The Socialist Sixties: Crossing Borders in the Second World

By Anne E. Gorsuch; Diane P. Koenker | Go to book overview

2 Modernity Unbound
The New Soviet City of the Sixties

Lewis H. Siegelbaum

Unfortunately, far from everything planned for the seventies was realized, even ten
years later. Perhaps they weren’t first-order objectives … but without them, the dis-
trict lost something in its spiritual development. I don’t want to console myself with
the thought that such is the fate of all our new “socialist cities”; anyway, that’s a sepa-
rate theme, large and instructive.

—S. P. Polikarpov, assistant director of VAZ

WHAT DISTINGUISHED THE Soviet cities of the sixties—not Soviet cities in the 1960s but the ones that were planned and created (more or less) ex nihilo during that decade? Did everyday life resemble that of other, older cities, did residents enjoy a better quality of life associated with everything being up-to-date and the product of the “scientifictechnological revolution” then at its (rhetorical) zenith, or was there a darker side to these cities without pasts?

My essay addresses these questions by considering the middle Volga city of Tol’iatti, best known as the hometown of VAZ, the Volga Automobile Factory founded in 1966.1 I use Tol’iatti as an example of how certain technological, ideological, and cultural processes came together in the 1960s to shape the lives of urban residents in succeeding decades. In doing so, I want to suggest a reading of the Soviet sixties in relation to what followed that decade alternative to the one that has tended to dominate the historiography. Well before Mikhail Gorbachev characterized the longue durée of Leonid Brezhnev’s tenure as the “era of stagnation,” leading Western scholars differentiated the years of Nikita Khrushchev’s rule (1955–64) from those of his successors by employing the terms reformism and conservatism, with the “men of the sixties” (shestidesiatniki) to whom Khrushchev had looked for fresh ideas gradually—or not so gradually—being sidelined.2 While clearly reflecting shifts in the configuration of the political hierarchy and quite possibly in other respects, this interpretation underemphasizes certain continuities across the political regimes during the last decades of the Soviet Union’s existence. It also begs at least two related questions central to this

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