Retailing the revolution: the State Department Store (GUM) and Soviet society in the 1920s.
Yet, as the opening scene indicates, the revolution meant more than simply taking the means of distribution out of the hands of private merchants and re-educating the population. In terms of everyday life, the revolution meant bringing the comforts and delights of life to those previously denied them. The emergence of a consumer culture entails the mass production of standardized goods for widespread purchase, the development of mass forms of retailing, as well as the establishment of promotional techniques and attitudes that glorify the acquisition of consumer goods as a means to achieving happiness and establishing identity. A consumer culture also presupposes an affluent society in which a large sector of the population has the income and/or credit to consume goods above a minimum subsistence level and the luxury of selecting one good over another. (3) In order to achieve a socialist society in which workers and peasants enjoyed the material and cultural benefits of urban, industrial society and had access to a wonderful world of goods previously unavailable to members of their socioeconomic class, the state was obliged to create places where workers and peasants not simply purchased basic items, but even "shopped" for them and dreamed and fantasized about them. In short, a consumer culture that emphasized the status of the working classes as beneficiaries of modern society had to be constructed.
The importance of liberating state and society from the grip of capitalism and of creating a socialist consumer society was reflected in the conversion of the Upper Trading Rows, the largest and most visible retail site in Moscow, into the State Department Store (GUM). As a model retailer, GUM dedicated itself to "retailing the revolution." In using this phrase, I have in mind several interrelated activities that can be broadly grouped as either instrumental or symbolic: (1) GUM's participation in achieving the regime's socio-economic goals in the marketplace. These included revolutionary struggle against private enterprise, democratizing consumption for the working classes, and establishing efficient and dignified norms of buying, selling, and consumption compatible with a socialist lifestyle; and (2) GUM's utilization of mass marketing, merchandising, and agitational advertising and promotions to publicize those and other of the regime's goals and achievements to the population. GUM integrated these two facets of retailing into its operations, serving as both agent of the creation of a mass consumer society and vehicle for communicating with and educating the public in socialism.
This article interprets the revolution and the attempt to mobilize the population through the recreation of the marketplace and the construction of a Soviet consumer culture by exploring the role and operation of GUM and other state model retail firms during the period of the New Economic Policy (NEP, 1921-28). I argue that everyday, ordinary acts of buying and selling and the marketing of political goals through mass retail firms became central to the creation of a socialist society in the 1920s. The simple act of buying goods from a state retailer became a revolutionary act in itself, deemed fundamental to the installation of new norms and values and, ultimately, the transformation of the economy and society. State model retailers promoted patronage of state stores as a purposeful, rational act in the service of political and economic revolution. Through the creation of nation-wide networks of stores, advertisements, promotional events, and publicity campaigns that appealed to consumers across class, gender, and ethnic lines, GUM played a leading role in recasting the functions and meanings associated with buying and selling.
GUM alone did not set the terms of NEP consumer culture. State and society both struggled to define the forms, methods and purposes of Soviet mass retailing and consumption. The model retailer often found itself outflanked by more adept, resourceful private merchants and vendors. Indeed, the NEP period is often conceptualized as one characterized by the attractions of private retail stores, markets, restaurants, cafes, nightclubs, and other private enterprises. (4) Still, while GUM and other state-sponsored retailers ultimately fell short of their goal of outperforming private competitors and democratizing the distribution of consumer goods, they did play a significant role in inaugurating new ideals, values, and practices. Acting as both regulator and primary merchant, state retailers infused the culture of buying and selling with concepts of political struggle and through its priorities and policies introduced shortages and rationing, as well as concepts of consumer entitlement and complaint. Private merchants, consumers, retail employees, journalists, and commentators also contributed to the elaboration of the culture of the retail sector, their opinions and demands influencing state production and retailing decisions and their daily coping strategies often undercutting state imperatives.
GUM's role in NEP society points out the mutual influence of mass forms of culture and politics. (5) With the establishment of the State Department Store, consumer culture and the arts of modern retailing and marketing became intertwined with politics and economic theory, each supporting and transforming the other. The revolution infused the business of retailing with new principles and operational practices aimed to create a just, egalitarian environment, while methods of mass retailing gave to Soviet politics an appealing, accessible way to "sell" the revolution. Broadly speaking, state-supported, mass retailers such as GUM served as model institutions, organizations that reflected the impulses of the regime during the NEP years to gradually transform society through education and modeling, rather than coercion or force. (6) Despite the affinities, however, the collaboration between the political and commercial worlds was not always an easy sell. Anxieties surfaced among committed communists, trade union activists, intellectuals, and others about the deleterious effects of acquisitiveness and the vulgarity of the marketplace. Some of these anxieties about the influence of the marketplace predated the revolution, while others were introduced or exacerbated by the inauguration of socialist socio-economic goals. (7)
Following a brief exploration of the role of the commercial sphere in symbolizing the overthrow of the old regime, I examine the efforts of members of society to combine the philosophies of various movements to create a socialist retail system. Next, I use GUM and the establishment and operation of its retail network as a case study in elucidating the role of state retailing in the building of socialism. Finally, I assess the response of consumers and other members of society to GUM's efforts and the extent to which GUM succeeded in its mission.
The Revolution in the Commercial Sphere
The destruction of the capitalist commercial sphere and the creation of a network of state model retail stores constituted an obligatory step in the regime's project of remaking the economy and society. Building such a network, however, was fraught with ideological and practical complexities. Visions of material abundance had always animated socialist dreams of the future; however, a socialist society was primarily predicated on industrialization, and the distribution of consumer goods had received relatively little attention in the work of prominent theorists. Yet, since the ultimate aim of Soviet socialism was the redistribution of wealth via the reorganization of property and resources and the institution of a centrally directed, state-controlled economy, the retailing of consumer goods could not remain in private hands. The socialist ideology of class relations also dictated this change. Merchants, especially those who had owned the largest and most profitable firms prior to 1917, were considered members of the former exploiting classes. Their property was to be appropriated for the benefit of the working classes, who would no longer provide capitalist merchants with profits, but instead enjoy a higher material standard of living for themselves through state-assisted access to goods.
The first step in realizing a new form of economic organization necessitated seizing businesses and claiming them for workers. Initially, the Bolsheviks took control of already existing industrial and commercial enterprises through processes of nationalization and municipalization, which consolidated small- and medium-sized enterprises into large conglomerates. In December 1917, the state nationalized banks and formed one public bank, the People's Bank of the Russian Republic. Foreign commerce was nationalized and placed under the jurisdiction of the Commissariat of Commerce and Industry in April 1918. The nationalization campaign continued and that summer as civil war threatened, the state issued a decree on nationalization, bringing large factories and joint stock companies under its control. In July 1918, a committee attached to the Moscow Soviet began the municipalization of the largest firms in the city, including the famous department store Muir & Mirrielees, and then mid- and small-scale retailers. Finally, on November 21, 1918, the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom) decreed the elimination of private trade. In its place cooperative and state stores were to be organized and local soviets were to supervise the retail trade. (8)
In this early phase of revolution, attacks on fashionable retail emporiums and the destruction or confiscation of luxury goods were enthusiastically reported as events that subverted the old order. Reports were sometimes laden with images of class and gender that associated the middle-class female consumer with the bourgeoisie of the pre-Soviet commercial sphere and the institution of Soviet power as a working-class masculine achievement. A 1918 article in Izvestiia vividly portrayed the taking of prominent retail landmarks in Moscow as acts in the transformation of a discredited, profit-making, feminized realm to a practical, equitable, masculine commercial society. (9) The feature opened with a description of some of the extraordinary scenes taking place on Moscow's streets, for example, workers carrying off faded signboards from sealed stores, while onlookers whooped their approval. The writer contrasted such acts of dismantling with the appearance of new, presumably more democratic businesses, ones that hung signboards of white canvas with big, black letters spelling out "Ready-to-Wear Store Number ... of the Moscow Soviet of Workers and Soldier's Deputies." The article also reported on conditions at the Golofteev and Aleksandr retail arcades, the author pointing out that formerly ladies (damy) occupied these fashionable premises, shopping and trying on clothing, but after the revolution the Municipalization Commission had taken over, setting up its headquarters in the arcades. Empty boxes that had previously held gloves and ribbons littered the floors, and typists sat hammering away and reckoning accounts on tables piled high with papers. Female laborers rushed around them, laughing, carrying under their arms mustachioed, ruddy-faced mannequins. The writer noted the disorientation of citizens of the third and fourth ration categories, who standing in queues in front of shops, were finding it difficult to reconcile themselves to the idea that the new shopper (novyi pokupatel') at Al'shvang's stylish store was the "muzhich'e, i.e., the working population of the proletarian capital."
