There’s an age-old saying, ’Pepsi Or Coke’, the perfect paradox for many today of my generation who view most soft drinks best served as a ‘mixer’ with their preferred poison. If you were a citizen of the Soviet Union, however, Pepsi would have almost certainly been you preferred beverage. Coca Cola managed to wriggle into the soft drinks market of the USSR thanks to prying an opportunity from the Summer 1980 Olympic Games. The USA had chosen to boycott these Games because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but by 1986, ‘Pepsi or Coke’ had become just as – if not more so – synonymous with the Soviet Union as it was with the capitalist United States of America.

In 1959, at the American National Exhibition (ANEM), then Vice-President Richard Nixon and Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev exchanged arguments for why their respected cultures were superior to the others’. A most remarkable moment occurred when Pepsi executive Donald McIntosh Kendall offered Khrushchev a drink of Pespi.[1] Subsequently, an agreement between Pepsi-Co and the Soviet Beverage Industry for a ten-year contract where Pepsi-Cola would sell Pepsi concentrate in the U.S.S.R, with contracting a German subsidiary supplier and retention of quality control. The exchange would be Soviet Stolichnaya and Sovertksaya vodkas being marketed in America and the West.[2] The combination of events at ANEM emphasized two fundamental issues: The USSR was not totally ‘cut-off’ from the West, even at its zenith; and that ‘consumerism’ could form a transnational connection that dwarfed the extant ideological boundaries. I am weary about how I use ‘consumerism’ as a noun, it is important not to construe the Soviet Union to be a consumer society as the American model promotes[3], ignoring a fundamental of the bipolar contest. There are several key methodological considerations: the role of transnational ‘actors’ such as corporations and politicians in building boundaries; and the ways in which ‘transactions’ weave transnational networks. Akira Iriye’s editorial monograph, Global Interdependence: The World after 1945, is one of the foundational texts I wish to use to expand my theoretical considerations, particularly in an analysis of ‘cultural homogenization’ versus ‘cultural heterogenization’.

I will analyse the ‘transnational’ connections through the transactions that occurred between the USSR and USA between 1959 and 1986, exploring the commodities that have become synonymous with modern-day capitalist mass-consumption. I will argue that these transactions succeeded where intellectual and institutional theories of history – including but not limited to Modernization Theory – ultimately failed in dismantling Communism. My outlying hypothesis shall focus on dismantling the arbitrary Cold-War ideological dichotomy, instead arguing that ‘consumerism’ was the key to building truly transnational networks through ‘transactions’. This shall offer a chance to look at both the invisible and visible boundaries that existed between the USSR and USA. Modernization Theory pitted ‘modern’ against ‘traditional’ societies, its deconstruction by the mid-1970s heralded the rise of a new modern totality, a ‘global consumerism’. I will build my analysis through primary-source memoirs – including Khrushchev on Khrushchev – and a Micro-Spatial approach, following the three ways of evaluating artefacts within a global narrative of global history from De Vito and Gerritsen: cultural connections; internal synthetic global nuances and continuities; and objects as global images. I fully believe in their assertion that these approaches have potential to ‘bring together material and symbolic connections, and circulations at various spatial scopes.’[4] I hope to argue that the same is true for the consumer culture that developed between the USA and USSR from 1959 to 1986, building a global consumerism and a successful proponent of modernity where historical theory had thus far failed.

Word Count: 692

[1] Kirkpatrick, Tim, ‘How Pepsi briefly became the 6th largest military in the world’, Business Insider, (July 26, 2018), Accessed: 25/02/20

[2] Keeffe, Arthur-John, ‘Of Soft Drinks and Human Rights’, American Bar Association Journal, vol60:1 (January, 1974), pp111-113, p112

[3] Reid, Susan E., ‘Cold War in the Kitchen: Gender and the De-Stalinization of Consumer Taste in the Soviet Union under Khrushchev’, Slavic Review, vol61:2 (Summer, 2002) , p215

[4] De Vito, Christian G., Gerritsen, Anne, ‘Micro-Spatial Histories of Labour: Towards a New Global History’, in Christian G. De Vito and Anne Gerritsen (eds) Micro-Spatial Histories of Global Labour (Cham, 2018), p10

Pepsi or Vodka?: An analysis of transnational transactions and the creation of a ‘global consumerism’
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One thought on “Pepsi or Vodka?: An analysis of transnational transactions and the creation of a ‘global consumerism’

  • March 6, 2020 at 3:47 pm

    This is very interesting. I think as part of your discourse on the effects of consumer transactions undermining communism, a discussion of their recapitulation in culture might be effective. For example the effects of the show Dallas upon Ceacescu’s Romania when it was imported.

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