Searching for Soviet Identity: Soviet Society as Reflected in the Epistolary Heritage of the Era

Print PDF

УДК 94(47)+930.2

DOI 10.28995/2073-0101-2017-4-101-110

Olga A. Sukhova

Penza State University, Penza, Russian Federation

Searching for Soviet Identity: Soviet Society as Reflected in the Epistolary Heritage of the Era


The article describes results and prospects of the scientific analysis of the Soviet era epistolary heritage – ‘workers’ letters to higher authority.’ The array of documentary evidence created amid the most complex socio-cultural processes that swept over Russian society in the 20th century, is a substantive matter for scientific analysis, moreover, a matter that exhibits internal unity and system features. Mass nature of sources to be found in archives all over the country, provides a reliable basis for creating an objective picture of historical realities. The purpose of the article is to conduct a source study analysis of the Soviet era epistolary legacy and to assess the ramifications and the cognitive value of letters to authority for studying historical development of the Russian civilization in the 20th century. Considering general characteristics of the ‘workers’ letters to higher authority’ as depicted in the scholarship, the author identifies those trends of scientific reflection, that call for this type of sources: to begin with, study of social images patterns and changes in value system that affected social and, particularly, mass or ordinary consciousness, social sentiment, and self-perception of the society; analysis of structural components of the socio-cultural environment (symbolic activities, reputable social behavior, social interaction, nature of the dialogue between authority and society); study of social history and history of everyday life in their entirety. The most important result of this research, and one that lays bare the backbone of the author's approach, is formulation of the concept of social identity as a ‘depot’ for social reactions, that help society to adapt itself to the changed realities, while preserving the cultural core even through the dismantlement of an old system of values. According to the author, formation of the Soviet identity is a methodological basis for studying the 20th century epistolary heritage.

Download the article: sukhova_doi


Sources, source studies analyses, systemic crisis, USSR, Soviet everyday life, social images, social adaptation.


Golos naroda. Pis'ma i otkliki ryadovykh sovetskikh grazhdan o sobytiyakh 1918—1932 gg. Otv. red. A. K. Sokolov [SOKOLOV, A. K. (ed.). Voice of the people. Ordinary Soviet citizens writing letters about and responding to the events of 1918—1932. In Russ.]. Moscow, ROSSPEN publ., 1997, 323 p.

ELISEEVA, N. V. Pis'ma sovetskikh grazhdan v sredstva massovoi informatsii kak istochnik po izucheniyu global'noi transformatsii Sovetskogo Soyuza i Rossii v kontse 1980 — nachale 1990-kh gg. po dokumentam Tsentral'nogo arkhiva obshchestvennykh dvizhenii Moskvy [Letters of Soviet citizens in mass media as a source for studying global transformations in the Soviet Union and Russia in late 1980s and early 1990s: Documents from the Central Archive of Social Movements in Moscow. In Russ.]. IN: Vestnik arhivista –Herald of an Archivist, 2012, no 4, pp. 95—113.

KULYAPIN, A. I., SKUBACH, O. A. Mifologiya sovetskoi povsednevnosti v literature i kul'ture stalinskoi epokhi [Mythology of Soviet everyday life in literature and culture of the Stalin era. In Russ.]. Moscow, Yazyki slavyanskoi kul'tury publ., 2013, 240 p.

LIVSHIN, A. YA. Nastroeniya i politicheskie emotsii v Sovetskoi Rossii. 1917—1932 gg. [Domestic moods and political sentiments in Soviet Russia. 1917—1932. In Russ.]. Moscow, Fond Pervogo Prezidenta Rossii B. N. El'tsina, ROSSPEN publ., 2010, 344 p.

LIVSHIN, A. YA., ORLOV, I. B. Vlast' i obshchestvo: Dialog v pis'makh [Power and society: Dialogue in letters. In Russ.]. Moscow, ROSSPEN publ., 2002, 208 p.

SHUBIN, A. V. Zolotaya osen', ili Period zastoya. SSSR v 1975—1985 gg. [Indian Autumn, or the Stagnation Period: The USSR in 1975—1985. In Russ.]. Moscow, Veche publ., 2008, 352 p.

About author

Sukhova Olga Alexandrovna, PhD in History, professor, Penza State University, Pedagogical Institute, historico-philological faculty, faculty dean, Penza, Russian Federation, +7927-2-89-20-41, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Grant information

The article was prepared with financial support of the Department of Humanitarian and Social Sciences of the Russian Foundation for Basic Research as a part of competition of scientific researches carried out by teams of young scientists under the guidance of scientists of the highest qualification (doctors of sciences) (science project no. 16-31-00009/17 ‘Soviet Society in Socio-Cultural Transformation (late 1970s ? early 1990s)’.

Submitted 16.05.2017, published:

SUKHOVA, O. A. V poiskakh sotsial'noi identichnosti: sovetskoe obshchestvo v zerkale epistolyarnogo naslediya epokhi [Searching for Soviet identity: Soviet society as reflected in the epistolary heritage of the era. In Russ.]. IN: Vestnik arhivista – Herald of an Archivist, 2017, no. 4, pp. 101-110.

You can read completely article in the russian historic-archival magazine “The Herald of an Archivist”. Read more about terms of subscription here.

Полностью материал публикуется в российском историко-архивоведческом журнале ВЕСТНИК АРХИВИСТА. Ознакомьтесь с условиями подписки здесь.