‘An amoral lifestyle’ – criminalizing female sexuality in the Soviet 1960s

by Mirjam Galley

That the USSR did not turn out to be the utopia of gender equality that some revolutionaries had dreamt of in 1917 can no longer really surprise anyone. A glimpse into how the Soviet authorities dealt with juvenile delinquency allows us to fathom the extent to which boys and girls were thought of and treated differently. Looking at how deviance and sexuality were addressed in the 1960s also point to the limits of so-called ‘liberalization’ under Nikita Khrushchev.

After Stalin’s death in 1953, Soviet leaders were left with a difficult legacy. His successor Khrushchev had to find a way of reinventing Soviet socialism and removing the taint of Stalinist terror. To prevent the destabilization of the Soviet regime, Khrushchev needed to come up with a way to ensure public order and impose certain norms of behaviour without ubiquitous state terror.

The Soviet 1960s were shaped by a fear of deviance, a fear which was rekindled time and again by actual or perceived waves of juvenile crime. These fears were predominantly evoked around the image of unsupervised youths hanging out in the streets, in staircases, and in the dvory (courtyards), where they were thought to be drinking, smoking, and gambling, all seen as gateways into delinquency and crime.[1]

These anxieties were often personified by the ‘hooligan.’[2] The ‘hooligan’ was the concept most widely invoked in Soviet society to label deviant behaviour. As Brian LaPierre has shown, hooliganism was mainly a ‘crime’ committed by working class

Group of young people walking through Moscow, 1964 (courtesy of CREEES, UVA, via Wikimedia Commons)

men. This might suggest that in the Soviet Union, deviance was ‘male’. A closer look at convictions of underage boys and girls, however, shows that there was also ‘female’ deviance, and that Soviet notions of delinquency and deviance were deeply gendered. Archival documents reveal surprisingly conservative notions of gender roles and sexuality within the Soviet system of justice and even among youths.

At first glance, this seems surprising in a state claiming to have ‘freed’ women and reached the equality of the sexes. Instead, bureaucrats worked with crude impressions of ‘fallen women’ and resorted to victim blaming in cases of sexual abuse and rape. Although there were also girls who committed crimes, it seems like girls were mostly sent to institutions for delinquent minors (reform colonies or ‘special’ schools) for promiscuity (amoral behaviour), or even prostitution – if they could prove that money had been exchanged. Boys, on the other hand, would be sent away most frequently for hooliganism, theft, or assault.

To compare these gendered notions of deviance, I will look at two inspection reports from 1962 about so-called collection and distribution points (priemniki), one for boys in Leningrad and one for girls in Pushkin. Minors would be brought to these places by the police, and wait there to be transferred to an institution. The Leningrad priemnik mostly held boys waiting to be sent to a reform colony. These boys were accused of theft, hooliganism, drunkenness, and ‘refusing to study or work.’ The report also mentions particularly bad previous cases, such as stealing state property, breaking into apartments, organizing gangs, escaping from a colony, and rape.[3]

In contrast, the report about the 11 girls waiting in the Pushkin priemnik for their place in a colony shows most interest in their sexual behaviour, which is vividly described. The girls would either roam around at night or had left home to stay with some guy. The men in question are named as shady people, foreigners (in one case Swedish tourists), soldiers, delinquent people, ‘unknown’ men, people from the Jazz scene – covering every possible stereotype of a bad match for ‘good Soviet girls.’ According to the report, most of the girls were either skipping school, misbehaving or drinking and smoking. Five of them lived in a boarding school, two were students, four had dropped out or were between jobs. Their families (often single parents) are mostly described as drinkers, as leading ‘an amoral lifestyle,’ or as mentally ill.

The report emphasizes cases in which girls exerted a bad influence on their environment, either literally by catching (and potentially spreading) venereal diseases – two of them had been hospitalized for gonorrhoea – or more metaphorically by ‘having amoral conversations in her boarding school’s dorm,’ and ‘tainting’ the other girls at her school. Another common feature is the failure of other agencies to influence or re-educate them, be it schools, factory ‘collectives’, the Komsomol, the police or house committees.

