Buy, Buy, BUY!

Consumerism, quality vs quantity

You look at some samples of products of certain enterprises and experience a joy: You can take them even to an exhibit! but the same enterprises also produce mass consumption products. And this is unrecognizable. It is always so, when pursuing quantity, people forget about quality.   The kids will say: “”The rabbit’s yuck.” ” We do agree– it is very bad.  But what is worse than this awful rabbit  are the producers who do not care.

By the rise of the 1970’s the people of the Soviet Union craved and sought after new fashion, new technology, and better products.  The first eight Five Year Plan’s had failed to produce enough of the common household necessities for each family to have what they required.  Less than half of Soviet families had a washing machine, refrigerator, or television.  The Soviet people sought after these products where ever they could be found.  Black markets, and gray or semi-legal markets thrived on the desires of the Soviet people.  Rural people would make trips into cities to buy whatever they could get their hands on, wherever they could get their hands on it.  Their desired reached beyond the basic necessities though.  They wanted the newest in technology and fashion.  They wanted to choose between five kinds of toothpaste, and decide what color their washing machine would be.

consumerism, food

As the Soviet society matured, the peoples expectations of what they were entitled and needed rose.   They wanted more, and they wanted better.  By the Ninth Five-Year Plan in 1971, under Brezhnev The Soviet government that it had to try to keep up with the demands of the people, and so they stepped up their production game.  The ninth Five-Year Plan according to the outline by Aleksei Kosygin in his reports the Twenty-Fourth Party Congress, “Sales of goods to the population would rise by 42 percent, the rate of ownership of refrigerators would increase from 32 per 100 families to 64, of televisions from 51 to 72, and of washing machines from 52 to 72. Official sources indicate that in the course of the Ninth Five Year Plan total sales of goods had risen by an annual average of 2.8 percent compared to 5.4 percent during the previous five year plan period.” (Seventeen Moments in Soviet History)

Production of the desired goods which the soviet people craved were set to increase, but the expectations of the people rose as well.  They wanted fashion and the latest in luxury.

This video shows a fashion show from the Permanent Working Group for Issues of Clothing Culture of the Countries of the Mutual Economic Council meeting in Sokolniki Park of Culture and Rest, in Moscow.  During this meeting various styles, very reminiscent of those in the US from twenty years before, are on display.  They are described as ranging from a variety of Soviet controlled states to include Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Poland, Romania, and others.  This council was responsible for deciding the fashion items which would be produced in Soviet factories.  The fashion that this video shows, displays the peoples desire for the same types of luxuries which were far more available in the United States as well as other states.

The video above displays a hair styling competition from the same Mutual Economic Council meeting, in which more than 130 hair stylists from the Soviet Union compete in a speed hair styling competition to see who is the best hair stylist in the union.  The desire for fashion, seen in these videos shows how despite the Ninth Five-Year Plan’s attempt to meet the desires and needs of the Soviet people, the gap between what the people wanted and what the state produced only widened as the people wanted more and better.  The Brezhnev regime and the Five-Year Plans could not keep up with the consumerism of the people.



Seventeen Moments in Soviet History:

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 2009.


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Sputnik and the Space Race

A New York Times Article about the recent Soviet Satellite called Sputnik being launched

On Octorber 4, 1957 the first successful space launch occurred and the world looked on in awe as infinite new possibilities were born.  The Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik 1 from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan into a low orbit around the earth.  This accomplishment was astounding for the entire scientific community of the world.  The Soviet Union took great pride in their leap ahead of the rest of the world.  Sputnik could be seen passing overhead every day, and this caused great pride for the Soviets and great fear for the Americans who looked up and saw it.

sputnik matchbook

First Sputnik Matchbook (195Smilie: 8) Tallinn match factory, 1957. Dedicated to the launch of the first sputnik.

The implications of this launch were earth shattering.  The Soviet Union gained a capability which no other nation possessed.  The rocket which carried Sputnik, designed by Kurchatov, was a four chamber cluster of rockets.  It became a major military concern that this method which could launch satellites into space could be used to launch nuclear missiles at United States targets.  The US Congress reacted by passing the National Defense Education Act in 1958 which spent five billion on higher education in the sciences and foreign languages.  The Pentagon also forced massive spending increases in rocket development.


