Robert C. Tucker/Stephen F. Cohen Dissertation Prize

2016 Citation Recipient

Leah Goldman

The Robert C. Tucker/Stephen F. Cohen Dissertation Prize, established in 2006 and sponsored by the KAT Charitable Foundation, is awarded annually (if there is a distinguished submission) for an outstanding English-language doctoral dissertation in Soviet or Post-Soviet politics and history in the tradition practiced by Robert C. Tucker and Stephen F. Cohen. The dissertation must be defended at an American or Canadian university and completed during the calendar year prior to the award.

Winner: Leah Goldman, University of Chicago
Title: “Art of Intransigence: Soviet Composers and Art Music Censorship, 1945-1957”

Leah Goldman’s dissertation, “Art of Intransigence: Soviet Composers and Art Music Censorship, 1945-1957,” makes a distinct contribution to our understanding of censorship by showing just how much more it involved than regulators approving or forbidding compositions. Focusing on composers of art music, in particular opera, during the late Stalin (Zhdanov) and early Khrushchev period, Goldman depicts elaborate forms of self-censorship and pre-censorship group monitoring in the Composer’s Union. She describes forms of collaboration between composers and censor (who as a group overlapped in education and activities with the composers themselves) so elaborate that censors can be considered co-authors of the finished works. The work is a model of deep, meticulous, and wide-ranging research into multiple Soviet archival and published primary sources, displaying effective strategies of analysis that can be brought to bear to understand Soviet cultural politics. Along the way, the work develops deeply researched case studies to illustrate the complex interactions among power, ideology, culture, and material or economic incentives.

In so doing, the dissertation demonstrates how ostensibly collegial and professional forms of artistic collaboration (some adapted from pre-revolutionary traditions) often turned coercive and, as the intelligentsia protected itself from political crackdown, suppressed innovation and enforced a conservative aesthetic. What is amply described as a deeply dysfunctional, unpredictable system within the censorship bureaucracies turned artists and professionals into highly skilled players of the games of maneuvering and self-defense—but also made them into supplicants and preemptive censors of their own output. Instead of depicting individual artists facing an all-powerful state, therefore, the work reinforces the notion that the intelligentsia and its practices in culture and politics formed an enduring cornerstone of the Soviet system. These findings are applicable to other cultural and scientific fields as well as to our understanding of cultural politics in the Soviet context more generally. Finally, Goldman argues, the material here suggests how we must expand our understanding of censorship itself to encompass such phenomena as peer review, professional self-monitoring, and group shaming. The case of Stalinism was distinctive in that it tightly paired this “constitutive” censorship with more frequently recognized forms of “regulative” censorship, blurring the boundaries among the individual author, the professional group, and the state.