Only one of the girls committed an actual crime; aside from all of her deviant acts, she committed a rather grim act of cruelty against animals.[4] Although the boys and

Young women walking through Revolution Square, Moscow, 1964 (image courtesy of CREEES, UVA, via Wikimedia Commons)

girls found themselves in similar institutions and came from similar social(ly destitute) backgrounds, they are convicted for very different offenses and could hardly have been described more differently.

Another such case demonstrating the gendered notions of deviance is the conviction of a 14-year-old girl to a reform colony for leading an ‘amoral life style’, which included running away from school and petty theft. The Latvian prosecution chose to protest against this conviction, as the story behind it is rather tragic, and the girl was not known for misbehaving. A 20-year-old man had (illegally!) started a relationship with this girl and was terrorizing her emotionally. When her schoolmaster found out that the girl was sexually active, he persuaded her mother to send her to a boarding school. The man continued pursuing the girl and threatened to break up with her if she did not come to see him at once.

Scared, she ran away from school, stole some clothes to wear, and went to meet him. She was picked up by the militsiia (police) and brought back to school, where the headmaster chose to put her in ‘quarantine’ for three weeks and then had her sent to a colony, bullying her mother into agreeing to this. At the time of the prosecution’s protest, the girl was stuck in a priemnik, awaiting transfer. The prosecutor demanded for her to be sent back, and for the security forces to charge the guy who had abused and pressured her instead, as seemingly no one had thought of this before. The commission in charge followed that recommendation, although this came quite late for the girl: the trail of documents suggests that between the decision to send her to a colony and its reversal a whole year had passed.[5]

The tendency to blame girls for having sex even goes as far as influencing the outcome of rape trials. In the 1960s in Latvia, a rapist was charged but not arrested, because the victim had been a ‘promiscuous’ girl – which is a gross, but sadly familiar, trivialisation of rape.[6] In a discussion about juvenile crime among senior Latvian education, health, and juvenile justice officials, a law scholar considers rape a serious problem amongst minors. He inexplicably links it to the phenomenon of uneducated single mothers, somehow implying that it is the father’s job in a family to tell his sons not to rape anyone, or that such basic moral ground rules require a certain level of schooling. To explain the status of rape among such youngsters, the scholar evokes the case of three boys being tried for raping a 26-year-old. Towards the end of the trial, one of the accused admitted that he actually did not take part in the crime, but asked the court ‘not to tell anyone because it would embarrass him in front of his friends.’[7]

These examples bear witness to an underlying culture of criminalizing female but not male sexuality, and of victim blaming in the case of rape – a culture so widespread and unquestioned that not to rape a girl could apparently be cause for embarrassment.

Mirjam Galley is a third-year PhD student in Sheffield’s History Department. Her doctoral research deals with children in care in the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death in 1953, exploring both how the Soviet leadership sought to ‘form’ children in institutions into productive workers, and how children coped in these institutions. Her research interests include cultural history, especially the history of everyday life, of violence, and of marginalised groups. She is one of the co-founders of the Sheffield Modern International History Group. You can reach her on Twitter @M_E_Galley.


[1] Susan Reid, ‘Building Utopia in the Back Yard. Housing Administration, Participatory Government and the Cultivation of Socialist Community,’ in Karl Schlögel (ed.), Mastering Russian Spaces: Raum und Raumbewältigung als Probleme der russischen Geschichte (Munich, 2011), (149-186), pp. 171-172.

[2] Deborah Field, Private Life and Communist Morality in Khrushchev’s Russia (New York, 2007), p. 22.

