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The Socialist Construction of Philately in the Early Soviet Era

  • Jonathan Grant (a1)

The term totalitarian has often been used by scholars to characterize the Soviet Union's system of government, and in many studies the emphasis has fallen on assessing the degree of effectiveness of the ruling apparatus in exercising its total control over society. Whatever the actual condition of public life in the Soviet Union (USSR), a desire to use the totalitarian system undeniably existed; and regardless of the degree to which people were able to retain an autonomous private sphere, their lives were shaped by this urge to total control. The best examples of this come not from the realm of high politics but of mundane personal practices such as the pursuit of hobbies. During the period from 1921 to 1939, the Soviet government redefined the hobby of stamp collecting, socially reconstructing it in terms of the regime's values. In the process, the Soviet regime demonstrated its totalitarian goal in ways that had ramifications in everyday life, as can be seen in the state's relations with the philatelists and in the realm of hobbies. The fact that the government strictly controlled and circumscribed something as seemingly innocuous and insignificant as stamp collecting reveals how strongly the state aspired to have total control of society. More important, this urge sprang not from the top of the Soviet apparatus but, rather, from mid-level officials.

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1 There is a vast literature on totalitarianism. Some of the more recent discussions of the subject can be found in Hosking, Geoffrey, The First Socialist Society: A History of the Soviet Union from Within (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985);Daniels, Robert V., ed., The Stalin Revolution: Foundations of the Totalitarian Era (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1990);Siegelbaum, Lewis H., “State and Society in the 1920s,” in Reform in Russia and the U.S.S.R.: Past and Prospects, Crummey, Robert O., ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 126–43;Gleason, Abbott, “‘Totalitarianism’ in 1984,” Russian Review, 43:2(1984), 145–59. For an overview of the literature, see also Dallin, Alexander, ed., Between Totalitarianism and Pluralism, vol. 9 of Russian and Soviet History, 1500–1991 (New York,: Garland Publishing Inc., 1992).

2 Gelber, Steven M., “Free Market Metaphor: The Historical Dynamics of Stamp Collecting,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 34:4 (1992), 742–69. According to Gelber, the merchant model for collectors was followed when collectors sold or traded stamps to fill their own collections or make a modest profit; the investment model focused on an increase in value of the stamps over time rather than through trading activity; and the speculator model involved buying low and selling high in the hopes of striking it rich through stamp sales.

3 Chuchin, F. G., “Filatelija i deti,” Sovetskii Filatelist (cited hereafter as S.F.), 2 (1922), 1.

4 Zagranichnyi obmen,” S.F., 2 (1922), 11.

5 Filateliia i spekuliatsiia,” S.F., 2 (1922), 26.

6 Raevskii, B., “Novaia zagranichnaia fal'sh',” S.F., 7–8 (1923), 32.

7 Vladinets, N. l.. “Organizatsiia Upolnomochennogo po Filatelii i Bonam” in Bol'shoi fiiaielisiicheskii slovar' (Moskva: Izdatel'stvo “Radio i Sviaz',” 1988), 214;Offitsial'nyi otdel,” S.F., 2 (1922), 910.

