About

Kristy Ironside is a historian of Russia and the Soviet Union and Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Classical Studies at McGill University. Her first book, A Full-Value Ruble: The Promise of Prosperity in the Postwar Soviet Union, 1945-1964 is forthcoming from Harvard University Press in the summer of 2021. This book looks at Soviet society’s intertwined attempts to recover from the war’s damage and move toward a promised state of abundance. The lingering presence of money was ideologically problematic under socialism, for Marx had predicted it would cease to be necessary after the Revolution; however, by the early 1920s, the Bolsheviks had decided money was temporarily needed and, by the mid-1930s, Stalin had decided that money was “one of the few bourgeois economic instruments that we, as socialists, need to utilize to the bitter end.” According to this logic, money’s role within the Soviet system needed to be strengthened rather than allowed to fade in importance. The war completely derailed this project, but it was resumed almost immediately after it and enthusiastically continued by Khrushchev amid his de-Stalinization of Soviet life.  A ‘full-value’ (polnotsenyi) ruble with real value in the hands of Soviet citizens was seen as integral to the project of bringing prosperity to the masses under Soviet socialism.  Increased purchasing power, a low cost of living, rising wages and pensions, low to no taxes, and returns on their investments in state bonds and lotteries were held up among the benefits of present-day socialism and portrayed as proof of the Soviet Union’s revolutionary advance. At the same time, money facilitated massive inequalities within a supposedly class-free society and many citizens still struggled to get by, undermining their faith in their Soviet power and, often, in communism itself.

This project has inspired articles and chapters looking at related economic and social phenomena in Soviet history, exploring the dynamics of coercion, the shift to incentives, the extent of Soviet state capacity, the socialist tax regime, and the nature of the postwar Soviet welfare state. These articles have appeared in Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review, Slavic Review, Europe-Asia Studies, and The Journal of Social History.

Kristy Ironside is currently at work on two other book-length projects. The first, International Copyright in the Political Economy of Russia and the Soviet Union, looks at its fraught relationship to international copyright law, norms, and practices. Neither the Tsarist nor the Soviet government adhered to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, and the Soviet government did not sign the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC) in 1952.  Official Soviet discourse and domestic authors’ rights precluded profiting from the labor of others but, in the interests of popular enlightenment, journals and publishing houses often republished and sold translated works without their authors’ permission or compensation. During the Cold War, a transnational effort mobilizing both Soviet and Western actors pressured the Soviet government to respect international copyright law as a precondition for improving foreign relations and opening up trade and licensing agreements. The Brezhnev government finally joined the UCC in 1973. Thereafter, copyright authorities began to more aggressively enforce Soviet cultural producers’ intellectual property rights abroad, in an effort to tap a source of foreign currency and, as some feared in the West, to clamp down on its critics abroad. This monograph will examine changing notions of intellectual property, profit, and rights, as well as the Russian state’s engagement with international law from the late 19th century, through the Soviet period, to the return of capitalism in Russia after 1991. Research for this project is funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council – Insight Development Grant and the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture, Soutien à la recherche pour la relève professorale.

Her third book-length project, Miss Black: Russia’s Forgotten Foreign Agent in America, is a biography of the Soviet Union’s first literary, musical, and photographic agent in the United States. Before the official cultural exchange agreements of the mid-1950s, Helen Black was responsible for the distribution of the vast majority of Soviet culture in America–a business she ran mostly singlehandedly out of a shoebox-sized office in Manhattan, and which brought her into close contact with Soviet diplomats, cultural authorities, famed authors and composers, and spies. Black, who had abandoned a “bourgeois” life in Queens for a “modern” life among the Bohemians and radicals of Greenwich Village in the 1920s and was by the early 1930s a committed communist, was one of the few American citizens to officially (and legally) work for Soviet commercial agencies abroad. She travelled several times to the Soviet Union on business. By the end of the 1930s, she was registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, one of the very first women to do so for any country in the world. This book will not only chart Black’s experiences, it will also be a micro-history of the Soviet Union’s commercial and cultural interests beyond its borders, and the foreign allies it worked through to achieve its aims.