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Soviet Apartment Life during

the Khrushchev Years


Cornell University Press

Ithaca and London

For my parents, Gizella and Jozsef


List of Illustrations



Note on Transliteration


1. Building a Socialist Home Befitting the Space Age

2. Foundations

3. Interior Spaces

4. Liminal Places

5. The Quest for Normalcy

6. Constructing Soviet Identity and Reviving Socialism on the Home Front






I.1 A floor plan for a separate apartment designed for a family of three

1.1 Celebrating Builders’ Day

1.2 Conveyor-belt-style construction

1.3 Nikita Khrushchev visiting Shchemilovka Street in Leningrad

1.4 A typical five-story khrushchëvka

1.5 Convertible furniture

1.6 Tasteless decorative objects

1.7 Model furniture and decorative wares

1.8 A cozy work space

2.1 New housing completed in time for the Forty-Fifth Jubilee of the October Revolution

2.2 A happy housewarming for metro builders

2.3 A family settling into a new apartment

2.4 Defects in novostroika

2.5 Continuously delayed construction

2.6 Anticipating new housing

3.1 Modern lampshade designs

3.2 Krokodil’s recommendation for repurposing outdated lampshades

3.3 Overly adorned dormitory rooms

3.4 New décor and hospitality

3.5 Shortcomings in furniture production

4.1 Popular initiatives

4.2 Subjecting violators of the social order to public scrutiny

5.1 Family scheming to attain more living space

5.2 The trials of sharing a communal bathroom


THE EUPHORIA OF COMPLETING THIS BOOK is accompanied by a flood of gratitude for the tremendous encouragement, advice, patience, and faith that family, friends, colleagues, and mentors have shown me along the way. The idea for this work was conceived at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign under the guidance of Diane Koenker, who helped me conceptualize the research project out of which it developed, and offered prompt, astute critiques and suggestions at every turn. Her unwavering enthusiasm and support, not to mention her confidence in me, were invaluable to the realization of this book.

Diane is not the only exceptional scholar with whom I had the honor of working: Mark Steinberg served as another keen and vital supporter, as did Antoinette Burton and Zsuzsa Gille. Always generous with their time and thoughts as mentors, I now look up to them as role models in my academic career as I continue to admire their intellectual inquisitiveness and rigor, their original approaches to research in their respective areas of expertise, and their creative energy.

Also meaningful to me is the comradeship I enjoyed at the University of Illinois during gatherings of the Russian kruzhok and the East European reading group. The latter was anchored by Keith Hitchins, another scholar dear and inspiring to me. In each of these milieus I found good friends, including Theodora Dragostinova, Irina Gigova, Cristofer Scarboro, and Gregory Stroud; together with Robin Breeding, Greg filled the research time we shared in Russia with brilliant moments that helped quell my homesickness.

Alongside reading groups, the academic environment fostered by the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center at the University of Illinois honed my interest in interdisciplinary study. Over the years, cozy meetings of the Midwest Russian History Workshop and mass conventions of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies alike furnished me with constructive commentary on my research, as well as intellectual stimulation. The same is true of the following thematic conferences I had the privilege to participate in: Complaints (Princeton, 2013), The Socialist Sixties (Urbana, 2010), After the War, After Stalin (St. Petersburg, 2010), and Divided Dreamworlds (Utrecht, 2008). Because the attendees of these various workshops and conferences are too numerous to list, I thank them collectively.

I also appreciate the friends and colleagues who discussed portions of this book with me or read draft chapters, or responded to pressing research queries: Theodora Dragostinova, Deborah Field, Steven Harris, Marjorie Hilton, Susan Reid, and Roshanna Sylvester. Steven Harris, who it turned out had embarked on his study of the khrushchëvka shortly before I did, warmly welcomed me to the block, kindly sharing with me an overview of his project so that as I proceeded with my own, I could carve out a unique niche for myself.