Sputnik 1

This launch kicked into effect the space race which has been the source of innumerable technological advancements in the world.  The United States and The Soviet Union became entwined in a fierce competition of technological advancement striving to meet such goals as having a person orbit the earth and putting a man on the moon.  These goals were met in an incredibly short time because of the intensity with which the Us and USSR pursued these goals.



Seventeen Moments in Soviet History:


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 2009.

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“Not One Step Back”

Kukryniksy: There’s a Cliff on the Volga (from the folk song) (1942) Battle of Stalingrad Source: I. P. Abramskii: Vragi i druz’ia v zerkale Krokodila, 1922-1972. Moscow: Pravda. 1972.

Wave after wave of German soldiers crashed against the city of Stalingrad, and wave after wave they were stopped by the immovable cliff wall that was the soldiers  and people of the city of Stalingrad.  The Battle of Stalingrad was the single most decisive turning point in the advance of the German forces into Russia.  The Battle of Stalingrad was an intensely brutal battle which lasted from August 1942 to February 1943, and destroyed the entire city of Stalingrad along with the vast majority of its inhabitants.

The Nazi offensive of 1942 sought to capture the Baku oil fields which would have fueled the German advance and deprived the Russian army of direly necessary fuel.  Stalingrad, resting on the bank of the Volga River, lay in the German path.  While this city could have been avoided, the symbolic victory and demoralization from capturing Stalin’s namesake city became a priority for Hitler.  This motivator drove the German army to plunge into Stalingrad where many would meet their end.

The German army bombarded the entire city to a state of almost complete rubble, and pushed through the vast majority if the city.  However, the last remaining defenders, with their backs against the Volga River, refused to retreat whether they couldn’t or were simply to driven to accept defeat.  Stalin issued order No. 227, called “Not One Step Back.”  This order demanded that whatever the cost not another inch of the city would fall into German hands, no matter the circumstance.  Eventually the Russians were able to maneuver reinforcements of nearly one-million soldiers to surround the city and squeeze inwards around the German force.

Dmitrii Baltermants: Grief (The Dead Won’t Let Us Forget) (1942) Unpublished until 1965, when it appeared in Ogonek Source: Dmitri Baltermants: Faces of a Nation: The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing. 1996.

The German Sixth Army of originally about 400,00 troops was crushed and over 250,000 soldiers were trapped in the city fighting in a bloody inch by inch battle which lasted months of freezing, starvation, and bloody violence.  By the end of the battle, only 110,000 German soldiers surrendered.  It is estimated that the Soviets suffered over 750,000 casualties.

Literally the entire city was reduced to rubble.  Not one home or factory lay unscathed or even livable.  The soldiers who fought in Stalingrad lived in tunnels and ditches underground, beneath the city they once lived in.  The destruction was so great that the city could never be repaired but instead had to be completely rebuilt.  Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost in the battle.

Video Footage From the Battle of Stalingrad

The Fighting at Stalingrad was among the most brutal in the entire war.  German air and artillery support was not enough to stop the battle from turning into building to building and hang to hand brutal bloodshed.  Supplies ran out for both forces, and the battle became an even more dire struggle for survival.  Hitler ordered the German Sixth Army to make no attempts to retreat but instead to secure Stalingrad whatever the cost.  Hitlers obsession with this victory in Stalingrad, which in reality was nothing more that symbolic, led to the complete defeat of the German Army on the Russian front.  The following image is of a fountain the survived the brutal battle of Stalingrad, and became a symbol of the city and of the victorious who endured so much and never gave in to defeat.

The City in Ruins (1942) This fountain left standing in the middle of Stalingrad came to symbolize the struggle and triumph of the city. Source: Tsaritsyn–Stalingrad–Volgograd. Volgograd: Izdatel’. 2000


Seventeen Moments in Soviet History:


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 2009.

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The Mustache the Masses Loved… Or Did They?

Aleksandr Laktionov: Portrait of Stalin (1949) Source: Werner Horvath: What is Socialist Realism?. 1997.

