The Sisyphean Opening of the First Soviet Canteens in the Urals: Successes and Failures (1918–1925)
The development of catering facilities in the Urals after the Revolution is a good vantage point to observe Soviet power in practice. Ideology was certainly not absent from the Bolshevik project: canteens were to play a major role in the new society. More particularly, they were to provide the liberation of women. However, their role should not be overestimated. It is often limited to the first lines of official discourses and documents. This article looks at practices of rule. The analysis is based on documents from regional archives (party and state archives) on the establishment of new catering facilities and the acquisition of the necessary resources. The article also considers the attitude of ordinary citizens to the new canteens, their preferences in choosing a place to eat, and society’s reaction to the Bolshevik policy of organising everyday life. It is possible to single out two attempts to establish a system of public canteens: immediately after the Bolshevik victory and at the beginning of the New Economic Policy. Both failed. Canteens and the communal way of dining they provided were not able to attract enough clients and customers. As in the majority of other European countries, workers and city dwellers preferred to eat at home rather than in cafeterias. The only thing that could attract them to such places was beer. Therefore, the canteens of the NEP were far from the initial ideological project. Activists in cooperatives and officials in the administration tried, however, to build and develop new catering facilities. The minutes of meetings and conferences demonstrate the real reasons behind such activities.
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