index.html  The Construction of the Stalinist post-war (1944-1953) “Soviet People”: A concept in the political rhetoric of Soviet Estonia1



University of Tartu





This article emphasizes that post-war (1944–1953) construction of “we” in political rhetoric was based on the principle of national self-determination. But Stalinist nationality (i.e. soviet patriotism) meant particularly the subordination of Estonian nationality to the Russian one. As a whole, the Estonian “we” among “the Soviet people” was positioned much lower than the Russian “we”. Within this ideological u-turn “the soviet people” lost its particular content, which earlier was determined solely in terms of class struggle. “The Soviet people” now attained its meaningful content through the utterances of Stalin. Its determination depended on the needs of power itself. Thus, the “soviet people” created by Stalin was identical to his “we” subordinated by his “I”. Stalin and “the Soviet people” became the two sides of the same coin. Analysing this topic, the author tries to build a bridge between the Essex School’s theory of hegemony (Ernesto Laclau), Emile Benveniste’s linguistic tradition, and the Tartu-Moscow School (Juri Lotman) of cultural semiotics.   

Keywords: “Soviet people” in Stalinist era, semiotics of culture, theory of hegemony, deixis, political discourse.






The main purpose of this paper is to show how the category of “we” was constructed in political discourse. Semantically, the keywords used in the framework of this paper are the ones established in political rhetoric, such as the will of the people, the people etc., i.e. the ones referring to those on whose behalf it is being spoken in politics. The period analyzed captures the time from 1944 to 1953. Two aspects in particular make the examination of this period especially intriguing. First, within a relatively short period of time, three ideologically opposite powers – Estonian, Soviet, and Nazi – changed. Second, Estonia became an occupied “nation” – 1940-1941 by the Soviet regime, during World War II by the German Reich and after the war, starting from 1944, again by the Stalinist regime – and therefore it opened the implicit possibility for the plurality of “we”. The first “we” was constructed by foreign powers and the second “we” was used by local politicians.

            Totalitarian regimes (especially Stalinist Russia and Hitler’s Germany) and their ideologies have been of interest for many scientific disciplines, starting from political science (analyses of totalitarianism, e.g. Arendt 1973) to studies of religious orientation (Adorno et al 1950). With respect to the topic of this paper, which focuses mainly on the Stalinist period, scientists have been primarily interested in the development of the October Revolution into Stalin’s personal totalitarian power. Especially among Western scientists there is a widespread belief that the internal developmental logic of the revolution itself led to it (Groys 1992; Medevedev 1971). Many Russian researchers who continue the Soviet tradition of historical analysis rather place an emphasis on the pathological nature of Stalinism that for a period of time trampled the revolution’s ideals underfoot. Thus these two positions fall back on a deeper contradiction: are the ideals of a communist society, resting on the determination of the economic basis, even capable of being put into practice, or is the presumption of a basis that determines the superstructure of society (e.g. culture, the state, education, religion) itself an ideological fiction? If the latter is true, then the causes for social changes must be sought in the antagonistic nature of the “superstructure” itself. One way of approaching this problem is to analyse the rhetoric used by politicians.

            The theoretical goal of this paper is to create a theoretical-conceptual framework, based on the idea of an I-centred constitution of the pronoun “we” as put forth by the French linguist Émile Benveniste. Thus this paper does not discuss deixis in terms of psycholinguistics or philosophy of language. Benveniste’s deictic treatment of “we” is further developed with the conception of “the people” drawn from Ernesto Laclau, one of today’s most renowned theorists of hegemony and the leading figure of the Essex school of discourse theory, and Juri Lotman’s ideas in semiotics of culture. The choice of these authors is substantiated by the following aspects: Laclau’s concepts of “the people” and “empty signifier” help us better understand the discursive practice of signification that accompanies the construction of “the people”. Yet at the same time, in his explanations of the logic of signification, Laclau proceeds from the concept of affect derived from psychoanalysis, especially from its Lacanian version, for which reason it closes the doors, in the opinion of many social scientists, to concrete analyses of political discourse. The present author is of the opinion that Benveniste’s theory of linguistics seems to avoid such problems. In addition, a deictic analysis can highlight the question of the subject, a topic left undertheorized in Laclau’s treatment of “the people”, and which would shed some light on the relations between utterances and the subject of utterances. And in the semiotic approach I see a tool for theoretically and methodologically analysing the historically specific semantic level of “we”. Moreover, all these three authors are, at least in a sense, part of the tradition whose roots go back to Ferdinand de Saussure’s idea of the process of signification as a system of differences. Thus the theoretical aspect of this paper will be an interdisciplinary one, synthesizing approaches from linguistics, discourse theory and semiotics of culture.

This paper is divided into three major parts. In the first and second part I will analyse the ways in which, in political rhetoric, the above-mentioned ideological shift was semantically and deictically reflected in the construction of the figure of “own” and “other” by the authorities. Chronologically, the analysis covers two periods: the occupation of Estonia by Soviet forces starting from the fall of 1944 until the end of WWII in May 1945, and the post-war period until Stalin’s death. The material to be analysed comprises the speeches of politicians published in Rahva Hääl between 1944 and 1953.            In the third part I will attempt to analyse the logic of signification of “the Soviet people” and the role that the cult of the Leader played in its construction, proceeding from Laclau’s theory of hegemony and Benveniste’s theory of language. I will observe the ways in which the ideological shift was represented in the speeches of Soviet party members in Estonia – what was the position of the local (Estonian) people in the “brotherly family of the Soviet peoples”.

The analyzed material comprises issues of the largest daily newspaper Rahva Hääl (issues from 1940 to 1953). After the coup in 1940 the newspaper Rahva Hääl [the People’s Voice] that was founded in June 1940 to replace the newspaper Uus Eesti [the New Estonia], became one of the main official voices of the Communist Party of Estonia. The essential part of the sources consists of speeches by the politicians published in the press, and of the editorials of the daily newspapers. Choosing media as the empirical object of study can be justified mainly by the fact that the media (especially the editions that cover daily news) reflects the worldview, ideology and value-orientations of a community (Lauk, Maimik 1998, 80).



1. The Construction of the Soviet ‘we’ after World War II


The “Great Patriotic War” (1941-1945) has borne an exceptional significance in Soviet historiography. The war became, despite its terrifying number of victims, the golden centre of the Soviet epoch. “The Soviet people”, whatever connotations this expression may have for outsiders, was formed during the days of the Great Patriotic War. The war period was the temporal marker that indicated the moment when most of the people took the side of the Bolsheviks, thus legitimating the pretensions to power for the followers of Lenin (Dobrenko 1993, 210). On the discursive level, war reveals the power mechanism contained in all of political discourse – during the war, the relations between governing and subordination are publicly presented in textual discourse, since an external threat to power is simultaneously a threat for the subordinates. Thus we can perceive the lessening of the ideological cover-up of the relations between the government and the people, since during the war, the ideological triad – “purpose, means, measures” – appears less distorted and more publicly in political discourse. The primary purpose of political rhetoric is to mobilise the masses against an external enemy that can be seen by all and who threatens the very existence of all of society. During the war, the opposition between “own” – “other” turns into the opposition “own” – “enemy”. The function of the latter is to provide a perception of threat that casts doubt on the survival of the entire “own” group (Gudkov 2005, 14). During a war, the enemy, that permanent threat to social unison, appears publicly on the arena of history, thereby radicalising Carl Schmitt’s opposition between “friend” and “enemy” (Schmitt 1976).