Joseph Stalin became the center of the Communist Party as the 1930’s passed.  Stalin had the short history of the Bolshevik party and the revolution re-written by a group of “objective” historians, to portray a history of the Communist Party and the Soviet State which was deeply rooted in the work and leadership of the one and only Joseph Stalin.  It was published in October 1938.  This new history of the rise of the Soviet Union, which made Stalin a central figure, became the basic text of Stalinism.  It sold over forty million copies in Russia and throughout the world.  Even Time Magazine made Joseph Stalin its Man of the Year for 1939.

Stalinism was the aura of the grandeur of Stalin and all that he did.   He was depicted as flawless, a man of the people, and yet stronger, wiser, better.  Stalin’s depiction was one of charisma, beyond even his political role.  The mass media was fed a perception of dire need for vigorous leadership in Soviet society.  Stalin was shown as that leader and more.

Stalin’s portrayal in the media left an impression of power, wisdom, and incredible leadership.  He was compared to great Russian leaders of history to include Peter the Great, even though these leaders ideologies did not align with the communist agenda.

Everyone Votes for the Supreme Soviet (193Smilie: 8). Award-Winner Petr Semenovich Orlov, famous bricklayer and instructor of Stakhanovite work methods. Orlov describes his meeting with Comrade Stalin.

This video displays an interview with an acclaimed brick layer named Petr Semenovich Orlov, a vanguard of the Communist Party, who has just been rewarded for his great work by receiving the honor of meeting Stalin.  In his interview he seems extremely enthused and pleased by his meeting.  Orlov describes Stalin and explains what a great and inspirational person Stalin is and how this meeting has inspired him to work even harder.  It is likely that this interview was coached, and even possible that Orlov never met Stalin at all but was made to give this interview to improve Stalin’s reputation.  Regardless, this interview is just one example of the type of media which was used to increase the charisma, and cult of personality of Stalin.  These types of media were used to paint a portrait of Stalin to the public as a kind, and benevolent leader, not just a strong and bold one.

This cult of personality which depicted Stalin as the Savior of Russia was mostly shared among the Soviets.  Stalin’s control of the media prevented any other news or opinions on his character or actions from being shown.  A climate of fear kept those who held other opinions in check.  People began to self-censor from fear of what may happen to them if they didn’t.  This only aided in the creation of the illusion of undisputed support for Stalin.  This perceived support for Stalin further enhanced the cult of Stalinism for the Soviet populace.  The fear of the public was justified and made clear during the Stalinist show trials of 1937 and 1938, where in Stalin purged many members of the Communist party whom were dissenters or viewed as Stalin’s opposition.

Leon Trotsky: Trotsky on Stalin (1937). From his Mexican exile, Trotsky provides his version of the history of the Comintern, reserving particular disdain for both Stalin and the Second International.

While in exile in Mexico, Trotsky was put on trial by the Stalinist Regime.  This audio is from Trotsky’s statement in reaction to the trial.  He defends himself and his family, but also accuses Stalin of betrayal to the ideals which he claims to have built the Soviet government on, and claims that instead of communism, Stalin has built a regime of “Stalinism” using fear and his secret police force to enforce the reign of his new government over those who would oppose him.

Stalin built a regime around his own inflated image, and maintain it through fear and control.


Seventeen Moments in Soviet History:


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 2009.

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Big Shoes to Fill

Aleksandr Samokhvalov: Long Live the Worldwide Socialist Revolution

Even before the death of Lenin, the clear leader of the Communist Party and the Russian people’s idol, the struggle for succession began.  The battle was clearly to be between Trotsky and Stalin.  Trotsky was the favored candidate in many peoples minds, however only two months before Lenin suffered the first of three strokes  in May of 1922, which eventually killed him, he appointed Stalin the General Secretary for the Communist Party.  This not particularly glamorous or impressive position in fact gave Stalin a great amount of influence over the party as a whole.  This allowed him to compete against Trotsky for control of the party.

