva, ‘Vtoroe rozhdenie Stalingrada’, Zhilishchno-kommunal'noe khoziaistvo, 1951, No.5, 25–30.

71 GARF, f.R-8131, op.37. d.2445, ll.72–3.

72 Manley, ‘Where should we settle the comrades next?’, 233–46.

73 Manley, Rebecca, To the Tashkent Station: Evacuation and Survival in the Soviet Union at War (Ithaca, NY. and London: Cornell University Press, 2009), 262–7.

74 GARF, f.A-314, op.2, d.189, ll.45–6.

75 Repinetskii, A. I., Rabotniki promyshlennosti povolzh'ia: demograficheskii sostav, obrazovatel'nyi uroven’ 1946-1965 gg. (Samara: Izdatel'stvo OOO NTTS, 1999), 1315.

76 Repinetskii, Rabotniki promyshlennosti povolzh'ia, 23–5.

77 GARF, f.R-5446, op.48, d.3070, ll.14–14ob.

78 GARF, f.R-5446, op.47, d.3131, ll.37–36.

79 GARF, f.R-5446, op.47, d.3131, ll.35-31.

80 GARF, f.A-259, op.6, d.80, l.47.

81 GARF, f.R-5446, op.48, d.3069, ll.88–87

82 Zubkova, Poslevoennoe sovetskoe obshchestvo, 42–3; Filtzer, Soviet Workers and Late Stalinism, 93.

83 Tsentral'nyi Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Samarskoi Oblasti (hereafter TsGASO), f.R-56, op.2, d.170, l.2.

84 GARF, f.A-314, op.2, d.192, l.13; TsGASO, f.R-56, op.2, d.170, l.2.

85 TsGASO, f.R-56, op.2, d.231, l.31–2; GARF, f.A-150, op.2, d.187, l.104; Loviagin, N. V., Gorod Kuibyshev za 50 let Sovetskoi vlasti tsifry i fakty (Kuibyshev, Knizhnoe izdatel'stvo, 1967), 48.

86 ‘XXVIII sessiia Kuibyshevskogo gorodskogo Soveta deputatov trudiashchikhsia – Sdelaem nashi zhilishcha blagoustroennymi i krasivymi’, Volzhskaia kommuna, 19 June 1946, 3.

87 GARF, f.R-5446, op.48, d.3070, l.32–31.

88 GARF-, f.A-314, op.2, d.192, l.13-13ob; TsGASO, f.R-56, op.2, d.170, l.2.

89 GARF, f.A-150, op.2, d.139, 140, 141, 142.

90 ‘Arkhitekturnaia rekonstruktsiia gorodov Urala i Sibiri – bol'shaia istoricheskaia zadacha’, Arkhitektura i stoitel'stvo, No.10, (August 1947), 1–3; ‘Stroitel'stvo i blagostroistvo gorodov urala i Sibiri (Cheliabinskoe soveshchanie)’, Arkhitektura i stoitel'stvo, No.10, (August 1947), 7-8.

91 GARF, f.A-150, op.2, d.139, l.25.

92 Samuelson, Lennart, Tankograd. The Formation of a Soviet Company Town: Cheliabinsk, 1900s–1950s (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 217–54.

93 GARF, f.A-150, op.2, d.139, l.5, 10.

94 GARF, f.A-150, op.2, d.139, l.5.

95 Samulson, Tankograd, 266.

96 GARF, f.A-150, op.2, d.140, ll.5–6.

97 Samulson, Tankograd, 261.

98 GARF, f.R-5446, op.48, d.3069, ll.40–39, 46.

99 GARF, f.A–150, op.2, d.140, l.33–7.

100 Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain, 111–13, 120.

101 RGASPI, f.556, op.19, d.253, ll.29–37.

102 GARF, f.A-150, op.2, d.139, ll.21–3.

103 GARF, f.A-150, op.2, d.139, l.23.

104 Cooke, ‘Beauty as a Route to “the Radiant Future”’, 148.

105 Smith, Mark B., ‘Individual Forms of Ownership in the Urban Housing Fund of the USSR, 1944–64’, Slavonic and East European Review, 86, 2 (2008), 283305; idem., Property of Communists, 34–8; Filtzer, Soviet Workers and Late Stalinism, 96.

106 GARF, f.A-150, op.2, d.140, ll.22–3.

107 GARF, f.A-150, op.2, d.140, l.21.

108 GARF, f.R-5446, op.80, d.1640, ll.47–46, 49–48, 45–42.

109 For an example of a letter of complaint from a war invalid whose house, built on individual credit, was at risk of demolition see GARF, A-385, op.13, d.2475, l.121–4.

110 RGASPI, f.556, op.19, d.255, ll.44–6.

111 Smith, Property of Communists.

112 Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain, 129–41.

This research was generously supported by a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, without which it would not have been possible. The author would like to thank Mark B. Smith, Moritz Föllmer and Piers Ludlow for their comments, suggestions, insights and above all encouragement. The article was substantially improved by the rigorous feedback of Contemporary European History’s anonymous reviewers.


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