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As an ideological construct, the New Man was an essential component of
the Soviet revolutionary project and a device wielded by a revolutionary regime
in need of self-legitimation. Yet the allure of this ¬gure extended beyond the
leadership of the Communist Party and beyond those whom the Soviet regime
identi¬ed as model inhabitants of the new world. The incentive and urge to
transform oneself, expressed in the shorthand term of the “New Man,” were
shared by Soviet citizens of different backgrounds and ages. They manifested
themselves above all in a historical consciousness, a commitment to work on
oneself so as not to be left aside by, or drown in the current of History. But this
labor also promised moral and existential rewards, the certainty of contributing
to the creation of a perfect future. Ultimately, by taking up the injunction to
rework oneself individuals acquired a sense of biographical continuity and
purpose that acquired particular meaning in the cataclysmic environment of
war and revolution.
The Stalinist turn toward willing the new world into being began with an
all-out attack on all remnants of the old world. Correspondingly the New Man,
who appeared as a positive ideal in the early 1930s, was preceded by a struggle
against remnants of the Old Man within. The institutionalized campaign waged
by the Party and state against all social groups identi¬ed with the old world “
“kulaks,” private artisans, traders, “speculators,” and the “bourgeois” intelli-
gentsia “ was sweeping and powerful. It did not limit itself to destroying the
social and economic structures “ villages, trading networks, professional asso-
ciations “ on which the functioning of these groups had rested but demanded
that all members of these groups renounce their past and prove their allegiance
to the Soviet cause in deeds and words.51 It was in the context of this campaign
that individuals associated with the old order proceeded to confront the enemy
within themselves. As the explosion of personal confessional texts during this
period demonstrates, the onset of the Stalin period marked a utopian threshold,
when all citizens were expected to align themselves to the emerging new world,
when every individual was to mark the transition from the old to the New Man
in his or her personal life.52
Members of the intelligentsia most clearly articulated the steady destruction
of the Old Man within. To some extent, this had to do with their superior grasp

villages and believed he was glimpsing the world™s future: “Man, under the impetus of the new
changes, is destined to acquire a body of motives, aims, relationships, which in time will make
Russia an anomaly among the nations, a real Mars on earth. Limitless and fantastic are the
social transmutations inherent in collectivization.” See Maurice Hindus, Red Bread (New York:
`
J. Cape & H. Smith, 1931), 8“9; see also Sophie Coeure, La grande lueur a l™Est: Les Fran§ais
et l™Union sovi´ tique, 1917“1939 (Paris: Seuil, 1999).
e
During this period scores of disenfranchised individuals, who had been stripped of Soviet
51

citizenship on account of their “bourgeois” class background, petitioned for rehabilitation by
invoking their alignment with the course of the revolution and, ultimately, with history. See
Golfo Alexopoulos, Stalin™s Outcasts: Aliens, Citizens, and the Soviet State, 1926“1936 (Ithaca,
NY: Cornell University Press, 2003).
Igal Hal¬n, Terror in My Soul: Communist Autobiographies on Trial (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
52

University Press, 2003).
The New Man in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany 323

