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English translation © 2004 M.E. Sharpe, Inc., from the Russian text © 2003 “Svobodnaia
mysl’-XXI.” “Studencheskoe obshchezhitie ‘perioda zastoia.’ Eroziia reglamentiruiu-
shchikh tekhnologii,” Svobodnaia mysl’-XXI, 2003, no. 7, pp. 39–51.
Sergei Alekseevich Korolev, Doctor of Philosophy, is leading research fellow at the
Institute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Sciences.
This article was written as part of the research project “Microsocial Organisms in the
Space of Russian Power: Formation and Mechanisms of Functioning,” conducted with
support from the Russian Foundation for Humanities Research (RGNF), project no. 02-
03-18066a. The article uses a wide range of documents relating to the 1968–70 period
from the Filial of the Student Dormitory [Dom studentov] at Moscow State University.
Russian Social Science Review, 45, no. 5, September–October 2004, pp. 80–96.
© 2004 M.E. Sharpe, Inc. All rights reserved.
ISSN 1061–1428/2004 $9.50 + 0.00.
SERGEI KOROLEV
The Student Dormitory in the
“Period of Stagnation”
The Erosion of Regulatory Processes
The student dormitory is undoubtedly one of the most important and mean-
ingful microstructures of power in Russian space; its roots go back to such
archetypical microcosms as the traditional peasant home/courtyard and the
monastery. At the same time, the dormitory is a microcosm of a contemporary
type—a space formed by the processes of authority in the second half of the
twentieth century, in which the authorities, relying on a more or less devel-
oped disciplinary technique, make an effort to gain access to the smallest ele-
ments of the social organism and to acquire the capability to control every
manifestation of daily living as well as social experience, including what is
called private life, even the bodily and sexual practices of individuals.
To a certain extent, the Soviet student dormitory represented a materializa-
tion of the concept of collective communal life that was so popular after the
revolution. The numerous projects for reorganizing living space suggested not
long after the October 1917 Revolution included the idea of a city-garden,
which Mayakovsky extolled, and gigantic communal houses, as well as drafts
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of a certain transitional space created as if in anticipation of the time when the
ordinary man on the street had been educated and prepared for the new forms
of communal living. Eventually, these ideas of housing construction were
dropped, and in the second half of the twentieth century a separate apartment
gradually became the primary form of family existence—with all its conse-
quences. But the practice of collective communal living was preserved (and is
still preserved) with regard to student and worker dormitories.
At the same time, the Soviet student dormitory was a very peculiar micro-
structure, since it included people who were receiving a free education and
therefore to the utmost degree (directly and immediately) dependent on the
state and on various multilevel state and quasi-state institutions such as the
Komsomol. It was no accident that the main guarantee of an individual’s ob-
serving this or that internal regulation was the threat of expulsion—not only
from this particular microcosm but also from the educational institution, at-
tendance at which was a condition for including the individual in this
microsocial organism.
The fundamental impact that processes of authority had on the student con-
tingent, specifically on residents of the dormitories belonging to Moscow State
University (MGU) in the late 1960s and the early 1970s consisted of maxi-
mum restriction of the most basic rights, freedoms, and opportunities of an
individual under control—here a prospective student, a student, or a graduate
student living in the Filial of the Student Dorm [FDS] (a branch of the MGU
Student Dorm, which included the five-story buildings at 31 Lomonosov Av-
enue). This apartment block was later known as “Litva” [Lithuania], after the
movie theater next door. The restrictions applied to freedom of movement in
both space and time: after 11 P.M. students had to be in their building, or their
student ID or library card would be taken away (by a security guard, a duty
administrator [dezhurnaia], etc.). The student could get it back only by sub-
mitting a penitent explanatory note to the administration—that is, from the
standpoint of relations with the authorities, by the student’s confirming accep-
tance of the regulations established for the given microcosm and acknowledg-
ing their reasonable and legitimate nature.
Personal privacy was also restricted: it had to be absolutely transparent to
agents of the authorities and controllable at any moment, in any situation, and
by any means. Manifestations of the individual personality were limited; es-
thetic tastes could not exceed the permissible. Only the administrator of the
dormitory could decide whether students could hang in their rooms reproduc-
tions of paintings by Picasso and other artists not unequivocally approved by
the authorities. In a similar way, the administration decided whether a portrait
of Che Guevara could hang in a dormitory room or whether that should be
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regarded as a case of ideological defiance. Finally, the students’ intimate life
was restricted: sexual relations within an FDS building were considered one
of the most seditious (“immoral”) acts, to be discovered and recorded with
special zeal by all administrators and by “warriors” of the Komsomol.
