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which acquires gigantic dimensions and has no personal, intimate, or lyrical
residues.”37 Some of his critics understood Gastev™s attack against the bour-
geois individual as an attack against individuality, the individual soul as such.
As one of them noted, he sought to “transform the living person into an unrea-
soning and stupid instrument without any general quali¬cations or suf¬cient
all-round development.”38 The idea of a well-rounded development was a nod
to Marx™s humanism, which many of those critical of the machine cult and an
exclusively proletarian culture upheld as the normative frame for the future
New Man. It was dif¬cult for constructivists and other proponents of the
machine man to legitimate their project in Marxist terms, because for Marx
the soul was an indispensable part in the human process of self-becoming.
For Marxists, the New Man required subjectivity, which was central for his
historical evolution from nonman to man.
The emphasis on the individual, the soul, and the will was consistent with
Stalinism. The onset of the Stalinist era in Soviet history is usually associated
with the late 1920s, when the Party majority led by Stalin broke with the
compromises of the NEP order and decided to industrialize the country at
breakneck speed, to collectivize the peasantry, and to intensify the war against
all class enemies, all in the service of constructing a socialist society. This “Great
Break” also entailed the emergence of new, more humanist conceptions of the
New Man. The anthropological ideal of the Stalinist state was voluntarist, it
focused on the individual rather than the collective as the de¬ning basic entity
of human behavior, and it also rehabilitated the individual soul as the vessel
of the conscious will. The Stalinist ideological apparatus cultivated individual
biographies, emphasizing the making of exceptional personalities rather than
the exceptional deeds of inanimate machines. Soviet activists now proclaimed
that the New Man was coming into being as an empirical reality, and they
linked his appearance to a crucial stage in historical development that the
Soviet state had just passed. In so doing they created their own teleology of the
New Man, which reached back via the machine man of the 1920s to radical
thinkers like Chernyshevsky as the ¬rst distant heralds of the perfect, socialist
The beginning of the Stalin era was coterminous with the fantastic decision
to build utopia, in a very material sense. As early as 1930, participating actors
discerned the epochal quality of the Stalin era as the particular stage in Soviet

Plaggenborg, 35“45.

Toby Clark, 38.
Peter Fritzsche and Jochen Hellbeck

history when Bolshevism™s long-held, but long dormant, dreams of social engi-
neering were being fully enacted. There was a shift in acceleration in Germany
as well, but it was prompted not by a new leader such as Stalin or a new incen-
tive such as the rejuvenation of Italian fascism after 1935. Rather, it was the
outbreak of the war that replenished the New Man. The principal change from
Lenin to Stalin was a change in historical diagnosis. Stalin and his followers
deliberately sought to accelerate the course of historical development. Speaking
in 1931, Stalin surveyed the historical development of the Soviet Union and
found it lagged ¬fty or a hundred years behind that of advanced capitalist coun-
tries: “We must make good this lag in ten years. Either we achieve this or we
will be crushed.”39 Stalinist culture was ¬lled with a renewed urge to activate
citizens to speed up the construction of socialism. Stalin™s appeal resonated
intensely with Communists who yearned for revolutionary action and a break
with the frustrating compromises of NEP. There was also a widespread sense
that the international revolution was not to occur in the near future and that
the Soviet regime had no choice but to mobilize its own resources. The stress on
individual consciousness and willpower was the innovation of Stalinism and
broke decisively with 1920s mechanicist ideals.
Maxim Gorky played an instrumental role in recognizing the need for the
self-deployment of revolutionaries, and in so doing he provided one of the ¬rst
formulations of the Stalinist New Man. Gorky had left the Soviet Union in
the early 1920s, but even while residing abroad he maintained active corre-
spondence with Soviet writers and other activists, among them the pedagogue
Makarenko and his colony of young delinquents. He returned to the Soviet
Union for two widely publicized visits, in 1928 and 1929, before settling for
good in 1931. In a widely featured report on his travels “across the Union of
Soviets,” he showed himself amazed by the psychic changes that he observed
in the Soviet population since the revolution. The people were saturating them-
selves with political ideas, and “political consciousness” was becoming “an
everyday phenomenon.” “Everybody had become younger in essence.” It was
an image that Gorky placed in deliberate contrast to the sentiment he recalled
from journeys to the very same places prior to the revolution: “Russian fee-
bleness and spiritual mourning” and the “speci¬cally Russian bent for sad-
ness.”40 Gorky elaborated his ideas in an editorial published in both Pravda
and Izvestiia, in 1932: “On the Old and the New Man.” While the old man was
described as petty bourgeois, atomistic, and hostile toward progress, residing
predominantly in capitalist societies, the Soviet Union was the habitat of the
energetic and creative New Man, who derived his self-con¬dence from knowing
his role and future in history: “In the Union of Soviets a New Man is coming
of age, . . . He is young, not only biologically, but also historically. He is a force
that has only begun to become aware of its path and signi¬cance in history.”41

