Loveless Letters

In 1935 Stalin declared ‘life has become better’. This was clearly not the case for everyone, but feelings had to be expressed very carefully.

‘Kolkhoz’ [collective farm] women working in a field, 1930s.
‘Kolkhoz’ [collective farm] women working in a field, 1930s © Hulton Getty Images.

The Soviet project claimed to have dismantled the causes of oppression and, by the construction of socialism, the emancipation of women and drives to imbue the populace with grammatical and political literacy, to have rendered the causes of unhappy feelings and suffering obsolete. 

Unhappiness under or with Soviet power could, therefore, be perceived as dissent, ‘tantamount to a political crime’, to quote the historian Catriona Kelly. When, in 1936, the Stalin Constitution codified his assertion that ‘life has become better, life has become merrier, Comrades’, negative emotions became, in effect, anti-Soviet, individualist, decadent: almost political taboo. Yet, people’s lives rarely matched the ideals of the state. 

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