I am indebted also to the two anonymous readers enlisted by Cornell University Press to review the manuscript for their insightful appraisals, questions, and recommendations. John Ackerman, as director, extended strong support for this book from the onset, and thereafter provided valuable direction throughout the bulk of the publication process; his assistant Michael Morris must be acknowledged for swiftly fielding the myriad inquiries with which I bombarded him over the past couple of years. I also thank Roger Haydon, the executive editor of the press, who although a relative newcomer to this project has boosted my morale during the final critical steps of publication with his interest and investment; these have been essential to bringing this book home, so to speak.

The research for this project was made feasible by the resources and financial support of several institutions. The Slavic reference staff at the University of Illinois was a fount of knowledge, early on helping me locate sources and later assisting me in copyright matters and scanning images for the book. I am also grateful for having had the opportunity to work at the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg, the Central State Archive of St. Petersburg, and the Central State Archive of Documentary Films, Photographs, and Sound Recordings of St. Petersburg. The time I spent in Russia would not have been possible without funding, and for this I thank the History Department and the Graduate College at the University of Illinois for subsidizing my research—and subsequently, a semester of uninterrupted writing. I have also savored bursts of writing unencumbered by other responsibilities since joining the faculty at Illinois State University in 2007, thanks to summer fellowships from the College of Arts and Sciences, and to the confidence placed in me by my colleagues in the History Department who nominated me for these awards.

I have written most of this book at Illinois State University and truly feel fortunate to be in the company of a diverse group of scholars in whom I have also found friends and a surrogate family. Among them, I distinguish two colleagues who had a direct impact on the completion of this work: Amy Wood, a mentor and friend who steered me through every stage of the publishing process, providing virtually immediate and always sage advice, and Katrin Paehler, who was consistently at the ready to cheer me on and assure me that my research project is so cool in those moments when I could not see that for myself. A terrific cohort of colleagues in the History Department at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick, buoyed me in a similar way during my time there as a visiting faculty member from 2005 to 2007. I thank them for sharing with me their fascinating research on material and consumer culture, and for affording me the chance to include among my teaching assignments a number of topical courses into which I could readily insert my scholarly agenda and thereby begin to outline this book.

At the heart of my research lies a deep interest in lived Communism. In this respect, this book has also traveled a circuitous route in a personal way—namely, from a curiosity about communist daily life nurtured by experiences in rural Hungary in the 1970s and 1980s, to research on urban Russia of the 1950s and 1960s. Looking back, I realize that this preoccupation had its genesis in long summer vacations spent with relatives in the respective birthplaces of my mother and father: the agricultural village of Gáva and the mining town of Csetény, where I first encountered Russians, fell in love with their language, and become incurably (if at first unconsciously) interested in the Soviet Union. Given that my parents had immigrated to Canada—and moreover, that my father was a 56er—it is admittedly peculiar that of all countries I was so drawn to studying Russia. Confronted with my mania, my parents never questioned it, delighting in my pursuits, believing in my abilities, and offering endless moral and financial support from graduate school through tenure and the publication of this book. Words cannot fully convey my appreciation for all that they have lovingly given me, or my admiration for the life they have built for themselves. It is to them, Gizella and Jozsef Varga, that I dedicate this work.

I am grateful too for my in-laws, Katherine and Arthur Harris, who are like a second set of parents to me—encouraging, loving, and generous in every way. My greatest gift in life, my sustenance, is my husband, Glen Harris. He never asked me when the book would finally be complete, recognizing it would take as long as it takes—a manifestation of his own insistence on perfection and passion for learning. In practical terms, without his tireless editorial input, my prose would have been excessively unwieldy, and without his genuine engagement with my research, several of my interpretations would have remained grossly opaque. More significant, I thank him for uprooting himself more than once to accompany me as I pursued my Ph.D. and then a career in academia, and for enriching my life with his kind heart, open mind, vast interests, and numerous talents, as well as a joie de vivre that brings joy to my every day.

