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Soviet history as a history of urbanization.

Heather D. DeHaan, Stalinist City Planning: Professionals, Performance, and Power, xiii + 255 pp. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013. ISBN-13 978-1442645349. $70.00.

Lennart Samuelson, Tankograd: The Formation of a Soviet Company Town: Cheliabinsk, 1900s-1950s. xii + 351 pp. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. ISBN-13 978-0230208872. $120.00.

Recent research on the Stalinist Soviet Union has moved away from the narrower political framework of Stalinism to the study of the broader theme of urbanization. As a reference point, scholars use the model of the "European city" that was developed primarily by urban historians in Germany during the last decade. (1) The European city was marked by the development of civil society and the spread of an urban way of life in the countryside. The socialist city can rather be seen as its antipode, distinguished by a postponed and forced process of urbanization and a uniform paradigm of city landscape. (2)

The classics of Marxism-Leninism did not develop a utopia of urban life and therefore the "socialist city" remained mainly a catchphrase. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels declared the large cities of their time to be trouble spots, and later debates among socialists displayed a certain phobia toward the urban world. (3) Although the Soviet Union experienced rapid urban growth that was inseparable from and driven by forced industrialization, until after World War II discussions of urbanization were a taboo in the Soviet Union. The term "urbanization" was reserved for the capitalist city. (4) In Soviet academic discourse, a "socialist city" was defined by its own attributes. It was supposed to help overcome the antagonism between the city and the countryside (which symbolized capitalism and feudalism, respectively). This, in turn, would be achieved by the restriction of city growth and the mechanization of agriculture. In addition, the popular slogan of "social hygiene" in city construction implied a break with the principle "urbanity through density" typical of West European cities. (5)

The practical development of the socialist city in the Soviet Union was defined by two sets of ideas. The first one was rooted in the debate that took place at the turn of the 1920s and the 1930s between urbanists, the supporters of a compact way of settlement, and desurbanists--the admirers of linear settlements, who also advocated the dissolution of the family and the introduction of collective forms of everyday life. (6) The second complex of ideas defining the socialist city was based on the 1935 Moscow City Plan, with its mix of O-radial and concentric structure, which came to be offered as a template for city development in Eastern Europe after World War II. Quite paradoxically, its main ideas such as "greenery, air, light" and a zonal arrangement of the city into "work, dwelling, [and] leisure" areas did not originate in The Communist Manifesto or the program of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union but derived from the Charta of Athens, adopted by the Congress of Modern Architecture (CLAM) in 1933. (7) Thus the socialist city of the 1930s had little connection to the Marxist-Leninist utopia and should be primarily understood as a project of modernity.

Several recent local studies have offered an overview of urbanization outside the centers of Moscow and Leningrad. (8) The books under review, focusing on the automobile city Gor'kii and the tank city Cheliabinsk, represent further instructive examples that provide new perspectives on urban history at the Soviet periphery. Nizhnii Novgorod--named Gor'kii from 1932 to 1991--is today the fifth largest city in Russia, with 1.2 million inhabitants. Founded in 1221 at the Oka's confluence with the Volga, the city turned into a center of brisk business and commerce in the 19th century, when it started to host a yearly fair. In the Soviet period, the city accommodated the automobile factory (GAZ) that opened production in 1932, as well as an aircraft factory. Both factories were founded with the technological support of the American industrialist Henry Ford. World War II transformed Gor'kii into a center for the defense industry, and the city was closed to foreigners. Industrialization brought the rapid growth of the city's population, rising from 90,000 in 1897 to over 643,000 in 1939, then to 1,438,000 in 1989. Cheliabinsk with its current population of 1.1 million is similar in size to Nizhnii Novgorod. The city was founded as a fortress in the Urals around 1736. Its rapid industrial development started after the Trans-Siberian Railway connected the city to the European part of the empire in 1894. In the Soviet period, it became a site of tractor production, when in 1933 the tractor factory, conceptualized by the American architect Albert Kahn, went into operation. During World War II, the city achieved prominence as a major producer of tanks but also as the site of a forced labor camp. Like Nizhnii Novgorod, Cheliabinsk was closed to foreigners, and it too experienced rapid population growth through the 20th century: from 20,000 in 1897 to 273,000 in 1939, and again to 1,141,000 in 1989.

Nizhnii Novgorod is the subject of Heather D. DeHaan's Stalinist City Planning: Professionals, Performance, and Power. Although the title suggests a rather broad thematic framework, the author mostly focuses on the two main city architects of Nizhnii Novgorod/Gor'kii, Aleksandr Platonovich Ivanitskii (1881-1947) and Nikolai Alekseevich Solofenko (1903-74), as well as on the conditions under which they worked. The author tells a dramatic story of their participation in the project of constructing the socialist city of Gor'kii and of this project's ultimate failure. The story becomes significantly less captivating when the two protagonists disappear from the scene--which happened after the adoption of the Moscow City Plan in 1935 and the banning of avantgarde ideas in city planning in the Soviet Union. Its rather limited focus notwithstanding, the book (based on DeHaan's dissertation, defended in 2005 at the University of Toronto) is very well researched and relies on an impressive array of new archival materials: files on city planning from the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) and the Russian State Economic Archive (RGAE), the personal fond of Ivanitskii from the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (RGALI), documents on architectural planning and city construction from the Central Archive of the Province of Nizhnii Novgorod (TsANO), party documents from the State Sociopolitical Archive of the Province of Nizhnii Novgorod (GOPANO) and memoirs held at the Museum of the History of the Gorky Automobile Factory.

DeHaan aims to explain, "how Soviet urban planners addressed political, aesthetic, and ideological disputes" and "how Soviet city planners acted on the city." According to the author, in a sense, the city was "a stage for the enactment and defense of their authority as Soviet professionals." And in the ongoing power games the cityscape played the role of both the "object and [the] agent of a drama" (14). Referring to the categories of Walter Benjamin, DeHaan argues that a misunderstanding during the act of translation meant that "the ideal image of the socialist city (the original language) and the actual space of the city (the receiving language) were changed" (13). This argument is developed further in chapter 1 of the book--where DeHaan discusses the city as a symbolic landscape. Whereas the prerevolutionary fair or yarmarka city served as an industrial magnet, the Soviet automobile and airplane construction city had military secrets to keep. DeHaan also underscores discrepancies between the official Soviet rhetoric and the actual policy implemented on the ground. There was also a certain ambivalence between the architectural ideas of the avant-garde and the potential of a factory town, as she demonstrates in chapter 2. Another glaring ideological contradiction was that the socialist city became a residential area for the employees of the automobile factory that was grounded on American know how.

Chapter 3, "From Ivory Tower to City Street," without a doubt constitutes the most interesting part of the book. It discusses the life and career of Aleksandr Ivanitskii, who graduated from the St. Petersburg Institute of Civil Engineering in 1904. As a "bourgeois specialist," Ivanitskii could survive as a professional in provincial Russia, but he had no chance to realize creative ideas that conflicted with instructions from the central planning bureaucracy. Ivanitskii endorsed a star-city zoning plan. He envisioned a Greater Nizhnii Novgorod (similar to the concept of a Greater Moscow in the 1920s) that would develop as a constellation of small garden cities. But after the adoption of the Moscow City Plan in 1935, which favored a compact big city, his ideas could not be put into practice. Nikolai Solofenko, Ivanitskii's successor, whose career is the subject of chapter 4, followed Moscow's Stalinist blueprint. Solofenko graduated from the Art Institute in Kiev in 1928 and was a typical parvenu (vydvizhenets). With his advancement, professionalism as expressed in creative work and independent thinking was replaced by the "industrial organization" of work under the banner of fulfilling the plan (deadlines, conformism, plagiarism) and Soviet Socialist Realism, which often meant constructing "Potemkin villages."

The remaining chapters of the book discuss key problems of building a Soviet city. But the city of Gor'kii itself is to some extent left out of focus. In particular, the author focuses on the interdependence of socialist public control and middle-class values or privileges as well as the discrepancy between ideological demands and the reality that undermined the plans. DeHaan also discusses the campaign for "culturedness" (kulturnost ', blagoustroistvo) which developed simultaneously with Stalinist "purges" aimed at keeping the party membership under control. The author analyzes how the local administration's efforts were related to the idealization of progress and the dictatorship of education that characterized the larger Bolshevik project.

In conclusion, DeHaan convincingly argues that as a utopia, Soviet socialism tried to liberate itself from the past but failed to resolve the problems of the present. The socialist script was often modified by ad hoc measures. Quite revealingly, the Gor'kii City Plan of 1937 did not gain official approval, because it borrowed too much from Russian imperial traditions and marginalized socioeconomic needs, including residential construction and drainage projects. In any case, as DeHaan underscores, professional city planning standards would be impossible to meet in the Stalinist Soviet Union for the most basic reasons: lack of maps and statistical data.

As the subtitle of Lennart Samuelson's study of Tankograd (Cheliabinsk) suggests, the book is dedicated to The Formation of a Soviet Company Town, from the 1900s to the 1950s. As an economic historian, Samuelson is primarily interested in the development of the tractor factory and offers revealing insights on how the city's everyday life was related to its industrial growth. This volume develops some of the themes explored in the author's earlier book about military-economic planning. (9) It is based on files from the Regional State Archive (OGAChO) and memoirs from the museum of the tractor factory. Biographical sketches and numerous photographs published in the volume make reading the book more accessible and engaging.

