‘Experiment on Ourselves:’ Collective housing, Self-Help Construction and Self-Management in Youth Residential Complex (MZhK) Housing Movement in the Late-Soviet Russia, 1969-1992

Speaker: Nikolay Erofeev, Faculty of History, University of Oxford
Convenors: Nicolette Makovicky, Oxford School of Global and Area Studies (OSGA), Dace Dzenovska, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography (SAME)

In the Soviet era, a long-lasting idea of housing with collective services was implemented in various forms, starting from widely discussed but rarely actually constructed constructivist ‘house-communes’ (doma-kommuny) of the 1920s. This paper focuses on the less known late-Soviet realisations of a collective housing project, in the case of ‘Youth Residential Complexes’ (MZhKs). Starting in 1969, this project was declared as an experiment, in which residents had to participate in the process of design, organisation, and management of their ‘housing complexes.’ Candidates for residency also had to work on the construction site for several years, building housing with their labour, earning in such a way, the right to live in it. The paper traces the story of the project from early experiments to the very end of the Soviet times, when it became a mass movement, with more than 700 housing estates constructed across the USSR. Based on the case of a housing complex in Ekaterinburg (1977–1982), the paper analyses both practical motives of grass-roots organisation and an ideological side of the project, looking how official narratives of communal housing and visions of emancipation were re-interpreted and re-articulated by the residents. With the examples of housing complexes, actually-functioning in post-socialist time and even today, the paper seeks to produce a picture not only of how socialism projected housing utopias but also of what it actually achieved.