by Hannah Parker

In December 1930, a twelve year old girl named Nura wrote an apparently cheerful request for correspondence to Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaia, Russian Deputy Education Commissar from 1929-1939:

‘Long I have dreamt to have a correspondence with the great leader of the young friends of Pioneers… I do not have the opportunity to visit Moscow, I have no father or mother, and I do not have the means to visit Moscow and see you. Happy are those Pioneers who have the opportunity to see you. But I will unfailingly work in the squad to get permission to visit, then I will get happiness to see you, dear friend… Dear comrade Nadezhda Konstantinovna, if you don’t mind my request, write me a few words, for which I would be very grateful… I hope I receive a reply from you, I will be very proud amongst my comrades, that I have a correspondence with you… Please send me your correct request, as I do not know it…

P.S. I’ve attached a few stamps for a speedy reply!’[1]

At first glance this letter appears to be unremarkable amongst the reams of salutations

Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaia, Deputy Education Commissar from 1929-1939 (and Lenin’s widow) – via Wikimedia Commons

and ambitious requests for correspondence sent by Soviet children to state officials. Such letters were fairly uniform in their composition.Where adults might write to authorities with a more formal tone of address, such as ‘respected’ or ‘much respected’ Molotov, children often addressed officials on familiar terms, addressing them as ‘uncle’; ‘grandfather’; or ‘father’, depending upon whom they were addressing.

In doing so, Soviet children acknowledged both their gratitude to the regime, for the lifestyle it had provided for them, and their place within it: intimately involved with the state and its values, participating in Soviet life as they were required to, and reflecting a sense of ‘celebration’ of Soviet life. Yet simultaneously, children maintained their awareness of the paternalism and, ultimately, authority the regime possessed.

By legitimising the regime in this way through their language, children learnt how to express themselves in a politically ‘unproblematic’ manner in public life. Yet, the language Nura used to express this request belied an additional, less jovial meaning – something unchanging amongst letters to officials from citizens of all ages.[2]

Firstly, though Nura spoke frequently of happiness, this was articulated more often than not in the future tense, dependent upon a prescribed outcome: Nura ‘Will be so proud to have a correspondence with Krupskaia’; with permission to visit Krupskaia, Nura ‘will get happiness’. Though a reader might not be able to infer more negative (and less Soviet) feelings from Nura’s writing, it is clear that, perhaps all was not quite as Nura would have liked at present.

Moreover, we can see that Nura attached stamps to ensure a speedy reply – which she identified as her own stamps. In addition to the effort that this must have required to procure stamps as a twelve year old orphan, the readiness and timing with which she refered to her status as an orphan is telling. That she did not have the material means to visit this maternal figure, nor parents of her own to bring her, Nura placed herself apart from her peers. She would be happy, and proud amongst her peers, were she able to achieve a meeting, or correspondence with Krupskaia, but she was not able to achieve this yet.

It might well have been that Nura viewed this potential comradeship with Krupskaia with childlike competitiveness: indeed this is quite likely. Yet, her inclusion of stamps; her ‘otherness’ from her peers; and even the timing of her correspondence, suggest that for Nura, schoolyard competition was not the whole story.

New Year was the most important holiday of the year in the Soviet Union, and combined secular traditions with Orthodox Christmas ones.

Finally, though Nura did not specifically reference the time of year in her writing, it is worth noting the date of the letter: December 23, 1930. Whilst being reluctant to presuppose aspects of the author’s motivations that are not embedded in the text per se, I’d also argue, in combination with the references Nura makes to her orphanhood, and her obvious desire for a response from Krupskaia, that it is likely that the timing of Nura’s correspondence so close New Year is a poignant reflection of her perceived inability, as an orphan, to participate in the festivities others shared with loved ones at that time of year, and in the celebratory New Year atmosphere she would know to be part of Soviet life.

Hannah Parker is in the fourth year of an AHRC-funded PhD at the University of Sheffield. Her research focuses on receptions of the concept of the ‘New Soviet Woman’ by ordinary women in the Soviet Union, through their letters to the state. Reach her on Twitter @_hnnhprkr


[1] GARF, f,7279, op.8, d.15, ll.57-8.

[2] As my thesis argues, letters from citizens to state officials and organs are a critical source for understanding subjectivity in Soviet society, and can be used to assess the way citizens engaged the language used in public discourse, by matching, navigating and deviating from the Bolshevik ‘script’.

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