What We Are Reading Today: A Social History of Soviet Trade by Julie Hessler

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Updated 07 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: A Social History of Soviet Trade by Julie Hessler

In this sweeping study, Julie Hessler traces the invention and evolution of socialist trade, the progressive constriction of private trade, and the development of consumer habits from the 1917 revolution to Stalin’s death in 1953. The book places trade and consumption in the context of debilitating economic crises. Although Soviet leaders, and above all, Stalin, identified socialism with the modernization of retailing and the elimination of most private transactions, these goals conflicted with the economic dynamics that produced shortages and with the government’s bureaucratic, repressive, and socially discriminatory political culture.

A Social History of Soviet Trade explores the relationship of trade — official and unofficial — to the cyclical pattern of crisis and normalization that resulted from these tensions. It also provides a singularly detailed look at private shops during the years of the New Economic Policy, and at the remnants of private trade, mostly concentrated at the outdoor bazaars, in subsequent years.

Drawing on newly opened archives in Moscow and several provinces, this richly documented work offers a new perspective on the social, economic, and political history of the formative decades of the USSR.


What We Are Reading Today: Gentlemen Revolutionaries by Tom Cutterham

Updated 20 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Gentlemen Revolutionaries by Tom Cutterham

In the years between the Revolutionary War and the drafting of the Constitution, American gentlemen—the merchants, lawyers, planters, and landowners who comprised the independent republic’s elite—worked hard to maintain their positions of power. Gentlemen Revolutionaries shows how their struggles over status, hierarchy, property, and control shaped the ideologies and institutions of the fledgling nation.

Tom Cutterham examines how, facing pressure from populist movements as well as the threat of foreign empires, these gentlemen argued among themselves to find new ways of justifying economic and political inequality in a republican society. At the heart of their ideology was a regime of property and contract rights derived from the norms of international commerce and 18th-century jurisprudence. But these gentlemen were not concerned with property alone. They also sought personal prestige and cultural preeminence. Cutterham describes how, painting the egalitarian freedom of the republic’s “lower sort” as dangerous licentiousness, they constructed a vision of proper social order around their own fantasies of power and justice.

 In pamphlets, speeches, letters, and poetry, they argued that the survival of the republican experiment in the US depended on the leadership of worthy gentlemen and the obedience of everyone else.

Lively and elegantly written, Gentlemen Revolutionaries demonstrates how these elites, far from giving up their attachment to gentility and privilege, recast the new republic in their own image.