I. V. Stalin, Sochineniia, vol. 13 (Moscow: Gos. izd-vo polit. Lit-ry, 1951), 39.

Pravda, 13 June 1928, 5.

Maksim Gor™kii, “O starom i o novom cheloveke” (1932), in idem, Sobranie sochinenii v

tridtsati tomakh, vol. 26 (Moscow: Gos. izd.-vo Khudozh lit-ry, 1953), 289.
The New Man in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany 319

To make this New Man fully aware of himself he needed a guiding, helping
hand. Again it was Gorky who in great measure de¬ned the medium which was
to instill the man with full self-consciousness: literature. This was the medium
by which intellectuals had introduced the New Man in the ¬rst place a cen-
tury earlier. It was at Gorky™s Moscow residence, in October 1932, that Stalin
called on leading Soviet writers to work as “engineers of human souls.”42 The
Stalinist regime invested in literature more than in any other artistic sphere to
promote the features of the New Man; simultaneously literature advanced to
the regime™s artistic medium of choice. Literary works were both to “re¬‚ect” the
achievements of new Soviet men and women and to provide the biographical
mold according to which readers were to pattern their personal life experi-
ence. This emphasis on the heroic biography was what for the writer Aleksei
Tolstoi distinguished Soviet literature from its counterpart in the declining
bourgeois West. “From this point on, the paths of Russian and European lit-
erature part. . . . Hero! We need a hero of our time.”43
These literary patterns acquired material power as they were assimilated
into coercive practices of the Stalinist regime. The construction of the Belo-
mor Canal, linking the Baltic to the White Sea, as well as other construction
projects built with the expanding Gulag workforce, were propagated as initia-
tives to “reforge” criminals into useful socialist citizens. A propaganda volume
composed by thirty writers, who included some of the most venerated literary
¬gures of the time, presented stories of individuals bent down by capitalist
exploitation whose personalities were straightened out after exposure to forms
of collective, purposeful labor. The image that the book presents of Belomor
as a harsh yet nurturing place clashes with the evidence of exhaustion, death,
and cruel regimentation that characterized the social reality of Belomor in the
¬rst place and found no entry into the pages of the propaganda volume. While
the extent to which the ideology of reforging shaped the subjective horizons of
the forced laborers themselves is uncertain, several of the artists who helped
produce the volume tied their involvement in the elaboration of the Stalinist
myth of rebirth to agendas of personal transformation that their participation
in this project appeared to assure.44
Increasingly in the course of the 1930s, the New Man was declared to
be a contemporary social reality. The extraordinary exploits of Stakhanovite

Although the term “engineering of souls” had been coined by experimental writers already

in the 1920s, it did bring out the understanding Stalin applied to it, of the fully developed
individual (the writer producing under the direction of the Party) who used technology as
a tool of social transformation; see O. Ronen, “˜Inzhenery chelovecheskikh dush™: K istorii
izrecheniia,” Lotmanovskii sbornik 2 (1997): 393“400.
Quoted by Gutkin, 77.

