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date: 27 June 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Chronicling the failure of communist regimes to match the consumer desires of its citizens has become shorthand for rereading the events of 1989 as a Whiggish victory of Western ‘soft power’ over its more militaristic, hard-line Soviet rival. However, consumerism did play a key role in communism. The essay explores the meanings of consumerism from the 1930s, when the Soviet Union attempted to accommodate shifts from long-preached ascetism and sacrifice to an increasing yearning to get and spend. In Eastern Europe in the 1960s communist governments used the Great Leap Forward in ‘consumer socialism’ to showcase their political legitimacy. Yet consumerism aroused acquisitive appetites that the state could not satisfy and thus subjected the populace to cycles of arousal and frustration. Seemingly banal problems of provisioning shaded into trenchant political criticisms of communism’s ability to make good on its material promises, a key factor in the collapse of communism.

Keywords: consumerism, communism, Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, modernity, commodities, 1989

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