[3] GARF, f. A385, op. 26, del. 203, ll. 126-133. (1962)

[4] GARF, f. A385, op. 26, del. 203, ll. 119-125. (1962)

[5] LVA, f. 270, ap. 3, lie. 1982, pp. 7-8. (1963)

[6] LVA, f. 270, ap. 3, lie. 2283, (86-115), p. 100. (1964)

[7] LVA, f. 270, ap. 3, lie. 2283, (86-115), p. 100-101. (1964)


Full Image Attributions

Image 1: By CREEES.UVA (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Image 2: By CREEES.UVA (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Teaching Soviet Children the Language of Science and Technology

By Laura Todd

At the beginning of the First Five-Year plan in 1928, the aims of children’s literature neatly intersected with those of the Soviet government’s plans to create a viable and powerful state, built on the promotion of knowledge, science, and technology. Soviet children, as the generation who would oversee and complete the transition to the bright future of full communism, were taught to be future constructors and leaders of science and technology from an early age.

fig 1
Figure 1: ‘Who I Will Be’ From L. Savel’ev’s book, What Are We Building? (1930)

The positioning of children at the forefront of scientific development was closely linked to the political necessities of the time. The First and Second Five Year Plans (1928-1932 and 1933-1937 respectively) were characterised by their push to rapidly increase industrialisation, and scientific and technological progress. However, Stalin had also enacted a wide-scale purge of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in 1930, leaving the new Soviet state without the scientific experts required to carry through this ambitious programme of change. In the place of these adult scientists, children were identified and educated to fill this void.

Unsurprisingly, literary critics and Party functionaries were clear that science and industrialisation were essential topics to cover in the ‘re-construction’ of the children’s publishing industry that was taking place simultaneously to the promotion of technology.[1] The focus on industry in children’s books was not by any means an independent occurrence. The 1925 publication of Fedor Gladkov’s Cement (Tsement) had sparked the birth of the Soviet ‘production novel’ (proizvodstvennyi roman), which evolved into a children’s version of the genre, the ‘children’s production book’ (detskaia proizvodstvennaia kniga).

fig 2
Figure 2: Laptev on the construction of factories and plants

Unlike the novels for adults, the children’s production book appeared in more varied forms than novels or stories about the heroes of Soviet industrialisation. In part, this difference arose from the very nature of children’s books, which, while usually moral and/or educational in tone, also needed to be entertaining in a way that Soviet adult’s fiction was wise to avoid for political reasons. However, there was also a wide recognition that the theme of manufacturing presented specific challenges across adult audiences as ‘even representatives of the Party nomenklatura perceived industrial tales to be something necessary, but unbearably boring.’[2]

The language of the Soviet production novel with its formulaic structures was particularly unlikely to appeal to the tastes of children, who seek out stories of adventure and entertainment, even in societies heavily restricted by political ideologies. One critic from the time suggested that, through the children’s production book, the theme of production could be transformed from a mere ‘topic of analysis and description’ into an art form of its own.[3]

fig 3
Figure 3: The page folds out to reveal more information on construction

In this manner, children’s texts on science and technology (these children’s production books) combined education with the process of discovery and an emphasis on transformation.

Some of these books taught children about the aims of the Five-Year Plans (piatiletki), including A. Laptev’s book The Five-Year Plan (Piatiletka), published in 1930. In The Five-Year Plan, Laptev teaches children the story of how the Plan was created and what it envisions. Using a trait common to many Soviet texts on science and technology, Laptev’s book presents these aims in visual form on maps of the Soviet Union, showing places where electrification, the construction of factories, and the creation of collectivised farms were taking place.


fig 4
Figure 4: An illustration of a ‘dynamo’ from What Are We Building?

Laptev’s illustrations and diagrams are not so different from those featured on Soviet agitprop posters from the time, but the book is constructed in a way to appeal to children’s curiosity. Each page folds outwards to reveal that the Plan is one of many layers, which need to be folded and placed in a specific way to ensure success.

fig 5
Figure 5: The exercise book cover of Savel’ev’s What Are We Building?

By contrast, Leonid Savel’ev’s part-storybook, part-exercise book (kniga-tetrad’), What Are We Building?: An Exercise Book with pictures (Chto my stroim?: Tetrad’ s kartinkami, 1930) presents children with the process of industrialisation in a recognisably educational way – the exercise book makes an appearance in most global education systems. The new language of science and technology is presented to children as new words often are – in picture-book format. Technical terms, such as ‘dynamo’, ‘cog’, and ‘lathe’, are accompanied by bright illustrations of what they are.

