Let There Be Light
In February 1920 the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets set out to provide the entire nation with electrical power with the introduction of the State Electrification Commission (GOELRO). The commission proposed a network of about 30 regional power stations.The plan was intended to increase the total national power output per year to 8.8 billion kWh. The “Russian SFSR Electrification Plan” was approved in December 1920 by the 8th Congress of Soviets.
While there is no doubt that the prospect of electrifying the entire country must have seemed like an impossible feat, Soviet leaders knew that dramatic action had to be taken to achieve their social vision. As described by Lenin, nation-wide electrification was essential in transforming Russia from a “small-peasant basis into a large-scale industrial basis.” In order to make this leap, the Soviets would have to do more than just alter social institutions and convert the ideological beliefs of the Russian people. More importantly, they had to revamp the economic, and by extension political, standing of their soon to be Soviet Union.
In Lenin’s own words, the overall goal of electrification was “…the organization of industry on the basis of modern, advanced technology, on electrification which will provide a link between town and country, will put an end to the division between town and country, will make it possible to raise the level of culture in the countryside and to overcome, even in the most remote corners of land, backwardness, ignorance, poverty, disease, and barbarism.” During the 10 years following the introduction of the GOELRO plan the commission diligently worked to construct power plants throughout 8 regions in the country. By 1931 the goal of increasing Russia’s power output to 8.8 billion kWh per year had been achieved and the country was well on it’s way to becoming a seemingly unstoppable world power. Ideology aside, the electrification of Russia may have been the most effective action the Soviets could have ever taken to transform the nation.
Photo source – 466det1.jpg
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 321-340. Print.
This is an interesting look at the initiative taken by the young Soviet government to ‘modernize’ their state and depart from poor, underdeveloped farmlands. It’s impressive that the Soviets were able to achieve this goal of setting their power output to 8.8 billion kWh/year by 1931. This feat must have improved the prestige of a rapidly-growing state. I do agree that this accomplishment was THE first step in creating the world power that would compete with other juggernauts.
Because Marxism was supposed to be applied in a developed country rather than rural Russia, it took a different form. This aggressive initiative foreshadows some of the later ones introduced by Stalin. I agree with your statement that giving most of the country electricity propelled the Soviet Union into the world power it would soon be, but I’m still left wondering the cost of what happened. How many people lost their lives (because people usually die in these Soviet initiatives)? And how did the process go down? How was electricity received? How did Lenin change the culture of the state? Having a dim light bulb doesn’t immediately change your outlook on life no matter how much cartoons say it does. But the real question was if it was actually so successful in the countryside, did electricity actually work or did it only work well in the cities as a way to encourage more people to move to the cities?
Lenin thought that electricity was an important part of creating socialism in Russia. He has a famous quote, “Soviets+Electrification=Socialism.” I think a lot of the questions Ben introduced in his comment are important ones, especially the assertion that a dim light bulb doesn’t immediately change your life. How did electrification change life for peasants in the countryside? How did the idea of electrification fit in with the general trend of modernization after the Revolution?
This post and the comments address so many important issues. Electrification did reach the countryside and the campaign did foreshadow the even more ambitious modernization programs of the late twenties. Thanks for writing about this!
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I like this post, enjoyed this one regards for putting up. “When you make a world tolerable for yourself, you make a world tolerable for others.” by Anais Nin.