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Pleasures in Socialism

Leisure and Luxury in the Eastern Bloc


Publication Year: 2010

Essays from top scholars address topics ranging from fashion and game shows to smoking and camping. The authors of the essays in this collection investigate the ways in which pleasurable activities, like many other facets of daily life, were both a space in which these communist governments tried to insinuate themselves and thereby further expand the reach of their authority, and also an opportunity for people to assert their individuality.

Published by: Northwestern University Press


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pp. v-vii

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p. vii

The editors would like to express their thanks to the Program on East European Cultures and Societies and the Faculty of Humanities of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology for supporting the cost of illustrations in this volume. Anne Gorsuch offered advice, for which the editors are grateful. We also thank Cornell University Press for allowing ...

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Introduction: Pleasures in Socialism?

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pp. 3-51

What is the place of pleasure in socialism? More precisely, what can a study of pleasure contribute to our historical understanding of “real existing socialism” as experienced in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe between the end of the Second World War and the crumbling of the Soviet Bloc? After all, these are best known as societies of shortage in which the ...

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Chapter One: Luxury in Socialism: An Absurd Proposition?

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pp. 53-70

Consumption in the German Democratic Republic became an emotive issue long before German reunification. Shortages of particular consumer goods—from bananas to cars—had been a common explanation for the exodus to the West known as “voting with your feet.” According to such arguments, East Germans “chose the Deutschmark” in order to gain access to the world of goods in the West, which had been presented by the media for decades...

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Chapter Two: Kontra Kultura: Leisure and Youthful Rebellion in Stalinist Poland

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pp. 71-92

For generations of East European intelligentsia, the “idiocy of rural life” proclaimed in the Communist Manifesto meant, above all, the cultural aridity of the village landscape. In this view, rural leisure was merely the cessation of work—a respite from toil, during which one sought temporary oblivion in drink, religion, or sleep. Like the Russian narodniki...

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Chapter Three: Dior in Moscow: A Taste for Luxury in Soviet Fashion Under Khrushchev

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pp. 95-119

In El’dar Riazanov’s comedy Carnival Night, filmed in 1956, the Palace of Culture administrator Lena Krylova (Liudmila Gurchenko) opens a New Year ball with the song “Five Minutes,” wearing a white shining dress with a fitted top, and an ample lined skirt fitted tightly at the waist. She then performs a second song in a black dress of the same silhouette matched with a ...

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Chapter Four: Soviet Luxuries from Champagne to Private Cars

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pp. 121-146

We can find extensive references to luxury in official documents and the press in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Luxuries could be invoked to indict excessive and politically harmful fascination with the material world of commodities which the authorities thought plagued some Soviet citizens. At the same time, they were presented as worthy aspirations that every ...

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Chapter Five: Playing for Cultural Authority: Soviet TV Professionals and the Game Show in the 1950s and 1960s

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pp. 147-176

May 7, Radio and Television Day in the U.S.S.R., was a time for media professionals to pat themselves on the back, and it was in this spirit that the host of the popular TV show Little Blue Flame (Goluboi ogonek) told viewers about a little girl she knew who had declared there was no God “because if there were, they would have already shown him on television.”1 This was in 1967...

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Chapter Six: Women on the Verge of Desire: Women, Work, and Consumption in Socialist Czechoslovakia

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pp. 177-195

The American journalist Tad Szulc described Czechoslovakia’s cultural atmosphere during the 1960s as synonymous with “jazz and the big- beat sound” and with “blue jeans and beards,” “as if in retaliation against years of Stalinist monotony and boredom.”1 Not only the politics but the very appearance of socialist Czechoslovakia changed rapidly during this time, ...

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Chapter Seven: Camping in East Germany: Making “Rough” Nature More Comfortable

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pp. 197-216

In the summers of the 1970s, East Germans celebrated sunny weekends by eagerly fl ocking to popular campgrounds in the countryside. The flourishing of outdoor leisure, however, comes as somewhat of a surprise; after all, the regime conducted a merciless assault on nature and proudly promoted the collectivization of farms, strip mining, and the clear- cutting ...

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Chapter Eight: “Even Under Socialism, We Don’t Want to Do Without Love”: East German Erotica

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pp. 219-237

As the old joke had it, socialism would have worked if it weren’t for cars. Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, it has become almost commonplace to say that consumption is key to understanding the history of East Germany, and its eventual downfall.1 The problem of luxury, as Ina Merkel has shown, was central to debates about consumption under East German socialism.2 ...

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Chapter Nine: Inhaling Luxury: Smoking and Anti-Smoking in Socialist Bulgaria 1947–1989

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pp. 239-258

Dimitrov’s own “passion” as a smoker was in direct contradiction to his demand for “healthy pleasures” among the communist youth. The new regime’s ideal of clean living was in part implemented by closing a large number of bars and other establishments that were known sites of public drinking and smoking.2 But although the regime in theory “connected the struggle with Monarcho- Fascism with the struggle for abstinence,” there were no laws to limit or prohibit smoking...

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Chapter Ten: Drink, Leisure, and the Second Economy in Socialist Romania

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pp. 259-281

Conversations about everyday life with people who lived during late socialism in southern Romania are, most of the time, about the role of material things in circulation, of the movements and activities that structured daily schedules, and of the various forms of collective consumption that produced social relations.1 Refl ections such as appear in this chapter’s epigraph constitute...

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Chapter Eleven: Soviet Women and Fur Consumption in the Brezhnev Era

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pp. 283-308

The Brezhnev period in the Soviet Union was marked by double standards in official attitudes toward commodities. On one hand, official ideolog-cal discourse condemned the taste for luxury, celebrating the divestment of things (razveshchestvlenie) as an ideal. The Khrushchev- era campaign against Stalinist meshchanstvo’ (philistinism), emblematized in the taste for ...

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Chapter Twelve: Nomenklatura with Smoking Guns: Hunting in Communist Hungary’s Party-State Elite

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pp. 311-343

Instead of going directly to the “realist” tale (i.e., to provide the reader with an “objectivist” representation and analysis of “what the sources reveal”), I would like to start in a “confessional” mode.1 I have had personal experience with what I am reporting about in this chapter. The only correct way of describing this experience is to say that I used to be a native of the field observed...


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pp. 345-348

E-ISBN-13: 9780810164741
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810126909
Print-ISBN-10: 0810126907

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: New
Volume Title: 1

OCLC Number: 761335086
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Pleasures in Socialism

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Subject Headings

  • Luxuries -- Social aspects -- Europe, Eastern -- History -- 20th century.
  • Consumption (Economics) -- Europe, Eastern -- History -- 20th century.
  • Leisure -- Social aspects -- Europe, Eastern -- History -- 20th century.
  • Europe, Eastern -- Social life and customs -- 20th century.
  • Socialism and culture -- Europe, Eastern -- History -- 20th century.
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