A Full-Value Ruble: The Promise of Prosperity in the Postwar Soviet Union, 1945-1964 (Harvard, 2021)
This book traces postwar Soviet political authorities’ and economic experts’ efforts to bring prosperity to the masses after the devastating impact of the Second World War via a ruble with real purchasing power and injections of those rubles into ordinary citizens’ household finances. As it shows, the ‘full-value’ (polnotsenyi) ruble was believed to be not only essential for raising living standards, but for advancing toward the purported material abundance of ‘full communism.’ Through retail price levels, wage policy, pension reforms, bond subscriptions, taxes, savings, and lotteries, the Soviet state attempted—and failed—to create and maintain the balances within the planned economy the ‘full-value’ ruble required.
“‘A Writer Deserves to be Paid for His Work’: Progressive American Writers, Foreign Royalties, and the Limits of Soviet Internationalism in the Mid-to-Late 1950s,” Europe’s Internationalists: Rethinking the Short Twentieth Century, eds. Jessica Reinisch and David Brydan (Bloomsbury, 2021)
This chapter looks at the efforts of American ‘progressive’ writers and their allies in the Soviet Union, who attempted to sway the Soviet government to abandon its reluctance to embrace international copyright protections in the mid-1950s, as the Soviet Union engaged in expanded cultural exchange with the West in the wake of the Geneva Convention. It focuses on the case of Howard Fast, one of the most published foreign authors in the Soviet Union at the time and perhaps the most quintessential ‘progressive’ American writer from the Soviet perspective. Fast expressed increasingly bitter grievances about the Soviet government’s failure to pay him consistent royalties as he grew disillusioned with Soviet socialism and with the Communist Party. The conflict between progressive writers and Soviet authorities, this chapter shows, reveals a clash of understandings of the benefits of internationalism in the context of the Cold war.
Co-authored with Étienne Forrestier-Peyrat, “A Communist World of Public Debt? The Failure of a Counter-model” in World of Debts: The Global Politics of Public Debts from the Late 18th Century, eds. Nicolas Barreyre and Nicolas Delalande (Palgrave, 2020)
This chapter looks at the construction of a communist community of public debt in the 20th century. Despite emerging as some of public debt’s most vehement critics in the early years of that century, as it shows, communist governments made relatively conventional use of public debt to fund economic initiatives, foster bonds within the socialist bloc, and gain political influence. As these regimes’ economies stagnated, they borrowed heavily from capitalist lenders and ran into economic troubles in the 1980s, but they did not repudiate their debt, as the Bolsheviks had in 1918. Instead, they accepted technical solutions to their economic woes, which, in turn, helped to erode their already tenuous popular legitimacy in Eastern Europe. This chapter is available open access here.
“‘I Beg You Not to Reject my Plea’: The Late Stalinist Welfare State and the Politics of One-Time Monetary Aid, 1946-1953,” Journal of Social History, Vol. 51, No. 4 (2018): 1045–1068
This article examines the Reception of the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet’s practice of distributing small sums of money to needy in-person petitioners who requested “material assistance” after the Second World War and during the tenure of Nikolai Shvernik (1946–1953). The Reception’s one-time monetary aid illustrates the late Stalinist welfare state’s paternalistic and exclusionary tendencies. Though this aid was portrayed as an example of state “care,” the Reception heavily scrutinized requests for money, on the lookout for fraudsters who lied about the reasons why they needed it and who falsely presented themselves as members of state-recognized needy social groups, including war veterans, single mothers, and relatives of the war dead. After mid-May of 1947, the Reception implemented a “hard line” to weed out these “charlatans” and help the “truly needy”; thereafter, money was to be distributed only in the most urgent and exceptional cases. In reality, as this article shows, almost half of its one-time monetary aid went to disabled war veterans and single mothers, petitioners whose circumstances were far from exceptional and who were often poor candidates for accomplishing the state’s postwar imperative to settle down and return to “socially useful labor.” The Reception sometimes even gave money to so-called charlatans out of pity, a tacit acknowledgement of the precarious circumstances petitioners usually lived in and of the great difficulties involved in accomplishing the rapid shift to normalcy that was demanded of Soviet citizens.
“Between Fiscal, Ideological, and Social Dilemmas: The Soviet ‘Bachelor Tax’ and Post-war Tax Reform, 1941-1962,” Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 69, No. 6 (2017): 855-877
This article examines the ‘tax on bachelors, singles, and small families of the USSR’. The tax was introduced in 1941 to boost the birth rate and expanded in 1944 to finance the state’s benefits offered to mothers and children. The Ministry of Finance eventually moved away from its support for the regressive and inefficient bachelor tax and explored other tax-based strategies to boost the birth rate and support families. However, it was constrained in its reform efforts, both by Khrushchev and by ideas about the appropriate role of taxes as the Soviet Union progressed away from crisis and towards communism.
“Stalin’s Doctrine of Price Reductions during the Second World War and Postwar Reconstruction,” Slavic Review, Vol. 75, No. 3 (2016): 655-677
This article examines how price reductions became a late Stalinist economic doctrine. When rationing was abolished in 1935, Stalin linked reducing retail prices to economic and revolutionary progress. This progress was derailed by the war, which saw the return of rationing and its accompanying price distortions, as well as the explosion of private trade at exorbitant market prices. After an unsuccessful attempt to compete with the market through state commercial trade at high prices, the government repeatedly reduced prices from 1944 onward in an effort to clear stockpiles of too-expensive items, regulate the currency supply, shift the population’s spending from food to consumer goods, bring down market prices, and attack the private sector. Price reductions were presented as an expression of Stalin’s care for workers’ economic interests during the process of recovery and as a blow at those who had unfairly profited during the war. By the early 1950s, annual price reductions had become an explicit economic doctrine and a new Stalinist ritual and celebration, despite the persistence of serious shortages, especially of food, and growing evidence of the policy’s shortcomings.
“Khrushchev’s Cash-and-Goods Lotteries and the Turn to Positive Incentives,” The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review, Vol. 41, No. 3 (2014): 296-323
This article focuses on the Soviet government’s turn to positive incentives to play the state lottery in the late 1950s, after thirty years of coercing citizens to buy state lottery bonds under Stalin. Khrushchev discontinued the Stalinist bonds in April 1957 and, in their wake, introduced “cash-and-goods lotteries” featuring voluntary participation. The Khrushchev government identified a powerful positive incentive to buy tickets in the coveted consumer goods the lotteries offered as prizes. Citizens were no longer asked to sacrifice toward the state lottery, rather, they were encouraged to risk small sums toward potential consumer gain and the improvement of their living standards – a new way of conceptualizing Soviet citizens’ personal financial contributions to the state as the Soviet Union approached communist prosperity.
“Rubles for Victory: The Social Dynamics of State Fundraising on the Soviet Home Front,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, Vol. 15, No. 4 (2014): 799-828
This article looks at state fundraising campaigns on the Soviet home front during the Second World War, including ‘mass subscription bonds,’ savings drives, and cash donations. It shows that these campaigns relied upon coercive social dynamics established well before the war, namely, those that surrounded subscriptions to bonds financing the industrialization drive. At the same time, the balance of coercion and voluntarism varied in citizens’ decision-making, with some willingly handing over massive sums due to their activism, desire for career advancement, or patriotic sentiment.
This article is reprinted in an abridged format in Russian translation as “Den’gi dlia pobedy: sotsial’naia dinamika privlecheniia sredstv naseleniia v sovetskom tylu,” in Sovetskii tyl’ 1941-1945 gg.: povsednevnaia zhizn’ v gody voiny, eds. Beate Fieseler and Roger Markwick (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2019)