This applied, notably, to the writer Mikhail Zoshchenko and the photographer Rodchenko.

See Elizabeth A. Papazian, “Reconstructing the (Authentic Proletarian) Reader: Mikhail
Zoshchenko™s Changing Model of Authorship, 1929“1934,” Kritika 4, no. 4 (2003): 816“48;
Leah Dickerman, “The Propagandizing of Things,” in Aleksandr Rodchenko, eds. Magdalena
Dabrowski et al. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1998), 96; see also Thomas Lahusen,
How Life Writes the Book: Real Socialism and Socialist Realism in Stalin™s Russia (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1997).
Peter Fritzsche and Jochen Hellbeck

coal miners, milkmaids, and polar aviators proved to Stalin that the socialist
personality had come into being. While in the earlier phase of the Soviet system,
“technology [had] decided everything” (a reference to the mechanicist ethos
of the 1920s), now “cadres decide[d] everything.” The quantitative rise in
productivity, which the Stakhanovites demonstrated so poignantly, signi¬ed
a qualitative leap in historical development, meaning that qualitatively new
people were now appearing on Soviet soil. As Stalin indicated, the New Man
of the 1930s superseded the former ideal of the machine man. The machine
threatened to enslave man, Aleksei Stakhanov noted in his autobiography,
and therefore had to be mastered.45 Against the synthetic present of socialist
society, the ideals of the recent past appeared as incomplete ideals, generated in
a historical state of dialectical negation. The ideal Communist propagated by
Lenin during his entire life, the ascetic puritanical saint, was now reconsidered
as a self-abnegating, incomplete ¬gure, who was historically deprived of a rich
personal life. The androgynous ideal of the early Bolshevik regime gave way
to distinctly gendered notions of the socialist man and woman. These aesthetic
changes were to connote a transition from a period of all-out struggle and
self-sacri¬ce, encapsulated in the image of a faceless collective of proletarian
workers, to a socialist civilization which cultivated unfettered male and female
Ultimately, it was not an individual™s gender but his or her dedication to
socialist values that determined whether one was old or new, a reactionary,
philistine, or progressive citizen. Socialist citizens were supposed to be phys-
ically ¬t, but they were to combine proletarian muscle with the pursuit of
cultural interests. Their trimmed bodies, encapsulated in the formations of
gymnasts clad in white who paraded across Red Square, were an important
though ultimately secondary component part of an ideal of selfhood de¬ned
exclusively in terms of self-possession and voluntarist striving, which could

A. Stakhanov, Rasskaz o moei zhizni (Moscow: Gos. sots-ekon. izd-vo, 1937). On mythic images

of Stakhanovites as ¬rst living exemplars of the New Man, see Lewis Siegelbaum, Stakhanovism
and the Politics of Productivity in the USSR, 1935“1941 (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1988); Robert Maier, Die Stachanov-Bewegung 1935“1938: Der Stachanovismus als tra-
gendes und verscharfendes Moment der Stalinisierung der sowjetischen Gesellschaft (Stuttgart:
F. Steiner, 1990), 182“3.
David L. Hoffmann, Stalinist Values: the Cultural Norms of Soviet Modernity, 1917“1941

(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003). Signi¬cantly, the agenda of the “new woman”
disappeared in the course of the Stalin era. The term had originated in the European women™s
movement at the turn of the twentieth century and was actively propagated by the Soviet regime
during the 1920s, particularly in Central Asia, where it appealed to women as a surrogate
proletariat, calling upon them to become literate, throw off their veils, and ¬ght their male
oppressors. The term new woman indicated a progressive stance, but it never evoked the utopian
ideal inherent in the “new man” (novyi chelovek). During the 1930s, as the struggle against
backwardness was supposed to be completed and Soviet society entered the socialist age, men
and women alike were called upon to mold themselves in the image of a socialist personality.
Elizabeth Wood, The Baba and the Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997); Douglas Northrop, Veiled Empire: Gender and
Power in Stalinist Central Asia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004).
The New Man in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany 321

