»…but in those times we were all equal«. Post-Soviet representations of poverty, wealth, and equality in the late Soviet Union

Soviet propaganda painted a picture of an egalitarian, ”humane” and “warm” socialist society whereas the disdained stereotype of capitalism suggested social relations that were dominated by materialism, egoism, and money. Against this backdrop, the perestroika reforms brought about a harsh state of social disintegration for many people. Based on 42 oral history interviews, the paper explores the attitudes of former Soviet citizens towards money. It analyses how the respondents retrospectively assessed the social order of the late Soviet society regarding socio-cultural distinctions. It highlights the respondents’ classifications with which they (de-)legitimized Soviet values and social attributions. In doing so, the paper also analyses Soviet money practices that represented socio-cultural distinctions.

Many interviewees deplored the lost equality that had allegedly characterized the Soviet society and complained about the fact that only money seems to determine the post-Soviet social order. From a comparative perspective on Soviet and post-Soviet times, Soviet money practices offered reliability and predictability of living conditions in an environment of less consumer choice than today. Many people perceived the Soviet social, cultural and economic framework as having provided comparatively greater security in everyday life. Therefore, the paper addresses three questions: What kind of classifications and narrative strategies establish the comparative representations about poverty and wealth in the late Soviet Union and the current Russian society? Which narratives help to embed new self-representations into the experiences of radical societal changes? In what respect do the interviewees’ narratives about »poor« and »rich« reflect former Soviet habits of dealing with money?