We all know socialism failed in Eastern Europe and that failure reflected two great shortcomings: a lack of democracy and an economic system that consistently fell short in providing its ostensible benefactors, the workers, with consumer goods from housing to fashion. Yet paradoxically the more ingrained these truths become the more obscure the complexities of life under socialism become.It is all fine and good to point to rational irrationality of the planned economy, and the lack of space for individual entrepreneurship, but that tells us only part of the story.Until their collapse socialist societies shaped how everyone from architects to vacationers lived their lives, and our ability to understand socialism, as well as how and why it ultimately failed so miserably, depends not just on understanding the great events, but also every day lives.
Over a decade ago David Crowley and Susan Reid invited scholars to explore issues concerned with everyday life in post-war socialism. The result has been three edited volumes that have been widely acclaimed. The first Style and Socialism (2000) considered issues of design ranging from the how the Khrushchev Thaw changed ideas about shopping in Poland to the embrace of plastics in the German Democratic Republic. The second, Socialist Spaces (2002) looked at different aspects of how space was conceived and used during the same period including articles about the negotiation involved in the rebuilding of Sevastopol after World War II, on dachas and apartments, as well as monuments. With Pleasures in Socialism:Leisure and Luxury in the Eastern Block(Northwestern University Press, 2010), they have concluded their trilogy by looking at the topic of luxury and leisure, which affords us a new glimpse at the dilemmas posed by high fashion, the use of tobacco and alcohol, erotica, and fur and automobile ownership among other things.It was a pleasure to speak to them on those subjects as well as collaborative work process that brought these three books to fruition.