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Celebrating the Lives of Soviet Women: Tatyana Zaslavskaya

ZASLAVSKAYATatyana Ivanovna Zaslavskaya, author of the infamous April 1983 Novosibirsk Report, died recently in Moscow. Zaslavskaya was born in Kiev in 1927. After the Second World War, she studied physics and then economics at the Moscow State University, graduating in 1950. She then undertook postgraduate research at the Institute of Economics at the prestigious USSR Academy of Sciences. During the 1960s, Zaslavskaya worked in the prestigious academic community of Akademgorodok in Novosibirsk, where she studied in the Institute of Economics headed by Abel Aganbegyan.

Zaslavskaya’s primary research interest was the development of Soviet agriculture and she focused on the Altai region. She worked the system by persuading the censors who had denied her the possibility of publishing the statistics on levels of worker dissatisfaction by simply publishing the same materials reporting the lower levels of worker satisfaction. Her contribution to academia came through her analysis of agricultural problems using sociological methods, giving rise to the discipline of economic sociology.

Her contribution to politics, however, was to have a much more profound impact. In her restricted access Novosibirsk Report, originally presented at a closed conference, but leaked to the American press, Zaslavskaya argued that by 1983, the Soviet system of economic management had hardly changed over the course of the previous fifty years and had now outlived its usefulness. The Soviet system, she argued, was failing to make use of its labour potential and intellectual resources. She called for a move towards the decentralisation of economic administration and for an increased role of the market if the Soviet economy was to overcome its evident deficiencies. These principles provided the foundation for perestroika promoted by Gorbachev in the years that followed.

Zaslavskaya returned to Moscow during Gorbachev’s period of office in the late 1980s and ran one of the country’s first public opinion centres. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, she was encouraged by the pace of democratic reform to publish on the potential for a second socialist revolution, but her dreams were short lived. In the 1990s she was attached to what was to later become the Levada Centre, and by the beginning of the twenty-first century had given up on the idea of a socialist future for Russia. She died in Moscow on 23 August 2013.

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