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The Electrification of Russia, 1880-1926

The Electrification of Russia, 1880-1926 OPEN ACCESS

Jonathan Coopersmith
Copyright Date: 1992
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 288
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    The Electrification of Russia, 1880-1926
    Book Description:

    The Electrification of Russia, 1880-1926 is the first full account of the widespread adoption of electricity in Russia, from the beginning in the 1880s to its early years as a state technology under Soviet rule. Jonathan Coopersmith has mined the archives for both the tsarist and the Soviet periods to examine a crucial element in the modernization of Russia. Coopersmith shows how the Communist Party forged an alliance with engineers to harness the socially transformative power of this science-based enterprise. A centralized plan of electrification triumphed, to the benefit of the Communist Party and the detriment of local governments and the electrical engineers. Coopersmith's narrative of how this came to be elucidates the deep-seated and chronic conflict between the utopianism of Soviet ideology and the reality of Soviet politics and economics.

    eISBN: 978-1-5017-0537-3
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-7)

    In December 1920, electrical engineer and Bolshevik Gleb M. Krzhizhanovskii displayed an illuminated map of a future electrified Russia to convince the 8th Congress of Soviets to approve a plan for state electrification. Moscow’s generating capacity was so low, however, that lighting the bulbs on the map resulted in blacking out parts of the city. Electrification had great political significance for the Communist regime, but dreams outpaced reality.

    As well as changing night into day, electrification transformed capital markets, the military, manufacturing, the spatial geography of cities, and many other facets of Russian life. One of the products of the...

  2. (pp. 8-41)

    The development of electrification exemplifies the transfer and diffusion of a new technology into Russian society and the growing technological gap between Russia and the West. Electric lighting, power, and traction advanced greatly, but their geographic diffusion and intensity of application trailed the West’s. In this chapter I explore five key factors that shaped prerevolutionary electrification: the restrictive institutional environment imposed by the tsarist government, the strong military role, the weak commercial reception of native invention, the development of the electrical engineering community, and significant foreign financial and technical involvement.

    The administrative and legal environment of tsarist electrification helps explain...

  3. (pp. 42-98)

    Electrification grew slowly in Russia, especially compared with the West. Over a decade passed between the first Russian commercial utility in 1886 and the first large wave of utilities elsewhere in the country. Another decade passed before uti1ities truly surged into Russian towns and cities. The Russian environment contributed to this slow diffusion, but so did uncertainties about technologies, financing, and organization. Russian decision makers had to respond to the major issues in the electrification of the West: the choice between electricity and other forms of energy; questions about which technology to generate electricity; and debates about the organization, ownership,...

  4. (pp. 99-120)

    World War I was the single most important factor in the transition from electrification in Russia to Russian electrification. The war drastically worsened the environment for utilities, which lost their technology, financing, and fuel just as military requirements sharply increased demand for electricity. This inability to satisfy wartime needs brought electric power to the attention of state officials and industrialists more effectively than a score of prewar petitions. The war forced the government to recognize the economic importance of electro-technology, but the state’s response was too little, too late, and too disorganized to forge an accommodation with the private sector...

  5. (pp. 121-150)

    During 1917–20, Russian society underwent massive upheavals unparalleled since the Time of Troubles three centuries earlier. It was an era of revolution, of terror, of starvation, of epidemics, and of that harshest of conflicts, civil war. In February 1917, the tsarist government disintegrated and a duma-based provisional government ruled until the Bolsheviks seized control in November. From 1918 to 1920, civil war raged, sharpened by foreign intervention and a trade embargo, until ended by the ruthless autarkic mobilization of war communism. Economically, the country deteriorated from bad to worse. Paralleling industry, electricity production dropped sharply in 1918-20 and did...

  6. (pp. 151-191)

    In December 1920, the Communist party made electrification the new state technology by approving the GOELRO plan. The creation of this state plan of electrification took ten months; final approval in a modified form demanded another year. Instead of a future desideratum, electrification became the most important and immediate way, together with planning, to reconstruct the economy and modernize the country.

    Credit belongs to the entrepreneuria³ drive of several electrical engineers, especially Gleb Krzhizhanovskii, who forged an actor-network that created allies and promised resources for state electrification. They persuaded an already interested Lenin to form a government commission to propose...

  7. (pp. 192-257)

    Although militarily successful, war communism failed to transform Russia into a socialist society. By 1921, the worsening political and economic situation demanded another approach. The Leningrad strikes, Kronstadt sailors’ rebellion, and Tambov peasant uprising challenged the legitimacy of a government claiming to represent workers, soldiers, and peasants. The economic situation looked bleak: a devastated transportation network, empty factories, rampant inflation, recalcitrant peasants, famine and accompanying epidemics, high unemployment, little trade with the West, and distinctly nonrevolutionary, if not hostile, international relations.¹ In a reversal of war communism, the government’s NEP attempted to create an alliance (smychka) between peasants and workers...

  8. (pp. 258-265)

    The tempo of electrification in the Soviet Union increased sharply after 1926 as part of the state’s renewed industrialization drive and the five-year plans. Electrification’s share of the state budget grew from 68 million rubles (1.7 percent) in 1925–26 to 179 million ruble s (2.2 percent) in 1928–29. During this period, state funding for industrialization quadrupled from 220 million rubles (5.4 percent) to 973 million rubles (11.8 percent).¹ Regional capacity and output grew sharply. By 1928–29, the Volkhov hydrostation generated 358 MkWh, 55 percent of Leningrad’s 653 MkWh.² The first five-year plan, for 1928–32, reached GOELRO’s...

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.
Funding is provided by National Endowment for the Humanities