Joyful attacks on leading retail firms represented the overthrow of the old commercial regime and the institution of a just economic order. They were symbolic and practical acts of revolution, and part of a larger, popular movement to destroy the symbols of the past. In vandalizing and stripping monuments to privilege and wealth and putting in place their own, Russians were destroying the past and reconstructing it. (10) These brief descriptions provide key images representing contrasts between the atmosphere and functions of the old and new retail sphere. The devastation of the stores--the display boxes emptied of their luxurious contents and thrown carelessly on the floor, the giddy removal of mannequins, and the appearance of government employees with their messy stacks of paper, noisy typewriters, and abacuses--symbolized the overthrow of the pristine, frivolous bourgeois commercial realm and the inauguration of a democratic, purposeful socialist sphere. The former palaces of consumption were being converted from places where shoppers indulged in idle pastimes to sites where workers helped to revolutionize society.
The representation of the municipalization of retail firms also showed a process that favored working-class males by symbolically clearing the commercial sphere of middle- and upper-class women, and securing it for working-class men. Certainly, this image did not reflect reality, but symbolically it speaks to the masculine political culture of the Bolsheviks. (11) The insertion of the muzhich'e into fashionable retail spaces is especially interesting, since the word unambiguously denotes a man, possibly a peasant, and a loutish, uncultured one at that. This word was clearly used intentionally to draw a sharp distinction between privileged, refined ladies of leisure, who formerly assumed the right to shop at Al'shvang's, and disenfranchised, simple laboring men, who claimed the right of consumption through acts of municipalization. As demonstrated by this piece, the commercial sphere was distancing itself from the appearance of privilege and femininity and asserting an identity of democratic masculinity.
The new state had initiated the dismantling of the commercial sphere, but it was not in a position to reconstitute it right away, especially after the civil war began in 1918. Together the revolution and civil war wrought devastation on the shops and stores, upon which the population had formerly relied. City dwellers struggled to supply themselves with necessary goods as the number of retailers rapidly shrank. Izvestiia reported in January 1919 that a total of 3,409 retail stores in Moscow had been sealed by the municipal soviet, but only 133 had been reopened. (12) This figure not only reflected the breakdown of the commercial distribution network, but the overall deterioration of the economy and the sharp decline in urban population that was occurring throughout the former Russian Empire. (13) Large-scale industry veritably collapsed during the civil war, as production plummeted to less than 20 percent of its 1913 level. Agricultural output fell by approximately three-fourths. As a result, less than one fifth of the total amount of consumer goods produced in 1912 was available in 1920. (14) During these years, retailing was primarily conducted by migratory traders or "bag men," who made trips to the countryside, bringing back food in sacks, which they bartered at markets, and by ordinary citizens, who stood on certain streets to sell their own belongings. State authorities largely ignored this covert and illegal, but necessary activity. Such operations inaugurated what would become a widespread, flourishing black market that survived the entire Soviet period. (15)
NEP and the Drive for a Socialist Retail Sector
The dismantling and breakdown of the commercial sphere in the initial phases of revolution and civil war seemed to portend its complete destruction. The emigration of many successful merchants and the deprivation, shortages, inflation, death, and disease wrought by the civil war of 1918-21 had taken their toll. The New Economic Policy, adopted gradually during the spring and summer of 1921, attempted to make concessions to an exhausted population and revive a failing economy by, among other measures, permitting private manufacture and retailing on a limited basis. In this atmosphere, images of hunger and want were being replaced by those of abundance. Mikhail Bulgakov, writer and one-time journalist for the Commercial-Industrial Herald, declared a "commercial renaissance" and Moscow "open for business":
On Kuznetskii Most, the painted faces of toy figures made by artel craftsmen smile. In the former Shanks store, ladies' hats, stockings, boots, and furs gaze out at the clouds.... On Petrovka, windows sparkle with ready-to-wear clothing.... Waves of fabric, lace, rows of boxes of face powder.... There is a confectioners shop at every step. And all day until closing, they are full of people (narod). The shelves are full of white bread, wheatmeal loves, French rolls. Countless rows of pirozhki cover the counters.... The luxurious displays at the gastronomes are startling. Mounds of crates with canned goods, black caviar, salmon, smoked fish, oranges. (16)
Within the mixed NEP retail economy, the state sought a place for itself, becoming a competitor that tried to gradually eliminate private manufacturers and retailers, even as it tolerated them as a temporary, necessary means. In establishing model retail institutions, state and municipal authorities, party theorists, trade union and business leaders, and others committed to the reinvention of the retail trade had to determine the principles and goals of state-supported retail enterprises and to consider the moral implications attached to state-supported retailing and consumption. This process required balancing concerns about restoring industry and commerce with a desire to bring citizens a better life, materially and culturally. Weighing these issues proved to be a difficult task, especially as large-scale industry and retailing prior to 1917 had become connected to so-called bourgeois values of acquisition, pleasure, and leisure, as well as to the social identities of merchants and even to the Orthodox faith. On one hand, the retail trade was viewed by many Bolsheviks with contempt and suspicion as an occupation that produced no value and even exploited the population. Merchants were often indiscriminately referred to in the early Soviet period as "speculators." Further, commerce was largely perceived by many members of the party as a secondary sector of the economy that existed only to support industrialization. The primary justification for the resurrection of private trade in 1921 was that it would encourage peasants to produce enough grain for export, a main source of state revenue, and feed the urban population. The ambivalence felt toward selling merchandise at a profit showed in the party's alternately conciliatory and repressive policies toward private merchants throughout the decade. (17)
On the other hand, material concerns and issues of everyday life preoccupied many in the party. Recognizing that cultural retraining had to accompany political and economic changes, leaders such as Leon Trotskii and the organizers in the party's Women's Bureau (Zhenotdel) addressed material and moral aspects of life, touching on such things as the appearance of homes, drinking, literacy, religion, habits of speech, and polite behavior. State agencies created thousands of propaganda posters instructing the population in proper behaviors and attitudes. The primary objective of this medium was to encourage cultured norms of behavior, i.e., civility, sobriety, logic, and sophistication, among the population. Posters admonished the population against swearing, smudging books, eating from a communal bowl, handling fruits and vegetables in stores and markets with one's hands, and stepping in front of a tram, while advising washing one's hands before eating and regular exercise. (18)
Reforming the retail sector of the economy and introducing new practices of buying and selling were not only economic imperatives, but part of the larger agenda of infusing everyday behaviors with logic and purpose. One of the major tasks facing reformers was to break merchants and consumers of long-established habits and behaviors, and then to reeducate them in new ones. Over centuries, merchants, especially those engaged in small-scale vending and petty trade, had developed customary business practices that included haggling over prices, "calling," i.e., haranguing customers to enter shops and make purchases, and selling shoddy goods at exorbitant prices. These practices earned them a reputation for crudeness and dishonesty among both consumers and reformers prior to and following the 1917 revolution. (19) Commercial officials appointed by the new regime hoped to abolish such long-established customs and institute what they perceived to be open, rational, just methods of sale.
Businessmen appointed by the regime to manage state retail firms, therefore, tried to detach buying and selling from those identities and practices that it no longer found appropriate, and to recast them as deliberate acts that assisted state goals. They sought to erect a centralized system of state retailing, supported by rural retail cooperatives, which could rationalize the distribution structure, equalize acquisition of consumer goods, and school the population in what they considered modern, dignified, and efficient behaviors of buying and selling. Business leaders hoped to appeal to consumers and convince them of the superiority of state retailing, leading them to forsake private, capitalistic retailers, thereby supporting collectivist economic institutions and ideals of social justice.
