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Selling to the Masses

Retailing in Urban Russia, 1880—1930

Marjorie L. Hilton

Publication Year: 2012

In Selling to the Masses, Marjorie L. Hilton presents a captivating history of consumer culture in Russia from the 1880s to the early 1930s. She highlights the critical role of consumerism as a vehicle for shaping class and gender identities, modernity, urbanism, and as a mechanism of state power in the transition from tsarist autocracy to Soviet socialism. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, Russia witnessed a rise in mass production, consumer goods, advertising, and new retail venues such as arcades and department stores. These mirrored similar developments in other European countries and reflected a growing quest for leisure activities, luxuries, and a modern lifestyle. As Hilton reveals, retail commerce played a major role in developing Russian public culture—it affected celebrations of religious holidays, engaged diverse groups of individuals, defined behaviors and rituals of city life, inspired new interpretations of masculinity and femininity, and became a visible symbol of state influence and provision. Through monarchies, revolution, civil war, and monumental changes in the political sphere, Russia’s distinctive culture of consumption was contested and recreated. Leaders of all stripes continued to look to the “commerce of exchange” as a key element in appealing to the masses, garnering political support, and promoting a modern nation. Hilton follows the evolution of retailing and retailers alike, from crude outdoor stalls to elite establishments; through the competition of private versus state-run stores during the NEP; and finally to a system of total state control, indifferent workers, rationing, and shortages under a consolidating Stalinist state.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Front Cover

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pp. 1-4


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pp. 5-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-x

Although I have spent many solitary hours completing this book, numerous people and organizations have contributed to it in various ways. I am delighted to thank them for their support ...

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pp. 1-13

When I first visited Moscow, in 1995, I made the obligatory trek to Red Square. Standing in the center of the square, I was captivated by the Kremlin’s spires and St. Basil’s multihued curves and peaks, but the enormous, ornate retail arcade directly opposite ...

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1. Russia’s Retail Landscape, 1860s–1890s

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pp. 14-30

Upon his return to Moscow in 1864, Nikolai V. Davydov, a lawyer and legal scholar, recalled the remarkable changes that had taken place in the city’s commercial landscape during his five-year absence: “Moscow was unrecognizable; so much had its appearance changed. It had taken on an almost European appearance. A drastic change had happened. Everything felt new. New streets ...

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2. Palaces of Retailing and Consumption

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pp. 31-72

No single event captured more succinctly the conflicts inherent in Russia’s retail sphere than the reconstruction of the Upper Trading Rows on Red Square from 1886 to 1893. More than a plan to transform Moscow’s largest re-tail venue into an enormous arcade, the renovation signified a self-conscious attempt to aesthetically capture the meaning of contemporary urban life, to ...

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3. For God, Tsar, and Consumerism

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pp. 73-109

The day that Grigorii Eliseev opened his fine foods and wine emporium in a renovated palace on Tverskaia Street in Moscow in 1901, a crowd formed in front of the store in anticipation of the noontime opening. As the occasion was by invitation only, the crowd gathered not so much to enter the store and make purchases as to simply witness the event: to admire the building’s newly ...

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4. Visions of Modernity

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pp. 110-131

The merchant elite’s orchestration of promotional events publicizing associations with tsarist power and the Orthodox faith clashed with self-perceptions some merchants had developed in the decade prior to World War I. As the Russian retail sector continued to grow, diversify, and serve a rapidly increasing population, the political situation in Russia became volatile. The Revolution ...

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5. Consuming the City

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pp. 132-172

As much as the merchant elite’s promotional strategies and campaign to recreate the retail trade orchestrated urban mass culture, consumers’ daily actions and interactions in stores, shops, and markets contributed to the definition of an urban lifestyle, constructing what it meant to be a consumer, to belong to a certain social class and gender, and to live in a modern city. Buying and ...

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6. War and Revolution in the Marketplace, 1914–1921

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pp. 173-194

Russia’s entry into World War I, the two revolutions in 1917, and the civil war that followed interrupted the campaign of activist-journalists and debates about the nature and value of modern retailing, as well as consumers’ daily shopping routines. The hardships of war and implementation of revolutionary imperatives led to state interventions into the retail economy and the ...

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7. Retailing the Revolution

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pp. 195-230

A 1926 newspaper article headlined “Under GUM’s Glass Heaven” presented a vision of socialist retailing that depicted Soviet citizens indulging in the pleasures of shopping in the fabulous Red Square premises of the State Department Store (Gosudarstvennyi universal’nyi magazin, or GUM).1 The article opened with a description of GUM’s giant display windows, exhibit-...

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8. The Customer Is Aways Wrong

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pp. 231-263

Creating advertising and promotional campaigns that reflected revolutionary ideals and endorsed visions of a modern working-class consumer society were relatively easy tasks. Commercial officials faced more intractable problems, however, in implementing egalitarian operational policies and procedures and creating a working and shopping environment that inculcated ...

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pp. 264-270

Model retailers such as GUM failed to deliver what the Soviet government promised with its version of modern retailing: abundance, comfort, efficiency, and respect for workers and consumers. Shopping was no longer a pleasure, a sport, or even a routine task but a humiliating, exacting chore. The significance of the state’s failure in the retail sector was that the failure to make available ...


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pp. 271-314


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pp. 315-330


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pp. 331-339

Back Cover

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pp. 354-354

E-ISBN-13: 9780822977483
E-ISBN-10: 0822977486
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822961673
Print-ISBN-10: 0822961679

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 25 b&w Illustrations
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 868215980
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Selling to the Masses

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Shopping -- Russia (Federation) -- Moscow -- History -- 20th century.
  • Shopping -- Russia (Federation) -- Moscow -- History -- 19th century.
  • Consumption (Economics) -- Soviet Union.
  • Consumption (Economics) -- Russia (Federation) -- Moscow -- History -- 20th century.
  • Consumption (Economics) -- Russia (Federation) -- Moscow -- History -- 19th century.
  • Retail trade -- Soviet Union.
  • Retail trade -- Russia (Federation) -- Moscow -- History -- 20th century.
  • Retail trade -- Russia (Federation) -- Moscow -- History -- 19th century.
  • Shopping -- Soviet Union.
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