Someone on Metafilter had linked to Real USSR, which offers essays and photos of Soviet material culture. It seems like a useful resource in imagining what a postconsumer (or non-consumer) society might look like. The Soviets apparently failed in achieving a positive example of such a society; its citizens, at least in Western representations, were hungrier than their non-Communist counterparts for branded goods and the world of status consumption from which they were by and large excluded. Their seemingly dismal lack of consumer goods was possibly the best propaganda weapon for the U.S. during the Cold War: Dowdy, nondescript proles standing in lines outside gray, barren Soviet distribution centers would be contrasted with the glitz of shopping malls and the endless opportunities for self-aggrandizement. Who wants to work for a collective goal when we can enjoy a solipsistic reverie in which all causes begin and end with ourselves?
Consumerism in Western society, at any rate, is strongly associated with atomistic individualism, offering the illusion of transcending social reciprocity for a higher convenience, in which pleasure is served directly to us through various purchases in well-stocked retail outlets. Pleasure is presumed to be a matter of accumulation—is constructed to be that sort of thing, a matter of developing the richest self through consuming and mastering the greatest amount of stuff. In Soviet culture, consumerism must have meant something else entirely, carving out a space for subjectivity—for an alternate currency of information, about goods and what they might signify—in an authoritarian state premised on surveillance and information control.