However, this multi-functional ‘exercise book’ allows children to fill-in-the-gaps and write themselves into Soviet industrialisation, as they are encouraged to answer questions on how their village/town/city contributes towards the Five-Year Plans. Children and their communities become small, but essential, cogs in the great Soviet factory. Children were firmly encouraged to imagine themselves as being ‘little-workers’ (deti-rabotniki) in the present, not only in the future.

fig 6
Figure 6: In Bumaga, trees are felled….

Soviet children’s books on industry frequently presented the process of science as one of raw material transformation. Many books helped children to understand the natural roots of products and how manufacturing allows nature to be transformed into useful items. N. Dirsh’s book, Paper (Bumaga, 193u?) shows children how trees are processed from a raw material into the paper that makes up their notebooks, journals, and magazines. The message of the transformation of raw materials into useful products has a dual meaning; knowledge and the manufacturing process turn natural products and children alike into items that can benefit Soviet society.

fig 7
Figure 7: …the trees are processed into pulp…

Finally, other texts played on fantasy structures well-established in children’s literature, moving away from didactic explanations of technology. N. Bulatov and P. Lopatin’s Journey through an Electric Lamp (Puteshestvie po elektrolampe) sees two children, Iura and Natasha, shrunk into a miniature size so that they can explore the inside of their father’s broken lamp. Ultimately, the book is designed to encourage technical knowledge – the children learn how electrical currents are channelled to create light and they become mini-technicians capable of fixing faults. But, the book chooses a deliberately fantastical tone, which echoes the adventures of miniaturised children in other books, including Alice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Children are taught the language of science and technology through play and imagination – traits not commonly associated with Soviet literature that follows the Party line.

fig 8
Figure 8: ..and transformed into the favourite magazines of children

Soviet children’s literature on science and technology from the late 1920s and 1930s is fascinating for a number of reasons. Considering that such books on science and technology did not appear as a concentrated stream in children’s publishing until the 1960s in the United Kingdom (when Ladybird Books began to regularly publish its ‘How it works’ series), the Soviet literary focus on science and technology in these early decades is impressive.

fig 9
Figure 9: Iura and Natasha try to fix their father’s broken lamp

Not only did these texts change the way progressive educators envisaged teaching children about complicated scientific and technical achievements, but they presented a means for authors to escape into worlds of fantasy that were not permitted in the adult world.[4] They are one of the many lesser-known sides of Soviet culture that demonstrate progressive ideas were to be found in the Soviet Union, despite the day-to-day restrictions on the literature and culture of adults.


Laura Todd researches histories of youth and childhood in Russia, the Western Balkans, the Soviet Union and Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Laura completed her PhD on ‘Youth Film in Russia and Serbia Since the 1990s’ in the Russian and Slavonics Department at the University of Nottingham in 2016. She currently teaches in the History Department at De Montfort University. Find her on twitter @laupaw


This blog is adapted from a paper written for the research project, ‘Pedagogy of Images: Depicting Communism for Children’ at Princeton University (https://pedagogyofimages.princeton.edu/). Laura would like to thank the project, its organisers, Thomas Keenan, Serguei Oushakine, Katherine Hill Reischel, and Princeton University’s Cotsen Children’s Library, for their support in conducting this research. All images in the blog have been taken from digitised collections in the Princeton University Digital Library (available here: http://pudl.princeton.edu/collections/pudl0127).


[1] See, for example, Elena Putilova, Ocherki po istorii kritiki sovetskoi detskoi literatury: 1917-1941 (Moscow: Detskaia literatura, 1982), particularly Chapter 4, ‘Diskussiia o detskoi literature 1929-1931 gg.’

