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Communism UnwrappedConsumption in Cold War Eastern Europe$
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Paulina Bren and Mary Neuburger

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199827657

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199827657.001.0001

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Utopia Gone Terribly Right

Utopia Gone Terribly Right

Plutonium’s “Gated Communities” in the Soviet Union and United States

(p.49) 2 Utopia Gone Terribly Right
Communism Unwrapped

Kate Brown

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores how military and political leaders used the production of desire in two plutonium producing towns, Richland, Washington (USA) and Chelyabinsk-40 (USSR) to insure a stable work force and security. Because both towns produced a strategic and dangerous commodity, they were set up as “utopian” zones of consumer privilege. Though these communities contained an element of exclusivity, political leaders pointed to them as proof of systemic success, or universal affluence. As Brown argues, these towns were in many senses precursors to other Cold War privileged zones of consumption—like segregated white suburbs in the US or larger Soviet cities restricted to registered residents. Here pockets of affluence were created and maintained at the expense of poverty-stricken American inner-cities or Soviet rural countryside. These oases of plenty became important mirages, bolstering illusions of systemic success on both sides of the Iron Curtain. More importantly they bred docility, a desire to enter and remain the exclusive zones, a failure to question authority lest one be tossed from the Garden of Eden. These plutonium cities, then, were model cities where populations exchanged political voice and social responsibility for consumer satisfaction. In the end, these sites of consumer bliss brought peace and prosperity but also nuclear catastrophes and gross social inequities.

Keywords:   Soviet Union, plutonium, consumption, security, nuclear, urban planning, Gulag, American, suburbs, segregation

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