In general, the attitude of authoritarian and totalitarian power in the USSR
(including Russia) toward all manifestations of sexuality was extremely nega-
tive, except for a few years right after the October Revolution. It was negative
because this type of power unequivocally relies on a certain sublimation of
sexual energy, on its conversion to the energy of “revolutionary transforma-
tion” and the halting of all attempts to legalize sexual freedom. Such an atti-
tude is especially easy and natural for such a power because sexual freedom is
a part and a manifestation (probably the most characteristic manifestation) of
freedom itself. Finally, totalitarian and post-totalitarian power opposes sexu-
ality because physical pleasure in any form is one way for the individual to
separate him- or herself from the mass collective body created by this power.
There was no good reason why students had to return to their buildings at
11 P.M. and not, say, at 12 or 1 A.M.—other than the authorities’ need to mani-
fest and assert power. They could assert power only by conquering and recon-
quering space (whether geographic or social, macro- or microspace) and by
permanently and continuously subjugating all within that space—primarily
the individual, of course.
The mechanism characterizing the activity of the microcosm’s technologi-
cal structure, however, can be understood only if we have an adequate sense of
how the authorities’ regulations were seen by those controlled—that is, the
students. The presumption common to all the explanations provided by those
caught breaking dormitory rules was the admission of the legitimacy of any
regulation set by the authorities, coupled with emphasis on the accidental and
unintentional nature, as well as the insignificance, of their own actions and the
more or less open exploitation of their youth as a factor.
A student who has stayed late with his friends in the building next door and
has had (to avoid spending the night in the street) to surrender to the night
superintendent his passport, student ID, or library card insists that he forgot
that he was not allowed to visit after 11 P.M. In this way, he reminds those in
power by the very level of his argument that he is just out of high school (by
the way, pleading forgetfulness is extremely typical). The agent of the authorities
reads the explanatory note, makes a decision, and writes a memo: “Passport (Se-
rial No./No.) . . . has been returned.” Another student pleads that he was only
fifteen minutes late after his visit with friends, but his student ID was taken
away. The authorities consider the case, make a decision, and leave a textual
trace of their presence in the situation in the form of a memo: “Student ID No.
. . . was received,” with the student’s signature. A third violator emphasizes
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the validity of his excuse for being late—the absence of lecture notes from his
possession and their presence in the place where he stayed late: a zeal for
learning is regarded as a mitigating factor. For this reason, this student freely
admits his guilt: “I am guilty of violating the regulations of the Student Dorm.
I request that my pass be returned.” It is followed by a standard memo, “Pass
No. . . . was received,” and by the student’s signature. Another student stayed
until midnight in the room of a female classmate because they were “discuss-
ing new poetry” (“To be included in the file. The explanation is considered
adequate”). Another went to see his friend, did not find him in, and fell asleep
in the lobby. Somebody else had been celebrating his birthday and stayed after
the established curfew in another building. He writes a repentant note with an
explanation and states that in the course of the celebration “alcohol was not
served.” Somebody’s watch allegedly stopped while he was away, and he did
not notice that it was time to go back to his building. The memo says: “The
student ID has been returned.”
It is revealing that the sanctions, at least the primary ones, were universal
throughout the disciplinary space. The most typical sanction was the confisca-
tion of a certain document—a symbol and at the same time real proof of an
individual’s belonging to a certain social group or corporation, a sign verify-
ing that this individual is a full-fledged member of the social organism and
society. There is no big difference here between confiscating the passports of
collective farmers in the 1930s, holding servicemen’s passports for the dura-
tion of their service, expelling someone from the CPSU [Communist Party of
the Soviet Union] [which involved confiscating the person’s membership card—
Ed.], punishing a driver by having a police officer take away his or her license,
and stripping the student ID (which students need to receive their stipends)
from a freshman who has returned after curfew. Such practices subject an
individual simultaneously to distinction from the mass of other individuals
and to partial expulsion.
A more serious offense than being late for “curfew” was an attempt to keep
in the dormitory an overnight guest without a residence permit or with permis-
sion to live in another room/building. This is, in other words, an attempt to
question the authorities’ exclusive right to manage the microspace which they
have made temporarily available to specific individuals on quite rigid terms.
The authorities defended this right by all means, up to and including nighttime
rounds or raids. In the body of documents reflecting the functioning of one of
the branches of the MGU Student Dorm during what is known as the period of
stagnation there are several documents describing offenses of this kind com-
mitted by dormitory residents as well as the standard control actions con-
ducted by the administration and by “student activists” (specifically, entries in
the logs made by duty administrators).
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Here I quote a rather detailed description of a situation, which may seem
inexplicable from the standpoint of normal logic but was quite typical of a
student dormitory.
On 2 January of this year, between 11 P.M. and 12 A.M. a female acquaintance
of mine asked me to let her brother Sasha in through my window. According
to her, he had spent two nights at the train station. Wishing to help the guy,
even though I did not know him, and seeing no other way out for him at such
a late hour, but without fully realizing my own responsibility for that step, I
let him into our room.
