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Capitalism and Socialism in Russia
Concept Formation and the (Post-)Soviet Experience


The year 2021 marks the anniversary of two pivotal junctures in Russian and Soviet history – the 30th anniversary of the Soviet collapse and the 100th anniversary of the New Economic Policy (NEP). While the first stands for the downfall of socialism, the unravelling of the planned economy and the attempt to make Russia capitalist again, the introduction of NEP represented the first, albeit temporary and gradual, opening of a state-socialist order to capitalist elements. The Soviet and post-Soviet experience of capitalism and socialism speaks to vibrant debates in the humanities and social sciences, where both categories remain foundational to much of Political Economy, Historical Sociology and Political Theory. Recently, the social and economic consequences of the financial crisis of 2007-9 or the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 have given new currency to critiques of capitalism, bringing back the contested concepts of capitalism and socialism into the scholarly – and public – debate.

Our workshop proposes to analyse the contestation of capitalism and socialism through the prism of Russian and Soviet history, to enrich the scholarly debate about the historically diverse formation of the two concepts. The history of the Soviet Union, which, after all, promised nothing less than the “negation of capitalism” (S. Kotkin), encapsulates the violent and transformative power of this contestation like no other, offering ample ground to investigate associated conceptual and empirical questions. The workshop aims to provide an interdisciplinary venue to examine the contexts and mechanisms of capitalism and socialism in the Russian case and discuss the contestations between them throughout transformative episodes in the history of Soviet and post-Soviet Russia.

Our workshop departs from the methodological premise that the concepts socialism and capitalism, at once categories of analysis and categories of practice (Bourdieu), can only meaningfully be employed if understood in their geographic and historical particularity. Therefore, the workshop proposes to conceive of capitalism and socialism as processual categories rather than ideal types. In viewing the concepts through the prism of Soviet and post-Soviet Russian history, we seek to subject them to a critical, historically informed and interdisciplinary revision. In particular, we are looking for contributions discussing the following topics and their implications for concept formation:

I) The Soviet Union pursued an alternative socio-economic order to capitalism arguably more radically than any other power before. Its early years – e.g. War Communism, New Economic Policy (NEP) and the “Great Break” (1917-1934) – invite inquiries into the relationship between capitalism – as a social formation coordinated via decentralized markets – and the centralizing impetus of socialism in the name of the exploited and oppressed.
II) Conversely, the political and social transformation of 1985-1993 can be interpreted as a radical negation of socialism – an attempt to re-create a capitalist system. However, the form in which this attempt actually built capitalism in post-Soviet Russia and the specific social and power relations that have emerged from this transformation remain subject to heated debate.
III) Finally, the Soviet experience remains a discursive resource both in the politics and scholarship on post-Soviet Russia as well as in contemporary processes of deliberation in various arenas of global governance, such as international organisations, national party politics and transnational NGO networks.
To discuss these and related issues, we invite scholars from the fields of sociology, history, political science, cultural studies, economics and the bridging disciplines of political economy and historical sociology, to participate in an interdisciplinary dialogue.

We plan to publish selected contributions to the workshop in a special issue in a peer-reviewed journal or an edited volume with an internationally renowned publisher.
We have applied for funding of the workshop by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung. In case of a grant approval, the organisers will cover all basic expenses, including travel, accommodation, transfers, and meals.


Listed below you will find the scheduled program:


Wednesday, September 22 

15.30-16.00 (BER) | 16.30-17.00 (MSK) | 09.30-10.00 (NY) | 06.30-07.00 (LA) 

Opening Remarks 

Katharina Bluhm (FU Berlin)
Friedrich Asschenfeldt (Princeton University) 

Sebastian Hoppe (FU Berlin) 

16.00-17.00 (BER) | 17.00-18.00 (MSK) | 10.00-11.00 (NY) | 07.00-08.00 (LA)

The Emergence of Soviet Socialism and its Spread

From Ludendorff to Lenin? The First World War and the Origins of Economic Planning 

Max Trecker (GWZO Leipzig) 

Friedrich Asschenfeldt (Princeton University) 

Comrades or Entrepreneurs? A History of Sino-Soviet Joint-Stock Companies in Xinjiang, 1950-1955 

Xiao Sun (Princeton University) 

17.00-17.15 (BER) | 18.00-18.15 (MSK) | 11.00-11.15 (NY) | 08.00-08.15 (LA) 

Coffee chat (breakout sessions) 