Early versions or portions of chapters in this book first appeared in the following: Forging Citizenship on the Home Front: Reviving the Socialist Contract and Constructing Soviet Identity During the Thaw, in The Dilemmas of De-Stalinization: A Social and Cultural History of Reform in the Khrushchev Era, ed. Polly Jones (London, 2006), 101–116; Homemaking and the Aesthetic and Moral Perimeters of the Soviet Home during the Khrushchev Era, Journal of Social History 41, no. 3 (spring 2008): 561–589; and Moving toward Utopia: Soviet Housing in the Atomic Age, in Divided Dreamworlds? The Cultural Cold War in East and West, ed. Peter Romijn, Giles Scott-Smith, and Joes Segal (Amsterdam, 2012), 133–153. I thank, respectively, Taylor and Francis Group, Oxford University Press, and Amsterdam University Press for permission to reprint materials from these publications.



byt—everyday life, way of life

CPSU—acronym for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

druzhinniki—members of a voluntary peoples’ patrol for the protection of public order

invalid—a disabled person, as per the Russian turn of phrase

ispolkom—executive committee

khrushchëvka—colloquial for the typical five-story Khrushchev-era apartment

Komsomol—acronym for the youth organization of the Communist Party

kommunalka (pl. kommunalki)—communal apartment



meshchanka—the feminine moniker for an individual with a petit-bourgeois outlook

meshchanstvo—related to the term middle class and pejoratively denoting a lifestyle or outlook considered to be base, vulgar, imitative, greedy, or Philistine

mikroraion (pl. mikroraiony)—micro-district; essentially a type of neighborhood


novosël (pl. novosely)—new settler; a term associated with moving into a new home

novostroika—new construction


order—writ (for example, for a new apartment)

otdel′naia kvartira—separate apartment in the sense of being intended for a single family

pis′mo (pl. pis′ma) zaiavleniia—letter of request

pis′mo (pl. pis′ma) zhaloby—letter of complaint

poshlost′—banality, bad taste, and obscenity

propiska—residency permit

raion—city district

red corner—a place for leisure, as well as for instilling communist values

reid—raid or inspection by a social group

Rodina—native land

soviet—literally, council; denotes a type of government body found at various levels

subbotniki—Saturday voluntary work campaigns

voskresniki—Sunday voluntary work campaigns

Abbreviations for Frequently Used Published Sources

A i s Leningrada—Arkhitektura i stroitel′stvo Leningrada

D i SSSR—Dekorativnoe iskusstvo SSSR

S i a Leningrada—Stroitel′stvo i arkhitektura Leningrada

VL—Vechernii Leningrad

Abbreviations for Archival References

d.—delo (file)

ed. khr.—edinitsa khraneneniia (file)

f.—fond (document collection)

l. (pl. ll.)—list (pl. listy) (folio/leaf of paper/page)

op.—opis′ (inventory/list of files in a fond)

TsGA SPb—Tsentral′nyi Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Sankt-Peterburga (Central State Archive of St. Petersburg)

TsGA KFFD SPb—Tsentral′nyi Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Kinofotofonodokumentov Sankt-Peterburga (Central State Archive of Documentary Films, Photographs, and Sound Recordings of St. Petersburg)


Throughout this book, unless stated otherwise, the translations of Russian into English and the transliterations from Russian Cyrillic into Latin characters are my own. For the latter, I tried to consistently employ the Library of Congress (LOC) system. However, when transliterating names for people and places, I have favored common usage over the LOC schema, resulting in sometimes conflicting spellings (for example, Natalya Baranskaya and Natal′ia Lebina).



AFTER EIGHTEEN YEARS of petitioning various authorities with influence over housing allocation and waiting patiently, it seemed that Serafim Aleksandrovich Kolosov and his family would finally be moving from their tiny closet of a room into a spacious new apartment. Overjoyed, the Kolosovs began planning their housewarming party, preparing a list of everyone at their workplace and in government offices who had tirelessly intervened on their behalf to secure for them new housing. As the list grew, they fretted that they would not have enough space to welcome all those who had extended to them assistance or encouragement. Nevertheless, the invitations were finally sent. But no one came to the housewarming—not because of other commitments, but because in actuality, everything remained exactly as it had been for years, with Serafim and his family huddled together in a crowded apartment and their housing petition moving from hand to hand, growing thick with resolutions.¹