As he left the room, Sasha was stopped by the security guard. The exces-
sively loud scene made primarily by the security guard put me in a very
embarrassing position, and I decided to find a way out of it by returning the
room to its initial state: the guy exited through the window, after which he
apologized to the security guard whereas I remained in a state of unprec-
edented embarrassment. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before.
Everything I have reflected on since then has become a guarantee that it will
never happen again in the future in any shape or form.
I admit that I violated the regulations of the dormitory. and I promise
never to let anything like that happen in the future. Student R-k V., 6 January
1969.
By the way, it is essential whether the guy in question was in fact the girl’s
brother (the story reminds us of one of Vampilov’s plays [The Elder Son, by A.
Vampilov, a well-known Soviet playwright—Trans.]). If he was not a relative
but only an acquaintance, the disciplinary measures and punishment would be
much more severe: a violation of sex taboos (“the norms of Soviet communal
living”) was punished more strictly than an episodic break from the spatial
and temporal framework prescribed by the local regime. This is because sexual
freedom is one of the most significant degrees of freedom; it governs an
individual’s right to make decisions concerning his or her own body without
restriction (a state that authorities always try to prevent), and hence cannot be
legitimized. For this reason, any attempt by students (male or female) to let a
girlfriend/boyfriend stay in their room overnight were treated with great se-
verity and fraught with unpleasant consequences, up to and including eviction
from the dormitory.
As noted in the logs of FDS night-shift administrators regarding one such
incident, “student M-nin turned his room into a brothel by dragging a floozy
to his room through the window of the library reading room.” Caught red-
handed, the student claimed that the woman was his wife, but the administra-
tor did not find the appropriate documents on her, confiscated the culprit’s
student ID and, as is written in the log, “kicked the couple out” (in keeping
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with the style of that period—S.K.) of the building. In this case the adminis-
trator recommended that student M-nin be evicted from the dormitory.
The restriction of freedom, including freedom of action, however, is not
always rational (specifically, in the context of certain ideological postulates of
power). Sometimes restrictions on freedom of action take a form that makes
one assume that the only purpose of such restrictions is the assertion of the
authorities’ right to impose arbitrary restrictions on the rights and opportuni-
ties of an individual, the right of power per se.
The pretexts for dissatisfaction on the part of the FDS administration and
hence the stories in the explanatory notes include the following: a student was
talking in the lobby late at night; two students were playing in the lobby with
a small tennis ball, although they did not break anything (nonetheless, they
repented and admitted that their actions were inappropriate because they could
have broken glass or a mirror; the violators noted that no damage was done to
the dormitory and they stopped as soon as they were reprimanded); a female
student tried to wash several handkerchiefs and a pair of stockings in the sink
(since it was already late, she decided not to go to the laundry room)—the
security guard wrote down the name of the violator (in this connection we
might recall the entries in conduct books in prerevolutionary Russian schools
as well as the written records of communards’ offenses introduced by A.S.
Makarenko).
The fundamental priority in this model is the right of the authorities to
impose arbitrary regulations and restrictions on the individual, coupled with
the overt acknowledgment of the unshakable and legitimate nature of the regu-
lations established by the authorities and the hidden reality—the fictitious
quality of the individual’s acknowledgment of the authorities’ rights and the
constant attempts to escape their watchful eye (which is exactly what
Makarenko considered so dangerous and intolerable). We could argue that in
acknowledging the authorities’ right to interfere in their lives, in repenting and
providing mitigating circumstances, the students are lying, since in their hearts
they do not acknowledge the authorities’ right to regulate them. But, under-
standing that the authorities expect a certain kind of cunning from them, the
students produce exactly what the authorities expect, the ideological standard—
and thus escape punishment.
Moreover, in such a situation, individuals are ready not only to support the
authorities’ false image but also to acknowledge them as a manifestation of
paternal authority (this or that representative of the administration “pointed
out the error of my ways to me, and I agree with him completely and whole-
heartedly”). In other words, this apotheosis of mutually agreed-upon fictitious-
ness revives the symbiotic relationship between the traditional [domostroinyi]
master and slave, which one would have thought had disappeared long ago. For
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their part, the authorities are ready to accept this somewhat cunning attitude
toward themselves and, moreover, already have no choice but to accept it; they
must put up with increasingly fictitious acknowledgment and accept as truth ob-
vious lies constructed in accordance with the established rules of the game.
We, students Iu-a A.Ia. and K-ov V.M., residing in room . . . of Building 2,
were caught by the night-shift superintendent in our room with playing cards
in our hands on 28 February. We request that you take into consideration
that at that moment we were demonstrating the card tricks published in Nauka
i zhizn’, 1969, no. 2. In addition, please take into account that the cards were
surrendered to the night-shift superintendent without any resistance on our
part. P.S. The night-shift superintendent ran into our room without knocking
on the door!
The students, who had been caught playing cards, maintained that “we were dem-
onstrating card tricks published” in a journal, and the authorities were ready in
principle to be satisfied with that explanation. As a last resort, students would
insist that, if not demonstrating card tricks, they were at least playing some inno-
cent game, which could not be confused with gambling or betting.
