Who will beat whom? Soviet popular reception of the American National Exhibition in Moscow, 1959.
We know the life we have is good. By the end of the summer, the millions of Russians who have seen our exhibit will know it too .... Unless I am a completely inept judge of human nature, that experience is going to stir not only hearts but also desires. Let it. Let the Russians want what we have. Let them clamor for it from their leaders. And let the clamor be so loud that it will demand answering. Perhaps then the Russian leaders, to keep their people happy, will divert some of their manufacturing facilities from weapons to the production of furniture, electric mixers, and prefabricated homes. (1)
In 2005, Victoria de Grazia invoked the exhibition and the famous Nixon-Khrushchev "Kitchen Debate" that took place there to illustrate a pan-European prostration before America's "irresistible" market empire:
By the end of the 1950s, it was clear that the United States had won hands-down on the scorecard of standard of living. True, the left press, as well as a wide band of public opinion, would have agreed that in the United States there were no social safeguards for workers: as Khrushchev was quoted, "if you don't have the money, you sleep on the street." But whatever the defects, the USSR was becoming irrelevant as offering an alternative vision of collective well-being. (2)
The American National Exhibition (ANEM) was the first Soviet mass encounter with America--as America wanted itself to be seen--on Soviet turf. "A transplanted slice of the American way of life," emphasizing leisure, consumption, and domesticity, the experience it offered Soviet viewers was a kind of virtual day trip to America in the heart of Moscow, in the absence of any realistic prospect of their being able to travel to see the real thing. (3) It was held in Sokol'niki Park under a September 1958 agreement between the United States and the USSR, according to which national exhibitions demonstrating developments in science, technology, and culture were to be exchanged; the reciprocal Soviet National Exhibition had already opened at New York's Coliseum on 29 June 1959. (4) Among the exhibits at ANEM were a life-size model modern home of "the average American," in whose yellow General Electric kitchen the notorious "Kitchen Debate" between Nixon and Khrushchev took place, three further kitchens including Whirlpool's fully automated "Miracle" kitchen of the future, consumer goods for the home, toys, cars, fashion, voting machines meant to demonstrate the mechanisms of democracy, books, contemporary art, and the Family of Man photographic exhibition. (5)
Visited by some 2,700,000 Soviet citizens over its six-week run, did ANEM stir the hearts and desires of these millions, as Winston and others predicted, and make them covet and clamor for what Americans had? (6) Conceived, as he indicates, as a soft weapon of the Cold War against the Soviet Union, did the exhibition have the decisive impact historians have ascribed to it? Was it the fatal close encounter that "led" inexorably to the collapse of the Soviet Union 32 years later, when the United States "won" the standard-of-living race "hands-down" and left the USSR's alternative, socialist vision of collective well-being in the dust? (7)
"You are mistaken if you think you can convert [the USSR] to capitalism," Khrushchev warned U.S. governors visiting Moscow a few weeks before the exhibition opened. "The Soviet people are proud of the accomplishments like the Sputnik, et cetera. They will not be converted." (8) Khrushchev would say that, of course. But was his confidence misplaced bravado? Contemporary U.S. reports from this Cold War front, produced during and immediately after the exhibition, were also significantly less confident in its success, as even Walter Hixson's doggedly triumphalist account acknowledges. (9) One of the American guides, Joan Barth, ended her report to the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), "Did our Exhibition jive with basic Russian impulses? No!" (10) A USIA postmortem concluded that although the U.S. press back home had represented the fair as a smash hit that had "wowed" Moscow, "it wasn't" and "it didn't." (11)
The truism that history is written from the standpoint of victors should alert us to the pitfalls of fitting the 1959 Soviet encounter with Amerika into a post-1991 teleological account of how the Soviet system collapsed, capitalism triumphed, and America won the Cold War. If the Soviet Union was still with us today, how might we now be trying to fit the encounter between its citizens and the United States' self-projection at ANEM into an explanation of the Soviet system's sustainability, sources of popular legitimacy and belonging, rather than into a narrative of communism's fatal flaw? Might we not, in that case, look back to 1959 as a battle of claims and images in which the Soviet steel was tempered, resources to resist the incursions of the 'Irresistible Empire' of American-style consumer culture were honed, and out of which Soviet social cohesion, identification, and national pride emerged strengthened? I pose this counterfactual question not out of nostalgia for a communist future that never was, nor simply to invert the received narrative, but to offer it as a lens through which to reconstruct the complexities, ambiguities, and possibilities that still seemed open in that historical moment. Rather than whiggishly tracing the genealogy of the inevitable collapse of the Soviet system and triumph of market capitalism back to the historical encounter in the appliance-saturated kitchen of 1959, let us give due consideration to the substantial evidence to the contrary, attending to contemporary sources that indicate that American "triumph" was far from a foregone conclusion. This evidence was systematically marginalized by Hixson. (12) Yet, if it so profoundly impressed Soviet citizens, as Hixson writes, why were they, in his words, "still willing to be patient and give the socialist system the time it needed to catch up with the West"? (13) A reassessment of the sources indicates that the exhibition's effects were not simply, as the U.S. planners and sponsors expected and as some of the contemporary U.S. press claimed, to discredit the communist project and trigger a stampede of frustrated would be consumers, but more ambivalent. In that response, the advantages of a system that promised social security, services, housing, and free education and health care still represented important sources of identification and patriotic pride.
The archival record of responses to ANEM can also offer additional insights concerning Soviet society and attitudes under Khrushchev and the resilience or transformation of the "Stalinist subject" during the Thaw. For ANEM did not only project the ideal self-image of America across the Iron Curtain. It was at once a shop window on the United States for Soviet citizens, and a window on the Soviet Union for American observers. As a rare occasion to have a large U.S. presence in the USSR, it offered an unprecedented opportunity for information-gathering concerning Soviet popular attitudes. A wealth of data was produced during and after the exhibition, which complements the observations of journalists who, in some cases returning to the Soviet Union after Stalin's death, were fascinated by changes in how people dressed, lived, and comported themselves. (14) Journalists' efforts aside, the main means available to track Soviet popular attitudes had been through the testimony of emigres to the United States and of people displaced by the war who found themselves in the U.S. zone of occupation in Europe. Notably, the Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System, consisting of 705 interviews with refugees from the USSR between 1950 and 1953, produced data primarily on the period from 1917 to the mid-1940s. (15) Since the informants had left the Soviet Union before the death of Stalin, the Harvard Project was of limited use in tracking current shifts in public moods within the Soviet Union. It could not illuminate the social effects of, for example, Khrushchev's secret speech, the intensive mass housing campaign launched in 1957, and the pledges to raise living standards, nor measure popular acceptance of or incredulity at the Party's pledge to "catch up and overtake America." (16) Data gathered around ANEM supplement Harvard Project materials in ways that not only served U.S. policymakers at the time but can also be useful retrospectively for the historian. Yet relatively little use has been made of this material despite active research interest in the exhibition and the availability of the sources, in English, in the U.S. National Archives. (17) This is partly a symptom of the "Americo-centricity" of Cold War studies, of which David Caute has complained. (18) ANEM, along with other Cold War events, has been examined primarily in terms of U.S. domestic and global interests. Regarding its impact on the Soviet Union, its aims have been taken for effects, as if message received were identical to message transmitted. (19) Neglect of the available sources for assessing the Soviet reception and experience of ANEM may also be attributed to the persistence of Cold War prejudices and assumptions, on the basis of which Soviet responses are dismissed as uninformative and unworthy of further consideration. Thus official press reports are just propaganda and Khrushchev's pronouncements no more than knee-jerk reactions and bluff, while Soviet viewers' comments written in the exhibition visitors' books--or at least those that contradict the "success" narrative--are the passive mouthings of cowed subjects "parroting" received truths, the result of brainwashing, rote rehearsals of the official line, and therefore of no further use as an indicator of what Soviet people "really" thought and felt.
More will be said below about the nature of the archival sources, including reports by U.S. personnel and observers, Soviet reports by brigades of party activists, and viewers' written responses in comments books. They are highly problematic--but what sources are ever transparent? I propose that an analysis of the archival record concerning the reception of ANEM can contribute to the historical project of understanding the Soviet popular experience of the Cold War. It can cast light on the question, which the USIA was particularly interested in probing at the time, "what socialism/ communism means personally to Soviet citizens." (20) The Cold War subject we seek is not something fully formed anterior to the media representations and propaganda battles but is shaped through the categories of the global conflict. For as the anthropologist Katherine Verdery has noted, the Cold War is an epistemological order, whose value-weighted binary oppositions structured knowledge of the world (as they do to this day). (21) How did the Cold War, as a conflict of images of modernity and the good life, shape the everyday life of ordinary historical subjects? How did the virtual day trip to Amerika in Moscow contribute to the "redefinition of their understanding of the word 'normal' "--identified by Yale Richmond as an effect of increased foreign contact--in regard to Soviet living? Did the glimpse it afforded of the (ideal) American way of life and of the kitchen at its heart raise Soviet horizons of expectation and entitlement? (22) What myths, orthodoxies, and founts of national pride did viewers mobilize against this demonstration of American superiority on the home front? And what sense of themselves was produced in response to the image the "other" projected of itself and to the image of them it presupposed?
Shooting Themselves in the Foot?
Before we can evaluate the exhibition's "success" or otherwise in achieving its aims, we should briefly consider why the Soviet authorities allowed ANEM at all. The publicly stated objective of the American Exhibition in Moscow was "to strengthen the foundation of world peace by increasing understanding in the Soviet Union of the American people, the land in which they live, and the broad range of American life, including American science, technology, and culture." For internal planning purposes the objectives were expressed somewhat differently. It was an unprecedented opportunity for counterpropaganda: "to counter Communist fiction with facts on which Soviet people could base their judgements of the US." (23) It was, moreover, an offensive weapon of propaganda and cultural infiltration of the USSR, "the best opportunity [the United States] has yet had to reach a highly important target audience, including the politically alert and potentially most influential citizens of the Soviet Union," and to make a "big contribution to the present ferment of ideas, especially in the Soviet intelligentsia." (24) It was designed to "create and exploit troublesome problems for the USSR" and sow seeds of dissent and dissatisfaction in order to undermine and gradually destabilize the USSR. (25) A key area for this offensive on which we focus here was consumption and the material conditions of everyday life. The exhibition was explicitly intended to advance the Cold War's third front--the living-standards race. It aimed to instill envy, delegitimate the regime, and ruin the Soviet economy by raising demand for products available only to Western consumers, as Winston indicated in the statement quoted at the outset. (26) Its focus on lavish displays of consumer goods, household appliances, homes, and light automobiles at the expense of heavy machinery, production processes, and science was not a foregone conclusion, but it was informed by a decade of experience of exhibiting in Europe. (27) It fitted the particular conjunction of interests of the exhibition's U.S. government and business sponsors, which included General Motors, General Electric, and other major U.S. corporations involved in the retooling of wartime military innovations in technology and materials into automobile and household-appliance production. (28) It was also premised on a particular conception of progress, according to which high levels of individual consumption, comfort, and leisure were the hallmarks of modernity; and on stereotypes of the Soviet target audience, especially women, as deprived and frustrated would-be consumers. An official USIA dispatch after the opening of the exhibition predicted that the American kitchen could result in "a minor feminine revolution in Russia." (29) It was a Trojan Horse of the "American way of life," which aimed to breach the fortress of communism, steal away the hearts of millions of deprived Soviet Helens, and restore them to their true consumerist selves, from which state socialism had alienated them.
Were the Soviet authorities, then, simply gullible Trojans in agreeing to allow the exhibition into Moscow? They surely knew to beware Greeks bearing gifts? Indeed, Khrushchev complained to U.S. governors a few weeks before the exhibition opened that Soviet intelligence had seen U.S. State Department documents that calculated that thousands of Soviet citizens would defect or want to overthrow his government as a result of ANEM. (30) Why then did his regime allow this occupation of a corner of Moscow by the idealized America-in-miniature?
The Khrushchev regime's high-risk strategy of opening up the Soviet Union to foreign exchange and influence presents one of the period's big conundrums for historians. Cumulative ad hoc decisions and catalogues of errors may be part of the story. But the decision to allow ANEM was based on the expectation of benefits important enough to justify the risks and on confidence that the USSR was well placed to repulse the threats and capitalize on its potential gains. This confidence arose in part from the launch of Sputnik and from the international success of socialist bloc pavilions at the Brussels World Fair in 1958, which contrasted with the United States' relatively low impact. (31) Second, given the reciprocal basis of the agreement, the risk of American contamination of the Soviet public was to be set against the opportunity for propaganda in America on the Soviet Union's own terms. Third, international prestige was to be gained. Khrushchev actively sought an official exchange agreement with the United States because he considered that it would confirm the Soviet Union's superpower status on a par with the United States. (32) Fourth, Khrushchev was committed to the policy of peaceful coexistence and the defusion of arms escalation. Greater emphasis on diplomacy was, at least in part, motivated by the recognition that reduced defense expenditure was essential if Khrushchev was to deliver on his promises of higher living standards. (33) Fifth, as Khrushchev told the U.S. governors, exchanges were all very well, but they should lead to increased trade. (34) The exchange of exhibitions presented a chance to demonstrate Soviet technological progress and products in the United States and to send out the message, loud and clear, that the USSR was open for business. Although ANEM and the Soviet equivalent in New York were designated "national exhibitions" rather than trade fairs, increased trade links and contracts were, from the Soviet point of view, a likely and highly desirable spin-off from improved relations. The Soviet exhibition explicitly solicited trade. (35) The two exhibitions were overshadowed, however, by an inauspiciously timed State Department statement on trade with USSR of 4 July 1959. Thus U.S. obstruction to trade agreements became a key theme in the Soviet response to ANEM. (36)
Sixth, the American exhibition was expected to play a positive role in enabling the Soviet Union to achieve its widely proclaimed goal to "catch up and overtake America." Khrushchev informed the delegation of U.S. governors that in spite of their exhibition's aggressive intent he would encourage the Soviet people to visit it, because the USSR was going to overtake the United States through the Seven-Year Plan and he wanted the people to see some of the things they would eventually have. (37) In the same vein, Khrushchev's speech at the exhibition's official opening printed under the heading "We Will Overtake America," declared the exhibition "instructive." "We can learn something. We look at the American exhibition as an exhibition of our own achievements in the near future." (38) The Soviet authorities expected ANEM to promote the Soviet project of catching up and overtaking America in two main ways. It would serve as an incentive, by making manifest, concretely and vividly, the rewards that awaited Soviet people's continued efforts, a method familiar to the Soviet public in the form of Socialist Realism. (39) Furthermore, the exhibition was to speed the Soviet Union toward attainment of the radiant future of communism in direct, practical ways, offering a vital opportunity to learn from the Cold War adversary. Reverse engineering and technology transfer provided ways to leapfrog whole stages of technological development and fast-forward the Soviet "Scientific Technological Revolution." (40) It was expected that models would be left behind allowing Soviet engineers to "appropriate" them at leisure. The strategic access the exhibition was expected to afford to the latest Western scientific and technological developments was so essential in the postwar world that it outweighed the risks of ideological contamination. The expectation (both official and popular) that ANEM would be an instructive "museum of the future" from which to glean new processes and technologies determined the mode of spectatorship viewers brought to the exhibition.
