Before taking this class I had no idea that a concept such as the “socialist city” existed. For an economic and political ideology to be imprinted upon the characteristics of the city seemed rather unattainable. However, to the citizens of the Soviet state, creating a socialist city was a dream they had always longed for. The exact meaning and image of a true socialist utopian city, however, varied and was often disagreed upon. The implementation of these grand ideas of a vague conception of the socialist city also faltered and often differed drastically from the plans that the Soviets held so dearly. Yet, the dream prevailed. The reality on the ground may have hardly reflected that of the grand plans, but the belief that things will eventually get better remained. These socialist cities continued to invite new citizens who began to see those cities as their new homes.
Andrew Day defines the socialist city as one “whose rational layout, modern infrastructure, and well-designed buildings would make it an efficient productive and administrative center; whose well-appointed apartment houses, parks, and cultural facilities would make it a pleasant place to live; and whose appearance would be so magnificent as to convince visits and residents of the power and historical progressive nature the Soviet Project.” Nowa Huta was one of those grand Soviet projects whose architects aimed to make it a modern socialist state in the outskirts of Krakow. Its mere location was a testament to the contrast that is to be drawn between the past of semi-feudalism in Poland and the future of equality and opportunity in the modern socialist state. Much like Magnitorsk, Nowa Huta was to be a symbol of modernity and socialist power. For the Poles, however, it would also be a symbol of reconstruction after the devastation of the Second World War.
The majority of Nowa Huta’s population were polish youth who often escaped their village lives in search of a better future. Katherine Lebow mentions the story of a young man named Chmieliński who embarked upon such journey and found a new home in Nowa Huta. He had been taken in as a slave laborer during the war by the Nazis, and upon his return found that his family’s farm had been burnt to the ground. He found himself forced to work as a herdsman for other polish farmers who he often equated with his German slavers. Nowa Huta then represented a chance of renewal for him as it did many of his peers. Lebow uses Chmieliñski’s story to prove that there was no desire for normalcy or no option of normalcy after the war. Reconstruction did not mean a return to the previous conditions that plagued Polish society— often that return was not possible— rather, it meant a break from the past, an establishment of a new vision, and a new hope for the future. Nowa Huta was to represent this vision for the Polish proletariat.
Those who arrived in Nowa Huta in the midst of its construction were often as disappointed as those who arrived in Magnitorisk were to see nothing but fields and peasant huts. Their vision of a socialist city did not match up to the reality of Nowa Huta under construction. The city was filled with mud that was a result of a lack of planning; the housing units often lacked the hygiene and order that is characteristic of socialist city, and theft was rampant. Nowa Huta seemed to resemble less and less the ideal vision of a socialist society. And yet, people remained. They saw themselves as an integral part of this soviet project. They took pride in their work, and in the buildings they helped erect. The women of Nowa Huta took particular pride in the work that they did that often matched that of the men’s. Nowa Huta may have not been the ideal socialist city, but it did seem to have succeeded in creating the ideal socialist subject.
We often think of the Soviet System as one that imposed ideals and ideas to the soviet subject without their approval and often with their dissatisfaction of the system. The Soviets, however, did not rule with a blind eye and a magic wand. The citizens of the Soviet Union seemed to believe in the mission to create a socialist state. They hoped for the advancement and the renewal that the Soviet Union promised. No matter how bad conditions were, they continued to work for the hope that things would get better. For the simple proletariat, socialism meant the realization of that hope. These cities could not have been sustained from a mere command; they were built by people who believed in them and who wanted to witness their success.