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  • Turizm: The Russian and East European Tourist under Capitalism and Socialism
  • Robert Edelman
Turizm: The Russian and East European Tourist under Capitalism and Socialism. Edited by Anne E. Gorsuch and Diane Koenker (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2006. viii plus 313 pp.).

This first-rate and highly original collection of essays joins a growing literature on things recently existing socialism did poorly. Having said this, it is a great deal more fun to read about failure than success. The volume is a vibrant contribution to the history of consumption under a system that privileged production. The authors are all in the midst of pioneering research, and they bring that excitement to this study of leisure in places that operated according to an understanding of history which centered on labor.

As the editors make clear in an introduction that is informed by the theory and comparative literature on tourism, the organizers of this activity struggled with contradictions that had not been dealt with by the pioneers of the socialist movement. There were no such imaginary volumes as "Marx in the Mountains", "Lenin's Secret Garden" or "Bukharin at the Beach" to guide those who ran the tourist trade. As is correctly noted here, modern tourism was a creation of the bourgeoisie. Under capitalism, its purposes were both utilitarian and entertaining. It was practiced in groups and by individuals. By contrast, the editors note:

Socialist tourism was purposeful, and it perfected the socialist citizen by insisting on both the physically and mentally restorative elements of tourism. Yet, socialism too was part of the modern world, and socialist tourism also reflects the ineffable tension generated by traveling in groups, or according to officially arranged itineraries, in order produce individual meaning.


The socialist organizers of excursions, resorts, sanatoria and camps developed a distinction between travel and turizm in order to make these practices ideologically acceptable. The former was pleasurable and possibly suspect. The latter involved work. Nevertheless, as the essays in this collection show, clearly differentiated and coherent categories of tourist activity were hard to find. The pleasurable was not reserved for individuals, and groups were not necessarily purposeful. Tourism that was distinguished by its "proletarian" character often resembled its capitalist counterpart. The bourgeoisie had long engaged in supposedly useful travel as part of what was called "rational recreation." Now, it was the workers' turn. Yet, if socialist tourism was supposed to be a didactic and educational tool, it proved to be a rather slippery tool, as were so many other forms of socialist popular culture.

The core of this book focuses on the Soviet experience, and it must be said the chapters on capitalism, with the exception of that by Louise McReyonolds, do not track particularly well with the larger themes of the volume. For all their intelligence and rigor, these essays seem to belabor the obvious. By contrast, all [End Page 230] the works that deal with the socialist era, in both the USSR and eastern Europe, share a revelatory excitement. They take on a topic that was long thought to be marginal and self-evident in its implications and demonstrate its historicity and complexity. In the process, they reveal, as so much current work is doing, the contradictions and ambiguities of what passed for socialism in this part of the world. In the USSR, the problems raised by tourist activity went back to the thirties, and the theoretical contradictions posed by socialist travel were played out in a series of turf battles compellingly laid out by Diane Koenker. It is particularly interesting that she has found the lively Moscow daily Vechernaia Moskva to be a useful source. As the study of Soviet popular culture continues to deepen, historians will find its pages far more revealing than many of the better known Soviet newspapers.

Eva Mauer's contribution is similarly focused on what seems like an obscure topic, but she has found in the history and practices of mountaineering an excellent lens to study larger issues about Soviet life before and after World War II. The climbing of a mountain is as purposeful as a journey can get. It clearly could contribute to the development of the "New Man...


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