Book Presentation: Elena Osokina’s Stalin’s Quest for Gold: The Torgsin Hard-Currency Shops and Soviet Industrialization

CRRC, ARISC and American Councils are pleased to announce the 9th talk of the Spring 2023 Tbilisi Works-in-Progress series! 

The talk will take place in hybrid format in-person at CRRC Georgia and online through Zoom: 

Book Presentation: Elena Osokina’s Stalin’s Quest for Gold: The Torgsin Hard-Currency Shops and Soviet Industrialization 

Elena Osokina, University of South Carolina 

Wednesday, May 10, 2023 at 18:30 Tbilisi time (10:30 EST)

CRRC Georgia, Liziko Kavtaradze St. 1 (and online) 

Stalin’s Quest for Gold tells the story of Torgsin, a chain of retail shops established in 1930 with the aim of raising the hard currency needed to finance the USSR’s ambitious industrialization program. At a time of desperate scarcity, Torgsin had access to the country’s best foodstuffs and goods. Initially, only foreigners were allowed to shop in Torgsin, but the acute demand for hard-currency revenues forced Stalin to open Torgsin to Soviet citizens who could exchange tsarist gold coins and objects made of precious metals and gemstones, as well as foreign monies, for foods and goods in its shops. 

Through her analysis of the large-scale, state-run entrepreneurship represented by Torgsin, Elena Osokina highlights the complexity and contradictions of Stalinism. Driven by the state’s hunger for gold and the people’s starvation, Torgsin rejected Marxist postulates of the socialist political economy: the notorious class approach and the state hard-currency monopoly. In its pursuit for gold, Torgsin advertised in the capitalist West, encouraging foreigners to purchase goods for their relatives in the USSR; and its seaport shops and restaurants operated semilegally as brothels, inducing foreign sailors to spend hard currency for Soviet industrialization. Examining Torgsin from multiple perspectives—economic expediency, state and police surveillance, consumerism, even interior design and personnel—Stalin’s Quest for Gold radically transforms the stereotypical view of the Soviet economy and enriches our understanding of everyday life in Stalin’s Russia. 

Elena A. Osokina is Professor of Russian History at the University of South Carolina. She has authored 5 books published in Russian, English, Italian and Chinese, and numerous articles published in the major journals in Russia, USA, Canada, France, Germany, Finland, and Italy. More specifically her research focuses on the impact that the Soviet industrialization of the 1930s had on everyday life, social hierarchy, transformation of the economy, and the nature of Stalinism. She is the recipient of book prizes and the prestigious fellowships from Canada, France, Germany, USA, and Finland. 

Works-in-Progress is an ongoing academic discussion series based in Tbilisi, Georgia, that takes place office of CRRC at Liziko Kavtaradze St. 1 and online. It is co-organized by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS, and the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC). All of the talks are free and open to the public. 

In observation of the spirit of the Chatham House Rule, the talks will not be recorded, and we courteously request that the other participants refrain from recording and/or distributing recordings as well. The opinions expressed in WiP talks are those of the speakers alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC, ARISC or of American Councils.