Saturday, July 6, 2013

Diane P. Koenker's "Club Red"

Diane P. Koenker is Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of Republic of Labor: Russian Printers and Soviet Socialism, 1918–1930 and Club Red: Vacation Travel and the Soviet Dream, and is the coeditor of Turizm: The Russian and East European Tourist under Capitalism and Socialism.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Club Red: Vacation Travel and the Soviet Dream, and reported the following:
My history of vacations and tourism in the Soviet Union explores a set of paradoxes that challenge conventional notions of the Soviet Union as a grim, authoritarian, and collectivist state. Looking at vacation travel over the sixty-year span from the 1920s to the 1980s, my book reveals the transition from a producer state focused on manufacturing and heavy industry to a consumer society, in which consumption (of leisure and material goods) became the primary state goal. It emphasizes the tensions in Soviet vacations between purposefulness and pleasure. Soviet health resorts – the destination of choice for most communist vacationers – emphasized medical recuperation and healthy living. Tourist travel was meant to be instructive about the vast riches of the Soviet land as well as physically restorative. But vacationers also sought pleasure on the beach, in the sun, in the delights of mountain scenery, and every night on the tourist base dance floor. Page 99 presents a paradox of Soviet vacation travel that lies at the heart of this book: through subsidizing leisure travel, the authoritarian Soviet state promoted the individual autonomy and selfhood of its subjects. On page 99, the experiences of Soviet tourists in the 1930s reveal how the state-funded experience of tourist travel (then a rugged practice of independent groups of backpackers making their way through challenging terrain) deliberately developed qualities of independence in those who participated. The sponsors of Soviet tourism instructed travelers to carry out good works on their journeys, such as bringing books and writing implements to remote areas, or setting up day care centers in the villages they visited. On this page, I discuss entries from tourists’ diaries that emphasize not good works but personal autonomy on the road, whether fighting off mosquitoes, bureaucrats, or river pirates, or surviving storms and natural disasters with their wits and ingenuity. Tourists celebrated their triumphs over adversity as the hallmark of their individual identities. Over time, the practice of tourism became an especially treasured entitlement of the Soviet intelligentsia, who demonstrated their individual “know-out” through traveling well and knowledgeably, whether on remote tourist trails, in busloads of tourists on an arranged tour, or increasingly in the 1970s, traveling to alluring Black Sea beaches in caravans of their own automobiles.

From page 99:
The rules for the trip diary emphasized the ways in which this writing project would extend individual knowledge to the whole collective of proletarian tourists. Yet actual reports from tourists deviated from these strictures. Along with reporting factual knowledge, diaries celebrated the personal autonomy of life on the road. Among the letters sent to Moscow’s Bauman district council of the Society for Proletarian Tourism and Excursions (OPTE), most emphasized two key elements: good works (as covered in the guidelines) and adventures (which were not). Two aspiring teachers recounted a journey through the rivers and forests of the Urals in the summer of 1932, their group of six armed with five rifles and carrying food reserves for a month. They had undertaken to collect animal furs for the biological museum in Moscow, but they took special care to describe the dangers of the trip and their adaptability in confronting unexpected situations. A group of apprentices from a textile factory decided to spend their holiday rowing down the Volga. The OPTE delayed them for days with medical examinations and swimming tests; through their own initiative they managed to buy a boat from a fisherman, and only then did their “beautiful and success” tour begin. . . A group of rather inexperienced tourists to Lake Ritsa in the Caucasus described some harrowing descents by moonlight and their delight at stumbling across an alpine “corner of paradise,” replete with waterfalls and bubbling springs. Theirs was a tale of survival and self-reliance, although they dutifully reported on how they had informed the local population about the international political situation.
Learn more about Club Red at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue