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The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a place that really existed, but it is long dead.
By now, the word “Soviet” should be as meaningless as “Hapsburg”. Yet it endures, as in the wave of de-communisation in Ukraine or the strange idea that the capitalist government in Russia is “Communist”. But does the Soviet experience have anything to teach us today, or was it just an enormous cul-de-sac, a nuclear-armed reincarnation of the Russian Empire? This book tries to find out, through walking the towns and great cities of the USSR, in an itinerary that goes from the Baltic to Belarus, from Ukraine to the Urals, from the Caucasus to Central Asia, in places ranging from utopian colonies of the Twenties, to nuclear new towns of the Fifties, to gleaming new capitals of the twenty-first century.
Travelling across eleven of the fifteen countries that once made up the Soviet Union, this book searches for the remnants of revolutions both distant and recent. and for the continuities with the Communist idea. Instead of a wistful journey through ruins, this is a Marxist Humanist account of how cities and their inhabitants have tried to cope both with the end of a socialist dream and the failure of capitalism to fulfill its own promises. In this patchwork of EU democracies, neoliberal dictatorships and Soviet nostalgic enclaves (often found in the same countries) we might just find the outlines of a way of building and living in cities that is a powerful alternative, both in the past and present.
"Daffodils for Wordsworth. Deprivation for Larkin. A trashed tower block surrounded by a toxic landscape pocked with rust-pitted Ladas in a forgotten oblast 2,000 miles from Moscow for Hatherley."
"An engrossing and beautifully written book. No one else writes so clearly yet with such elegiac intensity about the symbiosis that exists between history and the built environment, or the lives that are caught, mangled and realised in its midst."
"Reminds socialists, however momentarily, that if we keep fighting, our architecture may also tell the history of workers building, literally, the world they want for themselves."