Money and shortness of money in the Soviet Union after 1945

Freitag, 7. Juni
11:15 bis 12:45 Uhr
Raum KO2-F-172

The significance of money that should eventually disappear in Communism remained ambivalent through the whole Soviet period. The Soviet criticism of “bourgeois” consumption and social inequality based on purchasing power goes back to the formation period of the early Soviet state but it received special attention during the final decades of the Soviet Union vis-à-vis the rising living standard of Soviet citizens and the ideological challenges of global consumerism. With the emerging of mass consumer society after WWII, when consumption possibilities became an asset in ideological rivalry of Cold War superpowers, the new “Soviet Way of Life” was meant to demonstrate the superiority of state Socialism not only in a moral sense but in material terms too. Higher salaries and pensions, low living costs and taxes, higher purchasing power counted in this race as much as arms and space technology. For the material wellbeing, the available money to spend, and better consumption options should play cohesive roles for the fabric of late Soviet society.

In practice, the emerging consumerism has led to a greater stratification of Soviet society and inequality. Such phenomena as fartsovka – illegal trade with much sought after foreign consumer items that were unavailable in state shops but could be acquired by foreign tourists - brought about a situation when various segments of Soviet society were engaged in illegal activities and the boundaries between legally and illegally acquired material wealth became blurred. With the introduction of money economy during the 1960s in rural areas, when collective farm workers began to receive a salary in money and not any more in kind, material inequality between rural and urban population and the experiences of cash shortages in rural areas became even more obvious.

The process of social differentiation of late Soviet society in view of new consumption promises and practices was accompanied by the criticism of consumerist attitudes not only by party and state officials but by Soviet intellectuals of various ideological background, from anti-modernist nationalist “Village prose” authors to cultural pessimists among Soviet film directors.

The aim of the panel is to balance the ambivalences of ideological programme and consumerism criticism against new practices and to discuss one of the central issues of late Soviet society: the quality of the simultaneous integrative and disintegrative dynamics within the societal texture. Drawing on different conceptualizations of money – as object of practices and discourses and as a “vibrant matter” (Bennett) – speakers will address the following issues:

1.What kind of images and meanings of wellbeing, poverty and wealth did new consumer practices and discourses manifest? Is it possible to discern thereby specifically “Soviet” aspects?

2.How did the modes of socialising change in the process of emerging late Soviet consumer society? What kind of new practices did emerge with different kinds of money use (cash and credit)? How were the experiences of inclusion or exclusion and inequality manifest in those practices?

3.What is the significance of new consumption practices and experiences for the discussion of cohesion and disintegration of late Soviet society?