8 Ustav Vserossiiskogo Obshchestva Filatelistov,” S.F., 3–4 (1923). 3032.

9 Kulakov, V., “Filateliia v Moskve: organizatsionnoe ukreplenie (1923–1924 gody),” Fi-latejija SSSR, 2 (1991), 5051.

10 Vladinets, , “Organizatsiia,” 295.

11 Stal'baum, Boris, “Lenin, deti, filateliia,” Sovetskii Kollektsioner (cited hereafter as S.K. ), 8 (1970), 69.

12 Sostav Vserossiiskogo Obshchestva Filatelistov,” S.F., 3–4 (1923), 33.

13 Chuchin, F. G., “Filateliia i monopoliia,” ?.F., 1 (1922), 6.

14 Kulakov, , “Filateliia v Moskve,” 52.

15 Ibid., 51.

16 Kulakov, V., “Filateliia v Moskve: organizatsionnoe ukreplenie (1923–1924 gody),” Filateliia SSSR, 5 (1991), 50.

17 Ibid., 51–52.

18 Raevskii, B., “Pochtovye marki RSFSR,” S.F., 2 (1922), 5.

19 Chuchin, F., “Otchet O'Dne Filatelii',” S.F., 2 (1922), 14;Bukharov, O. N., Marki-svideteli istorii (Moskva: Izdatel'stvo Radio i Sviaz', 1982), 17.

20 As reported to the Central Committee, 310,287 of the 320,432 stamps were sold through the official monopoly office in Chuchin, Mannheim. F., “Balans oborotov,” S.F., 3–4 (1922), 23.

21 Chuchin, , “Balans oborotov,” 19.

22 Scott 1991 Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, vol. 4 (Sidney, Ohio: Scott Publishing Co., 1990), 413–14.

23 Davies, R. W., ed., From Tsarism to the New Economic Policy: Continuity and Change in the Economy of the USSR (London: Macmillan Academic and Professional Ltd, 1990), 322.

24 Bukharov, , Marki-svideteli istorii, 37.

25 Tsentral'nyi Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Narodnogo Khoziastva (TsGANKh), fond 3527 (NKPT), opis 26, delo 3, 1. 3.

26 Ibid., I. 7.

27 Stoetzer, Carlos, Postage Stamps as Propaganda (Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1953), 2.

28 Katalog pochtovykh marok SSSR, 1918–1980, vol. 1 (Moskva: Tsentral'noe Filatelisticheskoe Agentshestvo “Soiuzpechat” Ministerstva Sviazi SSSR, 1984), 244.

29 Ibid., 244–47. See also Vladinets, , “Organizatsiia,” 176.

30 Stal'baum, , “Lenin,” 910;Novoe v dele gr. Banhovar,” S.F., 1–2 (1923), 40.

31 Stal'baum, , “Lenin,” 50.

32 Fisher, A. R., “Chto sobirat',” S.K., 1(1930), 19.

33 Slova i dela Borisa Babitsogo,” S.K., 2 (1930), 60.

35 For example, Pravda urged the population “not to throw away stamps,” and called on all citizens and children of the RSFSR to gather and send all canceled stamps, stamp collections, and anything they had on hand to be exchanged for chocolate and other products for starving children. “Ne brosaite marok,” Pravda, 9 March 1922, 3.

36 Raevskii, B., “K godovshchine sovetskoi filatelii,” S.F., 9–10 (1923), 10.

37 White, Stephen, The Bolshevik Poster (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 91.

38 Ibid., 92.

39 For a discussion of profiles of ruling heads of state on stamps, see Strauss, Harlan J., “Politics, Psychology, and the Postage Stamp,” in The Congress Book 1975: Fortv-First American Philatelic Congress, November 8–9, 1975 (Federalsburg: J. W. Stowell Printing Co., 1975), 176.

40 Bukharov, , Marki-svideteli istorii, 12.

41 Ibid., 13.

42 Ibid., 12–13.

43 Lenin, V. I., State and Revolution (New York,: International Publishers, 1988), 23.

44 Scott 1991, 290.

45 For a discussion of the images on Soviet stamps and their relation to gender construction, see Waters, Elizabeth, “The Female Form in Soviet Political Iconography, 1917–32,” in Barbara Evans Clements, Barbara Alpern Engel, and Christine Worobec, Russia's Women: Accommodation, Resistance, Transformation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 225–42.

46 Buckley, Mary, “Soviet Ideology and Female Roles,” in Ideology and Soviet Politics, White, Stephen, ed. (London: Macmillan Press, 1988), 161–62.

