Self-Made Boats and Social Self-Management. The Late-Soviet Ethics of Mutual Aid
This article begins with the heroic stories former Leningrad residents tell about making their own outdoor-tourist gear out of illicitly obtained industrial materials. Reading these stories not as evidence of illicit circulation, but as expressions of ethical claims, I show that they are united by common assumptions of goodness, and argue that these assumptions cannot be understood through analytic frameworks concerned with private, acquisitive interest. Instead, I argue that they must be understood in terms of the “personal:” an idiosyncratic Soviet property regime that was not opposed to, but co-constitutive of, socialist property. Analyzing 1960s political statements, juridical arguments and media texts, I show that the 1961 Third Party Program reforms extended the juridical logic of personal property to personal ethical realms. Specifically, the Program demanded that people place their ethical obligations – to strive for the overall greater good – above their formal obligations to follow letter of the law. By framing necessary but unplanned transactions in the a-legal terms of “mutual aid,” this ethical stance helped the economy appear functional despite its endemic circulation problems.