Seeing like a Starving State: The Soviet Political Economy of Death in the Blockade of Leningrad.




State elites and officials ``see” their polities and societies through ideological and symbolic lenses that shape what they seek and perceive as they devise policies. But what happens to that sight and vision during moments of challenge and duress, and with what effect on policies? This article uses the example of the Blockade of Leningrad to begin an exploration of this subject. The pre-war Soviet state and Communist Party had a “double vision”, seeing Soviet society as an object for utopian plans and projects (a “high modernist” vision), and as an amorphous source of constant potential risk (e. g. counter-revolution). Extreme duress and challenges to survival from the Blockade challenged both facets of this double vision. What began to emerge was a more pragmatic vision centered on maintaining state authority and political order. We use state perception of and policies towards death and, as an extension, defending (civilian) life. Brief explorations of how state elites and officials perceived death, disposal labor (coping with corpses), and life (mothers) reveals a more realistic pragmatism, less deferrent to ideology, beginning to emerge. We conclude that this points to a possible “Blockade Bolshevism '' as a shifting formula of rule and possibilities of a “NEP reboot” lost to high Stalinism after the war.

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Copyright © 2021, St Petersburg State University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21638/11701/spbu24.2021.202.