Studies in Soviet Thought

, Volume 39, Issue 2, pp 111–135 | Cite as

The justification of political conformism: The mythology of Soviet intellectuals

  • Vladimir Shlapentokh


Only during a brief period in the aftermath of the revolution was a portion of the Soviet intelligentsia eager sincerely to cooperate with the Soviet system. Soon, with Stalin's repressions, the intelligentsia, and especially its elite — the intellectuals, or those involved in creative activities such as science, literature and the arts, became locked in permanent conflict with the government.

Once mass terror disappeared after Stalin's death in 1953, intellectuals faced the possibility of confronting the regime without fear of instant arrest and eventual death in the Gulag.

Moral choices became a serious problem, especially during the period of political reaction under Brezhnev in the 1970's, when the regime resorted to repressions (albeit in milder form than during Stalin's times) and corruption in order to prevent the oppositional activity of intellectuals. Brezhnev's regime was rather successful in this endeavor, an issue which was hotly debated by Russian intellectuals in the period ofglasnost' when soul-searching and recanting about their behavior of the 1970's.

The political conformism of intellectuals bore an interesting product, namely, a special mythology which had to exculpate passive intellectuals as well as those who corroborated with the authorities and betrayed their colleagues.

The goal of this paper is to analyze this mythology. The author makes a distinction between two kinds of mythology used by the intellectuals to justify their conformity — a ‘current’ mythology, which is employed for the vindication of contemporary deeds and a ‘retrospective’ mythology, the purpose of which is to acquit one of past actions. The importance of the mythology employed by the intellectuals goes beyond the Soviet experience and reminds one of the developments in the American intellectual community during the McCarthy era, as well as in German and French communities during the Second World War. As a theoretical basis for this paper, the author uses the concept of a two-level mentality which helps explain how people can easily separate their behavior from their system of values.


Political Philosophy Creative Activity Past Action Eventual Death Moral Choice 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vladimir Shlapentokh
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of Community Health ScienceMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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