Communism Unwrapped: Consumption in Cold War Eastern Europe

By Paulina Bren; Mary Neuburger | Go to book overview

2
Utopia Gone Terribly Right
Plutonium’s “Gated Communities” in the Soviet
Union and United States

Kate Brown

In the United States in the 1950s, workers at nuclear weapons factories raced to produce yet more bombs to challenge Soviet rockets pointed at American cities. As they did so, American urbanites moved to suburbs located just outside the beltway, a radius that corresponded with the safe zone beyond the concentric circles of destruction of an imagined nuclear strike. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, writers asserted the mastery of the Russian nation in inventing everything from television to baseball, as Soviet scientists hurriedly copied the plans for the atomic bomb from stolen American blueprints. The nuclear conflict created the kind of unspoken anxieties that nurtured longings for a society sealed off, self-sufficient, well-stocked, and secure. I have found that these utopian desires matured notably in the cities dwelling directly in the shadow of the new bombs, cities created to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. It was especially there, where the threat of nuclear annihilation was the most immediate, that the desire for utopia—a planned, affluent, risk-free society—mounted most critically.

Utopia is a much maligned and mistreated word, especially in the field of East European history. It is used as shorthand for the inevitably terminal mistake of applying technocratic knowledge to plan for society’s needs in a way that disregards human behavior and normal (not “noble” or rational) human desire. Rational and pragmatic utopias

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