Topic 8. Large Enterprises as a Basis of Soviet Economy

Read: Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York, NY: WW Norton & Company, 2018. Chapter 5: Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.

Based on a few case studies of the large industrial projects during the first five-year plan (1928–1932), the author discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the Soviet economic model oriented towards the development of exceptionally large-scale factories and infrastructure projects. The Soviet leaders were seeking ways to significantly increase the defensive capacity and economic power of the young Socialist state. Lacking the technical expertise and industrial resources to create modern large industrial enterprises, the Soviets turned to the West for engineers, architects, and other experts. They also borrowed Western know-how, such as scientific management or housing standardization. The communist leadership presented the giant factories not only as a way to industrialize and protect the country but also as instruments of fighting backwardness, culturalization, and creating the modern socialist society. The materials of the chapter demonstrate how successful the Soviet government in these endeavors was.

Questions for preparation:

1. Why was the communist leadership so enthusiastic about building giant industrial factories?
2. How did the relationships between the enterprises, foreign specialists, and the Soviet government evolve in the 1930s?
3. What social and urban processes did the forced industrialization stimulate? How can these be compared to urban processes in the capitalist countries?
4. How did the Soviet government make use of giant Soviet factories as an instrument of culturalization? Did they succeed?
5. What are the strengths and weaknesses of large state-owned enterprises? Why are large state-owned enterprises still so dominant in Russia’s business system?