The World’s Largest Airline: How Aeroflot Learned to Stop Worrying and Became a Corporation

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Steven E. Harris


Similar to sex, the Soviet Union did not have corporations. The famous utterance from the Gorbachev era about a sexless Soviet existence suggests how we might approach what happened to the corporation in Soviet history. Like explicit sex in Soviet culture, the workers’ state formally eradicated the dreaded incorporated bodies of capitalism and gave them no quarter in subsequent ideological battles. But just like sex, the behaviors and practices of corporations kept cropping up in the oddest places to help sustain the Soviet economy, while the West remained a source of inspiration for new ways to do it. To examine the corporation in the Soviet era, this article explores Aeroflot and the routes it shared with Pan American World Airways between the United States and Soviet Union in the late 1960s and 1970s. I argue that operating in the US market allowed Aeroflot to learn how to become a corporation well before the Gorbachev era and the collapse of the USSR. Aeroflot’s adaptations of corporate practices bolstered rather than threatened the airline and the Soviet political economy. In addition, I show how the airline relied not just on Pan Am but also on a network of American businesses and individuals, including émigrés from Russia, to acculturate itself to corporate practices. What Aeroflot’s example suggests, I argue, is that Soviet enterprises could become corporations in all but name beyond Soviet borders and that their models for doing so were not prerevolutionary Russian corporations but Western corporations of the postwar era. This article also demonstrates the ways corporations and state socialist enterprises shaped the Cold War, as well as what closer attention to them can reveal about how the superpower conflict ended.

Article in English

DOI: 10.25285/2078-1938-2021-13-1-20-56


Aeroflot, Pan Am, Cold War, Commercial Aviation, Advertisements, Corporation

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