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Soviet Union

Chapter 12. Industry

SINCE THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION of 1917, industry has been officially the most important economic activity in the Soviet Union and a critical indicator of its standing among the nations of the world. Compared with Western countries, a very high percentage of the Soviet population works in the production of material goods. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) considers constant growth in heavy industry vital for national security, and its policy has achieved several periods of spectacular growth. However, industrial growth has been uneven, with notable failures in light and consumer industries, and impressive statistics have often concealed failures in individual branches. And, in the late 1980s, reliable statistics continued to be unavailable in some areas and unreliable in others.

The Soviet Union is blessed with more essential industrial resources than any other nation. Using the most accessible of those materials, industries such as textiles and metallurgy have thrived since the 1600s. Large industrial centers developed almost exclusively in the European part of the country. Examples of such centers are the Donbass (see Glossary), the Moscow industrial area, and the Kursk and Magnitogorsk metallurgical centers, all of which are still in full operation. But intense industrial activity eventually exhausted the most accessible resource materials. In the late twentieth century, reserves have been tapped in the adjacent regions, especially the oil and gas fields of western Siberia. Most of the remaining reserves are outside the European sector of the country, presenting planners with the formidable task of bridging thousands of kilometers to unite raw materials, labor, energy, and centers of consumption. The urgency of industrial location decisions has grown as production quotas have risen in every new planning period. Moreover, the nature and location of the Soviet labor force presents another serious problem for planners.

Joseph V. Stalin's highly centralized industrial management system survived into the late 1980s. Numerous councils, bureaus, and committees in Moscow traditionally approved details of industrial policies. The slow reaction time of such a system was adequate for the gradual modernization of the 1950s, but the system fell behind the faster pace of high-technology advancement that began in the 1960s. Soviet policy has consistently called for "modernization" of industry and use of the most advanced automated equipment--especially because of the military significance of high technology. Although policy programs identified automation as critical to all Soviet industry, the civilian sector generally has lagged in the modernization campaign. The priority given to the military-industrial sector, however, not only prevented the growth that planners envisioned but also caused the serious slowdown that began around 1970. In a massive effort to restructure the system under perestroika (see Glossary), planners have sought ways to speed decision making to meet immediate industrial needs by finding shortcuts through the ponderous industrial bureaucracy.

Another strain on the industrial system has been the commitment to improving production of consumer goods. Nikita S. Khrushchev, first secretary (see Glossary) of the CPSU in the late 1950s and early 1960s, initially tried to temper the Stalinist priority of heavy industry. Khrushchev's idea was followed with varying degrees of enthusiasm; it became more binding as consumers learned about Western standards of living and as officials began stating the goal more forcefully in the 1980s.

Data as of May 1989