Behind the Urals Questions Custom Essay
Behind the Urals
Questions to Consider
The two primary objectives in our reading of Behind the Urals are
1. to understand more about the development of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and the effects of the Stalinist “revolution from above” on communists throughout the world.
2. to explore why, despite the crimes and tragedies associated with the collectivization of agriculture and the purges, the Soviet model remained attractive to so many throughout the 1930s.
Stephen Kotkin’s introduction (ix-xxv) provides important questions to keep in mind as you read the memoir:
1. Kotkin begins with the observation that “while many Soviet citizens who lived through the Stalin era look back on it with horror, many others remember it as the most fulfilling time of their lives” (x). As you read the introduction and the memoir, look out for examples of both responses. How can this “double-sided perception of Stalinist reality” be explained?
2. What about Scott’s background seemed to lead him to the decision to go to the Soviet Union? Does he seem to be a likely supporter of proletarian revolution? How does he compare to other Americans who traveled to the Soviet Union?
3. In his appraisal of the reliability of Scott’s work, Kotkin notes that “Scott refuses to whitewash” and that he also “refuses to engage in sensationalism” (xviii). As you read the memoir, look for examples that support or complicate Kotkin’s judgment. What evidence can you find that Scott is a reliable observer?
4. Kotkin asks, “Was Magnitogorsk a ‘socialist’ city, and if so, what made it ‘socialist’?” (xx). Try to find answers as you read the memoir.
5. Kotkin warns that “Scott’s explanation of the purges” is a “valiant effort” but “cannot be considered satisfactory” (xxii). Why is it so difficult to offer an adequate account of the purges? What does Scott’s account add to other first-person or secondary accounts?
6. Why does Kotkin emphasize that Scott wrote his account of the 1930s during World War II? Does this affect his reliability? Did Scott consider whether there might have been a “less hasty and less violent way to industrialize Soviet Russia”? (xxv).
Part One: “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” (3-6)
7. How does Scott explain his decision to go to the Soviet Union? What impression do you have of Scott? How does his explanation compare to Kotkin’s?
8. Why does Scott characterize Soviet industrialization as a war?
Part Two: “A Day in Magnitogorsk” (9-51)
9. Find examples in this section that help you to assess Scott’s reliability. Does he “whitewash” problems on the construction site? Does he “sensationalize”? What are the conditions like in Magnitogorsk? How does he describe the Bolshevik managers?
10. How does Scott explain the enthusiasm that he observed? Does he share it? Are his explanations convincing?
11. What evidence does Scott provide of “socialist” transformation — in people, in industry, in the city?
12. What does the presence of former “kulaks” (richer peasants) and “prisoner specialists” in Magnitogorsk suggest about the working of Soviet socialism? What was their attitude toward the Soviet Union?
Part Five: “Masha” (117-33)
13. What was Masha’s understanding of life in America and her impression of Scott?
14. How did the revolution transform the lives of peasant families like Masha’s?
15. What improvements did Scott see in Magnitogorsk by 1936?
16. How was Masha influenced by the “propaganda of the twenties about the elimination of the bourgeois family”? (133).
Part Seven: “Administration and the Purge” (173-206)
17. How did administrators respond to problems at the plant?
18. How did Shevchenko try to cover up his early anti-Soviet activity? Why was it necessary and dangerous to do so?
19. What is Scott’s assessment of the charges finally brought against Shevchenko? Against others arrested in Magnitogorsk?
20. Did Scott believe charges of “wrecking”? How does he explain the purges? How does his assessment compare to Service’s?
21. How did the purges affect the plant and its workers? Who took the place of the purged officials?
Part Eight: “Socialist City” (209-44)
22. Do the city services (e.g., housing, childcare, schools, healthcare, etc.) seem “socialist”?
23. What sort of childcare did the city provide?
24. How did Scott’s five years in Russia shape his views of the West in 1937? Did Western affluence dampen his enthusiasm for the Soviet Union?
Part Nine: “Exeunt” (244-9)
25. According to Scott, why didn’t the problems of Stalinism didn’t diminish enthusiasm for Stalinism? Did he remain a supporter of the Soviet system?