Using primary sources to study the issues and themes outlined in the introduction poses particular challenges for teachers and students. All of the sources included in this packet were produced by the Soviet regime through its publication of newspapers and release of statistics. The Soviet media of the 1930s was controlled by the Communist Party and its affiliate organizations, and served as a means to disseminate a particular set of messages. These articles should not be read as if they followed the ideal model of a free press, where newspapers provided space for opposing views, where distinctions were made between news articles and opinion pieces, and where journalists enjoyed some measure of autonomy from the government. A more productive approach is to read these sources as a kind of advertising for the Soviet regime and its ideological position.

Like advertisements, these sources deliberately combined positive and negative messages, selectively introduced examples that promoted certain objectives, and sought to convince the reader of a definite set of opinions. Soviet sources can also be read for both their intended and inadvertent content. Particularly in cases where the articles described some of the more difficult or destructive aspects of Stalinism, reading “against the grain” is a useful exercise in historical analysis. While all the articles contain some negative elements, these need to be seen as part of a propaganda campaign: by describing obstacles and problems, these articles sought to convince readers that while progress had been and was still being made, even greater efforts would be needed in the future.

Discussion Questions:

  • Which aspects of Soviet women’s experiences in the 1930s were most difficult, which were most constructive, and what does the range of issues and evaluations suggest about attitudes toward the Stalinist system?
  • How did the Soviet government try to shape women’s lives and attitudes during the 1930s, and what obstacles stood in the way of these transformative objectives?