In most cases, the authorities were not trying to expose the fictitious nature
of the individual’s obedience, to punish the violators with maximum severity,
and ultimately to eliminate that fictitious quality. Rather, they were trying to
preserve the status quo. Let me clarify the situation here: even in that rela-
tively liberal time (as compared to the preceding period) card games were
sometimes mentioned in documents as a reason for expulsion from MGU (from
the standpoint of power not only does card playing destroy the mechanisms of
individual self-control, but it also removes individuals from the authorities’
control. Under Emperor Paul, officers caught playing cards were sent to the
Schlüsselburg Fortress). But, while under Khrushchev card playing could still
lead to expulsion from the university, in the “period of stagnation” the punish-
ment was in most cases limited to the immediate confiscation of the tool of
violation (cards) by representatives of the administration and the requirement
that the violators write repentant explanatory notes.
One might think that banning card games had a certain underlying educa-
tional foundation were it not for the many explanatory notes written in con-
nection with, let us say, throwing snowballs or playing soccer near the dormitory
buildings. This makes it perfectly obvious that what we are dealing with here
is a demonstration of the possibility of suppression and the right to suppres-
sion rather than certain meaningful preventive educational actions.
At the same time, the authorities’ readiness to accept, or to pretend to ac-
cept, some obviously fictitious explanations should undoubtedly be perceived
as a sign of their declining vigor and effectiveness.
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It is quite natural that in this microspace (characterized by a decline in its
technological efficiency)—as in the Dzerzhinsky Commune, which was com-
pletely efficient from the process standpoint—almost the most serious transgres-
sion was an expression of outrage in response to the behavior of those holding
power. For this reason, FDS residents who argued with representatives of the
administration and became personal (obviously in the heat of the conflict), as a
rule, later tried to disavow their claims that the administrator’s actions could
be illegitimate (as one student wrote, “the security guard wrote down my name,
but his claims that I promised to lodge a complaint against him are a lie”). But
while in Makarenko’s commune open disobedience to the collective body
(which was simultaneously a means of applying power and an agent of power)
undermined the fundamental processes of the microcosm, the expression of
indignation or protest in the dormitory destroyed the “fiction,” the mythical
image of the authorities that had long ago ceased to represent reality.
Here is another example:
On 3 December several students from Building 6 and I were throwing snow-
balls. We were noticed by the administrator, warned by him, and stopped the
game shortly afterward. 9 December 1968. Zh-tsev A.
I, B-k I., was throwing snowballs near Building 6 in the evening of 2 De-
cember (I do not remember who else was playing with us). I did not know
that it was forbidden to throw snowballs on FDS territory. 11 December
1968. I. B-k.
These students knew and used the verbal code of the authorities: we were
throwing snowballs in front of the building but order was preserved: “the warn-
ing we received during our game led to us stopping it.”
An individual who did not accept the rules of the game, did not want to
adopt the existing mechanism of slipping away, and perceived the categories
of violation and nonviolation, transgression and nontransgression seriously
and not relatively stands out like a white crow against the backdrop of univer-
sal ostentatious obedience and real conformism: “I confirm that on 2 Decem-
ber I was outside, but I did not throw snowballs. I was outside by chance.
Before then I had spent a long time studying in the library reading hall, and
then I stepped out to breathe some fresh air; they took me for one of those who
were throwing snowballs and wrote down my name.”
Naturally, next to this disavowal written by a student who was upset at the
very possibility that his name had been recorded (written down unfairly, with-
out sufficient grounds) we find examples of openly ironic reflection on these
events and parodies of the authorities’ language and mode of thought, which,
however, do not violate the appearance of obedience.
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In December 1968 [quoted precisely from the text—S.K.] I was returning
from the Cheburechnaia on University Avenue. As the windows of my room
are above the building entrance, I decided to check the presence or the ab-
sence of people in the room with the help of a lump of snow (the so-called
“snowball”). Having performed one throw in the direction of the window of
Room 301, I saw that the “snowball” had not reached the target—that is, the
window—and hit the wall instead; that is why I decided to abort further
attempts. But that was not the end of my “snowball” activity, as two of my
friends also provoked me to attack them with “snowballs.” When I took the
next handful of snow in my hand, I saw the instigators shamefully take flight.
For this reason, I did not mold the lump of snow but simply tossed the hand-
ful into the window of the first-floor lobby, where I saw the familiar face of
a freshman (I do not know his name). The throw was performed from the
distance of two meters with my left hand. I repeat here that the lump of snow
was of a weak and loose consistency. 2 January 1969.
It is not surprising that the authorities are jealous of the emergence of im-
ages or texts on the vertical surfaces of the social space they have appropri-
ated, irrespective of content.
