Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




Book Launch Roundtable. Gleaning for Communism
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Please join the Harriman Institute for a book launch round table discussion of Gleaning for Communism: The Soviet Socialist Household in Theory and Practice. The author, Xenia Cherkaev, will be joined by Yana Skorobogatov (Columbia) and Anne O’Donnell (NYU) in a discussion moderated by Adam Leeds (Columbia). Gleaning for Communism is a historical ethnography of the institution of “socialist property.” It tells a radically new story of how the Soviet system functioned and why it failed. Mediating between today’s popular narratives of “Soviet times” and the ownership categories of Soviet civil law, this book shows the Soviet Union as an explicitly illiberal modern project, reliant in theory and fact on collectivist ethics. Its narrative begins in the 2010s, with former Leningrad residents’ stories of gleaning industrial scrap from worksites. Placing these stories in conversation with Soviet legal theories of property and with economic, political and social history, the book shows the Soviet Union as a “socialist household economy,” whose members were guaranteed “personal” rights to a commons of socialist property rather than private possessions. Tracing the development of such “personal” rights though three historically significant turns – during the 1930s, 1960s and 1980s – it shows how the Soviet project unfolded in dialogue with contemporaneous neoliberal thought in one overarching debate about the possibility of a collectivist modern life.


Xenia Cherkaev holds a PhD in Anthropology from Columbia University and is currently a visiting scholar at the Humboldt University of Berlin. She writes about non-market modernity, present-day Russia, Soviet socialist property law, and the problem of Russia’s legally “ownerless” dogs. Her texts have appeared in such venues as The American Historical Review, Anthropology and Humanism, Cahiers du monde russe, Environmental Humanities, and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.