Saturday, March 16, 2013

Steven E. Harris's "Communism on Tomorrow Street"

Steven E. Harris is an associate professor of history at the University of Mary Washington. He was a research scholar at the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute in 2003–2004.

Harris applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Communism on Tomorrow Street: Mass Housing and Everyday Life after Stalin, and reported the following:
In Communism on Tomorrow Street, I explore Khrushchev’s mass housing campaign in the 1950s and 1960s, and how Soviet citizens moved from the overcrowded, communal apartments they had inhabited under Stalin into new, single-family apartments in five-story, prefab structures. Page 99 of my book draws a few conclusions about how ordinary people participated in this massive project and complicates the picture about what they and Khrushchev’s regime actually got out of it. First, despite its efforts to create a modern building industry based on standardized designs and prefabricated production that could go toe-to-toe against building programs in the West (think Levittown in the US), Khrushchev’s regime still depended heavily on individual Soviet citizens and their families to build their own, free-standing housing in smaller cities or even to participate without any training in the construction of their own mass housing apartment buildings. So while Khrushchev’s regime hoped the campaign would serve as a fine example of Soviet industrialization on the road to its version of modernity, it often had to rely on make shift methods of construction and even single-family structures built by Soviet citizens themselves. But this was not only a story of shortcomings. As I argue throughout my book, unlike past industrial and political campaigns under Stalin that relied on coercion to get things done and often resulted in mass death, Soviet citizens who helped out Khrushchev’s regime in the building program, in which mass death was avoided, did so enthusiastically for the simple reason that they received better housing on account of their efforts. On the other hand, page 99 also shows that the move to the separate apartment wasn’t always a sure bet even for families who patiently waited for years on a waiting list. Even official statistics reveal that many citizens just ended up in other communal apartments. For these urban dwellers, Khrushchev’s housing campaign was deeply frustrating and laid bare the arbitrary methods by which the state distributed mass housing. If you’ve read this far into this post and would like to learn more about my book and comment on it, please see my book blog where I’ll be sharing other insights about the research and writing that went into it.
--Marshal Zeringue