Beginning in late 1921, state and municipal authorities began to organize manufacturing and retailing trusts. Mossel'prom, Mossukno, Rezinotrust, and Moskvoshvei, the Moscow food, textile, rubber, and clothing trusts, respectively, all appeared under the supervision of economic councils attached to the Moscow soviet. (20) The state also reorganized and renamed several of the largest, most successful pre-Soviet firms and enterprises. Like the overthrow of the commercial sphere in 1917, the renaming and reopening of large, prominent firms signaled the deposing of wealthy property owners and the ascendance of the Bolshevik regime and the working classes. The State Department Store took up residence in the enormous, ornate retail arcade formerly known as the Upper Trading Rows on Red Square. Mostorg was created under the Moscow Soviet's Board of Commerce, and the Mostorg Department Store opened its doors in a building on Petrovka that previously housed Muir & Mirrielees. A similar process was happening in other parts of the Soviet Union. Komvnutorg of Ukraine, for example, formed the joint stock company Larek (literally "stall") in November 1922. By 1923, the firm operated 1,046 commercial outlets throughout the Ukraine, most of them in Khar'kov, Odessa, and Ekaterinoslav provinces. (21)
Other leading businesses were reconstituted and rechristened, their new names often evocative of revolutionary myths, personalities, or imagery. The famous confectioner Abrikosov & Sons was nationalized in 1922 and renamed the P. A. Babaev State Confectioner after a prominent Moscow Bolshevik. A. Siu & Confectioners was resurrected in 1924 as Bolshevik Confectioners, while Einem became Red October Confectioners. Kommunar, a coop serving the officials and employees of the Moscow soviet, the Moscow party, and the Comintern, reopened the lavish Eliseev's Wine and Delicatessen Emporium on Tverskaia under the unassuming name Store Number 1. Filippov's renowned bakery became known as the First Moscow Bakery. Perfume and cosmetics manufacturers Brocard & Company and A. Ralle & Company were recast as New Dawn and Freedom, respectively. (22)
State and municipal leaders had clearly reserved the most capacious, elegant, well-appointed, and renowned commercial venues as sites for the foundation of the socialist retail sector. There were several reasons for this strategy. Former proprietors had built thriving businesses in these places. Basing operations on the sites of solid, proven, and popular firms must have seemed the easiest way to attract customers, since many residents were already familiar with such businesses. These sites also offered the new regime pre-existing facilities and equipment, status, and, in some cases, personnel. (23) Many commercial reformers also viewed large retail firms as the only establishments large enough to wield the financial capital necessary to mediate between giant state manufacturing trusts and consumers. This preference for large-sized enterprises accorded with the general modernization impulse in Bolshevik ideology. Soviet socialism aimed to modernize and centralize the economy, and as the most innovative and centralized form of retailing at that time, the department store was considered by many the most efficient and advanced retail format. Iakov Gal'pershtein, member of GUM's board, reflected this view when he remarked that only department stores commanding enormous resources would be capable of purchasing in volume the products manufactured by state trusts and providing for all of the consumers' demands. He asserted that only consolidated, wide-ranging retailers, and not cooperatives, could wage a competitive battle to win the market for the state. (24)
Finally, the strategy of locating state retailers in the premises of formerly prominent, capitalist retail firms demonstrates that Soviet business leaders hoped to install in the Soviet Union a commercial aesthetic of elegance, quality, selection, value, cleanliness, attentive customer service, and cultured leisure and educational activities, similar to that being elaborated in Western Europe and the United States. (25) While this aesthetic was associated with the capitalist West, as well as Russian merchants of the Empire, it apparently accorded with the regime's desire to educate the masses in dignified modes of public behavior and leisure activities and to lift the material and cultural level of the population. Critical of petty trade as underdeveloped and coarse, commercial officials intended citizens of a socialist state to have access to the largest, most efficient, and refined retail premises in the city and to a world of consumer goods and services. Installing Soviet retail centers in elegant "palaces" formerly devoted to the elaboration and cultivation of middle-class tastes and lifestyles symbolized the democratization of consumption, a process that did not mean downgrading standards, but upgrading consumer expectations.
Despite their compatibility with socialism's purposes, the department store and other large-scale forms of retailing were tainted with their symbolic connection to the excesses of capitalism and the bourgeoisie. (26) Business leaders looked for ways to make prototypical state retail firms distinct from their capitalist predecessors. Movements previously disconnected from the business world provided state businesses with new visual and organizational directions that signaled a departure from capitalist sensibilities and advanced the creation of revolutionary retailers. The movement to rationalize labor inspired new designs for retail stores. The coop Kommunar planned to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the revolution with the opening of a model store on Krasnaia Presnia in Moscow. Experts at Orgstroi, a specialist in the rationalization of businesses, advised the standardization of equipment, fixtures, and procedures, and the installation of [PI]-shaped counters around a new floor plan to increase employee efficiency and customer satisfaction. (27) While rationalizing work routines for efficiency was not antithetical to the pre-Soviet retail trade, the scientific reorganization of work routines was one among many utopian movements that inspired creativity and experimentation in Russia in the years following the revolution. (28)
Employing the slogan "Art into Life!," constructivist artists and architects promoted the transformation of society through a reordering of everyday life and work based on the practical, industrial design of objects and buildings. Vladimir Maiakovskii and Aleksandr Rodchenko, both of whom had produced agitational texts and posters during the civil war, applied the principles of constructivist art and design to give to the architecture and advertisements of state enterprises a bold look that provided alternatives to pre-Soviet models. (29) Their design for Mossel'prom's seven-storied headquarters on Kislovka St., completed in 1924, showed both graphic innovation and commercial savvy in the alternation of constructivist-inspired motifs and the trust's slogan--"Nowhere else but Mossel'prom"--on the building's side. Mossel'prom's small, portable street kiosks exhibited a similar experimental treatment in signboards that audaciously queried passersby with questions about where to buy macaroni, candy, or other products, and supplied the answer: "Nowhere else but Mossel'prom." (30)
Maiakovskii, Rodchenko, and other artists also applied their talents to the design of product wrappers and packages for inexpensive consumer items, turning them into agitational media. The aim of agitational packaging was to promote state manufacturing enterprises and to distill the complex concepts of socialism into rudimentary slogans and images intelligible to a wide audience--in essence, packaging socialism for mass consumption. Babaev Confectioners marketed several varieties of candy with revolutionary names and wrappers, including "Red Moscow" and "Internationale," the latter sold in a brightly colored wrapper featuring Red Army soldiers marching under banners with the slogan "Proletarians Unite." The product line of Bolshevik Confectioners featured Hammer and Sickle, Red Navy, and Pioneer candies. The state soap and cosmetics trust (TEZhE) proffered perfume, soap, and powder called "New Dawn." Some packages were blatantly agitational. Maiakovskii developed a series of sequentially numbered agitational wrappers for Mossel'prom's Red Star caramels. One in this series depicted in drawing and verse the victory of the Red Army over the Whites. For Red October's Our Industry caramels, Maiakovskii and Rodchenko created wrappers with illustrations of trains, trams, and tractors accompanied by slogans of industrialization. (31)
State retailers even marketed the personalities of the revolution and symbols of state power in an attempt to familiarize consumers with its leaders and their achievements. The State Mail-Order Company (Univerpocht) offered for sale special commemorative items in honor of the revolution's tenth anniversary, including pencils embossed with Lenin's image, which sold for 85 kopeks a dozen, a metal mug with a relief of the state seal in gold, and a book entitled "Ten Years of Soviet Power." (32)
The repackaging of consumer goods and marketing of revolutionary slogans, imagery, and personalities suggests that socialist leaders were not opposed to the acquisition of consumer goods, if the meanings and purposes attached to them were recast. The task of agitational product marketing became to offer consumer goods as products of a state seeking to build a socialist society, not of capitalist entrepreneurs seeking profit by indulging consumers' extravagant caprices. Consumption in the service of an industrialized, cultured, egalitarian society was permitted, indeed, even encouraged.
In setting up a retail network, commercial officials were naturally also guided by the principles of socialism. Business reformers sought to maintain the fiscal and organizational benefits of mass retailing, especially economies of scale, while ridding state stores of such pernicious aims as profit and the satisfaction of the whims of coddled customers. The political ideal of the primacy of the worker became a guiding rule for state stores, turning on its head the old commercial axiom that the consumer was king/queen. It became the sales worker, not the customer who reigned supreme. The trade union of commercial workers was one of the most vocal critics of older sales customs and protocols that required deference from sales workers and granted customers a license to abuse workers. In its journals, union activists called for a new relationship between sales workers and consumers, one based on trust and dignity and one in which both assumed rights and responsibilities.
Union activists explained that sales workers labored under difficult working conditions and that their deficiencies would be overcome with proper social training and the improvement of the commercial network. The psychology of the consumer, however, also had to change. One journalist for the trade union journal Voice of the Worker (Golos Rabotnika) chided consumers for their belief that status as a cooperative member gave them the right to receive merchandise out of turn, make remarks to sales workers, ask the price of things that they were not interested in buying, comment on a store's deficiencies, or make small talk. All of these bad behaviors, he believed, came from the old consumer mentality of "I am the master of the worker." Consumers needed to learn that the worker was no longer a servant, but master of a store, a position that required respect not contempt. (33) Another journalist lampooned the old-fashioned "obliging, courteous, and attentive" shop assistant, the type who groveled before customers, calling out to them, "What may I do for you please?" and upon their departure, "Good luck!" (34) These activists believed that the primary task of the sales worker was not to entertain, indulge, or even please the individual client, but to serve the needs of the consuming masses. Sales workers were obliged to fully gauge the needs of consumers and to give them objective and competent advice in selecting appropriate products and in utilizing their workers' credit in the most economic way. For their part, consumers were to be informed, respectful, and compliant with the rules governing the purchase of goods in state and cooperative stores. (35)
Linguistic changes signaled this shift in attitudes toward the roles of consumers and workers. Prior to the revolution, buyers had been referred to as "customers" or "shoppers" (pokupateli). After 1917 the term "consumers" (potrebiteli) was most commonly used by newspapers and other publications. This new terminology suggests an emphasis on collectivity. Sales workers were seldom referred to as shop assistants (prikazchiki), but "workers of the counter" (rabochie prilavki), "sales workers," or sometimes "sellers." The new titles disassociated shop assistants from notions of servility to customers and their merchant-bosses and recognized retail workers as a part of the larger corps of the proletariat. (36)
Together these various movements and philosophies provided inspiration for the founding of the socialist retail sector. Idealism and pragmatism and old and new commercial methods and styles co-existed as state retailers blended characteristics of the department store with ideals enshrined in socialism and the cooperative, constructivist, and rationalization movements to construct a retail system dedicated to opposing private commerce and modeling new norms of buying and selling.