Samuelson starts his study by examining the transformation of Soviet society and its mobilization for war; he focuses in particular on the militarization of the economy and the modernization of the educational system and cultural life. He then discusses de-urbanization in Russia at the beginning of the 1920s, the recovery of the city economy under the New Economic Policy, and the urbanization that accompanied the collectivization of the countryside in the 1930s.

Students of urban history will find chapter 3, "The Industrial City As a Socialist Vision of Soviet Reality" (69-102), most instructive. Samuelson focuses on Cheliabinsk's main city architect, Andrei Burov (1900-57), whose visions were inspired by the Ford Motor Company in Detroit, which he had visited in 1931. Under Burovs direction, magnificent boulevards and monumental apartment buildings appeared on the cityscape of Cheliabinsk. They marked the advance of the neoclassicist style that replaced constructivism. At the same time, as Samuelson makes clear, city residents' actual living conditions remained miserable and even worsened. Rapid population growth, from 67,000 in 1928 to 312,000 in 1938, created an immense housing shortage. While the city population more than quadrupled, available housing only tripled, increasing from 289,000 to 826,000 square meters. On average, according to archival data, every city resident occupied only three square meters of living space in the 1930s. Inconveniently located and with a disastrous infrastructure, residential neighborhoods resembled barrack-like "shanty towns" more than modern suburbs. Even the residential area of the tractor factory, which was supposed to be a sotsgorodok (socialist town), did not provide basic amenities. Samuelson explains workers' acceptance of these disastrous living conditions by citing their fear that complaints would only worsen the situation, the even more deplorable situation in the surrounding villages, and their hope that their living conditions would eventually improve (91).

In part, the poor living conditions came about because almost all available resources were absorbed by production at the factory. Samuelson makes clear that the type of production was quite advanced and Western know how was widely used. The tractor factory's designer, Kazimir Petrovich Lovin (1893-1937), for instance, had visited industrial enterprises in the United States and Great Britain. Foreign specialists directly participated in factory construction in 1929-34. In sharp contrast to the foreign engineers, many of the 21,000 workers employed at the factory in 1937 were recent migrants from the countryside and had an obvious "country mentality" (103). In subsequent chapters, Samuelson discusses the history of Stalinist purges in Cheliabinsk. He then deals with the immediate prewar period and with Cheliabinsk during World War II, offering insights into the miserable living and working conditions on the home front that hit evacuees particularly hard, as well as Soviet Germans and prisoners of war. During the war, Cheliabinsk became one of the regime cities of the first category, because it hosted governmental institutions like the people's commissariats of the Tank Industry, Electric Power Stations, and the Ammunition Industry and Construction. Still, it was not until the mid-1950s that Cheliabinsk residents saw some improvement of their dwelling conditions. The author, however, does not explain whether this was a result of Cheliabinsk's new status as a closed atomic city. Samuelson concludes his study by discussing the landscape of memorials in the city that until 1992 was home for a closed society.

The two books under review have a lot in common. Rather than discussing the foundation of new industrial centers, as Stephen Kotkin did with Magnitogorsk, they analyze the reconstruction and transformation of existing provincial towns into socialist cities. (10) One of those cities grew under the aegis of the automobile, while the other was symbolically dominated by the tractor. (11) Still, the authors tell different stories. DeHaan's is a history of a city that failed to live up to its architectural blueprints. Samuelson instead focuses on industrial productivity, which had been prioritized over the design of the cityscape or the living conditions of the city's inhabitants. DeHaan describes Gor'kii's development from the perspective of its two main city planners, whereas Samuelson is more interested in urbanization, as documented in photographs and personal stories.

Both cities functioned as "closed cities" through much of the Soviet period. But quite surprisingly, neither of the authors addresses the role that migration played in their development. Did these cities grow to a large extent as a result of natural population increase, or was this mainly a consequence of the recruitment of an outside workforce? And if the latter was true, how did this affect the cities' development? Unfortunately, the authors do not provide answers to these questions.

Taken together, the works under review provide an instructive perspective on both Soviet urbanization and Stalinist society. Stalinism has traditionally been studied as a violent attempt to pursue the utopia of a homogenous society. Scholars of urban history push research of Stalinist society in a different direction: they illuminate the chaos of everyday life and point to the discrepancies between the regime's aims and the reality of the city life. Following the path of social historians of Stalinism, urban studies further undermine the totalitarian thesis about the atomization of society and underscore the resistance or reluctance of common people. Furthermore, local urban studies reveal that perceptions of the socialist city changed over time. After avant-garde ideas in city planning were abandoned in the 1930s, the interests of production prevailed over the organization of everyday life that would correspond to human needs. Only after Stalin's death did new measures to improve residential housing became the order of the day. In the years that followed, the heart of the socialist city was moved from the city center to the suburban mikroraion, the socialist neighborhood with small apartments in concrete buildings that had communal services within walking distance.