Finally, we should not underestimate the Marxist regime's conviction of the historical superiority of socialism. Khrushchev and the Party premised decisions on their own projection of the ideal, Soviet person as a rational being who understood that the greatest good of the largest number of people lay not in capitalist self-interest and acquisitiveness but in the "alternative vision of collective well-being" offered by socialism. Indeed, De Grazia's claim--that the socialist path to modernity, liberty, and happiness, based on social benefits and collective consumption, was becoming irrelevant already by 1959--was premature. Since Stalin's death, promises had been repeatedly made and measures introduced to raise living standards. The greatest importance was attached, in the Seven-Year Plan adopted early in 1959, to the expansion and improvement of services and to the intensive construction of mass housing, although promises of increased quantities and varieties of consumer goods such as domestic appliances also figured. The British economist Alec Nove, writing in 1960, considered the Soviet regime's commitment to improve welfare services momentous enough to call in question received Western assessments of the nature of the Soviet system, which were based on the assumption that it could maintain power only through coercive force. (41) The promises and palpable signs of improvements were expected to underpin state socialism's legitimacy and were kept vividly before the eyes of the populace before and during the exhibition. (42)
Although the potential gains were substantial, Khrushchev's pledge "to catch up and overtake America" was, nonetheless, a contradictory and high-risk strategy. The state-socialist modernization project claimed to create a form of modern civilization that was distinct from, and in competition with, Western capitalist modernity. Yet the slogan positioned America as the benchmark of progress, thereby implying acceptance of its measures and locking the Soviet (and East European) leaders into constant comparison with the symbols of prosperity set by the West. (43) This contradiction is now widely identified as the Achilles' heel of state socialism, which, by placing it under irreconcilable tension, determined its collapse between 1989 and 1991. Would Soviet viewers in 1959 be able to reconcile the contradictions when confronted with America in Moscow?
Who Was the Public?
Who constituted the public for the exhibition? Substantial as the estimated audience figures were, we cannot assume that it constituted a representative cross-section of the Soviet population. Moreover, the absence of consistent demographic data, as well as of any representative sample or control group, makes it difficult to map responses reliably onto social categories, although we can make some informed guesses. Geographically, the balance was inevitably skewed toward Muscovites, but as one writer in the visitors' book objected to the assumption of a previous contributor: "You think only Muscovites visit? That's incorrect. There are many from other places." (44) Many comments in the visitors' books were reportedly written in other languages of the Soviet Union, and a number of writers identified themselves as Latvians or Lithuanians. (45) As for gender, according to Richmond, visitors to U.S. exhibitions in the Soviet Union over a 32-year period (of which ANEM was the first) were mostly young men, that being the group with the greatest freedom from commitments, allowing them to queue through the night for tickets. (46) Men appear to have predominated particularly in one key group of visitors to Sokol'niki, party activists sent to the exhibition by their regional party committees to keep an eye on other visitors. U.S. staff reported that such "agitators" constituted "the preponderance of visitors" in the first week. (47)
Restricted access to tickets made attendance a privilege. The Soviet authorities controlled the distribution and sale of tickets, enabling the vetting of visitors, which favored politically reliable elements such as those rewarded for party loyalty or work feats. (48) In the first two weeks, visitors to the exhibition apparently included an unrepresentative proportion of party members, gilded youth, and others whom the Soviet system had served well: people who had a stake in the system and could be expected to know how to present themselves as good Soviet citizens in order to get on in life. (49) As the weeks went by, however, controls eased--especially after a meeting between Khrushchev and Eisenhower was agreed on 3 August--and the public, if not fully representative, became quite mixed. Visitors included workers, since factories obtained tickets for selected workers as well as for bosses. (50) And by week three, the Soviet middle class of technical and cultural intelligentsia and professionals were apparently well represented. U.S. Foreign Service personnel reported that the public was composed, to a significant extent, of "what might be called the 'new class' of intelligentsia, professionals, and persons privileged by relationship with prominent figures. They are apparently not being selected with particular care for political reliability." (51) The likelihood that the technical intelligentsia were well represented should be borne in mind below when we discuss the common complaint that the exhibition was insufficiently informative about technological developments.
Awareness of the exhibition was not limited to those who were able to visit in person but spread through word of mouth, the circulation of souvenirs and brochures (especially pamphlets distributed by automobile companies), and through the official media coverage. Keen to demonstrate the exhibition's reach, U.S. observers engaged in a kind of archaeology of the distribution of lapel buttons, mapping their trajectory across the Soviet Union from Vilnius to Siberia. (52) Contemporary U.S. Foreign Service reports from Moscow to the State Department made much of such sightings, construing these, along with the queues for tickets and the frequent resort to illicit means to get in, as indicators of success. (53) Quantitative data on audience preferences among the exhibits was also gathered by the voting machines. (54) Like box-office receipts or ratings, however, such data are limited as an indicator of reception. The number of sightings of buttons does not tell us what it meant to wear one, for example, nor even that the wearer had seen the exhibition. A man in Vilnius said that wearing the button should be taken as a sign of sympathy for the United States; in other contexts and social milieus it was simply a status symbol. (55) Likewise, as the authors of the USIA's preliminary report on "Visitors' Reactions" cautioned, "a person can go to an exhibit in order to laugh at it or disagree with it. The attendance figures alone, therefore, should be regarded as an ambiguous criterion of popularity, especially since it is out of line with the more direct testimony of the guides as to what people say about the Exhibit after they have seen it." (56) How can we evaluate whether or how the exhibition changed people's minds?
The Archival Sources and Their Limitations
Unusually in the case of ANEM, the source base for researching reception is quite extensive. (57) What problems do the available sources raise for the historian, and can they yield usable insights about Soviet society in 19597
"For many years we have been trying to get some sounding of the interests of Soviet people--particularly in respect to life in the United States," noted one U.S. embassy official. (58) The USIA regularly undertook audience surveys to identify foreign attitudes toward American life and culture and monitored the effectiveness of its cultural offensive, including its impact at trade fairs and other international expositions. (59) ANEM was no exception; although this was more difficult in the Soviet Union than in Western Europe, USIA also sought ways to gather information around the exhibition in Moscow. (60) Soviet visitors were subjected to surveillance by U.S. embassy personnel and exhibition guides who listened in to their conversations, monitored their responses and conduct, took notes on the questions they asked, and used all means available to gather information concerning the exhibition's impact and the current state of Soviet popular opinion. Weekly reports on the conduct of the exhibition, based on observations and reports on conversations with Soviet citizens by embassy staff and exhibition guides, were dispatched to Washington. (61)
Unsurprisingly, the central questions U.S. agencies pursued concerned attitudes toward the fundamental Cold War dichotomy: socialism versus capitalism. In debriefing the guides after ANEM, USIA interviewers wanted to know, "what--in their personal life--[Soviet citizens] attribute to [the socialist] system and what they hope/expect it will give them in the future." (62) A report on "Soviet Attitudes and Public Opinion," sent by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to the State Department in Washington in June 1959, shortly before ANEM opened, sought to discern "the real attitude of the Soviet people towards the regime and the society in which they live." According to the signing officer, First Secretary of the U.S. Embassy David Mark:
From the point of view of U.S. policy, the most important factor in this realm relates to a judgment about the stability and essential internal cohesion of Soviet society. Is it likely to experience serious stresses? Does the populace in general aspire to a change in the basic economic and political framework? Do people formulate their individual and collective aspirations in terms of the present system or outside of it? Is the regime in power something external to most Soviets, or is it a fact of life, like the weather? Is there a potential for resistance to the regime? Is disaffection growing or declining? (63)
But gathering data on popular attitudes was not a simple matter for foreign agencies in the Soviet Union, nor was its contemporary interpretation free of Cold War categories and assumptions. A contributor to this report cautioned: "the nature of the totalitarian state with its monopoly of propaganda backed by the omnipresent potential to apply an unlimited amount of coercive force, makes any estimate of popular attitudes a risky business." Moreover, "two foreigners can and frequently do talk to the same Soviet citizen and come away with entirely different opinions of his real attitude." (64) This instability of meaning should not be put down solely to the subjectivity of the foreign observer's interpretation of popular attitudes. It also points to the situatedness of the utterances, whereby an individual might adopt different positions in different contexts and with different interlocutors.
When the USIA monitored opinion in Western Europe, it was able to commission local opinion-polling companies to disguise the fact that the questions were being asked on behalf of Americans and thereby to discount "courtesy bias"--that is, the tendency, in accordance with the rules of polite conversation, to say what one thinks the questioner wants to hear. In the absence of such a possibility in the USSR, fluent Russian-speaking Americans were deployed to gather opinions by mingling in the crowd at ANEM pretending to be ordinary Russian visitors. (65) It is questionable, however, whether people who had grown up in America would have succeeded in passing themselves off as Russians in 1959; their dress and bearing were likely to betray their identity as foreigners, even if their language did not. Thus in assessing their findings, we should factor in the possibility of either courtesy bias or confusion and distrust. Moreover, in the USSR, U.S. information-gathering was dependent upon self-selected informants or chance encounters, without the possibility of constructing samples such as were used for surveys of public attitudes in Western Europe. To judge from the weekly Foreign Service dispatches from Moscow, opinion-soundings were based on a disproportionate representation of taxi drivers with whom embassy diplomats would strike up conversations. The conversations and reports on Soviet attitudes are also male-dominated: the named Foreign Service officers who provided information are all male and reveal little access to Russian women's views, more often falling into conversation or friendships with other men (especially given the suspicion of diplomats having sexual relations with the Cold War enemy). The presence of many women among the 75 guides at ANEM with daily contact with Russians, male and female, went some way to redress this gender imbalance. The USIA interviewers, in debriefing the guides, showed an interest in questions about gender roles: how, for example, did visitors respond to the information that fewer American women work than Soviet women? Nevertheless, women's perspective is underrepresented in the data. Given the conventional gendering of interests, this circumstance is significant when we consider responses to consumer goods for the home. The written comments provide some corrective here, to the limited extent that the gender of the author can be determined.
The information thus gathered was intended to assist the USIA in honing its tools and skills of soft warfare against the Soviet system. The interest was narcissistic, concerned primarily with the image of the United States as it was reflected back by the foreign audience. (66) It was also necessary to demonstrate to Senate and business sponsors the cost-effectiveness of investment in the USIA's cultural offensives. Thus the compilers of reports are likely to have sought out evidence that the exhibition was achieving its objectives and helping to fulfill the USIA's brief, or--in cases of failure--ways of delegitimating unwanted responses. We should expect, then, on balance, that evidence would be skewed toward demonstrating the exhibition's success.
Soviet visitors to ANEM were not only subjected to surveillance by U.S. embassy and exhibition staff. They were also closely observed by internal forces, including fellow viewers and brigades of party activists from institutes and enterprises around the city who were sent each day for this purpose by the Moscow City Party Committee. The reports of these brigades are cited by Hixson, but insofar as they provide evidence that contradicts his "success" narrative, he dismisses them as "not an accurate assessment of the typical response," on the questionable assumption that they were designed to reassure CPSU superiors. Meanwhile, he privileges the evidence of U.S. exhibition and embassy personnel, although, as noted, this was surely also skewed toward reassuring their superiors. (67) Yet to test the U.S. data and balance their bias toward evidence of the exhibition's success, we need to attend to this Soviet material. It would be useful if we could also triangulate the somewhat haphazard data produced by listening in with references to ANEM in more systematic indigenous sociological surveys of public opinion. Systematic public opinion research in the Soviet Union began only after ANEM, however, with the formation in May 1960 of the Komsomol'shaia pravda Institute of Public Opinion under philosopher Boris Grushin. (68)
Viewers' Written Comments
In the absence of any systematic contemporaneous survey of reception (aside from the crude, quantitative polling which was conducted by the voting machine), the responses that viewers wrote in the exhibition comments books are a valuable source. Visitors' books were introduced in the second week of the exhibition, missing the first week when "agitators" reportedly predominated in the audience. They were located at various points around the grounds, although not every individual exhibit had its own book, which inevitably affected the distribution of comments on specific exhibits. (69) Their introduction was suggested by U.S. embassy staff; familiar with local custom, they knew that Soviet exhibition-goers were accustomed to having their opinions solicited in this format. (70)
The comments books were owned by the U.S. hosts. The Soviet authorities could "legitimately" access them only by having agents pass themselves off as ordinary visitors. Party activists could not, without risking an international incident, tear out pages, erase comments, remove the books overnight, or type them up to pass to higher instances as they might do with Soviet exhibitions. (71) At best, they could take notes or memorize comments (as journalists appear to have done for citation in newspaper articles).
The uses of comments books as a means to evaluate visitor reaction have been debated in Museum Studies in recent years. (72) They differ from other types of data used in audience research, such as questionnaires, in the degree to which they are produced independently of the researcher and his/her interests. This has both advantages and disadvantages. On the down side, the applicability of "scientific" methods to analyze viewers' written comments is limited. This generic limitation is exacerbated, in the present case, by the form in which the visitors' books for ANEM are available to the researcher: typed up and translated into English, unbound, and somewhat haphazardly filed. It is not clear how the transcripts correspond to the way the visitors encountered them: whether they were typed in the order written, for example. According to the USIA's preliminary report on "Visitors' Reactions" some 2000 visitors wrote comments, in which case the transcripts seem to be incomplete or selective (the typists and translators could have been instructed to select a sufficient quantity of positive comments or translated only those in Russian).73 These factors render any attempt at quantitative analysis not only uninformative but misleading, in that it would give an unwarranted veneer of scientific rigor. Although a quantification of " favorable" and "unfavorable" remarks on individual exhibits was attempted at the time (see Table 1), it was apparently based on only a small proportion of comments and did not indicate whether each was counted once only (comments often referred to several exhibits and often mixed favorable and unfavorable points). Other losses are that the quality of the translations is not high; and the transcripts are deprived of the non-textual (visual and material) qualities that add an expressive layer of communication to original comments books for other Soviet exhibitions in the Thaw: dog-eared pages, drawings, arrows, and comments scribbled over others. Furthermore, unlike a formal sociological survey, the authors do not constitute a representative sample but are self-selected, and comments are rarely accompanied by sociodemographic information. (74) Thus a systematic analysis by social category is impossible (although if the original Russian were available, the vocabulary, grammatical construction, and handwriting would allow informed guesses). As with the U.S. observers' reports discussed above, this limitation is particularly regrettable regarding gender, given the stereotypically feminine address of the displays. If young men predominated in the audience, as suggested above, it does not follow that they predominated among those who chose to write in the comments books (a number of the authors of favorable comments on kitchens and domestic appliances identified themselves as female).
