On March 5th, 1953 the Soviet Union held its breath in anticipation. Joseph Stalin was this larger-than-life figure who effectively dictated the lives of millions of Soviet citizens in a long, unpredictable and bloody reign, his abrupt death left many questions and a very uncertain future. Not only did this throw a wrench in Soviet politics, giving way to a scramble for power, but also deeply affected Soviet day-to-day life. Soviet leadership was, for the most part, indecisive and as a result the next few decades saw the drastic shifts in Soviet policymaking. The concern now was people didn’t know how much freedom they had and were afraid to test the waters, anything could happen.
To understand the reasons for such social uncertainty, one must understand that for the last half-century the Soviet people were trained to see the party as the sole undeniable source of power and any deviation from Stalin’s will would most likely get you sent to Siberia or shot. Before Stalin’s death, Soviet culture seemed to be deprived of feeling, such as pointed out by Olga Shmarova in 1953 who wrote that in Soviet films, ironically “lovers talk about bulldozers and tractors.”. Soviet artists during Stalin’s time never expressed their own ideas or emotions, but rather projected what the Party impressed on them. With statements as void as “to be a Soviet patriot means first and foremost to be loyal to the great ideas of Lenin and Stalin” Soviet society seems tasteless and bland, but this was a necessity as sticking your neck out expressively goes against “the vital foundation of the Soviet system” and made you a target.
With Stalin gone there was now a new opportunity for social expression and political and economic reform, however, none of it was immediate but rather for the most part took shape in the late 50s and early 60s in the Khrushchev era. This impacted economics as the focus of Soviet projects shifted from “grandiose construction projects” to consumer goods production and development of the “virgin lands” of the south-central USSR. The only thing that held the Soviet Union from a complete cultural revolution was the creeping fear that another dictator was making a play to continue what Stalin started and what lay ahead was in the hands of a handful of Stalin’s advisors, namely Georgii Malenkov, Lavrentii Beria and Nikita Khrushchev. Although as unsure as the future was, it was clear that the death of Stalin marked a pivotal moment in Soviet history and the culture, politics and economics of the region would not be the same.