It Takes A Union To Raise A Soviet: Children's Summer Camps As A Reflection Of Late Soviet Society

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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oral history
trade unions
European History
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This dissertation examines the functioning of Soviet children’s summer camps throughout the period from 1953 to 1970. Researchers conceptualize these years marked by the rule of Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev as the time of transformations of Soviet state and society. The goal of my project was to closely analyze how these transformations affected Soviet children using the example of children’s summer camps. Khrushchev’s ascendance to power changed summer camps from being the institutions which combined rest and education to purely educational ones. All the summer camps’ resources had to be mobilized to fulfill the task of Soviet children’s political indoctrination. Soviet leadership saw summer camps as ideal spaces that immersed children in a special way of life most appropriate for the future builders of communism. Typically for the USSR, by far not all the camps created this type of environment and routine for the young. Yet, there were model institutions, like Artek camp in the Crimea, which represented the Soviet vision of utopian children’s world that educated the younger generation as politically active Soviet citizens devoted to the Communist Party. Analyzing a unique body of sources that include archival records, oral history interviews, camp guidelines, diaries, and photographs I demonstrate that summer camps played an important role in Khrushchev’s reform of children’s education aimed at making manual labor a shared experience for all the Soviet youth. My research also highlights the paradoxes of this project. Owned by Soviet enterprises and organizations and administered by their trade unions, instead of creating a shared experience, summer camps reflected hierarchies that existed within the Soviet society between people belonging to different workplaces as well as between rural and urban populations. Run by trade union officials, summer camps also allow scholars to examine the process of negotiation between the Communist Party, the Soviet state, and society over the model version of the Soviet childhood that summer camps had to create. I also see children as very important actors who shaped the work of summer camps by choosing to involve, disengage, or openly contest the way of living that these institutions involved them into.

Benjamin Nathans
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