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Response to Review no. 988

I would like to thank Christine Varga-Harris for her comprehensive, review of my book, which I found very fair. She has correctly identified two major omissions in my secondary source material – Deborah Field’s Private Life and Communist Morality in Khrushchev’s Russia, and Lewis Siegelbaum’s edited collection Borders of Socialism – for which I have no excuse, other than the usual pressure of time which forced a final sprint towards the publisher’s finishing line. Varga-Harris has also pointed, very helpfully, to a number of topics which I either skated over or failed to address, but which would be worthy of further research: the private employment of nannies, the sexual harassment of single women in communal housing, the housing conditions of destitute people such as prostitutes and female domestic servants in the post-Civil War period, the Stalinist repression of aristocratic women who had been legitimate landladies in the NEP era, and the impact on the home of the state surveillance of dissidents during the 1960s and 1970s. These would all make fascinating research projects in their own right, either for myself or for other scholars working on housing.

There is only one point with which I would take issue. Varga-Harris holds that communal housing continued to be the ideal in the Stalin era, and that the first major shift in housing policy since the Revolution occurred in 1957 with Khrushchev’s programme to provide all Soviet families with their own apartments. This is not the case. While communal living in the form of communal apartments, hostels and barracks continued to charactise urban housing throughout the Stalin years, it had already ceased to be the ideal by the end of the first Five Year Plan. As I explain in the book, from 1932 the individual family apartment was back in favour, even though it was only the emergent political and industrial elite which was actually able to live in one. With the growth in the urban population exceeding all expectations, the possibility of ordinary workers being assigned their own apartments was a utopian dream. Yet the ideological shift to single-family housing was a clear change in housing policy, and was celebrated as such in magazines and newspapers of that time. Hence the commitment to communal housing ended long before Khrushchev came to power, though little had been done to bring it to an end in reality. Here we find one of those gaping gaps between ideology and reality which are so prevalent in Soviet history.