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Steeltown, USSR

Steeltown, USSR: Soviet Society in the Gorbachev Era

Stephen Kotkin
Copyright Date: 1991
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pn63v
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  • Book Info
    Steeltown, USSR
    Book Description:

    No one, not even Mikhail Gorbachev, anticipated what was in store when the Soviet Union embarked in the 1980s on a radical course of long-overdue structural reform. The consequences of that momentous decision, which set in motion a transformation eventually affecting the entire postwar world order, are here chronicled from inside a previously forbidden Soviet city, Magnitogorsk. Built under Stalin and championed by him as a showcase of socialism, the city remained closed to Western scrutiny until four years ago, when Stephen Kotkin became the first American to live there in nearly half a century. An uncommonly perceptive observer, a gifted writer, and a first-rate social scientist, Kotkin offers the reader an unsurpassed portrait of daily life in the Gorbachev era. From the formation of "informal" political groups to the start-up of fledgling businesses in the new cooperative sector, from the no-holds-barred investigative reporting of a former Communist party mouthpiece to a freewheeling multicandidate election campaign, the author conveys the texture of contemporary Soviet society in the throes of an upheaval not seen since the 1930s. Magnitogorsk, a planned "garden city" in the Ural Mountains, serves as Kotkin's laboratory for observing the revolutionary changes occurring in the Soviet Union today. Dominated by a self-perpetuating Communist party machine, choked by industrial pollution, and haunted by a suppressed past, this once-proud city now faces an uncertain future, as do the more than one thousand other industrial cities throughout the Soviet Union. Kotkin made his remarkable first visit in 1987 and returned in 1989. On both occasions, steelworkers and schoolteachers, bus drivers and housewives, intellectuals and former victims of oppression-all willingly stepped forward to voice long-suppressed grievances and aspirations. Their words animate this moving narrative, the first to examine the impact and contradictions ofperestroikain a single community. Like no other Soviet city, Magnitogorsk provides a window onto the desperate struggle to overcome the heavy burden of Stalin's legacy.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91100-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface to the Paperback Edition
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xxvi)
  5. Select Chronology
    (pp. xxvii-xxxi)
  6. MAP OF MAGNITOGORSK
    (pp. xxxii-xxxiv)
  7. CHAPTER ONE The Steel Cage: The Politics of Economic Restructuring
    (pp. 1-38)

    A mural depicting the heroic history of metallurgy—from its invention through its role in the defeat of the invading Nazis—stretches across the length of the main gate to the world’s largest steel plant. Above the mural in giant letters is the slogan, “The Business of the Party Is the Business of the People.”

    Forty-three kilometers around, the Magnitogorsk Works, a dense mass of smokestacks, pipes, cranes, and railroad track, consists of 130 shops, many of which are as large as whole factories. “Steel plant” would be an inadequate description of the complex formed by an ore-crushing and ore-enriching...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Glasnost: A City Newspaper Rises, a Theater Declines
    (pp. 39-75)

    On a clear day in the spring of 1987, Mikhail Lysenko, chairman of the Magnitogorsk city soviet, drove with me to a concrete platform perched on a hill overlooking the original left-bank “socialist city.” From there Chairman Lysenko, who prefers to be known by the English termmayor,pointed to the open area below, where the barracks in which he had grown up once stood. When my attention turned away from the city, what seemed like a barbed-wire enclosure and a guard tower came into view. “Is that the prison?” I asked. Momentarily stunned, the mayor, known for his outspokenness,...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Squaring the Circle: Reform of and by the Communist Party
    (pp. 76-117)

    “Looking back over my sixteen and a half years in the party,” confided Aleksandr Baryshnikov in a long letter to the Magnitogorsk newspaper published in January 1989, “I come ever more frequently to the conclusion that there is much I cannot understand . . . that maybe I really am a Communist of the ‘stagnation period,’ and that now I’m behind the times, although I’m only forty-two years old.”

    But evaluating the Brezhnev years, now derisively known as the “period of stagnation,” in the light ofperestroika,Baryshnikov recalled that “back then we did not know it was stagnation. ....

  10. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  11. CHAPTER FOUR “Is Life Going to Go on like This Forever?” Hopes Raised, Then Lowered
    (pp. 118-160)

    At a shop selling toothpaste that a reporter from the Magnitogorsk city newspaper visited in the fall of 1987, there was a gigantic queue. A salesclerk was approached and queried. “They’ve been buying ten tubes apiece,” she gasped, “first Bulgarian, then domestic. The next day we sold out of tooth-cleaning powder, which is normally not very popular.”

    During the conversation, another salesclerk brought out laundry powder. The crowd surged forward. People began shouting and trying to cram their “catch” by the fives and tens into their shopping nets.

    “Others hoard, I’m hoarding.”

    “We’re afraid that soon there won’t be any.”...

  12. CHAPTER FIVE Socialism Is Dead! Long Live Socialism! Regeneration through Elections?
    (pp. 161-203)

    Few people in Magnitogorsk ever expected to see such a variety of signs posted everywhere in the city, but there they were. “Vote for Petrov!” “Vote for Andreeva!” “Riabkov is your man!” “Only Romanov knows what a deputy ought to be!” An election campaign with different choices? More than one candidate running?

    There hadneverbeen a competitive election for public office in Magnitogorsk in the sixty years of its existence. Of course, there had been innumberable “elections” before, but they were not political contests so much as orchestrated affirmations of legitimacy lubricated by the lavish provisioning of normally scarce...

  13. CHAPTER SIX A Stalin Mausoleum: The Past in the Present
    (pp. 204-242)

    It was, as the Russians say, no accident that in the historical novelChildren of the Arbat(written in 1967, published in late 1987), one of the first literary works to come out of the drawer and sec the light of day underglasnost,Anatolii Rybakov chose to sketch a portrait of the 1930s by contrasting developments in Moscow with those of a far-off five-year-plan construction site. Nor was it by chance that Rybakov modeled his fictional Stalin-era steel plant on Magnitogorsk.

    Set in the period between September 1933 and December 1934, when the Leningrad party boss Sergei Kirov was...

  14. Afterword
    (pp. 243-264)

    “The garden city, about which the first settlers of Magnitka dreamed, was, to put it mildly, never realized,” wrote Vilii Bogun, the city’s longtime architect, on the eve of Magnitogorsk’s sixtieth anniversary. Bogun’s first name, derived from the initials of Vladimir Ilich Lenin, serves as a reminder of the hopes of that earlier epoch, hopes now thought to have been cruel delusions.

    “It really makes you appreciate being American,” I was repeatedly told when relating Bogun’s words and the story of contemporary Magnitogorsk to American audiences. So, to put in perspective what happened in Magnitogorsk in the second half of...

  15. Epilogue
    (pp. 265-286)

    If the apparently insurmountable predicament of the once-great Magnitogorsk Works seemed to encapsulate the urgent need to scrap the old order, the spectacular rise of the city newspaper seemed to signal the dawn of a new, more hopeful age. The city’s first-ever competitive elections, although muddled and manipulated, reinforced this sense of positive change. Such were the hallmarks ofperestroikain Magnitogorsk.

    By the time of my third visit to the city in June 1991, little remained of the circumspect hopefulness that the reform era had aroused, even at the newspaper. Elections continued, but had turned out not to be...

  16. Index
    (pp. 287-291)