Under GUM's Glass Heaven
Occupying the most visible and largest retail site in Moscow on Red Square, GUM showcased the state's aspiration to bring a world of style, quality, and beauty to ordinary citizens at an affordable price. As the opening vignette of this article suggests, GUM invited workers and peasants, men, as well as women to its "dream world," vowing to make the consumption of mass-manufactured basic goods a classless, gender-neutral activity guaranteed by a benevolent state. The firm assembled a large staff that included executives, sales workers, and other staff employees, as well as artists and writers to implement daily sales operations and to broadcast its message to consumers.
Created by the Sovnarkom in December 1921, GUM adopted the mission of supplying state, cooperative, and private enterprises with materials and manufactured products and of retailing consumer goods to the population in all territories of the Soviet Union. (37) The board of directors initially included representatives from the Moscow Soviet, Commissariat of Finance, Supreme Council of the National Economy, State Publishing Trust, and State Insurance Trust. These officials coordinated store operations and communicated with other government organs. Aleksei Andrianovich Belov was named director of GUM and Aleksei Iakovlevich Mishukov his assistant. The state pledged five million rubles to fund the retailer's start-up. Half of the profits were intended to return to the state's coffers, while the rest was earmarked for the expansion of the business. By January 1924, however, GUM had received less than one million of the promised five million rubles. Shortness of funds affected GUM throughout its existence, severely handicapping the retailer's ability to compete with private firms. (38)
GUM announced its March 1922 opening in full-page advertisements in popular and specialized newspapers. The retailer styled itself a department store that aimed to provide "everything for everybody," and opening announcements stressed the variety of goods available. On opening day fifteen departments were ready for business, including grocery, confectionery, wine, perfume, books, haberdashery, sporting goods, and toys. Over the next few years, the retailer expanded its offerings, operating more than 25 departments, including, in addition to those listed above, luggage, musical instruments, stationery, tea, ladies' hats, and clearance departments. (39)
GUM was not simply a local department store, but a diversified politico-commercial venture that aimed to bring communism through consumerism. Essentially, the retailer hoped to extend its product offerings to consumers in all corners of the Soviet Union, uniting them in one big, imagined department store, and by fulfilling their needs and desires winning them for the cause of socialism. In order to implement this ambitious and expansive program, GUM quickly expanded its reach. By the end of 1923, the retailer operated ten divisions with approximately 25 branch stores in Moscow and Leningrad and opened stores in Tambov-Voronezh, Nizhngorov, Saratov, Orel, Elets, Kursk, Tula, Krasnodar, Samara, Perm, Tiumen, Ekaterinburg, and Khar'kov. The firm also maintained a New York office that contracted purchases and sales of Russian raw materials until 1924. (40)
GUM confidently presented itself as the preeminent merchant in the USSR. Its advertising staff emphasized this status in its creation of an identifiable, distinctive image and messages of universality, style, and value that broadcast the firm and its promise of mass consumption. Advertisements in popular commercial media displayed GUM's distinctive logo and slogan: a circle topped by "GUM Moscow," underscored with the inscription "The State Department Store," and featuring in the center the all-inclusive motto "Everything for Everybody." Catchphrases informed readers: "We Have Everything You Need at GUM!", "The Latest Styles only at GUM!", and "Colossal Assortment of High-Quality Merchandise at Prices that the Competition Can't Beat!" The firm also proudly trumpeted its role as principal purveyor, billing itself as "The Only True State Department Store," a slogan that suggested that only GUM could provide a world of goods and services to a large constituency of consumers.
GUM advertised heavily its claim as universal provider, placing notices for myriad items in many and diverse kinds of urban and provincial newspapers and journals. In Moscow, its biggest market, ads appeared in an array of publications such as Izvestiia, the state's newspaper, Economic Life (Ekonomicheskaia zhizn'), a paper devoted to issues of the economy and read mainly by specialists, and in wide-circulation daily papers and magazines, including Evening Moscow (Vecherniaia Moskva), Worker's Moscow, (Rabochaia Moskva), and Worker's Path (Rabochii put'). GUM also advertised far beyond the borders of Moscow. Ads played up the theme of national retailer by publicizing the firm's pledge to send merchandise COD to consumers residing in all areas of the Soviet Union. Announcements appeared in places as far away as Kazan', Rostov-on-Don, Chernigov, and Riazan', and in newspapers that aimed at a broad readership, among them The Peasant's Newspaper (Krest'ianskaia gazeta), and the party's journal for working women, Rabotnitsa.
Many of GUM's ads promoted the firm as a welcoming, accommodating space for all social classes, genders, and nationalities across the USSR. The slogan "Everything for Everybody," which appeared in almost all advertisements along with the firm's logo, sent a message of inclusion. Yet, one series of advertisements created to tout COD service to the provinces revealed a hierarchy of preference for those previously disenfranchised in its call to "workers, peasants, and other citizens." (41) GUM did not send clear messages about gender either, and the store was not symbolically represented as an exclusively masculine or feminine arena, although political and social conventions reproduced certain biases in advertisements. Building on the concept of the smychka, the economic and cultural union between city and village, one advertisement portrayed a male worker and male peasant gazing at GUM's logo, the presumably more politically conscious worker pointing out to the peasant the store's logo. Such ads mirrored the semiotic tactic employed in revolutionary propaganda posters of depicting the socialist state as a union of politically conscious male workers and male peasants. (42) Women do not appear in this ad at all, an omission that suggests that GUM did not market itself as a "woman's paradise," but as an appropriately masculine space in which men were enjoined to partake of the material bounty proffered by the revolution. GUM did target women, in particular working women, as a special group through placements in publications that attracted a female readership. Presuming women's domestic responsibilities and interest in fashion, the firm touted its extensive selection of china, crystal, and housewares in the journal Rabotnitsa and regularly ran ads featuring illustrations of dress patterns. (43)
The retailer's advertising campaigns were sometimes agitational in nature, reflecting its twin objectives of persuading consumers to buy both consumer goods and the idea of communism from GUM. Maiakovskii and Rodchenko collaborated on such agitational advertisements in the mid-1920s, setting out in new textual and visual, as well as commercial directions. In their hands, advertisements for galoshes, fruits and vegetables, sporting goods, and household items became political propaganda, and political objectives became commodified. The two designed posters and advertisements in a bold, revolutionary style and idiom that suited the commercial end of capturing the attention of customers, as well as the agitational purpose of beating private retailing. One agitational ad encapsulated in a few short, simple phrases GUM's ambitious mission of supplying the needs of all Soviet citizens:
Clothe the body, Feed the stomach, Fill the mind-- Everything that a person needs at GUM he will find. (44)
This sales pitch declared that GUM anticipated all needs and satisfied them, an idea that reflected the state's desire to consolidate the distribution of consumer goods through one central point, and its expectation that eventually state institutions would organize all activities for all citizens. Such centralization of buying and selling would culminate in the establishment of a state-run economy.
Incorporating GUM's circular-shaped logo, another agit-ad represented the state store as a life raft, an image that conveyed the impression that the state would "save" its citizens from NEPmen and petty traders:
Grab onto this life preserver! High-quality, inexpensive goods, direct from manufacturers! (45)
GUM was not the only state retailer to make grandiose claims about its revolutionary role in remaking the economy and society. Other state retailers, including Ukraine's Larek, fashioned themselves showcase retailers that sought to bring all things to all people. Larek's trademark slogan resembled GUM's in its appeal to value and excellence and its goal of dominating the market: "Buy Things at Larek--Cheaper and Better than Anywhere Else!" Many of its ads were blatantly political, combining endorsements of the retailer and its products with political rhetoric. One agit-ad inveighed against private traders and consumers who patronized them:
Consumer! You commit a crime against yourself, Against your family, Against the state, When you shop at a private shop. Shopping at Larek Preserves your material interests, and the interests of your family-- You don't strengthen private capital, You don't help to establish the new bourgeoisie. (46)
This ad reminded consumers that it was their duty to starve out NEPmen and that patronizing private businesses was an act that delayed the achievement of socialism. Such advertisements linked everyday acts of consumption to the attainment of historic goals.
Some of GUM's ads endorsed the buying of certain consumer goods, a tactic that suggests the retailer's pretension to cultural arbiter. A 1923 ad for Mozer watches promoted the idea of wearing a watch and keeping time. Featuring a mechanical human figure constructed largely of clocks and watches, the text proclaimed: "A Person is Only [a Person] with a Watch. The Only Watch [to Own] is Mozer. Mozers are Only Available at GUM." (47) This ad contained both didactic and commercial aims. It instructed the consumer that watches were an essential accessory to life in a modern, industrial society and that GUM, as exclusive purveyor of Mozer watches, offered Soviet citizens the best available. Product endorsements such as these reflected the belief that conscientious behaviors and attitudes could be instilled through the purchase of appropriate consumer goods.