of the syntax of self-expression, but at least equally important was the fact that
they, unlike less educated groups in Soviet society, continued to inhabit formed,
yet problematic “personalities” which were shaped by prerevolutionary culture.
To be sure, workers and peasants also grappled with the struggle between old
and new codes of thinking and behavior, but they rarely rei¬ed their lapses into
“old” habits “ such as heavy drinking, cursing, or mistreating their spouses “
into a full-¬‚edged ¬gure of an “Old Man” who had to die in order for the
New Man to emerge. For intellectuals these habits represented the very essence
of backwardness, and they referred to the feudal-capitalist enslavement of the
laboring people™s souls, an enslavement that had kept them on the verge of a
subhuman existence. Moreover, before the intellectual could join the “prole-
tarian ¬ghting army,” he had, in the words of Johannes Becher, to “burn most
of what he owes to his bourgeois genealogy,” particularly “all the capricious
and moody posturing.”53 It was precisely the intelligentsia who admitted to
feeling weighed down by the Old Man within and who, at the same time,
actively involved themselves in the creation of the New Man. It may even be
fair to say that the New Man as a ¬gure of utmost perfection was most pro-
nouncedly advocated by individuals who suffered from impure backgrounds,
such as class alien origins, a previous oppositionist record, or prolonged stays
in the capitalist West.54
In extreme situations where individuals were targeted as old and outlived,
the urge to tie one™s life to the mythology of the New Man acquired existential
relevance. Consider the case of Nikolai Ustrialov, an erstwhile White of¬cer
who had emigrated to Harbin in the wake of the Civil War. Already during the
Civil War Ustrialov confessed to a fellow White of¬cer that he envied the Soviet
revolutionary project for its “historical pathos.” The future, he believed, was
on the Reds™ side; the White camp, by contrast, was composed only of “former
people.”55 Ustrialov™s ascription of this derogatory Soviet term to himself and
other members of the White camp shows how impressed he was by the Soviet
narrative of revolution and historical progress. The pathos of History that in
his eyes animated the Soviet state kept tormenting Ustrialov for years to come
and prompted him to return to Soviet Russia in 1935 “ precisely at the junction
when the “socialist personality” had been declared to have emerged. The diary
in which Ustrialov documented his return to the USSR reveals his urge to
participate in the construction of the New World. In the diary he constantly
tested his inner disposition toward the Soviet system: was he truly inspired by
the enthusiasm and belief that characterized the ideal Soviet citizen, and was he

J. R. Becher, Der gespaltene Dichter: Johannes R. Becher: Gedichte, Briefe, Dokumente (Berlin:
53

Aufbau Taschenbuch Verlag, 1991); see also Francois Furet, The Passing of an Illusion: The
Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century, trans. Deborah Furet (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1999).
See, for example, the odes to the socialist personality composed by Nikolai Bukharin in prison,
54

while he awaited his trial (N. I. Bukharin, Tiuremnye rukopisi N. I. Bukharina, 2 vols. [Moscow:
AIRO-XX, 1996].
N. Ustrialov, Pod znakom revoliutsii, 2nd rev. ed. (Kharbin [Poligraf], 1927), 87.
55
Peter Fritzsche and Jochen Hellbeck
324

thus in a position “to earn a Soviet biography”? All his doubts and moments of
despair, of which there were many, because his attempts to earn employment
and trust went to nil, were evidence to him of the “old,” “heretical” subject in
him which had to be ruthlessly suppressed.
Particularly striking about Ustrialov™s narrative is its historical conscious-
ness. Ustrialov was aware of the historical threshold that was being crossed
in the Soviet Union in the year of his return. Walking through the streets of
Moscow while an international youth festival was being held, he observed the
“cohorts and legions of youth, the wonderful early autumn sun, the sounds
of orchestras screaming from the loudspeakers, sounds ¬lled with bravura and
¬ghting spirit, resounding in a major key. . . . An existential pathos. Yes, it
is so clear that our revolution is an upsurge, a beginning, a thesis in a new
dialectical cycle.” Consistently with his belief in historical progression Ustri-
alov apprehended the young athletes at the youth festival as epitomes of the
New Man. There was a strong self-re¬‚exive component in this observation,
for Ustrialov™s ability to see and believe in the existing New Man was proof
to him of the purity of his own consciousness as a Soviet citizen. But Ustrialov
perfectly knew that he himself could not incarnate the ideal which he jealously
observed from a distance. Worse even, observing the perfect young people only
reinforced his own sense of being old and historically doomed (“We are a dying
generation. The Soviet epoch is the sunset for us and our lives”). Nonetheless
he felt the duty to “work on myself, to educate and drill myself” because it
was in this act of repressing the Old Man in himself that he, too, could feel the
“pathos of the great state and of potential humanity.” Not to be able to align
oneself with the collective and assume the shape of the vaunted new man was
tantamount to being discarded into the garbage pail of history. Seen in this
context, individual projects of self-organization and transformation in tune
with the revolutionary state resonated with an intensity that the lines of an
autobiographical narrative alone may not fully disclose. In the case of Nikolai
Ustrialov, his attempts to inhabit the Soviet mold ultimately failed to convince
the Soviet regime. Ustrialov was arrested on conspiracy charges in fall 1937
and shot.56
The New Man of the 1930s was a present-day ideal, but it was fully embod-
ied only by preciously few outstanding individuals and not “ not yet, as many
commentators would emphasize “ a mass phenomenon.57 This was also true
in Nazi Germany, where even the SS was regarded as a vanguard formation.
Young people who appeared as exemplars of a new, supposedly pure generation
themselves often described a sense of falling short of the ideal of concentrated