Here is an entry from the duty administrators’ log: “On 20 February, when
rooms were being prepared for floor polishing, in Room No. . . ., where stu-
dents of the Geology Department reside, drawings of women were taken down
from the wall above the bed near the window on the right-hand side. In addi-
tion, there have been cases when the expelled student Sidorov was allowed to
stay in the room overnight, which can be confirmed by the duty administrators
B-na M.S. and I-va M.M. 21 February.”
The “drawings of women” turned out to be sketches made by a student who
was interested in painting. When the student was made to appear before the
director of the MGU Student Dorm, he had to repent, admit his errors, and
acknowledge the high artistic authority of the deputy director of the MGU
Student Dorm, who “pointed out the error of my ways, and I agree with him
completely and wholeheartedly” It can be clearly seen that in this case the
means of survival was the accused student’s forced (although undoubtedly
quite formal) upholding of the false image of the authorities as paternal power.
It was all the more forced in that what had been confiscated was not his stu-
dent ID or passport (that is, rather trite and customary objects) but something
much more unique, private, and intimate, something that did not belong to the
authorities—his own sketches.
Naturally, whenever the issue involved the potential political implications
of texts or pictures, vigilance increased. One of the duty administrators re-
corded in the log evidence of insufficient seriousness regarding visual propa-
ganda on the occasion of yet another Lenin anniversary: in one building, next
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to the posters devoted to Lenin, they had seen a poster with the slogan “Death
to flies.” The duty administrator took down the poster and considered it neces-
sary to record the fact in the log and to suggest that all buildings be checked
(specifically for the condition of visual propaganda related to the anniversary).
In addition, the authorities did not like jokes, humor, irony—which is un-
derstandable because the sphere of humor is difficult to control and represents
a sphere of freedom, like that of intimate life. This is why the jesters who, for
instance, displayed the ad “Goat for sale, cabbage to feed it included” or who
hung the sign “People’s Court” on the door of their female classmates’ room
had to write a note respecting the formal standards and explaining that these
were innocent jokes, not acts of hooliganism or attempts to engage in com-
mercial activity. The authorities were serious to the point of provoking nau-
sea. Such seriousness simultaneously guaranteed their self-preservation and
predetermined their self-destruction.
Typically, the relations of the authorities in a microcosm are built on the
sidelines, away from big politics and the “grand idea.” In the relatively large
number of documents that the present author had at his disposal (which includes
four logs of night-shift administrators and a voluminous file of students’ explana-
tory notes, as well as a large quantity of interagency correspondence), which
reflect the functioning of the FDS as a specific microcosm of power, there are
hardly any entries that have anything to do with politics. Only one entry in the
log can be interpreted in such a way: “8 March 1969. I started my shift at
9:00. . . . At 10:00 A.M. on 8 March, students living in all the FDS buildings
took part in the protest at the Chinese Embassy, together with their profes-
sors. . . . All is quiet on the campus. My shift ended at 5 P.M.”
It may be that the agents of control deliberately tried to avoid recording
“political” offenses, which might provoke dissatisfaction among higher au-
thorities not only with the students who committed them but also with the
agents of power who let them happen, and thus tried to paint a more satisfac-
tory picture than the one that existed in reality. Or perhaps they knew that such
cases were the business of another agency. Or—and this is most likely—the
degree of political commitment among most students was indeed low.
Power, whether in a macro- or a microspace, is embedded in a certain system
of processes but, in addition to the structure of processes, the mechanism of power
includes certain controlling levels of authority. In the most obvious way, mecha-
nisms of control in a microsocial organism are represented by “official” agents of
power, by figures who exercise control on behalf of the authorities and represent
power institutions that are located beyond the boundaries of the microcosm.
In microsocial organisms of the “home/courtyard” or estate type, these agents
were housekeepers and the like, who managed servants, serfs, and other de-
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pendents on behalf of a prince or a boyar. At elite or military schools they
were the disciplinarians [vospitateli] (who, while the students were in class,
made the rounds of the dormitories or barracks and inspected students’ draw-
ers, which they unlocked with their own keys); at prerevolutionary Russian
high schools they were classroom overseers (mentors). In hotels the floor duty
administrators played the part of agents of power, and so on.
In dormitories there existed an institution of (night-shift) duty administra-
tors who performed the functions of direct oversight and control in the living
space of individuals. Such agents of power do not create a structured space:
they only ensure the functioning of the existing structure of processes and see
to it that the existing regulations on communal living are observed.
Control of microspaces with the help of figures representing external con-
trol, however, is static. It is inflexible and reflects the traditional concept of
power, the dominant concept before the twentieth century—the concept of a
confrontation between what is and what is not the authorities. Modern forms
of power envisage, above all, co-opting that which is not the authorities: not
only its subjugation but also its absorption, the appropriation by the authori-
ties of all resources of the social organism, especially the human ones. In
other words, structures and processes that are adequate to the realities and the
level of self-consciousness characterizing twentieth-century institutions of
power recruit agents of control from the social organism itself—and these
agents do not cease to be microparticles of the social organism when they join
the authorities.
