Beyond the Spontaneity-Consciousness Paradigm: “Class Instinct” as a Promising Category of Historical Analysis
Anna Krylova questions whether the spontaneity-consciousness paradigm, the standard interpretive approach toward Bolshevik thought in the field of Soviet studies, offers an exhaustive account of Bolshevik discourse. To do that she examines the centrality of V I. Lenin's What Is to Be Done? (1902) in Bolshevik thought and points to the 1905 revolution as the formative event in the Bolshevik conception of the worker. Krylova introduces an overlooked Bolshevik notion of “class instinct” (klassovyiinstinkt, klassovoe chut'ie) and argues that the notion of “class instinct” centrally informed the Bolshevik vision of the worker, structuring her article as a dialogue between scholars of Soviet history and their historical subjects. In the conclusion, she suggests the consequences that such a broadened notion of the Bolshevik conception of proletarian identity—beyond the spontaneity-consciousness paradigm—has for interpretations of Bolshevik and Stalinist culture. In “A Paradigm Lost?” his response to Krylova's essay, Reginald E. Zelnik welcomes Krylova's “class instinct” thesis as a fresh enrichment of and supplement to the spontaneity-consciousness paradigm, but, he argues, if we place this language in its early historical context, we cannot avoid the conclusion that with or without the introduction of “instinct,” Lenin and the Bolsheviks still had to face the same kind of contradictions in their conceptualization of the role of workers in the revolutionary movement. The revolutionary value of particular consciousness or particular instinct still had to be judged in accordance with an external point of reference, the nature of which remained and remains elusive. Igal Halfin, in his response, “Between Instinct and Mind: The Bolshevik View of the Proletarian Self,” argues that the Bolshevik notion of the self indeed deserves careful scrutiny. Focusing on how the official Soviet language characterized the interaction between workers’ bodies and workers’ souls, Halfin argues that the synthesis of the affective and the cerebral was key to this construction of the New Man in the 1920s and 1930s.
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