“˜Sluzhit™ rodine prikhoditsia kostiami . . . ™ Dnevnik N. V. Ustrialova 1935“1937 gg.,”
56

Istochnik, no. 5“6 (1998): 3“100, entries for June 20, 1935; September 3, 1935™; July 5,
1936.
Andrei Platonov™s novel, Schastlivaia Moskva, expresses existing humanity™s inability to live up
57

to utopian ideals through the metaphor of cut limbs. On the meanings of amputation in the
Soviet 1930s, see Kaganovsky, “How the Soviet Man Was (Un)Made.”
The New Man in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany 325

willpower and consciousness that de¬ned the rich socialist personality. This
hierarchical distinction between a mass of ordinary and a small but growing
number of extraordinary Soviet citizens is re¬‚ected in literature from the 1930s
and 1940s. Novels such as Veniamin Kaverin™s Two Captains (1936“44) or
Aleksandr Fadeev™s Young Guard (1946), suggested that all Soviet citizens, by
virtue of residing in the fertile socialist habitat, possessed the germ of the New
Man in them. Yet far from all mobilized their inherent powers to the fullest
possible extent to become living prototypes of the New Man. Most good Soviet
citizens remained mortal beings, with human limitations and weaknesses. Only
a few extraordinary individuals had the energy and devotion to renounce the
new material pleasures of Soviet life (high income, one™s own apartment, and
a family) and to strive further, often in the form of lonely travel, toward the
ideal future.58
A striking real life adaptation of this social ideal can be found in the biogra-
phy of Leonid Potemkin, born in 1914, one of countless social upstarts of the
Stalin period. After graduating from the Sverdlovsk Mining Institute, with dis-
tinction, in 1939, Potemkin embarked on a steep career that raised him to the
post of Party Secretary of Moscow™s Lenin district in the 1950s and of Deputy
Minister of Geology of the RSFSR a decade later. In his diary as well as in his
personal letters of the Stalin period he referred to himself as a paradigmatic
New Man. His descriptions of how he transformed himself from a destitute
villager into a culturally and aesthetically rich socialist citizen were patterned
on the mythical story of the Marxist proletariat that evolved historically from
nothing to becoming everything.59 To be “worthy” of his “time and role in
history,” Potemkin noted in his diary, he had to be “greater than the great
people of the past.” These past luminaries included Pushkin and Goethe, who
“learned foreign languages in a matter of months, they knew 30 languages,
whereas we spend years in language classes and can™t even master one.” A
fellow student to whom he related his urgent ambitions was impressed; others
laughed at him or called him a dreamer.
A devoted Communist, Potemkin sought to transform not only himself but
also other young people into prototypes of the New Man. He pursued this
mission in his activities as Communist agitator, but also privately, in his love
relationships. Away from Sverdlovsk on a summer internship in 1936, he had
a romance with a certain Liudmila, a woman he described as cold and cynical
whom he tried to educate like a “comrade.” During their encounters, Leonid
lectured Liudmila “on the traits of the New Man with strong and renewed
feelings, the creator of a new life.” Every socialist citizen, he implied, had a
potential to become a New Man, but the realization of this potential entailed