Image-making campaigns created the impression of style, abundance, and egalitarianism, and the environment of GUM's stores and their operating policies and procedures were designed to reflect these virtues. Store policies reveal a concern with establishing an orderly, ethical, dignified social space in which workers and consumers engaged in decorous, purposeful transactions. In order to ensure that all customers paid the same amount, prices were to be clearly marked or displayed on items. Haggling and the practice of posting workers outside to cajole or coerce customers into a store were prohibited. GUM tried to create a welcoming, congenial atmosphere for customers by instilling in its employees the fundamentals of courteous customer service. Employees were exhorted not to treat shoppers rudely or to show a preference for one customer over another, to read, hold personal conversations, wander around the store, gather in groups to talk about things not related to business, and to show up at work drunk or to drink on the job. The model retailer also strived to care for the health and welfare of employees by supplying lavatories stocked with wash stands, soap, and clean towels, and allowing female workers and breast-feeding mothers a 30-minute break during their shift. (48)
New protocols for buying and selling were instituted in state retail stores in the form of the three-queue system. Actually, buying and selling largely disappeared from state stores, as sellers issued (otpuskat') merchandise and consumers were supplied or satisfied (udovletvoriat'sia) with goods. The establishment of the three-queue system signaled that the nature of retailing had significantly altered. Browsing was no longer an option in state stores. Shopping was curtailed as the queue made unhurried selection difficult. Merchandise was displayed behind counters and sales workers were posted behind them to assist customers. In order to buy something, a customer first approached the counter and asked a worker for the items in the quantities he or she wished to buy. The worker added the cost of these items, and wrote an order, which was given to the buyer. The customer then proceeded to the cashier, presented the order, and paid for it. Finally, the customer presented the order and receipt to the sales worker, or at GUM to a worker in the Control Department, who issued the merchandise. (49) Persisting until the end of the Soviet Union, this system represented a clear departure from the tenets of capitalist retailing that had relied on customers' looking, browsing, and touching to generate sales, and inaugurated a Soviet system that came to symbolize the inefficiency and unresponsiveness of state retailing.
GUM tried to generate interest and excitement in and around its stores by sponsoring educational exhibitions and fairs, designed as much to educate and entertain the public as to win their patronage. The retailer, for instance, put on an exposition of 1,500 birds and of more than 1,000 dogs, the latter billed as "something never seen prior to the revolution." (50) Every year at the Red Square location, GUM sponsored its "traditional" spring and fall bazaars. At the fall bazaar of 1925, GUM announced that it would give away 10,000 prizes through a drawing. Visitors who made purchases were entitled to enter the drawing to win bicycles, shoes, coats, musical instruments, gramophones, cosmetics, samovars, and other prizes. An orchestra provided entertainment at these events. The newspapers reported on the bazaars enthusiastically, if briefly, noting that large crowds attended them. (51)
GUM and other state retailers also played a role in promoting new Soviet holidays. Sales in celebration of the holiday of the October Revolution were routinely advertised and popular newspapers regularly reported on the accompanying holiday bustle in Mostorg, GUM, and other stores. Larek announced a "Larek Octobering" in honor of the seventh anniversary of the revolution. The firm offered prizes, including fabric, soap, cookies, sugar, and cigarettes, to parents who bestowed a revolutionary name on a child born on November 7, the day of the Bolshevik revolution. In 1924 Mossel'prom launched a promotional campaign in conjunction with the introduction of its Treasure cigarettes. Packages of cigarettes contained tickets for a lottery sponsored by Mossel'prom and the Commission for the Improvement of the Life of Children. Prizes included cows, horses, tractors, and furniture, and proceeds from the lottery went to support homeless children and orphans from World War I and the civil war. (52)
Retail promotions displayed a distinctively agitational, in addition to affective purpose, sending the message that the attainment of socialism was connected to the personal acquisition of consumer goods. With its thousands of prizes, GUM's 1926 fall bazaar acquainted shoppers with GUM's extensive merchandise lines and highlighted recently lowered prices at a time when consumers were more able to afford purchases. (53) An obvious commercial maneuver to get shoppers into its store, the promotion aimed to generate interest in bicycles, coats, and gramophones suggests that ownership of basic goods and small luxuries was part of a larger agenda of introducing consumers to new and fine kinds of material goods and making them available, if not literally, then symbolically. Larek's Octobering promotion implied that Soviet children should be born into homes supplied with all of the things necessary for their care. It also rewarded parents with small luxuries, sugar and cookies for the mother, cigarettes for the father, for adopting revolutionary rituals. In these promotions, the state rewarded consumers with material things and consumers aided the state through consumption of items produced or retailed by state enterprises.
The Customer is Always Wrong
Despite GUM's aspiration to create a consumer wonderland for the working classes and its mounting of impressive marketing campaigns, the firm was not meeting its objectives of providing everything to everybody and of wooing away consumers from private merchants. GUM was hindered by, among other things, lack of funding, mismanagement, executive corruption, and the superior skill of private merchants, as well as by workers' and consumers' own visions of how a retail store should operate. As a result, Sovnarkom decided in 1931 to close GUM's doors, its mission terminated. The firm was not reconstituted until 1953.
GUM experienced difficulties in financing and managing its far-flung network. Beginning in 1924 and continuing through 1926, GUM reorganized its network, making sharp cut-backs in the number of branch stores. After closing stores in Leningrad, Khar'kov, Krasnodar, Perm, and Tiumen, among others, seven divisions and approximately 20 commercial units remained. At this time GUM also divested itself of its several manufacturing enterprises, artisanal workshops, and other holdings and assets in order to concentrate exclusively on its commercial functions and to pursue retail expansion on a sound basis. (54)
Judging from frequent reorganizations of its retail network, many of GUM's stores, especially those in the provinces, led a precarious existence, struggling to maintain a viable business and to live up to GUM's projected image. As early as 1923 a report characterized business in the three units in the Urals-Siberia division as "depressing," noting that the staff was "not completely apt" and that money was squandered on purchases of inappropriate and unpopular merchandise. (55) By 1927-28, the situation had not improved. An inspection found that the provincial stores still suffered from serious defects, including a lack of variety in their merchandise assortment and ordering irregularities. A 1925 report revealed that stores in the Moscow division of GUM "most closely resemble a European-type department store," while stores in other cities "still have to transform themselves into true department stores." (56) While a few, Saratov among them, were showing sales increases, most stores in the provinces showed uneven growth in sales, and reported achieving only about 35-40 percent of their plan. (57)
Fiscal shortages and operational problems led GUM to eventually focus more narrowly on Moscow and the surrounding area. By 1927, GUM operated in the city the Red Square location and ten branch stores, along with 17 tea stores, 15 wine stores, and a shoe stall in Sukharev market, all together employing more than 700 employees. Outside of Moscow, GUM maintained three divisions and approximately 68 retail stores. (58) This strategy of restricting the scope of operations allowed closer supervision and easier distribution, but it resulted in the marginalization of the provinces and the dominance of the Moscow market.
Investigations of GUM stores and complaints filed by consumers reveals that the firm failed to provide an attractive, comfortable, clean environment stocked with a good selection of desirable merchandise, tended to by courteous, knowledgeable, and helpful sales workers. Instead inspectors and consumers charged that GUM managed a dystopic network of dirty and inefficient stores plagued by chronic shortages of the most popular and necessary merchandise, rude, inattentive, and vindictive employees, pricing irregularities, bribe-taking, favoritism, and general organizational disarray. A 1927 investigation of a GUM store in Moscow's Baumanskii neighborhood was typical. The inspector reported that the store front had been absolutely neglected, its sign dirty and weather-beaten. Display windows were full of flies and faded, carelessly arranged merchandise. Inside he found a stack of vodka crates piled just inside the entrance. In the grocery department, sausages and cheese lay in disarray, uncovered by netting and full of flies. Candy was found scattered all over dirty, greasy counters. Raisins were dumped in the bins for pistachios and coffee, and piles of paper stuffed in flour bins. In the haberdashery department, he found gloves and other items lying around outside of their boxes and bolts of fabric lying on dirty floors. The inspector also noted a lack of basic necessities, including flour, sunflower oil, rice, and barley. This official warned store managers that such "slovenliness" and mismanagement repelled customers and served as a negative advertisement for state commerce and the socialist economy. (59)
Even the Red Square store, the jewel of state retailing, garnered criticism. Inspections of its three haberdashery stores showed that while the display windows were satisfactory and the stores clean, the sales floors were crowded and sales workers underqualified and in need of discipline and cultural-educational training. (60) Chairman Gol'dberg reproached the directors, after his personal examination revealed a lack of the "proprietary touch." In particular, he noted dust-covered store fixtures and dirty storage boxes for starched linens, copper spittoons in the corners turned moldy green from dirt, and fetid water on the floor of the receiving area for food. The Red Square store was reportedly also routinely short of merchandise.
