One never ceases to be staggered by the lengths to which the Soviet Union went to in order to oppress its citizenry.
In the decades following the 1917 Russian Revolution, among myriad other indignities heaped upon the Russian populace, Soviet leaders embarked upon a concerted effort to root out, of all things, individual kitchens.
Soviet authorities considered kitchens and private apartments a threat to the regime because they were places people could gather to talk about politics, according to National Public Radio.
The kitchen represented something bourgeois, said Alexander Genis, a Russian writer and radio journalist.
“Every family, as long as they have a kitchen, they have some part of their private life and private property,” he said.
The effort to eliminate private kitchens was facilitated by the rapid urbanization that took place in the Soviet Union following the end of World War I, due in no small part to Soviet policy, according to the blog Russian Tumble:
“The demand for industrial workers in the cities exploded with the forced industrialization of the Five-Year Plans, while simultaneously the pressures of forced collectivization of agriculture, and its attendant chaos, violence and famine, gave those living in the vastness that was rural Russia all to more reason to move to the city.”
In addition, the Soviet Union, with its state-managed economy, offered no incentive for providing adequate housing or the amenities of life.
So, as millions moved from the countryside into Moscow, authorities crammed them into residences that had belonged to the rich and privileged prior to the revolution.
The allotment was less than 100 square feet per person, according to NPR. That’s the equivalent of a space smaller than 10 feet by 10 feet per individual.
The tight quarters served two purposes: It purportedly helped alleviate the housing crunch and definitely served the Soviets’ goal of having citizens keep tabs on one another.
“Communal kitchens were not places where you would bring your friends. I think that was one of the ideas for creating a communal kitchen,” said Edward Shenderovich, a venture capital investor and Russian poet. “There would be a watchful eye of society over every communal apartment. People would report on each other. You would never know who would be reporting.”
The scene painted by NPR of life in communal apartments shows clearly the dreary, bleak routine of Soviet life.
“… seven or more families crammed together where there had been one, sharing one kitchen and one bathroom. They were crowded; stove space and food were limited. Clotheslines were strewn across the kitchen, the laundry of one family dripping into the omelet of another.”
Gregory “Grisha” Freidin, professor of Russian literature at Stanford University, told NPR of growing up in a communal apartment of 10 families about five blocks from the Kremlin in the 1940s.
“On one side of my room was the man who washed corpses at the local morgue,” he said. “There were two rooms where the mother and father served in the KGB. Then there was the woman whose husband was serving a sentence for stealing bread from the bread factory where he worked.”
(Top: Photograph of Soviet communal kitchen.)