In portraying the receipt of a good apartment as a dream frustrated by a bureaucratic nightmare, this sardonic tale published in the satirical magazine Krokodil encapsulates the story that long dominated discussion about Soviet housing: like other grandiose policies of the socialist state committed to bettering the lives of its citizens, the mandate to provide adequate living space seemed to have amounted to little more than a brilliant failure.² The promise of mass housing was rooted in the 1917 October Revolution, and the expropriation and redistribution of private dwellings that followed within months of the Bolshevik victory constituted the first endeavor to achieve this goal. But the supply of living space inherited from the tsarist regime was far from sufficient, and the overwhelming influx of rural residents to urban centers that had occurred around the turn of the twentieth century continued into the 1920s, thereby exacerbating the housing crisis. Quite simply, more housing had to be built. Yet by the 1930s, Joseph Stalin was diverting capital, resources, and human power from consumer needs—including housing—to intense industrialization, land collectivization, and war preparation. Then, during World War II, the Soviet housing stock further deteriorated or was depleted by destruction. The shortage dragged on into the 1950s. Its end at last appeared within sight when, in July 1957, Nikita Khrushchev made residential construction a priority, announcing an ambitious decree to solve the housing crisis and to provide each family a separate apartment (otdel′naia kvartira).³

This policy also signaled the restructuring of the living space that Soviet citizens inhabited, namely, a transition from communal to one-family dwelling. In the communal apartment or kommunalka, tenants shared the kitchen, bathroom (with separate toilet), and storage spaces. Kommunalki were initially created out of the homes of the prerevolutionary elite that had been carved up over the course of 1917–1918 in order to minimally provide each family a room of its own; house-communes (dom-kommuny) of the 1920s–1930s—intended to supply individual rooms in conjunction with communal facilities—were an experimental variation on this theme.⁴ The separate apartment, by contrast, was to consist of one main room (two or three for large families) that served as a combined bedroom, living room, and study, together with a small kitchen and a bathroom.⁵ Such apartments had been built under Stalin for state and Party elites, as well as awarded to accomplished model workers, but Khrushchev was determined to make them the norm.⁶

In quantitative terms, the outcome of the 1957 decree was astonishing. According to Western assessments, more housing was built during the 1956–1960 Five-Year Plan than during the entire period from 1918 to 1946, yielding over 145 million square meters of living space—and exceeding by nearly 8 percent the projected target for this plan of roughly 140 million square meters. Construction began to lag in 1961 as only about 83 percent of the plan for that year was fulfilled (approximately fifty-two out of sixty-two million square meters of living space).⁷ The overall record for the Khrushchev years is astounding: during the two five-year plans that coincided with his leadership, spanning 1956 through 1965, it has been estimated that in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) alone, well over thirteen million apartments were built and approximately sixty-five million individuals improved their housing conditions.⁸ Caught up in the euphoria, a statistical handbook aimed at a popular audience calculated that if the area of the apartment houses built during the 1961–1965 Five-Year Plan were to form a single line, one meter in width, its length would extend from Earth to the moon and there would still remain an excess of fourteen million square meters.

I.1. This floor plan represents a separate apartment designed for a nuclear family of three. On the left is the main common room (obshchaia komnata), on the top right is the bathroom, and on the bottom right is the kitchen. The main room is subdivided for optimal use into zones for sleep, study, and leisure. D i SSSR, February 1959, 46.

The attempt to provide each family a separate apartment—complete with modern amenities and an abundance of consumer services—comprised an initiative as emblematic of the Soviet Union during the 1950s and 1960s as was the denunciation of Stalinist terror and of the cult of personality. Amid such extraordinary phenomena as the release of millions of individuals from labor camps, the rehabilitation of those formerly deemed enemies of the people, liberalization in the sphere of literature, the reorganization of the command economy, the revitalization of agriculture and advances into the cosmos, metal cranes soaring above the dust and debris of construction sites where apartment houses were being built virtually on conveyor belts represented another grand undertaking, one that for many, as the statistics attest, was making the receipt of a good apartment a reality.¹⁰