47 Katalog, 84, 87, 146, 159, 265, 301.

48 Strauss, . “Politics, Psychology, and Postage,” 176.

49 Stoetzer, , Postage Stamps and Propaganda, 15–16.

50 Ibid., 9, 15.

51 L.Z., , “Filateliia i propaganda,” S.F., 3–4 (1922), 13.

52 For a summary of the common trend toward centralization and control of all social organizations by the Bolshevik leadership, see Kenez, Peter, The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917–1929 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 8694, 186, 252–56. For discussion of the conventions of Soviet ideological discourse that promoted the fusion of state and social interests, see Schull, Joseph, “The Ideological Origins of ‘Stalinism’ in Soviet Literature,” Slavic Review, 51:3 (Fall 1992), 468–84.

53 Kenez, , Birth of Propaganda Stare, 153.

54 Eikhfus stated, “I stand on the side of the strict centralization af all philatelic affairs in the USSR.” Eikhfus, L., “O zadachakh filatelii v SSSR,” S.F., 1–2 (1923), 36.

55 Stal'baum, , “Lenin,” 21.

56 Chuchin, F., “Itogi i perspektivy,” S.F., 1–2 (1923), 5.

57 Chuchin, F., “Kollektsionirovanie i etika,” S.F., 3–4 (1923), 1.

58 Eikhfus, , “O zadachakh filatelii v SSSR,” 3536;Kulakov, V., “Filateliia v Moskve,” Filateliia SSSR, 5 (1991), 51.

59 Sovnarkom charged the SFA with the duty of collecting and trading stamps for the benefit of the Lenin Fund for Homeless Children. The actual process of dissolving the OUFB and replacing it with the SFA occurred during 1924–26. The Lenin Fund was authorized by the Central Executive Committee in February 1925 and linked to philately in October 1926. In 1926 the Committee and Sovnarkom officially reformed the OUFB as the SFA. For details of this rather confusing bureaucratic reshuffling, see Stal'baum, , “Lenin,” 1520.

60 Stal'baum, , “Lenin,” 16.

61 Raevskii, , “K godovshchine sovetskoi filatelii,” 10.

62 The complete breakdown of membership at the end of 1924 was as follows: white collar, 84 percent; worker, 3 percent; military, 2 percent; unemployed. 9 percent; the age groups were: 1824, 24.7 percent; 25–45, 60.3 percent; 46–69, 15 percent. Kulakov, V., “Filateliia v Moskve,” Filateliia SSSR, 3 (1991), 19:Ibid., 2 (1991), 50.

63 Raevskii, , “K godovshchine sovetskoi filatelii,” 78:Chuchin, F., “Nasha godovshchina,” S.F., 9–10 (1923), 2.

64 Valeron, D. B., “Postavim na nogi,” S.K., 1 (1930). 3.

65 Ibid., 4.

66 Fitzpatrick, Sheila, “Cultural Revolution as Class War,” in idem, Cultural Revolution in Russia, 1928–1931 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978), 32.

68 “po otdelam V.O.F.,” S.K., 1 (1930), 3031.

69 Vilinbakhov, B., “Litso V.O.F.,” S.K., 3 (1930), 70.

70 Valeroii, D. B., “Kollektsionirovanie-v rabochie massy,” S.K., 7 (1930), 165.

7 Ibid., 166.

72 shiriiengefer, Erikh, “Za sektsiiu po mezhdunarodomy obmeny Pri Filinterne,” S.K., 2 (1930), 63.

74 Soiuzmov, M., “O filatelii v shkole,” S.K., 2 (1930), 55.

75 Ibid., 56.

76 Kolonii britanskoi imperii i ikh pochtobye marki,” S.K., 4–5 (1930), 112.

77 Kratkie svedeniia o deiatel'nosti vse soiuznogo obshchestva filarelistov (Moskva: Izdatel'stvo Sviazi, 1974), 3.

78 Gleizer, M. M., Isloriia filatelii v Pelerburge, Petrograde, Leningrade (Moskva: Radio i Sviaz', 1989), 48.

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