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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8 Responses to Buy, Buy, BUY!

  1. I liked the use of videos to illustrate what was going on in the Soviet Union during the period surrounding the Ninth Five Year Plan.

  2. I never knew clothing and hair could be so intriguing. I think both of those videos provide a great example of the long-term issues the Soviet Union encountered during its history. While at first I thought, “Hey, those clothes look Western!” Then, before reading further, I realized on my own how dated the clothing and especially the hair styling was. Not that clothing is an exact comparison, but this post is evidence that Lenin’s original plan to rapidly catch up to the West economically and socially had still not come to fruition 50 years later.

    Daniel Pierce says:

    Wow, interesting. This is a really tangible example of how the five year plan failed to work over and over again. The dated fashion and inability of the state to make enough products for the people are palpable in the videos. It is actually pretty sad that they would be so outdated, even 50 years after the initial 5 year plan.

  3. I think this reveals why a command economy can never be effective. It’s slow to respond to change and humanity will probably never be able to accurately predict demand, and so, a black market emerges.

  4. Thanks for including the caption for the Toy Rabbit poster. I wish you had drawn our attention to this in class!

  5. Also, the Bulgarian peas I stashed were in big #10 cans — much more impressive than the ones pictured here.

    Ryan Dellinger says:

    I find it amazing how similar the United States and the Soviet Union were during this time, despite their vast ideological differences. The United States was undergoing a very similar revolution, and the fact that its sworn enemy was as well at the same time baffles me.

    Alex Apollonio says:

    Going back to this post, I feel like it really foreshadows a lot of the attitudes towards free markets that we saw emerge after Gorbachev’s reforms. The fact that the Soviet people “wanted fashion and the latest in luxury,” displays a very bourgeois attitude, and I think it shows that the overthrow of the Soviet order in favor of a more capitalistic system was a long time coming.

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