While Lenin empowered Stalin by making him the General Secretary, it does not seem likely that he had chosen Stalin to be his successor.  Lenin, in more than one comment dictated to his secretary, derided Stalin referencing his, “hastiness and administrative impulsiveness,” Lenin also stated, “Stalin is too rude, and this fault … becomes unbearable in the office of General Secretary.” Lenin then advocated Stalin’s removal from the position of General Secretary.  This evidence suggests that Lenin did not favor Stalin as his successor by any means, but rather he saw him most likely as a somewhat incompetent nuisance.  This however, does not seem to be indicative of Lenin’s support for Trotsky either.  Lenin derided Trotsky’s, “Excessive self-assurance” and “excessive preoccupation with the purely administrative side of affairs.”  It would appear that Lenin did not throw his support behind any candidate as his own successor, which is one reason why the succession of Lenin became such a heated and even violent conflict.

Lenin and Stalin in Gornaia Summer 1922, Lenin recovering from his first stroke. Source:

Lenin and Stalin in Gornaia
Summer 1922, Lenin recovering from his first stroke.


Lenin died January 21, 1924.  The people of Russia were crushed by the loss of their greatest leader.  In this time when reform was still so new and the ground on which they stood was still so shaky, the people of Russia feared what might come after Lenin.  The following video is from Lenin’s funeral procession.  The number of statesmen, and Russian common people that came to walk in Lenin’s funeral procession is only glimpsed in this video, but none the less it is clear that this was a pivotal moment in the history of Russia.

Stalin, in order to secure more power to resist and stop what appeared to be a rapid takeover by Trotsky, formed a Triumvirate with Zinoviev and Kamenev.  Their goal was first to sidetrack the issue of succession at the Thirteenth Party Congress later that month.  They were successful, and as they began to draw power away from Trotsky, they turned on each-other.  Trotsky remained the Politbiuro for nearly another three years after Lenin’s death.  In January of 1925, Trotsky was removed from his position as president of the Revolutionary Military Council.  This was a position of extreme power, and a large blow to Trotsky.  As Trotsky lost power and influence, the triumvirate collapsed.  By 1925 Zinoviev and Kamenev were openly criticizing Stalin’s pretensions to leadership.  Stalin took his revenge on them in 1926.  In 1928 he took actions to crush the “rightist deviation” of his former ally, Nikolai Bukharin.  Stalin began to eliminate all of his oppositions and threats, even those who had been his allies.  Trotsky fled to Mexico where he lived for two years before being suspiciously murdered with an ice ax.  Stalin secured his control of Russia with extreme prejudice.



Seventeen Moments in Soviet History:

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 2009.

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Peace At Any Price

Leonid Pasternak: The Price of Blood (on the Fourth Anniversary of the Imperialist War) (191Smilie: 8) Anti-war editorial in a Soviet publication with an image of a bleeding soldier. Source: Hoover Political Poster Database. 2007.

In 1917 the new Russian Revolutionary Government knew that it could never stabilize Russia while still in the midst of WWI.  Russia had to seek peace with Germany and the other Central Powers before the struggle to build a new stable government could begin.

The new Bolshevik government signed the Treaty of Brest Litovsk after two months of negotiations, on March 3, 1918  at the destroyed fortified town of Brest Litovsk in modern day Poland.   The treaty demanded that Russia default on its prior commitments to the Triple Entente as Imperial Russia.  The Bolshevik government was more than happy to accommodate this request since they felt no loyalty to the other governments which had supported the prior imperial dynasty, and this would end their commitment to continue fighting the Central Powers.  However, the Central Powers demanded still more from the new Bolshevik government.  Russia was forced to ceded the Baltic States to Germany, the province of Kars Oblast to the Ottoman Empire, and to recognize the independence of Ukraine. As if this was not enough, the Bolshevik government agreed to pay six billion German marks in reparations to Germany.  These agreements were a strong blow to Russia, but the new Bolshevik government was willing to agree to such stringent and damaging conditions in order to secure peace, and begin their inward campaign of reform.

The first two pages of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, in (from left to right) German, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Ottoman Turkish and Russian.

