Utopia Gone Terribly Right

Kate Brown

in Communism Unwrapped

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199827657
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199950461 | DOI:
Utopia Gone Terribly Right

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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

Chapter.  8862 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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