On the plus side, comments books more closely reflect the comment writer's agenda than the researcher's, and this offers some advantages. Presenting no more than blank pages inviting viewers to set down their impressions, they are not structured by set questions that predetermine the focus of response. Thus, as Museum Studies expert Gordon Fyfe notes, they constitute a kind of "visitor research against the grain," which has the advantage that they may "elicit unanticipated visitor responses." (75) The written comments are the closest we will come to hearing the viewers talk back "in their own words," as opposed to reported speech and digests--although in what sense those words may be called "their own" is just one of numerous caveats.
It would be naive to see comments books as unmediated traces of "what the viewer really thought." Although the page was not structured by a grid inviting viewers to fill in answers to specific questions and personal details, they are not free in the sense of being undetermined by cultural constraints, convention, format, or context. Writing in comments books has its own genre conventions and social rules. Studying inscriptions in the comments books of Israeli settlement museums in the 1980s, Tamar Katriel found them to be shaped by the model of polite guests paying a visit, with highly appreciative expressions of gratitude in semi-ritualized terms predominating. If comments were critical at all, then it was only of details. They never questioned the value or relevance of the enterprise as a whole. (76) At ANEM, Soviet viewers were positioned as guests for the day in the "American Corner" of Moscow. The comments books were an "American" space, writing in which viewers clearly envisaged their addressee as the U.S. hosts--whether the exhibition organizers or the American people. Thus they may be conceived as guest books soliciting a ritualized comment on departure, and we might, then, expect a high proportion of polite general comments and bland platitudes. Inscriptions of the routine "thank you for your exhibition" or "we were there" type are far from predominant, however, and many such comments, having begun by thanking the Americans for their exhibition, go on to make substantive criticisms. Unlike Katriel's polite guests who never questioned the value or relevance of the enterprise as a whole, a number of Soviet visitors claimed that they had got little or nothing out of the exhibition. Agitators' reports (discussed below) suggest that this response was even more prevalent than the transcribed comments books reflect.
Several factors operated in the contrary direction to the etiquette of the polite guest. First, we should entertain the possibility that Soviet visitors were unaware of the etiquette or less concerned with decorum than Katriel's Israeli guests, or that Soviet culture had different conventions. But Soviet viewers who were regular exhibition- and museum-goers were certainly familiar with the custom of putting out books for comments--almost mandatory at Soviet exhibitions--and with the etiquette of politely responding to the "gift" of the exhibition (although not all viewers at ANEM fell into this category of initiates: one confessed in the guest book that he had never been to an exhibition before, preferring basketball). (77)
Second, writing in comment books took place in public, with an awareness that other visitors--some of whom could turn out to be snoops--might be watching and could read them and identify the author. According to U.S. reports, "agitator types," mostly male, intimidated viewers as well as trying to discredit the guides with awkward questions. (78) Moreover, some of the comments were interventions by activists posing as genuine viewers. Agitators' surveillance and interventions are more than figments of Cold War paranoia; the reports that each brigade of party activists submitted to the Moscow City Party Committee after their watch gave specific examples of how they monitored viewers and of what they said or wrote. (79) In cases where comments begin enthusiastically then abruptly launch into criticism we cannot discount the possibility that the author was interrupted. Other viewers, fearing that they had been observed spending too long studying a display or talking to an American guide, might compensate by writing a hostile comment in the visitors' book. An example of interruption is given in the agitators' account. Some particularly zealous activists reported:
When we went up to the comments book we saw a woman of middle age, not badly dressed, clearly from the white-collar milieu. She wrote a comment with the following content: "I like the exhibition a lot. We see that you have a higher standard of living than we have, the people live better than we do." We asked her how she came to the conclusion that Americans live better. Perhaps various pots and pans had so stunned her that she couldn't see anything else? She began to cover what she had written with her hand. We said one does that only when ashamed. In short, our presence made her finish her comment somewhat differently from how she had intended. She ended, "But our government also takes care of the people and tries to make life better." ... During our conversation with her, the public gathered around. They supported us, and as a result several others joined our signature. So that immediately after this comment ... another was written underneath: "I didn't like the exhibition, I am disappointed." (80)
The same activists also reported that they had written a comment about the "typical" American house under pseudonymous female signatures. They cited the text they had inscribed, which appears also in the American transcript, standing out from many others by its length and authoritative tone, as in this excerpt:
Poor little house! During twelve days of your existence more was said about you than any other exhibit here. People began talking about you before you were brought to our country. You were criticized because you were too expensive and because you were not typical of American conditions where thousands of families were cooped up in slums and it was laughable for them to hear that you were typical. We saw your slums with our own eyes because we lived there several years. We know well the Italian and Latin blocks and Chinatown and even visited Harlem once in daylight, though apprehensively, because we could have been taken for Americans and killed by mistake.... We Russians say: "All this unquestionably is very nice. Thank you, Americans for trying to show us Russians what houses should be built and how to furnish them. Many thanks, but such lightweight buildings do not please us. Do not foist on us your manner of living." (81)
The effects of agitators cannot be overlooked. But nor can we ignore critical comments on the exhibition, as some contemporaneous U.S. reports and retrospective analyses have done. In a circular argument or syllogism, they construe positive comments as authentic or sincere solely on the internal grounds that they are favorable, without external corroboration. Meanwhile, all comments that churlishly reject the American dream are discounted as inauthentic just because they are critical, explained away by reference to "brainwashing" and fear of surveillance. Thus one of the U.S. reports generalized: "Those individuals who are not conditioned by ideological outlook seem to come away from the Exhibition with positive impressions." (82) Hixson treats only favorable comments as legitimate, assuming that all critical comments are written by agitators or are the direct result of intimidation by them and can therefore be conveniently discounted. Conversely, he automatically ascribes the paucity of positive comments to intimidation by party officials monitoring activity around the books, assuming, without providing direct evidence or entertaining other possible causes, that most people would have written positive, pro-American, and anti-Soviet comments had they dared. Thus he constructs a narrative of the exhibition as an overwhelming success and maintains the Cold War story of Soviet intimidation and cowed people who would express anti-Soviet, pro-American sentiment, were they not deprived of authorship and agency and alienated from their "real" responses. (83)
We should not get carried away, however. Only one comment can be securely attributed to activists and, aside from a handful of documented examples, we cannot know which ones were written under their eagle eye. (84) Nor can we know what authors might have written had they not been watched. Lack of positive comments need not be attributed solely to intimidation. Their absence could indicate that people had nothing positive to say. Agitators overheard a railway worker in conversation with another visitor comparing ANEM unfavorably to the Soviet Exhibition of National Economic Achievements. He cited the quantity of notes he took as a measure of his relative approval: "Here [at ANEM] I wrote nothing, but there I wrote a whole notebook. I'll bring it home to my workmates--there'll be something to tell them about." (85) Brigades of agitators keeping vigil on different days reported that they overheard few positive comments, nor saw many written in the books. Their reports are full of notes on the good behavior, correct attitudes, and appropriately churlish responses of the Soviet public. Given that their role at the exhibition was to watch for pro-American manifestations and excesses of enthusiasm on the part of Soviet visitors (as well as to keep an eye on the Americans), this is surprising and--contra Hixson--should be taken seriously. (86) Moreover, Americans eavesdropping on visitors' conversations also recorded more negative comments than positive. (87)
Only occasionally do the agitators complain about bad behavior on the part of the public. "Unfortunately, sometimes visitors come to the help of the guides, especially young visitors. Some of them praise the American exhibition, American art, and even the American way of life. A directly anti-Soviet mood even appears." A visitor was overheard declaring that "he was fed up with living in the USSR and wanted to leave as soon as possible." (88) One brigade reported on viewers taking the books from the book display. Yet, they excused this as the result of a misunderstanding that it was free literature meant to be taken away. (89) Such responses appear to have been far from prevalent, however. In general, according to the agitators, the "majority behaved very well." People knew what they should do when their country and everything it stood for was challenged by a foreign power. One report concluded that party committees "have explained well to Muscovites how they should conduct themselves at the exhibition." Another found that "Soviet viewers behave with dignity at the exhibition without any obsequiousness toward America," and "visitors take a critical attitude to the [U.S.] exhibition," while showing great interest in the competing Soviet exhibition that was set out on the approach to it. (90)
One of the most common reactions agitators observed and overheard throughout the six-week period was disappointment. Report after report noted the impression "that the U.S. exhibition to a large extent disappoints the visitor. Everyone expected much more than it gives." "Based on observation, the majority of visitors speak with disillusionment: 'the exhibition didn't particularly impress us'; 'it is the twilight of American life'; 'we expected more'; 'in a week there won't be many people here'; 'having been here myself, I'll tell others they may as well not bother coming.'" "As in previous days, visitors remain very dissatisfied with the exhibition. We heard: 'why did we go, it was just a waste of time!' 'we expected to see a lot of interesting technology, automatization, and mechanization. To our surprise we found nothing of the sort and even the house of the 'average American' so highly praised by the Americans themselves, made no particular impression on us." "The Americans wanted to surprise us by showing objects of consumption but did not succeed. The shoes and clothes are much worse than ours, and no one here would want to wear them. The furniture is low and badly made." (91) Two weeks into the exhibition, activists heard no expressions of enthusiasm from the Soviet visitors, only a few positive comments about the cars. Even in this regard, a Moscow worker said: "We don't need such huge and luxurious automobiles at this time. I wouldn't buy one like that. But a little mini-car [mashinka] to drive with the family on a mushrooming or fishing outing at the weekend--that's what I'd buy. But even in America they don't have cars like that." (92)"A female citizen coming out of the exhibition declared: 'don't the Americans have anything more to show us?' (93) A brigade from the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations, keeping vigil outside the exhibition, conducted a kind of exit poll in which all respondents expressed disenchantment or, at most, measured and qualified admiration for individual exhibits. (94)
Brainwashed Dupes/Liberal Subjects?
Disappointment is also one of the most common sentiments recorded in the comments books, as we will see. The writers may have been on their best behavior to pay a visit to the "American corner," but best behavior could mean contradictory things. They were torn between the conventions of the polite guest and the positions of Soviet patriots, defending their country under attack. Some comments try to do the right thing by both norms, mixing in a single message polite platitude with substantive criticism.
Many comments make one or more of the same points as appear in the agitators' inscription. Are we to conclude that they are also by agitators masquerading as "simple" viewers? Or did the writers look back through the books and, impressed by the authoritative tone of the agitators' comment, model their own statements on it? As visitors' books for other exhibitions make clear, to write a comment was to enter into a virtual conversation with previous viewers, and it was normal practice to read their comments before formulating one's own judgment, sometimes in opposition but often by appropriating the terms of earlier remarks. (95) Above all, since the agitators were reproducing orthodoxies widely disseminated in the press, party lectures, and workplace briefings, viewers could have brought the stock phrases with them from other sources. Public opinion, as always, was formed and articulated within a discursive matrix, which included, among other things, their long-standing education about the benefits of socialism and inequities of capitalism, prior encounters with America's own self representation (in the magazine Amerika, for example), Khrushchev's ex cathedra judgment of the exhibition, and the media coverage of the exhibition and of Nixon's visit. A number of standard lines were adopted in the press to discredit the exhibition. It was a Potemkin village that dissembled the inequities of American society; it had too few technological, industrial, and scientific exhibits and too many consumer goods, rendering it more like a department store than an exhibition of national achievement; there was nothing special there; and the display was a poorly organized miscellany. (96) Responses were also shaped by other developments, discursive and material, including the Party's promises to give greater priority to consumer goods production and services; its intensive and already highly visible housing drive initiated in 1957; and the Soviet counterpropaganda measures such as the competing exhibitions which sought to play these achievements to the full.
There is not space here to analyze the press coverage in detail or to unravel the complex interaction between the ways ordinary viewers articulated their response and the published professional pronouncements that mediated the exhibition. What is clear is that there is a close congruence between popular evaluations uttered in conversations with the guides, as well as in the comments books, and the authoritative reactions in the press (although the influence was not necessarily entirely unidirectional). (97) The June USIA report found that the populace was widely conversant with "the propaganda cliches on every subject carried by information media, and these cliches are the usual substitute for independent thinking." (98) Soviet citizens also privately informed American personnel that their compatriots generally believed what the press said, although others, to the contrary, said they were given to skepticism. (99) A U.S. report after the exhibition, based on the debriefing of guides, concluded:
Perhaps the most striking single impression received by the guides at the American National Exhibition (and the most significant piece of new information drawn from their experience), was the high degree of similarity between the official Soviet depiction of the US and the image of America held by most Soviet visitors to the fair. What the Soviet regime, using its nearly total monopoly of the means of communication, has told the Soviet public about America and Americans, the Soviet public has largely accepted. This is a massive fact with which President Eisenhower must contend when he faces the Soviet people during his forthcoming visit to the USSR. (100)
Must we come back, then, to the model of the unitary state exercising total control over the means of communication and thence over people's minds, and of subjects as no more than mouthpieces passively "parroting" received truths? While claiming to describe reality, this familiar picture, an aspect of the totalitarian paradigm, served as a discursive instrument of the Cold War. (101) The now equally familiar litany of this paradigm's inadequacies need not be rehearsed here beyond a couple of points most pertinent to the problem of interpreting Soviet responses to ANEM. These relate to one of the most active areas of investigation in recent Soviet studies: the relationship between Soviet selfhood or subjectivity and authoritative discourse.
