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Ilya Kalinin

Kalinin 2

Kalinin 2
Image Credit: Ilya Kalinin

Fellow in Research Area 1: "Competing Communities"

September – December 2022

“(Post)Soviet Union” of National Form and (Post)Socialist Content (Literature, Nation, Class)

The tragic events that unfolded on February 24, 2022 once again raise the question of the imperial nature of the USSR, exposing the still unexplored breaks between the national and the territorial, the former Soviet metropolis and the former Soviet republics, the historical past and the actual political borders legitimized by international law.

One of the key issues related to the specifics of the Soviet project is the paradoxical nature of a multi-ethnic socialist state. In a condensed form this construction – a super-centralized state, designed as a federal association – fully fits into the canonical formula of Soviet literature and culture: “socialist in content, national in form”. The real problem facing the Bolsheviks and implicitly present in this formula was that the presence of clearly structured working classes was even more problematic than the presence of nations, since both of them were recognized as the result of developed capitalist relations. This gap between the manifestly class character of the state and the real social structure of the population was especially acute. The paradox of the situation might be expressed as follows: class had yet to hatch from the unlaid egg of nationhood. An incubator designed to accelerate this process was an intensive cultural policy, which created national forms to ensure that socialist content could be expressed in their language.

This policy and its rhetoric seems to be worth a closer look. Perhaps it is in this conceptual construction and the cultural policy based on it that one can find the source of the dramatic interweaving of national and social, imperial and ideological, cultural and territorial logics, which has not been unravelled over the past decade and which has determined the specifics of post-Soviet culture and literature in recent decades, reflecting the Soviet past.


Ilya Kalinin received his PhD in Russian Literature at Saint Petersburg State University in 2002 with his project “Russian Literary Utopia, XVIII-XX Centuries: The Philosophy and Poetics of the Genre”. From 2021 to 2022 he was a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. His research focuses on early Soviet intellectual and cultural history and the historical and cultural politics of contemporary Russia. His articles and essays have been published in a wide range of journals and translated into 14 languages. His book “History as Art of Articulation. Russian Formalists and Revolution” is set for publication in 6 months by Moscow based Publishing house New Literary Observer.