Archive materials from the Soviet press, 1930–1950s

With the introduction of industrialization in the Soviet Union, the mass transformation of peasants and craftspeople into the working class was accompanied by the need to resolve hundreds of practical questions, which were very different from the constructivist task of designing the “new man.” In exchange for the centralized supply of goods, fixed working hours, and relative freedom from “kitchen slavery,” women were supposed to forgo political autonomy and to share the ideological goals of the state. Magazines aimed at the working class were a tool of political information, showcasing improvements in everyday life. Domestic policy was conceived as a series of campaigns aimed at reaching particular targets: tons of cotton, number of communist party members, literacy level, number of future male and female workers. Despite the widespread belief that everyday needs were outside the scope of planning in Stalin’s Soviet Union, archive sources show that from the 1930s through the 1950s there were numerous calls to increase production of consumer goods. Numerous methods were proposed, from industrial technologies to do-it-yourself initiatives such as using fabric scraps for sewing and “remaking” other items of clothing. The introduction in 1930 of criminal liability for the theft and resale of work garments shows that the situation in the uniform sector was no better. And the lack of women’s magazines, most of which had been closed down at end of the previous decade, removed the issue of clothing inequality and canceled out the search for identity beyond everyday clothing, which was the same for everyone. The female worker was not an object of desire and this offered some protection from sexual harassment, a subject which many pages of the magazine Female Worker (Rabotnitsa) were devoted to. Instead of the equality offered by the theorists of universal workwear, the era of industrialization divided Soviet society into a managing elite with access to individual tailoring and the working masses who invented ways to recirculate clothing and fabrics.

Valentin Diaconov