Alongside Soviet citizens moving into separate apartments in new buildings were individuals desperately petitioning to move out of crowded and uncomfortable kommunalki. Indeed despite the millions of apartments that were built under Khrushchev, demand still outpaced supply. World War II had taken a devastating toll on the housing stock. According to one official estimate, out of the 2.5 million dwellings situated in occupied cities in the Soviet Union, more than 1 million were destroyed.¹¹ No less grim, another stated that wartime fighting had rendered uninhabitable over a third of the entire housing stock of major cities like Leningrad, while leaving Novgorod, Stalingrad, Kiev, Sevastopol, and Minsk completely destroyed; this left approximately twenty-five million Soviet citizens without a roof over their head.¹²

The return home of wartime evacuees placed additional strains on the housing stock. As an example, when the factory Progress was relocated to Leningrad after operating in evacuation in Omsk, it possessed living space for only 745 out of its 5,257 returning employees; the remainder consequently came to be housed in other factory facilities, including workshops, laboratories, and the library.¹³ Even rapid rebuilding, which remarkably eclipsed construction for the entire 1930s, could not keep pace with the voracious need for housing. To illustrate, during the 1946–1950 Five-Year Plan, about two million square meters of living space were built in Leningrad, restoring 80 to 90 percent of its prewar housing stock and providing living space to about 158,000 residents. However, the number of Leningraders whose homes had been lost due to wartime destruction numbered over 700,000.¹⁴ Chronic overcrowding, and reliance on housing lacking basic amenities like lavatories and running water, or even on previously uninhabited spaces like cellars, thus typified postwar living conditions in Leningrad—as in other places throughout the Soviet Union.¹⁵

Although four years of war had certainly ravaged Soviet housing, the promise of the 1957 decree was directly undermined by factors that carried through the 1950s, 1960s, and beyond. Most obvious among these were demographic changes attributable to births, marriages, and divorces, each of which caused the number of households throughout the Soviet Union to multiply, as well as migration, which affected specific urban centers and regions.¹⁶ Also noteworthy was the demolition of existing housing that sometimes accompanied new construction projects and urban development—a process that annually resulted in the destruction of millions of square meters of floor space. In 1964, for example, nearly 9.5 million square meters of housing were demolished, amounting to over 16 percent of total residential construction that year.¹⁷ While new construction was in evidence everywhere, apparent too were abandoned cranes at incomplete sites where building was proceeding slowly and badly—to cite one negative catchphrase of the day.

For reasons like these, the unrealized housewarming of the fictional Kolosovs, published just months before Khrushchev announced his massive housing campaign, continued to be a feature of Soviet life long after his ouster in 1964. In fact, although the Soviet press proclaimed that year that every fourth resident of the country was a new settler (novosël), the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution in 1967—which roughly overlapped with the tenth jubilee of the declaration To each family a separate apartment!—passed without the housing crisis having been resolved.¹⁸ Symptomatic of the inability of policy to meet the intractable need for housing, by the 1970s, the expression beskvartir′e had entered colloquial discourse for the state of being without an apartment.¹⁹ Further indicating the seemingly insurmountable dearth of living space, at the beginning of this decade, the average wait for an apartment ranged from a year and a half to three years, and although the housing deficit had declined since the 1950s, there was still a 10 percent shortfall of available apartments.²⁰

But the story of Soviet housing is not simply one of triumph or defeat. This is evinced by the extensive official and popular discourse it generated in propaganda, agitation, and prescriptive brochures; in newspapers and magazines; in architecture and design trade journals; in memoirs and fiction; and in petitions directed at municipal and national government and Party officials, housing authorities, and newspaper editors. Dialogue about housing between the readers and editors of local newspapers, for example, created a common frame of reference, as well as a vehicle for articulating both praise for and dissatisfaction with the regime. As Jeffrey Brooks discerned, although constrained by Party directives, the Soviet newspaper also comprised the work of people who verbalized their own experiences, lexicons, and observations in an effort to make the world around them intelligible within the official given limits.²¹ Unpublished correspondence between citizens and a gamut of authorities reveal similar societal mechanisms in a more intimate forum. Namely, housing petitions affirm that individuals were personally invested in the Soviet system, even as they criticized local bureaucrats for failing to satisfy their pressing material needs. Meanwhile, the divergence between policy and reality was publicly writ large in feuilletons that appeared in newspapers and magazines commending the successes of the housing program and deriding its deficiencies.