            But it was not just the war and the real threat to the existence of the “we” that brought about conformism on the conscious level. During the war period, an ideological shift became definitively crystallised, a shift that started in the Soviet Union during the mid-1930s. The fading of revolutionary fervour in National Bolshevism and the pathos of a “peaceful build-up” express an ideological turn-about and indicate the localisation of the world revolution – to “socialism in a single nation.”


The construction of “we” during the Soviet occupation before the end of WWII in Estonia

In June 1940, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were occupied by the Soviet troops. In the public-political discourse it was presented as the institution of the power of the people. On August 6th, the Republic of Estonia was incorporated into the Soviet Union, which, in turn, was termed “joining the USSR on a voluntary basis”. The German invasion into the Soviet Union over the summer of 1941 replaced the Soviet occupation with the German one for three years. After the Battle of Kursk in the summer of 1943 it was clear that Germany was no longer fighting for victory, but for survival. The retreat of the German army was as fast as its offensive during the first years of war. The grand offensive of the Red Army beginning on January 14, 1944 pushed the German forces back from Leningrad, and the Red Army liberated the areas on the eastern side of Lake Peipus. Once again, war had reached Estonian territory. Beginning from February, there were fierce battles for Estonia between the German and Soviet forces, culminating in the evacuation of the remaining German forces in September, and the occupation of Estonia by the Red Army. The battles, lasting for nearly 10 months, finally came to an end at the end of November in Saaremaa, on the Sõrve peninsula.

In mid-August, the Red Army reached the first large town in Estonia. In Võru, which had the brief honour of being the capital of Soviet Estonia, the new occupying forces addressed the people in the following way:


“Citizens of Soviet Estonia! The men and women of Soviet Estonia! Dear brothers and sisters!” (Karotamm 1944a)


This quote is directed at three addressees. The main emphasis in Karotamm's (Nikolai Karotamm was, from 1941 to 1944, the 2nd secretary of the Estonian Communist Party, 1944-1950 the 1st secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Estonia (Bolsheviks), or in other words, he was the local political leader) quote is on political identity: “Citizens of Soviet Estonia!” This emphasises continuity with the first year of Soviet occupation, thereby turning the conquest by the Red Army into a quest for liberation.

It is noteworthy that the quote does not contain the word “comrade”, a word that before the war had been prevalent in the phatic function of speeches (Ventsel 2007). What we have here is a device of negation, where instead of an expected element there is an absence in the structure of the text, thereby making it significant in itself (Lotman 1977). “Comrade” was primarily associated with the Bolshevik party, Soviet power and comrades-in-arms. Thus the absence of this word marks an important change in stress – despite emphasizing Soviet Estonia, the new powers did not initially wish to emphasize any connection with communist ideology. The speaker is above all a fellow sufferer who had been forced away from home – from Soviet Estonia – by the German occupation. This is further emphasized by addressing men and women, sisters and brothers, increasing the intimacy between the addressee and the addresser. The speech seems as if it is directed at members of a family who are not separated by any political oppositions, but who are instead kept together by familial and blood relationships – and more generally, by national relations. Karotamm also copies, with certain concessions, Stalin’s famous address to the people during the first days of the war (Stalin 1941).



The Germans – “our” age-old enemy


In what follows, I will take a closer look at the ways in which, in the conditions of the ongoing war, the opposition between “own” – “other/enemy” was modelled in political discourse. In the speech already quoted, Karotamm continues:


“Let us be prepared for the most [here and from now on emphasis mine] decisive moments in the history of our homeland, where we will finally defeat the age-long enemy of our country and people – the Germans, and let us face our victory and freedom!” (1944a)


The ideological change in identifying “the people” is here revealed in all its clarity. The association of the history of “our” homeland with an age-long enemy, the Germans, substantially changes the narrative of “our” history. During the first Soviet year, “our” history primarily coincided with events from the history of the revolution: “We too are the children of the Russian revolution” (Barbarus 1940). It was the revolution that birthed “us” and gave “us” our lives. Everything that went on before the revolution was irrelevant with respect to our self-determination (Ventsel 2007). The post-war situation, instead, contains a historical look back. Above all, those in power resurrected in their speeches the narrative of Germans as the historical arch-enemy, still lingering in the collective cultural memory of Estonians; in light of this narrative, the Red Army was presented as the liberator. At this point it would be worthwhile to briefly elaborate on the relations between “the figure of the enemy” and “an imagination of the enemy”. The first refers to the level of social psychology, characterised by an ideological and dogmatic construction and irrationality of the figure of the enemy. It is a product of propaganda that uses semantic, optic and graphic means to demonise a political and ideological enemy, with the purpose of legitimating its own pretensions of power (Buchbender 1989, 18). The imagination of an enemy rather refers to a rational and adequate opinion about an adversary. Naturally, these two can overlap and fuse depending on the political and cultural situation (ibid, 20). In the present case, the latter did indeed happen – the two became intertwined. In the figure of the German there loomed the impossibility of “our” freedom. It was the Germans who took away the freedom of ancient Estonians, and it was they, too, who took freedom from “us” in 1941. The new liberation is thus the final culmination of an old and ancient struggle. This is affirmed by Karotamm’s speech:


“Let us now show with a selfless and brave fight against the Germans that even with the seven centuries of slavery or with the last three years of violence the German bandits have not managed to crush our desire for freedom... that we are the people of Lembitu and the Avenger [half-mythological-literary figures from the Estonian past – A. Ventsel], that we have remained true to our native land – the Soviet Estonia!”