The distinction between "genuine" or "un-ideological" comments of bona fide citizens and those of agitators, presuming that a response "unconditioned by ideological outlook" was possible, is premised on an essentialist conception of the self as singular, stable, and pre-social (fully given in advance before the act or utterance) and of meaning as existing anterior to discourse. If such a self could exist, historians would never be able to find it, relying as they do on forms of articulation that are already social, made knowable by means of the available conventions of their culture. At the same time, if we reject the explanation of critical comments as all the effect of agitators' intimidation, does it follow that the comment-writers were passively acquiescent, brainwashed mouthpieces of orthodoxy and cliches, deprived of agency, intellectual initiative, and authorship? (102) In Alexei Yurchak's recent critique of such dehumanizing accounts of Soviet people and the assumptions about the experience and subjectivity on which they are based, he calls for "a language that does not reduce the description of socialist reality to dichotomies of the official and the unofficial, the state and the people, and to moral judgments shaped within cold war ideologies." (103) Recent studies of the production of the Soviet subject under Stalin, including through the writing of diaries and public letters, indicate some ways to think about the practice of comment-writing without resorting to essentialist dichotomies and notions of the integral self. (104) But we are left with the question: are the comment-writers masquerading, cynically performing and speaking "Bolshevik," while their "real" self thinks and would wish to act differently, or does their text reflect conviction at some level? Do they believe what they say--at least while they say it? I would tentatively suggest on the internal evidence of the comments, that, unlike the phenomenon of steb (dead irony), which Yurchak analyzes (in regard to late Soviet intelligentsia discourse), the appropriation of authoritative discourse here is not, on the whole, ironic, although there are occasional instances of consciously parodic mimicry. At the moment of writing the visitors are fully "in character," identifying with and trying to act up to the persona and views they present.
To seek to measure relative degrees of sincerity, irony, or dissembling is, however, a task with dubious returns. We have no independent access to sincerity, no historical lie detector to verify claims that one comment is more authentic than another. Is it even a possible or valid undertaking for the historian to hanker after "authentic" responses, opinions that may never have been articulated by the subject? If we cannot calibrate degrees of sincerity of individual comments premised on an essential "self" anterior to language and culture, what we can do is to distinguish different types of socially situated role performances that are entailed in making a certain kind of entry in the visitors' books: that is, as a production, presentation, and alignment of self in which the available material of Soviet discourse is selectively appropriated and deployed. (105) Thus we can read comments as performance of the role of polite guest, responsible citizen, guardian of public morals, opinionated individual ("Outraged of Omsk"), critic, or defender of socialism, personae that were firmly established in public discourse, for example in the genre of letters to the editor. (106) We can also think about what motivated these citizens to write in this way--writing in the comments books was, after all, voluntary, and many chose not to do it.
Although an individual's response was not immaculately conceived or "free," but both enabled and limited by discursive constructions or ideology, this does not mean that it is completely determined by such restraints. (107) The mixed popular reception can be seen to correspond to, though not directly to reflect, divisions that ran throughout Soviet society. We should not forget that the available orthodoxies were not completely homogeneous or unambiguous in this period of ideological instability and struggle. What is often referred to in shorthand as official culture, the party line, or the regime elides struggles and splits within public discourse and cultural elites that surfaced during the Thaw). (108) The "official" or authoritative position was neither unitary nor stable on such key issues in the response to ANEM as how much the Soviet Union should open up to Western influence, the legitimacy of modernist styles in art and design, and the status of consumption. The Soviet press response ranged from more considered, argued treatments to the vituperations of Literatura i zhizn', the latter being "distinguished by a more than usually low approach and generally nasty tone which set it somewhat apart from the 'normal' run of criticism." (109) Amid the flux and fundamental reorientation, it is not surprising if individuals were uncertain about what was sanctioned by the Party and what was not--what was the status of the United States, for example, irreconcilable Cold War foe or potential friend and source of help?--and wavered between antithetical opinions, hedged their bets, or sought to square circles when confronted with Amerika on Soviet soil. Some responded to disorientation by anchoring themselves to dogma. The Russian art historian Mikhail German, in his post-Soviet memoirs, represents responses to the American exhibition as an example of an entrenched "slave mentality": many people met the more adventurous public culture of the Thaw with bewilderment and fear of anything "different or contradictory." (110) But the contradictions and uncertainties also opened up a space for self-alignments, self-differentiation, and identifications, which did not necessarily fit either the intention of the exhibition or any party line. (111)
The contemporary and retrospective dismissal of comments that failed to embrace ANEM and its image of the American Way also presumes that Soviet socialism had no social base of support in the late 1950s, or that those who indicate acceptance of its goals are either dissembling or victims of false consciousness. Contemporary observers, however, identified significant sources of legitimacy, regime support, social cohesion, and optimism about the future. Some of these were set out in the U.S. Embassy report on "Soviet Attitudes and Public Opinion" shortly before the opening of ANEM. These findings are particularly significant given that they contradicted intention: the signing officer observed that the Foreign Service personnel who had gathered the impressions during 1958 "perhaps tend to exaggerate the conscious discontent existing in contemporary Soviet society," having looked expressly for such manifestations. (112) The reasons for the appearance of widespread assent identified in the report provide a useful context for interpreting the visitors' comments.
The 14 years since the end of World War II had been "the longest period of relatively peaceful existence without major domestic or foreign upheavals and wars that the Soviet populace had ever experienced," the report noted. The habit had been established of "working quite hard to build a better life step by step, and the tangible evidence of results is beginning to become apparent in everyday life." Most Soviet citizens still had grievances, some economic, others political. Yet, "there is almost no mass concern in the country over the lack of individual opportunity for effective political expression, for influencing government policies, or for the absence of political as distinct from at least rudimentary civil liberties." The bulk of Soviet citizens could imagine a political system only of the type under which they lived and believed that Western society was worse than their own, implying "dictatorship by the wealthy, political repression of the masses, racial discrimination, and gross inequalities." This view was "not inconsistent with the idea that the US is still well ahead of the USSR in economic matters, an idea which the regime now officially sanctions in combination with the pledge that the gap is narrowing and will sooner or later be overcome." Changes since Stalin's death were found to have had significant effects on public opinion and attitudes, and the masses' early skepticism toward Khrushchev was giving way to increasing enthusiasm about his leadership. The report concluded: "It would, of course, be a great jump for the Soviet regime to go from a position of merely being accepted with resignation and apathy by the mass of citizens to one where it became the desired and admired organ of societal management. This change has not yet taken place, but, unlike even a few years ago, it has become a possibility, at least among the Great Russian elements of the population." (113) Similar conclusions concerning a mood of optimism and sources of legitimacy were drawn from the debriefing of guides after the exhibition: Soviet people were proud of being citizens of a great power playing an important role in world events; they believed that the Stalinist terror would never return and the government could not do things the people did not want; they felt "that regardless of what they do in their personal lives they will be taken care of" and held that "things are so much better than a few years ago." (114)
The report suggested that the U.S. offensive had come too late to be maximally effective. That it had missed its moment was also suggested by an Armenian acquaintance of an American diplomat. Although described as "profoundly anti-Soviet," and critical of Khrushchev, the Armenian informed his American friend that ANEM had not fulfilled its mission to change the Soviet Union. This it could have done when the Soviet Union was weak, he said, but now the Soviet Union was strong and the United States had lost its best opportunity. (115)
Themes in the Popular Reception
Notwithstanding the generic and specific interpretive challenges posed by the visitors' books, it is instructive to analyze the themes of written comments, if only as a corrective to the one-dimensional and triumphalist portrayal of Soviet reception in the contemporary U.S. press and in historical accounts. The comments were far from simply and unanimously positive. Many writers were torn between the conflicting roles of polite guest and proud Soviet citizen or called on elements from authoritative discourse to negotiate rhetorically the challenge the exhibition presented to their picture of the world.
There are very few comments directly critical of the Soviet Union in the visitors' books; those wishing to tell the Americans about grievances with the Soviet system were unlikely to choose this forum but might speak or slip notes to the guides and other Americans present. (116) The few explicitly anti-Soviet written comments came from non-Russians, especially Baits. "We are Lithuanians, and we can write and say only what the government orders us. We are unhappy and impatiently are awaiting the time when we can be our own masters." (117)
The most unambiguously laudatory response, as Hixson notes, was attracted not by an exhibit but by the American guides. One wrote: "The American exhibition in the USSR has done a great deal for a better understanding of life in America. I was very pleased that we could talk freely with representatives of the American people in the USSR and received complete and detailed answers to all questions. A great deal in their answers was new and even surprising, as we had misconceptions about many questions of life in America." Another commented that the guide on the automobile stand "is very well liked by all. Of all the exhibits, the automobile stand elicited the most unequivocal enthusiasm: 'I want to buy your cars!'" The attempt to quantify reception (Table 1) identified no negative comments on the cars and 71 favorable ones, that is, three times as many as for the runner-up, the Family of Man exhibition, and nine times as many as for the model house or Miracle kitchen.
The response to consumer goods for domestic use was much more mixed than for cars. Some comment-writers congratulated the organizers for choosing to emphasize consumption and the American way of life, and seemed to accept the exhibition's claim to show real existing conditions. "The idea of the exhibition--to show what the people use, and not the things which help to produce these items--is absolutely correct. The things are really faultless. The exhibition is good, it provides much pleasure and satisfaction. One must respect people who produce such things! It is interesting to learn something about this too, therefore the exhibition itself is a positive fact." An engineer wrote: "I believe that the American exhibition presented a good picture of the average American's [life]. Everything in this country is directed towards a more comfortable life and the satisfaction of different tastes." A Latvian woman was aesthetically gratified: "I liked your exhibition in Moscow very much. Never in my life have I seen such a beautiful room arrangement, light furniture, bathrooms, etc. I was also immensely pleased by your stylish and beautiful cars." Some--though far from all--were convinced by the attention to alleviating women's work in the home, a matter over which Nixon and Khrushchev had made competing claims for superiority in the "Kitchen Debate." "Much has been intelligently devised to make life more comfortable and to ease woman's work." "I liked all the exhibited items that facilitate housework for women."
A few used the United States' high living standards as a foil for complaints about their own conditions in the Soviet Union. A veteran of Stalingrad wrote:
Everyday living conditions are the most important factor in human life, and the American people have solved this problem. Unfortunately, I can't even dream of having such a house as is owned by the average American worker, or to have such a wonderfully equipped Miracle kitchen, or to have my own automobile the way an average American can. I would very much like to see, in person, the American way of life, but unfortunately for me, this is impossible.
A resident of Kiev wrote:
Only the best products of your industry were shown at your exhibition, as at our exhibition in America. At the exhibition they do not speak about shortcomings, but a certain place should be set aside for them. We still have many shortcomings, but if we were living with you in peace and friendship there would be fewer shortcomings. With regard to shortcomings, we do not have to look very far. I came from Kiev to Moscow in order to try to improve my life a little. I am a disabled war veteran. I live in difficult housing conditions. I wanted to improve them in Moscow. Well, nothing came of it. Let us live in friendship and cease making atomic and hydrogen bombs; it is better if we improve our welfare.
However, to make favorable comments was not necessarily to be critical, let alone systemically opposed, to the communist project. Indeed, these writers left their full addresses, suggesting (if they were not naive) that they were confident that they had said nothing that would get them into trouble. Comments that were generally positive about the exhibition rarely drew any conclusions about the systemic superiority of capitalism over socialism. Rather, they were couched in terms of the official discourse of peaceful coexistence as the premise for increased human welfare and prosperity. (118) Given that the exhibition was authorized by the regime, citizens could presume--and many comment-writers adopted this line--that the exhibition should offer some benefit to the Soviet project of building communism. Far from being an instrument of the Cold War, it was a means to resolve international tensions, to make peace, get to know the adversary, and as a result improve conditions in the Soviet Union: "with the help of this exhibition the Americans and Russians have got to know each other and these two great nations will say 'down with the Cold War.'" Many who referred to shortcomings in living standards did not blame the Soviet regime or socialist system but World War II and the Cold War and were optimistic that the exhibition was a harbinger of detente, which would bring improvements in everyday life. Their comments envision an imminent future in which the alleviation of the resource-hungry arms race would allow the USSR to transcend the Cold War divisions and reap the benefits of both systems for socialism. The American way of life was being shown as a model from which the Soviet people could learn, not in order to throw in the towel and converge with capitalism but to strengthen and advance the project of building communism. New opportunities for collaboration, exchange, and trade would enable the socialist bloc to overcome its present shortcomings--regarded as temporary and not systemic--and thus make a leap forward to full communism.
Numerous comment-writers expressed the hope that the products of American capitalism--mass-produced appliances, consumer goods, cars, and kitchens--shown at the exhibition would in the future become available to them. (119) "There is much, very much, that we would like to see here in our country.... You are probably convinced that the Soviet people are interested not only in technology but in everyday life and living conditions. It seems we shall also have to pay more attention to matters of daily living." "In viewing the exhibitions ... one comes to the heartening conclusion that there are people in the world who have done so much to improve the living comforts of ordinary people. The greatest impression was made by the exhibits showing the comforts of everyday living and ... its inexpensiveness.... In our Soviet daily living conditions we could learn a lot from the life of Americans." A Soviet student wrote: "The Russian people have always been glad to borrow from another culture all that is best and in this way to help develop a dynamic outlook on life without which real progress is impossible. Let's take from one another the very best, bringing closer the age of international culture." As viewers put it, this was not about convergence or undermining the socialist system but about the ultimate triumph of communism. A young journalist expressed to an American diplomat acquaintance a longing for a "golden age of human welfare which would result if only our two nations laid aside their enmity and suspicions and joined forces for the benefit of mankind," but another emphasized to the same American that the mainstay of Soviet policy was the victory of communism by peaceful methods because of communism's (inherent) superiority as a social system. (120)
Comments often referred back to past experience when the United States had helped the Soviet Union to survive or move forward. Thereby, the periods during which the United States had helped provide the means to achieve Soviet modernity--assisting industrialization in the 1920s-30s through transfer of technology, mass production methods, and engineering expertise; as a source of aid during famine; and as a wartime ally--were re-positioned as the norm, whereas periods of mutual hostility and Soviet autarky represented the aberration. "We were friends and you helped us in 1921 during the famine in the Volga region, and in 1930 you helped us with machinery." "I am a resident of Leningrad and during the blockade we ate your products. Now I came from Leningrad to see your exhibition.... Such exhibitions are good for bringing our peoples closer." One dreamed of a cocktail of "Russian ability to sacrifice and endure and American practicality--wouldn't it be good to work at mixing the two into a drink like Pepsi-Cola!?" Hopes for a golden age of human welfare and bounty were also expressed in desires for fruitful scientific collaboration and exchange, for example in medical research: "Old age is a crutch for everybody from president to beggar. How good it would be if our scientists and American ones joined efforts and organized an international institute on the model of Dubna [the international nuclear physics research institute near Moscow where scientists from socialist bloc countries collaborated] for scientific work on the study of old age and struggle against it. It would consolidate peace and friendship."