Most visitors did not seem to find GUM a fascinating or inviting place either. Despairing of ever finding good-quality clothing and accessories in Moscow, a French woman came across "a few miserable pairs of shoes spaced at long intervals ... separated by rosettes of ribbon" in the windows of one of GUM's shoe stores. (61) Walter Benjamin, who devoted thirteen years of his life to the study of the Parisian arcades, found nothing exceptional about the arcade in Red Square. He only remarked that generally the city's arcades contained an "utterly indigenous array of tiers and galleries," which was as deserted as the cathedrals. (62) In a literary sketch published in 1923, Mikhail Bulgakov presented an unflattering portrait of GUM. Bulgakov was impressed not by GUM's reputation as the premier state retailer, but by the surreptitious trade in gold, silver, and currency, and other illegal activities that flourished near the arcade's main fountain. (63)
Consumers and commentators were merciless in their criticisms of GUM. One letter to the editor penned by "Zvonov" (probably a pseudonym adopted by a worker-correspondent from the Russian word zvon, meaning banter or gossip), which appeared in The Worker's Newspaper (Rabochaia gazeta) revealed the absurd predicaments consumers frequently encountered in their daily quests to obtain ordinary items. (64) Zvonov began his letter with a sardonic recollection of the rumination that led to his decision to purchase a hunting rifle from GUM:
I wanted to buy a 16-gauge Berdan rifle and decided to order one. But from where? From GUM, of course, since they have good-quality merchandise and will promptly send anything that you could desire. After all, GUM is a state enterprise and cares about [their business]. (65)
Zvonov recounted that he mailed a 30-ruble deposit for the rifle to GUM in August and after one month, still had not received the gun. Thinking that the delay was due to GUM's trying to find for him the highest quality gun, "one capable of hitting targets beyond any other gun," he waited, but still no package arrived. He sent a letter inquiring about the status of his order, to which GUM replied that no 16-gauge rifles were available, and that as soon as the firm received some, it would send one. Zvonov wrote back, asking for a 20-gauge rifle. "No, luck. Still no gun. Again GUM fell silent." Another month passed and Zvonov sent a second letter, requesting either the rifle or his money back. He received a refund of 29 rubles and 84 kopeks, 16 kopeks short of the amount sent three months earlier. The thoroughly-disgusted Zvonov ended his complaint with a swipe at GUM's self-proclaimed pre-eminence: "Anyone who wants to order a rifle for hunting, should absolutely order one from GUM, at its address in the Trading Rows on Red Square in Moscow. GUM will send a high-quality rifle ... without delay. Isn't that delightful? Well done GUM! You really pulled it together."
This complainant taunted GUM's claim of stocking "everything for everybody" and he ridiculed the idea that the state retailer cared about consumers. His remark about GUM's location in Red Square, the most visible and renowned commercial spot in the city, amplified the retailer's deficiency. By pointing out GUM's proximity to the seat of state power, he drew a connection between GUM's failure and the shortcomings of the regime. Finally, Zvonov depicted the retailer as an unresponsive bureaucracy with the phrase, "Again GUM fell silent." The image of a large, powerful state enterprise losing its voice was emblematic, both of the retailer's--and the state's--indifference and its inability to provide the goods that consumers wanted.
Another consumer, who lived outside of Moscow, complained that after traveling to GUM in Moscow three times in the last six months to buy various items, including a cast-iron frying pan, a kettle, and millet, and returning home empty-handed, he had been "forced to line the pockets of the Sukharev trader." (66) He declared that the Dish Row at Sukharev market is smaller than GUM's entire dish department, but that you can find everything you need at the market. His insult implied that the state could not organize its resources as well as a small-time market vendor, a statement that spoke to systemic dysfunction.
Many such complaints of frustrated consumption were published in popular newspapers, mailed directly to GUM, or registered in GUM's in-store complaints books. (67) Most complaints, however, concerned the behavior of GUM's employees. Sales clerks appeared to wield undue power over consumers by denying them merchandise, abusing them verbally, ignoring them, showing preferential treatment to others, or simply refusing them assistance. Of approximately 285 complaints registered at several of GUM's stores between fall 1927 and early 1928 and summarized in reports for management, one third concerned the rudeness and inattentiveness of store managers and sales workers. (68) One painfully trivial incident demonstrates the kinds of confrontations that took place over the counter between consumers and workers in state retail stores as they struggled to put into practice their often conflicting understandings of socialist retail principles. A male consumer reported that he approached the worker Smirnov in GUM's Food Department to buy some sugar. Noticing that on the right side of the bin there were some dirty pieces of sugar, he asked Smirnov to give him sugar from the left side. Smirnov refused, maintaining that he was "not supposed to pick out (vybirat') sugar, only issue it." When questioned, the worker explained that he was only following instructions that forbade him to choose between lumps of sugar. He added that anyway the sugar was not dirty, except for two pieces, on which a few specks of dust had accidentally settled. (69)
GUM did not let accusations of abuse or neglect go unanswered. Each complaint merited an investigation and a response, although complainants were seldom vindicated. Instead managers and inspectors explained away grievances, developing stock phrases with which to reject them. Most commonly, a complainant was informed that his or her version of the incident "does not correspond to reality" (nesootdeistvuet deistvitel' nosti). Just as often, consumers were rebuked for filing "unfounded" or "groundless" complaints. Other charges were dismissed on a technicality such as failure to sign a complaint. Some complainants, although only a small portion, did find their versions of events authenticated, although usually no real action was taken. In most instances, however, GUM chose to defend its workers and its own reputation, a position that not only accorded with its privileging of the worker, but reflected the state's inability to adequately fund its model stores, staff them with trained personnel, and to compete with private retailers in order to attract customers.
The promise of turning ordinary Soviet citizens into consumers became one of the ways that the state sought to build communism during the NEP period. GUM's managers, employees, and affiliates struggled to construct the facade of a consumer culture through advertisements, promotions, and the establishment of stores and new operational policies. Yet, the state's lack of financial resources, a shortage of experienced merchants and workers, and conflicting interests on the sales floor, as well as the population's generally low standard of living and high rates of unemployment, made it very difficult to realize a consumer culture based on abundance, pleasure and efficiency. The deficiencies that GUM displayed were not so much the fault of its employees as the result of systemic failures in the economy and divisions within the party, as well as a bias toward the worker and production, which slighted consumers and consumption.
Soviet retail officials tried to create color and excitement in their model stores, but state retail firms did not gain the widespread admiration and affection that many pre-Soviet ones had garnered. Instead officials created a world mostly devoid of pleasure, visual appeal, and conviviality. Stores such as GUM were barren places staffed by indifferent workers where consumers and workers met each other over the counters in a struggle for access to goods. Shopping in them was neither a pleasure not a sport, not even a routine task, but a humiliating, exacting chore. The most significant consequence of the state's ultimate failure to organize an appealing, efficient retail network was the channeling of most kinds of buying and selling into the black market, a widespread and flourishing system that survived the entire Soviet period.
Yet, despite the failure of state retailers, they did institute a Soviet consumer culture, albeit one that displayed several unintended characteristics. New concepts of entitlement and privilege were instituted. Because the state promised to provide everything for everybody, consumers gained the right to lodge complaints against unresponsive, dysfunctional enterprises, securing for themselves a sense of entitlement. The state's entry into the marketplace also brought about the commodification of politics and the politicization of the retail trade and consumption. Mass politics and consumer culture supported and benefited each other, even as they sometimes undercut their purposes. As the state sold its political agenda through advertisements, retail venues, and product packages, the imagery, vocabulary, and leaders of the revolution became commodified. Politics was sold just as any other product on the marketplace. Such tactics benefited state enterprises financially and aided the spread of the regime's agenda. Likewise, the retail trade became politicized and ordinary acts of buying and selling laden with political meaning and sometimes purpose. Consumption became desirable, when it supported the political, social, and cultural imperatives of the regime. Shopping in stores such as GUM was presented as participation in the everyday struggle to overcome private enterprise, achieve a basic standard of living, support the livelihood of workers, adopt new communist rites, and learn the habits of modern life.
Financial support for research was provided by a grant from American Councils for International Education and a fellowship from the University of Illinois. I would like to thank Diane Koenker, Mark Steinberg, Christine Ruane, Clare Crowston, and the reviewers for their comments and suggestions.
1. N. Kal'ma, "Pod stekliannym nebom GUMa" Vecherniaia Moskva (hereafter VM), Nov 4. 1926 in Tsentral'nyi munitsipal'nyi arkhiv Moskvy (TsMAM) f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 204, 1. 9.
2. The workers' credit program enabled low-income individuals to buy certain consumer goods on installment at designated state stores. At the time that this story ran, credit was extended to workers and employees who earned no more than 70 rubles per month. The credit line was not to exceed half a month's salary, and 10 percent downpayment was required. The sum was to be repaid within five months. Frequently, the terms specified that credit be extended for the purchase of "basic necessities," which usually meant fabric, clothing, shoes, coats, furniture, and linens. Several state enterprises participated, including the Moscow Union of Consumer Societies stores, GUM, and the ready-to-wear trust, Moskvoshvei. Terms found in Izvestiia November 20, 1926; Pravda, December 16, 1926; and VM October 16, 1926 preserved in TsMAM f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 204, 1. 5ob, 8, 14ob.