equally animate a physically crippled individual (witness Pavel Korchagin in
Nikolai Ostrovskii™s How the Steel Was Tempered).47 Finally, the emblematic
new men and women of the Stalinist age “ whether as coal miners, tractor
drivers, or aviators “ were all individuals in dialogue with technology. Their
miraculous records were explained by the fact that they infused and directed
technology with the power of an unfettered socialist consciousness. This consti-
tuted the qualitative difference from the Western pilots and workers who were
represented as a “class without consciousness” that could not “think for itself”
and was thus inherently incapable of such voluntarist feats.48 Comparisons
such as this one suggest that the Soviet New Man could conceivably be formu-
lated only with the contemporary Western world in mind, whereas the Nazis
would completely reject the West in favor of German particularism. Much of
the thrust of Stalinist human engineering was derived from the specter of a cap-
italist world in decline, epitomized in the stock market crash of 1929, and the
rise of an alternative model of fascist subjectivity. In a letter to Gorky, Aleksei
Tolstoi described the Soviet government™s decision to build a Volga dam as the
“opening of a new page in world history. And this is how, at some point in the
future, it will be described: during a time when in the West civilizations were
decaying, throwing millions of people out onto the streets, and when the East
was being ¬lled with blood and the countries were seeking salvation in war and
annihilation, the [Soviet] Union elevated itself above time and published the
decree on the Volga Dam.”49 The transnational dimensions of the creation of
the “new Soviet man” was also illustrated in the many pilgrimages by Western
observers to the Soviet Union during the late 1920s and 1930s, whose admiring
reports circulated widely in the Soviet press.50

Karen Petrone, Life Has Become More Joyous, Comrades: Celebrations in the Time of Stalin

(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000); Lilya Kaganovsky, “How the Soviet Man Was
(Un)Made,” Slavic Review 63, no. 3 (2004): 557“96.
Soviet ideologues were greatly interested in fascist subjectivity. Fascism, they acknowledged,

resembled the Soviet system in its emphasis on mass mobilization, but it sought to mobilize the
masses into a collective machine (A. Vedenov, quoted in Raymond Augustin Bauer, The New
Man in Soviet Psychology [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1952]), 98; see also diary
of Vsevolod Vishnevskii, entries of 31.12.1940, 3.3.1942, in idem, Sobranie sochinenii v 5-ti
tomakh (dopolnitel™nyi): Vystupleniia i radiorechi: Zapisnye knizhki: Pis™ma, vol. 6 (Moscow:
Gos. izd-vo khudozh. Lit-ry, 1961). This view is borne out by the self-representation of the
Soviet and Fascist states at the time. A Soviet photomontage from the 1930s (by Gustav Klutsis)
uses the synecdoche of the human body to suggest the individual™s active participation in the
political system, whereas a photomontage of the same period from Fascist Italy portrays a
machine which subjugates the mass of individuals. An inscription on this poster reads, “See
how the in¬‚ammatory words of Mussolini attract the people of Italy with the violent power of
turbines and convert them to Fascism.” Benjamin Buchloh, “From Faktura to Factography,”
October 30 (Fall 1984): 113“14; see also Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi, Fascist Spectacle: The
Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini™s Italy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).
Maksim Gor™kii, Gor™kii i sovetskie pisateli: Neizdannaia perepiska (Moscow: Izd-vo Akademii

nauk SSSR, 1963), 410 (letter of May 23, 1932).
See especially Klaus Mehnert, Youth in Soviet Russia, trans. Michael Davidson (New York:

Harcourt, Brace, 1933), as well as Maurice Hindus, who traveled to newly collectivized Russian
Peter Fritzsche and Jochen Hellbeck


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