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The Building of BAM and Late Soviet Socialism
Heralded by Soviet propaganda as the “Path to the Future,” the Baikal-Amur Mainline Railway (BAM) represented the hopes and dreams of Brezhnev and the Communist Party elite. Begun in 1974, and spanning approximately 2,000 miles after twenty-nine years of construction, the BAM project was intended to showcase the national unity, determination, skill, technology, and industrial might that Soviet socialism claimed to embody. More pragmatically, the Soviet leadership envisioned the BAM railway as a trade route to the Pacific, where markets for Soviet timber and petroleum would open up, and as an engine for the development of Siberia. Despite these aspirations and the massive commitment of economic resources on its behalf, BAM proved to be a boondoggle-a symbol of late communism's dysfunctionality-and a cruel joke to many ordinary Soviet citizens. In reality, BAM was woefully bereft of quality materials and construction, and victimized by poor planning and an inferior workforce. Today, the railway is fully complete, but remains a symbol of the profligate spending and inefficiency that characterized the Brezhnev years. Christopher J. Ward provides a groundbreaking social history of the BAM railway project. He examines the recruitment of hundreds of thousands of workers from the diverse republics of the USSR and other socialist countries, and his extensive archival research and interviews with numerous project workers provide an inside look at the daily life of the BAM workforce. We see firsthand the disorganization, empty promises, dire living and working conditions, environmental damage, and acts of crime, segregation, and discrimination that constituted daily life during the project's construction. Thus, perhaps, we also see the final irony of BAM: that the most lasting legacy of this misguided effort to build Soviet socialism is to shed historical light on the profound ills afflicting a society in terminal decline.
A boxer who brings his legs with him comes to the ring with the strength and stamina to make it through every round of a tough fight. Darrell Spencer delivers fiction with just that kind of power. Bring Your Legs with You contains nine interconnected stories set in Las Vegas. Featuring various perspectives and narrators, they are filled with unforgettable characters, including Carl T. Plugg, a sharp-dressed, smooth-talking, non-hustling pool shark; Spinoza, the philosophical day laborer with “Department of Big Thoughts” lettered on the door of his pickup; Jacob, an arrogant lawyer who learns too late the dangers of swimming with the sharks; Gus, a man who has never seen his son fight despite his insatiable fascination with the sweet science; and Jane, a woman wary of her ex-husband, but still in love enough to share her bed with him. Above them all looms Tommy Rooke, retired prizefighter and self-employed roofer. Undefeated in the ring, Rooke walked away from boxing at the top of his game, to the confusion and consternation of his friends and family. As his father, former manager, and various other hangers-on encourage him to stage a comeback, Tommy moves through the gated communities and sun-blasted strip malls of Las Vegas, wrestling with personal choice, the caprices of fate, and the price the gods demand for our sins.
State, Space, and Ideology in the Early Republic
This book provides a critical account of how the built environment mediated Turkey’s transition from an empire into a modern nation-state following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WWI, through the story of the making of Ankara, its new capital.
Language and Investment in the New Capitalist World
Many developing countries have little choice but to “buy into English” as a path to ideological and material betterment. Based on extensive fieldwork in Slovakia, Prendergast assembles a rich ethnographic study that records the thoughts, aspirations, and concerns of Slovak nationals, language instructors, journalists, and textbook authors who contend with the increasing importance of English to their rapidly evolving world. She reveals how the use of English in everyday life has becomes suffused with the terms of the knowledge and information economy, where language is manipulated for power and profit. Buying into English presents an astute analysis of the factors that have made English so prominent and yet so elusive, and a deconstruction of the myth of guaranteed viability for new states and economies through English.
The Socialist Revolutionaries and the Bolshevik Dictatorship, 1918–1923
The Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) were the largest political party in Russia in the crucial revolutionary year of 1917. Heirs to the legacy of the People’s Will movement, the SRs were unabashed proponents of peasant rebellion and revolutionary terror, emphasizing the socialist transformation of the countryside and a democratic system of government. They offered a compelling, but still socialist, alternative to the Bolsheviks, yet by the early 1920s their party was shattered and its members were branded as enemies of the revolution. In 1922, SR leaders became the first fellow socialists to be condemned by the Bolsheviks as “counterrevolutionaries” in the prototypical Soviet show trial. In Captives of the Revolution, Scott B. Smith presents both a convincing account of the defeat of the SRs and a deeper analysis of the significance of the political dynamics of the civil war for Soviet history. Once the SRs decided to fight the Bolsheviks in 1918, they faced a series of nearly impossible political dilemmas. At the same time, the Bolsheviks undermined the SRs by appropriating the rhetoric of class struggle and painting a simplistic picture of Reds versus Whites in the civil war, a rhetorical dominance that they converted into victory over the SRs and any alternative to Bolshevik dictatorship. The SRs became a bona fide threat to national security and enemies of the people—a characterization that proved so successful that it became an archetype to be used repeatedly by the Soviet leadership against any political opponents, even those from within the Bolshevik party itself. Smith reveals a more complex and nuanced picture of the postrevolutionary struggle for power in Russia than we have ever seen before and demonstrates that the civil war—and in particular the struggle with the SRs—was the key formative experience of the Bolshevik party and the Soviet state.
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude is a sustained meditation on that which goes away—loved ones, the seasons, the earth as we know it—that tries to find solace in the processes of the garden and the orchard. That is, this is a book that studies the wisdom of the garden and orchard, those places where all—death, sorrow, loss—is converted into what might, with patience, nourish us.
Politics in Central Asia
In the post-Soviet era, democracy has made little progress in Central Asia. Chaos, Violence, Dynasty presents a compelling explanation for this through a comparison of the divergent political courses taken by Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan in the wake of Soviet rule. While the Soviet legacy is crucial to understanding the varying outcomes in these countries, Eric McGlinchey also examines the economics, religion, politics, foreign investment, and ethnic composition of these nations for insights into their relative strengths and weaknesses today. Soviet rule and influence in the region was inconsistent. Thus, their manipulation of the politics of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in the late 1980s solidified the role of local elites, while in Kyrgyzstan Moscow looked away as leadership crumbled during the ethnic riots of 1990. Today, Kyrgyzstan is the poorest and most politically unstable country in the region, thanks to a small, corrupt, and fractured political elite. In Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov maintains power through the brutal suppression of disaffected Muslims, who are nevertheless rising in numbers and influence. In Kazakhstan, a political machine fueled by oil wealth and patronage underlies the greatest economic equity in the region, and far less political violence. This timely study concludes with a call for a more realistic and flexible view of the authoritarian systems in the region, if there is to be any potential benefit from foreign engagement with the nations of Central Asia and similar political systems globally.
“Reading Jeffrey McDaniel’s gorgeously dark and utterly compelling Chapel of Inadvertent Joy reminds me that he is probably the most important poet in America. The book in your hands was written by a master of metaphor and a poet of huge imagination and fierce ingenuity, a fine antidote to realism. Get this voice in your head.”—Major Jackson