Drawing on the notion that the experiential is referential (that is to say, informed by context), I maintain in this book that even the small stories about housing that appeared in these sources offer insight into the lives of ordinary Soviet people, encompassing their experience and subjectivity, while not discounting the social structure they inhabited nor its political dimensions.²² That they so palpably rendered societal features is partly attributable to the fact that state allocation of the majority of living space in the Soviet Union made housing a vital point of contact between citizens and channels of authority, as well as individuals sharing dwelling and neighborhood spaces. Thus, housing—denoting the design, construction, and decoration of living space, and the ways in which people maneuver within it—was a negotiated site where policy matters related to distribution and consumption, norms associated with material culture, and social concerns all converged.

Approaching housing in this multifaceted way, this book depicts everyday life (byt) during the 1950s and 1960s and the meanings it possessed for the state, citizens, and the socialist project. As such, it temporally shifts and conceptually broadens explorations of Soviet daily life during the 1930s that have investigated power relations between state and society, accommodation and resistance, and the internalization of official rhetoric and norms.²³ It also engages throughout with scholarship that has delved into various facets of byt—alongside housing—during the postwar period.²⁴

From the 1950s on, Western policy experts and scholars in the fields of politics, law, sociology, geography, and urban planning contributed much to delineating the material elements, as well as the sociological, political, and economic parameters of housing in the Soviet Union. Among them were the first scholars to answer such fundamental questions as Who gets what, when and how?²⁵ In the 1990s, scholars of art, architecture, and design enhanced the portrait of Soviet housing that had emerged over the course of the previous decades by studying it from the perspectives of social and cultural history, as evident in the 1993 volume Russian Housing in the Modern Age.²⁶ A virtually concurrent preoccupation with material culture was encapsulated in a special 1997 issue of the Journal of Design History, Design, Stalin and Thaw, which illuminated the contrast between buildings and neighborhoods of the Stalin and Khrushchev eras. In addition to juxtaposing the ornate flourishes of buildings of the Stalin period with the aesthetic simplicity and sense of lightness of those that followed in the Khrushchev years, its authors outlined a similar deviation within the broader residential landscape—from the long, wide boulevards, flanked by monumental structures that characterized urban development under Stalin, to the radial microdistricts (mikroraiony) that typified neighborhoods of the Khrushchev era. These architectural and urban forms, they concluded, signified the regimes that fostered them, with the aesthetic embellishments of the Stalin period mirroring its hierarchical nature and political extremes, and the simplicity and modernity of the Khrushchev one representing its populism and intention to realize the egalitarian ideals of communist ideology.²⁷

Since the early 2000s, Susan Reid has published an array of influential articles and chapters on numerous aspects of Soviet housing during the 1950s and 1960s, with fixed attention on the separate apartment. Her works, which conceptualize it as an exemplar of socialist modernity, a representation of Cold War rivalry, an expression of communist consumer culture and a site for the exercise of female agency, have been foundational to specific points of analysis in this book.²⁸ Other recent historical monographs on housing have also drawn on Reid’s findings. To offer but a glimpse into these studies, Lynne Attwood provided a sweeping overview of the relationship between policy, gender, and everyday life in housing programs spanning from 1917 through the 1990s; Mark Smith detailed the wartime and Stalinist antecedents of the construction drive accredited to Khrushchev, as well as the nature of property relations and the underpinnings of Soviet ideas about welfare with respect to housing; and Steven Harris traced the history of the separate apartment in conjunction with critical aspects of its evolution—from developments in social policy since the nineteenth century to transformations in consumer culture under Khrushchev.²⁹

