Xenia A. Cherkaev, "Gleaning for Communism: The Soviet Socialist Household in Theory and Practice" (Cornell UP, 2023)


Gleaning for Communism: The Soviet Socialist Household in Theory and Practice (Cornell UP, 2023) is a historical ethnography of the property regime upon which Soviet legal scholars legislated a large modern state as a household, with guaranteed rights to a commons of socialist property, rather than private possessions. Starting with former Leningrad workers' everyday stories about smuggling industrial scrap home over factory fences, Xenia Cherkaev traces collectivist ethical logic that was central to this socialist household economy, in theory and practice: from its Stalin-era inception, through Khrushchev's major foregrounding of communist ethics, to Gorbachev's perestroika, which unfurled its grounding tension between the interests of any given collective and of the socialist household economy itself.

A story of how the socialist household economy functioned, how it collapsed, and how it was remembered, this book is haunted throughout by a spectral image of the totalitarian state, whose jealous political control over the economy leads it to trample over all that which ought to be private. Underlying this image, and the neoliberal state phobia it justified, is the question of how individual interests ought to relate to the public good in a large modern society, which, it is assumed, cannot possibly function by the non-private logics of householding. This book tells the story of a large modern society that did.

Robin Steiner is an economic anthropologist based in Miami, FL. His published work explores economic development, labor and citizenship in Oman and the Arab Gulf. He teaches in the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies at Florida International University. For more information, visit robinsteiner.net.

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