Thanks to Karl Qualls and Mark Smith for the thought-provoking comments that each has contributed to this discussion of Steve Harris’ Communism on Tomorrow Street. Drawing on his expertise on (re)construction and urban planning, Qualls raised significant questions about the evolution of prefabricated building, as well as the ways in which the architectural profession strove to reassert its authority after Stalin.[1. Susan Reid discusses the parallel matter of the position of interior design professionals after Stalin in her article “Destalinization and Taste, 1953-1963,” Journal of Design History 10, no. 2 (1997): 177-201.] Smith, whose work I noted in my initial post, echoed my implicit interest in class. This is a subject I would like to address further – specifically in relation to the politics of complaint, another strand of scholarship that Communism on Tomorrow Street enriches, as Qualls aptly indicated.
As Smith rightly pointed out, class is a weighty category of analysis bound up in much more than “difference.” I also appreciated him reinforcing the significance of entitlement and citizenship that I have emphasized in my own study of Soviet housing. To elaborate a bit, my work has aimed to deconstruct the discourse employed in housing complaints and requests to determine what “home” meant in the aftermath of war and Stalinism, to investigate the contours of Soviet identity, and to explore popular investment in socialism in general. From these perspectives, demands for better housing certainly reveal more about a broader Soviet subjectivity than about class per se. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by Harris’ attention to class for the simple reason that the intersection of (socioeconomic) class with consciousness, social identity, values and culture has not enjoyed the same degree of scrutiny in scholarship on the postwar Soviet Union that it has been afforded in studies on earlier periods of tremendous flux.[2. The following pivotal works on class during the New Economic Policy, Cultural Revolution, and collectivization and industrialization are what came to my mind: Diane P. Koenker, “Factory Tales: Narratives of Industrial Relations in the Transition to NEP,” The Russian Review 55, no. 3 (July 1996): 384-411; Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as Civilization (Berkeley, 1995); Sheila Fitzpatrick, “Ascribing Class: The Construction of Social Identity in Soviet Russia,” Journal of Modern History 65, no. 4 (December 1993): 745-770; and Hiroaki Kuromiya, “The Crisis of Proletarian Identity in the Soviet Factory, 1928-1929,” Slavic Review 44, no. 2 (Summer 1985). Where class in the postwar era is concerned, I should note that Donald Filtzer has provided an impressive portrait of the condition of the working class, and David Ruffley, of the advancement of Soviet professionals. See, respectively, Soviet Workers and Late Stalinism: Labour and the Restoration of the Stalinist System After World War II (Cambridge, 2007) and Children of Victory: Young Specialists and the Evolution of Soviet Society (Westport, 2003). Class also figured into various remarks during the fourth blog conversation on Donald Raleigh’s book, Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia’s Cold War Generation (Oxford, 2011).]