chapter  5
25 Pages

The Pursuit of a Rural Civilized Citizen

Rural physical culture seems like somewhat of an oxymoron. One is severely challenged to picture the “darkened masses” doing morning exercises before heading to the fi elds for a day’s work, then coming home to clean their nails and brush their teeth. Rural societies did not have easy access to facilities such as toilets, washbasins, showers, or even soap. In the countryside and in parts of the national republics, as the chastushki from the previous chapter showed, resources were scarce, vast distances severed many families from cultural or social centres, and deeply imbedded rural or national customs and traditions neutralized the reception of Soviet ideology. In penetrating the fi rmly entrenched habits and values of the peasants, and indeed non-Russians, physical culture acculturation would have to stage a physical and psychological transformation. The Bolsheviks did not fl inch at such an undertaking, and as Aaron Retish notes, “the village became a laboratory for . . . state agents to test their methods and ideologies”.1 This was not only the case in the villages but in the national republics too, where Douglas Northrop has argued that in Central Asia the Bolsheviks set out to bring “modern European cultural norms (such as gender equality)” and “European notions of social reform (which meant public health and hygiene as much as class revolution)”.2 While this chapter focuses predominantly on peasant physical culture, the national minorities-also considered benighted and ripe for reforming-are examined.3 There are naturally problems in taking such an approach. One is reminded in particular of a local Transcaucasian organizer’s complaint that all the “nationality eggs” were lumped together in “one basket”. This organizer argued that they “cannot all be treated the same” and that each individual nationality could not be generally labelled “the nationalities”.4 That is of course true in the case of both nationalities and indeed peasants, but ethnic diversity and local norms or customs coupled with the vast geographical expanse of the Soviet Union makes it extremely diffi cult to examine here individual local cases on a comparative scale.