Defining the primary “other” as a nationality brings with it several important consequences. First, the entire German populace becomes the enemy, since there are no criteria for distinguishing “good Germans” from “bad Germans”. The German people as a whole turn into an embodiment of evil: “The devilish plans of the Germans” (Karotamm 1944b). Only later, during the post-war period a distinction was made between fascists and the Germans in the public communicative space of the Soviet Union, as a result of different ideological and political goals of the victorious states now occupying Germany. Second, by constructing the history of the enemy, the narrative that contrasts with “our” identity must be depicted without historical ruptures. The enemy must be historicised. “Their” uninterrupted narrative becomes the condition for “our” continuity. According to the internal needs of the moment of utterance, the history of both own and the other is created retrospectively. By looking at the past retrospectively, reality acquires for us the status of a fact and we tend to perceive it as the only one possible, with unrealized possibilities turning into something whose realization was always fatally impossible (Lotman 2004c, 110). It is for this reason that gaps are filled with interpretations that support a coherent historical narrative:


“The bourgeois nationalists who plundered Estonia for quarter of a century completely revealed their abominable criminal faces as allies of German fascism during the years of occupation. The Estonian people learned to recognize the face of bourgeoisie nationalists who for twenty five years adorned themselves with the garments of the defenders of Estonian independence.” (Karotamm 1944c)


With these statements, in addition to a foreign enemy, an internal enemy, too, is created, whose function is to signify all the negativity that has undermined the social whole over the course of history. These allies of “German fascism” were the hidden factors that prevented the Estonian people from joining the Soviet Russian people even earlier. Thus the Estonian independence from 1918 to 1940 was something forced on them by an external enemy and their treacherous collaborators, and this is the reason why the Estonian identity as sufferers and the Soviet version of the fight for freedom retain their narrative coherence and are not interrupted by the twenty years of independence. “We” had been oppressed by Germans since ancient times – during the ancient fight for independence, 1208-1225 (the ancient Estonian fight for independence was part of the Baltic Crusades, 1180-1290), the crusaders took the freedom from Estonians, “our” forefathers had to serve the Baltic-German landlords as serfs, and during the period of independence “we” were deceived by bourgeoisie nationalists who were nothing but the henchmen of Germans. Throughout history, the “empty space” of the “other” is always filled with either Germans or their allies – the German-supporting (fascist) or Germanified Estonian. In the Estonian language, this leads back to yet another semantic overlap: the (Baltic) German [Sakslane] and the gents [saks]. The latter refers to a haughty and, above all, an urbanized Estonian who have lost their roots with the land – the primary ethnic characteristic of Estonians before World War II (cf. Liidemann 1934, 1935; Veidemann 2000).


Wartime rhetoric also seeps into the interpretations of the earlier history of the confrontations between Estonians and Germans. The enmity of Germans against Estonians does not merely amount to hostility against the (lower) culture of Estonian country folk. This is secondary. Throughout the times, “their” attitude toward Estonians has always been characterised by one and the same pattern of behaviour: “violence, oppression, exploitation, slavery, flogging and torture, the suffocation of the culture of Estonian people” (Karotamm 1944b). The rhetoric of death and torture makes one perceive only one desire behind German activities: “their” purpose was to destroy the entire Estonian people. Thus what we have here is not a mere opposition “own” – “other”, but first and foremost the construction of an opposition “own” – “enemy”.

            Naturally enough, the rhetoric of local powers and the construction of the enemy coincided with that of the higher statesmen in Moscow. We can see a similar rewriting of history based on the figure of a singular enemy in many speeches by the leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union:


“We cannot write off from the accounts of history our party’s struggles against Trotskyists, Zinovyevists, Bukharinists, who were, as has been demonstrated, loyal servants of fascism and attempted to undermine the might of the Soviet Union.” (Malenkov 1946)


There was but one force in the world that was capable of resisting and finally defeating the embodiment of pure evil that was the German people. This force was the Red Army, who “saved the Estonian people from destruction by Hitler’s robbers” (Karotamm 1944c). Yet the Red Army is no longer a mere vanguard of the international proletariat; instead and above all it continues the old Russian military tradition: “without selfless help from the great Russian people, the Estonians themselves would never have cast off the yoke of their fascist occupiers” (ibid). In what follows, I will analyse the positioning of the local (Estonian) “we” within the larger “we” – that of the “soviet people”.



The Russians – “our” historical companions


As has already been noted, by placing the “other” into a longer historical perspective, we historicise ourselves with this opposition. In Karotamm’s speech (1944a), “we” were already identified with ancient Estonians – the people of the Avenger and Lembitu – and this historical chain of continuity led all the way up to Soviet Estonia. The archetype of a Golden Age is re-used in political rhetoric, but in this new moment of rupture this is done quite differently from the ideology that was prevalent in the Republic of Estonia. Starting from the national awakening of the mid-19th century, the ideologists of Estonian-ness (with few exceptions, e.g. Oskar Loorits during the 1930s (2000)) have regarded Estonians as a people originating in Europe. This usually meant being part of the cultural space of Western Europe, within which there were smaller differentiations based on similarity (e.g. the identity between Baltic and Northern countries, the literary group Noor-Eesti’s [Young Estonia] affinity with Europe). It is true, however, that the affinity with Europe in the Western sense really became part of Estonian identity only after the original declaration of the Republic of Estonia, as during the years of independence contacts with Western Europe were more frequent than ever before (Karjahärm 1995).

            Despite the fact that Estonians regained their own history, it was an entirely different rhetoric of history compared to what was heard from the communists in 1940-1941. A relation of subordination was established between the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and its subordinate authorities during the first Soviet occupation, and nationality-based hierarchy was not explicitly recounted in the texts. The rhetoric of the revolution emphasized the beginning of a new era, compared to which everything that happened before was deemed negative and irrelevant. I will add here a quotation from a brochure called Советская Эстония [Soviet Estonia]: “The heroic warriors of the Red Army were not just seen as the representatives of the big and friendly Soviet Union by the Estonian people but also as the bearers of a higher socialist culture, representatives of the new order” (Jefimov 1940, 3). Here emphasis is laid above all on socialist culture, not national culture. It was only in the art world, where changes were perhaps not as fast that the empty and ambivalent slogan “socialist in content, nationalist in form” was spreading. Nationality as one of the conditions of cultural continuity did not fit into a discourse that emphasized class struggle and the superiority of the unity of the proletariat over nationality.

The ideological self-image of wartime authorities brings the category of nationality back to the forefront, but now unites Estonians historically to a common fate with the Russian people. This is indicated in two speeches by Vares-Barbarus from the fall of 1944:

“In 1224, our common struggle united the great Russian and the small Estonian people as brothers-in-arms, and a decision was made sooner to die together [...] This blood bond has now been renewed and expanded (1944a),

and one and a half month later, in mid-October:

“We owe our thanks for friendly assistance and support to all the peoples of the USSR, but especially to the great Russian people whose comradeship-in-arms has already been a decisive factor in our history.” (1944b)

“We” were involved with the Russian people in the struggle against the Germans already during the ancient fight for independence. But even this historical interpretation imposes a relationship of subordination – the “greatness” of the Russian people does not refer to demographic size, but above all to mental or spiritual quality (великий). The relationship of subordination is also indicated by the emphasis on the decisiveness of the Russian aid. True enough, at that time prince Vyachko of Pskov was unable to restore the freedom Estonians, but now it has eventually and finally come to pass. Jaan Undusk has observed similar tendencies in the discourse of historiography in the history books of Soviet Estonia, characterizing the ways Estonians were depicted with symptomatic expressions of “only then” and “already at that time”, thereby characterizing Estonians as hope­lessly behind and suppressed as compared to the Russians (Undusk 2003, 53–54).