3. Definition informed by Victoria de Grazia, "Introduction," in The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective, ed. Victoria de Grazia with Ellen Furlough (Berkeley, 1996); Neil McKendrick, John Brewer, and J.H. Plumb, ed. The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England (Bloomington, 1982), 1-30; Rosalind Williams, Dream Worlds: Mass Consumption in Late Nineteenth-Century France (Berkeley, 1982), 3-10; and David Crowley, "Warsaw's Shops, Stalinism and the Thaw," in Style and Socialism: Modernity and Material Culture in Post-War Eastern Europe, ed. Susan E. Reid and David Crowley (New York, 2000).
4. Alan M. Ball, Russia's Last Capitalists: The NEPmen, 1921-1929 (Berkeley, 1987) and Anne Gorsuch, Youth in Revolutionary Russia: Enthusiasts, Bohemians, Delinquents (Bloomington, 2000). On the NEP commercial market, see also Randi Barnes-Cox, "The Creation of the Socialist Consumer: Advertising, Citizenship, and NEP," Ph.D. diss., Indiana University Press, 2000.
5. Peter Kenez has pointed out the Bolsheviks' use of various popular media, including films, books, and posters in their agitational efforts. Peter Kenez, The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917-1929 (New York, 1985).
6. This view accords with interpretations of NEP that see the period as pluralistic and experimental, with party and society as divided by alternatives and differing approaches to the building of communism. See, for example, William G. Rosenberg, "Introduction: NEP Russia as a 'Transitional Society'" in Russia in the Era of NEP: Explorations in Soviet Society and Culture, ed. Sheila Fitzpatrick, Alexander Rabinowitch, and Richard Stites (Bloomington, 1991) and Lewis Siegelbaum, Soviet State and Society Between Revolutions, 1918-29 (New York, 1992).
7. Concerns about the influence of the West, capitalism, and the city upon Russia and upon women are discussed in Christine Ruane, "Clothes Shopping in Imperial Russia: The Development of a Consumer Culture," Journal of Social History (Summer 1995): 765-782 and Catriona Kelly and David Shepherd, "Commercial Culture and Consumerism" in Constructing Russian Culture in the Age of Revolution: 1881-1940, ed. Catriona Kelly and David Shepherd (New York, 1998).
8. Decree on elimination of private trade in Sobranie uzakonenii i rasporiazhenii. 1917-1949 (Moscow, 1920-50). 1917-1918, No. 83, art. 879. Information on municipalization and other measures in Krasnaia Moskva, 1917-1920 gg. (Moscow, 1920), 288-291; Vestnik narodnogo komissariata torgovli i promyshlennosti No. 13-14 (December 1918), 68-73; and Ball 1-7. For a general discussion of the confiscation of private property from October 1917 through the civil war, see K. V. Kharchenko, Vlast', imushchestvo, chelovek: peredel sobstvennosti v bol'shevistskoi Rossii, 1917-nachala 1921 gg. (Moscow, 2000).
9. "V Golofteevskom passazhe (Moskovskie vpechatleniia)," Izvestiia No. 270, December 10, 1918, 4.
10. Richard Stites, "Iconoclastic Currents in the Russian Revolution: Destroying and Preserving the Past," in Bolshevik Culture: Experiment and Order in the Russian Revolution, ed. Abbott Gleason, Peter Kenez, and Richard Stites (Bloomington, 1985), 1-24.
11. Mark von Hagen, Soldiers in the Proletarian Dictatorship: The Red Army and the Soviet Socialist State, 1917-1930 (Cornell, 1990). Van Hagen argues that the civil war experience molded the men who assumed leading posts in politics and the economy, a situation that led to the "militarization" of Soviet society. A masculine culture also reigned on factory floors. See Diane P. Koenker, "Men Against Women on the Shop Floor in NEP Russia: Gender and Class in the Socialist Workplace," American Historical Review Vol. 100, no. 5 (December 1995): 1438-64.
12. Izvestiia No. 13, January 19, 1919, 4.
13. Moscow and St. Petersburg both lost nearly half of their inhabitants, and, on average, the population of Russia's 23 largest cities declined by 25 percent. Daniel K. Brower, "'The City in Danger': The Civil War and the Russian Urban Population," in Party, State, and Society in the Russian Civil War, ed. Diane P. Koenker, William G. Rosenberg, and Ronald Grigor Suny (Bloomington, 1989).
14. M. M. Zhirmunskii, Chastnyi kapital v tovarooborote (Moscow, 1924), 3-4 and R. W. Davies, "Industry," in The Economic Transformation of the Soviet Union, 1913-1945, ed. R. W. Davies, Mark Harrison, and S. G. Wheatcroft (New York, 1994), 135.
15. Discussion of widespread corruption, bag men, and the rise of the black market in Ball, 6-9, 33-34, 88, 110-118. See also Mauricio Borrero, "Hunger and Society in Civil War Moscow, 1917-1921," Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, 1992 and Alec Nove, An Economic History of the USSR, 1917-1991 (New York, 1992), 54-55.
16. M.A. Bulgakov, "Torgovyi renessans: Moskva v nachale 1922 goda," reprinted in Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniia No. 1 (1988): 137-138.
17. Ball, 2-25.
18. Leon Trotskii, Problems of Everyday Life (New York, 1973). Posters preserved at Russian State Library, Moscow.
19. Prior to the revolution, journalists working for various trade journals, including Torgovoe delo (Odessa), Torgovyi mir (Odessa), and Torgovlia, promyshlennost' i tekhnika (Moscow), pleaded with merchants to forsake these familiar customs, which they regarded as primitive and dishonest. The penny press was also full of complaints about merchants' deceitful practices. See Daniel K. Brower, "The Penny Press and its Readers," in Cultures in Flux: Lower-Class Values, Practices, and Resistance in Late Imperial Russia, ed. Stephen P. Frank and Mark D. Steinberg (Princeton, 1994) and Louise McReynolds, "V. M. Doroshevich: The Newspaper Journalist and the Development of Public Opinion in Civil Society," in Between Tsar and People: Educated Society and the Quest for Public Identity in Late Imperial Russia, ed. Edith W. Clowes, Samuel D. Kassow, and James L. West (Princeton, 1991). Following 1917, business leaders voiced the same criticisms.
20. Created in 1922, Mossel'prom was one of the largest trusts. It maintained its own retail stores, kiosks, and street vendors, operated a mail-order division, and installed vending machines in factories, trams, and theatres. Moskvoshvei maintained 24 divisions throughout the USSR, including ones in Ukraine, Samara, the Urals, and Irkutsk. Information gathered from articles in VM No. 57, March 10, 1925, 2 and No. 61, March 16, 1925, 2; Rabochaia Moskva (hereafter RM) No. 172, July 28, 1926, 4 and No. 185, August 14, 1926, 4.
21. Published sources on GUM include A. M. Kochurov, GUM: vchera, segodnia, zavtra (Moscow 1974) and V. S. Akselrod, V. S. Kak my uchilis' torgovat' (Moscow, 1986). Information also in "Historical Background," TsMAM, f. 474, opis' 1. Information on Mostorg in "Historical Background," TsMAM, f. 1953, opis' 1; Georgii Ivanovich Fokin, Flagman sovetskoi torgovli (Moscow 1968), 3; and Doklad chrezvychainomu obshchemu sobraniiu aktsionerov "Mostorg" o deiatel'nosti obshchestva za polugodie: Noiabr' 1923 g.-Aprel' 1924 g. (Moscow, 1924), 11. Founding of Larek in V. A. Arkhipov and L. F. Morozov, Bor'ba protiv kapitalisticheskikh elementov v promyshlennosti i torgovle (Moscow 1978), 66-67 and Vseukrainskoe paevoe torgovoe t-vo "Larek" Otchet pravleniia za 1924-25 gg. (No city or date), 6-7, 14-16.
22. Sources on Abrikosov & Sons in Irina Potkina, Delovaia Moskva: Ocherki po istorii predprinimatel'stva (Moscow, 1997), 31-32 and A. V. Mikhalkov, Ocherki iz istorii Moskovskogo kupechestva: Ch'i predpriiatiia sluzhili Moskve posle revoliutsii (Moscow 1996), 10-15. On Siu and Filippov's, see Potkina, 30-35. On Eliseev's, see Vsia Moskva v karmane na 1924-25 (Moscow, 1924), 271. Brocard in Mikhalkov, 38-41. Ralle in Potkina, 46 and Mikhalkov, 44-47.
