Money and other things in the late Soviet village

This paper will look at rural subjectivities in the late Soviet period by focusing on villagers’ attitudes towards money.

Soviet citizens in rural areas, especially agricultural workers of collective farms, became involved into money economy with the reforms during the Brezhnev era. It was only since 1966, when they were paid in money for their work and not in kind, as used to be the case in previous decades. The process of change in rural economy was accompanied by shifts in social stratification and the emergence of new consumption practices. While in some regions, villagers could generate monetary surpluses, others did suffer from chronic lack of cash. Even in prosperous areas, the rural everyday rarely did live up to programmatic promises of new life in “urbanized” villages. Although the gap in living standards between rural and urban areas grew bigger, new consumer practices acquired specific creative forms in rural areas. To address the social implications of this process, I will engage material perspective and challenge the narrative of disintegration of late Soviet society and people’s growing disbelief into the state. The aim of the contribution is to discuss the complexity of late Soviet experience with its volatile and contingent participation in and distance to the political regime through the lens of cash and its substitutes, such as bread or vodka, and the ability of those “vibrant things” (Bennett) to reorganize spaces and narratives, to shape relations and affect subjectivities in face-to-face rural communities.

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