There are two aspects that should be highlighted about Vares-Barbarus’s speech, both of which indicate an ideological shift. First, that the common historical “blood bond” has been renewed, refreshed. This means that a historical unity and continuity with the Russian people has been restored as the constitutive condition of the Estonian people. Another aspect is related to the re-use of the conception of our history in political rhetoric. What is emphasized is no longer the historical class struggle that abolishes the notion of one particular nation’s own history and for which nationality is but an epiphenomenon of the class struggle between capitalists and the proletariat. Yet the Soviet treatment of one’s own history differs considerably from the official treatment of history during the days of the Republic of Estonia, where the own history was primarily a history of independent activities and independent being, where passivity was replaced by activity, and where being an object of the laws of history was replaced by becoming a subject of history (Jansen 1998). This transformation is especially clear in the most important constitutive narrative of Estonian identity – the struggle for independence. First, there are no references to the Estonian War of Independence, 1918-1920, culminating in a victory over the Bolshevik Russia and with the Treaty of Tartu, signed on February 2, 1920, securing Estonian national independence. Second, the Estonian War for Independence is characterised by the impossibility of achieving its goal, that is, freedom. Historically, Estonians have been placed into the role of a childish people requiring parental care, since for the Estonians themselves freedom is impossible, but not because of the so-called inevitable laws of history. An Estonian, in fact, does not desire to be free. The words of Oskar Sepre, a leading figure in the Council of People’s Commissars of the Estonian SSR, can be interpreted in this manner:

“The bourgeoisie Estonia was independent only in appearance. By joining the family of the states of Soviet Union, we voluntarily delegated, by an unanimous decision, our authority to the central government of the Soviet Union, knowing that this delegation guarantees actual independence for our people(Sepre 1944).

Freedom is thus defined as a positive but unachievable quality. “We” give up our freedom in unison and voluntarily, and it is precisely by this act of surrender that “we” will paradoxically regain independence. In order to be free, one must give up freedom. But this freedom, gained by surrendering freedom, is worth it, because in the Soviet world-view this meant near-magical betterment:

“Knowledge that their (Estonians’) lives and struggles are directed by comrade Stalin will fill the Estonian people with a new strength, energy, vigour and a belief in a happy future.” (Karotamm 1944c)

Stalin relieved “us” from all responsibility for our existence. The conditions of “our” existence are now strictly subject to the Stalinist will.


2. The construction of “we” during the post-war era

The end of the war placed the authorities into a new situation for constructing the “we”. The historicized enemy – the Germans – had at long last been defeated once and for all. Despite the magnitude of the victory, it led to the eradication of one member of the “own” – “other” opposition. For self-determination, it was simultaneously a loss, since “”Me” and the “Other” are two sides of a unitary act of self-consciousness and thus impossible without one another” (Lotman 2004c, 36). By extending the “me” to cover “us”, we can argue that the determination of the other or “them” is simultaneously an act of self-creation. In their studies of totalitarian regimes, several authors (Waschik 2005, Fateev 1999) have noted that constructing a new enemy for use in public discourse was in fact more important for the post-war propaganda service than a positive depiction of themselves. In what follows, let us determine the structure of Soviet culture, and how it went about constructing a new “other/enemy”.


The closed structure of Soviet culture

By observing culture as a historically specific space of communication, we may note that the nature of a culture is determined by the type of communication prevalent among the social subjects. The entire cultural self-determination takes place in contact with “the other” – be it a spatial, symbolic, temporal, physical, etc. “other” (Ivanov; Toporov et al 1998). Directedness toward the “other” is thus an aspect that models entire cultures and guarantees cultural diversity and development.

            Within a particular culture, a prerequisite for diversity is a large variety of social subjects, guaranteeing auto-communication and self-organization of the culture as a system. New information is generated in dialogue with the “other”, since the mechanisms of coding and decoding are different in the sender-receiver chain of communication. This means that new information cannot be unambiguously derived from another message by a pre-given algorithm (Lotman 2004a, 571). Thus the generation of new meaning paradoxically refers to a deficiency in the subject, since a shift in meaning presumes unfamiliarity with the addressee’s coding mechanisms. The subject, the “intellectual person” thus has certain options for choosing with respect to the semiotic context, as well as a certain reserve of unpredictability and autonomy. Consequently, inadequate, conditional-equivalent translation mechanism produces new information, i.e. is a mechanism for creative thought (Lotman 2004a, 570-571). According to Lotman, however, the entirety of culture can be characterised by the figure of the thinking subject (Lotman 2004b).

            However, in the public space of communication, Soviet culture’s self-description was instead characterised by a contrast with this figure of “culture as a thinking subject.” It may be compared to a single-coded system characterised by:

  • OMNISCIENCE, since the amount of knowledge was predetermined and reduced to simplistic black and white oppositions.
  • ABSENCE OF DOUBT: since the way the world was depicted was monopolised by the authorities, it generated unambiguous reactions among the populace.
  • PRESUMED UNANIMITY BETWEEN THE ADDRESSER AND THE ADDRESSEE, since the one-to-one correspondence between coding and decoding mechanisms was ideally supposed to guarantee the identity of the meanings of different texts (Lotman 2004a, 577).

Within Soviet culture, there was no symmetry between the participants in the dialogue taking place in the public space of communication. The position of the sender was always occupied by power that subordinated any counteraction in meaning creation, and ordinary people were reduced to the role of passive recipients. For this reason the Stalinist world of social realism was an ahistorical world, because its development-movement was impossible to detect. Everything has been determined by norms that perpetuate stasis. Despite the rhetoric of advancement – progressive mankind, the locomotive of history, the arrival of communism – the self-image of Stalinist ideology is characterised by a standstill, or to be more precise, what is perpetuated is movement as such, but never any arrival.


From myself I will create the whole world


The way that a culture relates to the “other” depends on the type of communication characteristic of that culture. By recognizing differences, the “us” is defined as distinct from “them”. In the present case, if a subject (Soviet culture) possesses complete information, then ideally the presence of the “other” as a partner in communication becomes unnecessary. Everything that could render the absence of questions questionable has been declared a taboo. Growth in knowledge generates a shortage of knowledge – and it was this that the Soviet culture wanted to avoid. It was in fact precisely from this that all the distaste towards learning foreign languages, control over literature, etc. was derived. The general secretary of the Union of Writers of the Soviet Union, Aleksander Fadejev wrote: “The Russian people have created their own cultural values by themselves. For them, an uncritical and slavish veneration of the foreign simply because it is foreign is deeply alien. [...] Only something deeply national, expressing the very soul of the people in its historical development, can become truly international, truly common to all humanity” (Fadejev 1957, 272). Since Russian culture is unspoiled by the influence of other cultures, we are left to conclude that it has come from itself. In light of the last sentence of the above quote it is clear that since it was the Russian people who were at the forefront of the “historical progress”, it was the Russian soul that was also the soul common to all humanity. Soviet culture defines itself as originating from itself and thereby constitutes a closed, “monadic” system (Dobrenko 1993, 214). It is isomorphic and strives towards autarchy. Yet culture as a machine for generating meaning can operate only if there are texts arriving from the outside (Lotman 2004b, 646).

