Soviet Man

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For many years, the term novy sovetsky chelovek in Soviet Marxism-Leninism was usually translated into English as "the new Soviet man." A translation that would be more faithful to the meaning of the original Russian would be "the new Soviet person," because the word chelovek is completely neutral with regard to gender.

The hope of remaking the values of each member of society was implicit in Karl Marx's expectations for the progression of society from capitalism through proletarian revolution to communism. Marx reasoned that fundamental economic and social restructuring would generate radical attitudinal change, but Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin insisted that the political regime had to play an active role in the transformation of people's values, even in a socialist society. It remained for the Program of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, adopted at the party's Twenty-Second Congress in 1961 in accordance with the demands of Nikita Khrushchev, to spell out the "moral code of the builder of communism," which subsequently was elaborated at length by a wide variety of publications. The builder of communism was expected to be educated, hard working, collectivistic, patriotic, and unfailingly loyal to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. During the transition to a fully communist society, as predicted by Khrushchev, such vestiges of past culture as religion, corruption, and drunkenness would be eradicated. The thinking associated with the Party Program of 1961 represented the last burst of revolutionary optimism in the Soviet Union.

Over time, it became increasingly difficult to ascribe "deviations from socialist morality" to the influence of pre-1917 or pre-1936 social structures. Indeed, testimony from a variety of sources suggested that reliance on connections, exchanges of favors, and bribery (which had by no means disappeared in the Stalin years) were steadily growing in importance during the post-Stalin decades. In the mid-1970s Hedrick Smith's book The Russians described the members of the largest nationality in the USSR as impulsive, generous, mystical, emotional, and essentially irrational, behind the facade of a monochromatic ideology imposed by an authoritarian political regime. Though the Brezhnev leadership still insisted that the socialist way of life (sotsialistichesky obraz zhizni ) in the Soviet Union was morally superior to that in the West with its unbridled individualism and moral decay, the sense of optimism concerning the future was slipping away. Ideologists complained ever more about amoral behavior by citizens, and the political leaders seemed to become more tolerant of illegal economic activity and corruption. Despite those general trends, problematic as they were, some Soviet citizens did strive actively to serve their fellow human beings, including the most vulnerable members of society.

See also: kruschev, nikita sergeyevich; lenin, vladi mir illich; marxism


DeGeorge, Richard T. (1969). Soviet Ethics and Morality. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Evans, Alfred B., Jr. (1993). Soviet Marxism-Leninism: The Decline of an Ideology. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Mehnert, Klaus. (1962). Soviet Man and His World, tr. Maurice Rosenbaum. New York: Praeger.

Smith, Hedrick. (1983). The Russians, updated edition. New York: Times Books.

Alfred B. Evans Jr.