Talk: Myth, Memory, Trauma: Rethinking the Stalinist Past in the Soviet Union

Transient
Transient

During the night of 31 October 1961, two trucks drove onto Red Square, and their occupants entered the mausoleum on the side nearest to the Kremlin wall.  Removing Iosif Stalin’s embalmed body from where it had lain beside Lenin since Stalin’s death eight years earlier, they hastily buried it and left no marker for the burial place.  Two days later, the Soviet population woke to a picture in Pravda of the mausoleum, with Stalin’s name now erased from the frontage.  ‘Operation mausoleum’ was never explained to the Soviet public.

The stealth and speed of Stalin’s disappearance suggest that he had become a ‘non-person’ overnight, falling victim to the same kind of memory erasure meted out to many of his victims, and most recently to his first ‘heir’, Lavrentii Beria.  However, while Stalin’s actual removal from the mausoleum was secretive, the decision to implement it had been highly publicized.  Almost a year after it had printed the picture of the new mausoleum frontage, Pravda published a poem by the writer Evgenii Evtushenko.  Entitled ‘The Heirs of Stalin’, it luridly dramatized both Stalin’s residency in the mausoleum and his more recent move to a new grave.  In the poem, Stalin appeared as an undead ghost, directing his ‘heirs’ to carry on his legacy from inside the mausoleum.  These heirs, the poem claimed, were paying lip service to the party’s policies of de-Stalinization, but in their hearts remained Stalinists, unable to renounce the Stalin cult.  Iconoclasm, terror testimony, and lustration, in life and in literature: the implementation and discussion of Stalin’s removal from the mausoleum involved several different approaches to memory, some familiar, other more unusual or even unprecedented in the Soviet context.  The subject of Dr Polly Jones’s talk is an examination of the complexity of this episode of remembrance – and forgetting – characteristic of Soviet efforts to rethink both the Stalinist past and also Soviet memory itself throughout the first decade and a half after Stalin’s death.

Dr Polly Jones teaches a wide range of modern Russian literature and Russian language for the faculty and college at Oxford University.  Her research interests include: Soviet literature (1917-91); the Gulag and terror in literature; memory and trauma theory; Soviet and socialist bloc propaganda and censorship; samizdat and dissidence, etc.

Tickets for this talk at £7 (£5 for GB Russia members) are only available by email to: membership@gbrussia.org