            We are now faced with the question: what is the mechanism used in Soviet culture to generate the “other”, the “foreign” that opposes the “own”? For unless it did just that, there would be no Soviet culture as a total system of meanings. It can do this in just one way: by creating it based on itself – “our” positivity is restructured as “their” negativity. A figure created on the basis of culture’s own dominant codes is exteriorised from the culture and projected on cultural worlds on the outside (Lotman 2004d, 610). And on the other hand, a culture communicating with an outside culture must interiorise its figure into its own world, since otherwise there would be no common language between them (ibid). The “other” constructed in Soviet culture of the Stalinist era indeed overlaps structurally with the “us”, but it is a negative anti-culture, one that is impossible and indeed unnecessary to interact with. The flood of information rushing in from the outside is coded as positive or negative with very strict rules internal to the culture itself. Thus when constructing the “other”, Soviet culture struggles to avoid changing the “own”, since a cultural subject that generates new information through contacts with the “other” immediately ceases to be authentically itself (Lotman 2004d, 612).


The political “other”


Let us first observe this structural parallelism on the level of political-national rhetoric. The secretary of ideology of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), Andrei Zhdanow describes the political situation as follows:

Reactionary imperialist elements all around the world, especially in the United Kingdom, the United States and France placed great hopes [...] on Hitler’s Germany [...] to if not outright destroy the Soviet Union then at least weaken its influence [...] The new politics of the United States is directed at consolidating its monopolistic status, with the hope of rendering its capitalist allies into a subordinate position, dependent on the United States [...]. But the pursuit by the United States of world domination is blocked by the Soviet Union with its increasing international influence, the bastion of anti-imperialism and anti-fascism” (1947).

First, there are centres within the opposing members “own” and “other”. The United States, now occupying the position of the enemy that was left empty by the fall of Hitler and the Germans and that from now on embodies pure evil, is surrounded by vassal states, forced to follow the dictates of the United States. The historization of the Americans based on the Germans / the enemy indicates the continuing vitality of the narrative of the arch enemy. Yet around the Soviet Union, all the forces of the good gather around voluntarily and with great joy. There is a hierarchy within both centres – in the United States it culminates with “reactionary imperialist elements,” in the Soviet Union with the Party, led by the ingenious Stalin. The Americans want to slave others, the Soviet Union responds with anti-imperialism and struggle for peace. A similar logic of signification, built on antagonism, is also present in the speeches of local authorities. The chairman of the presidium of the Supreme Council of the Estonian SSR Eduard Päll: “The world has been divided into two large camps: democracy and the forces of peace on the one side, and forces of aggression on the other. The side of peaceful and democratic forces, led by the great Soviet Union, is carrying out a daring offensive against the dark powers” (Päll 1949). The symmetry is evident. At this point we ought to distinguish between rhetoric of discourse and classic rhetoric of text. The former contrasts with the latter in the same way that unconscious does with the intentional, the social with the individual and the clichéd with the original (Lotman 2005, 22). The rhetoric of text is related to attempts to exit from discursive automatisms, pre-existing conditions of the communicative space (“this is the way it is said and this is the way other speakers have said it numerous times in this discursive space”) within which the subjects of speech always find themselves. Public speeches of the Stalinist era represent textual variants of a determinate discursive invariant, and these structural conditions belonging to the rhetoric of discourse considerably subordinate individual peculiarities of the rhetoric of speaking subjects (Ventsel 2005).


The cultural “other”

A new concept – the “Soviet patriot” – entered the image of “we” created by political rhetoric in the post-war period. This concept well illustrates the polysememic nature of all of Stalinist propaganda. The concept “soviet” is derived from the lexicon of Leninist class struggle and is incompatible in its content with “patriot”. The latter refers etymologically to a love of one single terra patria, and consequently to borders. According to Stalin, the proletariat does have a homeland. True enough, one can distinguish two contradictory strands of patriotism: local and imperialist. The first is related to a particular location. This sort of patriotism characterises Estonians in the ideology of the Republic. The other patriotism is defined as collective egotism, directed at establishing the “us” (Tuan 1974, 101). In soviet rhetoric, these two aspects have been meshed together. Soviet patriotism is related both to a location and to self-imposition.

            The concept of “Soviet patriotism” began to take shape during the war and signifies an important change in Soviet ideology. It could be called a revolution against a materialist world-view. The construction of own-other, based on class antagonism, did not completely disappear from political rhetoric. Thus the leader of the Estonian Communist Party could say at the time: “In the conditions of increasingly aggravated class conflicts, related to the successful offensive of socialism on the last remnants of shattered capitalism, bourgeoisie nationalists have become more active” (Käbin 1951). But here class has already been associated with nationalism – “bourgeoisie nationalists”. It was no longer the material basis of society that was primary, but the ideological superstructure. And it is the latter that plays a crucial role in the struggle for global peace:

“Soviet patriotism was that all-reviving energy that made the Soviet people to work wonders [...] soviet patriotism, love for one’s socialist homeland moved millions of people and compelled them to unprecedented heroic deeds” (Rahva Hääl, editorial, 19 July 1945).

The new emphasis is clear from this quote: all-reviving energy, work wonders, love for one’s homeland. There are no references to internal contradictions of capitalism, the economic superiority of the socialist regime, etc. The Great War was won only with the help of the unlimited love for one’s homeland, belief in the righteousness and ultimate victory of the endeavour, and a “deep faith in the encourager and organizer of our victories – the Bolshevik party, and the great leader of the people, comrade Stalin” (ibid). This invigorating breath of soviet patriotism, however, expressed itself with mathematical precision, such as in the case of the turner Aleksei Panferov who exceeded production goals by 30-fold (Rahva Hääl, 19 September 1946). The Stakhanovite Karassev exceeded production goals, moulding marking instruments by 835% (Rahva Hääl, 16 November 1946), and the scales maker Paulus fulfilled the five year plan by the end of the first year (Rahva Hääl, December 23, 1946), etc.

            Let us now compare “soviet patriotism” (for the development of the concept of “soviet patriotism” cf. chapter “The Soviet people” below) and its antithesis in post-war Soviet political rhetoric: “cosmopolitism”, in order to demonstrate the similarity of the internal structures of these two concepts. The Minister of Education of the time explains the essence of “soviet patriotism” in this manner:

“Soviet patriotism does not acknowledge nationalism, chauvinism, higher and lower races, but is founded on powerful brotherly friendship. Soviet patriotism is expressed in an ardent love towards the Soviet fatherland, the true homeland of the proletariat. To grow the youth in a way that they would be prepared to defend the interests in their Soviet homeland, the honour of the Soviet Union at any time and at whatever cost... (Raud 1946).

