Stalin's Quest for Gold
The Torgsin Hard-Currency Shops and Soviet Industrialization
Published by: Cornell University Press
348 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 x 0.00 mm, 29 b&w halftones
- ISBN: 9781501758515
- Published: September 2021
Stalin's Quest for Gold tells the story of Torgsin, a chain of retail shops established in 1930 with the aim of raising the hard currency needed to finance the USSR's ambitious industrialization program. At a time of desperate scarcity, Torgsin had access to the country's best foodstuffs and goods. Initially only foreigners were allowed to shop in Torgsin but the acute demand for hard-currency revenues forced Stalin to open Torgsin to Soviet citizens, who could exchange tsarist gold coins, and objects made of precious metals and gemstones, as well as foreign monies for foods and goods in its shops.
Through her analysis of the state's large-scale entrepreneurship represented by Torgsin, Elena Osokina highlights the complexity and contradictions of Stalinism. Driven by the state's hunger for gold and the people's starvation, Torgsin rejected Marxist postulates of the socialist political economy: the notorious class approach and the state hard-currency monopoly. In its pursuit for gold Torgsin advertised in the capitalist West encouraging foreigners to purchase goods for their relatives in the USSR; and its seaport shops and restaurants operated semi-legally as brothels making foreign sailors spend hard currency for Soviet industrialization. Examining Torgsin from multiple perspectives—economic expediency, state and police surveillance, consumerism, even interior design and personnel—Stalin's Quest for Gold radically transforms the stereotypical view of the Soviet economy and enriches our understanding of everyday life in Stalin's Russia.
Introduction: An Accidental Finding
Part I: Small Bureau to Trade Empire
1. The Birth of Torgsin
2. A Golden Idea
3. The Torgsin Empire
4. The Red Directors of Torgsin: The Political Commissar
5. Why Did Stalin Need Torgsin?
Part II: People's Treasures
7. The Red Directors of Torgsin: The Intelligence Agent
9. Diamonds and Platinum
10. Send Dollars to Torgsin!
Part III: Everyday Life in Torgsin
11. What's for Sale?
12. The Patrons
14. Soviet Brothels
15. Torgsin and the Political Police
16. The Seller Is Always Right
Part IV: Torgsin's Swan Song
17. The Red Directors of Torgsin: The Socialist Revolutionary
19. The Sorcerer's Stone: The Alchemy of Soviet Industrialization
Instead of a Conclusion: The Paradoxes of Torgsin
"A fascinating book to read. All of its richly researched topics, from relations between Torgsin and the state security apparatus to interior design offer intriguing insights into the relationship between plan and market, state and society, practice and ideology. Elena Osokina is an eloquent storyteller and a thoughtful commentator, expertly mediating between individual stories and larger historical—and historiographic—questions."~Slavic Review (reviewing the Russian edition)
"Elena Osokina's analysis of a key Soviet business affords a fascinating angle on diverse aspects of Soviet life. Soviet historians have traditionally focused on collectivization as the regime's solution to the urgent need for hard currency but Osokina draws attention to Torgsin as a still more important source and emphasizes the extent to which famine was the engine of the company's growth. A richly rewarding book."~Kritika (reviewing the Russian edition)