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Military Industry Under Stalin

The Bolsheviks, who assumed power in late 1917, sought to mold a socialist society from the ruins of old tsarist Russia. This goal was both ambitious and vague; Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who developed the Marxist critique of existing societies, had provided no blueprints for specific economic policies and targets. Chaotic conditions produced by World War I and subsequent struggles during the Civil War (1918-21) made pursuit of coherent policies difficult in any case. The economic policies initially adopted by the regime were a mixture of principle and expedience.

Soon after seizing power, the Bolsheviks published decrees nationalizing the land, most industry (all enterprises employing more than five workers), foreign trade, and banking. At the same time, for tactical reasons, the government acquiesced in the peasants' seizure of land, but the new leaders considered the resulting fragmented parcels of privately owned land to be inefficient.

Beginning in 1918, the government made vigorous but somewhat haphazard efforts to shape and control the country's economy under a policy of War Communism. But in 1920, agricultural output had attained only half the pre-war level, foreign trade had virtually ceased, and industrial production had fallen to a small fraction of its pre-war quantity. Such factors as the disastrous harvest of 1920, major military actions and expenditures by the Red Army, and general wartime destruction and upheaval exacerbated the economy's problems.

In 1921 Vladimir I. Lenin called a temporary retreat from application of the ideological requirements of Marxism-Leninism. His New Economic Policy (NEP) permitted some private enterprise, especially in agriculture, light industry, services, and internal trade, to restore prewar economic strength. The nationalization of heavy industry, transportation, foreign trade, and banking that had occurred under war communism remained in effect.

The Plan for the Electrification of the R.S.F.S.R., the report of GOELRO (the State Commission for the Electrification of Russia) was presented to the Eighth Congress of Soviets, and published in December 1920. On 24 April 1920, GOELRO issued its Bulletin No. 1, containing a detailed program of works. Lenin proclaimed ""Communism is the Power of Soviets plus the electrification of the whole country". Electrification was to be for Lenin what railroads had been for Sergei Witte in the 1890s, a critical technology employed by state power to drive industrial growth. The resolution written by Lenin and accepted by the Congress expressed the confidence that the working people and peasants "will spare no effort and make all necessary sacrifices for the realisation of the GOELRO Plan in Russia at all costs and in spite of all obstacles". The GOELRO plan implementation ensured the national economy's industrialization. As a result the Soviet Union became a leading world power. Vladimir llyich Lenin died 21 January 1924.

In the late 1920s, Stalin abandoned NEP in favor of centralized planning, which was modeled on the project sponsored by Lenin in the early 1920s that had greatly increased the generation of electricity. Stalin sought to rapidly transform the Soviet Union from a predominantly agricultural country into a modern industrial power. He and other leaders argued that by becoming a strong centrally planned industrial power, the country could protect itself militarily from hostile outside intervention and economically from the booms and slumps characteristic of capitalism.

To some extent, Stalin chose to advocate accelerated economic development at this point as a political maneuver to eliminate rivals within the party. Because Bukharin and some other party members would not give up the gradualistic NEP in favor of radical development, Stalin branded them as "right-wing deviationists" and used the party organization to remove them from influential positions in 1929 and 1930. Yet Stalin's break with NEP also revealed that his doctrine of building "socialism in one country" paralleled the line that Trotsky had originally supported early in the 1920s.

By the late 1930s ministerial hierarchies were typically much shallower than in the early 1930s, with no more than one or atmost two levels intervening between the minister and the factory in place of three oreven four in the earlier years.

Growing ministerial fragmentation often gave greater weight to the coordinating bodies that stood above ministers. One response to the rapid subdivisions of the late 1930s was the expansion of the apparatus of the Sovnarkom Economic Council in 1940 into six mini-councils, one of them for the defense industry, each charged with oversight of one of the major branches of the economy. Thus, reducing bureaucracy in the ministries tended to result in more bureaucracy above them.

After the Great Patriotic War the titles of some engineering ministries ceased to mean what they said: “medium engineering” meant uranium and plutonium processing, nuclear power and nuclear bombs; “transport engineering” meant armored vehicles; “agricultural engineering” included short-range missiles as well as tractors and combine harvesters.

The economic victory of the Soviet Union over Fascist Germany in the Great Patriotic War was not accidental. The sources of this victory are rooted in the advantages of socialist economics and the Soviet governmental structure, in the leadership of the Party and the industrious heroism of the toilers of the rear. The measures taken by the Party and government on the eve of the war played an important role in this. The defense industry which was created in the prewar years provided the armed forces of the country with modern combat equipment.

Not one of the bourgeois countries escaped blunders and mistakes in preparing armament for their armies on the eve of the Great Patriotic War. The Soviet Union also had miscalculations and errors, but they were not of such a deeply catastrophic nature as in Hitler's Germany, militarist Japan, and their satellites.

At the end of the Great Patriotic War, while the western nations demobilized to a great extent, not only did the Russians not demobilize but they embarked on a major program of research and development and an all-out strengthening of their armed forces. Soviet military research and development continued to take precedent even over the most modest peacetime requirements. The technological and economic development ignored the need for economy in consumer goods as much as they could.

Immediately after the Great Patriotic War, the defense industry of the Soviet Union was consolidated under three ministries: the Ministry of Shipbuilding, the Ministry of Aviation Industry, and the Ministry of Armaments.

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