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Artemy M. Kalinovsky, “Laboratory of Socialist Development: Cold War Politics and Decolonization in Soviet Tajikistan” (Cornell UP, 2018)

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Artemy Kalinovsky’s new book Laboratory of Socialist Development: Cold War Politics and Decolonization in Soviet Tajikistan (Cornell University Press, 2018) examines post war Soviet Tajikistan, situating Soviet industrial, educational, welfare and agricultural development projects within the broader historiography of post-colonial economic developmental projects in the Third World. The Soviet Union and the US, and later, the People’s Republic of China competed for allegiances in the developing world by offering advice and resources to post colonial leaders. The Soviet Union’s semi-colonial periphery proved to be a fertile testing ground for such large-scale development projects, which Kalinovsky compares to European colonial and post –colonial development projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Additionally, the local Tajik elites took advantage of the USSR’s interest in the Third World to argue for large-scale investment in development projects in primarily rural and agrarian Tajikistan. Like leaders of post-colonial states they too hoped that dam construction, industrialization and education would transform Tajikistan and make the Tajik people modern subjects. Soviet projects were not just designed to modernize the physical landscape but the people as well. The Russian concept of kul’turnost’ (culturedness), a concept that overlapped with many elements of European modernity, or specifically notions of European middle-class modernity, was imprinted in Tajik modernization campaigns as well. But, like other Soviet notions, it was surprisingly mutable, with local elites often creating their own definition of cultured behavior. Laboratory of Socialist Development grapples with how universal ideas were negotiated locally and ultimately reshaped.
Throughout the book Kalinovsky demonstrates how the modernizing paradigm changed as large-scale investment failed to yield the hoped for result for both European and Soviet modernizers, who sought to recreate European style modernity in the Third World and Central Asia but instead often wound up marginalizing indigenous communities and destroying livelihoods.  He offers comparisons with experiences in countries such as India, Iran, and Afghanistan, and considers the role of Soviet and Tajik intermediaries who went to those countries to spread the Soviet vision of modernity to the postcolonial world. Laboratory of Socialist Development provides the reader with a new way to think about the relationship between the Soviet, primarily Russian, center and its Turkic periphery as well as the interaction between Cold War politics and domestic development.

Samantha Lomb is an Assistant Professor at Vyatka State University in Kirov, Russia. Her research focuses on daily life, local politics and political participation in the Stalinist 1930s. Her book, Stalin’s Constitution: Soviet Participatory Politics and the Discussion of the Draft 1936 Constitution, is now available online. Her research can be viewed here. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit