The significance of World War II within the Russian historiography is unequivocal– but the impact of that great cataclysm on the Soviet state and Soviet society is frequently understated or overstated. The early 1940s brought massive losses to the upper echelons of the Communist Party, resulting in a rapid mobilization of the state, but these upheavals took place in a society that was already hamstrung by both the traditional scarcity of qualified professionals and the strain that Marxist-Leninist purism placed on an already strained education system. Long before the October Revolution, Russia was plagued with the enduring problem of scarcity of the qualified managerial cadres; after the Revolution, this problem was exacerbated by factional disputes between ideologues, who were primarily concerned with the ideological purity of the Soviet state, and pragmatists, who favoring a greater focus on vocational education. Caught between these two factions was the proto-middle class from which the professional stratum of Russian society was to be recruited.
During the opening years of World War II, the demand for educated professionals rose, forcing compromises in their ideological purity. In the long term, the result was a gradual, piecemeal shift toward pragmatic compromise. In the short term, however, faced with a dilemma between under-staffed and under-indoctrinated, caught in a decision-making paradigm locked in by Marxism-Leninism, the Soviet matrix opted for personalized networks and regional cliques over the professional apparatus in its quest for short-term efficiency.
Drawing on archival materials such as memoir literature, epistolary documentation and state reports from Moscow and provincial (particularly those of the Tver’ Oblast’) collections, this article examines the tensions that underpinned the conditions of the proto-middle class from throughout the 1940s, tracing the ideological constraints that structured the political landscape, the repeating cycles of essentially identical attempts at reform, and the ways in which the strain of the ideological/pragmatic conflict on Russian professionals was, and was not, resolved in the wake of World War II.
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