Positive comments were often combined with calls for trade with the United States or with laments that it was currently blocking such trade. Khrushchev's opening speech raised expectations that trade should ensue from international exchange, although U.S. obstruction to trade agreements became a key theme in the Soviet response to ANEM. Many viewers responded to the exhibition as if it were a trade fair giving advance advertising and samples of products that would become available to them in the future, whereby the working class would inherit the achievements of capitalism. "The kitchen and the house are wonderful, and the automobiles are excellent. It would be well if after the exchange of exhibitions and visits of comrade Khrushchev and President Eisenhower we would live in peace and all these kitchen utilities will become available to the working class." "American friends. We would like to see some of your goods not only at the exhibition but also in our stores."
The chief advantage expected from the exhibition was the opportunity to study and copy the latest American technology. Reverse engineering was an established, efficient way for Soviet industry to leapfrog a stage of development. (121) Official discourse conveniently treated science and technology as if these were not ideological, superstructural phenomena. Thus in spite of repeated declarations that peaceful coexistence required intensified ideological vigilance, a thaw in relations would allow Western technology to be appropriated to the Soviet project on a formula: advanced U.S. technology plus progressive socialist system = communism. Many viewers sought positive, practical advantage and information from the exhibition, in accordance with Khrushchev's designation of it as an "instructive" aid to catching up and overtaking America. There were good reasons why visitors, particularly engineers and other technical and design specialists, wanted to see machines--preferably accompanied by detailed specifications. They expected the exhibition to provide nuts-and-bolts indications of how to catch up with America's technological level. If the public included many representatives of the technical intelligentsia, it is understandable that they sought cutting-edge information about their specialties for the purpose of personal professional advancement. (122)
The expectation that the exhibition should give a leg up to Soviet development was also grounds for the widespread disappointment recorded by agitators and U.S. observers alike. (123) Expressions of disappointment were also common in the visitors' books. "A shortcoming: you show what you produce, but you do not show what you produce it with." The press fostered this response: from the first week of the exhibition it presented disappointment as the "typical"--that is, normative--public reaction, and set up a binary opposition between the paucity of technology, meaning heavy machinery, and the abundance of consumer goods. The Soviet viewer wanted more emphasis on how things were produced or how they worked, rather than on the finished products of consumption. (124) Significantly, consumer durables, especially appliances for the home, were not counted as technology. "One gets the impression that your technology is directed only toward lightening women's work. In that case we will undoubtedly catch up with you soon, as N. S. Khrushchev said." "One feels that you have ignored our desire to see your technology. (The automobiles don't count.)" Agitators reported that many visitors asked guides why there was no technology, machine tools, rockets, satellites, or heavy industry. When an American guide replied, "'we wanted to show you our byt, our American way of life," visitors responded: "for us Soviet people, Spumiks are our Soviet life." (125)
The sanctimonious assertion that "Sputniks are our Soviet life" should detain us briefly. Technical specialists were a social group whose professional and moral authority was increasing in the Khrushchev era. Stock heroes of Thaw discourse were youthful inventors and engineers, who, in the face of resistance from recalcitrant managers and bureaucrats, dedicate themselves self-denyingly to their calling, seeking new techniques and innovations that will benefit the whole of society. (126) Many viewers presented themselves as this valorized persona at ANEM. Although some may have had pragmatic, self-interested reasons for complaining that there was not enough heavy machinery or production processes (delegated by their enterprises to bring back information from the exhibition, they faced humiliation or having their expense accounts canceled), many claimed also to identify their personal advancement with that of their calling and of the country as a whole. (127) The visitors who made the Sputnik comment were acting up to the model of the virtuous Soviet person for whom there is no split between private and public interests and desires, no contradiction between personal advantage and that of the country as a whole. Whatever they might have done when they went home that night, at the exhibition they took on the obligation of representing their nation to the foreign power. They identified with their professional capacity (many signing themselves "engineer"), speaking as dedicated specialists, and espousing national goals as their own.
To Catch up and Overtake. As noted, Khrushchev's repeated assertion of the goal "to catch up and overtake America" was contradictory and risky, calling in question claims for the distinctiveness of socialist modernity and locking the USSR into constant disadvantageous competition on the territory and standards set by the United States. A few visitors exploited the contradictions inherent in the "catch up and overtake" slogan. One quipped: "Just let me off at America as we go by." (128) Many members of the public, however, tried rhetorically to negotiate the confrontation between the Soviet pledge and ANEM's aim to represent the United States in such a way as to make that goal unattainable. (129) A number of strategies were adopted.
Admiration of exhibits often cohabited with confident assertions that the Soviet Union was well on the way to having these things too and would soon surpass American production. Joan Barth reported, on the basis of her interactions with visitors as a guide, "Re 'overtaking the US in per capita production across the board': I felt that many people were convinced that this would soon take place." (130) Comments in the visitors' books were sometimes bullish. 'If your exhibition has shown everything, then we have already jumped ahead of the USA.... You will be riding in your automobiles and we in our Sputniks. Who will beat whom? That's clear." A teacher demonstrated mastery of the Socialist Realist confusion of present reality and future prospects typical of Soviet rhetoric: "The exhibition displays kitchens, a house, frigidaires, vacuum cleaners--all of which we have. If we don't have enough of these things at present we will have more of them in the near future." As Barth observed, feelings of envy and national inferiority could coexist with the apparently incompatible "'wave of the future' psychology." "There seemed to be no contradiction between these impulses--most people seemed to feel all of them concurrently. Indeed, I felt that their envy of our material goods would only serve as an incentive to harder work in order to bring about fulfillment of their hopes for quickly surpassing us." (131) A student wrote: "The exhibition is remarkable. We shall catch up with you!!" Another wrote, "We need to learn the technology from the USA and then all the rest--in the presence of our system of State--will unavoidably exist in our country."
Another strategy viewers used to reclaim essential superiority for state socialism was to emphasize the low base from which progress had started in Russia after the Revolution and the speed of development under Soviet power. The United States had a head start, but the socialist way was faster. Khrushchev had set the tone at the opening: "America has been in existence for 150 years, and this is the level she has reached. We have existed not quite 42 years and in another seven years we will be on the same level as America. When we catch you up, we will wave to you as we pass you by." (132) Some comment-writers recapitulated the theme with variations: "You have achieved all this in 150 years. We shall achieve it without fail in 50, this means our Soviet way of life is better." A number invoked wartime destruction in the Soviet Union as the reason why it still lagged behind the United States: "We have suffered because of the war and therefore we are a little bit behind. We will overtake you and surpass you." "We don't have 'Miracle kitchens' yet, but we would have more if we were not hindered." "A country that has existed without wars or destruction from external enemies for about two centuries should show greater achievements in technology, science, culture, and even everyday living." Given that the United States had not had to overcome the destruction of war, it should be further "ahead" if the capitalist system was as good as it claimed to be.
The other two main strategies for negotiating the implications of ANEM in light of the pledge to "catch up and overtake" both question the priority that the representation of U.S. modernity and well-being accorded to consumption and consumer goods. They will be analyzed in the remainder of this article. First, viewers denied that consumer goods and domestic, everyday life represented the "real America." Second, they called in question the model of progress based on individual consumption, which ANEM presented (as par pro toto for U.S. capitalism), and affirmed socialist alternatives in its place.
Not the "Real Thing." One of the most common official and popular complaints about the exhibition was that it focused too much on consumption, comfort, and entertainment. Not only was this emphasis at the expense of producer goods, but it also rendered the representation of America unreal or insubstantial. One man complained: "Where is the American technology that supposedly enabled you to reach your standard of living? It is not evident here, yet this is the most interesting thing that America can show. The exhibition would be much more interesting if you wouldn't try so hard to put over the idea: 'Look, see how wealthy we are.' We were aware of this before the exhibition. But the real America I have not seen here." By concentrating on consumer goods the exhibition had failed to present the "real America." "I must confess that I was disappointed. It is stated in the official documents that the purpose of the exhibition is to acquaint the visitors with America. But where is it, this famous America, that great industrial power with its highly developed technology, science, and agriculture? Unfortunately I did not see it, with the exception of some elegant automobiles and several agricultural machines. One gains the impression that someone has played a bad joke on America."
These criticisms were based, in part, on inflated expectations that the exhibition should be an adequate substitute for real travel to the United States, as if it could bring America in its fullness to Moscow, or that it should live up to its image as they had encountered it already in film or in the magazine Amerika. A few remarks recorded by U.S. staff wished the exhibition had shown more, not less, luxury and representations of millionaires' lifestyles, a reaction that the USIA had also encountered in Western Europe in response to American exhibitions there. (133) But the comments also reflected other grounds for resisting the exhibition's "reality" claims, especially in regard to the representation of consumption and domestic life. Viewers questioned ANEM's veracity as a reflection of "typical" conditions existing on a mass scale, rather than as a Socialist Realist depiction of American "reality in its revolutionary development," advertising, or propaganda: it was a projection for the future or, at most, a "reality" available only to a privileged minority. "We don't need advertisements: we would much rather see the real achievements of America." "I expected to see the achievements of the American people, but saw propaganda about the American way of life." As Oleg Anisimov noted in a 1954 article on "The Attitude of the Soviet People Toward the West," most of those he consulted thought life in the United States was "freer, pleasanter, more prosperous, in general 'better' than in Russia, yet they considered official American sources of information no more trustworthy than Soviet propaganda--simply 'our propaganda says one thing, and their propaganda says the exact opposite.'" A Soviet army defector told Anisimov that his compatriot soldiers likened Soviet policy in Eastern Europe to the way the U.S. government "dumped all sorts of useless trash in Europe under the guise of the Marshall Plan." (134)
Official Soviet mediations worked to undermine the truth claims of the exhibition, notably regarding the alleged affordability and typicality of the life style represented. (135) The model "house of the average American family" was the main focus of lectures about the United States that were held in factories (and presumably institutes) to prepare and manage the popular response to the exhibition. These portrayed it is a misrepresentation of American living conditions and stressed the burden of mortgage repayments. (136) Many viewers demonstrated a detailed grasp of the economics of installment plans. Agitators reported that although the model house aroused great interest among viewers, the general opinion was that it was not actually affordable to American workers. (137) One visitor wrote: "It isn't a typical home [tipichnyi]. It is tipovoi [the term for the standard or system-built housing] ... they clearly got the translation wrong." Another wrote, "The Miracle kitchen is very interesting but improbable." Counterpropaganda aside, there was cause for skepticism. The Miracle kitchen, for example, was not a real kitchen available to U.S. consumers but a science-fiction fantasy of the robotic future. (138) Agitators reported that viewers told guides they would rather see how American people lived now than how they would live in the future. (139) Many also expressed doubts about the objectivity of displays concerning health care, social security, and education (not surprisingly, since they contradicted everything Soviet propaganda had taught: that social benefits were the prerogative of socialism). (140)
The exhibition's claim to reality was also resisted on more ontological grounds. Consumer goods, so central to its display rhetoric, were perceived not only as an unrealistic depiction of American actuality but as an insubstantial spectacle. This was based on an assumption that the "real America"--that which was not shown--consisted in the productive base, not in consumption. Producer goods were "reality," while consumer goods (cars partly exempted) were mere shimmering spectacle, trivial feminine superrices. Suppressing the mechanisms by which the effects were produced--the absent technology--the exhibition was a kind of sleight of hand. Agitators reported that viewers complained that the exhibition left an impression that was "not concrete." (141) In relation to the cars, this sense of insubstantiality was rationalized in the criticism that they would not withstand Soviet road conditions, while the model house was pronounced too flimsy for the Russian climate. (142) Many written comments referred disparagingly to glitter and tinsel or shiny surfaces, as if ANEM were all an illusion that would fade or crumble to dust if you tried to grasp it. "Leaving the exhibition I carry with me an impression of glittering metal saucepans." A "Soviet student" wrote: "Fellows, you are [illegible] with your pots and pans! Please remove them.... Show us something real, and do not try to impress us with aluminum tinsel." "We expected that the American exhibition would show something grandiose, something equivalent to Soviet Sputniks. But you Americans want to stun us with the glitter of your kitchen pans and with fashions that do not appeal to us at all."
Frequent allusions to shiny surfaces and their intent to dazzle and stun are combined with disparaging comparisons of the exhibition to a department store. One writer sniffed at "your excellent department store where you collected good-for-nothing articles of luxury, yet you propose by your advertising to promote your way of life. Your trifles--it is difficult to understand why they are at your National Exhibition." Another wrote: "The exhibition gives nothing to mind nor soul. It looks like a haberdashery store. Strange that technology is so poorly shown. There are more sofa cushions than things which might please us and let us understand what kind of people Americans are." As in a (capitalist) department store, the play of reflective surfaces sought to disorient, intoxicate, and seduce the consumer, dissembling the boundary between reality and representation, actuality and dream. The agitators who hassled a member of the public, above, accused her of being so dazzled by the glittering surfaces that she lost her rational judgment and succumbed to desire. In place of enlightenment and information the exhibition offered those suspect experiences characteristic of capitalist modernity: superfices, spectacle, and phantasmagoria. (143)
Discerning "cultured" consumption had been an ideal characteristic of Soviet modernity since the mid-1930s. (144) For decades, however, the regime had placed ideological and economic emphasis on production rather than consumption. It was only in the late 1950s--around the time of ANEM but not directly attributable to it--that consumption began to be framed as a mass entitlement and that mass production of consumer durables such as furniture or appliances became a priority. (145) Authors of comments on ANEM do not yet--at least in this context--identify themselves primarily as entitled consumers but as producers. Or, insofar as they do cast themselves as consumers, they adopt the authorized role of "rational consumer" rather than that of a shopaholic with unreasonable and insatiable desires, as the victims of capitalist commodity fetishism were imagined. (146) The Soviet person was supposed to be guided by higher reason. S/he could only meet with incomprehension a mode of consumerism driven by constantly escalating wants rather than real need. Performing this persona, one citizen asked the guides: "Nixon said that people buy 10 to 12 pairs of shoes. Why so many--are they so bad?" (147) Although the U.S. press made much of reports that the irresistible desire aroused by the samples of the American way of life caused Soviet citizens to lose their customary discipline, and the Soviet authorities were wary of this potential effect, we saw above that these incidents were relatively rare; Soviet citizens were on their mettle to demonstrate their self-discipline in face of American temptation. (148)
The emphasis on consumer goods was resentfully rejected as a condescension based on a willful misrecognition of the nature of the Soviet public. Some articulated this condescension in gendered terms, considering the attempt to appeal to a stereotypically feminine desire for consumer goods and cosy homes was to "emasculate" the Soviet viewer. The American emigre Martha Dodd, writing in Ogonek, cited one visitor who allegedly dismissed it: "You know, this exhibition is intended more for women's eyes than men's!" (149) The perceived condescension was also rebuffed as a would-be colonialist attempt to dazzle and subjugate Soviet people, as if they were primitives scrambling for gewgaws. A woman from the Urals wrote: "I think it was unnecessary to ship a frigidaire that cost more than ours across the ocean. One would expect greater scope and more courage from such a country as the USA. Yet, what are we being shown--pots and kettles, frying pans and shoes, as if we were savages." The exhibition's focus on consumption, creature comforts, and entertainment was an insult to their intelligence and advanced level of civilization. Hailing the Soviet target audience as frustrated would-be consumers, the U.S. planners had miscalculated, as many visitors hastened to inform them.
