An Underground Economy

In Gregory Freeze’s book, Russia: A History, he states that the 1970s were “years of instability and conflict” (445). Seventeen Moments in Soviet History also noted that the Ninth Five Year Plan (1971-75) “illustrated the Brezhnev administration’s attempt to overcome the contradiction between an increasingly urbanized and culturally sophisticated society and the centralized determination of needs.” This new five year plan forecasted higher growth for consumer goods rather than capital goods. Alongside an “inefficient state economy under Brezhnev, a ‘second’ or (“black”) market emerged to satisfy the demand for deficit goods and services” (Freeze, 443).  Also, “virtually every citizen became a de facto criminal in the quest for a more comfortable life;” about “twenty million people worked on the black market to supply the demand for 83 percent of the general population” (Freeze, 443). Participation in the “black” or underground market was very common as Soviet citizens wanted to live more comfortably. 

The desire for “western consumer items such as clothing and music drew young people into the gray area of the second economy.” From The Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, Lev Kuklin writes about the jean culture in schools among Russia. He noted that,

“in some Moscow and Leningrad schools our children are divided into three classes according to the sort of pants they wear. The first [or highest] class includes those who [were] lucky enough to wear genuine American, “stateside” jeans with the labels “Lee,” “Levi’s” or “Wrangler.” These jeans [weren’t] sold in stores, and they carry such prestige that their price on the black market has already approached 200 rubles!”

The black market carried a variety of items, foreign and domestic, and targeted younger people. A desire for consumption developed and the idea of consumerism influenced many younger generations.

The video film above contrasts healthy and unhealthy leisure activities of the Soviet youth, and emphasizes the growing materialism among young people.

The underground economy both encouraged and hampered the growth of the Soviet economic system. The system was “more efficient when independent agents circumvented artificial price and production controls, thus buffering average citizens from the inefficient allocation of resources by central planners.” This growth in the unofficial sector far exceeded the  growth in the stagnant official economy. This type of law-breaking had a destructive effect on Soviet society, and undermined the state’s legitimacy.


Other References:

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Wait For Me…

Seventeen Moments in Soviet History notes that “the full-scale mobilization of men to the front [during World War II] placed women in leading roles in kolkhozes and factories, in families and communities.” Gregory L. Freeze, in his book, Russia: A History, adds that by the end of the summer of 1941 “women comprised 70 per cent of the industrial labour force in Moscow” (386). The “heightened atmosphere of wartime, when couples met with the very real knowledge that they might never see each other again, threw people into each other’s arms with a sweetness and sadness [that was] rare in less dangerous times.” The war raised the stakes for marital courtship as healthy men were in greater deficit due to being moved to the war front while many women of marriageable age were back home. Those in relationships had to wait for their loved ones to return. However, art, in its various forms, was one way Russian civilians used to cope, make sense of the war and its uncertainties, and provide hope for the troops and their loved ones to prevail in the war. 

Photo of Konstantin Simonov

Konstantin Simonov, originally Kirill, served as a correspondent for the military paper, Red Star, along with other prominent writers. His most famous piece of literature was “Wait For Me,” a personal love poem he wrote in 1941 for his crush, Valentina Serova (a rising star in the film industry), during the war. Little did he know his poem would become an instant classic and win over the hearts of the Russian troops. His poem was “recited by millions as though it were a prayer, repeated by women as tears streamed down their faces, and adopted by men as their own expression of the mystical power of a woman’s love.” His poem was also produced for stage and film and set to various melodies.

Here is the original “Wait For Me” poem in Russian.

Here is an english translation of “Wait For Me” by Mike Munford:

A common theme within Simonov’s work was the “idea of the soldier’s need for the support and love of the woman who [was] waiting for him, who [was] faithful to him in his absence in war.” The poem is very hopeful and gives reassurance to many in desperate need of something to hold on to; something to make the war bearable. Freeze notes that “the greatest credit for victory in the war surely belongs to the Soviet population itself” (390). Without the contribution of the Soviet people, many believe that “victory would not have been achieved at all” (Freeze, 388). This poem unified many soldiers and citizens under the umbrellas of hope and resilience. The soldiers, specifically Simonov himself, gained a certain confidence to try and persevere through the war and return home to his loved ones. “Wait For Me” is very romantic and vulnerable; Simonov puts his heart on his sleeve as he asks the woman he’s in love with to wait for him, that he WILL return to her, ONLY if she has the faith and patience to wait for him. “Wait For Me” is very universal and resonated with many soldiers who sent the poem home to their loved ones as a plea for their hope and support.

For more information about Konstantin Simonov’s life and accomplishments, click here.


Other References:

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.