Steeltown, USSR: Soviet Society in the Gorbachev Era

By Stephen Kotkin | Go to book overview

Preface to the Paperback Edition

In Steeltown, USSR I attempted to trace the upheaval in the USSR to 1990, when perestroika reached an impasse. By closely examining a single community, Magnitogorsk, I hoped to demonstrate not only why such an impasse had arisen, but that even if the impasse were somehow breached, the changes necessary to revitalize the country were far greater than was being imagined.

With the infamous failed putsch of August 1991, the Communist system, together with the great multinational Soviet state, committed suicide, and the impasse of perestroika, or reform Communism, was dramatically breached. What a daunting set of tasks seemed suddenly to open up before the peoples of the various successor states, and those who would lead them. Chief among those tasks remains what to do with the gigantic heavy-industry sector, which still accounts for nearly threequarters of all economic activity in the successor states.

It is striking that the insurgent leadership of the largest successor state, Russia (in whose territory Magnitogorsk is located), rose to power by advocating a program of creating, as quickly as possible, a new socio-economic order founded on private property and the market—in an economy dominated by heavy-industry plants and with a social structure dominated by the world’s largest-ever industrial working class. It is no less striking that the Russian leadership has in fact put just such a “shock therapy” program into action.

Lacking any other blueprint and under the considerable pressure of international financial institutions, the Russian leadership feels it has

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