Turizm: The Russian and East European Tourist under Capitalism and Socialism.
This first-rate and highly original collection of essays joins a growing literature on things recently existing socialism did poorly. Having said this, it is a great deal more fun to read about failure than success. The volume is a vibrant contribution to the history of consumption under a system that privileged production. The authors are all in the midst of pioneering research, and they bring chat excitement to this study of leisure in places that operated according to an understanding of history which centered on labor.
As the editors make clear in an introduction that is informed by the theory and comparative literature on tourism, the organizers of this activity struggled with contradictions that had not been dealt with by the pioneers of the socialist movement. There were no such imaginary volumes as "Marx in the Mountains", "Lenin's Secret Garden" or "Bukharin at the Beach" to guide those who tan the tourist trade. As is correctly noted here, modern tourism was a creation of the bourgeoisie. Under capitalism, its purposes were both utilitarian and entertaining. It was practiced in groups and by individuals. By contrast, the editors note:
Socialist tourism was purposeful, and it perfected the socialist citizen by insisting on both the physically and mentally restorative elements of tourism. Yet, socialism too was part of the modern world, and socialist tourism also reflects the ineffable tension generated by traveling in groups, or according to officially arranged itineraries, in order produce individual meaning, (p.2)
The socialist organizers of excursions, resorts, sanatoria and camps developed a distinction between travel and turizm in order to make these practices ideologically acceptable. The former was pleasurable and possibly suspect. The latter involved work. Nevertheless, as the essays in this collection show, clearly differentiated and coherent categories of tourist activity were hard to find. The pleasurable was not reserved for individuals, and groups were not necessarily purposeful. Tourism that was distinguished by its "proletarian" character often resembled its capitalist counterpart. The bourgeoisie had long engaged in supposedly useful travel as part of what was called "rational recreation." Now, it was the workers' turn. Yet, if socialist tourism was supposed to be a didactic and educational tool, it proved to be a rather slippery tool, as were so many other forms of socialist popular culture.
The core of this book focuses on the Soviet experience, and it must be said the chapters on capitalism, with the exception of that by Louise McReyonolds, do not track particularly well with the larger themes of the volume. For all their intelligence and rigor, these essays seem to belabor the obvious. By contrast, all the works that deal with the socialist era, in both the USSR and eastern Europe, share a revelatory excitement. They take on a topic that was long thought to be marginal and self-evident in its implications and demonstrate its historicity and complexity. In the process, they reveal, as so much current work is doing, the contradictions and ambiguities of what passed for socialism in this part of the world. In the USSR, the problems raised by tourist activity went back to the thirties, and the theoretical contradictions posed by socialist travel were played out in a series of turf battles compellingly laid out by Diane Koenker. It is particularly interesting that she has found the lively Moscow daily Vechernaia Moskva to be a useful source. As the study of Soviet popular culture continues to deepen, historians will find its pages far more revealing than many of the better known Soviet newspapers.
Eva Mauer's contribution is similarly focused on what seems like an obscure topic, but she has found in the history and practices of mountaineering an excellent lens to study larger issues about Soviet life before and after World War Il. The climbing of a mountain is as purposeful as a journey can get. It clearly could contribute to the development of the "New Man" (and woman). Yet, this was an activity that required training and equipment, not to mention courage. This raised difficult questions about professionalism and skill, not to mention the ways Soviet Alpinizm differed from its western variant. Here, what she calls the issues of "selection and exclusion" were important, implicated as they were in the evolution of an increasingly hierachicized society. Karl Quails' piece on Sevastopol' examines the changing views of the city's past in the guidebooks produced for tourists, demonstrating in the process, the editors' argument about tourism's necessary historicity.
Shawn Salmon's examination of the early history of Intourist is simply a delight. Here, the clash of culture, Communism and commerce produced wonderfully ironic episodes. The discussion of the dollar bar for foreign tourists is both apt and hugely amusing. Earnest bureaucratic memos on the proper qualities of the good Soviet bartender, along with the fraught search for the right sort of cocktails, perfectly expressed the Soviets' uncomfortable embrace of the outside world that increasingly came inside the USSR to infect Soviet citizens. Yet, as Anne Gorsuch shows, those citizens were only too willing to be infected. The chance to travel outside Soviet borders was the greatest privilege to which a Soviet could aspire. Not just anyone could get a passport or even purchase a tour. The privileged and accomplished not to mention loyal were allowed to go to capitalist lands. The rest, here described by Gorsuch, got to see other socialist nations. This raised a cursed question. Comparisons to capitalism, especially unflattering ones, could be explained away. The regime had been doing that for decades, but what happened when the Soviet citizens went to a nominally socialist country and found higher living standards? In no sphere of human activity was this contradiction more obvious than in shopping which Gorsuch describes with irony and profundity. Wendy Bracewell's highly original essay on consumption in Yugoslavia takes us further into the world of shopping in the one recently existing socialist state to make use of consumerism to gain consent. Finally, Christian Noack deftly examines the trend of the sixties and seventies for Soviet citizens to tour and travel on their own outside the official structures that sought to organize and control the meanings derived from this form of leisure.
All the essays are clearly written and accessible. All show sensitivity to the many ironies of the socialist tourist experience, and all have brought considerable wit to their efforts. The illustrations, of which there could have been more, reinforce the authors' arguments. While studies of consumption are not new, this volume takes the field in an important direction. It should find many readers in the fields of Soviet history, popular culture and, of course, travel. It is also that rarest of all academic books--great beach reading.
University of California, San Diego
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|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2008|
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