On heterochrony: birthday gifts to Stalin, 1949


Department of Social Anthropology, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RF, UK. ns267@cam.ac.uk


Gift relations have been traditionally theorized as antinomial to modernity or, within modernity, in the spheres of the personal relations and ideologies of altruism which dwell on the contrast with commodity and often cast themselves as residual, ‘traditional’ domains. This article explores claims to modernity that were made by public gift-giving to a modern head of state. It examines birthday gifts to the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin that he received from both his Soviet subjects and international leaders and movements and that were put on public display in 1949-53 in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. This article interprets gift-giving to Stalin as a dramatic example of socialist intervention in the modernist temporality, and it theorizes the notions of time that were culturally constructed through the socialist state gift economy. This article reflects part of an ongoing research project on gift-giving to Soviet leaders. It is based on fieldwork, oral-historical and archival research with designers, artisans, and ordinary citizens who were involved in the production of the gift items, as well as with curators and other specialists involved in this exhibition and in preservation of these gifts in different Russian state museums.