The tone for this "insulted dignity" response was also set in the press, which told how Nixon attempted to give charity to a man he met in the Danilov market. The man rejected his "bribe" with dignity; as a Soviet citizen he had no need of such handouts, being well provided for by the solicitous state. (150) It was already a familiar topos that Americans projected an image of unchanged peasant culture onto modern Soviet people, denying the development achieved under socialism. The satirical magazine Krokodil published a caricature of U.S. journalists who, supposedly reporting on the USSR, superimpose stereotypical images they have brought with them over the reality of modern metropolitan Moscow to mask the evident indicators of progress and to depict contemporary Russia as if still mired in the horse-drawn past (Figure 1). Party activists who kept vigil in Sokol'niki Park reported on popular anger at this kind of projection of backwardness. They had observed a group of Soviet citizens in conversation with two American women, one of whom said she had longed to come to the USSR and see Russians in red shirts with harmonicas in their hands. One of the listeners angrily completed her sentence for her, "... and in bast shoes." (151)
This orientalist condescension was dealt with in complementary ways: by contesting the mold in which the exhibition cast the Soviet people; and by turning the orientalizing mirror back onto the Americans. Both strategies for reclaiming the advantage hinged at least in part on a rejection of consumer goods as the main measure of progress.
Many comment-writers resisted the unrecognizable and unflattering subject position the exhibition assigned to them. Hailed as backward bumpkins or covetous consumers, they voluntarily espoused the more noble image of the ideal Soviet person that was projected by party ideology: as citizens of a modern industrial power that had won the war and launched Sputnik; as heroic producers rather than consumers; and as rational, disciplined people dedicated to the greater good of all. (152) Viewers wrote: "The exhibition shows how little the American organizers know about Soviet people. They wanted to astound us with trinkets rather than with technical innovations." "Is it possible that you think our mental outlook is restricted to everyday living only? .... The exhibition is only an advertisement for certain automobile companies .... [It] does not satisfy because it is designed for people with narrow horizons." "The exhibition is designed for bourgeois tastes. The main pavilion is a show for the petit bourgeoisie. It is obvious that the organizers of the exhibition apparently think worse of the American people than do the Soviet people." "Excuse us, but frankly speaking your American way of life which you demonstrate at the exhibition does not appeal to us. Your exhibition shows that its organizers do not know our people and apparently they have a pre-revolutionary notion about us .... [Before 1917,] your exhibition would have charmed us, but now it only disappointed us.... Good luck that your American way of life may improve."
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Soviet viewers' minds were on higher things; they were dedicated to enlightenment not entertainment, self-development rather than self-gratification. They expected exhibitions to enhance knowledge and culture rather than provide an entertaining spectacle. A Russian-Jewish man told one of the American staff that the exhibition was a failure: "You must understand our psychology. Russians come to an exhibition to learn, to extract from somebody else's experience what might be useful for their own." (153) A U.S. diplomat visiting acquaintances in their home was apprised of reasons for the exhibition's failure: "Friendly and polite advice was offered with regard to possible future U.S. exhibitions in the USSR. The gist.., was that we should become more conscious of Soviet tastes, interests and habits (with regard to exhibitions)." (154) The first deputy RSFSR minister of education todd one of the U.S. staff informally that it had been a mistake not to "accent more heavily the cultural and intellectual sides of life in America." (155)
The complementary way to deal with the exhibition's condescending premises was to turn the orientalizing mirror back onto the Americans and cast them instead as the backward and provincial foil for Soviet people's modernity. Larry Wolff has argued that Enlightenment thought produced a concept of the "underdeveloped East"--vividly expressed in Hegel's heliotropic metaphor, whereby the history of the world progresses from East to West--which served as the constitutive other of the "civilized and developed West." The superiority of the West was affirmed by contrast with the barbarism and backwardness that were ascribed to the East. (156) The binary structure of Cold War epistemology perpetuated this Enlightenment legacy, although the center of progress was no longer Europe but had moved further west, to America. U.S. projections, including ANEM, were received in the Soviet Union as a form of ascription of backwardness to the "East." (Although the post-colonialist critical terms for this analysis were not yet available, the idea that America had imperialist intentions was axiomatic.) Soviet discourse around the exhibition, official and popular, not only rejected the subject position the exhibition assigned to Soviet viewers, but it also reversed the heliotropic developmental hierarchy. Constructing America as the backward, regressive term, it affirmed by antithesis the civilized and advanced status of the Soviet socialist East, its prerogative to define modernity.
Many comments are structured by value-laden binary oppositions of progress and backwardness, civilization and barbarism, high-mindedness and triviality, spiritual values versus materialism, the life of the mind as opposed to the gratification of the body, positioning the Soviet "self" as older and wiser, and the American "other" as a vulgar parvenu. (157) The writers sought to counter the U.S. consumer-goods offensive at ANEM by claims that Soviet people possessed something more precious which Americans lacked: culture. While acknowledging that in some areas the United States was temporarily in the lead, they questioned whether these were true measures of "advance": "Is it possible to consider kitchens and cosmetics as a cult of man?" "We have to catch up with you in the technical field; however, with regard to worldly wisdom we have left you far behind." The consumer culture, which it presented as the core values of American life, was at the cost of, and a poor ersatz for, "genuine culture" or "spiritual values." "The impression is created that America is more looking after comforts and amusements than after education and spiritual enrichment." "The American standard of living is very high but the culture is on a low level. The Americans pay great attention to styles, kitchens, hair-dos, etc., as if that were all of life." "You are wealthier than we are but we are more cultured people.... Our victory will be that of culture and ideals."
Key emblems of culturedness in Soviet discourse were books and pianos. In the comments books a Moscow music specialist complained that the best American pianos were not exhibited. The book exhibition may have gone some way toward redressing the perception of lack of culture, but viewers were struck by the lack of books in the model home, despite its emphasis on a leisured lifestyle. (158) Two years later, at an exhibition of Soviet model interiors and furniture design, Iskusstvo v byt (Art into Life), the American domestic interiors seen at ANEM were still recalled by viewers as a negative example of an uncultured home, against which Soviet aspirations to cultured living and commitment to self-improvement could be measured. For, viewers noted in the comments book for Art into Life, they had no bookshelves or desks. This might be fine for Americans, but it would not do for Soviet citizens; they read a lot and in almost every household there was at least one person in education. (159)
The art exhibition at ANEM did nothing to mitigate the widespread prejudice that the United States was vulgar, lacking in taste and culture. The inclusion of Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism, and various forms of modernism may have been intended to demonstrate that the United States had appropriated from Europe leadership in the world of art. This art did find some passionate advocates, prepared to come to its defense both in person and in the comments books. (160) But for many it was conclusive proof that in the realm of culture the United States had regressed to a state of barbarism or infantilism. Agitators recorded spoken and written unfavorable remarks such as "painting worthy of madmen," "savage!" "my three-year old daughter draws better," and recommendations that the organizers go to the Tret'iakov Gallery to find out what real art was. (161) Many similar comments are to be found in the comments books. Hostile remarks reproduced the terms of conservative art criticism--which, associating abstraction with the primitive, childish, sick, or degenerate, denied it any relation to art, which was associated with reason, enlightenment, and beauty. "Dear Americans, you seem to think that we are so benighted that we do not understand art nor beauty. Your exhibition does not amaze us! .... The abstract art arouses indignation--it is the fruit of a sick imagination. And its originators should no doubt be treated in psychiatric institutions. And this in civilized modern America!" A lawyer wrote, "your art is good for the devils and not even for all of those." American art, with which the organizers tried to seal the United States' vanguard position in world civilization, not only failed to advance world culture and civilization but turned the clock back. "The abstract art ... testifies to the poverty of Americans' spiritual life and allows the young generation to forget the beautiful art created by human genius in the course of centuries and might lead to the destruction of historic monuments."
Thank goodness, in the Soviet Union, the Party protected civilization from this regression that afflicted the West! "We thank the CPSU for the fact that they have saved us from modernism and abstractionism." "I am very glad for my country that abstractionism has not developed here." "A look at the exhibition of modern American art has convinced us that in this field we shall not catch up with America, as we shall never get the foolish desire to create anything similar." Thus the Soviet Union was left carrying the torch of world civilization into the future.
Questioning the Modernity ANEM Presented. The charge that what was shown was "not culture," like the "not enough technology" complaint, was often coupled with the widespread charge that there was too much emphasis on things for individual consumption. Taken together with its "primitive" art, the exhibition's emphasis on creature comforts provided viewers with a way to reclaim superiority and deflect the ascription of backwardness back onto the perpetrators. While some followed Khrushchev in bragging that the Soviet Union would soon "catch up and overtake America," others questioned whether America was "ahead" in the first place, or whether it was a model they wanted to follow. Welfare, benefits, and services played an important role here. A young doctor was stunned to learn that in the United States he might make ten times as much as he could in the USSR, but in a lively discussion with an American concerning the relative merits of socialized medical care versus the U.S. system of private practice and voluntary medical insurance, "the doctor remained convinced that the Soviet system is the best, although he conceded, 'Every chicken thinks its own roost is the best.'" (162)
Social injustice--unemployment, slums, racial discrimination, and lack of access to educational opportunities or health care--were key themes used in the press to indict the exhibition and the America it was supposed to represent. These themes also appeared in the comments books; and although one example, cited above, was written by agitators, there is no evidence that all such remarks were. The American model of freedom, progress, and prosperity, based on individual wealth and consumption, was not desirable for Soviet people if not accompanied by the core benefits and safety nets of socialism. (163) For many, human welfare represented its chief weakness. One writer complained that ANEM neglected to show how the elderly were cared for in the United States, yet provision of old age was a measure of a nation's level of civilization. Another wrote: "the Soviet people, regardless of status, enjoy not only free medical assistance but also use of sanitoriums and medical treatment. Why such a great country as America cannot provide free medical treatment and medical care surprises us no end."
Some questioned whether human emancipation and happiness could be achieved through commodities. Such doubts focused, in particular, on the supreme symbol of the American way of life, the spacious fitted kitchen with its numerous appliances, and on its promise, emphasized by Nixon in the "Kitchen Debate," to liberate women. Soviet counterpropaganda had taken up the challenge by promoting Soviet fitted kitchens, already under development for the new standard apartments, in the competing Soviet exhibition outside ANEM and in the press, with claims that they were "just as good." (164) But from the Soviet perspective, "to catch up and overtake" the American kitchen did not necessarily mean to replicate it directly on Soviet soil. Khrushchev had countered Nixon's claim with the riposte that in the United States the dream home was available only to the few, whereas in the Soviet Union housing was a birthright for all. (165) Moreover, the only way truly to liberate women from the kitchen and enable them to achieve full self-actualization was to abolish the private kitchen altogether, along with the isolated individual labor on which it was premised, and to replace it with communal socialized servicing of everyday needs. Indeed, reviving arguments put by Lenin in the 1920s, this line underpinned some aspects of the Khrushchev regime's mixed and contradictory approach to raising living standards and to freeing up women for productive labor, social activism, and self-development.
Writing in Izvestiia, Marietta Shaginian elaborated the antithesis between the socialist and the bourgeois capitalist approach to the shared pursuit of universal prosperity, happiness, and liberty. Far from freeing women from stultifying domestic drudgery, she argued, the American kitchen represented a new form of bondage for them. "But we love innovations that actually emancipate women--new types of houses with public kitchens with their canteens for everyone living in the house; with laundries where vast machines wash clothes not just for one family alone." "Yet the organizers of the exhibition naively think that our Soviet viewer will be consumed by a thirst to possess 'property.'" (166) Many viewers' comments cited above were enthusiastic about the prospect of having domestic conveniences similar to the American ones shown. Others, however, expressed skepticism that such possessions represented the path to true emancipation, along lines similar to Shaginian's. One wrote: "The 'Miracle kitchen' was brought here unnecessarily. We don't need it because we are striving to free our women from kitchen work entirely." An engineer consigned the "kitchen of the future" to the dustbin of the bourgeois past:
I am convinced that in the minds of more and more people, the concept "kitchen" has become equivalent to the idea "cage," with the only exception that kitchens are inhabited by women and cages by birds. In the Miracle kitchen a woman is just as free as a bird in a miracle cage. The Miracle kitchen shown at the exhibition demonstrates America's last word in the field of perfecting obsolete forms of everyday living which stultify women. Greetings to the American people and sincere wishes to live in peace.
"Who will beat whom? That's clear." With the hindsight of the 1990s, it was indeed clear ... and the outcome turned out contrary to what the Soviet patriot who wrote these words had in mind: state socialism had collapsed. That the Soviet decision to compete with the United States in consumerism was a fatal nail in its coffin is now orthodoxy: the party-state's inability to fulfill the resulting growth in consumer desire increasingly stripped it and the alternative model of socialist modernity of any popular legitimacy. There is little question that the USSR became a mass consumer society in its last decades, and the late 1950s and 1960s were decisive years in the process by which Soviet citizens developed a sense of entitlement to consume. (167) But the role played in that process by the U.S. model should not be assumed without further research. In 1959, the global conquest of the American-style kitchen was not a foregone conclusion, even in people's desires and dreams. (168) The effects of ANEM were not simply to discredit the communist project and trigger a stampede of frustrated would-be consumers: the reception of America in Moscow was more complex and contradictory. Although some viewers took up the subject position offered them by the exhibition as consumers manques, captured by the allure of America, this was not a universal or even dominant response. Many sought ways to define their difference from it, in terms and personae borrowed from Soviet public discourse. "Having viewed the exhibition, I feel greater pride in my own country," wrote one viewer. Another concluded that ANEM had "scored an own goal."
The widely expressed ambivalence toward the American dream cannot simply be explained away as the effect of agitators' interventions and intimidation. (169) As Yurchak argues, Cold War binary accounts have been based on the assumption that socialism was experienced as "bad" by Soviet people. What gets lost as a result is "the crucial and seemingly paradoxical fact that, for great numbers of Soviet citizens, many of the fundamental values, ideals, and realities of socialist life (such as equality, community, selflessness ... education, work, creativity, and concern for the future) were of genuine importance." (170) Many of those who elected to write in the comments books used the occasion to express commitment to just those ideals. At least at the moment of encounter, the confrontation with ANEM strengthened their pride and identification with these values. While wishing for the benefits peaceful coexistence might bring to their living standards, they did not accept the acquisitive consumerist domesticity represented by the exhibition as the measure of modernity and freedom. Still very much alive in many of their comments is a sense that socialism involved a different way of life--different relations between individual and common weal, and a different model of consumer society that included collective consumption, welfare, and social justice--and that these were still meaningful goals.