In this case, control of the microcosms of power was also implemented
through structuring that microcosm itself and establishing a hierarchy—that
is, not only through the infiltration of “agents of control” from outside (the
same class overseers or night-shift administrators) but also through the reor-
ganization of the internal structure to encourage elements to perform control
functions from within. Thus, by the end of Makarenko’s time at the Dzerzhinsky
Labor Commune there were no special disciplinarians, whose only function
was oversight, but only teachers. “From day to day my charges no longer
needed special assistance from overseers,” Makarenko notes. All discipline
there was supplied by older communards, mainly Komsomol members, and
the structure of the microsocial organism was organized accordingly.
In student dormitories, just as in the labor commune, the control mecha-
nism was designed to produce certain agents of control while structuring the
microcosm itself, in order to replenish the agents of power with individuals
recruited from the depths of the very social organism that was being struc-
tured. To achieve that, an appropriate hierarchy had to be set up.
It is noteworthy that this hierarchy was already in place when a student was
first admitted to the dormitory, meaning that it was not only reproduced by the
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structured space but was also a condition of the existence and normal func-
tioning of that space. It is revealing that in the 1960s–70s, when established
practice required MGU freshmen to live for at least two years in the dormito-
ries on Lomonosov Avenue or on Shvernik Street (where a room was shared
by four or five students), exceptions were made for certain categories of fresh-
men, who were placed immediately in the “high rise”—the main MGU build-
ing (known as “GZ” or, in student slang, “Glazda”), where a room was shared
by at most two people. Exceptions were made, first, for members of the MGU
Student Committee (that is, those, who had shown themselves to be activists
even before entering the university, primarily in Komsomol work); second, for
students who were secretly collaborating with the special services; and third,
for athletes who had reached the level of the MGU varsity teams by the time
they entered the university.
The next factor promoting hierarchy in a microsocial organism of the “dor-
mitory type” is (as in closed military schools, by the way) the absence of
authoritative/authoritarian figures embodying the paternal presence in that
space. Whereas in high school power is embodied in the teacher (principal,
director of studies) and the student’s parents, who remain meaningful figures
of power, while “amateur” structures take third place in importance, in a stu-
dent dormitory the situation is different. There are no teachers or parents here
(although there are much less authoritative and less powerful figures of out-
side control—superintendents, duty administrators, security guards, etc.). For
this reason, in a microsocial organism of this type, institutions recruited from
the microcosm itself become an essential part of the power mechanism, which
is a far from symbolic means of supporting the structured space.
In dormitories of the Brezhnev period, these institutions were, above all,
“operational Komsomol detachments” (OKO), rather than student committees
or even floor councils. Leaving aside the political and ideological aspects of
the OKO, I explore how power of that type operated in its primeval, pure,
nonpolitical form, with reference to both the most ideologically minded and
the most inert and apolitical students.
One job performed by the MGU OKO were “checks” [proverki] of the
Student Dorm buildings to identify persons in the building who had stayed for
the night “without proper grounds.” (Naturally, such checks were conducted
at night.) During the check the floors and the building entrance were blocked
(turning the dormitory halls into corridors of power), and OKO members took
up positions on both sides of the building, so there was no chance for escape.
These checks usually resulted in the detention of girls who were staying with
male students (sometimes these girls lived in the same building, and other
times they had nothing to do with the Student Dorm or the university); they
also picked up guys who had stayed for the night with male or female students.
92 RUSSIAN SOCIAL SCIENCE REVIEW
Sometimes, late at night, the OKO “warriors” managed to catch groups of
students celebrating some event with alcohol (invariably classified as a “drink-
ing bout”). In such cases, the appropriate forms were filled out, which were
later used to file official complaints and to punish the culprits (up to and in-
cluding eviction from the dormitory or expulsion from the university).
The following report on one “check” of a Student Dorm building conducted
by an MGU OKO is quoted from the duty administrators’ logs and can provide
a sufficiently clear idea of the functions and methods used by “social sanita-
tion agents” vested with power over their peers:
22 March 1970. I started my shift at 9 A.M. I inspected all the buildings and
floors. During my shift, the MGU operational detachment checked Building
3 to identify persons who were in the building and had stayed the night
without grounds. . . . The operation was successful. . . . The OKO members
blocked the floors and the building entrance; OKO members were also posi-
tioned at both sides of the building, so there was no chance to escape from
the building unnoticed. The results of the check were as follows.
(1) In Room 111, students S-nin V. and Ch-nov V., who reside there, had
let two girls stay overnight. They are P-ova T.V. (who is not a Moscow resi-
dent and whose place of residence is uncertain) and a student of the Law
Department, L-ova S.I., residing on the fifth floor of Building 3, who tried to
jump out the window. . . .
