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Soviet political memoirs : a study in politics and literature Lakkas, Zoi


A growing number of Soviet political memoirs have emerged from the former Soviet Union. The main aim of the memoirists is to give their interpretation of the past. Despite the personal insight that these works provide on Soviet history, Western academics have not studied them in any detail. The principal aim of this paper is to prove Soviet political memoir’s importance as a research tool. The tight link between politics and literature characterizes the nature of Soviet political memoir. All forms of Soviet literature had to reform their brand of writing as the Kremlin’s policies changed from Stalin’s ruthless reign to Gorbachev’s period of openness. In order to understand the importance of Soviet political memoir as a research tool, it was necessary to study the political history of control over literature. The analysis was divided into chronological periods so that the progressive change of Soviet political memoir could be shown clearly. The three periods were the Stalinist, transitional(under Khrushchev and Brezhnev) , and glasnost. A further aim was to show how Soviet political memoir reflected different attitudes in Soviet society. Stalinist, anti— Stalinist, and glasnost were the three fundamental strands of thought that prevailed after Stalin’s death. Each of these attitudes evolved over the three distinct periods examined in this paper. The manipulation of facts was an essential point of the analysis. This involved the study of different writing techniques and interpretations. Socialist Realism served as a yardstick against which the memoirs were compared. This literary doctrine signified the subjection of Soviet literature to political control of the Party. Six memoirs were studied closely and the influence of this doctrine in their writing style varied. The power of Socialist Realism changed as the government’s policies changed. Nikita Khrushchev’s and Petro Grigorenko’s works represented the views of the anti—Stalinist bloc; Leonid Brezhnev’s and Andrei Groinyko’s memoirs reflected the reaction against anti—Stalinism; Andrej Sakharov’s and Eduard Shevardnadze’s texts showed the views of the glasnost group that wanted to look at its nation’s past critically. Soviet political memoir went from being scoffed at as a bourgeois preserve, to being manipulated as a political tool by opposing forces, to finally meeting the standards of its Western counterparts. These memoirs sketch a complex picture. They tell the reader that the transition to a new, democratic state is not a simple process since so many groups disagree on the approach. They also give a different perspective of Soviet society. The image of a monolithic machine is shattered by the virtual explosion of personal testimonials triggered by glasnost. What is important to recognize is that all the memoirs analyzed here are important in and of themselves. They tell the reader to acknowledge the power of politics in literature; the interpretation of the past is predicated on this idea. However problematic it is to accept Soviet political memoirs as sources of facts, one must overstep one’s prejudices and realize that they provide a wealth of knowledge about Soviet politics and history. The task of the historian particularly is to understand the political circumstances that lay behind the memoir and perceive it as a political creation.

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