In 1957, the leadership of the Soviet Union made one of the more remarkable political promises of post-war European history. The major decree on housing of 31 July 1957 contained the commitment to end the housing shortage within a maximum of twelve years, and possibly ten.2 What is more, the Soviet leadership really tried to keep its promise. It would fail: the housing shortage remained endemic throughout Soviet history.3 Yet by the end of the Khrushchev era, a first-rank social reform, which gave Soviet citizens the right to expect better housing conditions within the foreseeable future, was well underway. In this chapter, I argue that citizens’ rights were a crucial means of structuring the Soviet urban housing economy during the Khrushchev era, in contradistinction to what had gone before, and that these rights are particularly well illuminated by two other imperatives integral to the promise of 1957: rationality and the communist future. The rational imperative established systematic and non-arbitrary mechanisms for delivering the housing programme, appealed to the enlightened self-interest of citizens and measured success with reference to material goals, mostly of newly constructed square metres. By contrast, the focus on the communist future sought to foster communal structures, a community-minded and mobilized population, and, overall, a means of using housing to re-craft citizens’ proto-communist consciousness. All of these three concepts – rights, rationality and the communist future –

were highly relative and particular. Rights only extended to some areas of Soviet life, and were far from a universal and logically integrated system, in theory or practice. They certainly lacked the much fuller and more coherent quality that rights in Western polities possessed at the same time. Rationality could only ever be partial, given the insoluble paradoxes of postStalinist trauma, and the ongoing irrationalities of patron-client relations and central planning. The communist future, meanwhile, bore all the weight of utopian impossibility. Yet these three concepts were core ingredients of Khrushchev’s 1957 promise, and of the urban housing economy generally during that era. Analysing them on their own historical terms is one of the most useful routes towards an explanation of what this extraordinary promise was all about.