Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas:  jgo.e-reviews 5 (2015), 3 Rezensionen online / Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropaforschung in Regensburg herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Verfasst von: Mark Keck-Szajbel


The Socialist Sixties. Crossing Borders in the Second World. Ed. by Anne E. Gorsuch / Diane P. Koenker. Bloomington, IN, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2013. VII, 338 S., Abb. ISBN: 978-0-253-00937-1.

Table of Contents:



In The Socialist Sixties, Anne Gorsuch and Diane Koenker return as co-editors. In contrast to their first volume focusing on tourism, this one restricts itself to defining and exploring a particular moment in history. They argue that the “1960s” was the “moment when the ‘orderedness’ of [the] three worlds was arguably the most prominent in popular discourse and culture, and a moment when that order was contested and destabilized.” (p. 1–2) According to Susan Reid, who provides the first contribution in the volume, the 1960s – as a concept of historical inquiry – was a moment which “evokes a whole nexus of concepts, images, values, and social phenomenon that together constitute a new consumerist stage of modernity.” (p. 27) In what follows, the guiding idea of the volume is how to precisely define the socialist 1960s, and the editors have done well to bring together both established and up-and-coming scholars to reflect on the meaning of this decade.

They have divided the thirteen articles into sections on the Socialist Modern, Contact Zones, and Popular Culture and Media. Each of these sections overlap, and the volume’s strength is both in its ability to explore a variety of different global regions and to make disparate stories complement each other particularly well. Three essays focus, to give but one example, on interactions between ordinary people at international venues. João Felipe Gonçalves’s contribution focuses on Cuban’s exposure to Soviet culture at a critical moment in history. In the 1960 Soviet Exposition in Havana, citizens were dazzled by the presentation of socialist technology and standards of living. Crucially, the Exposition arrived during a brief period in Cuban history when individuals were debating what type of revolution their country had gone through: was it a national revolution or a socialist revolution? Gonçalves argues that the discourse around the Soviet Exposition revealed how nationalism was “shared ideological ground on which the two systems competed.” (p. 106) Similarly, Nick Rutter shows how at the 1968 World Youth Festival in Sophia there was a “communication breakdown” between young people. (p. 207) No one understood what exactly “internationalism” meant when confronted with thousands of international guests. He argues against an understanding of a youth generation in conflict with an older generation, suggesting instead that there were also fractures within the younger generation. Rachel Applebaum’s wonderful essay shows how Soviet tour guides responded to their experiences in Prague in the late 1960s. Where citizens of the USSR generally relished the heart-felt admiration of the Czechoslovak people before 1968, all love was lost after the invasion. Henceforth, Czechoslovak locals no longer wanted to interact with Soviet tourists, although “utopianism […] continually coexisted with […] cynicism” (p. 225).

In addition to articles on international meeting places, there are series of essays on the folk music revival of the 1960s, on the dissemination of Soviet literature in the West, and on Soviet film. The more innovative contributions focus on the globalization of “domestic leisure” which epitomized the 1960s, and “created new opportunities for exchanges of experience[s]” (p. 6). Such is the case in Susan Reid’s article about Soviet planners’ initial attempts to create consumers: she argues that “it mattered to get technology into citizens’ homes” to prove that there was progress in the Soviet Union, and “it was necessary to persuade [citizens] to part with their […] income and become consumers” (p. 45). Polly Jones’s analysis of Soviet literature in translation highlights assumptions held in the West regarding would-be “provocateurs”, even though their translation was condoned by the Central Committee.

Most of the essays imply that 1960s was a period when there were parallel developments around the world: whether East or West, there was an ideological fascination with the third world; growth of mass entertainment and consumer cultures; and attempts at urban utopianism. However – and this is one of the most important arguments made in the volume – these developments arrived without explicit transnational connections. Hence, in his essay about guitar poetry, Rossen Djagalov argues that folk music was deeply embedded in local conditions. “Guitar poetry crossed borders with great difficulty, in a way that was symptomatic of 1960s social movements.” (p. 149) Sabina Mihelj asserts that Yugoslav television was “not ideologically uniform and […] self-congratulatory” (p. 265). In her case, unfortunately, she is almost exclusively discussing TV in the 1970s.

That is a general problem in the volume – and the authors recognize this in their introduction. After concluding the collection, the reader is still unsure when exactly the sixties were. Authors have drastically different conclusions, and this reader was asking if it is useful to call the global moment the “sixties”. Indeed, of all the articles in the volume, a handful actually focus on the 1970s. The bulk of Sabina Mihelj’s article on the politics of privatization is on a series from the early 1970s. Lewis Siegelbaum’s work, otherwise fascinating, is about the city of Tol’iatti, largely built in the 1970s. Robert Edelman focuses on a soccer match between Dinamo Moscow and the Glasgow Rangers in 1972. Finally, Stephen Lovell’s concluding essay barely tries to discuss the 1960s, instead focusing on a Soviet TV series from 1973.

Calling the volume the Socialist Sixties leads many authors to awkwardly explain why their contribution actually belongs to the 1960s. Given that “the sixties” happened at different times, under different circumstances, and with drastically different outcomes, is it helpful for historians to use “the sixties” as a methodological tool? For better or worse, I imagine a discussion of this book in a university classroom would result in lengthy debates about how to define the decade. What unifies all articles, it seems, is that they explore fundamental changes in (usually single) countries and recognize that they happened in conjunction with the coming of age of the first post-World War II generation. Additionally, there was heightened awareness that the world was watching the masses: in both the US and the USSR, but also third world countries, TV sets and radios broadcast mass entertainment alongside political events.

Laudable is Koenker and Gorsuch’s attempt to define a historical change after Khrushchev’s secret speech. In the context of East Central Europe, the most important change was the immergence of regionalism within a globalized community: Poland and Hungary became rather liberal immediately after the uprisings in 1956. In some countries – such as Czechoslovakia – the socialist sixties were firmly in the 1960s. In others – such as the GDR (which goes unexplored in this volume) – the 1960s did not start until Erich Honecker came to power in 1971. Previously, East German officials were hard-liners and attempted little reform. In Cuba, as shown in both Anne Luke and João Felipe Gonçalves’s articles, socialism was only hesitantly being introduced and flirted with Western culture well into the 1960s. The smorgasbord of examples in Gorsuch and Koenker’s collection reveals that there was no socialist sixties, rather a variety of different socialist sixties.

Mark Keck-Szajbel, Frankfurt/Oder

Zitierweise: Mark Keck-Szajbel über: The Socialist Sixties. Crossing Borders in the Second World. Ed. by Anne E. Gorsuch / Diane P. Koenker. Bloomington, IN, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2013. VII, 338 S., Abb. ISBN: 978-0-253-00937-1, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/erev/Keck-Szajbel_Gorsuch_The_Socialist_Sixties.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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