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Autor: anton 27 September 2010
Words: 1145 | Pages: 5
When one looks at the history of the USSR, one of the most important aspects to look at is the massive industrialization that took place under the Soviet regime. This industrialization, like so many other things, is a complicated issue, with many arguments circling around it. The process was marked both by tremendous progress and expansion, as well as gross inefficiency and waste.
To better understand the Soviet industrialization, it is necessary for us to briefly look at the history that preceded it. When the Bolsheviks came to power, they inherited a country with economic conditions that were far from favorable. It was a country devastated by World War I as well as the civil war that followed it. For all intents and purposes, one can say that the economy of the country was in ruins, and drastic steps were necessary in order to feed the hungry population, and for the country to survive.
To answer this problem, a New Economic Policy (NEP) was implemented. In essence, this policy went away from communist ideology to a large degree. It allowed farmers to go out and sell what they have produced, and brought in many elements of the free market. At the same time, the Soviet regime restored the industry which existed but was devastated by war.
To a large degree, this policy was successful. By 1920s, the USSR managed to reach industrial production levels of roughly 1913. (Suny 233) Furthermore, the population was no longer starving, and living conditions improved throughout the country. However, NEP also brought in several problems. One of them, in the eyes of the Soviet leadership, was that it naturally brought polarization into society, producing some rich and some poor peasants, whereas ideologically there were supposed to be no classes in the new society (Suny 171)
A more serious problem, however, was the fact that rapid industrial advance was incompatible with NEP. It was necessary to shift country's resources from agriculture towards the production of heavy industry. Instead of producing consumption goods, it was necessary to produce capital goods. (Suny 234)
The peasants, however, had little incentive to sell their product, since there were few things of use that they could get in return (since the economy concentrated on production of capital goods instead of consumption goods). This, naturally, brought tension between the city which had to be fed, and the peasants who would not give up or sell their product, unless compelled to do so by the state.(Suny 177)
Eventually, the ideas of NEP (which were planned as temporary measures to begin with), were scrapped. Peasants were forced into collective farms, and special units were sent into the countryside, to take away grain and other product from peasants by force. This often had devastating effects, because such units often took not only what was to be consumed, but also grain which was to be planted for further production., bringing the countryside (and eventually most of the country) to starvation.(Suny 222)
As the Soviet leadership embarked on rapid industrialization program, the Soviet government introduced a concept called the five-year plan, where impossibly high targets for production were set (not so much as real guidelines, but more as goals which were to stimulate maximum effort).(Suny 234)
New language and slogans entered society. Industrialization was made to look like a military effort, with its own "fronts" and victories (such as achieving certain production figures). (Suny 234)
A further example of the "militarizing" of economy and industrialization, was the fact that it was centralized and hierarchical in nature. Just like in an army, the people below were responsible first and foremost to those above. Moreover, coercion operated on all levels, which was especially important considering the fact that there were very few material rewards available for good work. (Suny 237)
To a large degree, this militarizing characterized the entire process of industrialization. In a sense, industrialization and the need to modernize was portrayed as a war for survival, which justified the need for many brutalities and losses (because after all, there are no wars without losses). Inefficiencies and breakdowns which resulted from bad economic policy, were blamed on "enemies of the people", and the leadership engaged in a witch-hunt for internal enemies, which included show-trials of educated workers and specialists, which naturally harmed the economy; until a more concilliatory line was adopted.(Suny 235-37)
The most important justification of the militarizing of economy and rapid industrialization, however, was the threat from external forces. For a variety of reasons, Russia traditionally suffered periods of lagging behind the West economically and technologically. When Bolsheviks came to power, the situation was no different, with Russia still being a predominantly agrarian country while the Western powers were industrialized by that time.(Suny 4) As such, in order to prevent invasion from the Western powers, it was argued that massive industrialization was needed in order to defend against them. In 1931, Stalin specifically addressed this point in a speech where he said: "It is sometimes asked whether it is not possible to slow down the tempo somewhat, to put a check on the movement. No, comrades, it is not possible! The tempo must not be reducedÐ’â€¦To slacken the tempo would mean falling behind. And those who fall behind get beaten."(Suny 235)
Such fears and arguments were not unfounded, when one looks at the history of Russia, and sees that it was indeed constantly in tense relations with its neighbours. Invasion of the Teutonic Knights in 13th century, invasion of Napoleon in 1812, wars with Poland, Turkish War, Crimean War, and World War I, are just a number of examples of such tensions.
In the end, although at a tremendous cost in human lives and ecological damage, the Soviet Union succeeded in industrializing itself. It was estimated by some that the USSR expanded its industry by at least 50% in five years and 80% in six. The annual rate of industrial growth from 1928-1940 was on average 17%. Such numbers were unprecedent in Russia, and in fact the rest of the world as well. The Soviet Union managed to do in a decade, what other countries did in over half a century.(Suny 240)
When we look at the legacy of the Soviet industrialization, we must not forget to look at it through the harsh realities of that time. It must be remembered that industrialization was a painful process in all countries that experienced it. Moreover, with the benefit of hindsight, we can say that without industrialization, the Soviet Union would not have survived the invasion by Nazi Germany which took place in 1941. At the same time, however, one must not forget the excesses and unjustifiable policies which took place during the industrialization. In any case, however, regardless of whether one praises or condemns it, the industrialization will remain one of the most important chapters in the history of Russia and USSR.
Suny, Ronald Grigor. The Soviet Experiment.New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
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