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Soviet Union


Soviet leaders since Lenin have stated as one of their long- term goals the development of a powerful scientific and technological base. Yet at various times since the Bolshevik Revolution (see Glossary) of 1917, Soviet leaders have faced situations in which the immediate economic, military, and political demands on science and technology outweighed the long-term goals. Thus, the pursuit of short-term objectives affected scientific and technological development at some times by retarding its expansion and at other times by laying the foundation for weaknesses that emerged later. Despite this, Soviet science and technology have grown immensely in terms of organizations, personnel, funding levels, and output.

When the Bolsheviks (see Glossary) seized power in 1917, they inherited a poorly developed scientific and technological base. The major science organization at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution was the Academy of Sciences, founded by Peter the Great in 1725 in hopes of developing an indigenous science base and of eliminating his country's reliance on foreign science. Peter intended the academy to conduct research, serve as an advisory board to the tsar, and organize the empire's higher and secondary education.

In its early years, the academy struggled to resolve such issues as defining its responsibilities and reducing the extensive governmental control over academy activities. Its second charter, issued in 1803, relieved the academy of its educational responsibilities and removed some governmental controls, particularly regarding membership selection. The government continued to interfere in the work of scientists, however, particularly those who advocated progressive ideas that challenged the old order as accepted by the tsar and the Russian Orthodox Church. The academy's third charter (1836) proclaimed it the country's chief scientific body. The academy continued in this role, focusing primarily on basic research, through the end of tsarist rule. Its achievements during this time were noteworthy. Dmitrii I. Mendeleev (1843-1907) compiled the periodic table of the elements, Nobel Prize recipient Ivan P. Pavlov (1849-1936) conducted research on conditioned reflexes, and Konstantin E. Tsiolkovskii (1857-1935), a pioneer in modern rocketry, studied the theory of cosmic flight.

Another key issue that confronted the academy at the outset was the extent of foreign involvement in Russian science. Peter the Great eagerly opened Russia to the West and encouraged the participation of Western scientists in the development of Russian science. Thus, the academy initially was staffed by scientists from western Europe, principally of Germanic origin. The strong foreign influence continued well into the nineteenth century. A Russian was not elected to the academy until the 1740s, and Russians did not assume control of the academy until the late 1800s. Under the Bolsheviks, science suffered some initial setbacks but then benefited from the government's decision to expand it. In the early years, many Bolsheviks feared scientists because of ideological differences. A number of scientists were arrested or executed; others emigrated to escape from the Bolsheviks. Those who stayed worked under difficult conditions: few facilities, inadequate housing, shortages of food, little access to the West, and strict political controls.

Not long after the Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin moved to improve the situation facing scientists. In policy pronouncements, he emphasized the need to develop a Soviet scientific and technological base as the way to modernize industry. He argued that technological progress was necessary to counter the perceived threat posed by the West and to demonstrate the strength of socialism (see Glossary) to the world.

During the 1920s, Soviet science began to expand. Many new research institutes were added to the academy, which in 1925 was redesignated the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union. Governmental support of science increased under the New Economic Policy (NEP) introduced in 1921 (see The Era of the New Economic Policy , ch. 2). Overall, the living and working conditions of scientists improved as research potentials expanded and as opportunities for the international exchange of information resumed. Research in such fields as biology, chemistry, and physics flourished during this period.

Science and technology underwent significant changes during the years of Joseph V. Stalin's reign. The changes occurred primarily in response to three factors: Stalin's industrialization drive, his efforts to enforce strict ideological control over science, and the outbreak of World War II.

In 1928 Stalin initiated his drive to transform the Soviet Union into an industrial power, technologically independent of the West. Many new institutions were established to provide the applied research foundation needed to develop industrial technologies. Even institutes subordinate to the Academy of Sciences were directed to stop theoretical research and to focus on "practical" problems applicable to industry. In 1935 the academy adopted a charter that created the Engineering Sciences Division to oversee the academy's increased involvement in applied research.