23. The former Chairman of the Board of Muir & Mirrielees, Walter Philip, and Managing Director, Willie Cazalet, were arrested without charge sometime in late summer or early fall of 1918, although both were eventually released. Cazalet returned to England. Philip, however, stayed on in Moscow, working for a short time for the Control Committee set up to run the store before he was dismissed in January 1919. He fell ill and died in June of the following year. Harvey Pitcher, Muir & Mirrielees: The Scottish Partnership that Became a Household Name in Russia (Cromer, Norfolk, 1994), 178-183.
24. Gal'pershtein's remarks in Ekonomicheskaia zhizn' (hereafter EZ) No. 39, February 18, 1922, 1. Commentary on the advantages--and dangers--of operating department stores in the Soviet Union in D. Mar, "Univermagy," EZ No. 12, January 17, 1922, 1.
25. Two studies of the department store that explore these aspects are Michael Miller, The Bon Marche: Bourgeois Culture and the Department Store, 1869-1920 (Princeton, 1981) and William Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture (New York, 1993).
26. Mar, 1 and VM No. 40, February 19, 1922, 2.
27. VM No. 240, October 20, 1927, 2. Kommunar did not implement many of Orgstroi's recommendations, and the store was not ready for opening by the 10-year anniversary. Criticisms of the plan and Orgstroi's complaints against Kommunar's failure to implement it in VM No. 268, November 24, 1927, 2 and No. 293, December 23, 1927, 2.
28. The idea of applying disciplined, efficient movements to work routines entered the retail sector as a part of the rationalization campaign of 1927 to make industry more efficient. Gastev and his Central Institute of Labor are discussed in Richard Stites, Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution (New York, 1989), 149-56.
29. Maiakovskii had been engaged in the Russian Telegraph Agency (ROSTA) during the civil war and later at Glavpolitprosvet (a division of political enlightenment under the Commissar of Education), where he produced agitational posters. Rodchenko had worked in the art studio of the Moscow soviet during the civil war, creating sketches for posters. Constructivism's contribution to Bolshevik propaganda and Soviet advertising is discussed in Camilla Gray, The Russian Experiment in Art, 1863-1922 (London, 1962), 259, 269-74; Mikhail Anikst, Soviet Commercial Design of the Twenties (London, 1987) 18-29; Elena Barkhatova, ed., Russian Constructivist Posters (Moscow 1992), 3-9; and Stephen White, The Bolshevik Poster (New Haven and London, 1988).
30. Photographs of Mossel'prom building and kiosk in Anikst, 27. Additional information on building provided in Vsia Moskva v karmane (Moscow-Leningrad, 1926), 91 and VM No. 12, January 15, 1925, 2.
31. Babaev candy wrappers and TEZhE labels preserved in Gosudarstvennyi Istoricheskii Muzei. Otdel pis'mennykh istochnikov (GIM OPI) f. 402, opis' 1, d. 853. Bolshevik Confectioners' product line featured in 1927 catalog housed at Russian State Library, File Y9 (2) 421.512.1. Photographs of Red Star and Our Industry agitational candy wrappers in Anikst, 41-43, 93.
32. The State Mail-Order Company's 1928 and 1929 catalogs in Russian State Library collection, Collected File, 1920-31.
33. Volzhanin, "Bol'she vnimaniia pokupateliu i ... prodavtsy," Golos Rabotnika (hereafter GR) No. 9, May 15, 1924, 8.
34. K. Prussak, "Protiv Ogula," GR No. 10, May 31, 1924, 5.
35. K. Remtzen and V. Tsuberbiller, Organizatsiia roznichnoi torgovli (Moscow 1925), 81-83.
36. In feudal Russia, the term prikazchik designated a person engaged either in commerce or on a manor estate who fulfilled the orders of his master, and, having his confidence, oversaw the other serfs. A. Gudvan, Ocherki po istorii dvizheniia sluzhashchikh v Rossii (chast' pervaia do 1905) (Moscow, 1925), 4.
37. Documents on GUM's founding and mission in TsMAM f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 24, ll. 2, 5 and d. 205, ll. 59, 73-73ob.
38. Several individuals occupied the position of director during the 1920s. Belov and his assistant were dismissed in 1922, after a trial in which they were found guilty of making unprofitable deals for GUM. lakov Markovich Gal'pershtein succeeded Belov in 1923, followed by Kovalev in 1926, and Gol'dberg in 1927. Members of the board listed in "Postanovlenie," TsMAM f. R-474, opis 3, d. 24, 1. 2. Management team reported in EZ No. 47, February 28, 1922, 1 and No. 53, March 6, 1922, 4. Information on start-up, capital and financial and other operational problems in "Dokladnaia zapiska" f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 205, 1. 69-70.
39. Opening day advertisements in RM No. 37, March 22, 1922, 8 and EZ No. 68, March 25, 1922, 4. Departments in GUM circa 1927 listed in TsMAM f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 213, ll. 77-80.
40. GUM divisions and branch stores listed in TsMAM f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 200, ll. 20ob-22ob. Information on manufacturing enterprises and other concerns in d. 204, ll. 25, 55 and d. 24, 1. 28.
41. Example in TsMAM f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 204, 1. 8.
42. See ad in Prozhektor No. 6 (1924), inside cover. Citation from presentation of Randi Cox-Barnes at 2001 AAASS National Convention, Crystal City, Virginia. Discussion of poster imagery in Victoria Bonnell, "The Representation of Women in Early Soviet Political Art," The Russian Review vol. 50 (1991): 267-288.
43. See housewares ad in Rabotnitsa No. 21, January 1926, inside cover.
44. Vse, chto trebuet zheludok, telo, ili, um--vse cheloveku predostavliaet GUM. Reprinted in Kochurov, 7.
45. Khvataites' za etot spasatel'nyi krug! Dobrokachestvenno, deshevo, i pervykh ruk! Ad reprinted in Anikst, 54.
46. Vechernye izvestiia (Odessa) (hereafter VI) No. 486, December 28, 1924, 4.
47. Chelovek--tol'ko s chasami. Chasy tol'ko Mozera. Mozer tol'ko u GUMa. Ad reprinted in Anikst, 55.
48. Pravila vnutrennogo rasporiadka dlia sluzhashchikh Gosudarstvennogo Universal'nogo Magazina GUM (Moscow 1925), 5.
49. Procedure outlined in Pravila, 5. Descriptions also found in memoirs, for example, Alexander Wicksteed, Life under the Soviets (London, 1928), 6-7.
50. RM No. 280, December 3, 1926, 3 and No. 300, December 28, 1926, 3.
51. Ads in VM August 25, 1926, RM August 22, 1926, and VM March 22, 1926. Ad for 1925 fall and spring bazaars in TsMAM f. R-474, d. 204, ll. 68, 103ob.
52. Holiday sales in VI No. 445, November 6, 1924, 5 and Rabochaia gazeta November 3 and 7, 1926 in TsMAM f. 474, opis' 3, d. 204, l. 10. Larek contest advertised in VI No. 449, November 13, 1924, 4. It is not clear how many, if any, new parents claimed their prizes. Although Larek promised to publish a list of those who received gifts, no list ever appeared in the newspaper, an indication that the fashion of giving revolutionary names to children was not particularly popular in Odessa or that no children of communist parents happened to be born on that day. Treasure Campaign in Anikst, 38-39.
53. Comments on the bazaar from GUM's Chairman of the Board in VM August 25, 1926.
54. TsMAM f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 205, 1. 71.
55. Report in TsMAM f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 200, 1. 132.
56. "Dokladnaia zapiska: Po voprosu o reorganizatsii GUMa," TsMAM f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 205, 1. 71.
57. Survey of provincial stores, October 1927-28 in TsMAM f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 200, ll. 178-183ob.
58. Details on expansion in TsMAM f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 205, ll. 69ob-74 and d. 221, ll. 35-35ob.
59. "Obsledovaniia Baumanovskogo Univermaga GUMa," TsMAM f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 213, ll. 286-307.
60. TsMAM f. R-474, opis'1, d. 229, ll. 92-94ob.
61. Andree Viollis, A Girl in Soviet Russia, trans. Homer White (New York, 1929), 38.
62. Walter Benjamin, Moscow Diary, ed. Gary Smith, trans. Richard Sieburth (Cambridge, 1986), 23.
63. M. A. Bulgakov, "Pod stekliannym nebom" reprinted in M. M. Gorinov, "Moskva v 20-kh godakh," Otechestvennaia istoriia no. 5 (1996): 8.
64. TsMAM f. R-474, opis' 1, d. 229, 1. 395.
66. TsMAM f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 25, ll. 171-172.
67. Files of complaints entered in complaint books at individual GUM stores and letters to editors are preserved in TsMAM, f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 213, 218, 225, and 229.
68. Specifics of the complaints compiled in these reports are not detailed. Reports in TsMAM f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 218, ll. 99-100; d. 225, 1. 5; d. 213, ll. 187-ob; and opis' 1, d. 229, ll. 92-94ob.
69. TsMAM f. R-474, opis' 3, d. 213, 1. 232.
By Marjorie L. Hilton
Georgia State University
Department of History
Atlanta, GA 30303
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|Author:||Hilton, Marjorie L.|
|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2004|
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