As new studies on Soviet urbanization appear, they should affect the broader field of Soviet studies. Urbanization can be seen as a driving force in Soviet history, just as colonization, following the prerevolutionary historian Vasilii Kliuchevskii, was a leitmotif of Russian history. (12) In this way, perspectives on Stalinism should be replaced by a new and wider framework that considers urbanization a determining process in Soviet history.

Justus-Liebig-Universitat Giessen

Historisches Institut

Osteuropaische Geschichte

Otto-Behaghel-Str. 10

D-35394 Giessen, Germany

Thomas.Bohn@geschichte.uni-giessen.de

(1) Friedrich Lenger and Klaus Tenfelde, eds., Die europaische Stadt im 20. Jahrhundert: Wahrnehmung--Entwicklung--Erosion (Cologne: Bohlau, 2006).

(2) Thomas M. Bohn, "'Sozialistische Stadt' versus 'Europaische Stadt': Urbanisierung und Ruralisierung im ostlichen Europa," Comparativ: Zeitschrift fur Globalgeschichte und vergleichende Gesellschaftsforschung 18, 2 (2008): 71-86; Bon [Bohn], "'Evropeiskii gorod' i 'sotsialisticheskii gorod': Urbanizatsiia i ruralizatsiia v Vostochnoi Evrope," Rossiiskaia istoriia, no. 1 (2009): 65-76.

(3) Henri Lefebvre, La pensee marxiste et la ville (Tournai: Casterman, 1972); William K. Tabb and Larry Sawers, eds., Marxism and Metropolis: New Perspectives in Urban Political Economy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978).

(4) D. Zaitsev, "Urbanizatsua," Bol'shaia sovetskaia entsiklopediia, ed. O. Iu. Shmidt (Moscow: Sovetskaia entsiklopediia, 1936), 56:248-49.

(5) Osnovy sovetskogo gradostroitel'stva, 4 vols. (Moscow: Stroiizdat, 1966-69).

(6) S. O. Khan-Magomedov, Arkhitektura sovetskogo avangarda, 1: Problemyformoobrazovaniia: Mustera i techeniia, and 2: Sotsial'nye problemy (Moscow: Stroiizdat, 1996-); Harald Bodenschatz and Christiane Post, eds., Stadtebau im Schatten Stalins: Die internationale Suche nach der sozialistischen Stadt in der Sowjetunion 1929-1935 (Berlin: Braun, 2003).

(7) Anders Aman, Architecture and Ideology in Eastern Europe during the Stalin Era: An Aspect of Cold War History (New York: Architectural History Foundation, 1992); R. A. French and F. E. Ian Hamilton, eds., The Socialist City: Spatial Structure and Urban Policy (Chichester: Wiley and Sons, 1979); Henry W. Morton and Robert C. Stuart, eds., The Contemporary Soviet City (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1984); R. Antony French, Plans, Pragmatism, and People: The Legacy of Soviet Planning for Today's Cities (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995).

(8) See Thomas M. Bohn, Minsk--Musterstadt des Sozialismus: Stadtplanung und Urbanisierung in der Sowjetunion nach 1945 (Cologne: Bohlau 2008); T. M. Bon [Bohn], "Minskiifenomen": Gorodskoe planirovanie i urbanizatsiia v Sovetskom Soiuze posle Vtoroi mirovoi voiny (Moscow: Rosspen, 2013); and Paul Stronski, Tashkent: Forging a Soviet City, 1930-1966 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010).

(9) Lennart Samuelson, Plans for Stalins War Machine: Tukhachevskii and Military-Economic Planning, 1925-1941 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999).

(10) Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).

(11) The history of the Soviet automobile and the "automobile city" has already attracted some scholarly attention. See Lewis H. Siegelbaum, Cars for Comrades: The Life of the Soviet Automobile (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008); and Siegelbaum, ed., The Socialist Car: Automobility in the Eastern Bloc (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011).

(12) V. O. Kliuchevskii, Sochineniia, 9 vols., Kim russkoi istorii (Moscow: Mysl', 1987), 1:53.
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Title Annotation:"Stalinist City Planning: Professionals, Performance, and Power" and "Tankograd: The Formation of a Soviet Company Town: Cheliabinsk, 1900s-1950s"
Author:Bohn, Thomas M.
Publication:Kritika
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2015
Words:3262
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