Russian and Slavonic Studies
University of Sheffield
Sheffield S10 2TN
(1) Norman K. Winston, "Six Things Mikoyan Envied Most in America," This Week Magazine, 29 March 1959. I am indebted to the Leverhulme Trust, to Elizabeth Valkenier and Jane Harris for discussing their experience as guides at the exhibition with me, and to Kevin McDermott and Karen Kettering.
(2) Victoria de Grazia, Irresistible Empire: America's Advance through 20th-Century Europe (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2005), 456.
(3) Gereon Zimmerman and Bob Lerner, "What the Russians Will See," Look, 21 July 1959: 54; Walter L. Hixson, Parting the Curtain: Propaganda, Culture, and the Cold War, 1945-1961 (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1997), chaps. 6-7; Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books, 1988), esp. 16-20 and chap. 7; Karal Ann Marling, As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994), 243-60; Cristina Carbone, "Staging the Kitchen Debate: How Splimik Got Normalized in the United States," and Susan E. Reid, "'Our Kitchen Is Just as Good!': Soviet Responses to the American Kitchen," in Cold War Kitchen: Americanization, Technology, and European Users, ed. Ruth Oldenziel and Karin Zachmann (forthcoming Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), 59-82; 83-112; Rosa Magnusdottir, "'Be Careful in America, Premier Khrushchev!': Soviet Perceptions of Peaceful Coexistence with the United States in 1959," Cahiers du monde russe 47, 1-2 (2006): 109-30; David Caute, The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy during the Cold War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), chap. 2; Yale Richmond, Cultural Exchange and the Cold War: Raising the Iron Curtain (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003), 133-35; Frederick C. Barghoorn, The Soviet Cultural Offensive: The Role of Cultural Diplomacy in Soviet Foreign Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1960), 94; Amanda Aucoin, "Deconstructing the American Way of Life: Soviet Responses to Cultural Exchange and American Information Activity during the Khrushchev Years" (Ph.D. diss., University of Arkansas, 2001); David Crowley and Jane Pavitt, eds., Cold War Modern: Design 1945-1970 (London: V&A Publishing, 2008). For the virtual day-trip theme, see "Puteshestvie v Ameriku za rubl'," Krokodil, no. 22 (10 August 1959): 4-5.
(4) U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD, Record Group 306 (USIA), entry 1050, box 7, hereafter NARA 306/1050/7; "Memorandum of Agreement between U.S.-U.S.S.R. Representatives Pertinent to the Staging of a U.S. Exhibit in Moscow," NARA 306/1050/7; protocol agreement of 10 September 1958 on exchange of exhibitions, Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Rossiiskoi Federatsii (GARF) f. 9518, op. 1, d. 595, I. 131 (correspondence relating to American exhibition, Moscow 1959).
(5) On the displays, see Hixson, Parting the Curtain, chaps. 6-7; Marilyn Kushner, "Exhibiting Art at the American National Exhibition in Moscow, 1959: Domestic Politics and Cultural Diplomacy," Journal of Cold War Studies 4, 1 (2002): 6-26; Carbone, "Staging the Kitchen Debate," 59-82.
(6) Foreign Services dispatches "Seven Days of Sokolniki," 3 August 1959, and "Four Weeks of Sokolniki," 28 August 1959; USIA Report, "The American National Exhibition in Moscow," all in NARA 306/1050/7.
(7) Hixson, Partingthe Curtain, 213; De Grazia, Irresistible Empire, 456.
(8) Foreign Service dispatch, "Khrushchev Interview with U.S. Governors," 15 July 1959, NARA 84/3133C/1.
(9) Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 210; weekly Foreign Service dispatches from U.S. Embassy Moscow to Dept. of State, Washington, NARA 306/1050/7.
(10) Joan Barth, report, NARA 306/1043/11.
(11) "Visitors' Reactions to the American Exhibit in Moscow: A Preliminary Report," 28 September 1959, NARA 306/1070/10, referring to reports in Time magazine and the Herald Tribune. See also "'Ivan' Takes a Look at American Life," U.S. News and World Report (10 August 1959): 40-43.
(12) Hixson, Parting the Curtain, chap. 7. On the Whig consensus in an earlier phase of Sovietology, see Stephen F. Cohen, Rethinking the Soviet Experience: Politics and History since 1917 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), chap. 1.
(13) Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 213.
(14) See, e.g., John Gunther, Inside Russia Today, rev. ed. (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1964); and Harrison E. Salisbury, To Moscow--andBeyond (London: Joseph, 1960).
(15) Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System Online (hcl.harvard.edu/collections/hpsss/ index.html, last consulted 24 July 2008); E. V. Kodin, "Garvardskii proekt" (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2003).
(16) See Iurii Aksiutin, Kbrushcbevskaia "ottepel'" i obsbcbestvennye nastroeniia v SSSR v 1953-1964 gg. (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2004).
(17) Primarily NARA 306/1050; 306/1011; 306/1043; and 59/861.191.
(18) Caute, Dancer Defects, 613-14.
(19) Notably Hixson, Parting the Curtain, chap. 7; and De Grazia, Irresistible Empire, 453-57.
(20) Question asked of ANEM guides in debriefing interviews, NARA 306/1043/11.
(21) Katherine Verdery, What Was Socialism and What Comes Next? (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 4-8; Alexei Yurchak, Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 4-8; Cohen, Rethinking the Soviet Experience, chap. 1.
(22) Richmond, Cultural Exchange, 181; Krisztina Fehervary, "American Kitchens, Luxury Bathrooms, and the Search for a 'Normal' Life in Postsocialist Hungary," Ethnos 17, 3 (2002): 369-400.
(23) "policy Guidance for the U.S. Exhibit in Moscow in 1959," NARA 306/1050/7.
(24) "Policy Guidance"; "Visitors' Reactions."
(25) Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 165-67.
(26) Ibid., 165-68; Winston, "Six Things Mikoyan Envied"; correspondence concerning the American Exhibition in Sokol'niki, 31 January--23 November 1959, GARF f. 9518, op. 1, d. 594, 11. 221-28. Compare David Riesman, "The Nylon War," in Abundance for What? And Other Essays (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964), 65-77.
(27) Barghoorn, Soviet Cultural Offensive, 94; Hadley Cantrill in consultation with Frederick Barghoorn, "Some Notes concerning the U.S. Exhibit in Moscow," 22 January 1959, NARA 306/1050/7; Memorandum to L. Brady concerning Austrian Exhibit, 21 May 1959, NARA 306/1050/7; Carbone, "Staging the Kitchen Debate," 59-82; Greg Castillo, "Domesticating the Cold War: Household Consumption as Propaganda in Marshall Plan Germany," Journal of Contemporary History 40, 2 (2005): 261-88.
(28) Stephen J. Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), 74-75; Beatriz Colomina, Annemarie Brennan, and Jeannie Kim, eds., Cold War Hothouses: Inventing Postwar Culture, from Cockpit to Playboy (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004). There were dissenting voices in the United States: "Exhibits for Russia," Houston Press, 19 March 1959; and Royce Brier, "A Model Home for Russian Viewing," San Francisco Chronicle, 26 March 1959.
(29) "Five Weeks of Sokolniki," 8 September 1959, NARA 306/1050/7; Zimmerman and Lerner, "What the Russians Will See," 52-54; Susan E. Reid, "Cold War in the Kitchen: Gender and the De-Stalinization of Consumer Taste in the Soviet Union under Khrushchev," Slavic Review 61, 2 (2002): 211-52.
(30) "Khrushchev Interview with U.S. Governors," 15 July 1959, NARA 84/3133C/1. The Soviet authorities were well informed about the exhibits in advance of the opening (GARF f. 9518, op. 1, d. 594, d. 595).
(31) U.S. Ambassador William Lacy, Transcript of tape recording concerning Moscow fair, White House, January 1959, NARA 306/1050/7. On the low impact of U.S. pavilions at Brussels and other international exhibitions, compared to those of communist countries, see USIA Office of Research and Intelligence, "Visitor Reaction to the U.S. Exhibit at the Paris Trade Fair, 1956," 27 July 1956, NARA 306/1011/1; "Highlights of USIA Research on the Presidential Trade Fair Program, 1959," NARA 306/1011/1; "Follow-Up Study of Visitor Reaction to the U.S. versus Major Competing Exhibits at the Brussels International Fair," June 1959, NARA 306/1011/2.
(32) Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 137,151 ; Magnusdottir, "'Be Careful in America,'" 111.
(33) William J. Tompson, Khrushchev: A Political Life (Houndmills, UK: Macmillan, 1995), 216-17; William Taubman, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003), 415-16; Vladislav Zubok and Konstantin Pleshakov, Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 174-75; Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, Khrushchev's Cold War (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006), 23.
(34) "Khrushchev Interview with U.S. Governors"; Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 165.
(35) "Khrushchev Interview with U.S. Governors."
(36) Richard E. Mooney, "Soviet Seeks to Open Doors to U.S. Trade, but Washington Officials Balk at Bids for Increased Commerce," New York Times, 5 July 1959; report on Mikoian interview with U.S. Governors, 18 July 1959, NARA 84/3133C/1.
(37) "Khrushchev Interview with U.S. Governors."
(38) "My peregonim Ameriku! Rech" Predsedatelia Soveta ministrov SSSR N. S. Khrushcheva pri otkrytii vystavki Soedinennykh shtatov Ameriki v Moskve," Trud, 25 July 1959.
(39) Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 165. The All-Union Agricultural Exhibition--modernized, expanded, and newly reopened in June 1959 as the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements (VDNKh)--presented the ideal Soviet future in this way.
(40) Philip Hanson, The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Economy: An Economic History of the USSR from 1945 (London: Longman, 2003), 60-63.
(41) Alec Nove, "Is the Soviet Union a Welfare State?" in Readings in Russian Civilization, ed. Thomas Riha (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), 3:745-56 (repr. from Problems of Communism 9 : 1-10).
(42) Examples include "Davaite razlozhim svoi 'tovary,'" Ogonek, no. 10 (1 March 1959): 4-5; "Vse dlia sovetskogo cheloveka," Izvestiia, 25 July 1959, and various socialist bloc exhibitions set up in competition with ANEM.
(43) Gyorgy Peteri, "Nylon Curtain--Transnational and Transsystemic Tendencies in the Cultural Life of State-Socialist Russia and East-Central Europe," Slavonica 10, 2 (2004): 114; Aksiutin, Khrushchevskaia "ottepel'," 350.
(44) Comments books of visitors to American National Exhibition, Moscow, 1959, NARA 306/1043/11; "Two Weeks of Sokolniki," 13 August 1959, NARA 306/1050/7.
(45) "Two Weeks of Sokolniki."
(46) Richmond, Cultural Exchange, 135.
(47) "Three Weeks of Sokolniki."
(48) Leslie Brady, "Post Mortem on Sokolniki," 6 October 1959, NARA 306/1050/7.
(49) Joan Barth, report, NARA 306/1043/11.
(50) Brady, "Post Mortem"; "Three Weeks of Sokolniki."
(51) Brady, "Post Mortem"; Barth, report, NARA 306/1043/11.
(52) USIA Report, "The American National Exhibition in Moscow," NARA 306/1050/7; Brady, "Post Mortem"; "Three Weeks of Sokolniki."
(53) Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 201, citing "McLellan Report on the American Exhibition in Moscow," NARA 59/861.191-MO/7-2759.
(54) "Visitors' Reactions"; De Grazia, Irresistible Empire, 456.
(55) "Five Weeks of Sokolniki"; "Six Weeks of Sokolniki," 11 September 1959, NARA 306/1050/7.
(56) "Visitors' Reactions."
(57) U.S. current and retrospective reports, debriefings of guides, and transcribed comments books held in NARA 306/1043/11 and 306/1050/7; reports by party activists held in the Tsentral'nyi arkhiv obshchestvenno-politicheskoi istorii Moskvy (TsAOPIM), Moskovskii gorodskoi komitet KPSS, Otdel propagandy i agitatsii f. 4 , op. 139, d. 13 (27 July-2 September 1959).
(58) Report on questions visitors asked of guides, Foreign Service dispatch 105, September 1959, NARA RG 306/1050/7.
(59) A survey research program was set up within USIA in early 1956 to guide USIA operations by providing "concrete detail [of] the image of America held by peoples abroad," including the economic picture of the United States and attitudes toward capitalism, socialism, and communism. See "A Brief Overview of Recent Survey Findings on the Economic Image of America Abroad," November 1958, NARA 306/1011/1. Surveys conducted include: "West European Reactions to American Jazz," 11 September 1957; "The Credibility of What America Says Abroad and Receptivity to U.S. Information Efforts," 30 July 1958; and "Highlights of USIA Research," all in NARA 306/1011/1; "The Image of American Youth and American Women in Western Europe," September 1960; and "Posts' Assessment of the Impact of Hollywood Films Abroad," September 1961, both in NARA 306/1011/2.
(60) A "Proposed Schedule of Reports on Public Opinion in USSR" (undated, c. 1959) identified sources of data to be gathered at ANEM, to include interviews with guides and students, questionnaires filled out by them, material from a repatriate survey, and a Radio Liberty report (NARA 306/1043/11).
(61) "Seven Days of Sokolniki," "Two Weeks of Sokolniki," etc., NARA 306/1050/7.
(62) Herbert Howard, "Interviews with Guides," January-February 1960, NARA 306/1043/11.
(63) David Mark, "Soviet Attitudes and Public Opinion," 6 June 1959, NARA 84/3313C/9.
(65) "Visitors' Reactions."
(66) '"A Brief Overview of Recent Survey Findings"; "Highlights of USIA Research."
(67) Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 193, 197; TsAOPIM f. 4, op. 139, d. 13.
(68) Boris A. Grushin, Chetyre zhizni Rossii v zerkale oprosov obshchestvennogo mneniia (Moscow: Progress-Traditsiia, 2001), 41-68.
(69) "Two Weeks of Sokolniki." The agitators noted that there was no book by the model house (TsAOPIM f. 4, op. 139, d. 13, 1. 25).
(70) "Two Weeks of Sokolniki"; Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 167.
(71) Some records did reach the Central Committee somehow, including comments on a USIA report on the exhibition and comments books. See Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv noveishei istorii (RGANI) f. 5, op. 30, d. 318, ll. 52-60 (Stephen Bitmer, personal communication).