(2) A woman, not a Moscow resident (S. K-sheva), had stayed overnight
in Building 3 in Room 241 with her sister K-sheva N. Also tried to jump out
the window. . . .
We need to note here that Room 241 is located as high as the second floor.
But at least students in the five-story FDS buildings had a chance, if at risk to
their health, to avoid problems. When the preceding generation of operatives
used to conduct raids in the “zones of residence” in the MGU high-rise on the
Lenin Hills (I should mention here that in the early 1960s separate residence
halls for male and female students were introduced with the idea of improving
morals in the university dormitories), students (male or female) caught at the
wrong time in the wrong place had no such opportunity. [The OKO report
continues.]
(3) In Room 219 of Building 4 G-b E.E. had let V-nov V.I., who is not a
Moscow resident, stay overnight.
(4) Student of the Biology Department D-kov A.N., residing in Room
320 of Building 4, stayed overnight in Room 229 of Building 3. . . .
(5) In Building 1 students of the Physics Department K-ov D.G., residing
in Room 317, and I-ov A.A. organized a drinking bout in Room 202, and
RUSSIAN SOCIAL SCIENCE REVIEW 93
when the OKO members demanded that they stop, the students resisted and
behaved in a defiant and insolent manner. All that happened at 5 A.M. Both
were very drunk.
(6) In Building 4 student Kh-iuk S.G., residing in Room 507, tried to
prevent the OKO members from entering the building by using martial arts
techniques against them. (This happened on Saturday at 10:30 P.M.)
All the information entered is based on the documents of OKO Com-
mander I. P-chev.
In my opinion as chairman of the Monitors Council [sovet starost], the
most severe administrative measures must be applied to all these persons; it
should also be recommended that OKO conduct such checks more regu-
larly, which will undoubtedly free the dormitory of all kinds of misdemean-
ors and create favorable conditions for the studies and leisure of the MGU
FDS students residing there.
The entries in the documents describing the checks reveal several impor-
tant features: first, the immediate living space of the dormitory residents was
completely porous (already noted above); second, the OKO “warriors” were
extremely active in performing control actions, which demonstrates the real
and effective, rather than fictitious, nature of those structures of power and the
agents it recruited; and third, the fear of ordinary students, of people who had
been accustomed from birth to living not according to the law but according to
“notions,” ideological norms and instructions, and without any legal recourse.
This fear explains why people, male or female, who stayed in their friends’
rooms and wanted to avoid problems were even ready to jump out the window
at the risk of breaking an arm or a leg—and indeed, sometimes such incidents
caused serious injuries. As noted above, the punishment mechanism operated
outside the law. The law did not protect students’ rights; Soviet courts refused
to hear cases involving expulsion from higher educational institutions; and
according to unwritten laws of the system, expulsion from the Komsomol
stripped one of the opportunity for a free education and was followed by ex-
pulsion. In other words, the chain of actions begun with the blocking of en-
trances and exits and carried through memos written by OKO members and
superintendents could end in the university president’s expulsion order and
leave a serious negative mark on the entire life of a young person who had not
done anything illegal.
In the dormitory (as in the prerevolutionary Russian high school and the
labor commune) agents of control could be recruited from outside and from
inside the social organism. In all cases, however, these agents were, first, for-
malized and “officialized” and, second, authoritarian. The informal hierarchy
and formal identification of agents of power represented two sides of one pro-
cess: the authorities’ conquest and retention of social microspaces.
94 RUSSIAN SOCIAL SCIENCE REVIEW
Institutions of power were diverging into microcosms, into the environ-
ment where processes of power manifested themselves; in their turn, the pro-
cesses, as they functioned, created certain quasi-institutional communities that
reveal the relations of power. Without such “divergence” and the resulting
“creation,” there would be no grounds to state that an institution of power is a
peculiar superstructure that sits on top of structures of power. Institutions would
be created as easily as a building, which houses an enterprise or an agency that
represents the institution for some period of time. This mechanism, by which
institutions “diverge into” microcosms of power and microcosms “create” in-
stitutional space—the mutual penetration and overlapping of the institutional
and noninstitutional spheres, which is purely a matter of process, an overlap-
ping guaranteed by the action of the processes of authority—is one of the
most profound “mysteries of power” and one of the foundations underpinning
contemporary society in the forms that existed at the beginning of the twenty-
first century.
The conflict between the mechanisms of power and control is one of the
most widespread structural conflicts in a microcosm.
The acts of the formal power structure and the spontaneous manifestations
of the informal one (even though the informal structure is often managed or at
least encouraged) gave rise to and reproduced a category of individuals within
the microsocial organism who were gradually turned into agents of control.