[2] Dmitrii Fomin, ‘“Proizvodstvennaia” detskaia kniga’ in Kniga dlia detei 1881-1939: detskaia illiustrirovannaia kniga v istorii Rossii: iz kollektsii Aleksandra Lur’e, glav. red. N Verlinskaia (Moskva: Ulei, 2009), 196-201 (p. 197.)

[3] S Margolina, ‘Proizvodstvennaia detskaia literatura’, Literaturnaia gazeta, No. 5 (1926), p. 107.

[4] See, for example, George S. Counts, ‘A Word for the American Reader’ in Mikhail Ilin, New Russia’s Primer: The Story of the Five Year Plan, translated from the Russian by George S. Counts and Nucia P. Lodge (Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1931).

New Year Wishes: a Soviet Child’s Letter to Krupskaia

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’.


Explaining away poverty: Soviet residential childcare and social problems after 1953

By Mirjam Galley

Until Stalin’s death, Soviet children’s homes had been orphanages, housing children who had lost their parents to war, disease, or Stalin’s own terror campaigns. His successor Nikita Khrushchev set out to change that system of institutions for good. Khrushchev renounced his predecessor’s rule of terror in his so-called Secret Speech (1956) and, in some sort of ideological rebooting, promised to lead the peoples of the Union to communism within 20 years.

In order to bring up the generations that would ‘build’ communism, Khrushchev pledged to expand the state education system to educate every child according to socialist ideology in state-run boarding schools.[1] However, lacking financial means – and the simple fact that parents did not want to give their children away – this project was never completely realized.

Visit of Khrushchev to a television factory, 1963 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

So, Khrushchev’s policies did not result in an all-encompassing network of boarding schools, but in a network of residential childcare institutions (children’s homes, boarding schools, and children’s colonies). These mainly housed and educated children from ‘problem families,’ orphans, and children with disabilities. They were meant for children who, in the leadership’s opinion, were not or could not be properly cared for by their parents.[2]

Yet, because of this complicated formation of the residential childcare system, its practical aims are not easy to make out. Soviet files from central as well as regional administrations mention three of them: the ideological purpose of turning children into productive, useful contributors to (socialist) society; the provision of social welfare, helping children in need; and the enforcement of public order, of removing ‘undesirables’ from the public eye.

Ideology is the most explicitly stated purpose of that childcare system in both legal documents and everyday bureaucratic correspondence. Several texts are quite explicit about the network of boarding schools being set up to raise the younger generations as ‘the most active builders of communism.’[3] Documents about more specific aspects of

Accepting new Komsomol members on Red Square, Moscow, in 1968 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

institutional education tend to name the values that these schools should convey, such as ‘collectivism’ and a ‘communist attitude towards work’. Children were supposed to work for the common good and help the state,[4] in order to turn out ‘healthy, happy, and useful’.[5]

The second purpose, of isolating unwanted groups of people, tends to be stated more implicitly. This attitude towards the children becomes apparent in different forms of institutionalized neglect. Staff in such institutions worked for much lower wages than teachers or educators in general schools or kindergartens.[6] Agencies in charge of helping ‘difficult’ children individually often just sent kids to reformatory colonies without even meeting them.[7] Explicit statements about isolating children tended to refer most frequently to delinquent children and children with disabilities.

When in the late 1950s a regional Party organization wanted to close a reform colony, they argued that it was too close to an important railway, where tourists and travellers (some of whom were foreign) might see them.[8] In 1961, an internal document from the Soviet Council of Ministers stated that children with a significant intellectual disability should be institutionalized so as not to hinder the parents in raising healthy children.[9]

In terms of these two aims, there is no clear change throughout the years, but the third element of social support for needy families only seemed to occur from the 1970s onwards. A draft law by the Council of Ministers in 1974 mentioned the social function of such institutions, and the Soviet state’s obligation to bring up children whenever their parents could not.[10]

Ten years later, the chairman of the Soviet Children’s Fund Al’bert Likhanov again stressed the responsibility of bringing up ‘state’ children, ‘meaning our common (obshchii) children’.[11] These examples seem to suggest that the Soviet leadership began to admit to the existence of social problems. However, paying attention to the language used by Soviet bureaucrats to describe these problems, it becomes clear that this concession was very limited. For instance, words like ‘poverty’ or ‘social problem’ are never mentioned.

