The Soviet Union and Privacy

In 1927, Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) wrote in his diary: ‘The Bolshevism has abolished private life.’

Alexandra Grisanti


Private comes from Latin privatus ['to deprive', to bereaveļ), which means apart from the State (Merriam-Webster 1991, 378). Private, as one free of public or political influence. At the end of the 19th century, Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis advocated privacy as the "right to be let alone" (1890).

Privacy became a more prominent and relevant concept in the 18th century during the Enlightenment period. It began in the realm of Architecture, to question how one lives in overcrowded cities. The idea of privacy is intimately connected to individuality, intimacy, solitude, freedom and autonomy. In Russian culture of the Early 1900s the opposing concept, called Sobornost, is an untranslatable word that belongs to religious and traditional ideals that oppose individuality and privacy. In 1927, Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) wrote in his diary: ‘The Bolshevism has abolished private life.’

“Socialism began as a critique of "bourgeois" individualism and insisted that property must be converted from a private right to a public function. Marxists, more than most socialists, also elevated the collective - giving it moral and historical primacy over the individual and arguing that it was only in and through the collective that any individual could realize his potentialities. [...] A concern with privacy, let alone with private rights or individual satisfactions, was condemned as a bourgeois hang-over (if not worse) and as totally alien to the collective spirit, culture and morality of peasants and workers. (Kamenka 1983, 274-275)”

Privacy As They Saw It: Private Spaces in the Soviet Union of the 1920-1930s in Foreign Travelogues. Tatiana Klepikova. Zeitschrift für Slavische Philologie , 2015, Vol. 71, No. 2 (2015), pp. 353-389. Universitätsverlag WINTER Gmbh