(72) Sharon Macdonald, "Accessing Audiences: Visiting Visitor Books," Museum and Society 3, 3 (2005): 119-36; Susan E. Reid, "In the Name of the People: The Manege Affair Revisited," Kritika 6, 4 (2005): 73-71; Reid, "The Exhibition Art of Socialist Countries, Moscow 195859, and the Contemporary Style of Painting," in Style and Socialism: Modernity and Material Culture in Post-War Eastern Europe, ed. Reid and David Crowley (Oxford: Berg, 2000), 10132; Jan plamper, "The Stalin Cult in the Visual Arts" (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 2001), chap. 4.
(73) "Visitors' Reactions."
(74) The USIA report after the exhibition was very cautious about the quantitative indicators, noting the problem of self-selection. In other cases, such as letter-writing to Voice of America, self-selection was found to bias the response toward favorable comments, and "no
one assumes that this correctly represents the true balance of opinion." The tiny fraction of all visitors who "voted" on ANEM--about 15,000 out of 2,700,000 in the case of the voting machine, and 2,000 in the case of the comment books--meant that "if there were a tendency for the more favorably inclined to 'vote' more than the less favorably inclined, a very serious bias in the data could result" ("Visitors' Reactions").
(75) Macdonald, "Accessing Audiences," 122, citing Gordon Fyfe, personal communication; Reid, "In the Name of the People," 681.
(76) Tamar Katriel, Performing the Past: A Study of Israeli Settlement Museums (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997), 71 n. 5, as cited by Macdonald, "Accessing Audiences," 121.
(77) Comments books, NARA 306/1043/11. Krokodil humorously described Soviet people getting dressed in their best to visit ANEM, wishing to present themselves as respectable to their hosts ("Puteshestvie v Ameriku," 4).
(78) "Seven Days of Sokolniki." Agitation continued but without the intensity of the first ten days. "Six Weeks of Sokolniki."
(79) TsAOPIM f. 4, op. 139, d. 13.
(80) Ibid., 1. 24.
(81) Ibid., 1.25; version cited here from comments books, NARA 306/1043/11.
(82) "Two Weeks of Sokolniki" (emphasis added).
(83) Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 196-201.
(84) The agitators were, by their own account, ill prepared by their party instructors (TsAOPIM f. 4, op. 139, d. 13, 1.40). Their presence (if detected) may have affected the field, but presumably they eavesdropped on bona fide ordinary people, not fellow agitators masquerading as such.
(85) Ibid., 1.34.
(86) Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 197.
(87) "Visitors' Reactions." Americans recorded 134 overheard comments. The report considered that eavesdropping data was least subject to systemic bias since the listener was supposedly undetected.
(88) TsAOPIM f. 4, op. 139, d. 13, I. 55.
(89) Ibid. Petty theft worried the Soviet authorities. The U.S. press and Hixson made much of it as an indicator that the exhibition had broken down Soviet discipline and achieved the aims Winston articulated (" 'Ivan' Takes a Look," 40; Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 191).
(90) TsAOPIM f. 4, op. 139, d. 13, esp. II. 3, 4, 7, 8.
(91) Ibid., ll. 1-55.
(92) Ibid., 1.34. Similar comments were written in the visitors' books. It is noteworthy that the speaker thinks in terms of the family weekend outing, a form of leisure commonly identified with American middle-class modernity.
(94) Ibid., l. 37.
(95) Reid, "In the Name of the People," 679-80.
(100) Report on interviews with guides, NARA 306/1043/11.
(101) Carl J. Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1956).
(102) Examples are cited by Yurchak, Everything Was Forever, 5.
(103) Ibid., 9. The binary distinction between "agitators" and "genuine" viewers also needs to be dismantled.
(104) For some aspects of the debate, see Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); Anna Krylova, "The Tenacious Liberal Subject in Soviet Studies," Kritika 1, 1 (2000): 119-46; Sheila Fitzpatrick, "Making a Self for the Times: Impersonation and Imposture in 20th-Century Russia," Kritika 2, 3 (2001): 49-87, esp. 472-77; Jochen Hellbeck, Revolution on My Mind: Writing a Diary under Stalin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006).
(105) See Reid, "In the Name of the People," 673-716, esp. 681-83.
(106) On public letter-writing, see Sheila Fitzpatrick, "Supplicants and Citizens: Public Letter-Writing in Soviet Russia in the 1930s," Slavic Review 55, 1 (1996): 78-105; and Magnusdottir, "'Be Careful in America,'" 109-30.
(107) Yurchak, Everything Was Forever, 21.
(108) Cohen, Rethinking the Soviet Experience, 128-57; Nikolai Mitrokhin, Russkaia partiia: Dvizhenie russkikh natsionalistov v SSSR, 1953-1985 (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2003); and on the fractured art world and its publics, Reid, "In the Name of the People," 673 -716; and Reid, "The Exhibition Art of Socialist Countries," 101-32.
(109) "Three Weeks of Sokolniki."
(110) Mikhail German, Slozhnoeproshedshee (passe compose) (St. Petersburg: Iskusstvo, 2000), 350.
(111) For example, although normative family values were central to the ideal image of the United States that ANEM projected, Nixon's performance in the "Kitchen Debate" gave him iconic status among homosexuals in Eastern Europe, who "often identify with 'free' America and the 'capitalist world'" (Tom Reeves, "Red and Gay," Fag Rag 6 [Fall 1973]: 3). I am indebted to Dan Healey for bringing this article to my attention.
While many comment writers assume the authority to write in the collective name of the "Soviet people," others assert their right to differ, objecting to being spoken for. One wrote, in reference to such a comment, "I did not authorize him to speak for me and my taste" (comments books, NARA 306/1043/11).
(112) Mark, "Soviet Attitudes."
(114) Interviews with guides, NARA 306/1043/11.
(115) "Five Weeks of Sokolniki."
(116) "Soviet Citizens Indict Their Government," 30 September 1959, NARA 306/1050/Z
(117) Comments books, NARA 306/1043/11. Henceforth, all unattributed quotations are from this source. I have slightly modified some of the USIA translations to make the English more idiomatic. This comment is also cited by Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 200.
(118) "Three Weeks of Sokolniki."
(119) The Soviet writer Marietta Shaginian, already an accredited expert on U.S. modernity in the 1920s, developed this theme in the press ("Razmyshleniia na amerikanskoi vystavke," Izvestiia, 23 August 1959).
(120) "Three Weeks of Sokolniki."
(121) Hanson, Rise and Fall, 60-63; "Three Weeks of Sokolniki."
(122) Their expectations may have been aroused and then frustrated by a planned U.S. exhibition of machines planned for 1958, which had been canceled (report: "The American National Exhibition in Moscow," NARA 306/1050/7; confidential memo regarding possible
Daily Mail "Ideal Home" Exhibition in Moscow, 18 November 1957, Public Record Office, Kew, London, BW2/532).
(123) Brady, "Post Mortem."
(124) M. Shattov, "Razmyshleniia o vystavke," Trud, 31 July 1959.
(125) TsAOPIM f. 4, op. 139, d. 13, 1.8.
(126) See, e.g., Vladimir Dudintsev, "Ne khlebom edinym," Novyi mir, no. 8 (1956). See also George Breslauer, Khrushchev and Brezhnev as Leaders: Building Authority in Soviet Politics (London: Allen and Unwin, 1982).
(127) "Six Weeks of Sokolniki."
(128) Press release, telegram from Moscow to secretary of state, 8 September 1959, NARA 306/1050/7. This was a version of an old joke circulating already in the 1930s. See Sheila Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times. Soviet Russia in the 1930s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 184.
(129) Ambassor Thompson, as cited by Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 167; on public responses to the slogan "catch up and overtake," see Aksiutin, Khrushchevskaia "ottepel'," 350-62.
(130) Barth, report, NARA 306/1043/11.
(132) "Khrushchev-Nixon Debate, July 24, 1959," CNN Perspectives series (www.cnn.com/ SPECIALS/cold.war/episodes/14/documents/debate, last accessed 19 March 2002, adapted translation); Richmond, Cultural Exchange, 9.
(133) "Four Weeks of Sokolniki"; "Visitor Reactions"; "Visitors' Reactions"; Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 207.
(134) Oleg Anisimov, "The Attitude of the Soviet People toward the West," Russian Review 13, 2 (1954): 79-90, here 79-81; "The Credibility of What America Says Abroad and Receptivity to U.S. Information Efforts," 30 July 1958, NARA 306/1011/1.
(135) TASS objected that the model home was no more the typical house of an American worker than the Taj Mahal was the typical home of a Bombay textile worker or Buckingham Palace the typical home of an English miner (NARA 306/1050/7).
(136) "Seven Days of Sokolniki"; "Five Weeks of Sokolniki."
(137) TsAOPIM f. 4, op. 139, d. 13, 1. 2.
(138) Irene Cieraad, "The Radiant American Kitchen: Domesticating Dutch Nuclear Energy," in Cold War Kitchen, 113-36.
(139) The guides retorted that the Soviet exhibition in New York also showed something of the future (TsAOPIM f. 4, op. 139, d. 13, 1.8).
(140) Ibid., 1. 7.
(142) "Three Weeks of Sokolniki." This theme was set by Khrushchev in the Kitchen Debate and continued in the comment written by agitators (above).
(143) Ben Highmore, "Spectral Banalities: The American National Exhibition in Moscow, 1959," paper presented at the symposium "Cold War Modern: Art and Design in a Divided World," held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 4-5 January 2007.
(144) Julie Hessler, "Cultured Trade: The Stalinist Turn towards Consumerism," in Stalinism: New Directions, ed. Sheila Fitzpatrick (London: Routledge, 2000), 182-209; Fitzpatrick, "Becoming Cultured: Socialist Realism and the Representation of Privilege and Taste," in The Cultural Front: Power and Culture in Revolutionary Russia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992), 216-37.
(145) For argumentation, see Susan Reid, "Khrushchev Modern: Agency and Modernization in the Soviet Home," Cahiers du monde russe 47, 1-2 (2006): 227-68.
(146) Rational consumption--an aspect of communist morality's requirement for self-discipline and voluntary submission of the individual to the collective will--was supposed to render the self-development of the individual compatible with the development of society as a whole.
(147) Report on questions visitors asked of guides, NARA 306/1050/7.
(148) "'Ivan' Takes a Look," 40-43; Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 189, 191.
(149) Marta Dodd, "Pod pozolochennym kupolom," Ogonek, no. 32 (2 August 1959): 5; "Three Weeks of Sokolniki."
(150) Trud and Pravda, 25 July 1959; Sergei N. Khrushchev, Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000), 321-23.
(151) TsAOPIM f. 4, op. 139, d. 13, 1.27.
(152) TsAOPIM f. 4, op. 139, d. 13, l. 33. This corresponded to the ideal self-image of the intelligentsia as high-minded and disdainful of material comforts as distinct from "petitbourgeois'" elements (meshchanstvo) both within and outside Soviet society. For official discourse on communist morality, see Deborah A. Field, Private Life and Communist Morality in Khrushchev's Russia (New York: Peter Long, 2007).
(153) "Six Weeks of Sokolniki."
(154) Brady, "Post Mortem."
(155) "Five Weeks of Sokolniki."
(156) Larry Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994). On Hegel's The Philosophy of History, see Christopher Gogwilt, The Invention of the West:Joseph Conrad and the Double-Mapping of Europe and Empire (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995), 52.
(157) Competitions run by the color television studios were found to exacerbate the impression of nekul'turnost" ("Four Weeks of Sokolniki"). It was an established trope in Soviet discourse to designate the United States as nekul'turnyi. Il'ia Erenburg in 1946 contrasted American modernity with the more mature values of Europe (Caute, Dancer Defects, 38; Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 137). This built on existing old-Europe prejudice against the New World, deploying it in the Cold War East-West ideological struggle. At the Paris Trade Fair in 1956, the USIA reported, "In its attempt at lightness and mass appeal, the U.S. pavilion seems to have given many of its visitors an effect of triviality," whereby it lost out to the successful Chinese pavilion ("Visitor Reaction"). In this respect, the Soviet reception of ANEM was part of a wider European response to Amerika.
(158) "Four Weeks of Sokolniki."
(159) Tsentral'nyi arkhiv goroda Moskvy (TsAGM) f. 21, op. 1, d. 125, 1.6 (Comments books for exhibition Art into Life, Moscow, 1961).
(160) "Two Weeks of Sokolniki"; "Three Weeks of Sokolniki." Divisions within public discourse and popular response over abstraction and modernist art during the Thaw are analyzed in Reid, "In the Name of the People" and "The Exhibition Art of Socialist Countries."
(161) TsAOPIM f. 4, op. 139, d. 13, l. 7.
(162) "Four Weeks of Sokolniki."
(163) This response was not unique to Soviet popular opinion. A 1958 digest of USIA surveys found that in Western Europe (and, tentatively, in developing countries too), "the average person, paradoxically, favors 'Socialism,'" although they did not mean by that the nationalization of industry but "strict government supervision over private enterprise and a great deal of attention to such things as social welfare, protection of the rights of labor, [and] equality of educational opportunity" ("Brief Overview of Recent Survey Findings," NARA 306/1011/1).
(164) See Reid, "'Our Kitchen Is Just as Good!'" 83-112.
(165) See www.teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=176 (consulted 6 October 2008).
(166) Shaginian, "Razmyshleniia na amerikanskoi vystavke."
(167) For the argumentation, see Reid, "Cold War in the Kitchen," 211-52; and "Khrushchev Modern," 227-68.
(168) De Grazia notes that there was little sign that the model kitchens were a particular attraction and that votes cast in the secret ballot box placed the model house 13th of 15 with the "Miracle" kitchen at the bottom (Irresistible Empire, 456). Compare Table 1.
(169) Compare Gunther, Inside Russia Today, 63.
(170) Yurchak, Everything Was Forever, 5, 8.
Table 1. Quantified Breakdown of Comments on Specific Exhibits in Visitors' Books for the American National Exhibition in Moscow, 1959 Category Favorable Unfavorable Cars 71 -- Family of Man 28 2 Guides 26 8 Circarama 19 -- Consumer goods 16 -- Color TV 14 -- Miracle kitchen 11 2 Model house 8 2 Art 7 37 +5 (sculpture) Organization of 5 19 + 2 (lack of signs) exhibit (crowd control, signs, visibility etc) Books 4 -- Machines & technology 6 82 (lack of science & technology) Voting machines 3 2 Fashions 3 -- Geodesic dome 3 -- Sports 3 -- Music 2 -- Pepsi-Cola 2 -- Architecture 2 -- Furniture 2 -- Toys -- 9 Source: NARA 306/1043/11.
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|Author:||Reid, Susan E.|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2008|
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