The terms of the treaty were shockingly harsh even to the German negotiator.  The Russian people wanted peace desperately but even so, these terms were unpopular to them.  Even many Bolsheviks disapproved of the treaty.  Propaganda became extremely important to show the Russian people that peace at any price was worth it for the new Russia.

Pro-Peace Propaganda Video

This video displays images of fraternization between German and Russian soldiers on the German front, showing that peace with Germany is not impossible, the war was not too brutal or cruel for friendships to grow even between soldiers.  It also shows a picture of Kaiser Wilhelm’s signature on the Treaty of Brest Litovsk.  the video attempted to brighten the mood of the Russian people by showing clips of the rear soldiers of the front-line fighting positions, and Germans standing in position.  These images were all intended to show that the war was not so cruel an event that revenge was necessary, or that peace and cooperation could not be achieved, the Germans were willing to make peace and the time to end the bloodshed was right.  This type of propaganda was able to successfully sway most Russian people to accept the harsh terms of the treaty.  However, there still remained many groups of Russians who strongly protested the agreement.



Seventeen Moments in Soviet History:

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 2009.

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The Duma of the Russian Empire

A photograph taken at the First Russian Duma, taken in 1906

The Russian Duma was intended to act as a steady transition towards a more democratic Russia, controlled and guided by the Tsar.  However, this first meeting of the Duma (seen above) was far from a controlled change.  The Duma spiraled out of the Tar’s control and became a public and legitimate source of revolutionary change to the country.

The Duma was intended to be an all inclusive parliament for the people to attempt to somewhat self govern through.   The October Manifesto of 1905 was intended to allow the lower classes of workers, who had previously gone without representation, to be allowed a voice as a part of the Duma.  However the October Manifesto did not allow time for representatives to be selected, and in doing so it effectively cut out representation of the peasants.

The peasants had been kept from self governance for centuries, yet in their own minds they had proven themselves capable.  In 1901 when the country was devastated by intense famine and epidemics of cholera and typhus, the zemstvos took the lead rather than the national government.  This bolstered their self-confidence and belief of self importance.  As the years of famine passed and Tsar Nicolas II took the throne many zemstvos still believed in their own ability and priority t lead in their own governance.   Their sly segregation from the Duma left them intensely discontented.

This also meant that the majority of the representatives of the Duma were now those of the more educated and often wealthy classes.   Most commonly, members of the Duma might have been classified as members of the intelligencia.  This group of society more than any other sought drastic change from the Tsarist regime.  Unintentionally Tsar Nicholas had strengthened his greatest enemy.  This empowered men like Julius Martov to voice their views in a political forum with authority to speak dis-favorably of the Tsar and publicize Marxist political views.  The Russian Duma was the end of the Russian Empire.



Freeze, Gregory L.  Russia A History.  Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 2009.

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“The Times They Are A-Changin”


“Three generations. A.P. Kalganov with son and granddaughter. The last two work in the shops of the Zlatoust plant” by Prokudin-Gorskiĭ, Sergeĭ Mikhaĭlovich, 1863-1944


This image is an incredible chance to look at a moment in history where change was all around, generations were divided, and old and new clashed. Here a grandfather, son, and granddaughter all stand together for a picture. The grandfather is dressed in traditional Russian clothing while the son and granddaughter wear more western clothing.

The cultural change in Russia occurred incredibly fast. This picture shows that change over the course of only three generations. The grandfather on the left is dressed in traditional Russian garb, clearly the ethnic wear of a Russian man yet his granddaughter stands on the right in completely westernized clothing almost indistinguishable from any other European woman. Such rapid change could not come without its cost.

This image shows us the divide that grew in Russian culture as the country entered the 20th century. Rapid changes in culture, industry, and lifestyles of the Russian people created a rift between those who thought Russia was changing to fast and those who thought it wasn’t changing fast enough. An internal cultural clash brewed within Russia, and its effects were not purely social. This same change in culture brought tides of political change to an inflexible Russian government. The Czars of Russia in seeking to modernize their industry also brought new ideas of governance and peoples rights. The Czar’s attempt to modernize his empire’s industry and culture was more successful and uncontrollable than he could have imagined. This modernization of industry, technology, and culture gave rise to revolutionaries throughout Russia.


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