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