Capitalism vs Communism: Showdown in the Kitchen

During the summer of 1959, the American government sponsored an exhibition in Moscow, showcasing the great achievements of American capitalism by exhibiting consumer goods, from soda to dish washers. Although many of these gadgets, like those you can see in this advertisement by Whirlpool for their „Miracle Kitchen“, were not part of the average American household, they were supposed to highlight how a capitalist market would address its consumers needs. The exhibition also featured books and art from the United States as well as film shown on seven screens called “Glimpses of America“. The Soviet exchange exhibition, held in New York City, featured rockets and technologies that helped the Soviets beat the Americans in the space race. But of course the Soviets did realize that some of the good were outside of what the average American household could afford:

„The April 10, 1959 issue of Pravda magazine didn’t mince words when it ran the headline „Is This Typical?“ This was only the start of the Soviet propaganda offensive against what was seen as manipulation by the U.S. exhibit to depict a lifestyle far outside the means of the average American. The show hadn’t even started yet, but the magazine raised a valid point that would be repeated throughout the six weeks of the exhibit. The Americans were in many ways showing off the two things it sold best: consumer goods, and the future.“1

The American exhibition was also toured by Nixon and Khrushchev. Upon visiting a model suburban home, cut in half for visitors to stroll through, the two got in a fiery exchange. Their discussion on the merits of both economic system came to be known as the Kitchen Debate. It was recorded in color and broadcasted in the USSR and USA. Khrushchev claimed that within 7 years the Soviet Union will catch up to American standards and even surpass them while Nixon tried to promote an exchange of ideas.The video of the exchange is also available on YouTube.

The exhibition was planed and coordinated by the United States Information Agency (1953-1999) that carried out American cultural diplomacy efforts, from libraries to academic exchange programs and radio stations.

 

  1. Novak, Matt. „The All-American Expo That Invaded Cold War Russia.“ Paleofuture. 24-07-2014. Retrieved 30-10-2015. []

Helen May

Helen May was a research assistant at Max Weber Foundation, 2015-2016.

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