At the same time that Stalin was encouraging the expansion of science, he also was trying to establish firmer ideological control over science. Over time, his efforts led to a significant reduction in scientific effort. In 1928 Stalin initiated a purge of scientists, engineers, and technical personnel in an effort to remove the old generation and replace them with younger scientists who supported communist ideology. In 1934 the academy was moved from Leningrad to Moscow, where political control was easier to maintain. Stalin's Great Terror (see Glossary) ravaged the ranks of scientists and engineers. Many research and development programs had to be halted simply because the leading experts were either arrested or executed. Scientific ties with the West also were severed during this time. The extent of Stalin's interference in science became evident in the post-World War II era. Stalin insisted that ideology be a part of all scientific research. In the natural sciences, he encouraged research that was compatible with the tenets of dialectical materialism (see Glossary). Such an environment opened the door for the influence of such individuals as Trofim D. Lysenko, a leading biologist and agronomist. Lysenko argued that the characteristics of a living organism could be altered by environment and that those acquired characteristics could be inherited, a theory that he tried to prove by numerous fraudulent experiments. His ideas fit nicely with Marxist emphasis on environmental influences and won him the support of Stalin. With that backing, Lysenko was able to arrange the removal and arrest of scientists who opposed his views. His influence continued well into the 1950s, when genetics research in the Soviet Union came to a virtual standstill.

The third factor affecting science and technology under Stalin was the outbreak of World War II. Soviet science and technology suffered badly during the initial period of the war. Many research institutes and industrial facilities were destroyed or seized during the German offensive. The facilities that remained were evacuated to the eastern portions of the Soviet Union. There, all efforts were directed toward developing science and technology in support of the war effort. Not surprisingly, military-related research and development thrived, while research and development in civilian sectors received little attention.

The war demonstrated to Stalin the backwardness of Soviet science and technology. After the war, he ordered the continued expansion of the research and development base, particularly in defense and heavy industries. Allocations for science increased, new research facilities opened, and salaries and perquisites for scientists were improved dramatically. All available personnel, including captured German scientists and imprisoned Soviet scientists, were employed. This effort led to some important technological successes, such as the explosion of the atomic bomb in 1949 and the design of new series of tanks, aircraft, artillery, and locomotives.

Stalin's death in 1953 led to a more relaxed environment for science and technology growth. At the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956, Nikita S. Khrushchev denounced Stalin for imprisoning thousands of the country's leading scientists, many of whom Khrushchev later rehabilitated (see Glossary). Under Khrushchev the number of research workers almost tripled, and the number of research institutes doubled. International scientific communications and cooperation resumed. Exchanges with the West were encouraged as a means of acquiring technologies that Soviet scientists could assimilate and then duplicate.

Khrushchev also initiated major changes in the organization of science and technology. In 1957 he abolished the industrial ministries in favor of regional economic councils (sovety narodnikh khoziaistv--sovnarkhozy). Khrushchev thought that research, development, and production facilities subordinated to the sovnarkhozy could cooperate on programs more easily than they could under the ministerial system. The experiment failed, partly because of excessive duplication of effort. In 1965, under the leadership of Leonid I. Brezhnev, the industrial ministries were restored. The second major organizational change occurred in 1961, when the Academy of Sciences was reorganized. Concerned that the academy had focused too much on industrial research projects, Soviet leaders transferred the industry-oriented institutes to state committees. The leadership then directed the academy to focus on fundamental research.

Under Brezhnev the Soviet Union launched another drive to modernize science and technology. Several economic and organizational reforms were instituted, but none was radical enough to cause significant improvement. Under his policy of détente, scientific contacts and exchanges with the West increased. Soviet leaders sought long-term agreements with Western firms as a means of acquiring advanced technologies. Eventually, internal disagreements over the appropriate level of technological interaction with the West, coupled with restrictions placed by the West, led to a decline in contacts. Scientific and technological policies under Iurii V. Andropov and Konstantin U. Chernenko brought little change. Of the two leaders, Andropov seemed more interested in accelerating Soviet science and technology growth, but neither leader lived long enough to have much impact.

Data as of May 1989

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