Official documents do not present social problems as a phenomenon concerning society as a whole or at least parts of it, but rather individual families. Awkward formulations like

‘Sobriety – a norm of life’ 1985 stamp (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

‘families in which bad conditions for raising children prevail’ are used instead.[12] The most common term to label ‘bad’ families is neblagopoluchnyi, which in the context of families means ‘dysfunctional,’ denoting in practice phenomena like poverty, alcoholism, neglect, or domestic violence.[13] Common labels for ‘bad parents’, such as ‘previous offender,’ ‘drunkard/alcoholic,’ or ‘mentally ill,’ also tended to pathologise general social problems, or place the blame on individual shortcomings.[14]

These findings suggest that the Soviet leadership failed to admit to the existence of social problems like poverty in Soviet society and, more importantly, to their responsibility to solve those problems. Instead, state agencies tended to blame individual people (for being alcoholics, for being bad parents) for more general social phenomena and tried to keep such ‘deviant’ people out of sight as much as possible.

Mirjam Galley is a first-year PhD student in Sheffield’s History Department. Her doctoral research deals with children in care in the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death in 1953, exploring both how the Soviet leadership sought to ‘form’ children in institutions into productive workers, and how children coped in these institutions. Her research interests include cultural history, especially the history of everyday life, of violence, and of marginalised groups. She is one of the co-founders of the Sheffield Modern International History Group. You can reach her on Twitter @M_E_Galley.


[1] See for example: Polly Jones (ed.), The Dilemmas of De-Stalinization: Negotiating Cultural and Social Change in the Khrushchev Era (London/New York: Routledge, 2006); Melanie Ilic/ Jeremy Smith (eds.), Khrushchev in the Kremlin: Policy and government in the Soviet Union, 1956-64 (Routledge: London, 2009).

[2] Catriona Kelly, Children’s World: Growing up in Russia, 1890-1991 (London/New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), p.267.

[3] GARF, f. A259, op. 42, d. 9624, l. 81.

[4] GARF, f. A385, op. 26, d. 204, l. 63r; GASO, f. R233, d. 1471, l. 35; GARF, f. R5446, op. 145, d. 1258, ll. 33-34.

[5] GASO, f. 1427, op. 2, d. 115, l. 32.

[6] GARF, f. R5446, op. 145, d. 1258, l. 29.

[7] GARF, f. A385, op. 26, d. 203, ll. 6-10.

[8] GARF, f. A259, op. 42, d. 2718, l. 3. Evidently the motive behind wanting to close that institution might have been a different one but the fact that individuals thought that this was a valid point hints to their perceptions of such children.

[9] GARF, f. R5446, op. 95, d. 240, l. 17.

[10] GARF, f. R5446, op. 109, d. 1079, ll. 3-4.

[11] GARF, f. R5446, op. 145, d. 1258, ll. 13.

[12] GARF, f. R5446, op. 109, d. 1079, l. 3.

[13] TsDOOSO, f. 4, op. 69, d. 181, ll. 2, 22, 43-44, 60; GARF, f. A385, op. 26, d. 203, ll. 1-2; GARF, f. 9527, op.1, d. 2124, l. 43. Officials either use the adjective neblagopoluchnyi, or even more complicated formulations like neblagopoluchno v sem’e or semei v kotorykh neblagopoluchno s vospitaniem detei, which makes it sound like a disease.

[14] TsDOOSO, f. 4, op. 69, d. 181, ll. 175-179; GARF, f. R8131, op. 32, d. 5042, ll. 52-54.

Full image attributions

Image 1: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B0118-0010-027 / CC-BY-SA [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Image 2: RIA Novosti archive, image #705239 / Lev Polikashin / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Image 3: Scanned and processed by Andrei Sdobnikov (Personal collection) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons