Revolution on My Mind is a stunning revelation of the inner world of Stalin’s Russia. We see into the minds and hearts of Soviet citizens who recorded their lives during an extraordinary period of revolutionary fervor and state terror. Writing a diary, like other creative expression, seems nearly impossible amid the fear and distrust of totalitarian rule; but as Jochen Hellbeck shows, diary-keeping was widespread, as individuals struggled to adjust to Stalin’s regime.
Rather than protect themselves against totalitarianism, many men and women bent their will to its demands, by striving to merge their individual identities with the collective and by battling vestiges of the old self within. We see how Stalin’s subjects, from artists to intellectuals and from students to housewives, absorbed directives while endeavoring to fulfill the mandate of the Soviet revolution—re-creation of the self as a builder of the socialist society. Thanks to a newly discovered trove of diaries, we are brought face to face with individual life stories—gripping and unforgettably poignant.
The diarists’ efforts defy our liberal imaginations and our ideals of autonomy and private fulfillment. These Soviet citizens dreamed differently. They coveted a morally and aesthetically superior form of life, and were eager to inscribe themselves into the unfolding revolution. Revolution on My Mind is a brilliant exploration of the forging of the revolutionary self, a study without precedent that speaks to the evolution of the individual in mass movements of our own time.