Despite the friendship that emphasized unity and intimacy, “soviet patriotism” clearly represented cultural expansion. Stalinist friendship of the people was above all a “friendship between the Estonian people and the great Russian people” (Message from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Estonia (Bolsheviks) to local committees (Rahva Hääl, January 10, 1948)). The role of the great Russian people was that of an older brother. Emphasis on the true homeland first points at Russia and only then at Estonia. To be a “soviet patriot” means that one must love Moscow more than Tallinn. And to defend the honour of the Soviet Union at all costs means that one must sacrifice themselves for the government of the nation and its leader, Stalin. “Soviet patriotism” was a rigidly structured system of values.

            On the other hand, cosmopolitism was officially defined as a reactionary ideology that heralds the abandonment of national traditions and national particularities, a denial of national dignity and pride. The cosmo-political ideology is deeply hostile and is essentially opposed to soviet patriotism as the primary quality that characterises the Soviet individual (Dobrenko 1993, 330). Cosmopolitism is a world where words lack meaning and things have lost their colour. With an operation of inversion, cosmopolitism is derived from the positivity of “soviet patriotism” as its own opposite. “We” have national dignity and a sense of honour, “they” are nationally inferior and disown their own people; “we” have traditions, “they” do not; “we” are progressive, “they” are reactionary, etc.

“Let our youth grow up in the noble spirit of soviet patriotism... Only those Estonian youths truly love their homeland who also hate its enemies – the bourgeoisie nationalists – with all of their hearts” (Karotamm 1947, 287).

Love of one’s country is insufficient; the enemy must be treated with hatred – with the opposite of love, its antithesis.


The post-war ideological self-image differed cardinally from the self-image of the first Soviet occupation. Identification now operated on the level of national self-determination. Estonia was a Soviet nation-state. But Stalinist nationalism was something altogether different from the nationalism of the Republic of Estonia – for primarily it meant national subordination to all things Russian. The local “we” was positioned much lower than the Russian “we” within the “soviet people” as a whole. This centralized hierarchy did not show itself not only in the authority of the central party over the local ones, not only between the Russians and other nations but was also expressed in the entire sociocultural environment. Thus Kaginski identifies as the main characteristic of the soviet space the strict structurality and the dependence of that structure on the vertical, hierarchical and power-related dominants (Kaginski 2001, 157). The Stalinist post-war type of culture was a static and autarchic culture, similar to the culture–anti-culture model in which the elements of the anti-culture are topologically in a one-to-one correspondence with the elements of culture.

            Describing the own-other opposition characteristic of the Soviet culture using the model of culture–non-culture, in which culture, surrounded by non-culture, has fuzzy boundaries and slowly passes into an amorphous and unbounded environment does not completely reveal the totalitarian nature of the Soviet culture. Instead, the Soviet culture is better characterised by the model culture–anti-culture, in which the elements of anti-culture are topologically in a one-to-one correspondence with the elements of culture. This means that the givenness of one member of an opposition signifies the actualization of its opposite in cultural consciousness, even if the opposition has not been formally fixed. Such a system does not acknowledge any neutral non-culture that would break the symmetry. The latter is always rendered into culture (“ours”) or into anti-culture (Lepik 2002). And the other is turned into the enemy. The absolute structural symmetry between “own” and “other / enemy” suggests that the nature of Soviet culture was entirely static. It can never reach its purported goal – communism – since it must always construct the “other” out of itself – a permanent enemy who hinders reaching the final goal, but who must nevertheless always be postulated in order to retain the systematic nature of the system itself. This sort of a type of communication excludes mutual interaction between cultures on the level of the self-description of that culture. In the following chapter we will be looking more closely at how such a type of culture developed and what role was played in it by the cult of leadership.


3. ’The Soviet people’

We have just seen that after World War II, the construction of the “people“ changed constantly in its content, its meaning dependent on the present state of political affairs. The proletariat as the unitary force carrying the class struggle forward was replaced in political rhetoric with more ambivalent concepts, such as “Soviet people“ and “the Soviet patriot”. This seems to be in contradiction with our common understanding of the scientific nature of Soviet ideology, which ideally should stop the shift of meaning with respect to the signifieds. The Soviet ideology purports to be scientific, i.e. it claims to describe the world objectively. “The Marxist-Leninist theory is the science of the development of society, the science of the working-class movement, the science of the proletarian revolution, the science for the construction of a communist society” (Lühikursus, 1951 (1938), 321). A world-view that is considered scientific would be clearly intelligible and would include zero degrees of incomprehensibility. On the level of discourse, the self-presentation of Soviet ideology in the post-war period was, instead, constantly out of joint, using such seemingly contradictory concepts as “proletarian internationalism” and “national dignity”, and had a tendency towards a dualistic axiologization of vocabulary. The ideological expansion takes hold of all the levels of a word’s semantic structure, thereby determining the word’s connotative signification and simultaneously positioning the word in the polarised good-bad axis of values (Kupina 1995, 13–15). These attributes of Soviet totalitarian language are plainly not in agreement with the central pretension of Soviet ideology: to be a world-view based strictly on science.

            In this last part of the paper I will analyse how the above-mentioned contradiction was reflected in the construction of one of the basic concepts of Soviet political rhetoric – “the Soviet people”. This problem will be approached based on Ernesto Laclau’s conception of “the people” as an empty signifier and Émile Benveniste’s linguistic treatment of deixis. Laclau sees the relationships between the Leader and the “people” as the degree of distance between the identification of ego and ego ideal (Laclau 2005, 62). As this distance increases, the identification between members of a group and transference of the role of ego ideal to the Leader takes place, i.e. the grounding principle of the society becomes something external, something transcendent with respect to the members of that society. But if the distance is narrower, the Leader will be the object-choice of the members of the group, participating in the general process of mutual identification (ibid). It seems to me that here the constitutive principle of a society of totalitarian power, as well as the nature of the subject in the conditions of totalitarianism remain hidden and undertheorised. By replacing the psychoanalytic authority found in Laclau’s theory of hegemony with Benveniste’s I-centred treatment of deixis, we will achieve two goals. First we will avoid, as has already been noted, introducing psychoanalysis, which for many researchers is a pseudo-scientific discipline, and second, we will also supplement Laclau’s theory of hegemony with linguistic theory. For it is by analysing the acts of utterance we can discover a way for explaining the totality of power during the Stalinist period. And it is precisely in the public space of communication, circumscribed by total censorship, that the question of the utterer’s subjectivity comes to the forefront. I would like to emphasize once more that this paper only surveys public discourse, that is, discourse allowed by the authorities, and not dissident or semi-official counter-discourses, which also comprise one part of the self-description of a culture but which are left out from the present work.


