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Title: Shopping with Brezhnev : Soviet Urban consumer culture, 1964-1985
Author: Chernyshova, Natalya
ISNI:       0000 0004 2690 0285
Awarding Body: King's College London (University of London)
Current Institution: King's College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2007
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The Brezhnev years in the Soviet Union have often been dismissed as an `era of stagnation'. Below the quiet surface of stability, however, a new revolution was threatening Soviet socialism itself: a consumer revolution. This remarkable transformation is the subject of my thesis. The era of consumption was initially signalled by government policies. Consumption and living standards became key policy elements under Khrushchev, most evident in his mass housing campaign. After Khrushchev's dismissal, the emphasis on consumption continued. Indeed, the Soviet elite set a personal example. Leonid Brezhnev's collection of expensive Western cars - the ultimate consumer luxury - included gifts from President Nixon. (Brezhnev specifically requested a sporty Chevrolet Monte Carlo when it was named `the car of the year' by the Motor Trend magazine in 1974.) But the consumer revolution was driven by ordinary people, whose opportunities to consume improved significantly in terms of income and the relative availability of goods. Attitudes to consumption relaxed, encouraged by policies from `above', and demand grew. When consumers' growing expectations clashed with continuing shortages, commodities acquired even greater importance for a supposedly anti-commercial state. My thesis examines this contradiction in both ideology and society with particular emphasis upon consumption practices and attitudes. Arguing that Soviet citizens were turning from good communists into good consumers, it rejects the primacy of high politics. Instead consumption became the most meaningful `politics' on the eve of perestroika, a crucial factor in socialism's disintegration. While the regime's relative tolerance of consumerism initially seemed to buttress the system, it also unleashed consumers' expectations. When economic growth slowed dramatically from the mid-1970s, this increasingly undermined the `deal' and turned consumer discontent into an imminent threat to the government's legitimacy. Gorbachev's opening of the political floodgates facilitated its transformation into a disruptive force that helped topple the regime.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available