Presenting the forms and meanings of the shift from communal to separate apartment living, this book approaches novostroika (new construction) of the 1950s and 1960s as a material cultural artifact of de-Stalinization and the foundation of a distinctly socialist aesthetic and way of life. This is not to say that mass housing provision, even in strictly ideological terms, was an uncomplicated pursuit. Paradoxically, the 1957 decree established the one-family apartment as the anchor of a system oriented toward collectivism. It also presented individual apartments as dependent for their efficient functioning on public services like socialized dining facilities, and productivity in the work place as contingent upon the structure and quality of home life. I assert that the tension inherent in these stipulations was muted by accompanying rhetoric that rendered such pairings mutually supportive and linked housing policy with pragmatic, long-term national goals like modernization, the emancipation of women, and the merging of the various peoples of the Soviet Union. For instance, in the context of innovations in rocket science, housing construction was touted for employing the most advanced industrial, mechanized techniques in the building trade. Taking into account the continuing mission to liberate women from the burdens of housework, the separate apartment was pronounced a key component of a new type of living that would incorporate a network of consumer services. And in view of the burgeoning supranational identity of the Soviet Union, decorating with folk wares from throughout the country was connected to the ideal of harmonious ethnic diversity. On the whole, the well-built separate apartment, appointed with contemporary furniture and folk art and located in a neighborhood with ample consumer amenities and cultural facilities, embodied the more abstract overarching objective of the Khrushchev years—Communism.

Attwood, Smith, and Harris underscored the ideological import, as well as the tensions with which Soviet housing was imbued. Exploring the place and experiences of women vis-à-vis men in the Soviet home, Attwood demonstrated that although they were projected to be the principal beneficiaries of state housing policy because they were the ones traditionally responsible for domestic activities, women were repeatedly summoned to compensate for shortcomings in daily life (for much the same reason). Analyzing provisions for individual housing—which continued to be tolerated to an extent alongside state housing—as well as mechanisms for confirming the owner of living space in disputes among tenants, Smith determined that the 1917 Revolution had failed to expunge individualism from Soviet society. Studying the consumer culture that blossomed concurrent with housing construction led Harris to a similar conclusion: those with privilege appeared determined to protect it or to seek greater distinction. This was evident, for example, among professionals whose relatively higher incomes enabled them to acquire living space superior to normal allotments by joining housing construction cooperatives, and to more readily partake in the purchase of novel household wares.

Although the struggle for mass housing failed to produce an egalitarian society, as Attwood showed, each successive housing scheme, at its core, was intended to revolutionize everyday life. Similarly, Smith and Harris contended that the tensions they discerned within the housing and consumer boom of the Khrushchev years did not signal waning dedication toward Communism. According to Smith, the 1957 housing decree aligned individual property rights, of which construction cooperatives and the manipulation of official housing distribution mechanisms were popular expressions, with welfare rights for all citizens. In his assessment, the right to a separate apartment expanded the Soviet welfare state, rather than undermined its communal foundations. Meanwhile, ideologically correct representations of housing as a product of labor intended solely for consumption and not for profit provided a counterweight to the sentiment of individualism. Harris also indicated an equilibrium between state attention to consumerist desires and emphasis on a communist approach to daily life.

I seek to further delineate the meaning and implications of mass housing in the Soviet Union by employing the pairing house and home to incorporate the spaces that surround it, the objects contained within it, and the ideas people hold for it.³⁰ In doing so, I demonstrate not only how the transition to one-family housing intersected with and complicated communist ideals and objectives, but also how it reflected the Thaw, as the Khrushchev period is conventionally labeled. A thaw is typically associated with instability, impermanence, incompleteness,…temperature fluctuations in nature, when it is hard to foresee what turn the weather will take.³¹ In that vein, the era was distinguished not just by de-Stalinization, but also by illiberal measures like the persecution of religious faith and a ban on the publication in the Soviet Union of the novel Doctor Zhivago. The Khrushchev years were also marked by hard-line foreign policy measures like the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary and the construction of the Berlin Wall. Acknowledging its erratic nature, this book complements recent scholarship that has restored to the Thaw nuances that had been obscured by simplistic designations of this period as one of liberalization or as a distinct break from Stalinism.³²