“The Soviet people” as an empty signifier


The problem of the constitution of social and political reality becomes, for Laclau, the problem of the constitution of discourse. Thus, hegemonic relation is a certain articulation of meanings (Laclau, 2006, 114). This articulation requires that a particular difference loses its particularity and becomes a universal representative of the signifying system as a whole. In this way a closure for that system is provided. Thus the function of an empty signifier in the process of signification is associated with generating a positive identity for the system, with delineating it. Boundaries allow one to perceive meaning as a certain systemicity of elements. Thus the difference of every element in a system is twofold: on the one hand, every different element discloses itself as a difference; on the other hand every difference cancels itself out as such, since it is included in a chain of equivalence with all the other differences present in this particular system (Laclau 1996a). Paradoxically, this undermining results in a certain unity or transparency (systemicity) (Laclau 1996b). “The Soviet people” was one of the primary empty signifiers in Soviet political discourse that allowed the achievement of a certain societal totality on the level of signification. Let us now observe how the logic of signification of “the Soviet people” emerged in the process of signification.

            The “soviet people” conjoins two words: the Russian word for “council” (in Russian cовет), and “people”. Historically, the former was related to a particular political situation from the February Revolution to the October Revolution, characterised by a sharing of dual power between the Soviet and the Russian Provisional Government. Already earlier, but especially after the Bolshevik seizure of power “the Soviet people” was provided with a concrete content based on Marxist-Leninist theory, because it was the communists who managed to symbolically capture this concept in political discourse (Kolonitskij 2001). According to the doctrine of the time, the party did lead the proletariat, but could only do this by complying with the already determined laws of societal development. Yet the new ideological paradigm, culminating during the war, renounced this total positivity, according to which reality would “speak” directly, without discursive mediation – and it is precisely this sort of total positivity that is posited by Marxist-Leninist theory with its determination of societal development through the economic basis and class struggle. According to this perspective, the identity of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is fixed and unchanging. Lenin’s Union of Proletariat and Peasants did not lead to the crumbling of the identity of either party.

            One of the most important signs of the creation of a post-war identity was Stalin’s speech in honour of the Red Army’s generals. Russification under the label of Soviet politics had began in Russia already in the second half of the 1930s, after Stalin’s famous speech at the 17th congress of the AUCP(b) in 1934, where he declared that from now on the priority will be placed on the Soviet Union and “socialism in a single country”. For the post-war context of Estonia, this particular speech was momentous. The importance of the toast is signified by the fact that the passing of its fifth year was commented on in the editorial of Rahva Hääl on 26 May 1950. This brief toast affixes the hierarchy of nationalities within “the Soviet people”. “The people” as a whole is not homogenous, but is constituted by different “we-s”:


I would like to raise a toast to the health of our Soviet people and, before all, the Russian people. I drink, before all, to the health of the Russian people, because in this war they earned general recognition as the leading force of the Soviet Union among all the nationalities of our country. [...] they have a clear mind, a steadfast character, and endurance. [...] And this trust of the Russian people in the Soviet Government was the decisive strength, which secured the historic victory over the enemy of humanity, - over fascism” (Stalin 1945).


In Stalin’s toast, “the Soviet people” is embodied by the Russian people (and not by the international proletariat). But embodying is not the same as being identical. According to Laclau, we must distinguish between identity and equivalence (Laclau 1996). The Russian people are not identical with ”the Soviet people”, because the latter lacks concrete content, depending on concrete political situations. It is in this way that we should understand Stalin’s distinction in the first sentence: “I would like to raise a toast to the health of our Soviet people and, before all, the Russian people.” The former could, at some point, include the representatives of other nationalities – Ukrainians, Estonians etc., who had been touched by the “all-reviving energy of soviet patriotism” (Rahva Hääl, 23 December 1946). Yet the Russian people are the most similar by their very nature to this ideal, and thus embody “the Soviet people” more than any other nationality. Ukrainians and Byelorussians, the other large Slavic nationalities, filled next two positions of importance in this hierarchy.

            It can be argued that the post-war ideological shift provided the “soviet people” with a new function in creating political unity. Being now emptied of the original identity based on difference, that is, on Marxist-Leninist social theory, this concept began to signify the Stalinist post-war social communitarian whole as its pure equivalence. According to Laclau, it is now an empty signifier that can be embodied by certain particular contents (e.g. Russians, Ukrainians, Estonians, workers, farmers, the party, Stalin, etc.). Of course, the content of these concepts and names is itself dependent on historical context, but what is relevant is that unlike “the Soviet people” as an empty signifier, they can be provided with a distinctly more concrete and determinate meanings. Even more importantly, every specific content within “the Soviet people” is identified by it belonging to a chain of equivalence, the systematicity of which is generated by the positive concept of “the Soviet people”. Symptomatic is also the replacement of the concept of “class enemy” with that of “enemy of the people”. Whereas the former presumes a reference to the Marxist conception of class, the reference of the enemy of the people is the result of drawing purely contingent and confrontational boundaries.



Stalin’s “Soviet people”


Now we arrive at the junction of this problem. As was already noted, “the Soviet people” turned into an empty signifier and acquired its meaning or “being” only through concrete discourse that constituted its identity. The problem here is that even though all these particular contents were absorbed into a chain of equivalence represented by “the Soviet people”, Stalin was nevertheless placed into an exceptional position. In the Soviet public space of communication, Stalin was the only subject whose correlation of subjectivity was always unidirectional. To explicate, for Benveniste, the correlation of subjectivity means that the “I” is active and creates “itself” in an utterance, since as a subject of utterance, it is precisely “I” that is active and the creator of “reality”. Thus “I” is always transcendent to the “you” (Benveniste 1966, 266). In other words, Stalin’s subjectivity was imposed in the utterances circulating in public texts as objectivity. And this objectivity subordinated the other subjects of utterances in the public space of communication, determining the ways in which the “I” of other partners in communication can and is allowed to constitute itself. The transcendence of the “I” of other subjects is overruled. This does not refer just to the formal change in dialogue partners, but also to the circumstances in which the different participants in the dialogue could represent themselves in political discourse. In a totalitarian society, where power controls – either through the monopoly of repressive or ideological state apparatuses (Althusser 1970) – the whole of public circulation of texts, construction of the “people” as one of the primary mechanisms of the legitimization of power is mainly a practice of self-presentation by the powers.

