Tips, Bonuses, or Bribes: The Immoral Economy of Service Work in the Soviet 1960s

Diane P. Koenker, Benjamin Bamberger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article focuses on the role of the service sector in the planned economy during the 1960s, a period of transition in Soviet consumer culture. In February 1969, Literaturnaia gazeta published a widely read article on the utility of tipping service workers, arguing that such practices were not incompatible with communist morality. Readers strongly disagreed, and wrote hundreds of passionate letters in response to the editor of the newspaper. Utilizing these letters in combination with archival sources from service sector trade unions, we argue that the responses illustrate some of the fundamental tensions between a society that celebrated productive labor yet promised consumer satisfaction. Soviet citizens expected courteous and efficient service from waiters, taxi drivers, and salesclerks but refused to see such labor as equal to that of workers in factories, instead gendering the service sector as a place for women and thus innately inferior. The Soviet public continued to believe in the rightness of the socialist project, but was uncertain about the contradictions between personal consumption and collective values.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)246-268
Number of pages23
JournalRussian Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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