Essay: Soviet Union and United States

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[. . .] Petersburg that the spark of discontent was fanned into a flame. By March 8th, International Women's Day, thousands of female textile workers walked out of the factories to protest poor working conditions. By most accounts, most of the cities industrial workers joined them within a few days. Tsar Nicholas ordered the workers back to work but by this point in time, the soldiers, most of whom had family in the factories, supported the strikers.

In an event that would be referred to at the February Revolution, Nicholas abdicated the Russian throne, a provisional government was quickly established, and a hasty election was held to create power blocs representing factory workers' and soldiers' interests and rights. By November, the October Revolution saw these soviet groups seizing control of the government. The Treaty of Brest, a treaty signed with Germany by Lenin to divest Russia of several territories including those captured from the Ottoman Empire during WWI, was cancelled by the new Soviet government in November of 1918.

The Russian Civil War changed the map of Eastern Europe as many territories were annexed, seized, and ceded. Russia, by 1922, was renamed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics -- the Soviet Union. One of the primary goals of this new union was to succeed in the economic modernization that had been desired for over a decade but unable to proceed due to many internal and external conflicts and revolutions. While perhaps an even more ardent desire of the post-Civil War Communist Party was to expand communism to other nations, especially Germany, Poland, and Hungary, the goal of unilateral industrialization was more easily actualized and dominated the political rhetoric of the era.

The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin called for the organization of industrialization in the U.S.S.R. To proceed in 5-year increments, with the first 5-year plan taking effect in 1928. This plan was enacted in order to accomplish in the U.S.S.R. what had taken over a century in the countries that had been victorious in WWI. The industrialization of the Soviet Union was not one fueled by consumer demands and was not focused upon the production of commodities. Stalin insisted upon the vital need for the Soviet Bloc to be self-sufficient and not take assistance from the West but to surpass the West in every possible domain as quickly as possible (Lenski 1978).

The area of focus in these first five years was land use and farming, as these were seen as the necessary building blocks of heavy industrialization. Heavy industry meant the production of the tools of war that had been used against Russia during the World War I. The Communist description of heavy industry in this period was "production of the means of production"; underscoring the fact that Stalin wanted to dramatically increase the productive capacity of the country. Stalin wanted to make sure that Russia had equal armament to the West so that in the event of another war, Russia would not be humiliated once again. The first phase of industrialization was completed in 1932 and succeeded in the conversion of subsistence agricultural efforts into farming collectives, through the use of forced migration in many cases (Nove 1965).

The food cultivated in these farms was produced at a rate to prepare the country for an influx of urban industrial workers who would be unable to produce food. Where informal market economies had once flourished in Russian villages, collective and state farms produced less and destroyed informal markets. The latter of these outcomes was an overt objective of the Communist Party to prevent any form of capitalism from establishing itself with the people. The plan was more successful than anyone could have thought it would be; by 1940, over 97% of peasant households had been made to be collectivized. Through this process, over 5 million kulaks, who were the wealthier people of the former serf class, were forcibly deported to make room for the state and collective farms. Collective farming also resulted in a famine in Ukraine in 1932 that claimed millions of lives from starvation (McKenzie et al.).

Despite the loss of lives and inhumane treatment of many groups under this dictatorial industrialization scheme, the plan moved forward. The second five-year industrial plan was completed in 1937 and the third was not completed until after 1945 due to World War II. The five-year industrial development plan model was one that was used until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Contrasting Industrial Practices, Goals, and Motives

The types of industrial activities that the United States and Soviet Union engaged in were quite different and reflective of the goals, ideals, and objectives that industrial development plans were meant to fulfill in each respective nation. As was discussed previously, Stalin's primary industrial focus was on producing means of production in order to create the tools of war necessary to protect the motherland and force the world to acknowledge the U.S.S.R. As a legitimate power and threat. Electricity was seen as the holy grail of industrialization worldwide in the pre- and postwar era, and Russia's late entry into the industrialization race meant that more effort could be expended upon building hydroelectric and coal-fueled power plants rather than developing the technology gradually over the course of decades as had happened in the United States. The rhetoric of Communism positioned progress for the good of the collective as a secularized religious ideal and the Dnieper power plant was the icon of Soviet achievement to this end (Gregory 2011).

Another vitally important heavy industry was metallurgy. Iron ore and coal deposits were rich in the Ural Mountains in Ukraine and the metal was take from there and refined to supply iron ore for construction. Aluminum was another important metal to production, as it was lightweight and versatile, and it was also in high demand through this era. Metallurgy and civil engineering were critical to the modernization of transportation throughout the U.S.S.R. Transportation was a vital element of socialist rule in the U.S.S.R. As it allowed for a standardization of access and thus quality of life. In a country that had been so besieged by revolution and unrest in the preceding decade, a standardized improvement in the quality of life in the working class was fundamental to ensuring the continuation of peace and progress (Nove 1965).

It is important to emphasize the impact of the timing of industrial progress in both the United States and the U.S.S.R. In the prewar period. While the United States and Europe, bastions of democratic rule and capitalism, had thousands of individual engineers, inventors, experimenters and scientists pushing the frontiers of technology, socialism in the U.S.S.R. had a collectivist structure which did not result in the same sort of gold rush of innovators that was being seen in the United States in particular, where technological invention was virtually synonymous with personal wealth. For this reason, and for the fact that the formal industrialization in former Imperial Russia did not begin until the 20th century, the Soviets ended up purchasing a great deal of technology, material and informational, from the United States and Western Europe (Gregory 2001).

While the development of the roadways, railways, airports, and waterways in the U.S.S.R. was, by necessity, done locally with Soviet labor, the planes, trains, boats and automobiles populating these byways were made using a great deal of Western technology and materials and imported talent. By the time World War II began, the Soviet Union has more than six times the naval, air force, and ground weaponry and transport than Germany.

Slavery vs. Serfdom: Impact on Industrial Development

As was previously discussed, the Atlantic slave trade was a catalytic factor in the progression of the Industrial Revolution in the United States as slave labor increased material inputs in the industrial mechanism. The free labor that slaves were forced to perform in cotton fields and for the cultivation of other agricultural exports allowed for more money to be invested in technological development rather than resource extraction, incentivizing industrial innovation. The impressive speed of innovative, rather than adaptive industrial development owes a large debt to the laborers who created the resource surpluses that made mass-production possible and desirable.

The serfdom in Russia was more pervasive than the enslavement of African peoples in the Americas, but the status and treatment of serfs was relatively privileged compared to American slavery. The way in which the serf system in Russia was constructed connected individual peasant families to the landowner. It was not set up in a way to allow for plantation-style farming and capital-generating exploits in the way that American slavery was. It was not until after the abolishment of the Russian serfdom that industrialism took root. Industrialism was meant to even the standard of living for the peasants in Russia under socialist rule while industrialism exacerbated the socioeconomic division in the United States. The richest class got richer from the mass-production of consumer goods while the children of imported slaves were kept enslaved as well, entrenching the practice generationally in America.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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