Making History for Stalin
The Story of the Belomor Canal
Cynthia A. Ruder
The Belomor Canal, exalted in the 1930s by the Stalinist press, came to symbolize what was morally deplorable in Stalinism. Making the story available for the first time in English, Cynthia Ruder reconstructs the Canal project as a pivotal social, political, historical, and, most important, literary event.
Built with forced labor, the Belomor project has been a forbidden topic for half a century. With access to recently opened archives and to interviews with Canal construction survivors themselves, Ruder examines the project and its attendant literary works--drama, poetry, novels, and the collectively written History of the Construction of the Stalin White Sea-Baltic Canal--to create an unusually broad understanding of Stalinist culture. She argues that the project was the first to institutionalize the philosophy of perekovka, the idea that a new people who personify the Soviet Union in action and deed could be created through forced labor and ideological reeducation.
As both a construction project and a literary event, Belomor was characterized by contradictions: enthusiasm versus revulsion, good will versus cynicism, self-destruction versus self-preservation, and scorn for the West versus a desperate hunger to impress it. Ruder shows that these juxtapositions capture the tension that infused many other events at the time, turning Belomor into a microcosm of life and literature in Soviet Russia.
Cynthia A. Ruder is a lecturer in Russian at Bryn Mawr College. She has published work in Russian Literature and American Approaches to Russian Language Pedagogy.
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"This is a remarkable piece of work, a symbiosis of history and literature. . . . A generally excellent, and in some parts brilliant study. It is thoroughly researched and offers a hitherto unknown piece in English in the jigsaw puzzle of Soviet manipulation of history, this time through literature. . . . Should be of great interest to all specialists in Russian literature, history and political science." -- International Journal on World Peace
--International Journal on World Peace
"A valuable contribution to the growing literature on the Soviet 1930s." -- Canadian Slavonic Papers
--Canadian Slavonic Papers
"A unique, incisive, behind-the-scenes study of what is truly the paradigmatic text of Stalinism."-- Russian Review
"The history of forced labor in the Soviet Union, though greatly publicized, still invites scholarly investigation, both in terms of literary works, historical archives (some of which still remain closed to researchers), and biographical materials. Ruder's monograph is a competent examination of the most infamous of the early Soviet forced-labor projects, and we can only hope that its publication represents the beginning of a new, sustained inquiry into this period."-- Slavic and East European Journal
--Slavic and East European Journal
"Making History for Stalin tells an engaging tale. For those open to an innovative probing of one of the centerpieces of Stalinist mythmaking, however, Making History for Stalin makes engaging and provacative reading." -Slavic Review