Housing and the idea of a thaw were intertwined in a number of quite literal ways in daily experience. For instance, the ubiquitous letter of complaint and satirical feuilletons frequently depicted the consequence of springtime thaws coupled with shoddy construction or repair: the leaky roof, a hallmark of the housing crisis. In the metaphoric sense, housing also connoted the building of Communism. These were intertwined in the novella from which the name for the period was derived: Ottepel′. Written by Ilya Ehrenburg, this initial foray into different aspects of Stalinist repression—from restrictions on artistic creativity to the postwar persecution of Jews—was first published in serial form in 1954. One plot line involves Ivan Juravliov, an unsympathetic factory manager who misappropriates the housing fund allocated for his workers in order to further his production goals.³³ Likewise, the Stalinist regime had ignored the basic human needs of the proletariat in pursuing socialism through intense industrialization and collectivization, alongside crusades to purge perceived enemies, thereby essentially betraying the Revolution. During the Thaw—as in Ehrenburg’s fictional tale—the importance of tending to the welfare and development of the individual was reestablished, and the link between ideological aims and popular interests reinstated.

Based on this premise, I argue that mutual preoccupation with housing comprised a terrain upon which state and populace endeavored to construct a viable socialist society. Although the separate apartment was at the center of this venture, discourse about house and home also infused larger discussions about Communism. Thus, the transition from communal to one-family apartments cannot simply be conflated with a thaw in private life. Scrutinizing the tensions manifest in official policy and prescriptions, I challenge this association by illustrating the vigilance with which the housing program of the Khrushchev years strove not only to provide living space, but also to regenerate society and create model individuals, sometimes in ways reminiscent of the revolutionary 1920s.

Addressing daily life in both the new and the old housing stock during the 1950s and 1960s, this book embraces and analyzes the contradictions evident in heroic advances and seemingly inexplicable delays in construction, model apartments boasting all sorts of conveniences and decrepit kommunalki, happy housewarmings and disappointing moves, and new residents and individuals petitioning to exchange old living space. It also conceptualizes the home in a way that rigorously incorporates the spaces bordering it, examining the place of the neighborhood within housing policy and the domestic landscape, as well as ideals for harmony between interior and exterior spaces in terms of design, function, and potential for social intercourse. As a whole, it elucidates the broader parameters of house and home as it corresponded with three official mandates: forging the Soviet person, invigorating socialist society, and attaining Communism. In doing so, it integrates with the Thaw two additional, overlapping contexts: postwar restoration and Cold War rivalry.

Building Soviet Character

The notion of forging the Soviet person invokes character, another theme for which housing served as a vivid metaphor in Ehrenburg’s novella. Contemplating the changing times, its protagonist Dmitry Koroteyev thinks to himself, In the beginning, what could you expect?—You start building a house and there’s bound to be a lot of trash left lying around; but now it’s time we were getting tidier—the house is being lived in, after all. His musing is prompted by his failure to defend a colleague who had expressed a viewpoint contrary to established opinion. Trying to comprehend his fear and conformity, as he ponders the state of Soviet humanism, he declares to himself, We have taken a lot of trouble over one half of the human being, but the other half is neglected. The result is that one half of the house is a slum.³⁴

After the suspicion and denunciation that had marred daily life under Stalin, the question of the effects of repression on personal conduct is a highly significant one that is beginning to garner deserved attention.³⁵ More relevant to this book, however, is the allusion to character made in this inner monologue. Housing and the self were each implicated in the grand mission of communist construction. This was evident in state and Party rhetoric that aimed to mold passionate, upstanding communists and called on individuals to exhibit discipline and enthusiasm in the struggle for communist living through adherence to communist morality (kommunisticheskaia nravstvennost′) and participation in collective activism at home, as at work.

As Soviet citizens were moving by the millions into separate apartments, official discourse juxtaposed the attitudes, values, and behavior that would ideally flourish within them with the character of the model domestic interior. Specifically, artists and architects preoccupied with interior design urged restraint in consumption and adherence to their professional prescriptions for creating a functional household devoid of bourgeois signifiers like lace doilies, silk lampshades, and ornately carved commodes. Gender figured prominently in this discursive world, as experts designated homemaking the natural purview of women, advising them to set up a modern and efficient home