As already noted, these agents did not create structured space but only en-
sured the normal functioning of the existing structure. The Dzerzhinsky Com-
mune, however, as becomes clear from Makarenko’s own writings, experienced
a phenomenon he dubbed rotting activists and a certain inertia, which the
head of the commune had to dampen (as he put it). The inertia was manifested
specifically in the tendency for the general meeting (the commune’s supreme
body) to exaggerate any punishment and to use such an extreme process as
expulsion. The structured system created in a model microcosm in the midst
of self-development also tended toward its own structural ideal, which was the
extreme. Only a thoroughly developed system of control made it possible to
rein in that inertia.
In the student dormitory the processes of authority that were maintained in
good working condition by a system consisting of agents of power, members
of the OKO, and the like (in many of its features it was similar to the system
described above), in the absence of instructions aimed at the ideal nature of
the structural mechanism, were also characterized at times by process-related
wavelets, which can be regarded as “short circuits” within the system. The
actions of OKO members “normalizing the microcosm” (like those of “cor-
nets” in the nineteenth-century military schools or those of army “hazers”
RUSSIAN SOCIAL SCIENCE REVIEW 95
[dedy]) acquire inertia, which is sometimes difficult even for higher levels of
power to restrain.
Evidence of this can be found in the memos written by the MGU FDS
administration regarding OKO “warriors.” In the rooms set aside for the OKO
in the FDS buildings (completely furnished and equipped) various dishonor-
able actions took place that were beneath those who were supposed to be
fighting for law and order: “At the present time, the behavior of the OKO
members is outrageous. They break and damage everything. They have bro-
ken three chairs, a telephone, a radio set, and a speaker, The rooms fail all
norms of sanitation.” Apparently, the OKO “warriors” must have been trying
the patience of the FDS administration really badly and for a long time, if the
administration could propose taking one of the rooms away from the OKO, a
structure so dear to the authorities, “for the needs of the branch” and to punish
the culprits. This document was prepared and submitted in February 1969.
After that, “the OKO commander was warned, and it was required that order
be restored in the OKO room.” It is also probable that the OKO had to put up
with more crowded quarters, since the next document addressed to the head of
the Administration of the MGU Dormitories (printed on an official form bear-
ing the MGU Komsomol Committee letterhead and dated November 1974)
states that the head office of the operational detachment attached to the MGU
Komsomol Committee was requesting that a room be provided in the FDS for
the operatives, and this may very well be one of the rooms in which the outra-
geous behavior described above had taken place a few years before. The docu-
ment states that providing a room for the operational detachment would improve
the work of the detachment aimed at protecting public order in the dormitory.
The document has a positive resolution: “No objections.”
This very simple, even basic, example shows that processes generating power
that enter into conflict with control mechanisms prove to be the stronger.
Moreover, the processes of power transform the mechanisms and thus fully
confirm the view proposed by V.A. Podoroga, who regarded the suppression
of control mechanisms by the processes of power as a universal characteristic
of Russia’s territorial jurisdiction.
Obviously, the power-structure principle (within microsocial organisms as
well) and the processes that ensure its realization prove much more valuable
to the authorities than the limited, from their point of view, negative side ef-
fects caused by the actions of that power mechanism. Apparently, this is why
the power mechanisms of the microsocial organism stayed the same through-
out the Soviet student dormitory’s existence. (The organization of similar mi-
crocosms functioning in different periods and other sociopolitical contexts
also has much in common.)
The Soviet student dormitory continued the attempts to create completely
96 RUSSIAN SOCIAL SCIENCE REVIEW
regulated microsocial spaces (of major importance here were the prewar ex-
periments conducted by A.S. Makarenko). In the second half of the twentieth
century, however, this type of power structure was no longer connected with
utopian attempts to create a certain ideal social organism (in the sense of real-
izing ideals as products of an ideological process), adequate to “a society of
the future.” The organization of processes in the Soviet dormitory was rela-
tively pragmatic and designed primarily to ensure maximum control over the
behavior of individuals included in the microsocial organism and their inte-
gration in the microspace. It was also supposed to turn the microspace itself
into a global power space, even though the authorities had long since given up
on making it “ideal.”
Compared to the power microspaces created by Makarenko, this kind of
discipline seems incomplete, inferior, formal, and sometimes even fictitious.
The authorities’ attitude toward many actions and phenomena that were for-
mally taboo combined a pathological desire to restrict, to place under control,
to regulate, to take into account all offences, and to record them through the
procedure of entering them into logs. At the same time, it reveals an inability
to do these things with the efficiency characteristic of a well-tuned disciplin-
ary space. The inability to call a halt to phenomena that were undermining the
logic of the authorities’ normalization and that, in ideological terms, qualified
as negative—or at least to ensure a positive trend in the elimination of these
phenomena—was understood by the authorities to a degree, which sometimes
gave rise to wavelets of activity but also to the desire “to look without seeing.”
That made the disciplinary space vulnerable, complicating even its “simple
reproduction.” Authority that cannot reconstruct the appropriate microspace
on a daily basis, cannot preserve and support the dynamic of its own growth,
is inevitably subject to erosion.
Selected by Nils Wessell
Translated by Larisa Galperin
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