Gutkin, 146.
58

Potemkin™s diary and letters are in his personal archive in Moscow. Excerpts from the diary
59

have been published in V´ ronique Garros, Natalia Korenevskaya, and Thomas Lahusen, eds.
e
Intimacy and Terror: Soviet Diaries of the 1930s, trans. Carol A Flath (New York: New Press,
1995).
Peter Fritzsche and Jochen Hellbeck
326

sustained education of one™s conscious faculties and the will. Trying to “force
her to re¬‚ect on her life,” Potemkin referred to biography as the proper vessel
of self-understanding. In reading this account one is reminded of nineteenth-
century literary precursors of the New Man, particularly the male heroes in
Chernyshevsky™s novel, for whom love for a woman was inextricably inter-
twined with the duty to educate and humanize her.
It is not clear whether Potemkin was aware of this lineage, but he did
consider at one point publishing his encounter with Liudmila. In any case,
his self-fashioning amounted to more than the echoing of literary stereotypes.
Potemkin™s written record “ his diary, private letters, and autobiographies from
the Stalin period, as well as his memoirs, written in old age “ forms a corpus
striking in coherence and univocality. The trajectory of his career which sent
him on assignments throughout the Soviet Union, made him explorer of the
greatest nickel deposits in Europe, and awarded him with ministerial honors
further testi¬es to the degree to which he self-consciously saw himself as an
extraordinary man of the Soviet age. Few Soviet citizens went as far as Leonid
Potemkin to cast the totality of their lives in the mold of the new man. Even
Potemkin, in his diary and in personal letters to friends, admitted to lapses and
bouts of depressions in his pursuit of the ideal, and his admissions only under-
scored the utopian quality of Stalinist anthropological standards, for nobody
was able to live up to the mandated state of permanent enthusiasm, labor
activism, and hyperconsciousness which transformed self-contained individuals
into truly collectivist historical subjects. Nonetheless, these standards mapped
the default position of self-de¬nition in the Soviet realm. If we understand the
New Man not as a set of given, empirical qualities but as an embodiment to
strive for, he was an unquestioned social reality of the Stalin period. His fea-
tures revealed himself in ubiquitous gestures to disavow the past, to denounce
the individualized and sel¬sh forms of “bourgeois” life as morally reprehensi-
ble and economically ineffectual, and to align oneself in new, collective forms
of work and life.
As in the Soviet case, the German New Man required strenuous work and
discipline. Nazi ideologues believed that the transformation of the Volk into
racially superlative Aryans would not be completed for several generations.
In part to accelerate this process, the Nazis nourished and trained a political
elite, the SS, as a racial vanguard, and it was here, among these 800,000
Germans, that the most fully realized New Man resided. But the Nazi regime
also facilitated the efforts of more ordinary Germans to realize their Nazi
selves, and ultimately the success of the Nazi racial project depended on the
racial discipline and racial consciousness of Germans at large.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, the Nazi revolution had just begun.
National Socialists believed they stood at the very edge of history, poised to
redirect the nation to ¬t the grooves of an envisioned Aryan future. The whole
previous itinerary of Germany, in which a liberal sphere had been elaborated,
in which public claims had been put forward by political parties and interest
groups, and in which various ethnic groups, provincial identities, and religious
The New Man in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany 327

communities had survived and commingled, was to come to an abrupt end.
From the perspective of the Nazis, the year 1933 marked a sharp break. In
place of the quarrels of party, the contests of interest, and the divisions of class
that had supposedly compromised the ability of the nation to act, the Nazis
proposed to build a uni¬ed racial community guided by modern science. The
biological politics to which the Nazis adhered corresponded to the achievement
of the Aktionseinheit they believed necessary to survive and prosper in the

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