            It would perhaps be more accurate to say that the dialogue between Stalin’s “I” and “you”, “they”, etc. – which could result in alternative outcomes in the construction of the “people” – was replaced with the construction of the relations between “I” and “us”, i.e. an absence of dialogue. According to Benveniste, “us” is a particular kind of connection that comprises “I” and “not-I” – “you”, “they”, etc. Now this is a rather particular kind of unity that rests on the non-equivalence of its members: in the pronoun “us”, the “I” is always dominant (due to the subject of utterance), and, proceeding from its own transcendence, this “I” subordinates the “not-I”. This means that by stepping outside of itself by way of an utterance, it only then creates the concrete “I” with the utterance that has been voiced, and simultaneously defines the “not-I” – all those with whom it makes up the common “us” (Benveniste 1966, 268-269). In other words, with his viewpoints voiced in his political rhetoric, Stalin’s “I” constructs the “us” – the “people” – after his own image, and will thereby also specify who and in what way can become part of it. This relationship has two sides to it: on the one hand, Stalin creates the identity of the “people” in public discourse, which on the other hand simultaneously annuls the identity of “the Soviet people” that was previously constituted by his own chrestomatic utterances. It must be emphasized that not every act of utterance generated a new chain of equivalence for the system. There was continuity, but it was important that this logic of equivalence could only operate and change with Stalin’s approval. As Laclau would put it: with an utterance, Stalin’s “I” establishes a chain of equivalence that then defines the identity of the members that are part of it. Since in the public communicative space the other members of “the Soviet people” could not by themselves determine their own participation in it and to identify themselves through it, it was precisely Stalin who provided meaning to “the Soviet people” as an empty signifier, thereby constituting its identity. An example of such a “personally intimate” bond between Stalin and “the Soviet people” were the “people’s” letters to Stalin that, in addition to thanking, included promises and pledges to Stalin for fulfilling the goals that he has set. Cf. the letter by the Estonian people to the great leader and teacher, comrade Stalin on 20 June 1945 that was “discussed in a meeting of the workers, farmers and the intelligentsia of the Estonian SSR, and was voted for by 516 112 people” (Rahva Hääl). With these pledges and promises, the politics that Stalin would have prioritised were legitimated in the public space of communication. In the Soviet Union, those in power did not have to legitimise themselves to the people, but contrariwise – the people were obliged to justify and demonstrate to the authorities their own inclusion among “the Soviet people”. If e.g. turners or miners did not fulfil their promises, they were no longer “soviet turners” or “soviet miners”; in other words, they were not soviet people and this immediately excluded them from among “the Soviet people” depicted by Stalin. Of course, behind it all was simple practical politics – all those who disagreed with Stalin’s politics were excluded from “the Soviet people”. The Stalinist slogan “The cadre decides all” and its accompanying “party’s self-criticism” were merely one of the ideological ways of covering up this game of exclusion.



In conclusion it may thus be said that “the Soviet people” created by Stalin was identical to the “us” created by his “I”. It acquired its concrete content through Stalin’s acts of utterance. The Stalinist “us” and the “soviet people” were two sides of the same coin, a coin that had been minted by Stalin. This is well illustrated by a verse from the anthem of the Soviet Union (as it was used from 1944 onwards; composed by Aleksander Aleksandrov, lyrics by Sergei Mihhalkov and Garold El Registan. After Nikita Khrushchev’s revelations about Stalin, the anthem was, for a time, used only as music, without the words. In 1977 the lyrics were changed and Stalin’s name was removed):


“Through tempests the sun of freedom shined on us,
And the great Lenin illuminated our path to freedom
Stalin brought us up – on loyalty to the people,
He inspired us to labour and heroism!”


The anthem has been written with the conception that the whole of soviet people, that is, we will sing it. “Us” is present in every line of the verse. Yet in the third line, “us” has been differentiated from the people, for how else to understand the statement that we need to be brought up as loyal to the people? The people and the soviet people here appear as synonymous. The people embodies the empty signifier in the same way that the “soviet people” did in our previous analysis – an ideal of the people as a whole; and we (who do not permanently and essentially belong among the people) must be re-educated by Stalin in order to reach it. This also explains the existence and positioning of different we-s in political discourse. Only those “we-s” were part of the chain of equivalence that was the “Soviet people” who were brought up by Stalin. Or to be more precise – only those who had been uttered by Stalin as the soviet peopleus.




One the major claims of the author is that “we” don’t speak but they (politicians) speak on the behalf of “us”. Thus the unity of “we” so much emphasized in political rhetoric is created by the speaker which accordingly invokes the need for elaboration of relevant personal subjects such as “I” / “we” / “they”. This triad marks by the same token the opposition between “own” and “others”.

            The author emphasizes that post-war (1944–1953) construction of “we” in political rhetoric was based on the principle of national self-determination. But Stalinist nationality (the soviet patriotism) particularly meant the subordination of Estonian nationality to Russian origin. The Estonian “we” within “the Soviet people” was positioned as whole considerably lower than the Russian “we”. Within this ideological u-turn, “the Soviet people” lost its particular content, which had earlier been determined solely in terms of class struggle. “The Soviet people” now attained its meaningful content through the utterances of Stalin. Its determination depended on the needs of power itself. Thus, “the Soviet people” created by Stalin was identical to his “we” subordinated by his “I”. Stalin and “the Soviet people” became the two sides of the same coin.




1 This research was supported by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund (Centre of Excellence CECT), Estonian Science Foundation grant ETF7988 “The Power of the Nomination in the Society and in the Culture”






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 The speeches analyzed


Jakobson, August = Rahva Hääl 07.11.1950.  p. 3

Karotamm, Nikolai 1941 = Rahva Hääl 24.02.1941. p. 2

Karotamm, Nikolai 1944a = Rahva Hääl 16.08. 1944.  p. 2

Karotamm, Nikolai 1944b = Rahva Hääl 03.10.1944.  p. 2

Karotamm, Nikolai 1944c = Rahva Hääl 07.11. 1944.  P. 2

Karotamm, Nikolai 1946 = Rahva Hääl 16. 07.1946.  p. 1

Käbin, Johannes 1951 = Rahva Hääl 18.04.1951.  p. 2

Malenkov, Georgi 1946 = Rahva Hääl 08.02.1946. p. 2  

Päll, Eduard 1949 = Rahva Hääl 14.07.1949.  p. 5

Raud, Ants 1946 = Rahva Hääl 30.08.1946.  p. 4

Semper, Johannes 1940 = Rahva Hääl 15.07.1940. p.2  

Sepre, Oskar 1944 = Rahva Hääl 05.10. 1944. p. 3

Stalin, Jossif 1941 = Rahva Hääl 04.07.1941. p. 1

Stalin, Jossif 1945 = Rahva Hääl 26. 05. 1945.  P. 1

Ždanov, Andrei 1947 = Rahva Hääl 23.10. 1947.  P. 3

Vares-Barbarus, Johannes 1940 = Rahva Hääl 25.06.1940.  p. 2

Vares-Barbarus, Johannes 1944a = Rahva Hääl 26.08.1944.  p. 1

Vares-Barbarus, Johannes 1944b = Rahva Hääl 01. 10. 1944.  P. 2



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