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Early Soviet Transport Aircraft

The Soviet Union led the world in the development and production of large aircraft in the early 1930s, yet emerged from the Great Patriotic War with no meaningful cargo transport aircraft capability. In contrast, useful cargo aircraft did not emerge in the West until the late 1930s, but were a major tool of airpower during World War II.

The Soviet paradox is all the more apparent in relation to airborne troops - sky soldiers who jump out of perfectly good airplanes. The Soviet Union had far and away the world's largest airborne forces on the eve of the war [as does Russia today], and yet lacked the airplanes needed to transport them to their targets. Airborne operations had been largely neglected in the West, but during the war developed in tandem with transport aircraft.

This dog has not barked. Both Russian and Western literature are entirely innocent of this question. While forrests have been slain debating other aspects of air power development, this question receives not a mention in passing.

There is no ready explanation for the Soviet lapse in the development of transport aircraft. Possibly they were blinded to the importance of such aircraft by Bolshevik ideology. Socialism historically was concerned with the means of production, rather than the mode of distribution. Even the word "distribution" was used to indicate the degree of the equal allocation of goods, rather than the means by which goods were moved from producers to distributers. In general, socialists were suspicious of the market, and possibly transport aircraft looked too much like tools of the marketplace. Adam Smith defined human nature as the desire to "truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another". But Marx’s study of capitalist production and exchange for profit led him to understand that the anarchy of the market led to periodic crisis with all the social problems market failure entailed for the working class.

In his Critique of the Gotha Program of the German Social Democratic Party, Marx argues that “all distribution of the means of consumption (is) only the consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production.” Marx explained, “When the practical conditions of production are the collective property of the workers themselves, a distribution of the means of consumption results that differs from the present one.”

But the early Marxists were concerned that wealth would be distributed more fairly, not the point-to-point distribution of that wealth. By the end fo the Civil War, the Soviets had established an alternative non-market system for the distribution of goods, replacing economic mechanisms with bureacratic control. By 1920 the Soviet state had taken over all enterprises in Russia employing more than ten workers. Labor was compulsory and strikes were outlawed. The state organized a barter system which replaced the free market.

Even after the failure of War Communism, Lenin never doubted that socialism entailed the abolition of trade and money. The government's ignorance of market theory did not prevent the peasants from acting in strict conformity with it. By the late 1920s peasants shifted to other crops, sold at higher prices to the remaining private traders, fed grain to livestock, and held back grain in expectation of a rise in the official price. But, in January 1928, the government closed the country markets and reintroduced the compulsory confiscation of War Communism.

Possibly such ideological blinders played some role, but surely there were other factors.

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Page last modified: 17-05-2019 17:19:46 ZULU