Succession, Space, and Style: The Soviet Union after Stalin

sputnikThis week’s posts all focused on the question of what happened to the Soviet system after the death of Stalin forced leaders as well as citizens to understand, control, and respond to a new set of expectations. During the first years after Stalin’s death, the Cold War entered a new and more dangerous phase, as the development of hydrogen bombs raised the possibility of mutually assured destruction. Hungary became a flash point in the Cold War, as the Soviet Union responded forcefully to a potential challenge to their control of a satellite. At the same time, the Soviet Union launched the first satellite and then the first living creature into space, thus moving the Cold War into a new stage of competition. Within the Soviet Union, pockets of thaw began to emerge in literature and in daily behavior, even as most of society dealt with the legacies of Stalinist economic mobilization and political control. The rise of a new youth culture in major cities at the same time that hundreds of thousands of prisoners sought release from the Gulag represented extreme ends of the same process of unraveling the tightly wound layers of social, political, and ideological controls imposed under Stalin.

Image: S. Kuzmin, The First Sputnik (1959)