17.15-18.15 (BER) | 18.15-19.15 (MSK) | 11.15-12.15 (NY) | 08.15-09.15 (LA) 

Global Governance of Soviet Socialism 

The Soviet Management of Infectious Diseases in the Brezhnev Era. Contradictions Between Local Economic Reforms and the International Advancement of Universal Healthcare in the 1970s and 1980s 

Zuleykha Mail Zada (LMU Munich) 

Soviet “Socialism” vs. Turkish “Capitalism”? Conceptualizing the Environmental History of the Black Sea in the 1960s-1980s 

Taylor Zajicek (Princeton University) 


Thursday, September 23 

16.15-17.15 (BER) | 17.15-18.15 (MSK) | 10.15-11.15 (NY) | 07.15-08.15 (LA) 

Is Post-Soviet Russia Capitalist? 

Before or After Capitalism? Russia’s Non-Transformative Developmentalism and the Political Economy of Rent 

Sebastian Hoppe (FU Berlin) 

Is State Intervention Compatible with Capitalism? Dilemmas of Industrial Policy in Post- Soviet Russia 

Ewa Dąbrowska (SCRIPTS, FU Berlin) 

17.15-17.30 (BER) | 18.15-18.30 (MSK) | 11.15-11.30 (NY) | 08.15-08.30 (LA) 

Coffee chat (breakout sessions) 

17.30-19.00 (BER) | 18.30-20.00 (MSK) | 11.30-13.00 (NY) | 08.30-10.00 (LA) 

Reforming Socialism? 

The Road from Snake Hill. The Genesis of Russian Neoliberalism 

Tobias Rupprecht (SCRIPTS, FU Berlin) 

A Prosopographical Perspective on Economic Policies in the late 1980s and 1990s 

Olessia Kyrchyk (HSE Moscow) 

Soviet Capitalist Bankers on the Financial Front of Cold Wars: Trajectories and Practices, 1985-2014 

Sophie Lambroscini (Centre Marc Bloch, Berlin) 

19.00-19.15 (BER) | 20.00-20.15 (MSK) | 13.00-13.15 (NY) | 10.00-10.15 (LA) 

Coffee chat (breakout sessions) 

19.15-20.15 (BER) | 20.15-21.15 (MSK) | 13.15-14.15 (NY) | 10.15-11.15 (LA) 

Soviet Socialism and the Political Economy of the Cold War

Cold War As Political Economy. The Origins of Super Power Stagflation 

Yakov Feygin (Berggruen Institute, Los Angeles) Tim Barker (Harvard University) 


Friday, September 24 

14.00-15.30 (BER) | 15.00-16.30 (MSK) | 08.00-09.30 (NY) | 05.00-06.30 (LA) 

Perestroika’s Conceptual Discontents 

Introduction of Capitalism or Development of Socialism? Discussions of the Private Enterprise and Social Justice in the Soviet Union during Perestroika (1986-1991) 

Anna Ivanova (Harvard University) 

The Demise of the Soviet Union. Controversies and Significance for Pro-Market Theories of Development 

Mihai Varga (FU Berlin) 

Manus Manum Lavat: The Privatization Campaign “Loans-for-Shares” in Russia 1995/96 

Boris Ginzburg (FU Berlin) 

15.30-15.45 (BER) | 16.30-16.45 (MSK) | 09.30-09.45 (NY) | 06.30-06.45 (LA) 

Coffee chat (breakout sessions) 

15.45-16.45 (BER) | 16.45-17.45 (MSK) | 09.45-10.45 (NY) | 06.45-07.45 (LA) 

Ideas and Russian State Capitalism

Russia’s Contemporary State Capitalism in National-Conservative Thinking 

Katharina Bluhm (FU Berlin) 

Making Sense of the Past, Imagining the Future: Authoritarian Developmentalism and the Role of Ideas in Russian Economic Policy Making 

Vera Rogova (PRI Frankfurt/Main) 

16.45-17.15 (BER) | 17.45-18.15 (MSK) | 10.45-11.15 (NY) | 07.45-08.15 (LA) 

Concluding Remarks & Publication Plan 

Katharina Bluhm (FU Berlin)

Friedrich Asschenfeldt (Princeton University) Sebastian Hoppe (FU Berlin) 


If you have further questions, please contact the organisers of the event:
Sebastian Hoppe (Aktivieren Sie JavaScript, um diesen Inhalt anzuzeigen.) and
Friedrich Asschenfeldt (Aktivieren Sie JavaScript, um diesen Inhalt anzuzeigen.)