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Selling to the Masses

Selling to the Masses: Retailing in Russia, 1880–1930

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    Selling to the Masses
    Book Description:

    Marjorie L. Hilton presents a captivating history of consumer culture in Russia from the 1880s to the early 1930s. She highlights the critical role of consumerism as a vehicle for shaping class and gender identities, modernity, urbanism, and as a mechanism of state power in the transition from tsarist autocracy to Soviet socialism.Beginning in the late nineteenth century, Russia witnessed a rise in mass production, consumer goods, advertising, and new retail venues such as arcades and department stores. These mirrored similar developments in other European countries and reflected a growing quest for leisure activities, luxuries, and a modern lifestyle. As Hilton reveals, retail commerce played a major role in developing Russian public culture-it affected celebrations of religious holidays, engaged diverse groups of individuals, defined behaviors and rituals of city life, inspired new interpretations of masculinity and femininity, and became a visible symbol of state influence and provision.Through monarchies, revolution, civil war, and monumental changes in the political sphere, Russia's distinctive culture of consumption was contested and recreated. Leaders of all stripes continued to look to the "commerce of exchange" as a key element in appealing to the masses, garnering political support, and promoting a modern nation.Hilton follows the evolution of retailing and retailers alike, from crude outdoor stalls to elite establishments; through the competition of private versus state-run stores during the NEP; and finally to a system of total state control, indifferent workers, rationing, and shortages under a consolidating Stalinist state.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7748-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    When I first visited Moscow, in 1995, I made the obligatory trek to Red Square. Standing in the center of the square, I was captivated by the Kremlin’s spires and St. Basil’s multihued curves and peaks, but the enormous, ornate retail arcade directly opposite the Kremlin—the famous GUM (Gosudarstvennyi universal’nyi magazin), the State Department Store of Soviet times—held my attention. As I scanned the lines of this sprawling neo-Russian fantasy, I puzzled over the incongruity of a shopping center, the ultimate symbol of consumer capitalism, in the center of Red Square. To my then-uninitiated mind, Red Square signified...

  2. 1 Russia’s Retail Landscape, 1860s–1890s
    (pp. 14-30)

    Upon his return to Moscow in 1864, Nikolai V. Davydov, a lawyer and legal scholar, recalled the remarkable changes that had taken place in the city’s commercial landscape during his five-year absence: “Moscow was unrecognizable; so much had its appearance changed. It had taken on an almost European appearance. A drastic change had happened. Everything felt new. New streets had sprung up. The new street lighting was magnificent. Streets were livelier. The magaziny on Tverskaia and Kuznetskii Most presented the most elegant appearance, with splendid shop windows, tempting displays, and understated shop signs.”¹ Davydov linked changes in the city’s appearance,...

  3. 2 Palaces of Retailing and Consumption
    (pp. 31-72)

    No single event captured more succinctly the conflicts inherent in Russia’s retail sphere than the reconstruction of the Upper Trading Rows on Red Square from 1886 to 1893. More than a plan to transform Moscow’s largest retail venue into an enormous arcade, the renovation signified a self-conscious attempt to aesthetically capture the meaning of contemporary urban life, to reconcile past, present, and future into one grand architectural statement. Situated in the city’s centuries-old commercial center across from the Kremlin, the empire’s political center, the Rows acquired a symbolic significance far beyond their commercial importance. As the rebuilding was proposed, debated,...

  4. 3 For God, Tsar, and Consumerism
    (pp. 73-109)

    The day that Grigorii Eliseev opened his fine foods and wine emporium in a renovated palace on Tverskaia Street in Moscow in 1901, a crowd formed in front of the store in anticipation of the noontime opening. As the occasion was by invitation only, the crowd gathered not so much to enter the store and make purchases as to simply witness the event: to admire the building’s newly lavish façade and enticing window displays of caviar, lobsters, wine, and exotic fruits, to catch a glimpse of the stunning, gilded interior, and to watch as elegantly attired guests arrived. According to...

  5. 4 Visions of Modernity: Gender and the Retail Marketplace, 1905–1914
    (pp. 110-131)

    The merchant elite’s orchestration of promotional events publicizing associations with tsarist power and the Orthodox faith clashed with self-perceptions some merchants had developed in the decade prior to World War I. As the Russian retail sector continued to grow, diversify, and serve a rapidly increasing population, the political situation in Russia became volatile. The Revolution of 1905, which brought limited political rights, relaxed censorship laws, and gave workers the right to organize, led to increased opportunities for public expression, as well as disillusionment in state-guided reform. Throughout this period, educated professionals began to organize, dedicating themselves to finding a solution...

  6. 5 Consuming the City: The Culture of the Retail Marketplace
    (pp. 132-172)

    As much as the merchant elite’s promotional strategies and campaign to recreate the retail trade orchestrated urban mass culture, consumers’ daily actions and interactions in stores, shops, and markets contributed to the definition of an urban lifestyle, constructing what it meant to be a consumer, to belong to a certain social class and gender, and to live in a modern city. Buying and selling were ordinary aspects of daily life for most people, and consumers construed their experiences in the retail marketplace variously as part of a routine, a leisure-time activity, and a personal aesthetic experience. Their experiences were based...

  7. 6 War and Revolution in the Marketplace, 1914–1921
    (pp. 173-194)

    Russia’s entry into World War I, the two revolutions in 1917, and the civil war that followed interrupted the campaign of activist-journalists and debates about the nature and value of modern retailing, as well as consumers’ daily shopping routines. The hardships of war and implementation of revolutionary imperatives led to state interventions into the retail economy and the politicization of the retail trade and consumption, along with new ways of buying and selling goods and interpreting consuming behaviors. During these years, the retail marketplace and its culture were transformed, although not in the ways that members of the trade press...

  8. 7 Retailing the Revolution
    (pp. 195-230)

    A 1926 newspaper article headlined “Under GUM’s Glass Heaven” presented a vision of socialist retailing that depicted Soviet citizens indulging in the pleasures of shopping in the fabulous Red Square premises of the State Department Store (Gosudarstvennyi universal’nyi magazin, or GUM).¹ The article opened with a description of GUM’s giant display windows, exhibiting “everything needed to clothe and feed a person,” from suspenders to forks, starched shirts, shiny patent-leather shoes, stockings in all colors of the rainbow, and “proud, brilliant” Primus paraffin stoves, in short, hundreds of wonderful things to draw the attention of passersby. Inside, shoppers bustled and browsed,...

  9. 8 The Customer Is Aways Wrong: Consumer Complaint in Late NEP-Era Russia
    (pp. 231-263)

    Creating advertising and promotional campaigns that reflected revolutionary ideals and endorsed visions of a modern working-class consumer society were relatively easy tasks. Commercial officials faced more intractable problems, however, in implementing egalitarian operational policies and procedures and creating a working and shopping environment that inculcated conscientious attitudes and restrained, purposeful behaviors. Although advertisements promoted state stores as spaces where the customer’s every desire would be fulfilled, trade union activists argued that in both state stores and cooperatives, workers, not consumers, should be prized. As a result, state stores like GUM became places where consumers asserted their rights to goods and...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 264-270)

    Model retailers such as GUM failed to deliver what the Soviet government promised with its version of modern retailing: abundance, comfort, efficiency, and respect for workers and consumers. Shopping was no longer a pleasure, a sport, or even a routine task but a humiliating, exacting chore. The significance of the state’s failure in the retail sector was that the failure to make available things like sugar, galoshes, chisels, and frying pans transgressed a basic principle of socialism: improving the material condition of the formerly disenfranchised working classes. The seemingly small currency of these kinds of goods only pointed out more...